Day 25+26: 22./23.1.2009

 Pucon – Argentinian Border & Parque Nacional Llanin

        Buenos dias Argentina !

        Back on the road and back in the dust. This is how I feel after the first few hours of being back on the bike after the 4 days break in sunny Pucon. The break was good. It was great to meet some likeminded people in the hostals and to establish some first “deeper” relationships among fellow travelers. The Swiss people I met were indeed nice and are certainly worth meeting again. Strangely I find my legs at a fitness level far from ideal today. I find that hard to explain after a four days break. Maybe it was the regular alcohol consumption in the evenings which went hand in hand with the socializing dinners with the Swiss. Not sure. I will try to reduce that to see if that has an impact for my ongoing journey. When the unpaved dirt road begins after 40 km I find myself in the middle of big road construction works again. This road is going to be paved soon, just as the one I took before I came to Villarica. Nice, I have the honor and pleasure to enjoy the dirt roads as long as they still exist. Maybe I should have made that whole trip a year later? As this road is the international, official and only road here to Argentina I find myself more in the dust than ever before. This is not too nice and soon I begin to choose the side of the road that I am riding on depending on the direction of the wind rather than on the direction of the traffic. Local pedestrians do the same and nobody complains anyway. It seems to be perfectly normal and helps me to reduce the thickness of the dust layer on myself. I have to admit though that many cars do respect me as a cyclist and do reduce speed when passing by. Nice people.

        I have an 80 km stage planned to be completed today which will cover more than 1200 meters of altitude to reach the Argentinean border. All the climbing is to be done on rather steep dirt roads and it is a sunny and hot day. When my bike computer displays 50°C (new record for my trip) I am first of all stunned that it can still measure temperatures at that level and secondly convinced that it is time for a decent and extended siesta break. With more than half of the distance done (but not even half of the climbing yet though) I enjoy some food and drinks in a kiosk nearby and sleep for about 2 hours in the shade at a riverside. Refreshed  and motivated (also by ice cold river water in my face and neck) I finish the rest of the day’s journey. This takes me almost 4 hours though. It involves significant amounts of pushing the bike up the hill, empties all my water reserves and brings my physical energy level down pretty much. These sacrifices are finally rewarded with spectacular views on the high plateau between Argentina and Chile though. The volcano Llanin (with 3717 meters one of the highest in the region) and plenty of huge Araucaria trees make up for a perfect scenery. Absolutely worth the pain. Even the 30 min procedure at border control cannot impact on  my revitalized mood anymore now. I am glad to  see that the intensive border-control preparation work that Mariano and the team have done with me during my farewell event has paid back and guaranteed a safe entry into Argentina.

        One of the highlights of my bike ride today was an encounter that I want to share with all the young parents that might feel a bit uneasy about travelling with younger kids. When I pass by a French couple that is on their one-year bike journey from Middle America to Tierra del Fuego I first believe that they have decided for the bike trolley option rather than racks and panniers to carry their luggage. Way wrong though. In the trolley sits their 2 year old sun and enjoys the ride with them. They have very little luggage for the three of them (still a lot but compared to mine and per person it is little) which indicates that they work with the minimum necessary only. But they have their kid with them. So much for the limitations of travelling with kids. “Everything is possible” is the motto that can be applied. I am not sure though whether it is such a great thing for their sun to pass year 2-3 of his life observing things from the bottom of a bike trolley, being shaken and likely kept awake by the rough South American roads. I believe that there are better things to do for 2-3 year olds. Clearly this is not one of my expertise areas though and I happily leave this judgment and potential following decisions to all the young parents around.   

