My Affair with Nature

Apologies for my lapse in posts, but nature has stolen my heart away and my computer has not been invited to the party.

I love being in the wild. I love being immersed in the beauty, the endless possibilities of places to explore, the feeling of all the elements, the physical challenge, the fresh air, the soul-jerking, awe-inpiring scenery.
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I’ve spent the last month or so in the lake district, experiencing some very Aspen-esque mountain towns and crossing over into Chile again, but for the most part I’ve been “in” the mountains. The more time I spend in nature, the more I realize it’s not enough to just see mountains or a lake. I want to be on the mountain peak, wandering its trails (or lack thereof in some cases) or swimming in the lake and such.

Río Azul
Río Azul

In the last two weeks of my month in El Bolsón, where I last left you, I was able to do a 7 day trek in the mountains and then spend a few nights camping on a secluded, perfect lake. It is common to find “refugios” in the mountains, basically a cabin managed by a couple or family where you can stay for a fee. It is basic…a 20 year old mattress on the floor, use of a small kitchen. I went to four refugios on this trip, hiking about 8 hours a day through alerces forests, to pristine lakes, through mud, bumping into cows here and there, and practicing Spanish by the fire at night. I was with people half the time and alone for half of it. It was quite challenging!

Day 2 of El Bolsón trek
Day 2 of El Bolsón trek
Refugio Retemal
Refugio Retemal
Valle de Encanto Blanco
Valle de Encanto Blanco

I was happy to get back into town and meet up with my friend Henrik who had cycled from Torres del Paine where we had met him on the trail. We headed to Bariloche, and ended up doing quite possibly the hardest hike of my life. I like pushing my limits, not finding them…and they were definitely tested here. We climbed up and over passes, along peaks and ridges, scaled a couple of waterfalls, trudged through a marsh…at one point the trail was a river, at other points the trail did not exist, and we spent much of the time skiing through scree or scrambling up and down on all fours.
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The effort was more than worth it. We saw the most amazing full moon rise over a peak at our first camp. We could see into Chile; we saw volcanos, lakes, and endless mountains passes, ridges, and peaks. At one point, alone on a ridge, a giant condor soared by in slow motion…we made eye contact and I could hear its wings cut through the air…one of the more majestic things I’ve ever witnessed. We estimated a 9 foot wingspan of this vulture-esque bird, and I am so glad it didn’t see me during a break when I may have appeared dead with exhaustion.
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Looking at pictures to see where we'd have to hike on the unmarked trail...very tough day
Looking at pictures to see where we’d have to hike on the unmarked trail…very tough day

From there, I was talked into my first “cycle-tour”. Conveniently, my said Danish friend is cycle-touring himself and had all the fixings for riding bikes for three days along the Ruta de Sieta Lagos. This is a popular, scenic route from Villa La Angostura to San Martín de los Andes, roughly 110km. It is windy and hilly, with a deep blue lake around every corner. I absolutely loved traveling this way…such a peaceful pace, allowing for stops and interactions along the way that you just can’t get on a bus. Swimming in the lakes at lunch, taking a wine break in the sun, racing the storm into town on the last day…it was amazing.
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My affair with nature continued to the town of Pucón in Chile. There is a massive, active volcano that stands watch over the town, with a daily siren test and evacuation signs to remind you of this. And I have great news…you can climb it!

Volcán Villarica
Volcán Villarica

It was a strenuous intense day, starting with a gorgeous, pink-dominated sunrise over neighboring volcanoes. We skipped the ski lift that the rest of our group took up the first third of the peak. I’ve never been a morning work-out person, and this portion did not change my mind. Our guide pushed us to catch up with the group and we did just on time to put on crampons and take out our ice axes…which does make you feel rather hard core! We were racing the impending weather and rushed to the top where we were met by 40mph winds. Clouds whipped by us as if we were in a live time-lapse video…blue skies one second, total whiteout the next. The views were ridiculous…snow-capped volcanoes in every direction, a mysterious mist, the crater itself of Volcán Villarica. The next day we rewarded our bodies with a 4 hour soak in natural hot springs, total bliss!
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The towns continued to impress as well. I ate my weight in chocolate in Bariloche, we sat with wine and chocolate all night watching live bands play at the Chocolate Festival for Easter (Pascua), and we accidentally stumbled upon ‘tango night’ at a local bar in San Martín. I sat grinning at the amazing talent of 5 or 6 local couples who sauntered around the dance floor doing the tango in all its sexiness.

Finishing touches on the world's largest chocolate egg for the Bariloche chocolate festival
Finishing touches on the world’s largest chocolate egg for the Bariloche chocolate festival
Bariloche at sunset
Bariloche at sunset
pope mania
pope mania
choripan at the festival
choripan at the festival

I had no idea I would spend so much time in the lake district, and it was hard to leave. 30+ hours of bus rides up north and across the Andes landed me back in Argentina in the warm, sunny Mendoza. If you need me I will be at one of the nearby wineries…might be hard to find me though, I hear there’s over 1,000!

9 thoughts on “My Affair with Nature

  1. Absolutely amazing sites! I like the refugio retemal. Looks like you should sleep on sheepskin instead of a mattress. How tall is the volcano? You bring them all to life in your story and photos. I’m up for biking as long as it’s flat.

  2. Awesome!! I love to hear about where you went. What does being in love with the wild feel like? So hard to describe. When was your heart pounding? What made you laugh? What made you cry? How cold was the water? Just curious. love, Mom JoAnne McElroy macfam0621@sbcglobal.net

  3. Erin,
    Breathtaking, and we’re all living vicariously through you! Thanks for sharing through your beautiful pictures and words.

  4. I love following you on your journey. Not only are you a wonderful writer but an accomplished photographer as well. All humanity should have the opportunity to see what you are seeing.

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