South America 2011-2012: El Bolsón, Argentina


Returning to El Bolsón is straightforward and familiar. The views from the bus are still outstanding, of course, even if the heat this time around has substantially increased. Overall I take this to be a good thing - but just not while I'm on this sweltering bus. Two-plus hours is happily short, though, and especially in light of what most of my fellow travelers are doing. THEY typically continue from Bariloche to Mendoza, El Chalten, Buenos Aires, or elsewhere - all places that take in the neighborhood of 20-30 bus hours. Yecch. Not me, or at least not any more.

Thus I make my triumphant return to the hostel at which I last stayed, if only in my own mind. I'm warmly re-received, in any event, and I'm suitably happy to be back - all good! Of more immediate interest, I quickly obtain sufficient confirmation of that it is indeed a secta (cult) I've just left behind. Such is all strongly suggested by its past doings as much as its present oddness. Disgruntled former employees are learned of, plus things such as how each of them was given the similar line of being co-owners of the cult - I mean business - before being ceremoniously dumped with nothing to show for their efforts. Words about the charismatic leader and his womanizing tendencies seem to hit home as well. All of this, too, only serves to further confirm that to TRULY be on the inside of that odd situation for a moment or two WOULD be interesting. Or maybe I've just defined how an orgy gets started, I dunno.

I'm regardless glad to be free of those oddly lingering smiles and leading questions - ones typically focused on how long I'll stay and how much I like being around the "family". Uh, no thanks - and this is especially from the viewpoint of this casona, one where there's many an awaiting hammock. That they come complete with home-brewed beer to force the issue of passing out in one of them doesn't hurt, either. Then there're the copious trees under whose shade a trumpet can't help but sound good. Thus it's to be more the case of "Ah, yes!" which I find myself thinking.

I likewise instantly re-settle into my new room, again coincidentally placed with my affable tattooed friend Piero. For that I resume peeling his onion of history, now further extracting his tales of Italian and Cuban wives and his travels around the developing world. I even manage to get perhaps a story or two about his landscape of tatuaje. He hasn't told me to shut up or stop asking questions... yet.

Meanwhile, the bigger difference this go-round in El Bolsón is that high season is now fully on. This implies that Piero and I can only do our best to withhold our boisterous cheering of every cancellation in our dorm room of five. This doesn't happen much. But we're at least now on the ground floor to avoid the heat; THAT's to be the score as we move through roommates. These include such ones such as the farting Irishman who FINALLY gives me the breakdown of all things "British" (see below). Or the young Brit I exchange literary debates with (he who also scatters his belongings over every bit of floor space and therefore is judged to not have been long from home). There's also the briefly broken door handle to the bathroom, the en suite scalding-freezing shower, and... these can be done without.

[By the way, here's how the Brit thing works, for those interested: Britain is England (which has Cornwall as an assumed part) and Wales; add in Scotland to get Great Britain; add in the Channel Islands and Northern Ireland to get the United Kingdom. Beyond THOSE, the British Isles imply that Ireland itself is added, but this is not a political designation. As for the Commonwealth, this is a huge pile of countries that includes Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, India and a host of others who may or may not use the Queen as some kind of figurehead. I'm not exactly sure what the fallout is from this arrangement outside of making travel a lot easier among said countries. What I REALLY want to know is WHEN does the U.S. get to join, dadgummit? Sure would make travel plans among those countries WAY easier. The only remaining question is why I didn't wiki this a long time before - I've wondered for a good long while what the hell the distinctions were.]

A particular PLUS to my return, too, is the arrival of a considerable contingent of Argentines. These hail from Cordoba and greater Buenos Aires among other places. These new BFFs quickly dial me into the finer points of an asado, for instance, which I finally learn is both the name of a specific beef cut as WELL as the generic name for a BBQ (since that's the best cut). I also suss out, for example, that Argentines actually DO judiciously remove as much fat as possible from the various cutlets. I had assumed the opposite was the case previously. THAT also rather handily explains the lack of gordos por todos lados (a relative dearth of fat Argentines). It's soon apparently far more likely that we'll gain our seven or seventeen pounds/kilos by drinking the medicinal liquor known as fernet (the preferred brand: Branca!) mixed with Coke (not Pepsi, and by one to three or five proportionally).

