SW Bolivian Beauty

I am not one to normally take tours, but in potentially dangerous, tough to navigate, or ecologically fragile terrain, it´s the way to go.   The other issue is that some locations have many hidden treasures that cannot be found otherwise.  As you will see, the hundreds of miles of gravel roads and many jewels described below fit the definition of ¨tour guide needed¨all the way.

So from the southern town of Tupiza, I took off in our 4 wheel drive Toyota/Lexus jeep´with 3 wonderful French friends (Nicolas, Francois, and Lucia–Lucia and Francois work with French immigrants), and our great driver/guide and amazing cook couple, Lucio and Maria.  I´m down today from an attack of Tupac Amaru´s revenge, so can take the day to organize and sort photos, and post.   Allow me to show you some amazing sites, if you can take the time!

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Talk about divine intervention, of all the hundreds of guides in this part of Bolivia, how is it that I land with Lucio, a Credence Clearwater Revival freak (like me), owning an amazing collection on his MP3. Maria commented that he´s been gone on CCR since he was a young man…she likes them too, but prefers NOT to listen to them all day long!  So brother Lucio and I shared song after song, and I translated the meanings of the tunes for him.

The CCR brothers united for life!

The CCR brothers united for life!

SW Bolivia is a mix of high altitude desert, small traditional pueblos, mines, towering peaks, volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, moonscapes, incredible rock formations, green, blue, and black lakes (due to various minerals), endless salt flats, llama, rare vicunas, and quinoa.  Mostly, I´ll let the pics tell the story.  My trusty iPhone couldn´t bring in the beauty of the landscape, but gives a flavor anyway.

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Llamas are the main source of income and sustenance in Bolivia, especially in this area.

Llamas are a main source of family income and sustenance in Bolivia, especially in this area.  Did you know they are very highly educated?  They all poop in the same circle, allowing easy harvesting and non-pollution of their terrain.

 

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Vicunas have wool softer than alpaca.  They are making a comeback after near extinction.  We saw many.

Vicunas have wool softer than alpaca. They are making a comeback after near extinction. We saw many.

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Ancient ruins dotted  the countryside.  As mines come and go, so do small pueblos.  Brick and stone are favorite building materials.

Ancient ruins dotted the countryside. As mines come and go, so do small pueblos. Brick and stone are favorite building materials.

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Borax everywhere!  From these flats where it crystalizes, it is reaped and bagged

Borax everywhere! From these flats where it crystalizes, it is reaped and bagged

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Mystically colored landscapes that I can{t capture digitally.

Mystically colored landscapes that I can´t capture digitally.

Volcan Licancabua beyond Laguna Verde

Volcan Licancabua beyond Laguna Verde

Geyser sulphur smoke and melting pots

Geyser sulphur smoke and melting pots

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Countless flamingoes of pink and black/white species.

Countless flamingoes of pink and black/white species.

This is a favorite spawning lake, and now´s the time.

This is a favorite spawning lake, and now´s the time.

Unfortunately, humans are endangering these creatures, through climate change–it´s much colder here earlier than normal and drought is causing the lake to have elevated concentrations of minerals.  Babies aren´t surviving well, and eggs are abandoned.  Sooo sad to experience.

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Town of Villa Mar from my hike in surrounding hills.  Hiking in 12-15,000 feet is a killer, as I´m winded from tying my shoes!

Above town of Villa Mar on my hike in surrounding hills. Hiking in 12-15,000 feet is a killer, as I´m winded from tying my shoes!

This plane had a hard time as well.

This plane had a hard time as well.

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Quinoa is the crop--stalks after harvest.

Quinoa is the crop–stalks after harvest.

Spreading emphasis on ecological consciousness.   Main  political slogan is ¨Vote for me to live better¨--this sign says Ïn order to live better, care for mother earth.

Spreading emphasis on ecological consciousness. Main political slogan is ¨Vote for me to live better¨–this sign says  Ïn order to live better, care for mother earth.¨

A few shots from my door and window study.

A few shots from my door and window study.

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¨For a sustainable tourism¨vote this person for mayor.

¨For a sustainable tourism¨ vote this person for mayor.

Incredible rock formations...what do you see in them?

Incredible rock formations…what do you see in them?

