South America 2012-2013: Bariloche, Argentina

It's only about an hour and fifteen minutes to Bariloche from Villa La Angostura, but what scenery am I treated to to accompany such a short jaunt. That's because the bus runs a long stretch along the great lake Nahuel Huapi, offering varying views of its deep blueness with the undulations of the road under a sharp sun. The field of azure below is topped by a slowly-developing vista of snow-crested peaks above, with some islands caught in the middle of the spell. Eventually, though, the big city of Bariloche DOES comes into view to shake things up a bit. Ah, the humanity! It's not quite as pretty by a long shot, though its setting does provide grandeur to the burg as only nature can. Uh, guess that's why they build the place...? Anywho, we round the lake, churning up the last dusty fifteen minutes to town.

Fortunately this year there is no Puyehue ash to worry about in Bariloche, just as was the case in Villa. Yay for that. Another pleasantry: At the bus station I know exactly where to go and what to do to get around. I thus find myself quickly facing the facade of my hostel, Periko's. I firmly decide to skip on updating the status of last year's hostel/cult/commune, Penthouse 1004. No, this time I prefer something a bit less formidable than intense eye-mind locks - or being recruited to pay homage to an old lecher for the holidays. I mean, that was stupendous and all, but... movin' on!

The beauty of returning to the city formerly trodden is also immediately evident in other manners. For example, I recall where I can get good cheese and yogurt. Or orange juice without the requisite sugar in all juices in Argentina. There's also that one cafe in town that has particularly good coffee (Cafeteria Barco/Soroa Cafe), located somewhere in the housing area above downtown. I meander about that 'hood a bit to hopefully run into the place via a type of homing circle. (Success!) Meanwhile, beyond such traipses down lanes of memory, I know that there'll be further amenities - such as the hostel's regular asados (cookouts, an admittedly rather expected thing in Argentina) and the abundance of cervezerias sporting local micro brews amidst the numerous and appealing pub spots to pass any a fine evening.

Oh, yes: I know where to play the trumpet, too. This I do almost immediately, making some pesos under the arches off of the main square (Centro Civico) while mostly just enjoying the reality of a rare spot with good acoustics found outdoors. The bills and coins I make will supuestamente pay for some of what will shortly go into my gullet, I figure, something for which I'm happy to find that the earnings start off better than the previous year. I also enjoy more contact with those wandering through the arches, folks who sometimes stop by to listen or talk. Unfortunately for my stomach, if not my pride, they are vastly outnumbered by those taking photos and video surreptitiously from afar. They like the romantic idea of the street musician, sure - but only so-o-o-o-o much. Naturally, EVERYONE who walks by does a mental count of how much money is in the case. Some day I should set up a video camera from a discreet distance.

I convince myself, too, that it helps that I'm playing with an open bell this time, no mutes to tighten a space drastically as they invariably do. Plus, I've wisely chosen my exact spot within the arches to be more visible. This unquestionably aids the children who stop and stare dumbfounded, as expected, plus there are the hordes of singing 16-year-olds who pass through en masse on their traditional holiday in Bariloche (apparently a middle- or upper- class thing, as I've learned). A few such groups circle around me to ask for songs, recommending their favorite rock groups. Apparently I need to listen to Los Redondos. Noted.

An unexpected treat comes in the form of a woman from Chile, a trumpet player out of Frutillar. She asks to give my horn a go, giving a soft rendition of Chick Corea's "Return To Forever". Nice. Beyond her, other guitarists (almost ALWAYS guitarists) come by to talk shop (often jazz, which enjoys a bit of cult status here) or ask if I want to play with them later. Sure, I always say, but this is also always without any specifics one way or another (being Latin America and all). Early on, guitarist Roman from the hostel in Villa stops by; We crank out some tunes before my lips give out for the day.

My main reason for coming back to Bariloche, however, is to do some hiking. I'm NOT here just because this is the first hostel with decent enough plumbing to not need use a tacho - that ubiquitous waste basket for toilet paper found in virtually all bathrooms of Latin America. No, no, NO! I'm actually keen and keyed to get some trail advice! To that end, I get plenty at the Andino Club on the main drag, then even more detailed info from Miguel, an oddly-named Quebecois out of Montreal who I befriend for this first pitstop at the hostel. Between the two sources I put together some ideas for routes, eventually using the logic of logistics and snow to determine that it'll be two separate treks. Each one will be shy of a week in length.

For such activity, the signs are all proper enough: The forecast is good for the foreseeable future. Moreover, three days of sun and busking in Bariloche have provided the proper rest and ready for my first foray. This should translate hopefully into a reality of more snow having melted to open up the higher trails - or mud that's dried out a bit more in the lower ones for better footing. I'll know soon enough. Besides, I'm getting rather tired of all of the clowns and jugglers increasingly appearing at every main intersection in the downtown area.

The first trek will be hub-spoked out of Pampa Linda, I decide. The lower elevation should make for better odds of temperature and ground conditions, allowing a stab at a higher, ridgeline-based hike later. Said Andino Club, I meanwhile find, provides a convenient service of drop-off and pick-up that I'm all too happy to take advantage of. Thus it's at the witching hour of 8:30 a.m. (after nights of red wine, the "witching" part is ever so true) that our small bus heads out of town. We pass the large alpine lakes of Guitterez, then Mascardi, all the while gazing up at the Viento rock arch and the teases that are the peak tips of the Catedral area looming over Refugio Frey.

After forty minutes of cruising, we break off of the famous Ruta 40 for another hour and a half of dirt roads, now pushing us into the National Park Nahuel Huapi officially. I pay my 50 pesos while half-heartedly arguing with the guardaparque that I'm really younger than sixteen, retired, and an Argentine to boot. Oh well, so much for the waived or 20 peso charge for most Argentines. We next pass a pit stop with some porteñas (folks from the capital of Buenos Aires capitol district) hoping for a ride, then proceed into Pampa Linda as a drizzle increases. As soon as we step off of the small bus, Tronador sounds its call to us in the distance - SOMEwhere out there. Unfortunately, however, the clouds of doom above - appropriate for a volcano named The Thunder(er) - will keep the beast at bay, or mostly out of view for now.

I do the obligatory check-in with the ranger, receive some scanty info on all the hikes I plan to do, then set up camp near the fast-moving river of melt-off that slithers by/through Pampa Linda. Almost no other tents are around, I note. No, it appears that most visitors plan to be in and out in a day, or they'll pass their nights up at the two prominent refuges several hours away each, at Otto Meiling (on Tronador) or Rocca (at Paso de las Nubes). For my part, I'm content to enjoy the warmth found below that comes with a firepit. Still, I COULD do without the meandering cows and horses that will shortly tromp through my camp spot at random times, but the solitude and views offered in this campground are well worth it in my book.