        I am in Argentina now since less than 18 hours. And I have not yet come further than 2 km into the country because I decided to turn into a campground right after the border. Nevertheless I have accomplished a lot already: I have been invited to two “parrillas” (the famous Argentinean barbeque at the open fire), I have drunk Argentinean “mate”,  I have visited Llanin National Park and I have met an Argentinean couple that I might go to Junin de los Andes (my next stop) with tomorrow. The first parrilla I have right in the evening after my arrival at the campground when fellow camper Luis invites me over to dine with him at his fireplace. The meat he serves is simply delicious. It has such a special taste. I guess this is because of the cooking at the open fire and because he uses a special way of flavoring it with a homemade mixture of spices. Wow. The second parrilla is done by a group of Mapuches (the native Indians of the region) at midday after my arrival. The Mapuches also own and run the campground I am staying at. My initial plan was to continue my journey directly in the morning after my arrival here but a sore ass and the midday parrilla influence my decision to stay a day longer. Especially because this parrilla is going to be the roasting of a complete lamb (calf). I love lamb. The Mapuches are a really friendly group of people. Helpful, open and heartily in their way of dealing with you. At the same time they do know their business though and want to make their share of money. Behind a facade of “we are the poor natives and do not know or own much” they use every opportunity to make a little extra money. At least this is the feeling that I have. They do not really try to rip you off but e.g. they systematically use a little reduced conversion rate of the dollar  to the peso with me (I have no pesos yet so can only pay in USD). And they ask a fairly high price for every piece of the lamb-parrilla they prepare for the campground visitors. I can accept that though. Especially because the meat is so delicious again. Wonderful.

        Seeing the amount of open fires and parrillas done during one evening in this small campground here helps me understand why Argentina has the highest per capita meat consumption in the world. And with a distance ! I heard it is somewhere above 150 kg/head and year, need to research that number in detail though. Having said that, and having gone through two significant meat meals during the last 16 hours I do decide that tonight is going to be a meat free dinner for me. After I all, why do I carry these ready made risottos and pasta with me all the time? That said, I receive the next invitation to a dinner, this time from my campground neighbor to the other side! As saying “no” would be an offence anyway I do accept of course. And to my surprise I see that they have made Pizza on their fireplace. Wonderful. That even fits into the no-meat plan for tonight.

        Rodrigo & Andrea are a younger couple from Buenos Aires. He is a sports teacher and she works in a restaurant. We spend quite some time together during the relaxing day in the sunshine of the campground. The two enjoy their holidays outside and in the mountains and  live from day to day pretty much like I do (e.g. they also wanted to move on today but have postponed by a day, too). Andrea introduces me to the “mate” culture, shows me how to make it and shares a few cups with me. It tastes great. I need to bring some mate-herbs back home. Then I can finally use the mate-equipment that I was given by my team on my farewell party. I also need to try to grill meat at the open fire like in a real parrilla. Lets see how that will work. Andrea’s and Rodri’s  next stop will be Junin de los Andes, which is on my way, too. So we decide  to meet there again. I would like to invite them out for a nice dinner,, to show some German hospitality, too.

Day 27: 24.1.2009

Parque Nacional Llanin – Junin de los Andes

        Almost like flying…

        Now I begin to get a feel for the variations in weather and conditions that I will soon be facing on my journey. The further south I go the more extreme the changes in conditions will be. It was raining quite consistently during the last 24 hours. The temperature dropped from the record high of 50°C, which I measured on my bike when I was climbing that last hill before entering into Argentina, to a low 11°C during the last night in my tent within 24 hours. And it doesn’t move up more than 1°C throughout the course of day. Sitting there in the tent, listening to the rain and being stuck is not a nice feeling. It needs some time and mental effort for me to get comfortable with this situation. I am somebody who is always moving somehow. It is hard for me to be immobilized by the weather. I read in my book and try to consciously rest and relax. Doesn’t work really. I keep checking the sky and wait for a little blue spot in the clouds. Any sign of a rain-break and I am on the bike and on the move again. I want to get to Junin and San Martin de los Andes. At least I know now that my tent can cope with a lot of rain. The high investment begins to pay back. Quality has a price but also a sense.

