Another blog another bus journey worth noting if only to serve as guidance of how not to get from El Chalten to El Bolson. Route 40 is one of those roads with a reputation. It's the longest road in South America and is a long stretch of gravel and dust. With few options to get from South to North it wasn't really a choice. This long and dusty unmade road stretches between mile upon mile of uninhabitable steppe with only the odd ginger llama for proof that it was home to someone. All 26 hours of the journey to El Bolson would be all via Route 40. The long long hours were either dusty and hot, or ice ice AC cold. Our unfortunate choice of seat meant that for the first half of the journey the filter over our heads would dump centimetres of fine red dust all over us so that when we stood up a dust silhouette was left behind on our seats. At a distance we looked like we had a decent tan! For those who just couldn't cross their legs a moment longer the frightening concept of the onboard toilet loomed. Anyone who dared to open the small door at the end of the bus was greeted by a thick plume of road dirt encasing the full bladdered traveller and all the people in the last three rows of seats. On top of the filth and the angered passengers the final humiliation was the precarious nature of trying to remove clothing, pee and mop up whilst the bus felt like it was off-roading. A messy business all round.
It was a relief to finally arrive at El Bolson; a hippy town in the Lake District of Patagonia. Rich forests, snow capped mountains, sleepy (paved!) roads...we made our way 5 kilometres out of town to a piece of paradise.
La Casona del Odile is more than just a hostel. It is a beautiful plot of land bordered by glacial streams, shady forests and a house so perfectly designed to make you feel like you just arrived home. The international owners make you feel like part of the family. Simon and I stayed longer than we should in order to explore the area but also bask in the hammocks, play with puppies, talk to new friends, read books and bake cakes.
After the initial Route 40 recovery involving lazy breakfasts of homemade bread and jam, hammock finding and using, etc we found the energy for a days trek in the surrounding peaks. Cajun de Azul (Canyon of Blue) is hard to describe. Water so blue and so crystal clear that you could watch the trout 30 feet below the surface drifting in the current. Water so cold it made you heart beat faster just dipping a toe in! Being the scaredy cat I am it was only going to be the toe that got wet but after 7 hours of scrambling up hills, negotiating thin paths next to deep ravines and getting a little lost Simon needed to cool off. He was just getting a good goading from me when a small group arrived which persuaded him that if a tiny Italian girl and 2 skinny French guys were willing to risk hyperthermia he should too. He dived into the flat waters elegantly. He literally launched himself out again in a frenzy of splashing and arm flapping with a look of pure horror on his face! The water having not long come from the glacier up stream meant that the unpleasant 'testicle' moment chaps get when bathing in cool water was an intense all body experience. We sat on the a sun warmed rock and waited to see how the others reacted with a clear sense of shardenfreuder. 'This should be funny' we thought! The ultra petite Italian girl glided into the water and...... calmy rose to the surface giggling. She wafted about the icy waters as if she were in a hotspring! Poor Simon, teeth chattering, was somewhat emasculated. Not to be defeated he stood up on his blue feet and went straight back in! Nope. He was right the first time. It was bloody cold. He got dressed. We left.
Christmas is celebrated on the 24th not ony by the Argentines but by most of the continentals in our hostel and so the morning started with an air of celebration and indulgence. I helped Marcel prepare his famous white wine punch, Simon had a massage under the trees of the garden surrounded by the river, the birds and splendid isolation. We skyped my family/ reprobates in Australia tucking into their breakfast bottle of bubbles. I baked a cake for everyone to share whilst others offered cheese and goodies. Simon and I helped Ffion with the cracker making and tried to explain to the Israeli's what the point of a cracker was?! The Casona family prepared a feast of mushroom balls, babaganoush, red wine steak stew and puddings like we hadn't had and as the sun set the Argentines juggled, mojitos were being poured by the Frenchies, the party tricks started by the English, the shots were shared and the boogie started! As we were two of the last men standing we would certainly be suffering tomorrow. The 'Butterfly' liquor was particularly memorable; that night and the next morning.
Our Christmas was a little different this year. It started with a hangover, then breakfast, then bed and hangover again and having finally managed to heave our sorry selves out of bed at 4pm we realised we had not prepared a single thing for our own celebration. With all shops closed we were basically food-less. In the spirit of true christmas our new El Bolson friends chipped in and we shared our goodies with an equally badly organised American fellow. Omelette and cuppa soup! Marvellous! An evening of bananagrams, story sharing around the fire place and more red wine consumption ensued. Christmas not as we know it and despite the merriment, cheer and the warmth of our temporary family it was not lost on us how far away our loved ones were. Simon and I read cards given before we left and shed a christmas tear. Our adventures hold amazing experiences, new people, new places and we know we don't want to be anywhere else yet there is always a part that feels neglected when you are away from those that matter most. Missing means we have something to look forward to after this journey but in the moment it feels heavy and hard. Home is wherever the heart is. I have half my home wherever I am and the other half far far away.
Boxing Day arrived with another 'vino tinto' head but nothing a laze in a hammock, a visit to the local market and a giant waffle couldn't heal. Diabetes would be an inevitable if we stayed in Argentina. In a bid to try and be at least better if not good we shared what turned our to be La Bomba. A giant sized waffley plateau onto which whipped cream, melted chocolate, sweetened raspberries, dulce de leche and more cream was piled so high that it was a human impossibility to take a bite. More a matter of summiting than eating.
We had heard that a trout farm was only down the road and so a few people from the El Bolson family thought they would buy a fish and have a BBQ. News spread like wild fire and soon every guest, every staff were signing up for trout. With jobs shared and divided we went the 'hippy way'. Whilst some peeled, others chopped, some flipped fish. I baked more cakes (any excuse) and Simon opened the wine. A spontaneous shared moment in time where each and every one of us said it was something very unique; a memory to keep.
The night ended with warm goodnights. Oh and then I sliced my finger open. Simons horrified face indicated that I had indeed done a 'Faye' and not just nipped the edge of the broken glass but in fact sliced it deeply enough to warrant a small crowd, make-shift butterfly stitches and a splint made from a spoon! As such the predictable hospital trip came the next day and after ripping open the stitches and having a good rummage it was concluded that a splint for a week was the preferable option to stitches. A good excuse to not wash up and have my bag carried I thought. It was only when I had to ask Simon to scrub my arm pit and help wash my underwear I understood the full consequence of my disability....
The time to leave El Bolson came despite my attempted amputation to avoid the departure. With a heavy heart but with new friends we boarded the bus to pastures new. New Year in Bariloche awaits.