Renting a car in Bariloche, we took the famous Seven Lakes Drive through more beautiful mountain scenery, to San Martin de Los Andes. This is a small, upscale resort town near the Chilean border, which also has a vaguely Swiss feel. I won't bore you with more mountain photographs, or lake shots for that matter, mainly because they are crunched somewhere in the bowels of my computer, or else they got erased somehow, and hence are lost forever. No great loss I know. After you've seen 100 admittedly fabulous mountain scenes, how many more can you look at without your eyes glazing over. (For those of you just tuning in, feel free to look at previous posts so you'll know what I'm talking about).
Alright, I confess that despite my fear of heights, I am an unrepentant mountain person. I can walk amongst, and gaze at mountains, or pictures of them, indefinitely without ever tiring. Along the same lines, I am not much of an urban type. Urbane perhaps, but not urban. Yes, I like my share of museums, serious theater, and music of all kinds, except rap and country. But don't loose heart here. After a brief stint in the Chilean countryside, we head for the URBAN settings of Santiago, Valparaiso, Mendoza and of course, Buenos Aires. So you city lovers out there will get your time and descriptions. You should also stick around when I start blogging about Southeast Asia, China and India. There are urban centers in that part of the world teeming with more people than you can imagine, unless you have been there. And no, this isn't a commercial announcement, though it might sound like one.
But for now..... what I can tell you is that, yes, we went for yet another hike, this time up the trails of Cerro Chapelco, a nearby ski resort. It took several hours to get to the top and maybe 1/3rd of the way, our friend Natalie decided she had enough, and was going to rest in an open field near a closed restaurant (since it wasn't ski season). The rest of us dutifully carried on, and eventually got to the spectacular summit. It was well over tree line, and the far side had an almost sheer drop of 2,000 feet into an area that looked something like the Grand Canyon, with the addition of spiky, red rock towers. It was, to use the Spanish, increible. We spent some time up there taking it all in, and then descended, thinking we might run into Natalie on the way down. We got to the place where we left her in late afternoon and there was no trace of her. We assumed she went down, and we would find her in the open base lodge.
By now you can probably figure out how this story goes. Naturally, she wasn't there. It was still an hour before it was going to get dark, so we didn't worry too much at first, thinking that she had gone off for a walk someplace and would turn up soon. She didn't show up, and as time went on we became concerned that something had happened, though it was hard to imagine what, since all she had to do was follow the lift line back down. It was more or less a straight shot. Now there is one thing you need to understand about Natalie, and I love her dearly. If you're ever skiing or hiking with her, and there is a choice of which way to go, she will invariably choose the wrong way. In fact, it's reasonably safe to assume that if she goes one way, it must be the other way. She is, what you might call, directionally challenged. Even so, she just had to go straight, as I said. Well, it began to get seriously dark and cold. The sun was setting, and there was only 20 minutes left before the last traces of daylight evaporated. Allen, her boyfriend, was understandably beside himself. We started to look around for help, and noticed a nearby hut that looked like an emergency first aid shelter. Luckily there were a couple of guys inside who had an ATV. Nanette and I tried to explain what happened since Allen had no Spanish. It took a while, but they finally understood that this was a serious situation, and they needed to go and look for her. It would clearly not be good for her to spend the night up there, lost, cold, and possibly hypothermic. Fifteen minutes later they came back, just as it was getting completely dark, with a smiling Natalie, sans jacket, sitting on the back of the ATV.
"Oh" she said nonchalantly, " I fell asleep for an hour, and I figured I could find you on the way up. I thought I could catch up."
"YOU WHAT,?" we all said in unison.
"I started up, and after about 1/2 an hour, maybe more, I realized it was quite steep and far, and I'd better turn back.
"YOU WENT UP?," we said incredulously. "Why would you go up?"
"It didn't seem that far," she repeated.
"And what happened to your jacket?"
"I think someone must have taken it. I got up and walked over to the other side of the field where I left it, and it was gone. I couldn't find it."
"YOU LEFT IT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FIELD? Why would you do that?"
"I don't know. I didn't really think about it. I wandered around the field after I put my jacket down, and then felt tired in the sun, sat down and fell asleep."
Allen was starting to loose it at this point, so I said,
"Okay. And then what happened?
"I started down, and there were a couple of different trail junctions that I hadn't noticed on the way up and I, well you know, I must have taken the wrong one because I couldn't get back to the field."
"All you had to do was follow the lift line?"
"I know, but the trail I ended up on was away from it, and then I couldn't figure out how to get back."
"Ahhh," we all said, once again in unison, knowing of her predilection to always go the wrong way.
"It's really not such a big deal. When they found me I was most of the way down, and I would have made it without any help."
It was a little difficult not to react to this sarcastically, but I could see that Allen was practically apoplectic and this would not help matters.
"Okay, it's good you're safe, but how could you go up? That would never have occurred to me."
She smiled sheepishly.
"Never mind," I said. "It all came out right."
Somehow Allen and she got past it, but needless to say, she has taken a lot of ribbing over this one from the three of us. Directionally challenged. Count on it. Maybe her judgment ain't so hot in situations like this either.
The next day, after a good meal and a comfortable night, all is well. We took off on another ripio road looking for a trail to some hot springs, just what we all needed after this ordeal. Unfortunately, the road was in bad shape as it continued toward the mountains, and we didn't have four wheel drive. At a certain point we decided to stop and walk, not wanting to get stuck. It was much further along the road to the trail head than we thought. Natalie once again decided she had enough, and Allen, despite the fact that it was an actual road, albeit with no traffic, wisely decided to stay with her in another nearby clearing. As usual, we persevered, not really knowing how far it was. We finally got to the trail head at around 2:30, and practically ran the last two miles to get the the hot springs in time for a soak. We had come so far and didn't want to give up now. We got there just as a couple of people were leaving.
"Where are the hot springs," we asked.
They pointed up the hill to what looked like a small trickle in the rocks.
"Yes, that's it. You can squeeze in between the rocks and just about get your body in."
What a disappointment. We had come all this way for that. If we had known, we wouldn't have bothered. Alright we were here and by God, we were going to have a soak if it killed us. We walked up the hill to the rocks. It was maybe, m a y b e, 6 to 9 inches deep. We got rid of a few more rocks and tried to make it deeper, and then tore off our clothes. At least it was hot, and I stretched out to a prone position, not an easy thing to do in this place, and could just about get my back in. We stayed for about 15 minutes trying to make the best of it, and it was better than nothing. Then we started back for the long, l o n g, l o n g, trip back. We got to the road and it was already past 3:30. It was two hours minimum, probably more, to get back to the car, and it was dark, really dark by 6, and I didn't have a headlamp. What was I thinking? Maybe when it comes to hot springs, my judgment ain't so good either. Who was I to criticize Natalie?
We started back, walking as fast as we could. After an hour, the Gods smiled on us. A four wheeled pick up came by, and almost as an after thought I stuck out my thumb. They stopped. "You'll have to ride in the back."
"No problem," we said as we clamored up the side. It was bumpy, but it was sure better than walking. After 15 minutes or so, we came across Natalie and Allen, who by this time had walked most of the way back.
"Can you stop for our friends?" I shouted through their open window. And once again they stopped.
"Hey you guys need a lift or what?"
The next day we headed back to Bariloche a different way, on another bone rattling ripio road, though this one was passable without 4 wheel drive.
It took us through mesa country, and more impressive rock formations, and as you can see I do have pictures.
We also passed some interesting animal life. Was it a squirrel, or a larger rodent?
Or was it a woodpecker?