        I am back on my bike, the wind is strong and very chilly. This is the first time I am wearing long sleeves, long pants and even my rainjacket on the bike. The road is paved again.  My speedometer consistently shows a speed between 35 and 68 km/h. And I am not pedaling. My  offroad tires make an extremely loud noise, almost like those of a big Jeep when passing by on the road. The road goes downhill all the time, sometimes more, sometimes less. I enjoy a very strong tailwind, providing me with this feeling of flying because I do not even need to pedal and yet am fast as never before on my trip. Quite a change to the 4 km/h on the uphills before the border. I do sincerely feel for the guy that I see pedaling up the street towards me. He is packed as I am but probably goes at a speed below 10 km/h. And he needs to pedal hard. I share my regrets with him but he is cool and simply remarks that I will have to do the return into Chile at some point of time as well and hence will come to the same enjoyment sooner or later as well. He doesn’t show any sign of frustration with the situation. He simply accepts it as it is. I realize that he must be on a longer journey. He shows this kind of attitude that I only find with the long term cyclists (more than 1 year). I do have the feeling that by now I can tell within the first minute of an encounter whether somebody is on a real long term trip or not. This only accounts for cyclists though. It is different with “normal” travelers. In fact the guy is on a bigger journey. He started 4 months and 3500 km back and plans to go all the way up to Alaska within the next 2 years. And yes, on such a journey you better make sure you are fully frustration-proof if you want to succeed. This “frustration proofness” somehow converts into a very sober attitude towards the elements and conditions. And this attitude somehow shines to the outside. It shows in how those people speak, dress, behave. Interesting. I am not there yet. Will I ever be? Suddenly my 4-5 months long trip appears to be a short one rather than a long one. I realize that I can also apply this insight into business life. Sure you often are on a long term journey in your job as well. And sure as hell you need “frustration-proofness” as well. Often you need to accept that certain conditions are given and you better find a way to deal with them rather than getting frustrated while trying to change them where you can’t. I will remember this analogy (and this guy, he is from Munich) for the future back at work. To help me out when I struggle in hard times, with tough conditions, with adverse elements, to still succeed on my then long term journey.  It is also in line with one of my favourite phrases: Gott gebe mir Gelassenheit, hinzunehmen, was nicht zu ändern ist. Mut Dinge zu ändern, die ich ändern kann, und die Weisheit zwischen beidem zu unterscheiden.  Anyway. We do the usual thing. We exchange information on the next stops on our ways, hostal names, campground info, road conditions etc., we wish us good luck and off I am again. Flying.

        In Junin de los Andes in turn into the local campground. I got wet on my way here, also had a strong side and headwind on my last 15 km after the flying-exercise before but all in all I am happy to be here. I am in lower altitudes now (at 750 meters compared to the 1200 meters of the last campground). It also looks like the weather is a bit better here. And tomorrow is supposed to be sunny again. The evening meal is a shared activity with a French couple that has invited me over to join them. They have too much meat and pasta and I am happy to help out. They are on a 6 months journey. And both have quit their jobs and left their employers. Like the vast majority of the longer term travelers I meet. I am different frm this majority. Is it good or bad? Does it matter? I don’t know.

 Day 28-30: 25.-27.1.2009

San Martin de los Andes

        Viva Argentina !

        Scary. It took only 3,5 weeks of my journey to find myself in a position where somebody else is abusing one of my two credit cards. I am not sure where and how this could happen though. What I found in my accounts were three European flights that have been paid for with my Mastercard between the 15.1. and 19.1. I haven’t used that card once yet this whole new year. It is a new card that I only just received in December. Strange. Doesn’t matter though. The card is blocked now. I can still use my Visa card. The bookings will hopefully be accounted for by Mastercard (or their insurance) and do not bother anymore. That leaves only one credit card for the rest of my journey. I hope that will do. As I couldn’t identify the root cause really, and hence cannot be sure that this links into my trip here I keep the “robbery” line in my dashboard at zero.  

        Lets do some stereotyping of the Argentineans. The sample size I am using here is much higher than one this time, hence I do get better and more solid in my observations and conclusions. I am well aware though that this exercise would not withstand a proper statistical analysis. Nonetheless, I will go for it anyway, to be taken with a pinch of salt. And with the upfront statement that I do sincerely enjoy my stay here in Argentina: 1. Every Argentinean does eat more than the (weight) equivalent of one entire pig per year. 2. Argentineans do either own a very old and crappy car or a new and huge 4WD or pickup. There is no middle ground in the car market here. 3. Argentineans do cover very long distances in their cars to go on vacations (the average I found was at ca. 1400 km). Preferably the ones with the old cars do this though.  3. Argentineans do not like to eat alone. 4. Argentineans are very friendly. 5. In Argentina neither the women nor the men can park their cars backwards.  6. Argentinean students like backpacking and playing music at the beach. 7. Every Argentinean does have at least three European countries in their family tree. They know some city names and some of their European family names. They do not  speak the language of these countries anymore. 8. Argentineans eat dinner very late (after 9 pm). 9. Argentineans like to have their car engines running even when not moving (just now there is a truck right next to my window with engine running since 20 minutes). No matter if in campgrounds, cities or wherever. For the old cars it might be explained by starting problems. 10. Argentineans do not like to talk about Chile. 11. Argentineans are proud of their culture and habits. 12. Argentineans are not proud of their economy. 13. Argentineans do have a family-parrilla (BBQ) every Sunday.  14. In Argentina left is right and right is left. Or my dictionary is wrong. Or everybody mixes it up consistently.