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Looking over head of bull

Looking over head of bull

Llama Victim of Puma

Llama Victim of Puma

Our last night was in Puerto Chuvica, where we stayed in a hostel made entirely of huge blocks of salt from the Solar salt flat.  Met folks from many different countries along the circuit.  Including many from Israel, as those finishing IDF service usually take time off to travel.   Was in thermal pool with 7 of them.  Very few travellers from the US, and fewer over the age of 40 (mostly in 20s).

Our dining room

Our dining room with salt floor

Hall to my room

Hall to my room

Hiked up mountain behind village.  Here{s a shot down on the way up.

Hiked up mountain behind village. Here{s a shot down on the way up.

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Thought I´d explore this abandoned mine I discovered, but alas needed a ladder to descend.

Thought I´d explore this abandoned mine I discovered, but alas needed a ladder to descend.

A window addition to my study.  Note the thickness of the walls on these houses!

A window addition to my study. Note the thickness of the walls on these houses!

Dawn over the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) from the top of Ojos de Agua (Eyes of Water).

Dawn over the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) from the top of Ojos de Agua (Eyes of Water).

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My French friends commented to me that most travellers ask the same questions and do the same thing, but they liked that I talk about and do different things.  Here´s a perhaps unprecedented site of someone dancing with a Quechua woman to the blasting tunes of CCR.

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Salar with common  pentagonal crystalization pattern.

Salar with common pentagonal crystalization pattern.

Allan balancing on huge Bolivian tangerine.

Allan balancing on huge Bolivian tangerine.

In a more serious moment, I fights off huge blade.

In a more serious moment, I fights off huge blade.

Mounds of harvested salt.

Mounds of harvested salt.

Francois holding a temporarily shrunken Lucia in his hand.

Francois holding a temporarily shrunken Lucia in his hand.

Our final stop was the train cemetary in Uyuni, with these cars abandoned over a century ago.

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If you´d like to see more and better pics, check these out:

https://www.google.com.bo/search?q=bolivia+southwest+circuit+pictures&espv=2&biw=819&bih=380&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=2NhlVdjwKZD7gwSHt4CIBg&ved=0CDAQ7Ak

When we arrived in Uyuni, the 4 musketeers (me and my French buddies) headed directly north to the infamous mining town of Potosi.

 

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Divine Intervention?

Allan believing in Divine Intervention is likely even less comprehensible to my family and friends than my plan to scale the highest peak in our hemisphere. Yet the charmed circumstances, incredible acquaintances, and amazing events of this voyage have opened my mind to this possibility.

It does seem to me that the wonderful people I´ve encountered can´t be chalked up to chance. I´ve mentioned people like Roberta previously, and how my question about which metro stop led to a warm friendship in Valparaiso.  And the amazing Maria who was willing to tell of her very intimate love affair in an open and trusting manner?  As my story unfolds, I´ll point out other incidents and encounters that seem blessed by powers beyond chance.

This entry will try to cover my travels in Argentina, mostly through pictures, as it seems I have little time and internet access to write these days.

After Mendoza, I went North to Salta, a city I greatly enjoyed.  Here are some examples of the colonial architecture of the city.

Most towns have a Church of San Francisco

Most towns have a Church of San Francisco

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Reflection of the above Cathedral in a modern glass building.  Such is the mixture in towns routinely devastated by earthquakes.

Reflection of the above Cathedral in a modern glass building. Such is the mixture in towns routinely devastated by earthquakes.

Salta Government Headquarters

Salta Government Headquarters

And some other images of Salta.

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Many parks in town...including fountains, bridges, flowers, etc.

Many parks in town…including fountains, bridges, flowers, etc.

Llama and pony rides in the park.

Llama and pony rides in the park.

Many statues commemorating victories over colonialism.

Many statues commemorating victories over colonialism.

I loved this statue of 2 women embracing.

I loved this statue of 2 women embracing.

School girls hanging out, flirtting, smoking and trying to be oh so cool.

School girls hanging out, flirtting, smoking and trying to be oh so cool.

There were 3  major archeological finds in the highest peaks, including Aconcagua, of children sacrificed as part of the Inca ritual to unite their huge kingdom stretching from Columbia to Argentina and Chile.  Nobles from all sub-kingdoms would offer one of their children to be sacrificed with great honors, festivities, and parades throughout the kingdom.  The goal of the ritual was to help unite previously warring tribes.  They were buried alive on high peaks after being given lots of alcohol.  This girl was 8 years  old (if I remember correctly) and was remarkably preserved, considering that she was struck by lightening, which accounts for the dark places on her skin.  Note her teeth so white, despite the lightening strike.  The mummies are preserved in dull light and very cold temps, and this pic is from a video shown at the museum.