More wisely would I avoid the cerveza for a diet regimen. I'm fighting the bulge on its account, 'tis true. But the beer is just too damn good, and with the stuff now on tap at every market day - of which there are four per week - my belly grows even as I do heroic battle with it. Walking through the chacras - orchards - for five kilometers to reach town each time doesn't seem to help much either. There's just too much of the plenty in this land of otherwise typically few dietary choices. Thus do I decide to hunker down to a more respectable diet by at least trying to stick to only all of the great stuff casero - and from the huerta where possible. Unfortunately, homemade DOESN'T imply lean and calorie-free in the least (which I know beforehand, anyway, but choose to ignore).

With this plan not succeeding exactly marvelously, I also start to kick up my hiking in earnest. Finally I'm ready to tackle Piltriquitron and the Bosque Tallado. Unfortunately, however, the local Mapuches are not in full agreement with said bold idea: They take this particular day to coincidentally burn their land in earnest found to the south of town. This I first learn in the process of hiking said mountain, primarily since we can't see a thing below in the valley. This only gets worse as the hours of sweat and tabanos add up, too. Dadgummit!: So much for a summit payoff! This is also a SPENDIER occasion for such mayhem, meanwhile, what with the hike beginning a steep 11km outside of town and taking 130 pesos to get there. So no, NOT cooperative, my indigenous friends (such is the blame of the moment, anyway)! Topping this comes the fact that the carved forest is a bust interest-wise to each of us as well (at another 20 pesos a head). We trudge though it uninspired, plodding through an unrelenting dust that rises like fluffed talcum powder. Sigh.

Sadly, the fifty or so carved stumps - both a result of and an ever-growing (in their number) response to a previous fire - don't grab us in the least. But at least the refuge offers some consolation, right? Yes!: There's more beer, plus this is also a nice place to regroup with the Australian family I've befriended at the hostel (in addition to the two Minnesotans with whom I've undertaken the day). We all next follow the trail onward, following the old and partially dismantled/mangled ski towline toward the summit. Only the Australians will see it through to the end, however: There's just too much smoke below to merit the burn and dust of a bust that comes with no view to be found. Instead I opt for the long conversation I have with our taxi driver we dialed up from the refuge to make our way home. This guy who looks like he MUST be named Giuseppe happily relates some of the local info and scuttlebutt about who's robbing whose land among the Mapuches. Maybe. (It IS all rumor, and will remain so.)

HIS opinion certainly doesn't settle the question, but it helps. In the end - after the first fire is put out and a second, worse one is ignited - I learn that the story is even more confusing than it's seemed at the start. Yet the point remains - one way or the other - that land is being illegally taken, and the Argentine authorities are generally turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the matter. That it's Mapuche supposedly doing it to Mapuche I only learn later, too - if THAT's true. Thus these poorest of the poor have possibly taken to destroying what little they actually have as the lone protest form left to them. What's left in the end to fight over will remain the lingering question. As a practical matter, all the while, the south-leading highway from town shuts down for a bit - which includes the means to reach my next destination, Esquel.

So it's a good thing that I'm content in El Bolsón! Granted, the views I've enjoyed since leaving ash-laden Bariloche have gone to shit in every direction from the fires, but the MARKET is running full tilt. There's just no stopping it - I hope! Yes, the beers, homemade jams and pastries, unknown dried (non-hallucinagenic) mushrooms and more beckon. It's perhaps in such celebration of goods-li-ness in spite of fire-li-ness that I even buy a piece of pop-surrealist art, too. That only comes after speaking with an artist for a spell (as can often be the case): You get to know a person and it gets harder to say no. With similar success in the face of the tragedy of fire, the hostel remains generally full throughout my stay as high season rolls on.

