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Hola, Week 10


Monday, Feb. 19

We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. From our ninth floor room we could stretch out our eyes over the Gulf Nuevo. People were out walking and running on the beach. A cruise ship had pulled into port while we were sleeping and another day of adventure was awaiting.



The hotel offered a very nice buffet breakfast and we filled up on some delicious coffee and pastries before we ventured off. Our destination for the day was Peninsula Valdez, a place set apart for all kinds of land and sea life.


We drove for an hour to the little town of Puerto Piramides, which is nestled in a beautiful emerald/aqua bay. Surprisingly, the water was warm enough for swimming but we came to watch the sea lions. It would have been great to stay for a couple of days and enjoy the relaxed beach atmosphere.



The Peninsula is enormous and we could not possibly explore it all in a day. So we bought some sandwiches and drove over to a nearby area to watch the seals and sea lions. We spent an hour being entertained by a whole colony of barking and sun bathing moms, pups and growling males before we headed back to our hotel.



The dinner hour in Argentina begins around 8:00pm which takes a little getting used to. We decided on Peppe’s for dinner, an Italian restaurant a la Argentinian style. A very different twist on Italian but it was good. After dinner we poked around a few stores and took a walk on the strand. It was amazing how may people were out and about at a time in which we felt a bed would have been more useful.



Keep on rolling,

Scott and Sarah



Tuesday, Feb. 20

Today began with some rain but was immediately rewarded with another buffet breakfast and coffee. We set this day aside to do nothing. But as you know there is no such thing as nothing. We looked ahead to plan a four day trekking trip in El Bolson. The trip would require cash for the Refugio’s (campsites) so we needed to get some dollars exchanged into pesos.


We asked at the hotel where we could get some money exchanged and were sent to a place that opened at 5:00pm. When we drove by the establishment there was a long line of people out front so we decided to go back later. After about an hour, we arrived and the place looked closed, there was no line. From the outside of the building there was no indication of a business of any sort but we opened the door and went in.


Once inside, we stood in a tiny lobby by ourselves and a wall of opaque glass with real estate advertisements was before us. We could hear voices behind the wall and within a couple of minutes a woman opened the door and invited us in. Suddenly we were in an area that had small offices like you would find in a car dealership. She escorted us into one of the offices.


She never asked us what we were there for and our English accompanied by her Spanish did not allow for a meaningful conversation. Once inside our cubicle, I exposed three fifty dollar bills and asked if she could exchange them. A weird moment to say the least; she knew exactly what I meant. She wrote down the exchange rate (the blue dollar rate which is much higher than the official government rate) and walked away with our cash.


We probably waited five minutes and she returned with three bundles of cash and some loose bills. Each bill was 500 pesos and each bundle was 100 bills. As I mentioned earlier we were planning to go on a five a five day trek and we would be staying in back country Refugio’s which requires payment in cash. That was a lot of cash to carry in our backpacks and she somehow saw that we were struggling with the amount of paper.



She grabbed up the bills and left the room again and returned a few minutes later with two stacks of 1000 peso bills. Not exactly a small amount but less to haul into the back country. We grabbed our cash and headed out the door feeling like we had just robbed a bank. Apparently, this is a normal, every day transaction.


Keep on rolling,

Scott and Sarah



Wednesday, Feb. 21

We had a long day of driving ahead of us so we got on the road early. Leaving the coast we were immediately in the desolate wilderness again. It went on and on and on until we realized that we were getting low on gas with no station in sight. When we finally came to a station we were down to a quarter tank and we were happy to be getting fuel. But we soon heard the words, “Out of gas” from the attendant. We had been warned by numerous people that stations frequently run out of gas. Fortunately, someone had given us their two liter gas can over a month earlier and we had filled it up.



But how far did we have to travel before we would come to the next gas station? With my “muy bueno espanol” I was able to ask the attendant where the next station was. He said it was 100 kilometers down the road. But did they have gas? I was certain we could make it there. So off we went hoping that they wound have gas and sure enough they did. Just the idea of running out of gas can immediately raise the level of anxiety to “Code Red” but we had been through so many other incidents on this trip that the needle did not move.


We found a nice wild camp after eight hours of driving and called it a night.




Keep on rolling,

Scott and Sarah



Thursday, Feb. 22

Today we drove to El Bolsón where we spent some time at the mountain information planning our trek. After getting all the details worked out and registering online we were good to go. Before we left we asked the guy at the desk where we could exchange some money. At first he was hesitant but then he lowered his voice and gave us a few options. Neither of his options panned out but we did find a vendor at the local street market who was able to make a transaction. It is a strange thing when a guy pulls out a wad of new bills and exchanges them for U. S. Dollars.



Afterwards we went and ate burgers at a nearby restaurant and took another walk around the street market. We still needed a little more cash for our upcoming trek and we headed off to the grocery store to get some snacks and hopefully more cash.