500 year old child mummy

500 year old child mummy

For those that don´t believe in voting for Mickey Mouse.  An exhibition of political posters in Modern Art Museum, including this one urging votes for the Cat.

For those that don´t believe in voting for Mickey Mouse. An exhibition of political posters in Modern Art Museum, including this one urging votes for the Cat.

Some images of a huge 200 year celebration of the democratic election of the first provincial governor.

There were 6 different state marching bands, including those of armed forces, police, cultural groups.

There were 6 different state marching bands, including those of armed forces, police, cultural groups

Amazing collaboration of province symphonic orchestra, folkloric dance troupe and popular musical group filled symphony hall

Amazing collaboration of province symphonic orchestra, folkloric dance troupe and popular musical group filled symphony hall

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School girls hanging out, flirtting, smoking and trying to be oh so cool.

School girls hanging out, flirtting, smoking and trying to be oh so cool.

I took a 13 hr. tour paralleling the famous ¨Train to the Clouds¨ with many beautiful stops as we ascended to over 4300 mtrs (well over 14,000 feet) above sea level.  The train was planned to reach the Chilean coast, but with coming of highways, didn´t make it.  The chief engineer also built the GG Bridge before taking this on.  2/3 of peaks in Argentina-Chile over 6000 mtrs (19,800 feet) are in the State of Salta, so this train was an engineering miracle.  They paid 5X the normal salary rate to attract workers, due to the severe dangers.  There were 15 deaths on just one small bridge.  Here´s a taste of what I saw:

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We had switchback for much of the trip, as does the train, which was designed to not climb over 5% grade to make the climb.

We had switchback for much of the trip, as does the train, which was designed to not climb over .5% grade to make the climb without a chain system.

Train to Clouds crossing one of the countless bridges.

Train to Clouds crossing one of the countless bridges.

Wild Vicunias at 4300 mtrs.  This is the land of llamas, vicunas, and  quinoa.

Wild Vicunias at 4300 mtrs. This is the land of llamas, vicunas, and quinoa.

 

Unending Salinas Gigantes salt flats

Unending Salinas Gigantes salt flats

Pools that crystalize salt

Pools that crystalize salt

Go ahead and try to balance on a 12 ounce bottle!

Go ahead and try to balance on a 12 ounce bottle!

Yet another divine intervention.  I ask someone about which bus to take north out of Salta.  Jorgelina happens to be a very interesting person, I find out later, as on the bus with about 80 assigned seats she is next to me!  Wonderful chatting with her, as she turns out to be a professor of Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy and Cosmology.

Jorjelina

Jorjelina

The first thing I did upon arriving in Humehuaca, was to try to get a jeep to take me to Hornocol in the afternoon when the colors are brightest.  Found a jeep but needed 3 others to make a group for the 3 hour trip on rough roads.  After an hour of searching for others, I was about to give up when 3 people from my hostel in Salta showed up in their rented car!  So I got a free trip there just in time for the most intense colors.  What are those chances?!

Hornocol, a 3 hr round trip from Humuaca in N. Argentina.  Amazing colors... never experienced anything like this.

Hornocol, a 3 hr round trip from Humuaca in N. Argentina. Amazing colors… never experienced anything like this.

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Just in case you don´t believe the colors, check out these from a pro photographer:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2743411/Is-world-s-colourful-mountain-range-The-surreal-beautiful-photographs-make-northern-Argentinian-mountain-range-look-painted-Vincent-Van-Gogh.html

 

Owner of my Hostal Huemahuaca is a collector and motorcycle freaki

Owner of my Hostal Huemahuaca is a collector and motorcycle freak

This guy lives across the street

This guy lives across the street

Humehuaca Teacher School

Humehuaca Teacher School

Among those I met include the woman in front and guy in back who have biked all over the world.  Over 30,000 km (18,600 mi),  and will be at 39,000 when they´re done!

Among those I met include the woman in front and guy in back who have biked all over the world. Over 30,000 km (18,600 mi), and will be at 39,000 when they´re done!