Yes, back at the hostel roll through evermore small clusters of Germans, Americans, Brits and Argentines now. In fact, that's about all I'm seeing. Funny how the shared-nationality thing tends to go in waves. At least all are in a good mood to eat, drink, make merry and hike alike. THAT works, even as I mostly hang out with the Argentine contingent. In the process we've ALL settled on our favorite beer stands, plus exchanged hiking information as we get it. Thus it is that, by the time the rains finally come for a short spell, I know what big trek I want to do. I now just have to wait for the rains to CLEAR.

The bad news is that it will take a few days. The good is that I get more time to hang out with my favorite Cordobes couple, the staff at the hostel, and some of their visitors which all seem to hail from greater Buenos Aires. This period of time also handily coincides with the re-arrival of the recently exited ex-U of Oregon students J and J, plus a couple of Northern Europeans in the form of P (Sweden) and F (Holland). Turns out that the former pair are interested in hiking some of the circuit with me; the latter two soon latch onto the possibility of there being someone(s) to hike with. Next thing I know it looks like I'll be sharing my tent to the maximum of its capacity with the girls. The upshot of all this? The hostel has now apparently gone mobile.

Come sun-day, a couple of taxis motor us through town and then back out of it. We're all headed over to a spot called "Doña Rosa" or somesuch. Really it's just a naked spot alongside the road to dump us out before turning around. So be it. We put on a little sunscreen, adjust our backpack straps, and then we're off down to the river. In moments we're crossing over the nice footbridge awaiting us... before we're going right back over it in the other direction. We've quickly been warned off by a lady concerned about keeping her riverfront property private. Sigh. (I'll spare my dear readers - this time! - my rather communist/utopian version of land rights.)

Another 40 minutes of walking down the pretty Río Azul puts us at the "real" bridge soon enough. THIS crossing is rickety at best, only taking one daring person at a time. Seriously: There're some suggestive holes that undoubtably have stories to tell. Still, it's a good thing we've just passed by that large group of Argentines getting in their last puffs of their cigarettes. For all we know they might each need a puff in the middle of the thing to steady their nerves.

Safely across, we waste no time in getting lost. Yeah, by the time we've begun scrambling up what is marginally a goat trail, we're ready to throw our fearless leader over the edge and into the river FAR below. This is ridiculously steep stuff, mucking through branches on slipshod footing, and a fall wouldn't be broken by much. But eventually he-who-is-not-to-be-named shoots ahead and finds the trail we've missed. Only thing now is that the horde of Argentines has caught up - so we get to trade spots with them, then alternately so, for a while until our smaller numbers (and esprit de corps, of course) give us the advantage of getting safely ahead again.

"Why bother?" is soon the better question, however, since this trail remains insanely steep for a few hours. Tiptoe hiking is the theme for hour(s), thus, and our calves get a workout outside of those few moments where we're taking a short rest to huff and puff a little. Our backs are soaked with sweat as a result, naturally, but there is the notable consolation that there are no tabanos working on us... yet. By the time we get to something that seems reasonably flat, we all are decided to sit and eat regardless. Ahhhh...

This refueling break serves us well to continue loping along soon enough. This we do for another hour or so more to the ever-soon-promised-and-just-around-the-bend river, where we all again take a short break. When J1 and the girls decide to make it to camp, J2 and I are happy to sit a bit more at the river and soak heads and feet. This has been EARNED... plus there's something to be said about enjoying the means beyond just the rest at the end.