        All My observations might have been influenced by vacation time, the location I have been at while doing the observations, the weather and some drinks that I had.

        “Jan, hey Jan.” What a funny coincidence. I just entered San Martin de los Andes and pedal by the lakeside to get a feel for the size and charm of the town when Brett calls out for me. We parted in Pucon 4 days ago and were not sure wether we would meet here or not. Now within minutes of my arrival in town we meet by chance. That is funny. We decide to meet again later today to dine out together. I want to check into a nice hostal to get a real hot shower and some decent comfort here for a few days. Just to keep the balance on my journey. And the shower and clean clothes after they have gone through the hostal laundry are indeed very nice. Simple things can make a big difference at times. Like some clean clothes and a comfortable bed.  Wonderful.  

        I cannot believe my eyes. Are these Rodrigo and Andrea there on the other side of the street? Yes, they are. They have just parked their Ford Sierra and have spotted me as well. We parted ways two days back when the left the rainy campground a day before me. Now we meet again in San Martin de los Andes. And purely by chance. The second nice and suprising encounter today. We stroll around San Martin together for the afternoon. The town is nice. Touristy, yes. But charming at the same time. Most of the houses are built combining wooden panels and natural stone walls or chimneys. Big windows. Many shops. Sunshine again. A busy but still relaxed and cozy atmosphere. I like that place. The icecream of “la Abuela de Goye” is truly fantastic, although at a European premium price level. And the dinner place we are going to (Brett and I postponed our dinner to the next day) is a real treat. The meat is barbequed in truly Argentinean style, at the open fire. We share a mixed meat plate (parrillada), have a good bottle of wine, a chocolate brownie dessert and a lot of fun. I feel very good because now I can live up to my promise of inviting them out for a nice dinner. I really like them. They even give me a bottle of liqueur as a farewell present (which is already empty as I write this because Brett and I had a few drinks last night). And they  are going to marry towards the end of the year, in the Argentinean spring. I wish you all the best, Rodri & Andre !  We will keep in touch.

        In San Martin de los Andes I do not do much of a bigger activity. I do some shorter hikes to some nice beaches and viewpoints, one of which does overlook Lago Lacar very nicely, but that is about it. The lake is 25 km long and only 2-3 km wide. It almost winds its way through the surrounding mountains. From the beachfront in San Martin you can only see the first few hundred meters of the lake before it disappears behind corner of the mountain. This is why the walk to the viewpoints is definitely worthwhile. I also do some bike maintenance. The dust has quite a significant impact on the moving parts of the bike like shifting cables, chain, chainrings etc. I use the local bike shop to replace the worn out cable housings with new ones. Today I drink literally liters of mineral drinks. It is a very hot day but I think I mainly suffer from some dehydration after last nights activity with Brett. First we had a few good local beers with dinner (a chunk meat of course) followed by a good bottle of Argentinean wine. Back at my hostel we finished the rest of the red wine bottle that I had on my room and we also ensured that I would travel lightly when I move on tomorrow by emptying the liqueur bottle that I got as a present from Rodri and Andrea. On our way out to the bars we then had a funny encounter. We stop by the pool table and play a couple of rounds with a 50 year old lady and her 11 year old grandson. We were already pretty drunk and hence the match was wide open and very entertaining for all of us.When we asked for a drink at the hostel bar the only lady from the hostel personnel that was still around explained to us that she had no clue how to mix a “Havana Club-Cola”. No problem. We appreciated that and of course volunteered to help out and mix our drinks by ourselves. That was one strong drink we had there. Well. Without going into more detail all I can say that the evening went well and that now I do need to get my water household in my body back right to be ready to hit the road again tomorrow morning. It will be a hot day again. And the first few kilometers will all be uphill. My next 120 km will go along the famous “Camino de los siete Lagos”. Partly paved, partly gravel. Very hilly. Very busy, with cars and cyclists. And a spectacular scenery. I do look forward to that part of my journey. I am sure I will do some lakeside camping again.

      

Day 31+32: 28./29.1.2009

San Martin de los Andes – Villa La Angostura (Camino de los siete lagos)

        The journey is the reward !