I decide to go to the high mountain village of Ayuni, and find sitting next to me on the bus Hanna.  Just what are the chances of meeting a fun, open Brazilian labor lawyer!  We chatted for the full 3 hours and became friends.  Hanna is management side representing the Post Office, but in her heart she sides with the union more often than not.  She´s looking at changing her job.  Also, on the bus was Soledad, a young spiritualist with a beautiful smile and loving presence that reminds me of Lucia. Soledad is a union organizer from Buenas Aires (organizes food workers)–another ¨coincidence¨?  Soledad was adopted and had no father in her life, and we had some deep conversations.  I tried not to be a father sub, but that dynamic was present, I think.  Her aging mom is the only family she has, and she feels that sense of aloneness and isolation that is her name.   We all hung out together during my few days there.  You will meet others in our group shortly.  Very strange getting along so well with folks 1/3 my age.

Hanah and me on bus to Iruya.  Delightful woman.

Hanah and me on bus to Iruya. Delightful woman.

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View of Iruya from nearby peak

View of Iruya from nearby peak…Condors loved the cliffs…exciting to see them!

Soledad making friends with town mule.

Soledad making friends with a town mule.

From left Mattio (Mendoza), Gustavo (Cordoba), Hanna, Soledad (Buenos Aires), and Julia (France)

From left Mattio (Mendoza), Gustavo (Cordoba), Julia (France)), Soledad (Buenos Aires), and Hanna

Many goats slaughtered each day...it´s a family affair!

Many goats slaughtered each day…it´s a family affair!

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We decided to take a hike to the village of San Ysidro.  The 14 km mountain  hike was  a challenge, but I kept up with the youngsters

We decided to take a hike to the village of San Ysidro. The 14 km mountain hike was a challenge, but I kept up with the youngsters

View on way to S. Ysidro

View on way to S. Ysidro

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It was a sad departure from my new friends, but needed to move north to Bolivia.  Hanna wants to go to the N. Orleans jazz festival, so perhaps Carol and I will join her!

All traffic was halted and I needed to walk from this point to the Bolivian border.

All traffic was halted and I needed to walk from this point to the Bolivian border.

I joined this province wide, simultaneous blocking of all roads.

I joined this province-wide, simultaneous blocking of all roads.  Nearby police wouldn´t attempt to break it up.

It was a poor folks, community organization,  and worker demo for housing development.

It was a poor folks, community organization, and worker demo for housing development and other rights.

Knitting during sit down strike.

Knitting during sit down strike.

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Cooking chow for all!

Cooking chow for all!

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Then met Che who was also entering Bolivia.

Then, amazingly, met Che who was also entering Bolivia (again).

Otherwise known as Chino and Juliana, we hit it off right away.

Otherwise known as Chino and Juliana, we hit it off right away.

We crossed the border together.  I had a conflict with Bolivian customs as they demand that your $60 US be in perfect 20´s, with no marks, dyes or even slight tears.  They rejected my many 20´s, I argued that their money was totally falling apart, and why this demand.  Finally, I gave them a $100 bill in mint condition, and they gave me change.

Hoping all´s well and stay tuned for Bolivia!

hugs,

allan

 

 

Allan ScalesTallest Peak in W. Hemisphere

Puente de las Incas, Argentina–May 3rd

After an all night bus ride north once across the border, I arrived at the large city of Mendoza, capital of this Province (state).  Rather than find a place to recuperate, I jumped a 4 hour ride up into the Cordillera toward Chile.  My goal was to have more time in the Andes, and see the tallest peak in the Western Hemisphere, Aconcagua.

I went to the very small pueblo (a restaurant, sandwich shop, small shop for food/drink, a medical clinic, souvenir stands selling local crafts, and a tourist office) named after an amazing natural bridge called Puente de las Incas.  The 2 recommended hostels were closed, and a 3rd was so grubby even I was hesitant about staying there.  There were no other options.  So I ventured in to the restaurant and asked if they knew anyone in town who had a bed to rent for the night.  One of the waitresses said she had a room.