That comes soon enough, as finally we're up at Refugio Azul as well. That comes after merely following the final and thankfully short 30-40 minutes of refreshingly easy trail. Shade and river are a nice way to go, indeed. In short order we set up tents and buy some beer and wine, all prerequisites to getting about to the task of a fire. In that we are shortly aided, too, by a young Argentine named Alejandro. He's apparently doing without tent or sleeping bag - or refuge of any sort, it appears - so his interest in getting a fire started makes sense even if the rest of his game doesn't in the least.

Unfortunately, it doesn't take him long to irritate us some, either. Nor does he hesitate to call over a couple of his (fortunately calmer and more pleasant) friends. Fine. We're soon heating up their mate pots - when not otherwise watching them fill with ash. Uh, lids? This'll undoubtedly give the drink more INTERESTING flavor, I suppose, but they don't seem to particularly care. All that matters is to get the water up to 80C. Boiling is too hot for the stuff, we all are to be reminded for the umpteenth time.

Alejandro, meanwhile, takes to marginally insulting us when not merely acting condescending as a fallback. Great. Right or wrong, it's for that that we all come to the same conclusion of his being an engineer or somesuch profession that often lacks certain social skills in favor of others - like logic. Notwithstanding that possibility, he's nevertheless annoying. In without question his best effort, where he mocks Fien for being twenty and traveling alone, at least a nice comeback comes in the form of asking why the hell he doesn't have a tent. Surely that will shut the fool up. But no: "I am twenty-one! I'm a man! This is my country!" No, guess not indeed, but that gives us three sentences to work over with repeated pleasure over the coming days: "Why'd you do that?", we might ask on any random occasion. The answer can always be the same: "Because I'm a (wo)man! This is my (whatever)!" Thanks, Alejandro. Now disappear.

This happens soon enough after we all take to bed (sleeping bag), then finally so shortly after waking the camp with his lousy recorder-flute playing come morning. That's our cue to exit this campground - and we happily do so. Not so happy, though, is the next section of brutal steep trail-climbing. At least that ends in a merciful half hour, plus we then get more views for our trouble. Fair enough.

From there we top out to lope through some picturesque forest and make our way to the next refugio, Natacion. This is one refuge that we'll only use for a beer and a pitstop, but we all note that it would've been a nice place to pass the night. The cow shit, large number of fellow backpackers, and cold toes (in my case) of the night before almost ended up outweighing Hielo Azul's beautiful setting. (It should be noted that "hielo azul" DOES translate to "blue ice", so all complaints to the management upstairs can rightly be refused. That spot, it should also be noted, is a resplendent thing in a bowl formed of mountains with glaciers and waterfalls, too.) Natacion's peaceful lake and sun-warmed setting is something different altogether. Next time!

But Natacion's not where we are to camp this night. THAT's to come after we begin our long descent to the Río Azul again. We'll lose almost all of our altitude gained in the previous day, and in the process we'll possibly lose a good chunk of our patience as well. This thing is ridiculously steep! - even for being a downhill. Thus we scramble and slip-slide on occasion to make our way down, knowing intrinsically that the other way's much longer path can't possibly register as a viable option. Too late now. Even though supposedly all of these paths are all old or current horse trails, I have a hard time thinking any such beast goes up or down this thing.

Finally we come down again to the river Azul, finding ourselves on the flat trail section found between the refuges La Playita and El Cajon. This is MUCH better. We again do a river stop, this time all staying longer. It's still only J2 and I that actually dip into the freezing thing, though. Yes, TWO of us are (sort of) clean! Then we regroup and make our way to El Cajon where, in short order after our arrival at the refuge, J1 is outvoted in favor of moving on to the next refuge, Retamal. He gets over it soon enough, though, when we are actually there and setting up camp. We DID have our worries that he'd be out of sorts, being rather ends-instead-of-means driven and all, but a rare show of opinion from J2 is probably appropriately convincing to win the point.

At Retamal another fire is in order, of course, this time to see us being joined by far calmer Argentines. These come in the form of a Bs.As. couple, Ariel and Lucia. They still want to warm up a mate pot, of course, but they are rather more than willing to share the bitter herb among us in true Argentine fashion. They also wisely have a LID for the thing. Kudos to them, we all think - and thank the stars that Alejandro has not followed us!

Not much later I hook up my iPod to my small speaker and, in so doing, probably elicit murmurs of disapproval from the couple of Americans camping nearby. But Cuban music has no down time and they haven't said anything (yet!), I figure, so on we go chatting into the night when not mixing in what is apparently J1's habit of reading from a book aloud. This is something of a paean to his hope of becoming a professional actor, we all reason (and he IS from L.A., after all). Whatever the case, we're all fine with playing along and reading some Hemingway at the campfire. Sure, it's a bit hokey, but by now we've all gotten used to his curious habit of speaking at all times as if he is in a performance.
(I'm not sure that these habits fall under method-acting or anything, but what the hell do I know? One could wonder, perhaps, at what one should bring along if the object were to become a blacksmith. But last time Wile E. Coyote checked, those anvils can weigh a lot.)

Here I find it interesting to note the contrast with J2, his travel companion. In him we all found the polar opposite of J1 in most every sense, happy to go with whatever flow happens to be flowing. Then again, surely this is no coincidence at all, undoubtedly making for the proper yin to his friend's yang. Friendships come in all flavors indeed. And on I go with a brief description of our merry crew for no particular reason.

Our Swedish component, meanwhile, shows a talent for having a stock phrase from about every language in the world, complete with credible accent. It all sounds quite reasonable, especially as she insists that this comes from her life as an on-again-off-again waitress. None of us feel the need to debate the fact. As for the Aussie accent she professes to have, however, I beg to differ: Somehow it comes off more as a California Valley Girl with an Aussie twist - and no one has the heart to tell her to lose the former for her own good. We're ALL happy she was smart enough to drag some garlic along for seasoning... most of the time.

F, for her part, comes to be known as F No Filter. The youngest of our ad hoc 20-something group (I'm the oddball), maybe her nickname has no choice but to be the obvious consequence of that distinction. Then again, the Dutch often ARE rather direct. For the greater part of it, fortunately, we are unfazed by her blunt assessments, but on more than one occasion she causes her listener to do a double-take. Did she really just say or imply that? Yes, she did. BAM!

(For my part, of course, I can only thank the heavens that I am absolutely perfect in every conceivable way. It's a heavy burden that I wearily, humbly, and resolutely shoulder for the good of mankind - a sisyphean thing with me, one must suppose. Sigh. Meanwhile, might you the dear reader ask, did the members of the good ship Minnow ever get such a rundown? Surely they did! On we go with the trek, then...)

Come the next morning, J&J are both off and back to town. So much for the short stories, then, those campfire dramatizations of Hemingway's tales of hard love and war. Now it's down to the girls and I to continue on to our furthest point out, Los Laguitos. For THAT we finally get to experience a good chunk of the fury known as TABANO - or at least we do after about three hours of walking and their being sufficiently wakened for the attack. in the process what has been advertised as a long stroll has been just that. This IS is a longer stretch of trekking than we're really mentally prepared for. This is especially true as the coolness of the first couple days has kicked up to considerably more heat and the trail is far from flat - even if it is almost always beautful.

By the time we take a break to eat, however, the tabanos have already won. They haunt our every bite; F swats with impatience that shortly verges on mania: "I HATE these tabanos! I LOVE living in Holland! All the bugs and animals have been gone a long time!" Indeed. But that won't help, even if we can't help but find our way forward to our destination with no chance of getting lost. That's consoling, however much the girls get worried whenever the ubiquitous red trail markers disappear. With a river to follow and two mountain walls narrowly to each side, there's really no reason to fret, I assure them... uselessly.

