Friday, March 20, 2009

Bridges of El Balson county

Lest you think I was in any way dissauded by my prior adventures in the mountains... Spent a day resting back in Bariloche, then promptly packed up my bags again and went back to the mountains, this time taking a two hour bus ride to the nearby town of El Balson, commonly described as something of a Patagonia Hippie enclave. There were certainly some hippies, lots of organic produce, a farm 1300m up in the mountains, and this statue in the central plaza of the town:

I later heard some theory of why it may be there, but it´s honestly not all that interesting, so it´s better left as just a weird statue in El Balson

At 12:30, a local bus picked me up by the square and headed off to the nearby mountains (odd side note: you can´t get anything to eat, other than ice cream, in this town until noon. Some restaurants even have signs claiming their kitchens are open all day, however, they were all closed that day, until 12). Arriving at the trail head, it was obvious pretty quickly that I wasn´t hiking in a national park this time. No 30 peso entry fee and the trails aren`t in nearly as good of a condition or as well marked. Most emblematic were the bridges:

The first bridge I came to leaned a little to the right

Look out below!

After a few hours of going uphill, I was almost at the mountain hut and the bridge was even better

The trail markings saying ´hi´ along the way...

The hike itself was pleasant enough though as I reached the refugio in about 4 hours, after getting an estimate of 5-7 hours at the start. Even managed to go through 30 minutes of Spanish lessons on my iPod on the way up. At the end of my hike was Refugio Helio Azul, located in the middle of the woods at 1300m, yet featuring a farm (I´d never seen cows grazing in the middle of the woods before) and a rather deserted football field.

No tent to carry = light backpack!

Once at the top, there´s a few shorter hikes you can do to see some of the nearby attractions, starting with a little waterfall:

Smile for the camera... and hope it doesn´t fall into the water!

Water rushing down below

The next morning, instead of heading straight down the mountain, I instead went climbing some more to get up to the lake and glacier above the refugio:

The mountain near the refugio. Basked in bright blue skies in the morning after a disappointingly gray sky the day before

And at the top of that range, a lake and a glacier crawling down to it

Sporting some bright new sunglasses

The night before, at the refugio, there was the hut warden there, 3 israelis (you just don´t go a day in Patagonia without running into a bunch of Israelis) who were heading to another hut before dark, two people camping, me, and a couple from Buenos Aires (Florencia and Julian, who thankfully both spoke English), so it was a pretty relaxed evening. Considering that I got exactly three hours of sleep the night before, I slept quite peacefully for 11 hours up there! Before going to bed, a conversation with the Argentinian couple, highlighting the pitfalls of learning new languages, after the cat residing at the refugio came out to hang out with us:
Alex: What´s the Spanish word for cat?
Florencia: gato
A: Oh, just like ´cake´ in French...
F: Yes... it also means, well, a street girl, like in Palermo
A: funny, cat has a sexual connotation in English as well
F: Really?
A: (staying quiet, suddenly realizing that if they don´t know, I most certainly do not want to have to explain...)
a moment´s pause...
F: Oh, there´s that band, the Pussycats... So, does that mean street walkers also?
A: (experiencing dread) Well, no, it´s more of a reference to a part of the female anatomy...
F: Oh yes... I had heard that before
A: (sigh of relief)

So, yeah, I´m still making friends with the locals! The next morning, we said our goodbyes halfway up the ridge to the glacier (I had left earlier than they had, so met them on my way down), and I headed back down to El Balson (this time with no fears of missing my bus back to Bariloche). Decided that going down the same way would be boring, so took a different route, which was a couple hours longer, but didn´t requite a bus to get back to El Balson. At the end, after leaving the trail and on the way to town, run into some Argentine farm equipment:

Oh the deux cheveux... how we love thee - there´s a lot of them here in Argentina by the way, so yes, Cyrus, you should definitely buy one and drive it back to Seattle. And no, I am not coming with you. Even if you explain to me how that gear shift thing works!

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