Sunday, March 2, 2014

"Dispatches from the Pampas"...Days 16-17, Friday-Saturday, February 21-22, 2014

On Friday morning, I wake up at around 7:30AM inside my tiny backpacking tent. With only my blow-up "mattress" (it's like those little pool rafts) and a sleeping bag to sleep on, I feel like I have been run over by a truck. I put on my shoes, unzip my tent and fly and very carefully slide myself out. It rained last night...the ground is muddy, so getting out of the tent without falling in the mud is tricky.
Bleary-eyed, I trek down to the bathrooms. There, I am completely baffled by the toilet. There is no visible means to flush the lever, no valve, no button, no chain...nothing. I stand there for several minutes before I figure it out. There's a bucket next to the take that to the sink, fill it with water, and pour that into the toilet for your "flush".
Back at camp, I boil water with my little "Pocket Rocket" camping stove...and I pour that into my cup with two packages of Starbucks "Via" instant coffee. Not the greatest cup, but it'll do this morning. I'm out of leftovers to eat, but I did bring a few "backpack meals" with me. I boil more water, pour two cups in an aluminum pouch, wait ten minutes...and...I've got scrambled eggs with ham and peppers. It tastes pretty good on a cold morning.
After breakfast, I break camp...tent down, chair and table packed up. At 10:00AM, I'm on the road to Parque Provincial de Aconcagua...about forty miles further up in the mountains. It's a beautiful drive...lots of photos. I've got the Park programmed into the Garmin but, about eight miles short of my destination, I see a sign for the entrance to the Park. And...there it is...a huge open stone-filled field. There is no "park"...there's just...nothing. And, ironically, you can't even see Aconcagua from the Park that bears it's name. I decide to proceed to my "Garmin destination". There, I have a great view of Aconcagua, but no "Park".
I decide to drive further west...maybe there's a different part of the Park that I've missed...or a campground. Twenty miles late, and all I've found is a small hotel/restaurant. I stop there for lunch (grilled ham and cheese) and chat with the owner, a nice Aussie fellow. I ask him where I can find the closest campground, and his answer is...Chile. OK...switching to Plan B...return to Uspallata and make that my "base".
On the way back, I decide to do some hiking. There are no camps, no trails, no I just stop the car and go. It is not the most "fun" hike, and I only make it about a mile before the rough terrain, beating sun, lack of shade and high altitude take their toll. The hike back is not a pleasant one.
Back at camp, I relax with a Bourbon on the rocks (they had ice at the gas station near my campground). I drink, listen to the iPod, and read. For dinner, I've got another backpack meal...Tuscan Beef Stew with Polenta. These meals are made by "Pack-It Gourmet" in Austin, Texas, and they are not bad. Just add boiling water, wait ten minutes, and eat...and throw in a nice bottle of Malbec. After dinner, I watch another beautiful sunset with the rest of my Malbec. By, 10:00PM, I'm nodding off...time for another uncomfortable night of sleep in my tiny tent.

Saturday is not much different from the day before. I'm up early and boiling water for coffee. I drive east ten miles or so...more photos. I return to camp in the early afternoon and, seeing something that looks like a "trail" leading out of the campground, I go for another hike. This hike is much better than yesterday...less sun, trees for shade, lower altitude, smoother trail. Today, I make it out about two miles.
Late in the afternoon, I hike back into town. I stop in the local grocery looking for something to cook for dinner...nothing looks particularly appealing. So...I end up back at the little pizza joint for a small pizza and a one-liter bottle of cold beer.
After dinner, it's back to camp where I have more beer chilling in the cooler with a fresh bag of ice. Some more reading, music on the iPod. Another great sunset...and another night in my tiny tent.