Right away I'm eager to see something, the unceasing windy drizzle be damned. I know that the Saltillo de las Nalcas, a waterfall, isn't but less than an half hour away, so I start with that. I practice buzzing my lips and whistling as cold and heat exchange places repeatedly. I cross the Manso Superior once or twice - I'm not really sure how many times I do so, to be honest, nor do I know if the Manso (Proper) and Manso Inferior suffer any kind of inferiority complexes in their naming. In any event, I quickly find myself in a trail shrouded by bamboo on both sides before arriving at the falls. Accompanying me in deed, if not intent, are apparently the male and female version of what I've come to term "the furtive bamboo birds". Both are a flat black with oily deep grey finish, with one sex (I assume the male) sporting an orange chest. I also believe that it's a small owl that I surprise somewhere along the way - or so it's head seems to appear to me.

At the falls, my hitchhikin' porteña friends, Maria and Josefina, are already enjoying the views. They're busy sipping mate while preparing lunch. As for the cascade in immediate sight, it is indeed impressive - especially considering that this is only the bottom segment. I soon make my way across the stream to take in the segment above while beckoning my new companions to do the same. They pass on the idea, so I eventually round back to chat with them before they eventually get to eating and I decide to continue on my way.

Since I'm already effectively en route, I decide to head toward Paso Vuriloche, a back door entrance to both nowhere and Chile at the same time. I've not done the paperwork, so I only intend to only come up just shy the border... but after several kilometers of slogging, I find myself giving up on account of the mud. I guess I'll be leaving Chile to the Chilenos for now: Grabbing bamboo hand over hand to advance, and trying to do so without getting my boots too soaked, gets really old before not too long. My guess is that I'm shy of the border by about 1-2 kilometers by the time I give up the ghost, passing up the chance to peer at the short Chilean section of the trail that must be used before regaining Argentina and the old, original Tronador refuge.

In disappointment, I find myself returning to the falls to consider what to do next. Two old men come along, spritely if rotund for nearing 70 years of age (by my estimation, anyway). They're more game than their younger, female counterparts, though, in deciding to cross the river when I indicate the second falls view available to them. Leaving them to their newfound mission (and they do indeed struggle mightily), I eventually leave my perch on a log across the river to return to the main road.

I make the impromptu decision to walk the eight kilometers to its end, hopefully hitching my way to save the walking in a blustery wind that just can't seem to make up its mind about raining or not. There'll be no such lucky dice as only one lonely car passes me by, however. Thus I plod the 7km to take in Ventisquero Negro, a brown-crusted glacier collapsing into a lake of its own making, then the other kilometer to achieve Tronador's base. By now it's become obvious, among other things, that this beast creates its own weather - just your typical monster volcano waiting for someone to dump a virgin - or seventeen such of seventeen years - inside in hopes of pacification.

At the base I find no cars in view, either, effectively nixing my secondary dream sequence of a hitched return. Crap. Instead I hike for a bit toward the latest incarnation of La Garganta del Diablo ("Devil's Throat", apparently the most popular name for an impressive waterfall in Latin America), stopping when I've seen enough. To be fair, it's really merely the biggest of a couple dozen waterfalls streaming down from the heights of Tronador. Each is impressive in its own way, but a number of them are far weaker than the others - to such a point that the wind can even blow them upwards, allowing both complete disintegration and their personal contribution to the drizzle that is enveloping me.

I soon opt for pestering the almost-closed restaurant to let me buy a couple of overpriced-if-homemade alfajores (kinda like the Argentine version of moonpies, but better and found everywhere in the country) and a cup of coffee for the trudge back to homebase Pampa Linda. Only a couple of hares bound by in my foreground to give me any kind of company outside of the random hawk or screaming tero (the local plover). Altogether I put in about nearly 30km on foot for this first day. The feet are hot on the bottom, to say the least, and I soon find that night gives a final fierce rain to signal an upcoming change in weather.

It's worth noting that Pampa Linda is but the nominal attribute for what really is nothing more than a flophouse, a couple of restaurants, the Ranger Station, and a more upscale hotel. There are also a couple of campgrounds, of which mine is the cheaper and, oddly, better. Over the next several days, I'll come to use the flophouse Albergue and its restaurant as my social hub. That's because Maria and Josefina stay there a number of nights, as does Diego, a fellow porteño who has just walked over the passes from Bariloche. After his feet recover, he's planning to do an ice-climbing/walking course on Ventisquero Negro for some days. All I know is that it's good to have company after hikes, especially those with mate and a willingness to thrown down some beers.

MY next hike is more significant, up to Otto Meiling Refugio. It's three and a half hours of pretty obvious - if not completely marked - trail. Still, it's hard to miss a path that is used by horses (to the aptly named Descanso de Caballos below the lava flows) and even vehicles (to where a mudslide knocked out a small bridge) for a significant portion of the way. I cross one of the Manso's feeding rivers from one of Tronador's glaciers and make my way up. The forest provides great cover from the sun on now a clear day.

Things are going as planned, I think, as I practically fly up the mountain in short time. I choose the more direct Caracoles (aptly named snail-shaped curl) trail route. This tops out at a ridge junction, the Almodilla, where I stop for conversation with an Austrian. He can't believe how many folks are up this way, nor how many folks were up at the refuge for the night. He's making his way down from the New Year's Eve brouhaha that took place in the small refuge. (I'll later find that the tiny building hosted 80 folks inside and perhaps another 50 without, complete with a band). I comment on how at least there are no tabanos yet - as one begins to circle me about two seconds later. Yikes on all accounts.

I bid him goodbye before blasting my way up the ridge, then out into the open to cross old lava fields that still even include some snow. Finally I enter the Refugio Otto Meiling shortly after passing some condors that fly by quite closely from on high. Pictures don't capture them, but my eye does rather clearly - just as I see a fox crossing a snow field below (that one can make out clearly if enlarging the photo sufficiently). Far more up close and personal are the hordes of folks coming down, half of Israel by their sound and my guess. I'm SO glad I passed the night in quiet Pampa Linda, practically alone to only listen to the flow of the river and periodic rumble of Tronador. (The mountain really IS properly named, with the crashes of ice breaking away from its glaciers rumbling down the valley sonorously for nearly ten kilometers).

I'm the first one to ascend today, so I move through some of my grub as the scant staff tries to clean up the mess made from the night before. I shortly wander about outside to both nap and take in views of innumerable peaks in every direction. Tronador is the biggest thing around, at 3500m or so, but other volcanoes can be sighted in the distance. Meanwhile, watching condors doesn't get old, but getting blasted by sun does - so I wrap all my skin up well, using even a neck-covering garment I was given in Villa La A to fend off the rays. Eventually I retreat inside the refuge for a shitty, overpriced coffee and a beer (a Warsteiner, but I'm guessing not the exact same thing as I had years ago in Germany) as more folks ascend into the building and make their presence known. I can hardly imagine how eighty people were stuffed into this place the previous night, two to a mattress and the inevitable odds of a full-fledged chorus of snoring.

