It was only as I sat in the dusty stone-built - but now disused - railway station on the outskirts of Bariloche (circa 1934), waiting for a bus and crunching through a re-heated bowl of spaghetti bolognese that I began to have what you might call second thoughts about what I was about to embark upon...
A middle-aged desk jockey taking two young novices (both kith and kin) on a scant plan deep into the Andes for a boys own adventure...
At least we had a plan (of sorts).
But my doubts wouldn't leave me, and the grimy young travellers and urchins who inhabited the long distance bus station were cold comfort. It was only the bow legged, cross eyed, Quasimodo-like figure that packed our bags into the hold who I could selfishly feel better than today - such is human nature.
As our bus conveniently skirted the main tourist drag and hauled itself up the slopes behind Bariloche we had our first glimpse of real life: dusty streets with unfinished shacks, food barns, beauty salons, truck stops and garages, all with a very "Indian" feel, for it was impossible not to bucket the people by their faces (Indians/native people and the Europeans). It reminded me a little of the towns in Siberia.
But before I could process all of this we had crested the brow of a hill and been transported to another world - as the wonderland of Patagonia unfolded before us: huge rocky snow capped massifs, rising majestically above deep iridescent blue lakes - the water turning a turquoise blue as it lapped on the shores of pretty pebble beaches and parks ringed with fir trees. It was jaw dropping spectacular.
We zig-zagged along the shores and across the deep valleys between the peaks until we reached El Bolson - signalled by the rich earth giving yield to orchards of all kinds of fruit, verdant gardens and small farms.
It was a hot dusty afternoon and it felt more like a Mexican crossroads town with sweaty Indians working the transport desks and driving three up in battered pick up trucks.
We found the local taxi service (brother's cousin's father) who drove us in his family saloon (an aged and decrepit rust bucket) out to the head of the trail, in preparation for our trekking. Seat belts optional (uninstalled) and complimentary dust in your face due to broken windows.
We pulled up outside a large stone and log homestead cum general store and were immediately taken pity upon by the family who supplied us with food (we had none) and some "more appropriate" cooking equipment.
We did however make camp and sleep out in the adjoining field, under a blazing Milky Way with the boys soon coming to terms with three of us in what was technically a 2-man tent...
After two bowls of porridge and a huge urn of tea we were off. We set off early and walked along dirt tracks past meadows and farms and were passed en route by laconic beret-wearing gauchos on horseback who simply nodded lightly and said the universal Spanish greeting Hola!
The day was bright and clear and we sailed along these country lanes, soaking up the simple beauty before us. We quickly reached the river confluence and navigated two rickety suspension bridges on quick succession; although Felix did seem to have the knack of triggering a harmonic reaction each time, violently swaying from side to side as we both watched aghast.
Over hill and dale we confidently strode, through wooded glades, across jungle floor and precariously along rock ledges far above the roaring river below until we reached the Refugio, a wonderfully rustic farmhouse with orchards, livestock and vege patch and colourful garden, bounded by two open meadows running up hard against steep canyon walls. Picture perfect.
We pitched camp, ate a fresh cooked loaf of bread and a freshly picked salad - incredibly delicious with our appetites piqued by the hard trek in (12kms / 3hrs).
The afternoon was spent frolicking on the rocks, diving and swimming in the river and generally just being boys...
Double pizza and home made beer for dinner and we were asleep before our heads hit our makeshift pillows.
Up early and another serve of porridge, or "glug" as Adam likes to call it (this is the printable version anyways), before heading off for our return trek. We had debated whether to return the way we came or to complete a more difficult circuit and for some unknown reason both Adam and Felix opted for the HARDER option. Well, 5hrs later with burning thighs, cuts, scratches and severely de-hydrated we arrived at the next Refugio, having climbed (vertically) over 1 km on a 8km "path" that at times was just scaling vertical rock falls. Spectacular but exhausting and we were at our wits end after reaching the summit, resorting to cooking the last of our oats (in situ, on the track) in an attempt to replenish our spent reserves. We literally fell into the one room cabin of the Refugio at the end of the line where we were given free cups of tea laden with sugar to further recuperate...
Maybe this plan was a little too ambitious?
But we weren't home yet and had another 4hrs and 10kms ahead of us, albeit a more gentle and kinder downhill trek, through alpine fields, forests of tall spruce and then the steep rock falls.
We finally emerged back at the trail head around 5pm and stocked up on pizza and coke, before the final leg back to the place we had camped the night before and then a hillbilly ride onto El Bolson where we have bought bus tickets for Esquel (tomorrow) and found a hostel to stay at.
It's past midnight here and I too am exhausted and must go to bed.