Published: September 25th 2012September 22nd 2012 We break up our journey south in a pretty isolated spot but get by through making friends with the local canine population, drinking a lot of red wine and climbing a big hill...we managed not to stalk anyone or do anything particularly tupid for a change.
B&W phtos have more atmosphere I'm led to believe
Sierra de la Ventana
The thought of a 17 hour bus trip to Puerto Madryn was not in the slightest bit attractive to Ellie or I. We had been looking at potential options to break up the journey but with winter only having just receded the options of beaches at Bahia Blanca and other resorts did not really fit the bill and so were ruled out. The only feasible option this left us with was Tornquist Parque Nacional in the south of Buenos Aires Province. Our reason for coming here is to climb a mountain, one with a natural "window" atop it's 1200m peak.
After a horrific overnight bus (everything rattled, the curtains didn't close, there was no water and the driver seemed to have abandoned his ability to change gears smoothly) we arrived in to a small village still in its slumber. The only inhabitants to greet
Ellie and Window
Ellie and the shock of the window
us were the local stray dogs. We strolled across the village, a cross between a Scottish Highland Ski Resort and an American Frontier town circa 1878, towards the Cabana we had booked. Sierra is a main strip of shops and cafes, with a train station at one end (one train per day) and a haemorraghe of a housing/cabana estate just beyond. After showering and becoming aquainted with the canine guards of our cabana we headed to the mountain via local minibus/delivery van/postal service. My previous ascertion that Argentina is a series of bleak landscapes sprinkled liberally with points of interest and deviations was not challenged by the surrounding countryside. Trees were sparse, the odd pine or poplar withstanding, and the ground of this vast no-man's land is littered with grey/green shrubs with the odd orange rock sticking it's head above the parapet.
The only feature to distinguish the entrance to the park from bleak surroundings (apart from the huge rock protruding from the ground) is a gigantic rought iron gateway set into an iron and stone wall. It struck me that the gateway was a rather pointless endeavour as it extends perhaps 30m before being replaced with
Crumbling Radio Shack???
an easily scaled sheep-pen-like fence. Anyhow, we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, perhaps Mars would seem lively by comparison, and we followed our explorer instincts and headed uphill! The visitor centre is tucked in behind a copse of trees. The staff only spoke Spanish but we were able to communicate in our burgeoning, but still limited vocabulary. The trails all come with handy instructions and the tracks are marked with check ponts to ensure that only the blind and the ignorant could possibly get themselves lost.
The initial stretch of the climb is a near vertical jaunt through a pine forest, the path a jumble of tree roots and jagged rocks. This was probably the most physically challenging part of the trek. The guide books indicate that you need to be fairly fit to complete this particular trail but I observed a couple of overweigh school children hotfoot it up and down with a few rest stops inbetween would guess that most people could manage it regardless of their fitness levels. We made the round trip in around 3 hours (with lunch at the window) and the park is open during daylight hours so
Bleak old walk
there is not rush.
The track levels out for several hundred metres and you get some fantastic views of the mountain and the surrounding valleys and plains. As you gradually climb the lack of trees becomes very obvious, its too windy and exposed here for most of them to survive long and to the right of the path a small valley resembles a pine tree graveyard. This is probably the one of the most rugged and harsh environments for flora and fauna on the planets. It's also endearing because of the lack of hospitality it affords visitors and wanttobe residents alike. As the hillside rises sharply the path becomes more tricky to navigate, and at times appears to disappear so it is rather fortunate to have the marker points. The climb reveals a plateu with the decaying remnants of a radio transmitor station and only grass and moss have made themselves at home. The views of the mountain range and the valleys on the farside of the ridge are wondeful, if contuing on the desolate theme. A futher climb reveas the window, carved faultlessly into the pinnacle of the mountain and framing views of the walk you've
Window from distance
just completed. It was lovely place to indulge in a picnic lunch and to soak up the views.
We ended up having to hitchhike our way back to Sierra as the bus/taxi thing we had taken in the morning was not necessarily reliable, and having waited an hour we weren't keen on walking back or becoming stranded! Luckily Ellie, some what inadvertantly and fortutiously, flagged down a middle aged gentlemen who was heading our way. It was actually pretty good fun, losing our hitching virginity! We conversed in broken spanglish, listened to Argentine folk, jazz and tango music, spoke about the Welsh colonies and about "The Disappeared." Suffice to say it was a eventful 45 minutes! I'd not recommend hitchhiking for single travellers, especially women (Argetine men don't have a great reputation with regard to gentlemanly conduct), but as a couple or small group it is relatively safe and a nice way to meet locals and learn a bit about the country.
Unfortunately, there's not much else to do here in the winter (it seems to be geared up for something in the summer though) and we were hamstrung with buses (two per day
Dog chases cat
Cat in the tree. The dog seemed pleased with himself.
at 7am and 7pm) meaning we had a relaxing, event free day before overnigh busing to Puerto Madryn via Bahia Blanca. There are quite a number of stray dogs in town and Ellie and I did mange to forrm our own pack of misfits. One particular dog was pretty awesome, we called him Limpy as he appeared to have an isolated seizure in his front left leg that made him spasm when lying down and hobble when trotting. He hung about with us for about 3 hours with an assortment of other mutts, each with their own ailments. There is clearly something about Ellie and I that dogs like, even the ones at the Cabana follwed us everywhere! This got a bit awkward when a German Shepard tried to follow me on to the bus when we were leaving town! We'd spent the previous hour downing a bottle of Malbec in the local cafe with the dogs watching our every move. However, a cat showed up and said German Shepard chased it up a tree and taunted it to come down for a good half hour. It was just like in the cartoons, only a fireman rescuing it could have made it more of a cliche.
So, we left behind sleepy (bordering on comatose) Sierra saying drunken farewell to our newly formed pack (wine at 5pm is an indulgence) and headed for Patagonia in search of Whales, Wales and seafood...