        Jupp and Doro are on their “monster-worldtour”. With a truly monstrous motorhome. It is a Mercedes, it carries a huge Mercedes-star at the front. And it is registered in Kleve, Niederrhein, close to home. We meet at one of the lake-lookout points. They have already spent 3,5 years on the road. And they believe to be at about halftime now. Not bad. I will surely visit their webpage and leave my traces in  their guestbook.

        Why am I doing this journey? And why alone? I have been asked this question a lot of times. Of course it has also crossed my mind more than just a few times. Before and still during this trip. The answer is simple and complex at the same time. And so far I have not had a better day and even moment on my journey than right now to deliver the answer all by itself. I am on the famous “camino de los siete lagos” in Argentina. On my way from San Martin de los Andes to Villa La Angostura. I have not counted the lakes so far but I am convinced that there are many more than just seven alongside this wonderful windy road. Surely they have only counted the big ones when the name was given. Maybe I should recount and send them the right number to correct the name? No, that would be way too German. The first 17 km today went all uphill. And I have never enjoyed an uphill ride more. I have the perfect “The journey is the reward” attitude today. I am not concerned about distances or time at all. I just enjoy and live the moments and the spectacular scenery as it passes by. This “the journey is the reward-state” is not an easy one to achieve (at least for me). It is my aspiration also back home because simply to race from one goal to the next one is not very rewarding. Normally once a goal is achieved you never really stop and enjoy it. The next goal is already at hand and the race is on again. Hence if you want some fun and a good feeling in life you better find a way to enjoy every step you take on the journey towards your goal. At least that is my experience. Today is the perfect example. I do live for the moment. Completely. This feels like one of those reward days in my life. It doesn’t really matter whether I reach Tierra del Fuego or how many km I make today. I lie here in the grass, on my towel with my back against this soft wave in the ground, in the shadow under a tree and I listen to Alanis Morissette and Amy Mac Donald. I have just taken a refreshing bath in the little river that flows by and now I observe this wonderful mountain that shows this strange mix of rocks and forest on its surface.  Yes, I have ridden my bike for a low 60 km only today, and I was going very slow because I stopped all the time and enjoyed the views of the lakes and mountains.  Isn’t that wonderful? I could see these spectacular mirror images of the mountains in the lakes for the first time. That looks awesome. I hope I managed some good pictures. The sun begins to set slowly and I decide within this very moment  to camp here on that very spot today. I will not move anymore, except to collect some wood for a fire and to go into the river again. This is all the work I will allow for the rest of the day. So the answer this day delivers to the question of the “why?” is that I do this journey to experience exactly what I experience today. Independence and freedom to live, appreciate and enjoy life, on a new continent (for me) and by only my own means (meaning no car, tourist guide, hotel etc.). Add the physical and mental challenge and the adventure-character  of the journey plus the opportunities to meet new people that are often very different (and enriching) to my normal encounters at home and the answer is pretty complete. Is that what I expected? Well, lets say it is what I was hoping to find (or better: to experience). And I believe that this can be done best alone (though I do not want to rule out that it is also possible with a tour partner).   

        I should have known this so much better. Having been a cyclist for so many years I could have tried that out a bit earlier on my journey. But now that I did it for the first time (on day 31), it really helps. Stretching really helps. It helps to recover sore muscles. This is really not a new insight at all. But having given it a try for the first time on my trip it clearly is a new feeling. Embarrassing how ignorant I can sometimes be (I have to say to my excuse that I was never a fan of stretching, not even in my active bike years). Why did I not do this stretching earlier? Because I believed that I did not need it. Not me. An ex bike-racer. Not me. But then this soreness and pain in my legs did never fully go away. Looks like I was pushing a bit too hard in the first few weeks. And 30 kg of baggage is something that you might need to get used to somehow. And then the neglecting of the training in the last 6 weeks before I left because there was so much other stuff to do. It is no surprise it does payback. Anyway, following this so surprisingly new insight I believe  can now find a way to manage my legs back into normal shape pretty soon. At least I did find out before the journey was over. That would have been even more embarrassing. And for sure I would not have mentioned it in my logbook. 

        The stars in the night sky are great. There are so many and they shine so bright and clear. Even Milky Way is visible, how it flows through the universe like a silver wrapping behind the stars. It is nice to be outside when it is pitch dark and no one is around or anywhere near you. When only the headlamp light leads the way, even when only going the few meters for a natural break. The highlight is now that I watch a movie on my netbook in my tent while it is getting cold at night. Nature and modern technology combined at its best. Back to the roots and into the future at the same time.