In befriending the staff, I learn that most of them come up for a couple weeks, then go down for one - not a bad racket. I offer them a bit of my fresh fruit, which is taken readily, while musing aloud about the refuge and life up on high. Only one staff member - who looks like something of a textbook Hare Krishna, complete with shaved head and rear tuft to compliment his non-guru-regulation fu manchu mustache - doesn't share the rest of our awe and eagerness of such a locale. He throws in a few comments about the height of the peak not mattering and such, assuring us with his haughty confidence that he has mastered the zen of the mountain. I hesitate to throw up while contemplating which of the three Tronador peaks - the Argentine, Chilean (out of view) and International ones - he would be best thrown off of.

Eventually it's time for me to fly down from this redoubt, however. Maybe it's the disturbance of cranked Pink Floyd on solar-powered speakers (nothing against PF, but here?), but it's also a fact that the sun is on the wane and I'm well-decided that Pampa Linda is home sweet home. Mainly that is because it allows for doing all of my hikes with a daypack, true, but it really IS a great spot as well, situated as it is on a narrow river plain surrounded by the echo chamber of walls of rock that lead to Thor's summer residence.

The cooler temperatures of the afternoon descent are good for keeping the tabanos at bay, too, I find, plus with no one on the trail practically I can wash my hair in one of the cleaner-appearing streams. One thing that does surprise me, however, is how much, after getting back to my tent for the night, the temperature drops after a day of clear skies - oops! My summer sleeping bag is not quite up to the task, something to keep in mind for the rest of my stay in Pampa Linda and the upcoming hike at elevation. I'm seriously glad to have spare warm clothes and a working zipper on the bag!

The next day I take Pampa Linda in in its entirety, doing so precisely from the Mirador del Valle all of an hour away from my tent. Sandals are required with the blisters that are forming after the previous days, however. In any event, whilst perched atop some rocks at the lookout, I revel in taking in the practically the entire valley from Mascardi to Tronador. Wow! It doesn't hurt to have raptors, either, zipping about at eye level while sitting on a grassy knoll to some lunch with nary a soul about. Beyond those gliding fowl, golondrinas (swallows) dive bomb in their flitting, acrobatic ways all the while.

From the Mirador I decide to try and forge/follow a trail further into the bush above to get an end-around view of Tronador. This fails, however, when I get deeper into bamboo - and my boots get sucked into some muck - right about where I run into a small ravine to call it a stop. I return to the lookout before heading down, encouraging two women heading up with a small child that it really IS worth the effort. They're disgusted at the 25minutes of steep, steep climbing, but I assure them that the view is the shit. Which it is.

I also decide to do another walk on this rest day, following the road back toward Mascardi out a little ways. One immediately has to cross the gendarmaría's (customs) station and gate crossing the road to do so, seemingly a non-issue since I'm in Argentina and heading back more into the country. But I'm nevertheless questioned a bit by the guard about my intent - before he cautions me to be careful and checks his watch to ensure I only go out for as long as I say I will. The road is one way in either direction for parts of the day, simplifying or complicating the situation depending on how you look at it, but my thinking can't help but focus on how bizarre it is to create these relatively arbitrary checkpoints on the flank of such a majestic mountain. I muse on the continuing wackiness of humanity and borders and all that. We're a long way from "one world" still.

I'm nevertheless also happy to contemplate flowers, buzzing on my mouthpiece when I stop to take a picture of a blossom or one of the peaks that hark toward Catedral in the distance. Eventually I turn back toward town, re-approaching the now-unattended sentry post. When the guard comes out at the mast moment, asking me if I've seen any cars going by in either direction - I give him the exact counts of two and zero, I seriously question the efficacy of such a system. Or at least the guard. In any event, he is far more friendly now that I've helped him out.

Back in Pampa Linda, our group has been augmented by a father and son with some deep connections here in Pampa Linda and abroad. This is both with regards to Nahuel Huapi and the import/export of fine items to and from Argentina. I laugh inwardly, however, at the consequence of the father's attempts to give his son all that he didn't have while growing up immersed in nature over the years. The son's private school upbringing has enchanted him with the world of fine wines and truffles - which he has started working in the field of - while giving him no time to bother with such things as hiking. The father's frustration is pacified only by walks alone at the crack of dawn or sunset - as his son seemingly need better adjust his neck scarf, or comb his fine moustache. Reap, sow, etc.

The next hike of consequence, meanwhile, is up to Paso de las Nubes, accompanied in part by Maria and Josefina. We trudge half an hour toward the split of the trail (with that of Otto Meiling's), before next finding ourselves enmeshed in muddy sections of bamboo that are loathe to give us easy passage. Damn the muck! I take the first spill into the brown soup, my bamboo walking stick not quite allowing me to avoid a bad step that effectively renders the seat of my pants a gloppy mess. I probably couldn't have shit on myself any more impressively, and I try not to think about the cow and horse shit that we've been spying here and there along the way. Hmmm. Fortunately, it's another sunny day in Pampa Linda-ville - the crud will eventually crust up and crack off before another hour goes by. I'll leave it to others to guess the fine origins of the remarkable stain on me bum.

Further ahead, I leave the girls at the midway point. They want to stop to lunch as I decide to continue past some relatively-hidden waterfalls of some size. I yank off my boots to cross the river, not noticing an intended "bridge" of fallen logs, then fight a horde of tabanos (like horseflies, yet more annoying in their buzzing if less so in their sting/bite) to put them back on. Soon enough, though, I come to the last of the four hours needed to get to Rufugio Rocca. This is a climb that only keeps seeming to grow, even if the steep section lasts only 15-25 minutes of grunting. I next lope along the upper section for a good while, as the tabanos swarm for a final kill and I briefly take a wrong turn (to continue toward Lago Frias) before correcting myself to shortly enter the refuge. With its views to both sides of the pass, I'm happily behind sheets of glass.

Indeed this is an impressive spot, offering such a new and large refuge to take advantage of all that is on offer view-wise. Again I'm the first person up for the day, so I chat with the host for a bit while others slowly trickle in. He gives me saludos to pass on to other refuge hosts I should run into on my upcoming hike nearer to Bariloche, plus gives me pointers on what routes to take. Eventually I settle in for my nap, plopping on a bench in the sun like a cat in a window - of which there are two pesky such critters actually in attendance in the refuge. I spot a fox making its way off with some stolen refuge grub before passing out.

