Patagonia : Pampa Linda

Río Manso near its source

A few days ago we went on an overnight adventure in the loftier regions of Park Nahuel Huapi. Heading southwest from Bariloche, we drove past Lago Gutierrez and Lago Mascardi, and then turned onto a gravel road, which we followed for a couple hours of driving slowly and cautiously on dusty roads climbing up and up the precipitous slopes. We finally arrived in Pampa Linda about 4 pm.

Pampa Linda in 1927

Río Manso on the drive up

The history of Pampa Linda dates to 1907 when a Belgian doctor from Canada arrived in Bariloche.

the good doctor

He was Don José Emanuel Vereertbrugghen, the first doctor to settle in the entire Río Negro province. Don José’s only son Benito grew up and moved a few miles away from Bariloche, to the valley that lies beneath the shadow of Mount Tronador. The “thundering mountain” was so named on account of the frequent crashing noises heard when masses of ice and snow slide down off the mountaintop.

El Tronador has 7 glaciers

Benito was a born rancher. His life was all about horses and cattle, but he and his wife Clara were also very sociable and loved to entertain visitors. In 1929 they built an inn next to their modest home, calling it the Hotel Tronador. Benito and Clara’s guests were explorers, adventurers, sportsmen and fishermen who came by boat, and then on foot or by horse. Back then there were no roads in the area, and the National Parks would not exist until 1934. But after his first visit to the glaciers, Ezekiel Bustillo, National Parks director, pushed for the opening of a road into the Tronador Valley, completed in 1940.  The original Pampa Linda lodge, now the snack bar (the gettin’ place for burgers, beers and fries), was built in 1947. We stayed in the new lodge next door, built in 1993.

Hostería Pampa Linda

The dining room’s big enough to feed an army of hungry ridge crawlers, and the cozy lounge with big open fireplace is reminiscent of the Ahwahnee but not as grand. A very nice spot to kick back after a long day trekking in the wilds of Nahuel Huapi.

Benito and Clara’s granddaughter, Patricia, who is married and has a very busy 5-year-old boy, currently manages the lodge. The Tronador Valley has lovely, meandering meadows for grazing livestock, a few acres of which are open for camping, with showers, laundry, snack bar, etc. They grow fresh vegetables in season for the dining room, and have their own dairy cows for homemade cheese and flan. Lots and lots of trails are mapped out on the website with full descriptions and drop-down maps. [www.hosteríapampalinda.com.ar.]  There are a few Refugios in the high country, which are high-sierra cabins offering, literally, shelter from the storm, right up there amidst the glaciers.

another shot of El Tronador

The peak of Mt. Tronador [11,500 ft.] is the dividing line between Argentina and Chile. They say it is a dormant volcano. Is that anything like a sleeping dragon? Scientists believe it is not likely to explode in our lifetimes, but, heck, the volcano next door in Chile (Puyehue) sure blew her top a few months ago. I don’t think I’ll invest in any property within a hundred miles… would you?

Some pretty sights on the way there:

loose horse at Lago Mascardi

a wild guanaco, cousin to the llama

We drove in from LlaoLlao, a 5-hour drive, and rewarded ourselves with (of course!) burgers and fries at the snack bar. We checked into our room, which had an awesome and inspiring view of the mountain. We climbed back into the car just before the sun went down, and drove a few km up to see the Black Glacier.  Not exactly hard-core trekkers, are we?

