Monday, November 23, 2009

What a weekend! - Rodeo, Barreal, Roadtrip, Wind

     Woah, where do I begin? So the last time I left off, I was unsure of whether or not I would make it out of Còrdoba, with all of my dirty clothes. Sorry for not updating this until now, all 1 of you reading my work (joking...I hope). So yes, the package arrived by the time I did to the bus terminal, and I happily strode onto the bus, rain pelting the terminal. Leaving Còrdoba was made 100 times more exciting by the heavy rains and strobe-light night sky, with probably at least 2 flashes every second. Although there were too many heavy low clouds to see the actual lightning, this made the normally invisible mountains well-outlined as we left the city. Finally some freakin' terrain! I never knew how much I missed San Diego's varied altitudes and mountains until I encountered them this night, in a town West of Còrdoba named Villa Nueva. Argentina, until this point, has been flat. We raced along this beautiful mini-city in the hills, as the lightning and rain stormed on around us.
     I might add that once we were heading into the sierras, it started hailing- when you're sitting on the top deck of the bus at the very front (like I always do so I can see everything when traveling), something like hail slamming into the roof of a fast moving bus makes for some ear-shattering pleasantry. And, despite the curatins, I couldn't escape the strobing lightning. Anyway, I made it to San Juan, and again aquired hardly a few hours of sleep on the damned bus.

     From what I recall now, it was pretty hot and dry out, with not a cloud in the sky. I do much prefer the dry desert heat than shitty humid heat. I checked into Zonda Hostel, only 6 blocks away from the bus terminal. It's a decent place, but still a hostel. I don't really recall what I did that night, maybe walked around a bit. Next day I decided to head to the nearby Dique Ullum, a giant reservoir 14km West of San Juan, which seemed like the perfect place for a swim in this 38ºC heat (100º F).
     I had just missed Bus 29, which leaves on the hour for the dike.  At 14:00 I caught the next one, and rode for 45 minutes into the dry, deserty but very tree'ed mountainous area. I reached the dique and, since I asked the bus driver to let me off at la playa, he dropped me off at the very front end of the dique, about 8km or so from the nearest (populated) ''beach''. The water was a beautiful shade of celeste (I think¿), but I was nowhere near where I wanted to be. SO I did the next thing that Drew usually does when something doesn't work out - he does things his own way.

I walked almost 8 km and hitched 2 more to reach a beach, in the scorching sun, as you can see here. People up here race by at incredulous speeds, and all but one car were unwilling to pick up the bearded dude on the side of the road. A group of 3 druggies gave me a lift to the beach, and I then talked to the willing one, who is friendly, but pretty gone. Upon their leave, I got a ride back to where I started, at the front of the dique, and swam there instead. The water was quite cool, and the mud shore was extremely suction-ey, like the Tar Pits.
     After missing the bus back to San Juan, I was effectively stranded.

Luckily a dude with a mustache and 5 kids pulled over to give me a lift back to the city. I told him I was planning a trip out of San Juan for some nearby towns, and he told me he was a taxi driver who could drive me around that area for 2 days at only $600 pesos! I told him "maybe" and mentally decided I would be better off renting a car than taking busses or having a chauffeur. I ended up in the main town plaza, and from here I walked to the lookout tower over the town. The day was pretty interesting, and I am a lot tanner because of it.
     Next day I rented a car, since I didn't want to have to rely on lengthy and sometimes unreliable busses to where I needed to go. This was kind of expensive, but was worth it in amount of time saved.

My plan was to head to Rodeo, a town 200km Northwest of San Juan, via the famed Ruta 40. This road runs the length of Argentina along the Andes, all the way to the end of the inhabited earth, Ushuaia. So just before leaving, a couple Swiss girls needed a ride to Rodeo, and asked to come with. Hell yeah, since they could help lift the burdenous cost off of me a bit. We headed North, along the beautiful vast expanse of the Cuyo, with desert and mountains on both sides, and hardly any cars. In due time we reached San Jose de Jachal, a tiny village in a fertile valley, effectively getting lost on the unnamed roads, and having to ask 5 or 6 people how to get to Rodeo.