Some hours later Maria and Josefina enter and I take my leave back toward home base. There is plenty of sunlight in leaving at 5 p.m. near the turn of the year, I know. What I have no idea of is how well this will affect my glorious return to Pampa Linda: no tabanos! It's also cooler for the descent and ensuing tromp beyond through level ground. Such bliss allows for a clean up and rest near one of the best river spots along the way. After that, I notice that the mud has also dried up just that little bit necessary to make the return a bit more negotiable - although I can't state strongly enough the need to be careful to not impale myself with a horizontal-leaning bamboo shoot. The bastards catch my ribs and arms at odd times, always painful and forcing bad thoughts about what a more piecing stabbing would entail if I ran into one with just a little more force> I'm sure that they'd puncture my skin if not an organ or two for a proper kebab. Seriously.

The last couple days in Pampa Linda I make particularly unimpressive. I sit down to elongated chewings of fat with our little group - minus the actual fat. We take in stars over beers at night with such clear skies, too. More to the task at hand, I still manage to take a short hike up toward Laguna Ilon. Tired of tromping, however, I stop after an inclined hour of sweating. A rush of water is too tempting a place to pass for a couple of hours eating, reading more of that famous Mutiny in the South Seas (I've finished The House Of Spirits - recommended - a far better piece than Allende's other one I read back when, Daughter of Fortune. HofS is a sweeping and thinly-veiled account of Chile via one family, from bygone hacienda days to the short-lived (uncle) Allende regime and the rise of Pinochet), and napping. I also note that this is the Pampa below gets its water supply, so I decide to go easy on my usual freestyle peeing regimen.

It's only on the way down that I realize that this stream is likely also the water supply of all of Pampa Linda. Where, exactly, did I pee, again?, I ask myself. Meanwhile, with the sun's melting of great amounts of snow, I notice on the way back that the river I've crossed below has risen enough in a few short hours to require me to take off my pants to cross. I do so in my undies, with my pants (and all the papers and electronics inside) stabbing the air in my clenched fist. Not exactly the crossing of the Delaware or the Rubicon, but hey.

On the last day I opt for a return toward Ventisquero Negro and Base Tronador, now to be enjoyed under full sun and accessed via el dedo (hitching) both ways. Such is the plan, and it works this time as, on the way out, I find myself introduced to an extended family from the greater San Juan area. They're happy to give me a wealth of tourist info, plus contacts should I happen to pass through there. Otherwise, for this sojourn I take only the random picture of a lizard, flower, bug, or waterfall.

So that pretty much does it for Pampa Linda. I've hiked out in all the directions possible from the tiny settlement, spending six days and five nights living in a tent alongside a river in certainly *one* version of paradise. It's been done to the soundtrack of thunder, too, one that involves no thunderclaps bringing rain. But it's time to head back to Bariloche and see what the upcoming weather will have to bear on the next, more difficult hike (where a lot more will be carried on my back). So I take the 5 p.m. shuttle back to town, sleeping for a bit before taking in the reverse views of Mascardi and Guitterez. We eventually approach Bariloche's refuse dump, then some pitiful squatter's shacks (in which I can't imagine anyone wintering), then more proper slums, respectable houses, increasingly paved roads, then the rich waterfront properties and inner suburbs for which Bariloche is known from without.

Back in town I get right back to my busking ways, picking up some chocolates along the way to congratulate myself in enjoying the comforts of a bed again. Some of the folks in the hostel I remember before leaving are still around, and now I get to know one group with folks from Santa Fe and Rosario (santafesinos and rosarinos) - plus the odd misplaced Russian cultural attache from Buenos Aires - in particular. They put the hostel guitars to good use, belting out songs (this the Russian does with operatic gusto in Spanish, English, and Russian) while I accompany them from time to time on the trumpet. The women randomly dance, such activity invariably headed by the energetic Julieta with Flor - the most appropriate name for this deeply tanned beauty in constantly floral apparel - smiling and laughing on. Yeah, it's good to find such a buena onda within the hostel. That always makes for the easiest way to pass days with a concept of family or community - and it's always amazing how quickly such things can (happily) take root.

This interlude, meanwhile, is accompanied by home heavy winds that demand more "inside time" than desirable. Such is the luck of a town resting on a mongo lake in the mountains. I thus see bits and pieces of movies that never probably should have seen sequels - I'm talking Wall Street 2 and Bridget Jones Diary 2 here specifically - but also finally obtain a ticket for the still-popular The Hobbit (part 1, the subject of which there being three such animals for a single book - while there were three for the three in The Lord of the Rings - I won't touch more on here). "Subtitled" is the key here, as I refuse to watch anything dubbed on principle - and Argentina typically dubs EVERYTHING. The hostel also has one Argentine movie I've been meaning to get ahold of, El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret In Their Eyes), the foreign Oscar winner a year back. When I see it later, I find that it turns out I've already seen it, making a mockery of the document I use on my website to track movies I've seen or want to see. Apparently is no panacea to the world's ills after all.

A few days of the civilization of Bariloche proves enough to drive me back into the wild, however. It also helps that after several days another window of good weather has opened up. So off I go again, this time with everything to generally stay on my back and now with an extra day to tack on. I head down to the main bus stop off the main plaza to wait for the Catedral bus. And I wait. Then I wait some more, getting to know a couple of French women in the process as the crowd continues growing for the missing bus or two over almost two hours. Finally, just when we've formed the requisite group of four with a wild-looking hippie to plunk down 140 pesos for a taxi (versus 10 each for the bus), the bus shows up and we join the panic to cram aboard.

Fortunately it's only a journey of 20-30 minutes, sufficiently short enough to prevent any reenactments of The Lord Of The Flies - a real possibility given the look of things aboard. We all pop out at the base of Catedral, South America's largest and likely richest ski resort. Since I hiked up toward Refugio Frey last time, this time I'm all about the aerosilla (chairlift). Make that two of them, a gondola and then a regular ol'. I also take full advantage of the last modern (granted, public) bathroom with a flushing toilet for a week - which you, dear reader, so want to know - and then plunk down the 75 pesos for a oneway fare (not advertised in the price list, for those of you thinking of doing the same and thinking it costs 120 pesos). I also sign in to the park, in a large book that I imagine has almost no practical value whatsoever unless you've been gone awhile and pretty much can be considered condor grub that even the condors don't want to touch anymore.

Speaking of those magnificent birds of prey, shortly after switching from the gondola to the normal chairlift I see a few. They're very up close and personal - taking dibs on victims? - as I try in vain yet again to take a decent pic of them. They really are quite majestic creatures for what really are only a buncha vultures. It just helps when you're the BIGGEST such critter. Otherwise the views just grow larger and larger as we ascend over twenty minutes, from the dust and rocks below to the dust and rocks of peaks far away. The lake Nahuel Huapi shows up in a big way, too, and then I'm jumping off my hike-cheatin' machine. So much for the quick-n-easy way of doing things.

