Exploring El Bolson´s Wilderness
12.12.2011 - 15.12.2011 92 °F
There I was. Armed with my sleeping back, mattress, and a backpack full of provisions, I was off on my first solo hike: 70 km in the mountains, all by myself.
Oh so I thought.
Like a true gringa.
It all started with a humm. A distant buzz.
Then, I actually did a double take to see if there was an airplane around. No joke.
And then, it was dawning on me.
The little suckers, greeting me, encircling me, like a hunter aiming for his prey.
Speaking off size, these things are not so little.
Imagine a fly, on steroids, i.e. tripled in size and exponentially ever so more obnoxious.
So, the first day, the monsters spared me.
They let me grin in my pride of figuring out a bus schedule that takes you 2 km off the trail (in Spanish) and actually getting myself there, for less than $2.
They even let me dutifully get lost. Naturally, the first hour I walked up in a completely opposite direction, up a very steep hill. Funny thing, I walked up it twice. First time, by mistake. Second time, to ask the seniora at the farm at the very top of the hill for directions after I got back down to the river only to realize that I had no idea where to go. In the end, since I wasn´t going to walk up that hill for the third time, I trespassed some other farm, where clearly some kind of divinity took mercy on me and I found an American ex-pat who actually walked me to the trail.
So, I made it eventually to the first refugio, (the hut), El Retomal , where I found a German girl, Fiona, who runs it (of course she is German, which again begs the question ¨Who the hell is left in Germany¨) and the only other hikers were a French family with 2 young kids (Wow, how cool).
Since the Frenches were camping, Fiona and I bonded under the star filled sky, as we each cooked our dinners (I became quite fond of boiled sweet potatoes and also had some trout freshly smoked next door to my hostel that I didn´t eat for lunch, being quite preoccupied in finding my way to the refugio).
Next morning, after breakfasting on some tasty salami (who, who was a vegetarian for 10 years prior to stepping into Argentina), I set off higher, for refugio Los Laguitos -- as the name suggests, a spectacular place where the hut is set amidst 3 lakes and snow peak mountains.
The first hour was all great. The trail followed the river, winding up and down, lazily, without too much assent.
And then I entered the woods. At first, the woods didn´t reveal their magic. You see trees, big trees. Only when you realize that these trees grow 1 millimeter a year, and that they are actually 2,500 years old, does your head swerve up and you wow to their majesty. The Alerces trees. Incredible.
But with the woods came the tabanos -- the killer whale flies.
They swerved me in a blitz attack.
At first, there were just 4 suckers following me, step by step.
I killed them. PAH!
Then, there were 7. Mind you 1 v. 7 -- but those suckers went down as well. Pah Pah!
And then, and then, there were many. 30, 40, you name it.
We were moving in one swarming mess.
A walking menace of me and the Tabanos.
They tried, relentlessly, to eat their breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The suckers blocked my view so that I kept getting off trail trying to get rid of the damn things.
And then I thought to myself, Think, Rita, Think:
And I thought.
And I came up with a plan.
I plastered all over the exposed parts of my body white layer of sun block.
I found my music shuffle, headphones, and Yes, Woman v. Tabanos: Score!
Their buzz was blocked by my newly enhanced music collection and the sun block created a nice shield between my blood vessels and the suckers.
I got to Los Laguitos unharmed, albeit quite faster than predicted average speed.
There I found Valentin, a cute builder who was working the hut, and a German couple (of course) who later in the evening made a really big awesome fire.
As we sat watching the mountains reflect in the still lake -- it was exactly the scene that makes it worth the sweat, the hills and, well, I am not going to go as far as the ¨tabanos.¨
Next morning, Valentin baked for me fresh bread (which I dipped in the oil from my can of sardines (yeeeah, I know, who is this woman and what happened to her silly diet....), and then he shared with me a torta made by his mother that was sent earlier in the day by horse. Mmm, life was pretty good.
On my way back down to El Retamal refugio, I walked again 18 km without seeing a sole and the only human sounds where my swears, in Russian, English and just plain human grrrrs, at the damn swarm of tabanos in which I was either swimming or swarming.
I walked, I gazed, I filled my little bottle with water straight out of the streams (Did I mention that one of the sweetest rewards of hiking so far in Argentina is that everywhere the streams are from ice water from the mountains, pure, clean, delicious. I have a 500 ml bottle that I fill as needed, straight from the stream, never needing to carry or worry about water, so lovely).
But I also made sacrifice to the river: my wonderful sun glasses that miraculously lasted this long)
I got back to El Retamal, to find Fiona all by herself. Since it was hot and we were alone, I took off my drenched clothe and took a ¨shower¨ under a mountain-water cold sprinkler that was irrigating the garden.
Then Fiona and I sat on the grass, gazing at the mountains.
I saw her book on meditations, we exchanged some experiences about energy work.
Clearly a bottle appeared.
The two of us killed it.
Fiona´s assistant then came. Again, the divinity was with me, and somehow they thought to offer me dulce de leche.
Another bottle appeared.
The 3 of us finished it also, just sitting on the grass.
Then 2 hikers appeared, obviously a German couple.
They bought beer made right their in the refugio. Fiona brought another bottle of wine.
At the appointed time of 10:30 pm, we made pizzas (that is they fished the cheese out of the barrel they keep in the river, I cut some basil and chives from their garden). It was glorious.
And the next morning, as I walked back down the mountain, the tabanos.... well, they were nowhere in sight.
As if to make sure that I come back, the suckers somehow went away.
And the 70 km that I walked, by myself, well, that is just cool.