I ate some food, and later she and her younger cousin (I think cousin, as the restaurant was a family run business) showed me several rather dirty rooms behind the restaurant that looked like it had not been used in a long time.  They proceeded to change sheets, sweep, clean and make the place good enough. Even my own private toilet.  Expecting freezing temps, they loaded the bed with wool blankets.  I joined the family for a big stake soccer game in the restaurant, which was very close until time was nearly gone, when the favorite team (Boca) scored 2 goals in less than 90 seconds to win it.  When the 30 something year old waitress handed me a set of keys to my living area, the entire family chided us, and began calling us “maridos” all evening…despite showing my ring and declaring that more than one wife was illegal in my country.

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My Adopted Family Celebrating the Victory

My Adopted Family Celebrating the Victory

Now, about this mountain…I got up well before dawn and began walking several kms–2 miles–to the entrance to Aconcagua National Park.  I had a good view of this majestic, highest peak in our hemisphere as the sun was rising.  I was totally mesmerized, and could feel my spirit fly to the top of the 6962 meter (22,841 foot) beauty.  Below you can see some of the pics of the area, and the brilliant sun turning the Aconcagua glaciers a bright gold.

Allan with frozen fingers and toes (despite wool socks, boots and gloves)...and blue nose.

Allan with frozen fingers and toes (despite wool socks, boots and gloves)…and blue nose.

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These mammoth boulders are hundreds of feet down the valley at the river you see flowing at top left!

These mammoth boulders are hundreds of feet down the valley at the river you see flowing at top left!!!

I know that one of the 3 famous 500-year-old Inca child sacrifice mummies in the Andes (the boy) was discovered on this mountain.  I also know that first person of our era to climb the peak was a Swiss who did it alone in 1897.  I´ve loved the Andes for a long time, since I first spied them 27 years ago in Peru.  They are 4300 miles long and stretch from Columbia to So. Chile-Argentina.

I was so moved by this beckoning, majestic mountain, that I began thinking of climbing it!  Then a firm commitment crystalized that I was going to make it to the top.   You might ask how such a decision could be made on the spur of the moment, without advanced planning.  Sometimes, in the midst of an adventure, we must dive in and just do it! My spirit that scaled to the top of the mountain told me this was the time to get my body up there.  And I’m in as good of shape as I have every been–perhaps not saying much, you smile?

In case you can’t understand the Aconcagua trance from my humble pics, take a couple minutes to check out these amazing shots of her majesty (cut and paste):

https://www.google.com.ar/search?q=aconcagua+pictures&rlz=1C1KMZB_enAR639AR639&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=oFlNVeHlN

On the practical, nuts and bolts level, there are outfitters in the area who provide everything that is needed and help make the ascent.  So why not give it a try?!   Scouting the right climbing support business is a must.  Supplies must be triple checked.

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You need to get to know your support team and fellow climbers.  Note the other old guy!

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A helicopter takes all the carefully prepared supplies, highly organized equipment, and the team to the base camp.

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The copter pilot had attempted the climb some years ago but didn’t make the last 500 feet and turned back.  One should always be prepared to let reality and common sense prevail in such exploits.  This climb is not the most technically difficult in the area.  His route is the one we’ll take (marked below):

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The graveyard near the mountain with the replica of the mighty Aconcagua and cross at the top has the remains of some of the climbers that did not make it (135 climbers have died so far, averaging 3 per year).  This certainly gave me some pause.

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A brief moment of doubt struck.  But I am lacking in only a few areas, which intense desire and determination should surely overcome:

Climbing Experience–none, even scaling synthetic rock walls.

High altitude capability–none, as my head hurt and I was short of breath just hiking to the area.

Time–average climb is 21 days.

Wealth–very expensive to attempt such a climb.

Courage–not nearly enough.

So I reluctantly concluded, after some deep meditation, in one of my brief moments of so-called clarity: I am forced to delay my physical assent until my reincarnation as a condor, or an eagle (as a fallback), at which time I will be fully prepared and intend to physically join my spirit which remains at the summit.

I reluctantly turned away from Aconcagua.  On the way back, I walked on the railroad tracks back to the village.  But alas no reliving my hobo days, as no freights have come on these tracks in 3 decades.

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Train River Bridge Crossing...I Decided NOT to try walking the tracks with the river roaring below!

Train Bridge Crossing…I Decided NOT to try walking the tracks with the river roaring below!