So begins the hike, and like right away... although I can't help but notice that all about me there's a crapload of mere run-of-the-mill tourists who are busily snapping shots. A goodly chunk of them are even heading over to the one remaining clump of ice for what must be THE most abbreviated tobaggan ride.

"HAH!", I smugly think, knowing that I'm the lone (within view, anyway) fearless expeditioner. Yes, I am, loaded down for bear and sweating bullets in no time under a cloudless sky. Soon, however, I've crested the short and steep rise that should separate the men (ME!!!) from the boys (the rest of the planet). I make out the trail leading away from the resort's masses and follow what I'm promised is a filo trail.

Except that it's not. The ridge is actually above me to the left, the line lying somewhere in the crags and teeth of nasty rocks that make for a helluva skyline. Punta Princesa, the only one of them supposedly of note, I suppose to be merely the biggest one. I don't verify this, however. More importantly, to the right is a scree field that slopes down to the eternity that is the valley below. Thankfully the trail is sufficiently wide and of good footing, because one slip on that scree is unquestionably a slide to another type of eternity. It's amazing that the stuff clings to the mountainside in the first place. Wow.

Soon enough, the trail changes into a jumble of very large rocks to consider how to pass through. The trail markers are generally within eyesight at all times - splashes of paint on rocks - but getting from one to the next is a matter of choice quite often enough. There is a line not far below from which drops are precipitous, however, so the thinking isn't all *that* complicated. Or so I think until a couple of Americans below spy me and ask if I know where the hell the trail is. Turns out that they are part of a party of six - including one Asian male and female each, who marvel at the fact that they can always be found by merely asking for the Asian (which they've found true anywhere in Bariloche) - from San Francisco. They are my on-again-off-again company for a couple of hours, right about until we get to the Frey-Jakob trail split.

The split, by the way, is where the trail actually DOES hit the filo. This is where I finally see the majestic backside of the spire that is Catedral... then head to the right as everyone else head left toward Refugio Frey. For me now shortly comes the tacking through a more forgiving scree field than previously seen. Time for the knee-busting down, Down, DOWN. There is a large waterfall below, plus the ensuing valley to use as references, and it's not long for me to slip-slide-hike my way down. I eventually hit a swampy area below that finally gets me out of the sun (if not the tabanos) for a bit and into forest. I find that sitting still for about five minutes lowers the tabano count somehow. Maybe it's the sensed lack of fresh meat, I mean sweat. Dunno.

The ensuing forest section is relatively flat if ultimately climbing, but the respite from the sun with a couple of streams thrown in is just the thing to hopefully remind me to forget how heavy my pack is. Geez, six days of food - especially fresh fruit and vegetables, even cheese and salami - sure can weigh a freaking ton! I'm already setting up a schedule to mow through the bigger such examples as top eating priority #1 with a bullet. My shoulders are really beginning to ache, already this only Day One! I learn all about taking judicious rests every 1/2-1 hour or so as a consequence. Criminy! It doesn't help, either, that I've caught up to a group of about twenty local barilochenses out for a couple nights of camping-partying. My pride says to keep up, or sort of, anyway.

Through and up the valley we go, then, losing our tree cover as they eventually lose me as well. I'm thus soon tromping with a couple of fellow overloaded trampers from Bs. As.. They allow me to retain some pride, as I pass them up on the upcoming climb. Exposed to the sun again, I'm soon up to a false summit with a commanding view of the valley. From there I spot the large group not so far ahead after all. The sun's beginning to go down as I catch them on the next climb, a step rock jumble to the ridge which I had previously thought just *had* to be past Refugio Jakob. (I name it "Insult Ridge" for all eternity.) It's not, but from its top I can both make out both the refuge and a large chunk of Catedral's spire that's been coming ever more into view even as I retreat from it steadily. Tronador is also majestically visible rather up close and personal, as is the volcano Lanin some distance away. Not shabby.

I now join the "fiesta" group in their descent through another steep mash of scree. The heat's gotten better with the sun now trailing away, plus the tabanos - those annoying, swarming-if-vastly-more-stupid cousins of the horsefly - begin to take a break eventually as well. At the bottom remains only several more minutes through some hatcheted trees to cross a stream. This is the very one that departs from the lake on which Jakob sits to head down to Colonia Suiza (well, Lago Moreno really). I pass right by the refuge to punch up my tent before more folks arrive, then make my way down to a waterfall below to rinse off. Filth-y! As for Jakob and environs, I'm only sure that I'll be here long enough to reduce my food load while taking some day hikes. My shoulders are spent.

I get a quick lay of the land from the folks inside the refuge, another group of young hires (mostly) on a schedule kind of like what went on at Otto Meiling. At this refuge all supplies come in on horseback, fortunately for the hosts, but it's a bit more of a hike out in either direction for the change-outs. They're on the same 15-on, 6-off schedule, again a half-dozen women with one guy thrown in for some reason or another. There's a helipad here as well, although only for the worst case scenarios one can think of. It's located in an improvised clearing of brush. Still and all, what a paradise to die in, no? Not that I ask. As for wintertime, the refuge (like all the others) is com-PLETE-ly evacuated, then left open to deter any lost or wandering folks from breaking things to get in. Makes sense.

Soon I'm pestering my hosts briefly about a couple of trails that I can do with a mere daypack. One, I'm told, is to go all of about 40 minutes away, to a place called Los Tempanos. But don't expect any more icebergs this season, they say, so that's that as far the "tempanos" part goes. I'm still happy to go, however, scrambling through rocks up, over and behind the refuge to achieve the water base of a rather imposing chunk of rock. The snow is still there but, true enough, obviously no more icebergs will be breaking off this season. Instead I'll have to settle for the numerous, wispy waterfalls.

In no time I also opt for buzzing my lips and mouthpiece while taking in the view. Naturally, I find myself killing a dozen more tabanos in the process. Damn, their guts ARE sticky! I usually wait, zen-like, until I see the bastards steady their proboscis for the bloody insertion - then whack! No one's around to take in either my soundtrack or the massacre, (un?)fortunately.

From the Tempanos I improvise my way down the stream that leaves the water basin. This entails following some brief, exposed waterfalls, plus eating ripe, purple (and some which are surprisingly white but taste the same) calafate berries as I can, before coming down to the swampier end of the lake on which Jakob abuts. The water is warm in the shallower sections, miraculously if not surprising for a mallín (marsh), so I soon find myself trailing along the edge. More accurately, I tromp in the lake up to about my knees all the way until I get back to the refuge. There I bump into the French girls, the SF group from the previous day, and the two porte&ntile;os Pablo and Cristian as we take to drinking mate, then wine and cheese (my pack is quickly lightening!), as the sun goes down. Beautiful. What stars. More importantly, shade and coolness means goodbye to the tabanos! We eventually make a communal dinner over an ancient gas stove, using only candles otherwise for illumination in the refuge since the trickle of solar electricity available is reserved for phone calls.