Instead of getting lost I instead find myself tired. Indeed, by the time we get to the last 1+ hour stretch uphill to the refuge, I'm happy to offload some pieces of the tent to the girls. My shoulders need a break and this about does the trick even if, in it's combination with the increasingly-annoying tabanos, it about does F in. Thus it is that we're all grumpy and tired by the time we get to the refuge and lake. It's all we can do to just sit down and drink in the refuge.

We daren't go outside under dire threat of tabano attack, naturally, but at least now we've got booze and some company in the form of Amélie (the Bavarian who I met staying in the casona) and Alejandro TWO. An Aussie and Kiwi pair make for some nice conversation, then next Ariel and Lucia reappear as well. This time around, Lucia gives a short demonstration of her previously-hidden occupation of a contortionist. Yow! That looks really painful! More importantly, does it avoid the tabanos? NO. So it's the dash outside under cloak of darkness to get in the tent instead. Fortunately the little bastards have gone to bed by the time I've showered (in a sauna-like room with hot water, similar to what I had been promised and so looked forward to in Retamal but this time with actual HOT water). The air has cooled down to keep the horde at bay until morning.

The next day, at least, is all about recuperating from the three previous days of hard hiking. I read away at my Rabelais book while staying under strict shelter of the refuge. I next commit to a full massacre of all tabanos to be found inside the refuge. Granted, they're all by the plastic "windows" and only hoping to get out, but I KNOW what they wanna do once they get there. Nope - they gotta die, and I'm the guy to do it. Soon I'm safely in the hundreds of tabanos released from the bonds of the living. In my lone venture outside, meanwhile, where I mistakenly think that the wind will push them away, I kill another dozen or so. This includes my first CHILEAN tabano, for the record, the one to be recognized by its orange markings. (For that, I wonder if they call them ARGENTINE tabanos just over the border... research to hopefully follow.)

Over the course of this laziest of days, all of the others return from sweating it out at the lake (Soberania, which is BIG). Or new arrivals come to restock the blood supply for the tabanos. Of the latter, these are somewhat low-lighted by the same American couple from the previous night's - who continue to not deign to spare a word our way as they shove their noses deeply into their books. It's not like we spit on them, ya know... or not yet, anyway. Then another guy, an Argentine in jeans and tennies, arrives with a more practical approach: he heads to the river and cavorts endlessly like a dolphin in the freshness of the water - before putting his same stinking clothes back on. Hmm.

A highlight comes in the form of a couple of women who blast in later. They're two of three Americans who are hiking their way through South America from bottom to top. They're three months into their year of it, with 1100km already under foot. Wow. And they've learned to show no mercy with the tabanos, too, pulling off their wings after each questionably successful"kill" (Tabanos have a zombie-like of coming back from the dead, we've all begun to note.) Granted, they have some swagger to their story-telling, but they HAVE had some experiences worth noting.

There's their version of running with the bulls, for example. THAT was certainly less-than-planned and quite nerve-wracking. They'll never look at a cow the same again, they assure us repeatedly. Same goes with their meeting up with a gaucho, then staying at his place for days in the middle of nowhere. What about free-climbing a forty foot cliff-scree with full packs on? All the while, sure, they're taking some jumps via bus or thumb to cover small distances where necessary to stay on "schedule", but they're doing it all on finding old trails, GPS, and orienteering. Hats off, I say.

Now would that they have some advice on what to do about the free-range cow that wanders through our campsite that same night. Wearing a bell, its ominous approach with a low tinkle is only superceded by the vaguely threatening sound of the doppler effect we hear as it moves on. F sits upright in the tent in horror for both passings, waiting for the moment in which the beast will surely trample our tent... as she ejects herself to safety. I gather that us others in the tent will be left to the hooves and our wits. Thus it is as I eyeball her terror sleepily as P slumbers away without a care.