From here, the road went West, winding along beautiful mountain slopes of granite and dried rock floods and an immense canyon. This was surely the best part of the drive, and I am willing to bike it next time. Truly an awesome experience.
 At last we reached the dique near Rodeo, where strong mountain winds come crashing over the lake at 120km, every afternoon. This place is now world-famous for windsurfing, of the extreme variety. I figured I'd give it a go. We checked in to Hostel Lamaral, a nice little place near the dique. Wind was pushing the alamo trees about 45º over, crazy. So after trying to convince the guy who rents windsurf equipment that I could handle the gale, he wouldn't let me go out.
Damn! If only I had a sailboat here, then I could really take to these hurricane-force winds. Maybe next time. Otherwise, it's a beautiful view, and the town is only of 2,000 people and dirt streets. The night held a spectacularly black cloak of sky, studded with as many stars as visibly possible with the naked eye.

The dude at the hostel, Octavio, made us a truly Argentine dinner of cheese-and-green olive pizza and Roquefort cheese raviolis in a tomato-carrot sauce, and proceeded to discuss the corruption of the police here, and why he doesn't want to live in BsAs.
     I guess everyone in Argentina knows the police and the politicians and the high-up business people here are in with the ranks of drug cartels, but most choose to ignore it. This is the opposite of America, in that there is a lot of corruption in the government and businesses, but it is much more hidden and censored by our media, so people DON´T KNOW or DON´T BELIEVE it, rather than KNOWING and CHOOSING TO IGNORE it. ¿Viste? The literacy rate here is 97%, which competes with America, and so far it seems like these people are a lot more musically literate as well. That is good for me. But I digress, again.

     I chose a hammock instead of a bed, and slept under the brilliant night sky. Next day, the Swiss girls were trying to push for me to go visit Parque Ichigualasto, also known as The Valley of the looks like a landscape straight out of Coyote vs. Roadrunner. I didn't want to spend 7 hours driving to a place I don't really have an interest in seeing in this trip, especially since it would cost more in gas, km's, and park entrance fees. I stuck with my original route of heading South, another 200km, to the town of Barreal. But, I also chose that route that not too many people ever take, which consisted of 100km of dirt roads or no roads at all, and another 100 sweeping through various towns along the Andes. This was kind of pushing it in the non-4x4 car, but I stocked an extra 5L of nafta and 1L of oil, as well as some provisions for the (supposedly) 5 hour trip. No one I had talked to knew or had seen the road personally before, which was a tad bit unnerving, but upon hitting the actual road, it wasn't so bad. Here in AR, they don't seem to have to many bridges over rivers, so the roads just kind of dip down into the (thankfully) dry riverbeds. When storms come, they disintigrate bits and pieces of these sections through flooding and erosion. I had to slow to an aching 20km/hr. on a good portion of the first 80km or so, and some of the roads were filled with large rocks and loose, loose gravel.

    The vistas of huge, colorful and partially snow-capped mountains and endless deep-blue sky were quite a site, especially considering that at one point on this road, the outside temperature was ¡42º! (107ºF...not that bad actually, I thought it would be a lot hotter at first). I guess it seemed a little scarier considering that the car could just break down at any time. At one point, I smelled gasoline and thought a rock might have punctured the gas tank or something. Turns out it was only a little bit of gasoline that leaked through the overflow pipe, from being jostled around on the rough terrain; the heat was causing the gasoline to evaporate, in turn causing the smell of pseudo-danger.
     We passed through the beautiful town of Calingasta, filled with trees everywhere and families walking or biking along the roads. Upon reaching Barreal, the view was nothing short of ''Wow.'' The nearby mountains are some of the tallest in all of the Americas, peaking at over 6,000 meters. The first part of the town that I thought was Barreal was simply a collection of houses, so upon driving far enough, I reached the real thing.

