Our tour, booked at the hostel desk when we arrived yesterday, started at 9 AM. Gabriella was our tour guide and a pleasant woman with very clear English of about 30 something.
We took this road to visit Mte. Tronadór, an extinct volcano, situated on the border of Chile.
The gravel road we were on followed a river more or less.
This gravel road is narrow, dusty and very bumpy.
On and on we went, for almost 2 hours, covering 900 curves in 50 km., and the driver was busy keeping the bus moving. We were gaining elevation since our start was at 750 meters and our destination lies at 1150 meters. Left and right along the narrow drive, strange trees greeted us. Beyond the nearby trees, an expanse clearly showed that the valley was carved by a glacier
At one of the stops, where a platform had even been constructed, was a view of a heart-shaped island in the middle of an emerald lake.
Trees growing along the side of the road had names and characteristics I never had heard about. One such tree, Coigüe or Cohoui, grows nodes around some branches and from those nodes a fungi (Llao Llao) blooms once a year. Those fungi ‘bloom’ around October and are edible and sweet. The natives, the Huapi, inhabitants of the area for eons, ate them raw and treated them as a delicacy. Even today, those mushroom-looking blooms are coveted and are precious morsels if found. We saw one such tree with nodes hanging off its branches but could not take a picture in the moving, shaking bus.
Sometime after we passed the Ranger Station, we come to a large expanse, a scenic area with some platforms built along the river Manso.
We experienced a new outlook on these ever-changing conditions and natural phenomena. We had a small bus load of people; there were maybe 2 or 3 other buses in the small parking lot, and the strangest thing happened. We all exited the bus talking, chatting and in general having a good time. We all took pictures. We all walked down to the edge of the river and saw the floating ice blocks. And then..... one by one, everyone stopped talking; even the children on the tour. Within a few moments everyone just became quiet; no one spoke, moved or made any noise. Believe me, this is a very unusual experience in Argentina to hear total quiet, to experience nobody talking. The moment was special, the feeling awe inspiring. Everybody, even children, experienced this feeling. It lasted quite some time, too. Only the sudden thunder from way above near the edge of the white Glacier made everybody look in the same direction.
Just about 10 km further down the road, at the foot of Mte. Tronadór the tour ended.
The walking path had some difficult stretches until it came to a spot where it could only be continued with special equipment and foot wear. Some young people tried to climb but not for long before it became clear that even they needed to plan ahead to conquer this primitive world. The National Park, Nahuel Huapi, allows hikers to use the area for exploration and even continue on to Chile from here. I wish them good luck, I can see doing it at 25 years old, but I learned a few things along my way, one is not to push too hard.
Our way back on the bus took a good 2 hours, along the same narrow, gravel road but without stopping this time. We drove the same part of Route 40, this time going north, dropping people off at their respective hotels. The bus driver was really good on the gravel, sometime sliding around the corner, wheels spinning in the gravel and leaving a huge dust cloud behind the vehicle. I could tell he loved it, playing Latin Rock on his CD to the delight of the girls behind us who sang along, clapping and laughing, having a party. Ah, to have hormones (HAH!) and stamina like that again.
For me it was a more surreal outing. I laughed, too, and sang but more quietly and within myself. It was a new experience for me to visit a glacier that close, to see Mother Nature share her ways and to be part of this Universe. I loved the quiet, the no sound but what Nature had to offer. My delight was the sunshine creating shadows; the wind rustling the leaves of trees. The sound of the water moving the pebbles and rocks was my music.