Sunday, 21 May 2017

Tupungato to Barreal

Sole and Susana drove us from Mendoza to Tupungato, and we said a teary farewell in the village square, snapping one more photo of all four of us before Fidgit and I made our way down the street. As we left, we realized it was quite late in the day and the sun was beginning to set. Knowing we wouldn't make it out of town enough to find a decent place to set up our tent, we walked into a nearby hotel and got a cheap room for the night, breakfast included. Fidgit met a woman as we were checking in who was very interested in our project and asked us to come onto her radio show the next morning to talk about Her Odyssey. We went to bed with butterflies in our stomachs that night.

The next morning, we checked out of the hotel, had some breakfast and were taken to the local radio station, where Fidgit did most of the talking - the norm for us, since her Spanish is far better than my own. We left town late in the morning, grateful for kind and supportive people and really happy to be walking again. The day was warm with a lot of humidity and clouds looming in the distance. As we walked, our legs stretched and my mind wandered. Road walking is a different being to me than trail walking (or, sometimes, bush-whacking). When road walking, you can see very well where you are going and all you have to watch out for is vehicles and bicycles. It can be mundane, though it can also allow you to process through thoughts and ideas more thoroughly. I enjoy being able to space out and not have to worry about mis-stepping or getting lost.

As the day wore on, the clouds began looming closer and closer, until we were being rained on. Lightly at first, then as we neared a small building, the downpour began. We knocked on the doors of the building, which turned out to be a small clinic, though at first no one answered. The downpour became a deluge, so we knocked harder and tried the door knobs to see if any were unlocked. Finally, an older gentleman came to one of the doors and guided us into the waiting room of the clinic, where we stood dripping water for a few minutes until the gentleman and his wife invited us back to their living quarters. It turns out we had woken them up from their siesta and surprised them. Fidgit and I apologized, though they said 'no problem,' and we talked and drank mate the rest of the evening as the storm raged outside. Cristina and Antonio ended up offering us a bed for the night and building up a fire so we could dry out our soaked clothing.

In the morning, the rain had dissipated, so we packed up, said our goodbyes, and walked on, with the added weight of a few gifts from the couple. We didn't feel weighed down, as the overcast sky and cooler breeze made for excellent walking weather. Before we knew it, we were 10 km from Portrerillos at 5 p.m. We talked over whether we should camp outside of town, or push in and meet up with a connection we had there. We both decided we wanted to push in. Our feet nearly revolted, but we made it into town just after dark and met Alejandra and her husband at their house.

They warmly greeted us and showed us a room that we could stay in, then left us to shower before dinner. We all had dinner together and talked about many things. I enjoy being in the presence of like-minded, adventurous people, and over the next day we had many thoughtful discussions. Fidgit and I learned that the couple (Alejandra and Koky) had begun their business almost by accident, fixing worn out PFDs, and now they make many of the PFDs sold in Argentina. We would have liked to stay longer, but we had made plans to meet out friend Pablo (from Mendoza) near Uspallata, 40+ kilometers down the road.

We walked out of Portrerillos late in the morning to walk along the abandoned Ferrocarril Transandino next to Rio Mendoza. The railroad tracks took us along the valley floor and after a scary bridge crossing, stepping from railroad tie to railroad tie with air between, we set up camp for the evening. The wind died down and we slept well. The next day, we walked mostly along the road to get into Uspallata, and it was beautiful scenery but boring walking. We left Uspallata after resupplying and made our way out to an Artist's residence outside of town where we planned to meet Pablo and his family. We arrived before they did and talked with the artist for a while, and when Pablo and his family arrived, we toured the grounds to see all of the works that had been constructed. The artist and his daughters put time and energy into each one, and it showed; all the pieces were beautiful in their own way.

We left the Art Garden, as they called it, late in the day and walked for another 10km or so to the first INCAN RUINS we've come across! According to most people we've talked to, as well as the history we've learned, the Incas built their road as far south as Uspallata. So we are officially in Inca territory. The ancient Inca roads stretch from Argentina to Ecuador and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. We hope to be following them closely at least up to Cusco, Peru. We camped near the ruins of a Tambillo/Tambo, or an area the Incas built to store things for future use. I would liken it to a kiva in the American Southwest, though much larger.