        Was it a really such a good idea to get up at 6 am today? I mean, yes, it is nice to see the mountains in the twilight of the sun that has not yet risen above their ridges but does already put their peaks into sunlight. And it will also be good to be early on the relatively busy dirt road that is awaiting me because there will be fewer cars to leave me in the dust. The huge disadvantage is though that I have just discovered another version of the “6 en 6 formula”. This time it means 6 °C at 6 am in the morning. These are the current conditions in  and around my tent at ca. 1000 meters elevation. OK, it could be worse. For sure. As a starting temperature into the day it is not all that funny though. My knees shake all the time, especially because I am too lazy to put long pants on. After cleaning my breakfast dishes in the stream my hands can barely move anymore. Well, just enjoy the moments a bit more. For the journey is the reward.

        And indeed it is. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful to be cycling these windy roads in between the lakes in the rising sun, almost no car on the road and me going steadily downhill now for a big chunk of the distance. I am glad I woke up so early now. I recall the music from yesterday and keep singing Alanis Morissette songs, quite loud (and wrong I guess). I first had a bit of a shock when I read the electronic tourbook (Lonely plant e-file that I got from Brett) on todays stage in the morning because it talked about a steady 30 km  uphill. Fortunately after the first 5 km uphill the road turns downwards and I realize that I have misread the direction in the description. I have mixed it up. And hence now it is a steady 30 km that go downhill quite a lot. What a lucky fool I am.

        “Seven  years ago I have seen something. And it was big, at least twice as big as a medium sized boat. It was from one of those viewpoints”. While we stand at one of the viewpoints at the side of the road that oversees Lago Nahuel Huapi, Gerardo tells me that there is a myth that some kind of huge lake monster exists here. Just like at Loch Ness in Scotland. As certain or as uncertain it might be. For Gerardo it is more than a myth as he has seen something with his own eyes. Not a head, not a tail, just something like a huge piece of back or a flank that was appearing at the lake surface a few times before it disappeared again. The local lake monster is called “Nuapi” (hope I caught that one right). I met Gerardo at my lunchtime break at one of the lakes today. When I left the beach area there he was with his mountain bike. He is ca. 55 years old and is on a mountain bike tour from Villa La Angostura. As he needs to get back there we decide to do the 20km together. Very nice companion.  Now that we stand at the viewpoint I can for the first time appreciate the fotos that I have already seen of this lake. It is impressive. So huge, it winds around so many mountains, contains many islands, is deep blue and just wonderful. For sure I will spend a day or two here in Villa La Angostura (last stop in Argentina before  going back into Chile) to explore the national park around the lake and climb one or the other mountain or lookout point. 

        This is quite amazing. Still it is a rarity globally that a country is run by a female president or chancellor. Both Chile and Argentina though are governed by female presidents. Just like Germany.  The three countries that I will spend most of my time in this year have female leadership. Interesting observation. I will not try any interpretation or comment though.

        A scandal ! I do remember the huge debates that keep coming back in Germany about the laws around bar closing times at night. Sometimes it is at 12 pm, sometimes at 3, depending on the Bundesland, if I am not mistaken. They have just announced a new law here in the state of Argentina that I am in now. The bars now need to be closed already at 8 (am). What a disaster. I guess half of them will close altogether now. Due to lack of business or out of protest.

Day 33+34: 30./31.1.2009

Villa La Angostura 

        “We are fully booked but we will find a place for you to sleep”. Pedro and Susana, the hostel owners, are really nice and hospitable when they see me approaching their ground. The Italian Hostel is one of the few in Villa La Angostura. It is popular with backpackers and has the best reputation. Not because of the luxury but because of the atmosphere. I would like to stay there a few days and as it is still high season I do not expect to find many other places to stay. Hence I am open to their proposals. Which I need to be because the place they offer me is an old mattress in their laundry storage room at the very end of the top floor. Lets see things positive here. This is even an individual room, which is much more luxury than the other guests can enjoy in their 8-12 bed dormitories. I accept happily and make myself comfortable in my private storage room. As it turns out Pedro and Barbara do bike traveling every year when they close the hostel down for a few months. Their next journey will begin in April and go to Spain and Portugal. Nice. We share some information on equipment and they check the stuff that I have on my bike (e.g. the ergo-grips that keep your hands from falling asleep on long rides). Like minded bike travelers among themselves. I like these kind of conversations. 

