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Friday, August 12, 2011

south american road trip

The road to, somewhere?
Last Friday we rented a little Chevy something with three doors. It was just big enough to fit our board bag with the seats down and the front seats pushed close to the dash board. We roared out of Mendoza in the little car with a motor no larger than a 250 cc motorcycle, our bags crammed in the boot. Hit the road south through the desert in search of fresh untouched snow, chilled mountain air, and a little taste of life on the edge of Argentine frontier.

We drove into the night to and through the town of Malargue at the base of the Andes. We pulled off of Ruta 40 after driving about 500 km, and followed the signs to uninhabited and unkept dirt roads to the Eco Hostel Internacional. After not being sure if we would become stuck in mud, bottom out the car, or be stuck in the snow if more fell than the large amounts that were already present, we found the lodge. We pulled up, the lights were on, music was playing 60s tunes, and there were a few people outside manning the asado. We walked up, said hi to a couple from Buenos Aires relaxing in the country, and a South African dude on an extended motorcycle holiday. When we asked if we could check in, the guy from South Africa, Bob, said sure, just give the owners a call and see what they wanted to do because the lodge was out of gas and there was no heat!

Our car that we proudly named teen wolf the roller skate
The Eco Hostel and asado grill
The furnace
No heat? Okay, well you have a wood burning stove and electricity, and we have a bunch of warm clothes so we should be fine right? Sure Bob says! The couple from Buenos Aires (Santiago and Alex) said sure! Alex then handed me her phone, that was already dialing reception.

Me: Hello?
Reception: Hi
Me: This is Nicolette and Jason, we have a reservation for tonight and would like to check in
Reception: You cannot stay there, we are out of gas, you have to come into the town and we will find a place for you to stay, see you in a little bit [click]

I turn to the crew of Nicolette, Santiago, Alex, Bob, and now Oscar the guy who runs the lodge and gave the story. It ends up this place pulled the same thing on Alex and Santiago, who specifically chose to stay here because it is in the mountains, country, is beautiful, and not in town. So when reception did this to Alex she revolted and said no, we are staying here, we will build fires in the wood burning stove and will go without showers.

Alex and Santiago had been staying there for three nights. It ends up Bob got a job helping around the hostel cutting firewood. They all agreed we needed to put our foot down and stay! Then two other snowboarders drove up the road from Buenos Aires. Called reception, same story. So with power in numbers we acted and started a sit in. I called back to reception and told them so. To this they said "Okay, just let Bob and Oscar know if you need anything, and have a good time!" Funny how easy that was.

To this South American revolution, and the successful Coup d'état of the unlawful and oppressive regime of Reception, we celebrated with cups of Fernet, Coke, and ice. A drink we were told by our new Argentina friends would make us true South Americans, and true Argentines.

So further the celebration, Bob loaded more wood into the stove, and Alex invited us and the two other dudes to share their asado. So at 10 at night, in the middle of no where, we had dinner with a bunch of drunk Argentines and a South African who we only met 30 minutes before.

After dinner we went for a walk around the property to view the stars and play with the dogs. We went back to the house to warm by the fire with another fernet, then off to bed with snowboard socks, sweaters, hoods, and hats!

 The Milky Way from horizon to horizon
The next morning we went to the kitchen for breakfast and were welcomed with a roaring fire, Rolling Stones playing on the stereo, a hearty breakfast of fresh baked bread with butter and dulce de leche, and puppies. The local country dogs hang around the house waiting for bones from a post asado feast. Oscar named the dogs, and one of the dogs, Mama, just had puppies.

Oscar and puppies
Oh yeah, we made good coffee for breakfast too
After coffee, breakfast, and more coffee, it was time to drive into the mountains with teen wolf (the car) and head to Las Leñas (LL). LL had been blanketed in tons of snow over night with 30 cm by morning at the base. We were not sure if teen wolf would make it all the way to LL. Actually we knew our car, the size of the roller skate, had no chance in hell of making it up the mountain even if we had snow chains (which we did not have). We figured we would give it a go and hitch hike the rest of the way if needed. The fun part is the road to LL only goes to the LL base so getting a ride is easy.

We drove through the beautiful mountain valley, made it to Los Molles 10 km away from the base, kept going and made it 3 km away at the snow line, but at the snow line everyone had stopped to put snow chains on their wheels. We knew we had no chance of making it further so we left the snow line, went back to Los Molles, and found a dude with a huge Toyota 4runner to give us a ride.
Our new ride
Crammed in the back seat
We piled into the 'Yoda, and took off up the mountain driving through feet of snow uphill to the LL base. It is so funny how close we were, and how much snow accumulates in such a short elevation change. We dismounted, took our boards off the roof, and told our guy to pick us up at 6 PM. We went to the ticket office, there was snow everywhere, piles everywhere, even on my head and we had been there for 5 minutes, this was going to be awesome. Then I saw the lifts, none were running, only the t-bar to greens.

At the ticket office I got the news, the mountain was closed. CLOSED! AHHHHHHH FOILED AGAIN! It ends up there was SOOOO much snow, and there are no trees on these mountains, there had to be a ton of avalanche work done. So no riding today. We had lunch, tea, hiked part way up a run without lift tickets, and rode down, there, we rode Las Leñas!

Getting ready to hike up without a lift ticket
We rode Las Leñas
So that was a bust, we found our guy, got a ride back, and drove the 50 km back to Malargue and our lodge. What a day. First in Bariloche no snow, then in San Martin lots of snow, but rain melted the snow, now here in LL there was so much snow the mountain closed. We made the best of it and checked out some natural hot springs on the way out of the valley.

Hot springs after snowboarding feels nice!
We left South American ski season behind, bought a couple bottles of wine, a few a big chunks of lamb, a bag of sausage, and went back to have an asado. We cracked the wine, built a fire in the stove and started prepping for dinner by chopping vegetables. Bob came in and asked how we wanted to cook, using wood or charcoal? Nicolette said wood, he said great and he would build a big fire in the grill. I came out 10 minutes later and the fire was so big it looked like a corner of the lodge was on fire. We spent the rest of the night grilling over wood coals, drinking wine, drying our snowboard gear, and eating. The best way to close our South American ski season.

Fire for the asado
Bob with his pipe on his bike (its a Dr. Suess Moment)
Drying gear, adding wood, and making tea on the stove
Baked squash via brick oven

1 comment:

L. and J. said...

All in all, an exciting, memorable trip. What a spirit of enterprise and resourcefulness. Fun, fun. Love you!