Black Glacier

The sun was getting ready to go down and when it finally slipped behind the crest we were able to get a few pictures of the glacier and the lake with floating dark icebergs, full of ground up rocks and dirt that gives it its color, and name.

old cabins at Pampa Linda

Later that same evening we had dinner in the lodge. We had a table next to the window. The moon rose over Mt. Tronador, casting its bright light upon the mountain, and reflecting that beautiful glow down upon us. Later we sat on a couch in the lounge, next to the fire, and chatted with a couple who live in Puerto Madryn, farther south, on the Atlantic. They rode horses up to the Castaño Overo glacier, and then hiked on foot another 2 hours to the Otto Meiling Refuge. We did the same ride the next morning, but we went down the way we’d come up: on horseback! and took lots of pictures!

crossing Río Manso

We tied the horses in a little grove not far from the glacier, and walked to the lookout. We ate apples washed down with black coffee. The Río Manso, which emerges from the glacier, has strikingly milky green waters, due to its particular blend of glacial sediment. It is very cold and swift moving as it heads on down to the valley, and later flows past the continental divide into Chile, and eventually to the Pacific.

an awesome view!

Our guide on the ride up was a Chilean named Miguel who works at Pampa Linda, and his dog Tronador (same as the mountain):

Miguel & Tronador

We learned that the caña verde that grows along the trails in the mountains is a kind of grass that looks like bamboo. It’s as if you’re riding through a drive-by feed store. Ranchers feed it to their horses in winter, dried and stored. How cool is that? My horse tried to snag a few bites as we rode along, but I whispered to him, “sorry darlin’, snack bar’s closed today.”

free for the grazing

Other fascinating sights in the high country include this old flatbed. I guess it still runs, the key was in it. Nothing a little duct tape and baling wire can’t fix!

the dog is about as old as the truck

an International?

Riding back down to the lodge we followed an old trail through the meadows and creekbed. We came across some loose horses and mules belonging to the Pampa Linda stables. They do pack trips up into the mountains for 3-day and 5-day rides. The horses work one day on, one day off during summer, unless they’re out on a long ride.

she looks pregnant to me... ya think?

Patagonian wild ducks

Ben has been enjoying the thrills of fly-fishing: waiting for trout (brown, rainbow, and brook) to swim up and nibble the hook (special non-damaging hooks) from colorful little hand-tied flies. Perhaps we could start a new trend in earrings when the current feather craze is over, with cute fuzzy flies and other insect earring and hair ornaments, realistic enough to scare off the real flies and mosquitos! Body piercers would be in avant-goth heaven! The downside of fly-fishing is, I hear, losing your flies, snagging the line, and having to throw the fish back in!

fish like them!

There are only a few spots in Nahuel Huapi where you can actually keep a full-grown fish. That should make all of you animal protectors happy. And there are fish hatcheries all over the place. The little spawnlings are released into the lakes and rivers to keep all the tourist fishermen and fisherwomen happy. I can attest that fresh grilled trout is amazingly delicious!

I have learned 5 new species of trees: the huge, straight and tall ñire with shaggy bark; the straight and tall coíhue with beautiful oak-like branches way up high in the sky (it has a smoother bark); the arrayán, a cinnamon-colored cousin of the peely-bark madrone; the lenga, tall and slender, reminiscent of birch but not so white, beloved of elves; and the jacaranda, its lilac-violet blossoms seen all over Buenos Aires.

Yes, we are having one heck of a fabulous time here in Patagonia! This is the kind of place that makes you want to saddle up and ride the Andean version of the Pacific Crest Trail. If someone organizes it, I’ll sign up! I’m not kidding, either! but we’d have to ride into town to tango.

Next blog up: I spend a day horseback on the Estancia San Ramón.

Ciao from Patagonia!

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A silly post from a silly girl

We came to Patagonia for a visit with our friend, Goldilocks, and the three Bears: Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Baby Bear. We weren’t sure where they lived, but we saw a couple of places that seemed to fit the description:

Could this be their house?

Or maybe this one?

How cute is that?

Yup, it’s their house! And here they are:

Papa Bear reading a story to Baby Bear and Goldilocks

Mama Bear showed us the kitchen:

a real storybook kitchen

with a dreamscape view:

Cerro Otto, above Bariloche

My storybook friends do exist, right in your house (if you have little ones) and also in your imagination! Others smarter than I have noted that during our absent-minded reflections and daydreams we are processing things on another level, that is, we are giving meaning to our day-to-day existence. Have you ever noticed how your creativity and inventiveness start to kick in when you slow down enough to notice? So if you love to get out into nature, ride horses, dance, go fishing, read a good book, whatever you do to relax and let the world slip away… you’re rewarding yourself with a good healthy dose of creativity and imagination. It’s never a waste of time!