Should you ever need to rob a train, I suggest this alternative to dynamite to assure it stops:

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I also spied this Argentine Merry Pranksters bus that gave this old bus driver some joy:

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And finally, la Puente (bridge) de las Incas.  This amazing natural bridge was made over the millenia from collapsed rock/earth, and an ancient hot springs giving off many minerals in the water and steam that crystalize.  The green algae completes this startling color palate.  The British built a large hotel and resort at this hot springs, but it was destroyed over 50 years ago in one of the major rock slides that occur here

Hoping all’s well.

your merry prankster

 

Your

The Great Escape From Chile

Pucon, Temuco, Longemay–Chile, May 1-2

After several days of enjoying Pucon and the ashy mountain beauty, it became clear that the local mountain pass to Argentina may not open for a long time (¨possibly tomorrow it will open¨ I had been told for days).  The Chileans say that the Argentinians have not cleared enough ash from their side of the pass.  Then when the volcano down south erupted yet again, I finally decided to abandon my comfy hostal (with 2 kitchens and wood stoves) that I had mostly to myself, and the lakes region.

So my last 2 days in the area included a trip to Lake Caburgua north of Pucon,

 

Rocky shore of Lake Caburgua after long drought.

Rocky shore of huge Lake Caburgua after long drought.

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and a couple of the cascades nearby,

These shots from the Eyes of Caburgua cascade.

These shots from the Eyes of Caburgua cascade.

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and a visit to the 80% Mapuche village of Cararrehue near the closed pass. I liked being in the indigenous center, but it seemed a struggling town both economically and culturally.  The pueblo is made up of small business, a few restaurants, artisan shops, some animal farming, agriculture, small modest houses, and very slowed down pace.

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Sad Currarehue berries covered with volcanic ash.

Sad Currarehue berries covered with volcanic ash.

At 8AM the next morning, I headed north to Temuco for a couple hours, where I was told there were no seats on the last bus heading toward the more northern border crossing.  In my now well-practiced style, I looked at the ticket vendor sadly, shook my head, and declared that I had to be on that bus.¨Please, there must be something you can  do to help me out.¨After a long pause, I could see the more helpful side of the Chilean personality slowly emerge.

This transformation I find is facilitated by letting the person know you don´t have much money, and therefore they conclude you are not a rich tourist.  There will be no bribe coming, so they might as well exercise the better aspects of who they are.  Finally, he said ¨Well, let me have another look to see if there is anything I can do¨.  Miraculously, a ticket appeared, and I expressed great appreciation of his skill and ability to solve my problem.

My partly standing passage was to the border town of Longimay, as the bus that went all the way through arrived in Zapala, Argentina too late for my comfort.  I stayed with a family hospedaje there, and felt a part of the family.  The cousin of the owner, who heard me talking to someone else about a place to stay, took me there (she also stayed with the family while in town).

When  I tried to buy a ticket for the next morning to Argentina, I was told by the agent in the little station that sadly it was completely full.  A buddy of his came up and very helpfully said he´d give me a ride over the border for several times the bus rate.  After repeating the routine described above, the ticket agent finally made a call and came up with a seat for me.  Turned out, of course, that the bus wasn´t nearly full the next morning!

So I´m finally heading for an OPEN pass over the mighty Andes, passing incredible views, and beginning to envision and taste Argentina.

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Family Next to Me on Bus

Family Next to Me on Bus

When we reach the border, there´s a long line of trucks, buses and cars.  I figure that customs is moving slowly, but after some inquiry find out that the snow the previous night had closed this pass as well!  We were sitting there for some hours hoping for the ice to melt and snow be cleared on both sides of the border.  I had little faith that the Argentinians would do better on this pass than the one down south!

Being stuck in the freezing weather gave me the opportunity to become friends with 4 Protestant evangelical pastors on their way in our bus to a conference in Noquen, Argentina.  A couple of them briefly tried to engage me into speaking about why I had not accepted Jesus, etc., but the real discussion was with Enrique (see below).  He happens to teach in a Jewish synagogue in Concepcion, Chile, and showed me the pictured star of David he wears always.  He proceeded to explain that his church worked very closely with Jewish synagogues, and loved and supported Jews and Israel.  We discussed religion, politics, and the complex relationship of evangelic christians and Jews.  I even ventured a question about my concern/vague belief that a central reason for evangelical  support was partly to witness (encourage?) the Armegeddon and second coming of Christ.

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At any rate, one of the priests got turned away at the Chilean border because he was delinquent in child support payments, so the 4 musketeers, as I nicknamed them, became 3.  My exit document from Chile was routinely stamped, and eventually we very slowly moved toward Argentina over the frozen pass.

