From the Atlantic to the Andes, and Esquel (via Arizona)

11 12 2011

The adventure turns west. We leave the Atlantic behind, and will continue to make our way over the Andes mountains, to the Pacific. Of course, we’ll not be doing this in a day! We’ll be stopping in Esquel, a small ski town, then Bariloche, Argentina’s ski mecca, and then stop in Puerto Montt, Chile, which sits at the top of Chile’s vast fjord system.

Let's not have a breakdown out here!

Today we have a lot of territory to cover. Leaving Puerto Madryn, we’ll spend hours crossing the Argentinian steppe, a vast flat area said to be the 7th largest desert in the world, with flora like Central Oregon. Crossing this region, you sometimes imagine hills, when there are none. And it’s empty – which is normal in Patagonia!

At long last we do see hills.

Arizona? Nope. Argentina!

The road takes us into a region completely overlooked by Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. It has areas resembling Arizona, or the John Day River!

Where's Clint Eastwood?

Or Oregon’s Painted Hills! Only more of them.

It takes us a couple of hours to pass through this fascinating area.

I was really surprised it isn’t mention, and it’s totally unpopulated.

Activate your zoom to find the guanaco to the right of the summit!

We pass through a valley and we can see painted hills everywhere.

I’m thinking they are like the ones in Oregon – they are ash deposits from distant volcanoes – in this case they are Andes volcanoes.

I am very excited to witness the Andes for real! I wonder if they will look anything like the Himalayas.

After spending so much time in the steppe, all of us are looking forward to seeing mountains all around.

And then we round a bend, and there they are!

Lonely highway with Andes! We are there at last!

It’s not long before snowy, craggy peaks stretch from south to north horizon to horizon – and we are quite far away. I must be looking 70 miles in each direction. And then, what’s this? Something not supposed to be here. But there it (they) are! Pink flamingos all hanging out in this pond way up here?

Flamingos out of nowhere!

It doesn’t take long for me to get used to seeing mountains all around. As they loom closer, I can see lots of snow up above. We are told it will melt and by summer, except for the glaciers, it will all be gone. The mountains look like they must be above 10,000 feet, yet Saskia says they are no more than 6,000.

Toward 5 p.m. we arrive in Esquel, a small ski town, with the La Hoya resort sitting above. It’s late spring, so it’s pretty quiet. But everywhere there are signs of alpine tourism. Esquel is the gateway to Los Alerces National Park.

There are chocolate shops, ski shops, rental shops and tour guides.

There are lots and lots of restaurants, and we are HUNGRY!

But we are in Argentina. We must remember that restaurants won’t be open until 8:00 at the earliest!

So we bide our time, talking in the hotel lobby and then walking around.

This young lady walks into the hotel looking very tired, and a bit sad. She sits down on the couch, across the coffee table from me. I ask what has she seen today? She turns out to be from Spain, and was part of a Spanish version of the reality show “Survivor!” She just got voted off! They had spent three weeks being shuttled around blind in the back of a truck from one “survivor venue” to another. They had practically nothing to eat. She had gotten very close to her teammates! She was pretty bummed, and was going home shortly. But she was glad for the experience.

Well, it was getting near “dinner time,” so we wended our way through Esquel’s streets in search of a meal. We dug up one spot with a likely menu – one that actually had fresh salads! We poked our heads inside, and nobody spoke English. Christof, our universal translator, stepped in and somehow worked everything out. They were not open yet but they took us. Then we got some beer while they got the table ready. And when it came time to read the un-readable menu Christof was there to help out and order, and make diplomatic amends with our server, who turned out to be super cute.

This was one memorable meal full of giggles and laughs, the conversation degenerated on both the female and male sides to less-than formal, more like stories of early life encounters with the opposite sex, and preferences, and such! Soon another bottle of wine was on the table, and we began to wonder what the other people in the restaurant thought of us.

And that was only the beginning. Afterward we ran into Yap and Patricia and all of us went on a pub crawl, winding up at this totally cool old style bar with all kinds of Patagonian mementos hanging from the walls. We succeeded in persuading the proprietors to play dance music and went on from there!

On the way home I saw the Southern Cross for the first time! Or so I thought. What I saw was what turns out to be a “false” Southern Cross!” No matter. I would continue to search for it!

Looking forward to hiking in Los Alerces National Park tomorrow!

My B-Day @ Metolius River!

18 06 2010

Love the ever relaxing Metolius

Spanking GREAT weather broke for my birthday weekend on the Metolius River June 12-13 2010.

We had planned a trip there in late April with a great forecast. But NO, in typical 2010 fashion, the weather turned ugly exactly 8 hours before departure and we canceled. This rescheduled weekend was – picture perfect. Clear, no wind, no humidity, temps 75 – 80 – just perfect for humans to enjoy. AND – no bugs, no skeeters.

I’ve got a special place in my heart for the Metolius, and in particular for the walk in campsites at Allen Springs Campground. There, the river bends around the campsites in a perfect U, so you get stereo burbling all day/night. It’s just wonderful! Magical, actually.

Metolius = magic for a number of reasons. The river comes out of the ground fully formed at the south end of the valley. It never changes levels. Same all year. It’s busy – flowing fast – but few rapids. The trees are orange bark Ponderosa Pines, a very cool contrast to the verdant green, low vegetation below, and the blue sky above. In  between, fly fishermen present their caddis flies to finicky salmonids.

Planning strategically, I headed down early Friday afternoon and scored a campsite on the peninsula. Not my first choice campsite, mind you, but a site good enough for our group of six. It had views of both sides of the peninsula, and plenty of space to the adjoining site. All was good because we scored, and the campground subsequently filled up.

I was to be joined by Kent, and then Jessie and her brother Joel. Later, after dark, Christian and Katie arrived. Saturday morning we breakfasted on French Toast topped with walnut and sliced pears, with bacon on the side. Yum!

Our plan called for hiking two miles down to the Lower Bridge and then back up the west side to Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery. What a nice hike it was. Filled with views from “A River Runs Through It” the whole way. Each bend brings more photogenic views into play. One would think they had polarized eyes.

Along the way we witnessed two fishermen, on either side of the river, bringing in fish. They were casually talking as they reeled in their quarry when one guy’s rod just about broke. He said, “Holy Cracker! A 20-pound bull trout just ate my fish!” We all stopped to view the spectacle.

He was not far from netting his burden when the bull trout let go – leaving this mauled, dead trout on the hook. I was really disappointed! I wanted to see that!

Later Saturday we packed up the boats and headed over to Suttle Lake for a sunny paddle. The lake was not really busy – only one jet skier – but it seemed a bit busy for the group compared to our campsite. Little did they know how it can be later on. Anyway it was pretty because Mt Washington is visible, all snow covered.

We did a shared Mexican meal Saturday evening. Soft tacos with green peppers, onion, salsa, cheese, jalapenos, beans, rice – all good stuff on there. Darn hungry we were. Then it’s time for my birthday treat – a cherry pie! Following the food fulfillment was a nice talk to the campfire. I also used my Android phone to use Google Sky Map to check out the constellations above!

Hey! Wake Up!

Sunday was an oatmeal feed with fruit, honey, nuts, butter, cream, brown sugar, all the good stuff.

I knew of a place high up on Green Ridge, which forms the east side of the valley, with amazing vews. So with hot beverage in hand, we headed up there. Wow!

You can see at seeminly eye level from Mt. Hood to Diamond Peak. That’s Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington, Three Sisters, etc.

Then we kinda lazily packed it all up. Had to end sometime!