Here’s a blooper from my next post, think of it as a preview:

Oh no, his horse tried to kiss him!

Ciao from Patagonia!

Patagonia: Nahuel Huapi

the beach at Lago Traful

They call this Patagonian high country the Lake District, land of seven lakes and seven rivers. Depending on your point of view, Patagonia can be a welcoming paradise of towering peaks and alpine lakes or a tedious composition of the endless, unknowable and unliveable wilderness — more than 300,000 square miles of Chile and Argentina in the southern cone of South America. There’s hundreds of lakes up here, and I don’t mean ponds. This beautiful blue paradise we found just a few kilometers from our cabin:

he's happy on the rocks

Lago Traful is a beach of pretty rainbow colored waters.  Traful is a Mapuche word meaning a confluence of creeks and rivers.

wish you were here!

Just down the road and around a few curves is a tiny harbor at Bahía López, in Llao Llao:

Porto Pañuelo

The world famous Hotel Llao Llao is perched on a hill just up the road. We hiked around the cove and along a trail that goes up and around the point.

The Brazo Tristeza trail was spectacular: pretty day, short hike (less than an hour), lovely views! We had post-hike coffee at the big hotel. Reminds me of the Ahwahnee but not as grand.

the view from the top

Calling all snow lovers! This could be the place for you. High peaks all around, gorgeous lakes of the most dazzling indigo blue, abundant fishing, hiking, skiing, trekking, mountaineering. Winter sports are the biggest draw here, causing a population surge in winter. Bariloche is built along the southern shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi, lined with hotels, lodges, cabins, casinos, spas…. however this is not Lake Tahoe. The shoreline isn’t built up all around the lake. In fact, there are precious few roads once you get s few kms out of town. Tahoe in the 1930s?

Bariloche in winter

Nature lovers, no need to chain yourself to a tree. Miles of trails to hike in summer or x-country ski in winter. Tourist season here never ends, or so they say. In autumn people come for the fall colors, and in spring you can just imagine the wildflowers. National parks in Patagonia have stands of old growth trees like the beautiful coihues we hugged on our hike to Lago Llum.

el coihue

The Llao Llao Hotel isn’t just a resort; it’s the centerpiece of the region, the key to the elaborate fantasy that informed the area’s development. During the 1930’s, Argentina’s military government created two contiguous national parks that extend for 160 miles along the rugged Chilean border; the Llao Llao was their capstone. Parks and hotels alike were the brainchildren of Ezequiel and Alejandro Bustillo, brothers who’d fallen under the spell of “el Sur,” the vast and trackless Patagonian wilderness that Argentina’s army had wrested from the natives just a half-century earlier. Ezequiel was the visionary bureaucrat, head of the National Park Service and central to the creation of its first park, Nahuel Huapi. Alejandro was the architect who transformed these craggy surroundings into stone-and-wood stage sets. In their hands, the Patagonian Andes of the nomadic Mapuche and Tehuelche nations became a romantic Alpine fantasia. Picture a band of gauchos singing “Edelweiss” by the campfire and you’ve got the general idea. [this paragraph taken from “Patagonia: Argentina’s Lake District,” by Frank Rose, 2008, Travel and Leisure]

Trails in the parks are more or less maintained, though we had to climb over numerous big fallen trees bisecting the trail. The trails aren’t freeways like in Yosemite! A sweet hand-painted sign along the path reminds us to take good care of the forest:

Cuide el Bosque

Day 3 in Bariloche we walked across the road and down to the beach. Let me fill in some background info here: Puyehue, an active volcano only 40 miles from Bariloche, (just across the border in Chile) blew its top on Ben’s birthday in 2011 (June 4). Look closely at the water and you’ll see what looks like a tan-colored scum on the surface.

