The Whole Picture is Nothing But a Compilation of Details.

Monday, March 14, 2011

42 Hours in San Martin de los Andes

Rolling through the Pampas of Argentina
 The bus left Buenos Aires at 1600 hours sharp and moved us in comfort through the brown- and yellow hued, arid steppe covered with hardy vegetation like mata negra; jarilla, used locally to combat rheumatism; thyme; creeping crowfoot; thorny calafate, and tufts of coirón grass. (The people of Patagonia say that if you consume the blue berries of the Calafate you will never leave, or if you do, you always come Home. I clearly ate some back in 2006 when I first came here...) Rio Colorado, Rio Limay, and Rio Negro run like ribbons of blue through the over-grazed Pampas, but do not come close to providing enough water to sustain more vegetation. Somehow the cattle, horses, sheep, and burros feeding off this land are fat anyway. As we drew near our destination, a pair of condors appeared overhead, soaring across the clear blue sky, and the snow capped Lanin Volcano rose on our horizon, guiding us, as it did when I crossed the Andes on horseback in 2006 ( Twenty hours later, we arrived the sparkling lakeside town of San Martin de los Andes, 650 miles southwest of Buenos Aires.

Unbeknownst to us, there were plans made for our 42-hour visit. My friend Yvonne swept us off to lunch with the Department of Tourism of San Martin de los Andes and El Gordo, business owner of el Bodegón, both curious about my work as travel ambassador with Much Better Travel, Inc, and The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). From there, we drove up to Yvonne's business partner Raol's camp at Lago Lolog for a late afternoon ride on their newly acquired horses. Muscular, healthy, strong and surefooted, they carried us up the mountainside to pause on a rocky clearing, overlooking Lago Lolog. Upon our return, Carmelo, the 68-year old caretaker greeted us with a warm smile, his face carved by years of wind and weather, his expression leaving no doubt of his delight in the moment. He gently unbridled the horses, hosed them off and set them free to graze on the thousands of available hectares. His loving gaze followed them as they trotted off down the dusty path. A smile across his face. His dog at his side.

Raol had started to prepare for dinner by heating up the oven, a process of first lighting a fire inside the beehive, and when it's hot enough, cleaning out the charred materials to make room for the food. This home-made construction of bricks and mortar supported on five wooden posts was hot and ready when we arrived, having first washed the dust off our hands in the cold stream that runs through the property. As we waited for the fresh, free-range, lemon basted chicken to cook, we munched on slices of chorizo and sipped cold, local cerveza Quilmes, delicious after a dusty ride. The temperature dropped quickly after sunset, and longing for a real bed after the long bus ride, we were soon enveloped by clean sheets, falling asleep as the cool breeze rustled the curtain, whispering "good night".

The morning brought sunshine and a couple visiting for a half day of horseback riding: dressed to the nines, complete with cameras, sunglasses and backpacks. Dissuaded to bring the backpack, we mounted and waved goodbye to Carmelo. (For those of you who don't know, during a ride a backpack hits you square in the back with every step of the horse, and catches branches overhead. The story typically ends with the rider on the ground, the backpack in the tree, and the horse nowhere to be found.) Yvonne guided us through lush lenga- and enchanted pine tree forests; growths of Chusquea macrostachya, also knows as Chilean Mountain Bamboo; yellow seas of blossoming Alstroemerias, pausing for breathtaking views of the Andes and Lago Lolog. The couple, hesitant to begin, were beaming. The Andes are magical, no doubt.   

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