All good things come to an end, and Argentina (what little I saw of it) was AWESOME!!! Great people, great food, great music… shame about the women. 100% I will return.
So the plan was to hitchhike back up to San Martin de Los Andes, then on to the base of Volcan Lenin to begin the 7/8 day traverse across to Volcan Villarrica and Pucon in Chile.
That was the plan.
Now let’s have a show of hands. Hands up who thinks it’s going to pan out that way! I’m presuming that barring any involuntary twitch your hands remained glued to the mouse. If anyone did raise it, we’ve obviously never met.
Hi! I’m Fray!
Successful hitchhiking would appear to be a morning activity (I’m presuming that evening ride from Bolson to Bariloche was a fluke due to my general awesomeness). My attempts to flee Bariloche to head north proved quite unsuccessful, despite how colourful and camp my sign was!
2 hours stood by the roadside got me a few laughs and a few beeps, but no ride. Getting sandblasted was not the chucklefest I was expecting, so I hit the road.
It was after around 5km that I came to the conclusion that 3 days was definitely NOT enough time to heal my broken feet. They rapidly disintegrated, fresh blisters forming over, under and besides the tender fresh flesh.
Still no ride.
My tolerance for stupidity, self-abuse and torment are higher than most peoples, yet after around 15km I was definitely not experiencing Los Buenos Tiempos!
Still no ride, and the stabbing sensation below my right big toe had progressed from inconvenient pinch to unbridled agony. It was now 5 pm, I was tired, hungry and walking like the Elephant Man. The sun was still beating down so I made a judgement call. Route 40 skirts Lago Nahuel Huapi, a huge and quite stunning lake, so I hopped over the railings, found a nice secluded spot and pitched my tent on its peaceful shore. I had food, gas, shelter, and access to more fresh water than you could shake a stick at.
I prayed to Hermes to heal my weeping foot, and vowed to start afresh in the morning, rejuvenated and refreshed.
Wild camping on the shores of a stunning lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains….. ultimate freedom.
(Special note from Fray: Merrell Vibram shoes… what a crock of s##t!!!
The setting sun, for which my camera was truly inadequate to capture its beauty was bringing with it a delightfully chilly gale. The tent couldn’t function in the gravely soil so I now retreated under a tree.
Every piece of flora there was spiney, sticky and generally unpleasant, throw in a blowing gale and the buzz of trucks speeding by on the nearby highway… sure guaranteed an interesting night. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and no street lights, so if all else failed and I was awake and freezing all night, at least I’d have a pretty impressive view overhead!
I’d finished my only book – Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, so nothing to read. My MP3 player was run over the previous night (don’t ask). It was still functional… in that it had no display and would only play my entire tracklist in alphabetical order, but I had no idea how much battery was left… so that was conserved for the road. It was now becoming far too cold to write and the light was rapidly fading so I settled down to watch nature at work.
The lightshow didn’t disappoint! I spent approximately 2 hours joining the dots to create The Great Bear, Scorpio (mine was much more convincing as it ACTUALLY LOOKED LIKE a scorpion), and many, many more… how those old dead Greek dudes didn’t spot The Giant Phallus is beyond me!
The wind continued to howl, yet my double windproof layer was more than up to the task. I dozed fitfully, usually waking when I’d slip down the hill and out of my protective shield… my attempts to create a makeshift harness were quickly abandoned after my spiney supports snapped and stabbed me in the face….. comedy gold!!!
All in all, it wasn’t nearly as traumatic as previous wildcamps (The Chorlton roundabout probably topping the bill). My mind played a few sneaky tricks on me: I woke on 2 separate occasions to witness a couple of guys stood laughing at me (cunningly disguised, upon closer inspection, as 2 branches), and then a young couple having vigorous sex – a tree and a rock. To thwart my mischievous mind I pulled my hat over my eyes and buried myself deep in my sleeping bag… HA! IN YOUR FACE MIND!!!
The much-anticipated sunrise was a tad disappointing. I expected a giant fireball to rise majestically over the mountaintops… didn’t happen… the sky just got brighter.
My cunning hiding place beneath the tree ensured that I got zero morning sun, and was forced to emerge from my lair shivering and shaking, haul all my gear back through the labyrinth of spikes and spines, and emerge out into the sunlight.
I skipped breakfast for two reasons: one to conserve my precious cooking gas (cooking in the wind sucks), and the second being that I was quite confident that I would secure a morning hitch and be at my destination in time for an early lunch…. oh you douchbag!
I managed around another 8kms before my semi-healed feet began collapsing again. Hermes had answered my prayers and patched them up, but the Merrell Vibram curse struck again. My Compeed defence was protecting my heel, but the ball of my right foot was ready to explode.