The next morning, we made our way north along the road. I was bracing myself for our first long dry stretch - 100 km. As we walked, we saw a truck stopped in the distance. It idled for a bit and then drove on. As we approached where the truck had been stopped, we came upon a large shrine with many full water bottles stacked around it. These shrines are for a folklore saint named Difunta Correa - look her up. We were able to use some of this water to get us through the next day of roadwalking. The next morning we came upon another Difunta Correa shrine near Parque Nacional Leoncito and were able to get water for the next day of walking until we arrived at a Gendarmeria station, and the men there gave us water. We were then able to make it into the town of Barreal. It is amazing what things show up at just the right time on our trip.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Santiago to Tupungato and our side trip into Mendoza: Crossing into Argentina through Pasos Puiquenes and Portillo

Fidgit on the phone in San Gabriel
After our time in Santiago, we packed up and made our way back to Puente Alto and out of the city. As we left the swirling mass of humanity and went southeast up a valley toward San Gabriel, my mood immediately improved. I'm not a city person, and can only handle that amount of people and noises for so long. The bus driver drove up the valley like a professional race car driver, so my enjoyment of being on the move again was suspended until we got off the bus in San Gabriel. My joy at being out of the city and moving again didn't last long before being dashed at the Caribiñeros Station.

Some of the super helpful Caribineros in San Gabriel
We thought we had gone through due process and covered our bases before leaving Santiago, so there would be someone in San Gabriel to stamp us out of the country. Apparently wires had gotten crossed and misinformation had been given to us, so Fidgit had to spend the better part of two days on the phone figuring things out. Thankfully the Caribiñeros in San Gabriel were kind gentlemen who allowed us a spot in their yard to camp, and who helped us when the phone connection was bad or, in one case, we got hung up on. As Fidgit, the Spanish speaker of the two of us, was working on getting us stamped out of the country, I was sleeping/coughing/trying to move as little as possible. It turns out I had caught some sort of illness; the sinus pressure began nearly the same time the city pressure dissipated. So I was trying to rest up and recover in time to be ready to hike in a couple of days.

Neon in front of a reservoir that holds much
of Santiago's fresh water reserves
Hot Springs before going up to Paso Puiquenes
We arrived in San Gabriel on Saturday. On Monday afternoon, we received our exit stamps to leave Chile and cross into Argentina. We were able to hitch-hike out to where the trail began - some hot springs at the base of Paso Puiquenes. We camped at the hot springs and began up the pass the next morning, with me wheezing along. The higher elevation (we were at 9,000 ft and climbing) was better for the pressure that had been pushing on my cranium, though not as helpful to the congestion that had recently found its way to my bronchial tubes. Fidgit would wait dutifully every half hour or so for me to catch up and make sure I was still okay, and we moved slowly up to the 4,020 meter (12,060 feet) pass. We made it in five-ish hours, just in time to break for some lunch before hiking down into the valley. We had been walking for about an hour when we came upon a couple of Arrieros riding their animals up to the pass. They were very nice, and one invited us to camp down at his camp with some clients and other cowboys. Since I was still ailing, we decided to take them up on their offer. We made our way down to their camp and, after meeting all of the guys, set up our tent. We spent some time around the fire that night, with Fidgit sharing some of our stories. The next day, I thought I was going to be able to get some rest, but one of the arrieros kept coming up with things for us to do and to share with us his knowledge of the area. It got to the point where he was well within my personal bubble and trying to get closer. Fidgit and I decided to move on the next morning, even with the wind and my illness worsening.

We made it to Paso Puiquenes!
And the Chilean border!
The view coming down from the pass
As we made our way down the valley towards a river crossing we had been told was very dangerous, I felt like I was in a fog. Only able to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, trying to make the most of our rests. We made it to the river crossing and saw that although it was fast-flowing, it was barely above our knees. We found a spot along the river we considered to be safe and were able to carefully make our way across without incident. There was a large building near the river; the sign said 'Ejercitos de Argentina.' It was a military refugio. We went up to ask if we were able to camp nearby, and set up in their 'yard.' A couple of the men came out to talk with us and eventually invited us in for the night. The next morning, we attempted to set off and cross Paso Portillo, but I was wheezing so badly that Fidgit (after talking with me about it) made the decision for us to return to the military refuge and rest until I felt better. There were four men stationed at the refugio, and they took turns checking on me and making sure I was warm and taking the medicine they gave me (an OTC cold medicine, I believe) after taking my temperature. After I took a shower and some of the medicine, I fell into a deep sleep. I slept a good part of the next two days, rising only during meals offered and to let the concerned men know I was feeling better. I truly was feeling better, and Fidgit and I were able to set off up the pass after our two days of rest.

Camping with the Arrieros- we deemed
this the 'meat tent'
Fidgit pondering during our wood
collecting with the cowboys
We made sure to leave early because we had been told that Paso Portillo would take anywhere from four to nine hours to get up and over. With me coming off an illness, we didn't want to risk being at the pass late in the day. We began at an elevation of about 9,000 ft and climbed up and up, reaching the pass six-ish hours and 4,000 ft in elevation gain later. Along the way, we made sure to take breaks and Fidgit would check on me, though I felt so much better after our two days of rest. Our plan was to go another eight or so kilometers to water and a refuge, so we didn't waste much time in going over the pass and down the horse path along the 4x4 road that began on the eastern side of Paso Portillo. We descended much faster than we had ascended, and made it down the valley to the refuge just as the sun was disappearing behind the surrounding mountain peaks. As we tucked in for the night, I was relieved to have made it over the pass and completed our goal for the day (get to the refugio).

There were beds at the refugio and they were squeaky, so I didn't sleep very well. I woke up around sunrise and waited for Fidgit to stir before packing up. We made our way down to the Argentine border control and were officially stamped into the country of Argentina - eight days after we had officially been stamped OUT of Chile. We continued down the road and were invited to share some food with a couple of guys on dirt-bikes. We accepted and ended up camping outside the guys' motor home. Dario and Martin were on vacation from Mendoza, and they offered to show us around the area on their 'motos,' as they call them. We stayed for another day, riding around and eating meat cooked over an open fire.

The 'dangerous' river crossing at the base of the valley
As we left to begin our road walk to Tupungato, we began to see what our next few months of walking to Salta would look like, more or less. We walked along the side of the paved road so our feet weren't as tired, and took lunch in the shade of some trees near a primary school. At the end of our break, Fidgit taught some of the kids in the schoolyard about where we are from and where we are going to on our walk. We moved along down the road, passing grape orchards and vineyards for the rest of the day. We camped shortly before the town of Tupungato and made our way in the next morning, finding a small coffee shop to connect to our people, since we had been out of connectivity since Santiago 12 days prior. We also heard from our new friends Dario and Martin. They invited us to come to Mendoza and stay at Dario's moms home. We accepted after talking over our options, and they stopped through Tupungato to pick us up and take us into Mendoza.

We arrived in Mendoza weary and stinky. Upon meeting Dario's mother, Susanna, we felt right at home. She gave us towels and washed our dirty clothes after setting us up with mattresses and bedding. We were immediately brought into the family, sharing meals, Fidgit sharing stories. Dario, Susanna, and Sole (Susanna's daughter) were so kind and giving, showing us around the city, as well as sharing recipes and time. We felt so cared for that it was tough to leave, but the trail was calling to us and we made our way back to Tupungato to pick up where we had left off.
Fidgit and I with a couple of the kind
Ejercitos in front of the refugio militar

While I slept, Fidgit attempted to learn a
new and very confusing card game.

First Guanacos since I can't remember when!

Heading up to Paso Portillo

We made it! At Paso Portillo

Dario and Martin talking with Fidgit
in Manzano Historico

Dario and Martin's 'camping' setup- a 1969
Mercedes bus and their toys

Road walking the day away

A view of Aconcogua- one of the world's
seven summits- from near Mendoza.

Centro de Mendoza

Wandering around town with Sole

Ladies' night in Mendoza-
Neon, Sole, Tia, Susana, Fidgit

Homemade Alfajores- Yum!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Queñes to Las Peñas and through to Puente Alto, AKA Officially getting to Santiago by foot!

A reprieve from the heat
Leaving Queñes, we began a routine that would carry us through the rest of the investigatory sections of the Greater Patagonia Trail. The general pattern is: leave town on a road, go up a valley to a pass, over a pass or so, and back down a valley to a road that goes into our next town.

The trail isn't overgrown...yet.
From the road out of Queñes, we walked through a friendly gentleman's property, and then began following a stream uphill into the valley it had formed over the millenia. We were still in a fog of firesmoke during a heat wave, so the breathing was difficult, as the air was thick with smoke and humidity. We were happy to stop for lunch at a well-kept campsite where we were told by some locals about the swimming hole nearby. We jumped in the water, and it was such sweet relief from the heat! After a well-enjoyed break, we continued up the valley following horse paths. We camped near treeline that night and continued up the valley in the morning. As we neared the first pass, the horse paths faded into harder to follow animal paths. We were able to continue above tree line and find intermittent paths that took us along the ridge line and down to another campsite.

Looking from our first pass along the trail to our 2nd pass
The area was dry, being a ridge line, but we were able to find water as soon as we dropped down, so we camped for the night and went over the saddle in the morning, heading down another valley to a large river crossing. The river running along the base of the valley was swift moving and narrow with many rapids. We spent a good part of the morning walking along and deciding where to cross (The creator of the route had a couple of options marked on the route he shared with us). When I finally stepped into the water, I was grateful we had planned carefully and found a wider part of the river with smaller rapids. The water was still very strong where we crossed, and a coffee table-sized rock beneath the surface impeded my progress for a few moments. In the end, we were both able to get across safely and had lunch on the other side of the river in celebration.

