Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Monte Tronadór

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.
After a few more stops, picking up more customers, our bus went south on Route 40 for about 30 minutes and then took a gravel road on the right with just a small sign indicating that this road was, in fact, a full-fledged road, leading to Chile even, if one chose to go that way.
We took this road to visit Mte. Tronadór, an extinct volcano, situated on the border of Chile.
Half the mountain is in Chile, the other half in Argentina. With a height of 3,500 meters, this colossal Mte. Tronadór is visible from afar. Snow peaked; it stands solemnly as the highest peak in this National Park.
The gravel road we were on followed a river more or less.
The source of this rapidly flowing river is a glacier sitting on the top and side of Mte. Tronadór and is our target for today’s excursion. A few miles further along the curvy, narrow road, we paid our admission of 50 pesos and officially entered the huge environmental National Park, named Nahuel Huapi.
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
or that the raging river helped sculpt the area. The look was primordial, lonely and wild but beautiful. We stopped a few times for picture opportunities, to stretch our legs but kept moving on and on. Other buses, not too many though, were on the same road. The dust created by their passing us or us passing them left a cloud, so we kept our distance and only encountered a few private cars along the way. No motorcycles, I would say that it is nutty to ride on this stretch of the world on a bike. The surface is rough, full of soft gravel and the corners are steep and sharp.
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.
The shape was not really visible from this side of the lake but I took a picture of the postcard Gabriella showed all of us.
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.
This was as close as we could get to the Glaciar Negro (the Black Glacier) or the Glaciar Del Manso which feeds the Black Glacier. Naturally everybody clicked away with their cameras to get a good picture but the view was really delightful.
Huge chunks had broken off the black river of ice and were floating in the milky, light coffee colored waters below the edge of the glacier. This is the source of the Rio Manso we have been following; or part of the source because above this point, high up on the mountain of Mte. Tronadór, another all white glacier showed its edge to us.
The glacier, Glaciar Del Manso, looked tiny from our point of view but we were at the wrong angle. Gabriella pointed out that the little white we saw was in fact 100 meters deep of pure ice, way above the stone precipice. Waterfalls dotted the stone wall, wet areas discolored the stones. A huge space was visible between the upper, white Glacier and the lower, Black Glacier. Chunks of ice and water falling off the upper white glacier into the lower area mixed with the dirt, ash and minerals from the moraine at the glacier’s edge.
The whole mix became almost black in color as it refroze and formed the lower, Black Glacier. This is a picture of erosion at its finest.
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.
We could clearly see an avalanche as a piece of the ice broke off and fell down to the lower section of the Black Glacier. A new water fall formed after the fall of the ice but then stopped. Quiet returned. We witnessed Nature giving us a wonderful experience, a show primitive yet exquisite. One by one, still in awe, we re-climbed the stairs back to our bus, having had an experience worth the admission to the park.
Just about 10 km further down the road, at the foot of Mte. Tronadór the tour ended.
We had time to reflect on what we experienced, time to grab a lunch, time to take a walk along another smaller river, rushing past us to meet the Rio Manso. The area was full of rocks, full of boulders, full of exposed tree roots, full of fallen trees, cascading waters, sunshine that heated up those rocks and full of cool shadows, perfect for a picnic.

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.

No comments: