On Wednesday we set of on a three day trek in the Andes. By the end of the day Friday we had trekked 40+ km, ascended a total of 1400m, celebrated Andy’s 39th in the Andes and toasted the three month anniversary of our sabbatical.
If you want the technical details of our trek have a look here. What follows is an account of our journey through photos. (To balance to lack of images in the last post. Click on the images for captions.)
Not all of this will be intelligible if you haven’t spent a few years riding bikes, but I make no apologies. If you know your Hecklers from your High Towers and your V10’s from your Nomads (and have little else to do for 10 minutes) read on… So, that said, lets get down to business.
We left BA on a rainy Sunday afternoon armed with copious amounts of podcasts, road snacks and an overwhelming sense of relief to be back on the road. The task at hand? Make it to Bariloche, 1500 km south west of BA through the infamous Pampas region. We need to be there by Monday as on Tuesday our replacement cards arrive by FedEx at a hostel, courtesy of my brother.
It took us two days of long 8 hour drives to the sound of Dan Carlin’s voice discussing the history of the Persian Empire from the Assyrians, to Cyrus the Great, to Darius and eventually Alexander the Great to finally reach Neuquen, the first major town since we left BA.
On the way we stopped to check out some “dinosaur footprints”. Naturally we were skeptical but seeing these in their natural setting, by an azure lake was impressive.
100km outside of Bariloche, as I am dreaming of good coffee, salivating at the prospect of a good wine bar and above all excited to not spend 8hours straight in the car, Andy suggests a de tour.
“Let’s turn left here. 35k to Villa Traful, I think I read a few lines in a book about it”
What exactly was read is not explained.
A reluctant “fine” from me and off we go. Down one of the bumpiest dirt tracks we have come across.
10k in and we spot some vast, vertical walls prime for climbing.
15k in we get a first glimpse of the lake. It’s a deep blue colour, with pine trees growing right on the shore and waters so clear you can see each and every pebble from the road.
25k in we spot the first camping site, it’s packed. 30k in and we now have a full view of this tiny alpine village with about 100 wood houses, a clutch of hotels and cabanas and young families and pensioners taking long strolls in the dedicated walking paths around the lake. It reminds me of Kellerman’s resort in Dirty Dancing. At the tourist information desk we are pointed to the only cash point in town and told of a beach 3km outside of town where we can set up a wild camp. Looks like we have a plan.
Only the cash point does not accept our one remaining card. Mad scramble around the car, pockets are searched, bags are turned upside down. 600 ARD. That’s about £30 and we want to spend about two days here. We have enough food for dinner and breakfast and like mature, intelligent adults decide to postpone the problem to the next day.
Beach Tres Marias is everything we could have hoped for. Quiet, only a handful of other campers around, right by the lake offering ample shade. A run, some P90x to the amusement of our neighbours, dinner and movie in bed.
The next day we discover that the local supermarket accepts cards. Two day stay plan is therefore back on track, we stock up and decide to spend a day by the beach, reading, meditating and doing as little as possible. Andy builds us a dining room. We move from our little spot only to gather wood for our fire.
On Saturday morning, after coffee, bread, cake and chocolate (it’s my cheat day from diet) Andy suggests trekking to see some waterfalls.
“Maximum two hours” he says.
“I’d like to get to exercise propoerly for 20minutes or so if possible”, he says. “Run for the start of the trail?”
By now, we’ve been through this a couple of times. I’ve walked and run beside Andy long enough to know that his gate is about twice as mine. Most importantly, I should have realised that seeing as we were going to be running on a track that leads to a waterfall, we would be running UP. But now, high on chocolate and carbs I failed to see the signs. So of we went running up a very steep track, overtaking other bewildered trekkers who I am sure are now telling their friends stories about the two gringos that were running up the mountain at noon in the middle of the summer.
Half an hour in and we are still running. But that point I have (finally) put two and two together and have done the math. But I think of the chocolate and the bread and I keep running up stairs. Thankfully, when we get to the first waterfall, we realise that it pales in comparison to some others we’ve seen during our trip. We decide to skip the second one and run back down to the car where I finally get an edge on Andy courtesy of my fully functioning and un-injured knees.
At the lake, I dive straight into the freezing cold water and take in the surroundings for the last time. A quick bite, a glass of wine and by 3pm we are back in Gellan, heading to Bariloche while I catch myself thinking “thank god for detours”.
Taxi or walk? its a 30 minute stroll to La Boca, down by the port.
Well we want to get there with good photographic light so lets jump in a taxi. Hail one down, La Boca pro favor. Dos cientos. Be a good spot and flick the metre on. No. Dos cientos.
It is relevant to point out at this point that we look like quintessential tourists. Carrying back pack at the front, clutching a guide book and clearly not speaking the language. This is relevant because we were about to find ourselves in the back streets of one of BA’s most notoriously crime ridden barrios.
Summarising our time in BA is tricky. We ended up spending a week in town but only managed to relax and do some actual sightseeing in our last couple of days; the rest of the time was spent replacing what was stolen.
As you know, Monday was spent trying to sort out my passport situation. By the time we got back to the apartment, showered and changed we only had energy to go for a quick stroll around Palermo; the hipster infected neighbourhood which is very similar to New York’s Soho or London’s Hoxton. Cobble streets, small boutiques, gluten free restaurants and cocktails bars. We had dinner at one of the best restaurants in town, a dry-aired strip loin steak for Andy and a Waggu sirloin for me. Contrary to how these are usually served in Europe, here they come with no sauce and few trimmings (after all the portions are massive). The extra portion of fries Andy orders goes untouched. A couple more drinks at the local bars and then a slow stroll through Palermo back to the apartment.
A retelling, somewhat curtailed, of Joseph Campbell’s mono myth. The face of this hero is less bearded than those of his myths.
I am sitting in a hostel room in Buenos Aires with no money, no food and only one key that starts the van. My aim is to solve all these problems in the next few hours, fears of being in a remote Andean village, hung-over trying to hot wire an immobilized 4×4 after a heavy night on local firewater leaves us with no key, pushes me to procure a back-up now… The me of the future will thank the me of now I am sure.
First and foremost a huge thank you to everyone who has texted, emailed and called us since news broke of the stolen passport. Your love and kind words kept me going and, to be honest, brought me to tears.
This is what we usually talk about before we fall asleep. Specifically, what three things in the day are each of us thankful / grateful for. Not every night, but regularly.
This, oddly, did not come about via a book / course on mindfulness but rather the question first came up after I read Sheryl Sandberg’s commencement speech at UC Bercley earlier this year (see it here). During the speech Sheryl talks very candidly about the death of her husband whilst on a family holiday and how she is working on coming up with a Plan B to her life. One of her coping mechanisms is to note down things, big and small, that she’s thankful for. She says “counting your blessings can actually increase your blessings”.
I am currently reading Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans (book review coming soon) where a similar approach is recommended as a meditative practice. Thinking about what one is thankful for at the end of the day seems to be very much common practice. Tim refers to it as gratitude training though in the book (ever the list-master) he suggests that you create categories of things that you are thankful for (people, work etc). Another interesting idea from the same book: 21 days without complaining.
Either way, I find it a very helpful exercise in grounding myself, reminding me to see the bigger picture and not sweat the small stuff (which I am VERY good at doing sometimes). Even on days when our car gets smashed.