The next day sees the departure of all of the above, but I'm still keen on another day of daypackin' myself. I've scoped out a peak to the other side of the lake, Cerro Cella, that I'm curious about, so I soon find myself hacking through brush on the lake's other side to gain passage. Apparently almost no one heads this way, I'm soon thinking... but they should. Or so I insist to myself when I finally come to the bottom of where the commanding waterfall, viewed everywhere from the lake, conjoins its waters with that of the body of water.

Really I have no idea of how far I'm going to take this at this point, but I start clambering over rocks to head up and around the various waterfalls. I'm thwarted only once, but a little improvising eventually gets me rock-hopping the stream that feeds the waterfalls. The jumble of rocks and adjacent wall of the same make me aware of avalanche dangers which are evidently quite all too real, so I skip forward rather adroitly until I find myself in a clearing above. Then there's the peak. Hmm.

It doesn't take long to convince myself to keep heading up, even if no one else is around or even knows that I'm here should I find trouble. Not smart, yeah, but I continue following the stream as a guide, eventually crossing it when there are some snowfields over it that need to be considered. They prove no big deal, and soon I have company, too: a huge rabbit/hare looks at me from above, bounding away each time I get within 50 meters of him. So that's the way it's to be, huh? Yep. At least what appear to be white - and delicious - calafate berries can't get away from me. I put them away as I come them, slightly larger counterparts to the berries I ate near Los Tempanos.

As I finally near the ridge, just below the crowning peaks my elusive friend bounds off to the left never to be seen again. I soon pop up to the top of the ridge after slip-sliding the last scree field for toward some 20-30 minutes. So THIS is what a hurricane feels like!, I'm now telling myself. Seriously, I can lean into the wind and be properly held up as I take in the large valley to the other side. If I'm to continue on my current trajectory, this would be a back way to Lago Mascardi, I believe. Or possibly Guiterrez - one of them, anyway. I don't care that much, of course, just happy to be taking in some sweeping views of the peaks and valleys in both directions. The wind, for as strong as it is, is fortunately not all that cold in the least.

Then that's that, a great hike of several hours that more than justifies the extra time spent at Jakob (almost everyone seems to just pass through for a night, ostensibly checking it off of their list). I share a mate or ten with some porteños content to not even contemplate what I just did in the least, then finish Wharton's The Age Of Innocence to begin Theroux's Fong and the Indians and call it a night.

The next morning I'm up somewhat early for the hike down to Colonia Suiza. The idea is to head down, then head back up toward Laguna Verde after eating something substantial in town. The Bs.As. mate-sharing couple, I remember, said a curanto - very unlike the one I had in Chiloe, Chile - should be available. But that's a ways away, like about twenty-five kilometers of walking. Not a bad weight loss program, to be sure. (At times - and this isn't one of them - there is a high trail to connect the two refuges, but it's virtually unmarked and the current snow makes it a no go.) So down I go, following the stream leaving the lake all the way down to Lago Moreno.

This trail comes in two sections, the first including a 40-minute steeper descent as part of all of 1-1/2 hours that sport shade. The next couple of hours, however, are an extended cut through bamboo brush that is not much taller than I am and offers virtually no respite from the sun. And the hills/mountains to each side of me are only getting smaller. I'm fortunately early enough in the day to avoid the worst of it sun- or tabano-wise, but I'll nevertheless be happy to get to the former Swiss colony ASAP. Plodding along, I watch the first big hill to my right eventually end as the valley between Frey and Jakob merges with Jakob's lower valley. Soon I eventually see a couple of Catedral's ski resort huts up on the peaks again to the right, where I started my supposed "filo" walk.

Ostensibly I'm now headed down toward something called Casa de Piedra, but nothing matches the description of a stone house unless it's that one pillar of rock with a waterfall next to it. For posterity I take a few shots to theoretically ask someone later. (I forget to.) Nevertheless, I take that to be the case when I finally come back to a wider road, then a house sporting a Mapuche homeland flag, then the route 79 which heads to Colonia Suiza. It's already been several hours, but I'm now looking at about eight more kilometers after the seventeen I've just done. Sigh. The word about the road being pleasantly shaded is patently false at 2 p.m., I find, and unfortunately no one wants to give a stinking hiker a ride. Sigh redux. Make that a double: It's hot!

Indeed, about a dozen cars go by to dust me thoroughly as I increasingly note signs of civilization. A few cars turn into a few bikes who hail from the other direction and refuse to acknowledge me, then there's the edge of Lago Moreno below and sunbathers. Soon comes along a couple of troops of weary-looking scouts in the other direction, too, poor things. I sure hope they're not just beginning to do the hike up to Jakob in this heat! I'm guessing not, more likely they being victims of the fact that the road is technically closed at one point to traffic on account of avalanches. This being Argentina, those who want to take their chances - obviously not the buses these scouts used - do so. All I know is that I'm really freaking tired, filthy and hot when I reach the tourist zoo that is Colonia Suiza in January. This is decidedly not the practically vacant place I remember a year before on a couple of December days!

Indeed, everyone's walking about in their flip-flops, each carrying a beach towel as I conspicuously trudge under pack like a mule through the main drag just off of and paralleling Route 79. I'm now completely primed for that monster dish called curanto, making a beeline toward the first place that offers such a thing. And there it is, with the cashier allowing me to get a plate for one instead of the typical minimum of two. When the plate arrives, I'm sure they've just decided to serve up the same amount of steak, ribs, chicken, various potatoes, salad, sweet potato mush, and cooked carrot and apple that should have been for two. (They also don't use the one massive leaf like they do on Chiloe, but instead a branch of a bunch of macizo leaves.) Anywho, burp!: I finish off about half of the pile before packing up the rest, putting a heavy ziplock baggie of goodness into my mochila and semi-passing out against a wall. A few tourists amble in as I do so, eyeing my encampment but saying nothing as I enjoy the relative coolness of the enclosed festival room well past lunchtime.

Sleep's not quite on the agenda yet, though. THAT I hope to achieve after a couple beers at the brewery I know is just up the road, Berlina. The owner vaguely recognizes me from a year before as the late lunch crowd leaves and then I talk to the brewers on beer break. I pass on the few opportunities to get stoned, thanks. Meanwhile, they suggest different places for me to camp to avoid the tent cities in such evidence in Colonia Suiza. The bossman even goes so far as to offer me a spot on his nearby land if I promise to not make a bonfire. All this I mentally note... before passing out in the handy hammock.

Come early evening I'm off hiking again, now heading toward Laguna Verde. There's about an hour or so of rather hugely wide trail, but at least it's coolish and there aren't tabanos to fight. My pack still feels heavy, though, so after a couple rests and hiking another hour (now along a scenic stream), and as darkness begins to seriously fall in the small cut I'm slicing between mountains, I look for a place to camp.