        Now that I have organized myself  in the hostel, done the washing of the clothes, spread the tent out for drying (always necessary after an early start when the tent might not be used for the next few days) and taken a shower it is time for my newly found  addiction. Ice cream. So far I have had at least one portion of ice cream every single one of the last days since I arrived in Argentinean civilization in San Martin de los Andes. And I have begun to build up that level of consumption during my stay at Pucon, where one big portion of ice cream a day was the minimum. The ice cream here is the one thing that is at least comparable in price to Germany. Most of the other things are significantly cheaper. Not the ice cream though. It is always homemade and tastes really great. It is very creamy and always includes a lot of chunks of fruit, nuts, cookies etc. One ¼ liter pot is my usual daily portion now. I feel a certain addiction building up. I hope I can sustain my ongoing journey without physical breakdowns once I have left the ice cream sources behind. Anyway, it might help me in staying away from beer and wine for a couple of days as this has developed into a daily routine as well.

        Today I am at “Bambi island“ with four other guests from the hostel (actually all women, but that doesn’t mean anything here). Bambi island is a peninsula which stretches out into Lago Nahuel Huapi from Villa La Angostura. It contains two small lakes and  the “Bosque de Arrayanes”, which gives the National Park on the peninsula its name. There is a 12 km hike in the park which is nice but nothing spectacular. This could be in any other forest as well. Until we reach the lagunas and the „Bosque de Arrayanes“ I am not too impressed. This changes quickly though because the Arrayanes are wonderful trees. Their stems have a red and white colour which reminds me of rusty iron. A beautiful camouflage finish. Incredible. While at first there are only few Arrayanes in the forest at the end of the hike there is a dense Arrayanes forest. Those trees reproduce via their underground branches, very special. I wonder how they do this in areas where they are widespread and not so densely together? I call this place „Bambi island“ because people say that Walt Disney has created the idea of Bambi in this national park here. Well, true or not? I will ask him when I see him (he does not live anymore, does he?). The four girls that have offered to take me with them on their daytrip today are Carmen, Ines, Mili and Tere. Carmen is a sports teacher and really an outdoor freak. She does kayaking on the Argentinean lakes and hiking around them all the time. Ines, Mili and Tere are students from Buenos Aires. They spend their summer holiday here. Carmen is the aunt of Tere and Ines. This is indeed very nice company that I have here, we have loads of fun. I learn important new Spanish words as much as they learn some German ones. We also speak English at times to give them a chance to practice. In the end we mix up all languages all together. Intercultural exchange at its best. I am glad I met you, chicas. Saludos. I siempre „comportense” por favor! Hope you like the pictures.  

        Here comes  an interesting observation. Most of the travelers I meet in Argentina are Argentineans. This in itself is not all that surprising because it is their home country but compared to Chile this is very different. In Chile there are so many Europeans and North Americans travelling, it generates a much more international atmosphere in the hostals. It has its pros and cons of course. It makes you feel a bit more “at home” but reduces the pureness of the South American experience. The places in Chile are sometimes even “over-foreignized”, e.g. when hostals are owned by Suisse people. The Argentinean places in return are very “Argentinean”, with regards to people, habits, food, etc. Last night was the best example. Pedro, the hostal owner prepared a huge parrilla (meat grilled at the open fire) for all the guests. They had 14 kg of the finest meat for the  30 guests! Grilled in  one big piece of course and then cut to size for eating, with one of those huge knifes which everybody seems to own here. Even in campgrounds you see everybody with those huge knifes to cut their meat. That was a bit scary to see at first but when I found out the reason I was immediately relaxed (and got hungry). On top of the 14 kg of meat,  just in case somebody was left hungry in the end, there were also some 20-30 sausages available. They were also used as appetizers and side dishes. Unbelievable. And that for a mere 3,5 Euro per person. No surprise that the hostel was shaking in applause when he entered from outside after the eating was finished and his job at the fire was done. This is a tough life for vegetarians in Argentina. And a good life for me.