At the Argentine border, an official demanded that I pay $160 US as a ¨reciprocity payment¨.  I responded that I didn´t have that kind of money, didn´t understand why he was targeting those from the U.S., and couldn´t pay that money.  The tough official made it loudly clear I needed to travel all the way back to Tucuman, pay the absolutely required fee, and then return to exit the country with the proper form!  I’d heard something of this fee but enforcement varied, so didn’t think about it again.

The tense standoff accelerated with a line of people watching, my bus/luggage leaving soon, and guys in uniform inching closer to haul me off to my first arrest of this trip.  Finally, I accepted, after inquiry, that this payment was legit.  Then I launched in to my ¨please help me routine¨ implying that I would become their border post pet indefinitely unless we worked something out.  Like perhaps someone might have a computer here to process my payment on my credit card, and kindly print out the proper form before my bus takes off?!?

Well, Mr. Tough Guy and two other supervisors took me into their back office, and I was a bit unsure what was going to happen to me.  Mr. Tough transformed into the man to save the day, and went on the proper web site to try to process my payment.  With the help of his two female border agent co-supervisors, and myself interpreting the form requirements, we finally got the payment accepted correctly and printed.  With a great flair Mr. Tough Turned Sweet quickly stamped my passport, gave me a high five, and sent me running for the bus which was starting to inch away down the hill!  Finally, made it to Argentina!

 

 

Tech Can Ruin Your Love Affair!

 

When I ask to access my  window seat on the bus, the tall, attractive woman in the aisle seat gets up to let me slip by her.  I am surprised at how friendly she seems, as she greets me with a smile and questions about where I’m from, etc.  I learned many years ago that people universally treat buses and elevators as travel in which one maintains their personal space as if the other were not there.  This is why, when I was a Santa Cruz  bus driver, my personal campaign to break down this alienation though encouraging singing earned me the moniker of the “Singing Bus Driver¨.  (BTW, this became helpful when we organized our bus riders to support our 17 day strike for our first union contract–we all sang union songs together over the connected radio system, driving management nuts.)

I was encouraged that I’d be easily able to practice my Spanish on the long bus ride from Valparaiso.  My new friend Maria is heading to my destination, the small mountain town of Pucan in central Chile on Lake Villarica, surrounded by volcanoes, beautiful lakes, streams, hot springs and the incomparable Andes.  Maria, a 45-year-old divorcee from north of Valparaiso has had the more serious, early onset lupus since her youth, and was on leave from her medical support job for several months due to a major flare-up.  She was heading to recuperate with her good friend, who happened to be the first wife of her ex-husband.

Maria spoke so quickly I really had to concentrate to understand her complex story.  She knew by my expression when I got what she was saying, and when she needed to repeat more slowly.  Maria leaned close and spoke softly about the trauma of the lupus attack, and the impact on her job and life.  Then she began telling of her lover´s betrayal within the last 24 hours.

Her revelations were so personal that she would stop talking and look deeply into me with her big, sad, tear-swollen, green eyes, as if to say “I can’t believe I’m sharing this with you!”  The she’d quickly crane her long neck around in all directions, as if a pretty swan sensing danger to her babies.  Then she’d sink lower in her seat and softly whisper “My god I wonder if anyone from my little pueblo is near, and heard what I said!”  We’d then both laugh like little kids awhile.

Maria had just enjoyed a wonderful two week love affair with a childhood friend, her first in 18 months since breaking up with her (and her best friend´s) former husband, whom she referred to as “El Senor.”  The day before our encounter, her lover called his good friend to share all the excitement and pleasure of his new love, reportedly not leaving out a detail of their intimate love-making.  The problem for this poor chap is that he made the fatal mistake of conferencing Maria into the call!  After listening to the entire conversation silently, she called his friend later to say she was never going to see her lover again, and that if he breathed a word of what he heard to anyone else, they would be his last words.

Despite much begging for forgiveness in repeated messages from the ex-lover, Maria seems totally and sadly through with the relationship for ever.  After finishing her story,  Maria was totally spent and collapsed to sleep until we arrived in Pucon.  She was met by her step-daughter, daughter of her ex-husband and best friend, at the bus stop, and took off into the countryside to recover from both the lupus attack and heartbreak.