The guys at Berlina, I remember acutely, had been alternately encouraging and doubtful about camping near the main trail. It can be a highway of tourists at different hours of the day, they said, particularly now in peak season. Being two hours from Colonia Suiza, however, I feel reasonably safe about such agrestre camping, even as I nonetheless scope out what appears to be a horse trail of sorts. Maybe it's a puma trail - I dunno! Hidden from the main trail, I put together my tent in a copse of bamboo, naturally snapping a pole just as darkness completely envelops me. That makes for a fun fix as I scramble about for my headlamp. Crap! Soon, however, I'm passed out in my mobile home. I try not to wonder if the tree above me is dead or not in this improvised clearing on a slope that'll insist my body slides to the same place all night long.

Morning means getting going before the tabanos realize that such fresh meat as I am is up and about. In about half an hour I'm at the *real* agrestre camping, a sign-marked spot in a nice clearing with a few tents, then it's the hour-plus slog up to Refugio Laguna Negra. This is characteristically steep, but at least there's a gorgeous waterfall to use as a metric for resting and progress. The tabanos, of course, are nowhere near fooled enough, especially as the sun gets ripping away and the sweat rolls. Fortunately, though, the refugio pops into view immediately after cresting the summit/ridge I've been spying. For once there's no false summit to spoil the moment, as usual.

The refuge in many ways seems a carbon copy of that of Laguna Verde. Sure, it has a different concession and the days on/off pattern is different, but once again almost all of the staff is women (minus the token one guy) in a cutesy, rustic hovel on an alpine lake in a hollow in the mountains. Then again, at this place they are hard at work mostly making a home brew, with music playing non-stop from batteries charged from a wind generator. As usual, almost the entire staff (volunteers) are women, something I don't exactly mind if I at least not it. All supplies come up by mochila, too, no horses and trucks used here. Finally an eco-minded refuge! I sense a shade of El Bolson, here in the middle of nowhere not so far from somewhere.

The downside to the refuge is that it turns out they are working on its septic system. The changing out of the pipes, in the practical sense, means a certain amount of terror whenever the wind shifts. Not good: It shifts more than should be legally necessary, I find. To escape such urbanity in the wilderness, I quickly pitch my tent and begin a light hike toward Cerro Lopez. Doing it entirely would be a difficult thing should I actually want to try it from this direction - but I don't. I just want a view.

No such luck: At the point where one slings up some rocks with a rope to continue the trail, I instead find that a group of about forty scouts is coming down in the other direction. Each sweating, grunting scout has a swarm of tabanos swirling about his head. I'm sure potentially all will be eyeing mine in short order. Indeed that is the case as I let this posse go by me and head to the refuge. I soon find myself killing a couple dozen of them as I otherwise attempt to discover a sane, rational reason why I'm taking in a view of such beauty in such a state of misery. Heading back to the refuge isn't much better, either, not with the invasion of this full-fledged scout patrol in what is already the middle of high season. Sigh. I finish Fong and the Indians instead, leaving me only a small Spanish grammar book as reading material. That's one way to force the homework issue, anyway.

The next day the scouting horde departs as I enjoy the tranquility of a cooler, calmer morning. With another horde coming up, however, I decide to head down to the camping spot at the base of the climb. Maybe it's the lame guitar and then ukelele which joins in that makes me miss my trumpet too dearly. In any event, I poorly choose the inopportune time of the early afternoon to descend, sure, but I figure the tabano swarm I shortly accumulate will disappear once I get down to the river and clean up in the shade. I'm dead, DEAD wrong on this score: The swarm merely intensifies, only briefly held off when I stand in the river to do my impromptu corporal cleaning. Shortly I'm in the tent and trying to pass out to a playlist of 80s tunes until my iPod's batteries run out. The idea is to wait for a bit of night to descend. This really would be a beautiful spot if I wasn't in a tent! For sick pleasure I briefly take up flicking the tabanos that dare descend on the tent's fabric, doubtfully doing any of them any damage - much as I'd love to dearly.

At seven or so I emerge to find myself almost alone, feeling a bit the vampire for my emergence after the sun's exit. In the interim I find that the other several people who were considering camping in the spot have fled in the face of such adversity. But it's a different ballgame now, even if some lingering tabanos annoy me as I start a small bonfire in a pit. (It seems likely that all the scrap wood left about this camp has been left by similar fleeing groups.) Nevertheless, it's a brief invasion of biting jejenes (something between mosquitoes and sandflies, but nastier and hungrier to take out flesh chunks) which prove far more annoying.

Eventually I'm joined by another tent, that of a couple of pianists taking a day or two off from a music camp just outside of the luxurious Hotel Llao Llao, (supposedly the #1 hotel of South America, located on a commanding spot overlooking a section of Lago Moreno). Their program sounds nice, a working holiday learning music and all, and we have plenty to talk about in the world of music playing, traveling musicians, and working/living as a musician (which they do via performances and teaching).

Morning means fleeing for me, however. I've completely had it with the tabanos. I thus tear out of camp after 8 a.m., while my friends are still fast asleep. I make tracks in the cool shade, moseying the two-plus hours back to Colonia Suiza with a purpose. The first hour along the river is sublime for the effort, meanwhile, with not a soul in sight, then the second is about the same as I meet a number of incoming hikers obviously oblivious to the dangers of tabano hand-to-hand combat. Whatever: All I see is the brewery ahead, visions of beer and a hammock swimming above my head in a hazy dream-cloud.

At Berlina I reconnect with the brewers, next briefly wandering about town with the proprietor as he seeks supplies from the meagre sources available in town. We return to Berlina after I pick up some things as well, next guzzling some brews and getting some hammock time before catching an afternoon bus to town. I'm quite content to pull the plug on the backpacking aspect of this trip, that much I know. In fact, I vow to do just that for the next week, getting to know a cast of characters at the hostel over a week or so of tabano relief.

For example, there's a British couple from very southern England, Lex and Jess. Sure, they insist that they speak the queen's proper English, the poor sods, but I more coincidentally note that they are more or less from about the setting's locale in A Perfect Spy, which I'm now reading. They're also on temporary passports, that thanks to a robbery that will require them to go through a number of countries in a predetermined order. No fun, and as a logical consequence they're trying to pack it all in as they schedule away madly. They will be defeated in this somehow, I'm sure, but I'm also sure that they'll nevertheless see all and more than they ever will want to in the process. Despite my best efforts, meanwhile, they refuse to come to the light of American English - thus condemning themselves to the certain hell of continually hanging out exclusively with the likes of Hugh Grant and - undoubtedly - Ozzy Osbourne. Sigh.