        I just met two German hosteliers who owned a hostel in Chaiten. Chaiten is the town where the Careterra Austral begins (northern end). It is also the town that has been erased from the surface of the earth by a huge volcano eruption in April last year. This is scary. They have shown me pictures of what is left of the town and their hostel. There were 2 meters of lava and dirt flowing through the town and leaving everything that was not taken away with the stream in a complete chaos. Now they do some travelling and plan to build a new hostel close to the old one. There seem to be plans by the government to relocate the town of Chaiten 15 kms to the north and to support rebuilding it there. The two are real insiders of the region and have given me very helpful advise for my planning of the further route. That is the kind of info you can only get if you meet the right people, and I was lucky to do so. Great. The “natural overkill” is going to come soon. At least these were the words that Stefan was using. I am looking forward to it.

        Having seen many lakes over the last few days it is time for a mountain again. Cerro bayo is the chosen one. Next to Villa La Angostura it does provide a beautiful view across Lago Nahuel Huapi from the top. Today I do exercise my newly created sport again: Bike & Hike. I am sure this will be the next big next outdoor sport that comes to Europe and to the world. I will certainly promote it: Leave home on your bike, cycle up the mountain as far as you can go, get your hiking boots out of your backpack, leave the bike where it is and walk/climb up the rest up to the mountain top. Have a picnic up there, walk back down to the bike and enjoy a wonderful downhill until home. Simply great.   I am doing this for the third time on my journey today and it is just a superb thing to do. The best was the downhill in the ski resort, there were superb windy paths which they have build for motocross and endure usage. Exactly my caliber on a downhill. That is a nice distraction to do some real mountain biking for a day. I got the idea for “bike & hike” from a video I saw about some guys in France that did this with Bike, Ski and Climbing gear. This is the more extreme version to mine. They bike up until the snow begins, then walk up with ski until they need climbing gear (at least clamp ons) and then climb to the top, from where they go down with ski first, then by bike. All  in one day, covering up to 3500 meters of altitude. Wonderful. My version is the “normalized” version for everybody.

        I knew Condors were flying high. I didn’t know they were flying so high. From my resting and picnic spot a bit below the peak of the Cerro Bayo mountain today I could observe two huge Condors circling their way up in the air, benefiting from the upwind I guess. They didn’t move their wings at all but still gained height incredibly fast. I was at ca. 1800 meters and they were circling high above me. They went so high up I couldn’t even see them anymore in the end. I hope there was no plane passing. And my eyes are pretty good after my laser-operation. Impressive. And without any sign of effort from their side.        The whole day was overshadowed by an annoying 50 Pesos (12 Euro) entrance fee I had to pay to enter the mountain park though. It is a ski resort and they charge people who enter the cost to use the lift to get up to the top. Even if you go by bike or walk up. Ridiculous. This does not encourage bikers or hikers to come here. I think I was clear with the feedback I left with the park rangers. Although I couldn’t find the most literate words to express myself in this special case I think my message came across the way I wanted. In hindsight I am annoyed about myself. I should have entered from a bypass and simply not paid. I am too honest. My mood on that mountain would have been much better and I would have not been so annoyed all the time. Next time I know better. And on that note it is time to go back to Chile. I will tackle the mountain pass back over tomorrow.

        “This is the first time we are staying in a place with shared bathrooms. At our age, at night, when you got to go to the toilet you got to go. You can’t wait and stay in line”. These are interesting insights I do get from that older couple from the US at breakfast time. They are both more than  75 years old and travel most of their time now. Nice people though. And certainly entertaining. I seem to have missed one cultural thing in the US so far though because the openness another US guest (a 45 year old lady) shows when sharing the details of her recent divorce, which is not all settled yet, kind of startles me too. “No, I am not over it yet. And I do not at all appreciate that you have sent this information. I am not happy with that at all.” I am sitting there in the lounge area of the hostel, working on my travel notes and concentrate more and more on my little screen, almost dive into it completely while sinking deeper and deeper into the chair. I mean, what do you do? You don’t want to listen but you  cannot not overhear it with her sitting there right opposite to you. You don’t want to participate or involve either. This is very private stuff. She keeps burying her face in her hands, shaking her head, showing unhappiness more openly than I do appreciate. Normally I would certainly feel sorry for her but she is just one of those people who always want to be in the centre of attention. Example: Last night she got drunk, told everyone who did not run away that she lost 300 USD, her phone, her camera and much else. And all in one day. The next morning everything was there again, the camera was under her bed, the money in her purse etc. In short and honest, she is more a nuisance than somebody to hang out with. The best thing I can do in this moment in the lounge area is to pack my stuff and relocate my office to another corner of the hostel. Which I do. Right now. This is just the normal hostal life I guess.It is time for some camping  again.