The hitchhiking Gods had abandoned me, possibly for the major affront of my garish sign. No beeps, no smiles… just dust kicked up from the speeding cars.
Decision time again. I had food and water, but at the pace I was travelling it would take weeks to hit my destination… weeks I didn’t have either on the calendar or in my sneakers. My adaptive walk to reduce blister pain was causing increasing pain in my other joints….. it was time to rethink my plan.
My saviour came at a tiny little gathering of houses and shops around 25km out of Bariloche. 2 Pastry shops (2! Could there really be that much competition for pastries between the 7 houses they serviced?) and a taxi rank! It took seconds to convince myself. I could not battle the formidable might of the Hitchhiking Gods… certainly not in my weakened state. The decision was made to take the £5 taxi ride back to Bariloche, and from there take the £10 bus up to San Martin de Los Andes. From there I would weigh up my options for the crossing into Chile.
Would my feet/hips/back survive the 8 day traverse? I needed expert advice. I needed to…. PLAN!!!
So after waking at 5:30 to witness a below-par Bariloche sunrise I finally pitched my tent at 20:45, 5kms outside San Martin de Los Andes.
The return to the Omnibus station in Bariloche had proven fortuitous as I bumped into a friend from Los Coihues and we passed the 2-hour wait trading stories and advice.
We parted ways at 14:30 to get our respective buses. I was pretty tired, but the ever stunning vistas (and the films RED, Simpsons The Movie and the start of Man On Fire) ensured that I dozed for the smallest of power naps.
(Editors note: I bet the only stunning Argentinian girl you’ve seen sat right in front of you and constantly turning round to talk to her friend had NOTHING at all to do with it)
(Frays note: No comment)
The last time we (myself, Tomas and Diana) were in San Martin we didn’t dally long. From the road it looked like a hellish tourist trap of overpriced pastry shops, overpriced excursions and ludicrously priced restaurants. My second visit proved that there is much more… much more overpriced pastry shops, overpriced excursions and ludicrously priced restaurants… seemingly inhabited by a sickeningly young population.
It was incredibly helpful that at the bus station they held no maps of the city, and instead you had to trek over 6 blocks to the nearest civic centre. There I picked up my maps, news that the campsites were miles away, and more delightful news that the National Park Office where I could obtain information about my traverse was definitely closed… en serio?!? What closes that early (7 pm) in Argentina??? The final nugget of info that I had just missed the bus whilst talking to him sealed my dislike of this little town. The gorgeous scenery is wasted on these heathens!
The 5km walk was stunning:
But now my foot was quickly turning into a weapon of mass destruction. It had the power to destroy my traverse dream. Without my happy place to retreat to it was possible the tears may have started flowing. No more was it the squidgy bubble that shifted with each press…. it had definitely popped, and now each footfall brought a nasty tearing sensation.
It was now even beyond the healing powers of Hermes…. I was frigged.
There was a campsite that appeared before the advertised one… a simple little family place that also housed a scout group (scouting is BIG here!) I just wanted a place to lie down, take a shower and drink a beer… not necessarily in that order. I pitched next to a pleasant Chilean family, very quietly sat around their little fire.
Peeling off my socks confirmed my worst fears… a horrific torn blister on the ball of my right foot, minor damage to the left, and a disgusting reshaping/discolouring of my right little toe… but that wasn’t hurting so we’ll ignore that for now.
A torn foot meant more than simple agony. It officially put an end to my traversing dream. The stabbing pain was now replaced with what I can only describe as a sensation equal to being repeatedly punched, with knuckledusters, by Ivan Drago. It permeated my entire foot from toe to ankle… I wasn’t hiking anywhere in a hurry.
I’d learn to deal with misery and sadness after my previous adventures, but this brought a fresh wave of anguish. The trek from Argentina to Chile had occupied my waking thoughts for the last few weeks… now it was in tatters like my feeble, shabby foot. It may not mean much to the casual reader, but for me it had the potential to define the entire trip… the ultimate test of man against the elements… and now it was no more… all because of a stupid conflict between shoe and skin.
Sadness was overwhelming me when fate gave me a slap in the face, reminding me that it is not places that will define this adventure, but people. As I began to document the days misadventures the pleasant Chilean family brought me over a meal of incomparable! Succulent barbequed pork, a veg mix and some homemade bread. They asked for nothing in return… it was merely a gift because I was alone. Again the tears began to well up… but now finally for the right reasons!
Friendship and human compassion have an amazing power to obliterate self pity. Tomorrow I would head back to town to investigate bus prices to Chile.
……… to be continued