There're also a couple of misplaced Mennonites I remember from my interim stay at Periko's between the treks, Peter and Tim from Sasketchewan. I mean Winnipeg, rather, which is in Manitoba as every American knowns. In any event, they're living proof that someone DOES live in those massive provinces between the Rockies and Toronto. Good to know! They've taken up the Paraguayan mate habit of drinking it at all times, including during meals - to the horror and mystification of a number of Argentines. On a related note, their willingness to drink any and all forms of alcohol available on the free shelf (including their own mystery-hootch contribution of the local Piragua, purchased for a roaring 12 pesos/$2.50) contrasts favorably with the only other fellow Canadian in the hostel. That'd be a buff Ontarian-B.C. climber, S, who sports manhands and has just topped Fitzroy just recently. Impressive. Her yoga is quite excellent, too, as is her newfound commitment to learning Spanish, but she'd be a lot more fun if she'd let loose and hit the booze and grub with the rest of us. We take a unanimous, solemn vote on that score. Well, trust me on that one.

Then there are folks like the two older German couples, who switch constantly to German in thinking no one understands them as they comment about some of us. Doh! Here's a hint: the trumpet player used to live in the Fatherland, too! They have numerous exchanges with a rigid, ex-U.S. soldier with a moustache that I could have given a background for as easily as himself. He both pronounces his German and his Spanish like a machine, in just about the same cadence, too. This includes a cringing effort of rolling nary an "r", even for his living in Bs.As. for perhaps a decade. For all that, his earnestness is worn on his sleeve... undoubtedly in a crisply-sewn, Government Issue packet with four corners that one could assuredly bounce a quarter off of.

For our dynamic duo of students from greater BSAs, there are Ezequiel (who wisely goes by Vigo, lest he decide to take up a career sermoning fire and brimstone as such an Old Testament name would require) and Facu(-ndo, who has no choice but to answer to "Hey Fuck You!..."). They are respectively a kite-boarder and windsurfer who are endlessly waiting for proper winds on a daily basis in this supposedly most windy of cities. Sorry, guys, not this time! Constant imbibing of Fernet-cola will apparently take up the slack, though, even if the kiteboarding can get away with a lot more marginal wind days. A number of us (well, mostly me) wisely put the heat on Facu, meanwhile, to work on an asado that will be dedicated to just a small number of us.

To that end, on one very special night (or so I say, anyway), we do just that thing. For the effort, too, I introduce the shocking concept of veggie-fruit kabobs to a heresy-condemning Argentine mob while ALSO happily providing the lovely concoction called Chimichurri to the masses (which should be exported in bulk everywhere, as far as I am concerned.) Success ensues as everything disappears into our six-pack of stomachs lacking sixpacks (at least in my case - this asado stuff takes its toll).

As for the rest of our crew, this leaves effectively our main host, buena onda Charly, our go-to host of the small crew of staff on hand, and Julieta. This latter entrant comes minus a Romeo, as all of us vultures circling her well know, yet meanwhile continues with her manic four-month reign of the place. A university teaching prof the rest of the year, here she's taken a job of analyzing apparently every fluid the human body can make in a local laboratory. It's not for nothing, then, that I call her "La rata!" - which she immediately turns to calling me just as often... when she's not zipping about the place in some kind of odd dance, or heading out to take trapeze classes that she's found out about god-knows-where. There can only be one Julieta, of that we're all sure.

As to the rest of my Bariloche cast, these are mostly the other musicians I meet. Chief among them are the members of a band that one by one keep coming by my spot under the arches. They keep pleading with me to join them until I finally consent. Mainly their timing is wrong, showing up just about when my lips have had it.

When we finally DO play together, it's only after a number of attempts to find where they can plug in their amps. We move through several songs of a post-bop nature, where I make stabs at solos and only know a few of the heads. The reality is that these are more truly jazz musicians they I am. But it's good fun and a nice challenge for me to keep up.

One thing of note happens in our little performance, however. At one moment two men come blazing through us, separating the musicians from the crowd of some twenty or thirty as they bolt through and then into a building. A policeman comes flying through on their heels. It's only when I leave the band behind to round the corner that I see the closed off section of the street and the measuring of the bloodstains and the bullet holes in a couple of wood columns. An armed robbery has been semi-thwarted by security guards and police, leaving one of the suspects nearly dead from a gunshot wound.

I read the rest of the story in the next day's paper, about how the other two got away via an awaiting vehicle. And how they are suspected gang members from way down in Chubut province, from Esquel and quiet Trevelin of all places. To think this happened in the heavy tourist zone of Bariloche, with tourists fleeing in every direction after the shots! The locals and tourists alike are shocked at the audacity. On the other hand, a small riot which turned into looting just occurred in Bariloche in December, the cause for the demonstrations in the main square that are still going on. That quickly spread to fifty cities, but again the surprise was that it was Bariloche where it kicked off. The rich facades of the tourist area are hiding a big story, but not too well anymore.

I also play the horn with a local guitar professor named Israel a few times, both a couple times in "my" arches and once on the man drag Mitre a couple blocks away - where he sets up a cloth to sell the jewelry he makes. He plops it down right in between two of those slightly annoying and cloying people in costume who maintain a stiff pose to only move ever so slightly when someone puts money in their hat. One of them, a woman who has yet to even put on her costume, quickly complains to us that she intends to play a melodica-thingie as part of her schtick. "And your point is...?", I'm thinking as we've already begun playing Blue Bossa and then The Girl From Ipanema.

A hike/walk of the Circuito Chico is almost the only thing I do of a touristy (or even merely active) nature in this last week-plus of Bariloche - outside of finally sticking my head into the Museo Patagonico outside of a pee break from my busking under the arches around the corner. Think of a nice display of stuffed animals that is representative of the "Patagonia" region... and a yawn for the rest. But at least I can properly mark off the last touristy item that scratched my consciousness for some time now in all my days - make that months! - in Bariloche.

That's because coffee and the trumpet have been taking priority, not to mention the more-than-fair amount of socializing which I'm all too fond off. For this jaunt I take a bus out to Llao Llao - the end of the line for the bus routes hugging the massive Lago Nahuel Huapi - and decide to walk a decent chunk of what I previously rode a bike on the year previous. I take in some views of Lago Moreno when I trod a skipped trail from the previous year, even playing some trumpet as I look through some reeds at the massive edifice. Later I round on over to Bahia Lopez, where bus service resumes from the other side of the lake. With luck one rolls to a stop just as I arrive, so I jump aboard briefly to get to a brewery and a requisite brew before hitching back to town. Fortunately, my luck is compounded in being picked up by someone who's seen me play the trumpet downtown: He takes me all the way back to town, depositing me at my beloved arches. There I get back to "work", making my pitiful earnings of 20-30 pesos while enjoying the vastly more dependable great acoustics and random encounters that might ensue. Perhaps it's time for a different venue... Córdoba? Yes.
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