Look closely at the next photo and you’ll see the beach covered with small dark (wet) and tan (dry) pebbles which have washed up on shore. Volcanic pebbles.

volcanic fallout

When you pick up a volcanic pebble, it feels unbelievably light, like a feather, or a marble from a different universe where they forgot to pay the gravity bill. Someone with a background in science could explain it better, using terms like mass, density, etc. These volcanic pebbles float on the water, and then wash up on the beach. On our ride yesterday the clouds of trail dust we were breathing was mostly volcanic ash. Definitely not something you want to breathe lots of.

Anyhow, back to our walk around the neighborhood. A friendly yellow-spotted dog adopted us and followed us for about two hours:

a friendly yellow dog

Here’s our adopted pal accompanying Ben to have a peek in a pretty restaurant just around the corner from our cabin. It was not yet open, so….

La Masia

we went back later for dinner, but we didn’t have reservations and they couldn’t feed us! We’ll try again before we leave Llao Llao. There are loads of even more beautiful buildings in the area, but the back patio of La Masia feels like a sunny terrace somewhere along the Italian riviera.

At one point we were walking along the road and a big mean black dog named Pincho came running over and attacked our little pet-for-a-day. Pincho’s owners kept calling him but he was intent on chasing the invader off his turf. The little yellow dog came out of it alive with a puncture would on his left back inside leg, (just above the fetlock if he were a horse) and another owie on his inside right hind leg, not to mention the pain and humiliation. Pobrecito! I guess by then he’d figured out we wouldn’t make such good human pets after all. By the time we’d walked as far as Porto Pañuelo he was playing with a boy on a family outing, and we didn’t see him again. Off to greener pastures!

Our next day’s adventure had us driving to a lake in Mapuche territory, about an hour west of Bariloche. We left the main road just past Lago Gutierrez, turning onto a dirt road that wound its way thru tall brush and stands of willows in the river bottom for about 3 km. Our brave red fiat bounced and scraped along the ruts and potholes and rocks, till at last we drove into a clearing with campsites amongst trees by the lake. From there we crossed a wooden footbridge over the creek and took the trail to Lago Llum.

Photo taken before the hike : not yet tired, dirty and hungry!

Ben taking a water break

We climbed up and down along the beach and then up and over the ridge to Lago Llum. The woods were thick, lush, green, with huge coihues that clued us in to the fact  that we were following an old logging road. Here’s the remnants of an old ghost bridge:

Along the trail we glimpsed the lake through the trees:

We kept spotting Lago Llum through the trees but we were high above it for what seemed like forever. After a 2-hour hike we finally skidded, slipped and slid the last 5 minutes down to a tranquil alpine beach: turquoise waters, no roads, no cars, no buildings, no tourists! (we don’t count, right?)  There were a few other hardy folks and kids there enjoying the day and even swimming in that cold water!

pretty clouds too

Some french bread appeared out of Ben’s knapsack along with a tin of salmon which we scarfed down while a yellowjacket maneuvered in anticipation. We stretched out on the pebbly beach and just lay there, eyes closed, for about 20 minutes. The sun was warm and there was only a whisper of a breeze. Paradise found! But we had to leave soon, it was already after 5 and we wanted to hike out while we could still see the trail.

Yesterday we rode to Cerro Campanario. Here we are in a meadow below the peak. Our guide Nacho took this pix:

a couple of hammerheads!

The horses here are stout hammerheads, called criollos. They appear to be descended from the European war-horse type, a blend of the large strong draft horse with the lightness, speed and intelligence of the Arab. The cowboys here, gauchos, wear wool caps or berets and loose trousers. Their “saddles” are definitely economical. Take a couple layers of wool pads or blankets, throw on the saddle tree (wooden bars, no horn), toss another pad on, top it off with a sheepskin or goatskin; loop the cinch around the whole enchilada and climb on board. The stirrups hang loose from the bars. They can be round or D-shaped, with or without tapaderos. It’s a pretty close contact rig, but I can’t quite bring myself to calling it a saddle. However it was comfortable enough for a 2 hour ride.

halfway up the trail

I was taking pictures all the way up…

and somebody was taking a pix of me!