Upon checking out we asked the checker if she could or if knew someone who could do a money exchange. She was slow and careful to respond. She called over what seemed like a manager and they had a discussion in Spanish. For a moment it seemed like a possibility but when her discussion ended she turned to us and clearly said no. I’m not sure how all this money changing works down here but something does not feel legit.


It was getting late and we still had to drive to the trailhead and get packed for tomorrow’s adventure. We ended up camping at the trailhead and calling it an evening.



Keep on rolling,

Scott and Sarah



Friday, Feb 23

Today we began a four day trek from Wharton, Argentina which is outside of El Bolson. The trek started off with beautiful weather that lasted all four days. We left our van around 9:00am after eating a hearty bowl of oatmeal full of fruit, almonds and a scoop of protein powder. We were immediately off to a good pace and within the first mile we passed an outdoor restaurant/bar which was right on the trail. I have never in my life backpacked past such an establishment; it was a new experience. I said to Sarah, "When we come back through here let's stop to eat."


Not long after, we came to a place where a couple of guys had a food stand set up with fruit, cakes, sodas, cookies, and other assorted junk foods. One of the guys spoke some broken English and welcomed us to Argentina. We should have stopped and bought something but we kept on hiking.


The dust on the trail was like nothing I've ever seen before. It was as fine as ash and with each step it erupted under our feet creating a dust cloud that Pig Pen from the "Peanuts" cartoon would be proud of. Not all of the trail was like that but when it was you were eating the dust of the person in front of you. Added to that, there were strings of horses ridden by paying customers on their way to remote destinations, that further impacted our dusty air quality.



We came around a corner where we had to cross a stream,  a food stand with picnic tables were strategically placed right on the trail. We stopped, had a snack and took a short break. Back on the trail, we soon passed our first refugio (La Playita) and were quite impressed. It had a very simple main building and a few smaller bunkhouses right on the river. We tried to use the outhouse but it was not open so we moved on.


At about the three hour mark we arrived at another refugio, Cajón de Azul. This is the most popular of all the refugios because of the beauty of the blue river canyon. It also serves as a hub for all the hiking sanderos (trails). We stopped for a cup of coffee which was super tasty.



Moving on for another hour or two we arrived at Refugio Horqueta and decided to call it a day. The place looked like it was part of the set from the old TV show "Bonanza". At any moment we expected Big Hoss to walk out the front door. Instead an older gentleman dressed in traditional Argentinian clothing emerged, he was clearly the boss. We were told not to shoot pictures of these folks so we did our best to honor that. True confessions, we did sneak a pic because his outfit was so unique.




We checked in, set up our tent and realized how tired we were from carrying our backpacks eight miles. It felt so nice to kick off our boots and lay down in our tent during the cool of the afternoon. The sound of the river joined with the sound of the birds in the trees and we both fell into an afternoon sleep that lasted almost to dinner time.



We ordered dinner which was a fresh pizza cooked in a wood burning oven accompanied by a couple of beers that had been chilled in the river. It was yummy but way too much so we gave our leftovers to a couple of young guys who looked like they could use it.



After dinner we chatted with a couple for about an hour until the day had grown to night and we turned in for bed.


Keep on rolling,

Scott and Sarah



Saturday, Feb. 24

Another beautiful morning and we planned to get breakfast before we left camp but the food bar didn't seem to be opening anytime soon so we broke camp and moved on. Another refugio, Camp Manios, was up the trail about an hour and we hoped to get some food there. Upon arriving we realized that this place was not going to reward our search for breakfast but it gave us so much more.


We walked into a camp that looked liked it came out of the gold rush era. A small rustic cabin erected from hand sawn lumber with an outdoor kitchen that housed a wood burning oven and an open pit fire. A guy in his early thirties greeted us with an hola and little more. All he had to offer was a few old bananas and apples and some tortas fritas which are hand made bread roles. He did have coffee so we bought two cups and four fritas. We ate two fritas with our coffee and saved two for later to use for salami sandwiches.


While we were drinking our coffee our host was preparing dough for more fritas and kneading it on a large flat board. While doing that work he was also tending the fire, petting the dog, handling our money and other assorted tasks. I told Sarah hygiene is something you have to ignore if you want to eat.



The baño was a hoot! It had no door but it did have a sign on a post leading up to it that you had to manually switch from Libre (open) to Ocupado (busy). The view while doing your business was far better than reading a magazine or surfing the net. You be the judge!



We had another four hours to our final destination, Refugio Las Laguitas. The hike took us through an Alerce forest which are some of the biggest trees on the planet next to the giant Redwood. We arrived at camp around three o'clock and set up our tent by the beautiful lake.




When checked in and made a reservation for dinner which started at 9:00pm. After hearing it was lamb I immediately knew Sarah was in trouble but they also offered pizza. To say the least she is not a lover of beef but a little fluffy lamb was out of the question, so I thought. But, something must have been in the water and like a trooper she chose to join in. With dinner plans set, we now wondered how are we going to stay awake until 9:00? Time for another nap.



Showers were available after 5:00pm so we got on over to the shower house at five o'clock sharp. There were only two showers and surprisingly the water was hot. The showers are heated with a wood burning boiler that they have to keep stoked all day. It is amazing how these refugios are so reminiscent of a day gone by.