Fidgit looking out on the firesmoke-filled valley
From the river crossing, we followed more horse/animal paths along a smaller river up another valley and were able to make it nearly to the last pass before town before setting up camp for the night. Waking up, the forest fire smoke that had been irritating our lung and mucus membranes for days seemed to have begun dissipating. Not altogether gone, but I could see more of the sky as we progressed the rest of the way up to the passes we would cross. Again nearing the passes, the horse trail faded at about treeline, though we had become accustomed to changes/disappearances in trail and found our way to the first pass, and then 200 meters down and up to the second pass. Following well-worn animal path, we made it to the third pass, up, over, and down to a beautiful valley and well-worn horse path that led us into the small community of Las Peñas.

Road walking to Aguas Buenas
One of the many human traces at the mouth of the valley
After a short town stay to resupply and use the internet to connect with people, we moved on, road walking through Puente Negro and Agua Buena to our next valley. There are times when we feel like we're in the middle of nowhere, and there are times we notice more human 'prints' through areas - this valley was one of the latter. As we walked further into the valley, the signs of humanity dissipated and we climbed up (you guessed it) to a pass. We were concerned about water as we ascended, so we were sure to fill up before the stream ended. Investigating these routes north of the 'official' GPT reminded us at least every day how nice it was to have a route that someone else had investigated for us while preparing us for the rest of this trip (route finding, mapping, not taking water for granted). We continued up and over the pass, bush-bashing our way through after the animal trail faded out.

Re-entering the forest

We descended the other side of the pass, and again walked for a few kilometers without trail before discovering an old campsite. We found horse trail from the campsite that we were able to follow the entire way (about a day's walk) down the valley. The horse trail took us along the mountainside and past a couple of well-worn camp sites before it spat us out onto the road which led us into the town of Coya. We caught a bus from Coya to meet some people in Santiago.

Making it into Santiago by bus, we met up with some friends of Fidgit's that had offered to bring some goodies down for us - thanks for the pole tips, new gadgets, and goodies, Matt, Mike, and Chris!! After hanging out with those guys and getting semi-cleaned up, we went to meet (in person finally!) Jan and Meylin, the creators/initial explorers of the GPT, who were only in Santiago for a short time. We were able to spend a full day and a half with all of these people in Santiago before bussing back down to Coya.

Fidgit knew what these were, I had never seen them before.
Found horse path along the way
Returning to the trail after our first day off since Talca (nearly a month before) was difficult, but we were still determined to make it to Santiago on foot before we allowed ourselves a proper rest. We knew a dry ridge walk was our next challenge so we made sure to fill up our waters. As we ascended and followed the ridge, we slowly got to see the extent of why we had to go to the ridge - one of Chile's largest copper mines was nestled in the valley below. We traversed the ridgeline all day, slowly draining our water before making the descent past a retaining pond to follow a road. This was right about the time we had both run out of water, so we were eyeing the pond, but its mass of deposits from the mine deterred us. We were able to walk a few more kilometers and find a small stream not coming out of the mine to fill our water containers with. After a night's rest, we followed the road the mine was building, up and up, to our highest pass yet. As we walked along the road, multiple trucks stopped; the workers inside the vehicles offered us water, fruit, and even their sandwiches from their lunch.

Fidgit, Meylin, Jan, and me in Santiago!
We made it up and over the 3,200 meter pass and worked our way down into Reserva Rio Clarillo, where we found an easy to follow horse path along the valley. As we neared the entry most people would be coming through, the main gate, we were stopped by a couple of young men. They worked for the reserve and asked us how we had come through. When we told them, they relayed that the park was closed because of the fires along the coast, so to leave ASAP because we were in the park illegally. As we were already on our way out, Fidgit and I had no trouble finding our way to the entry gate and walking down the road past two more groups of park workers who were re-routing people. They were all quite genial, and we made it to our road walk without incident.

Road walking into the city of Santiago was very different than it would have been in the states. The campo pretty much abuts the city with a small village in-between.  There were no sprawling suburbs filled with McMansions and strip malls; there were no shady characters leering from the edges of shadows. Instead, there were people out walking their dogs, talking to their neighbors, and riding their horse into town. As soon as we crossed the bridge into Puente Alto, the city began. People were everywhere, selling wares, walking along the wide sidewalks, doing whatever it is city people do. Fidgit and I walked straight to the subway station and hopped on the subway towards where we would be staying. We had just walked from the southern tip of South America (near Ushuaia, Argentina) to Santiago, Chile!
Some of my gear was struggling too

As we neared Santiago, it was like my clothes knew
and began falling apart, one piece at a time.

Looking down at the mine from the ridge we walked
along it.

Fidgit walking up the road, along the caracoles

Thanks for the juice, passing trucks!

The view from near our 3,200 meter pass

Fidgit looking down into Reserva Rio Clarillo

Some horses visited us at our camp the evening
before we reached Santiago