Friday, 18 May 2018

When Nature says - Not yet!

Lago Espejo - cloud mirror

Stretching out in front of me is a mirror, a glassy smooth water mirror reflecting everything on and around it...and above it. There’s hardly a breathe of air moving, the clouds hang motionless - it’s as if nature itself is holding its breath in awe of this canvas of tranquility. The Huet-Huet bird scratching and foraging in the wet ground cover stops and looks at me...asking for my approval? The loud piercing call, almost a scream, of the Chucao Tapaculo breaks the silence although only briefly. I find myself holding my breathe too, involuntarily before breathing out slowly and the Huet- Huet continues foraging through the leaf litter for another bite to eat. Lago Espejo (spanish for mirror lake) is showing spectacularly how it earned its name.

Lago Espejo fence
The lake is one of many here on the route and area known as Siete Lagos (seven lakes) and between the villages of San Martín de Los Andes and Villa de La Angostura in Neuquén Province in Argentina. The Rio Barrancas forms the northern provincial border of Neuquén also the northern border of the Patagonia Region in Argentina. After the drier northern part of the province, one arrives at the Andes along the Ruta 40 (Route 40) which runs is the main artery from the south to the north of western Argentina.

Hitchhiking from San Martín de Los Andes, I’ve arrived at Lago Espejo with my tent to camp a couple of days before going further south into Patagonia. The scenery around me leaves me speechless and when I get something out, realise I can’t find the adjectives to describe it. The weather forecast is for rain in two day’s time and then two days later, snow. I’m hoping to get away from here before the snow to where I can more comfortably, relatively speaking, sit out the snowfall.The first night already there’s a good amount of rainfall but I’m happy to see that the tent inside and my things are dry. Everything well wet in the morning still as I make a coffee around 9am, (sunrise was only at around 08:40) enjoying the amazing view over the lake. A fox appears out of the forest and hangs around near where the visitors stop, clearly accustomed to getting something to eat.

Lago Espejo fox


Into the forest across the road, there’s a 1.6km trail to Lago Correntoso which I head for and explore, with some birdwatching along the way. (later more about this lake and the walk) Getting back to my tent later, decide to take a stroll along the lake see what birds I can find but, just reaching a patch of forest, it starts raining - conveniently a large log in a covered forest section, so sit down and relax. Next to me is a bush of mora berries (blackberries) and super sweet they are as well. It lessens a bit to a drizzle and a brief moment when the sun peeks through the clouds, enough so I can get back to the tent without getting too wet, and boil some water for coffee.

Lago Espejo afternoon

Waking up the next morning, I don’t hear any rain and think “Fantastic, I can get the tent packed up, even if it’s still a bit wet, and head off.” But, 06:30am the heavens open up and the rain is just bucketing down, sounding a bit worse at times than it really is with it pounding down through the forest. Right! I’ll wait till the rain stops and then bite the bullet packing the wet tent and groundsheet, and head off. By 10:30am though, it’s still a constant curtain of water coming down - I need to at least get myself to Villa de La Angostura, about 12km away. Tough luck, get the rain gear on, make sure the tent is closed up well and start walking along the road, hitchhiking and hoping for a quick lift. A truck driver stops and I get to warm myself a bit in the cabin before we get to La Angostura.

Making sure I have airtime on my mobile (in case I need it), I head back and this time spending much more time walking back - getting wet from the pouring rain and a bit on the inner layers from the exercise. The tent is still standing and things are mostly dry inside but I settle down and do a major repack in case of more rain - not that it’s stopped yet! Important things first into the ziplock bags I luckily had a bunch of saved up for the proverbial rainy day. The backpacks will get wet when I go, no way avoiding that but at least I can keep a lot of things dry inside them.

Cooking inside the tent has never even been a consideration for me as it certainly does not have fire-retardant fabric; now there’s no other option. Thus, clearing around me and on the sleeping mat, I boil water, not moving the rest of my body in case I accidentally knock the hot water or worse, the flaming stove over. All ends well though, and I have a good soup. The next time went a bit more relaxing than the first.

Lago Espejo rocks
Three nights down, and the morning early once again only wind and 6:30am on the dot!... rain comes pouring down again! No! Surely there must be a window between the rain sessions to get out other than 2 hours before sunrise. Keeping, or trying to keep a positive mood, at 10:30am I pack all my things other than the sleeping mat for me to sit on. Ready to up and go when the rain stops. The bottom third of the sleeping bag has already gotten wet and a large part of the rubber sleeping mat, other than a small part that I’m sitting on. It’s just silly to try and leave now while I still have some things that are dry. Getting everything out in this pouring rain will for sure get everything soaked while I pack the tent.

Now sitting in a tent while it’s pouring outside is one thing, but when you’re way past a solid 24 hour session, the situation starts changing. For one, you’re thinking and over-thinking way too much, and then keeping yourself occupied other than just lying down trying to sleep...different set of challenges all together. The space I have is enough to lie down although half of that is wet now, so keeping to the driest of the wet spots...and it’s cold, very cold!

Lago Espejo flowers

Being alone for extended time and restricted/limited to one place is not something new to me although admittedly no occasions have been the same either. Writing the diary, sharing your thoughts and literally having a conversation with yourself in the diary with intermittent doodling - or can it be classified as some obscure art form in circumstances like this? I did come out here in this time of the year to see how and what the weather will do, that was one of the reasons - but, I need  to get myself out of this now and first get a proper extreme weather tent as going into snow with this tent, will just be plain stupid.

It’s 7pm, and the rain’s not letting up - no other option but to get the sleeping bag out again and prepare myself for a long extended night listening to wind-driven waves breaking on the lakeshore, wind tearing through the trees and blasting the tent with rain.

Lago Espejo tent

Yet another morning breaks at Lago Espejo, waking up with a bit of a start...something’s not right. It’s absolutely dead silent around me other than the odd drops of rain dripping on the tent from the trees above. Can I go? Is it happening?

Yes!! I almost fly out the tent once I got my rain gear on, bags under the one tree as I start to take down the tent. The air is freezing cold and I need my bare hands which very quickly have almost no feeling from the cold and wet tent and groundsheet. Rolling it up gets interesting, apparently I’m going with some mud samples from here.

Argentina border hitchike
Out on the road I get a lift pretty quickly although it’s only to the junction from where the road goes to the Chilean border. Standing here, a bit of low cloud rolls in and a drizzle, enough to ensure there isn’t anything dry. Then, out of the blue, an icy wind blows the rain in and I think to myself “What more?” - wrong question! Exactly at that moment it starts snowing - I look up at the sky, totally lost for words and then start laughing. What just happened here not only took the wind out my sails but so surprised me, I was just totally lost for thoughts even to the point of it being hilarious. At this point I did remind myself not to ask that question again...who knows what will happen next time!

Snowy 4x4 ride

Eventually get a lift to border post from where I check in with the Gendarmerie and walk the 300m to the buildings, same out the other side to my next hitchhiking point. A Chilean couple give me a lift on the back of their 4x4 pickup after 2 hours of alternating sun, wind and rain. 

As we get closer to the pass, the official country limits of Chile and Argentina, it’s snowing and then starts the wind- driven snow...hey, it’s blowing mostly over me and is rather stunning albeit freezing cold! They stop to take some photos - then, make some space for me inside the cab from where I watch the snow blowing past as we descend into Chile after 20 days in Argentina.

Dare I ask “What next?” 

Puyehue: Argentina-Chile





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