The next day puts our trio back at El Cajon, now with Alejandro (TWO, a more-than-worthy successor to he of "This is my country!" fame) loosely in tow. He's from Bs.As., like about every other Argentine we meet, but he's also an interesting and low-key a companion to have. We independently make our way back from Los Laguitos early enough to keep the tabanos at a dull roar while also enjoying a cooler time of day. For my part, anyway, this earns a skinny dip in a deep blue-watered canyon that is akin to the famous Cajon - but with no one around. Perfect.

Camping night #5 refinds us back at El Cajon, again soon accompanied by the trekking girls (one has twisted her ankle to temporarily thwart their plans), plus a couple more Americans from Colorado. The REAL green-go (where "gringo" comes from, originating in Mexico) invasion is on! Our enlargened group yaps for a good while over lousy wine, if refraining from song, before Alejandro and I decide to partake in the evening's "strong plate": cordero, which evidently came from the lamb whose bleed skin was flayed over the back fence upon our arrival. This I rate another strong-plate success, just behind the lentils of two nights prior but well in front of the uninspired veggie pasta of three nights back. (I'm game to test these waters, much like the beer and wine sampling.)

Then it's another campfire, more stars, some homemade jam, tortcakes and cherries - all good. More stories come from the hiking twosome, now almost all centered on birth control and their nightly readings of the "V Book" when on the trail. Apparently quite well known, this tome is purportedly about vaginal and vulva(l?) health. Okay... why not? Nevertheless, I have a hard time imagining a bunch of guys discussing a similar penis or testicle books. Funny, that.

More back to the point of our trek, and of better, more immediate import, the hike the next morning over to La Playita is nothing doing. This is so much so that there's more river time for all as we all find our different ways there. It's merely a flat hike of under an hour for a change. Yeah! Moreover, La Playita is the well-deserved rest of the entire travail - we spend a peaceful day there. It's nothing more or less than swimming, sun, and yet more beer and shitty wine before a campfire. Then random songs in Swedish, Spanish, and Dutch-ish follow. To THAT end, I'm fortunately allowed to escape unscathed from the singing fest as much as I don't mind the offerings of the others in the least. Besides, who can compete with Alenjandro's piano solos that come complete with whistles and air-piano? No one, that's who. Later, I cap this bonhomie with a sleep outside the tent under the stars that lives up to its billing. Zzz.

Come morning I'm up refreshedly early and ready. I leave the girls behind to make the two-plus hours of hiking out to the confluence (of the white and blue rivers) under cool temperatures. There I soon meet up with a man with a 4x4, ready to take me and any comers handy back to town. Alejandro soon joins us, as do a few others, then El Bolsón is soon ours. Better still, we're also back just in time for the Tuesday market. I quickly reload some supplies - jam, smoked trout, cherries, dried mushrooms and tomatoes, etc - before we grab the perfect walking beer for the market: Rupestre's blond special. Then I bid Alejandro goodbye as I make my way back to the hostel.

The next few days close out my time in El Bolsón - for this trip, anyway. I play the trumpet, yap with the returnees from the trek as they return, then bid goodbye to Piero. yes, the Italian has finally decided to leave!... but then that must be my cue as well, no?... or maybe that comes instead via a mistaken internet booking made after I've already confirmed to extend my stay. Whatever the case, it looks like I've lost my bed. Sigh.

Instead of turning around, heading back to the hills to camp some more with someone else's heavy gear, I decide to move. Trevelin and Chiloé, here I come... right after I FINALLY finish with Gargantua & Pantagruel 700 pages of fine print,I vow. Then I exchange this doorstop for the miniscule Casino Royale (Ian Fleming) in Spanish to flit through. That will still have to be done while taking my time to savor El Amor En Los Tiempos De Colera.

As for my SLOWLY healing arm, all I can hope is that the recovery continues. Mornings find it stiff, but I am now able to throw small stones lightly. There are even periods when I can extend it without pain. But I still am passing on shaking hands, still dreading each time I have to adjust the strap of the right side of my mochila. This literally IS a recuperative trip indeed.

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