The morning after I wrote the last email, we left the hippieish El Bolson (taking with us an American named Nadia who we met at breakfast) and started back on the 4-hour drive to Bariloche. On the way we stopped and hung out at the rocky beach on one of the lakes. I skipped stones and talked politics with Nadia while Az and Autsy waded and paddled around in the freezing water.
We made it to Bariloche, managed to spend the night in a nice French-themed hotel (which we wouldn´t have been able to afford with less than 4 people) and the next morning headed out of the city, leaving Nadia behind. We were going on the Seven Lakes Tour, which is a 180 kilometer loop north into the mountains, past lakes and rivers and streams and ponds and valleys, etc.
We had half a tank of gas when we passed the gas station, the first half had taken us 250km, so we figured we were fine. What could possibly go wrong? We turned off the paved highway and drove next to a river into this valley that was untouched – there was some of that deserty brush and a lot of pine trees. I seem to remember seeing a house or a barn or something, but I don´t think there was one in the first valley. We were actually in more of a canyon, I guess, with rock formations on either side. We were talking about what it would be like to spend a night out there, mountains blocking out all the city light, no sounds, no traffic, no planes overhead.
The valley turned and we started an ascent. To our left was another rock formation, like Mount Si, but smaller, and there were all these strange trees at its base: they were large like evergreens but half the tree appeared to be dead while the other half was alive and well. It was haunting, all those skeletons mixed in. The dirt road continued to wind up the hill, through the strange trees, hairpin turns. Every corner we had a view down the valley. Finally we crested the hill and, guess what, another green valley relaxing in front of us, the dirt road ahead, the river next to it. We drove down into the valley and I took my turn driving, my first time ever driving stick shift, if you can believe that.
We came to a bridge that really looked like a) it wasn´t fit for foot traffic, let alone cars and b) the tire paths were too wide for our little car. Having never driven stick, I couldn´t afford to hesitate so we gunned it across the bridge. No problem.
After a few hours in and out of valleys, mostly alone except the occasional vehicle going the opposite direction, we finally came to a cluster of buildings that I think was a town. It was on a little hill that dropped to meet the foot of an enormous blue lake, and we stopped for food. Azure and Autsy had burgers, I had a ¨milanesa,¨ which is a piece of pork breaded and put in a bun about half its size. Of course we´re in Argentina, so of course they put ham and cheese in the pork sandwich. We sat outside in the sun, though it´s chilly here in the mountains, and the restaurant played a nice mix of Celine (I can´t figure out how to spell this) Dion and Christina Aguliera (I can´t figure out how to spell this).
We hopped back in the car with Autsy driving, and I think it was about this time that we realized we were running low on gas. It was also about this time that we realized that way back when we turned off the paved road, we actually turned onto the dirt road running on the NORTH side of the river, not the south side as we intended. In other words, our 180 kilometer loop was actually going to end up being about 280.
The ride from there on was kinda a blur. I kept glancing at the gas gauge every 3 seconds and occasionally out the window at the lakes and valleys. Autsy was driving, but Azure soon took over because she´s the most experienced of us three (and actually the only who had driven stick before this trip) and would hopefully be most economical with the gas. It´s tough on a dirt road to coast, the rocks slow you down. She´d try to speed up to 55 mph (we estimated) because we seemed to remember that was the most efficient speed, but there was always a reason to slow down, like another slow car or a weird curve.
Another half hour worrying about the gas and we passed a turnoff that we had thought was 40 km behind us. That was bad news. I was sure we weren´t going to make it because the road took this weird route around the top of a lake instead of the other way. The dirt road just never seemed to end and we kept getting stuck behind slow drivers. The car was absolutely soaked in dust, inside and out. It was crisis time, I started envisioning my night of hitchhiking into town, buying a gas can, buying gas, hitchhiking back out to the car and driving out of the mountains, hopefully making it back to civilization by sunrise. I wasn´t excited about it.
Finally we came to the paved road and there was only 7 km to go, but the gauge had long been in the red. Azure relaxed on the coasting thing (I think she figured that worst-case scenario we´d only have to hitch hike a short distance) but I got on her case, saying that coming up even 100 meters short of the gas station would mean pushing a car 100 meters.
Anyway, we turned a corner and finally, like the beacon of hope it was, the gas station came into sight. What a relief! We made it to the pump without incident. Then that evening we made it to a little hotel that was lovely and ripped us off, then the next morning back into Bariloche. We´re currently in a wonderful hostel on the top floor of the tallest building in town. It´s an eyesore from the outside, but probably the nicest views in the whole city from the inside.
Mike (& Azure & Autsy)