At 8:00pm we headed over to the refugio to play a game and wait for dinner to be served. The place was full of people talking and sitting around the fire. Roasted lamb on the bone was served and knowing how much my wife loves meat, especially lamb, she was in for a treat. If you could have seen the look on her face as she chewed her will into submission. Two helpings of potatoe salad and a lot of bread were her top two choices as her lamb sat helplessly neglected until she begged to put a portion of her meat onto my plate. Actually, to my surprise, she did give it a good go. 


10:00pm rolled around and it was stunning to see all of the stars shimmering on the lake with the light of the moon illuminating the majestic peaks surrounding us. It had been a fun-filled day but tomorrow was awaiting.



Keep on rolling,

Scott and Sarah



Sunday, Feb. 25

It was early in the morning and I was awoken by the sound of heavy breathing but it was not coming from Sarah. I thought it was strange as it was on my side of the tent. I unzipped the door and pulled up the rain fly and to my surprise there was a little dog that had made her bed within an arms length.


The sun was just coming up and I reached out to pet her. She  was in such a deep sleep that she didn't even stir. So I went back to sleep and an hour later she was still snoring away. To hear snoring outside of your tent while backpacking in the U.S. would be no bueno but it was a joy to wake up to our little friend.



We got up and had coffee with freshly made toast and jam in the lodge of the refugio. A wonderful way to start the hike for the day. We ordered a ham sandwich to go and off we went. The trek back to

Wharton would take two days with an overnight at another refugio.


Along the way we took our time looking at all the scenery. We came upon a woman who had obviously injured her leg and was hobbling along with a man by her side. We asked if they needed help but they let us know that they had it under control. They kept on going but Sarah felt she needed to do something. She was wearing two knee braces and decided to take one off and offer it to the woman.


We caught up with the couple and offered the brace and the woman was astonished and grateful giving both of us a kiss on the cheek. Our language prevented us from great communication but kindness needs no introduction. We moved on hoping that the brace would be helpful.


We decided to take a detour from our route and hike up a steep incline to Refugio el Retamal. What a diamond in the ruff! The well manicured and cared for refugio was in such a tranquil setting that it completely surprised us. It was just the place to spend our last night. We set up our tent and walked over to the park like setting in front of the refugio. It had wooden tables and benches set under shade trees. A nicely maintained lawn provided relief from the dusty trail.



We ordered a cold liter bottle of beer, the smallest we could get, and imbibed while playing a dice game. Then came a warm pizza fresh out of the wood fired oven. The surroundings could not have been more picturesque. As the sun set the crisp mountain air cooled the evening and the stars came out in full brilliance. Another beautiful evening that pointed to the handiwork of our Creator left us in awe.



Keep on rolling,

Scott and Sarah



Monday, Feb. 26

On our last day we decided to hike to Refugio Cajón de Azul for breakfast which was an hour away. Coffee and some kind of a homemade jelly torte was awaiting us. It was delicious! As we were sitting in the Refugio in walked the lady whom Sarah had given the brace to. She confirmed that it had been very helpful and thanked us again.

After breakfast we took a side hike into the box canyon through which the blue river runs. The sky was a little overcast so the blue hues in the river were not as brilliant as I had hoped but it was still stunning.



Within a mile of the trailhead we took time to stop

at Mystic Fog Bar and Grill for some lunch. The setting of this place felt somewhat tropical as you can see from the pics below. Sarah had a falafel wrap and I had a brisket sandwich with fries. Having these amenities right on the trail just blew our minds.



After lunch, on full stomachs and in the heat of the day, we climbed a steep mile back to our van. We took a couple of soothing, warm showers to sequester the aches of 31 miles of backpacking. It was all worth the few aching muscles and sore feet to have such a wonderful and enriching time.



We found a quiet wild camp up the road about 30 miles right next to a river. Another young couple pulled in during the early evening and they had quite a story to tell about their four month adventure. Because of our late lunch we passed on dinner and spent some time reading and blogging.


Keep on rolling

Scott and Sarah

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Kevin D
Kevin D
Mar 06

Love your adventure. You two are amazing!

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Gorgeous photos. You two are so strong and full of adventure. Thanks for sharing. We love you. Hugs

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Sounds wonderful to Kevin and I. Food on the trail provided by a vendor sounds nice. Beautiful photos.

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First off Sarah, you’re such a wonderful and caring person! Thank goodness for the lady it was you sporting the two braces; I doubt Scott would’ve given one up. 😜. He would’ve just shoved her out of the way for slowing him down.


So, Scott, how was the lamb? I honestly bet it was pretty good (if you know how to prepare it and I’m guessing they did).


You might want to take notes on how the locals do their “back in time” thang. We might need a refresher if things keep going south around here.


Wonderful pictures and stories as usual. Thank you my (our) friends!

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Rod you know me so well. I actually did kid with Sarah about not giving mine up😜

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We love phase 10 also!

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Lol

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