View from the top of the world:

Lago Nahuel Huapi from Cerro Campanario

After the ride we were were covered head-to-toe in volcanic dust. Perhaps our next ride we will head out to a glacier where we can freeze our buns off!  I have to add this photo of a very clever wagon wheel gate. It is tall enough for a tall man to walk thru, and pivots on its axis to open/close; just like a tango dancer! What a cool idea!

Before I sign off, I must rave about the local cuisine. Several species of trout were imported way back when: brown (European native) and rainbow (western US native) are a lake district specialty. You can also purchase locally smoked trout, salmon, venison, and jabalí (wild boar). The steakhouses here, called parrillas, are incredible. We had delicious melt-in-your-mouth steak a few days ago at a place that makes Jocko’s (in Nipomo) seem like Burger King. Yesterday after our ride we stopped at a smoke shop and picked up some smoked salmon, smoked trout, and smoked cheese. My personal chef Benjamín made us a salad with red lettuce, arrugula (they call it rúcula here), smoked trout, slivers of red pepper, tomato, avocado, red onion and cubes of smoked cheese, served with artisan bread and local wine. Yum’s the word.

Bariloche is also the chocolate capital of South America, and there are chocolaterías to visit while looking for Willy Wonka. I counted at least a dozen just driving along the lakeshore into town. We stopped at an artisan chocolatería called Xoco Me, and helped ourselves to free samples. To die for!! Bariloche could fulfill even the most exigent gourmand’s death-by-chocolate fantasy.

artisan chocolates

The weather here in Bariloche is sunny and warm when there’s no wind (10% of the time?), a bit chilly when it’s breezy, or downright cold and windy! It dips into the 40s at night, and this is SUMMER! So much for the bathing suit and shorts I brought! The landscape and houses here remind me of Colorado in summer, only it’s colder and breezier. The wind is positively howling today, and it’s been sprinkling off and on, altho the whitecaps on the lake seem to be diminishing. A perfect excuse to stay inside and work on my blog. At least the volcano’s not erupting! Being in a place where the weather channel is produced and directed by mother nature kind of keeps you humble. Stay tuned for the next episode!

[For more info and amazing video of the volcanic eruption, check out this website: quake-tv.org.  Have a look at video 9.]

Ciao from Patagonia!

Greetings from Patagonia!

We arrived in Bariloche today, a 20-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to the mountains that seem to be on top of the world… the southern world, that is!  Home of the majestic condor.

getting on board in Buenos Aires

We traveled for hours and hours through the Pampas…. flat, fertile, green prairies as far as the eye can see… full of farmland, cattle and horses.  No hills at all.  The last few hours we began to go slowly but steadily uphill, and it was looking kinda like California Valley, low dry hills covered with scrub and sagebrush. Finally, in the last hour, we emerged into a gorgeous scenery of lakes and rivers.

We picked up a rental car, checked into our cabin, and made a run into town for food and other essentials. Our cabin is perched on a hillside overlooking Lago Nahuel Huapi, (pronounced na-well wápee) with a breathtaking view. Tomorrow we will do an easy hike and feel out the glitches in our bodies and equipment. I have a brand new, very small backpack ready to be broken in. It holds the equivalent of about a gallon of milk… my goal was to avoid having to carry anything more than a small water bottle, sandwich, camera & rain jacket. If I need more than that, I’ll only go if I can ride a horse! Here’s the view from our cabin:

Lake Nahuel Huapi

Toto, we are definitely not in Kansas anymore!  I mean Buenos Aires! Stay tuned for more about our summer getaway!  Will they find a milonga in the midst of paradise?

Ciao from Llao Llao!