 I decided that the timing  was not right to let Maria know that men sometimes discuss details of love-making in a confidential manner with a close friend.  Yes, I did feel sadness also for her lover, and that tech succeeded in sinking an otherwise valued relationship.

 Allan 4/26/15

PS A few of the details of the story have been changed to protect Maria´s identity.

One of the Best Days Ever

 

April 28th–Pucon, Chile

Though Pucon is located  well over a hundred miles north of the eruption, folks here often wear masks due to the gray air carrying acidic volcanic ash.  Some days it´s like living in a thick fog, particularly when there are strong winds coming from the south.  This area is one of the prime lake regions of lower central Chile, so I look for the clearer days to take in the beauty of the area.  There are not many travelers here due to the off season, and the closure of national parks in the area.  I´m staying in a great hostal that I have mostly to myself, at nearly half the advertised cost–turns out you can negotiate on some things here in Chile.

If you want to see some pics and know more about this mountain resort area, cut and paste this entire monster:

https://www.google.cl/search?q=pucon,+chile+pictures&es_sm=93&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=li1AVZDYHImoNrWugdgM&ved=0CDEQ7Ak&biw=1040&bih=636#imgrc=KHtnZN_LPfqsLM%253A%3BcWzXo64EzQTEzM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fimages.travelpod.com%252Fusers%252Fdmarek%252F1.1270727357.villarrica-volcano—pucon—chile.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Ffavload.com%252Fvillarrica-volcano-chile.html%3B550%3B411

The volcano you see in the Pucon background close to here is Volcan Villarica, which blew several weeks ago before the huge eruption.  Here´s a pic:

  Volcan Villarica

Yesterday, the other guy here at this hostal (Fredrico, a quiet, friendly Chilean man in his first year of engineering work since graduation) and I went to a couple small towns on one of the lakes (Calafquen).  We walked on the black sand beaches turned gray from ash, and roamed through a small forested peninsula that was home to an indigenous Mapuche community.

Fredrico

Fredrico with lake and ash fog in background

Traditional Mapuche Area

Traditional Mapuche Area

Mapuche fire pit and sweat lodge

Mapuche fire pit and sweat lodge

Traditional ceremony hut

Traditional ceremony hut

Chilean national flower- Copihue is Mapuche name.

Chilean national flower- Copihue is Mapuche name.

View of Lake coast off town of Lican Ray

View of Lake coast off town of Lican Ray

Today the woman at the bus station called a national park person who said the Huerquehue Park was now open for the first time since the big eruption.

 

 

All animals are free range, including this bull troll in the road on my hike to the park

All animals are free range, including this bull troll in the road on my hike to the park

A fence made of artistic branches on the way

A fence made of artistic branches on the way up

I bused, hitched and hiked my way up to the park, only to be told by the guard named Javier that it was closed and nobody was allowed in.  I explained that I´d come many thousands of km from California to see the Park, and was upset that I´d not be able to see it.  After giving him 30 seconds or so to consider my plight, I asked him if he could think of anything to help me out.  I was flabbergasted when he said maybe I could walk in for an hour or 2.   I thanked him profusely for this difficult decision to let me pass, and redoubled my belief that rules and signs are only guidelines to be molded to the situation at hand.  Then he indicated that a bus would be here that could return me to Pucon in an hour, but not to worry as another would be here 5 hours later (meaning it was ok to stay in the Park for the whole afternoon!).  Javier and I ended up together on the 5PM bus and enjoyed eachother´s company.

Huerquehue is one of the more beautiful Chilean national parks, so picture yourself being the only person in Yosemite or the Grand Canyon for a day (Disclaimer:  I´m not claiming this park is comparable to the 2 mentioned).  The sun was bright and air mostly clear at these heights, a major change from Pucon.  I was absolutely giddy with delight hiking through beautiful, silent forests to the lake and waterfall pictured here (note all pics taken with my trusty iPhone, so landscapes never done justice:

image                                                   image

image

image                         image                       image

The first picture of the waterfall is a photo from the rainy season, the other 2 what it looked like in the middle of the current drought.  This marsupial (Monito del Monte) lives in the park (note how the tail is wrapped around the thumb–ok, ok, I admit it´s not my thumb but a pic of a pic):

Monito del Monte from Huerquehue

Today could have been a major disappointment, and became one of the best yet!