     I stopped by the tourist kiosk, where I picked up a map missing roads.We checked in to Cabañas Kummel, and for $180 pesos, we had our own cabin. The owners _____ and Maxi (this old dude) were pretty friendly. By this point I was getting over hanging out with the girls, who are extremely European. By this I mean that they are more independent, less friendly, and talk amongst themselves in suisserdüstch (Swiss-German), if they talk at all. Don't much care for that kind of vibe, especially compared to the openess, audacity and friendliness of the people in Argentina.

I arranged excursions for the next day, first consisting of a hike into the quedabra (valley) to the east of the town, which is a series of massive and colorful mountains known as the Precordillera, and here known also as Cerros Pintados (Painted Mountains). This would be followed by wind sailing/land sailing a flat expanse of dry lakebed to the South of the town in the afternoon, when those strong winds start.

     That night I headed out (on my own) to an observatory in nearby Parque Provincial El Leoncito, where I hoped to catch some stars under the ultra-powerful telescope. This observatory, paired with another on a nearby hill, are under some of the clearest skies in the world, with over 320 days of clear nights (I think). This night happened to be a little cloudy, so I drove all the way up winding dirt roads lining cliff faces, just to find out it was closed from a couple tourists heading back down the hill. I stopped, got out of the car, and turned everything off. The night was still perfectly fine for Drew eyes to soak in, so I looked across the vast expanse of night sky, horizon to horizon being pitch black, with no light pollution. Simply amazing.
     The girls borrowed the car for heading to the nearby river to relax, whilst I headed up into the quedabra with Maxi and his way-older-than-me daughter, Judy. This place is filled with amazing colors, which contrast brilliantly with the super-deep-blue sky. Literally, I have never seen a bluer sky anywhere in the world than here, which is probably due to lack of pollution and the Andes Mountains cleaning up the air. The landscape was pretty lunar-like, and as we stopped into a nearby abandoned mining camp, I picked up a couple souvenirs left behind several decades ago.

     After the girls and I had to go our separate ways (since they didn't want to hang around until I finished windsailing), they took a bus back to San Juan, freeing me from their evil feminist burdens. They were both police cops in a Swiss town, which also made me uncomfortable. I dislike feminists, and I could feel them showering me with the Estrogen of Equality. But as I say, women who strive to be equal to men lack ambition. :)    Ha, I guess I digress again. More photos!

     Before windsailing, a couple people rode in on bicycles to the cabañas, one of which who looked familiar. We loaded up the windcar and headed out to the lakebed. I realized halfway into the trip that the guy who looked familiar worked at the tourist kiosk! His buddy was a 16 year old who lived in a country house with a 2 cows, a horse, and a dog, and maybe some chickens.

We all made friends and the landsailing (carrovelismo) was super awesome. It's a lot easier than sea sailing, only because you can't just stop and hold your place in the ocean,  and you don't have to aim upward of your goal when heading upwind to circumvent the currents. But yeah, much fun. The sky is truly a sight here, with the massive clouds pouring over the top of these highest peaks in the entire Americas.
     So, after leaving Barreal for San Juan up a long and winding series of paved and unpaved roads, the dark night sky was once again a reality, as the stars shone through the windshield.
     I took a bus just yesterday to Mendoza, which is the same as San Juan, but with more trees, more wine and generally a more classy feeling place. I tried 4 new kinds of empanadas, which I have a craving for right now actually. Morcilla (black pork sausage), cabrito (kid goat), some other kind of meat, and another kind of goodness. These were paired with a glass of super smooth Malbec red wine. Normally I'm not big on wine, but this wine was super-fine.
      I am now off to Valparaìso, Chile, to see the Pacific once again, and hang out in this bohemian, chaotic, beautiful city, situated in rolling hills right on the ocean. Can't wait for some excellent seafood temptations, such as king crab and monger eel. I think I will stay there through Friday morning, head back into Argentina to here (Mendoza), and, depending on my interest in adventure, might take a trip 6 hours south of here to Malargüe, to see some awesome volcanoes and more lunar landscapes in Las Payunias. From there I will head back to Mendoza, with a final destination for Buenos Aires. But we'll see.

I will soon upload pics of this crazy adventure and more onto this post, probably in Chile.
All for now, more for later. Until then, you know who this is... or do you?...

     - Drew

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