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segunda vida

Friday, the thirteenth..

A boring grey in the sky? Light drizzle over the lake?
Where am I? What time is it, what day? Is this a bad dream?

I pinch myself, finger for the watch on the bedside table:

07:35 am, 3/13, Fr I read, when my eyes finally focus.

Well, that explains something: Friday, the thirteenth! This dreadful weather is nothing but a subtle hint in the sky of the black Friday.

rain chile

Ok, for the less superstitious I offer a different interpretation: I'm "over the hill", geographically speaking.

On the western slope of the Andes, in Chile, the wind pushes the moist Pacific air up the mountains. And that means upslope, blocked flow, clouds, fog, rain. All well known from weather forecasts for the Alps, the Rockies, mountain ranges anywhere.
No reason to worry, all has its straightforward logical explanation.

An hour later Jeff and I are having breakfast. We enjoy our smoothies, warm brownies, homemade plum marmalade, and fresh coffee. Something Tchaikovsky wafts through the air - until a sudden "plop" and the sound of rushing water disrupt the idyllic scene. Is there somebody taking a shower in an upstairs room?
Two minutes later water comes running down the beams from the ceiling.
We're already moving chairs, couches and sound equipment out of the area of precipitation when the manager storms through the door. Stunned and bewildered she looks up. "El tanque, se rompió el tanque" she cries - the tank, the tank burst - and off she runs to close the valve.
Then we follow her up the stairs, through one of the guest rooms, up a ladder, through a hatch into the attic to the place where the catastrophe began. Everything is quiet - and wet. A short brainstorming leads us to the following conclusion: the repair patch of a leak in the tank a couple of days ago couldn't take the regular pressure delivered by the pump. Once Lilian opened the feeder line for hot water from the boiler the leak sprung up again.
Why did she open this feeder today?
Today, on Friday, the thirteenth?

Perhaps we should approach the drive back with an extra dose of caution.

As we reach the border station on the Chilean side there's no queue, not a single person ahead of us. We get our stamps from the lady at immigration and the guy at customs without any delay and five minutes later we're on our way through 10 miles of no-mans land. Over on the other side the Argentinean colleagues deliver a repeat performance. Incredible! We make record time to "chori-pan" (chorizo sausages in a roll) and our favorite lunch spot in Villa Angostura.
Is Fortuna trying to compensate for the water accident during breakfast? Is this dreaded combination of Friday and the Thirteen plain nonsense after all?

While waiting for traffic at a stop sign Jeff asks me to rev up the engine. Is there an unusual knocking sound? Normally this wouldn't surprise me, only two days ago Jeff had the valves adjusted.
But on this Friday?

At our next photo-stop the clack-clack got louder. Jeff believes.
I keep driving the way I always do and get us to San Martin without additional incidents.
At the first intersection Jeff asks me to turn right: " Let's just swing by my mechanic.."
Mauricio, the mechanic, doesn't believe in a misadjusted valve. " Could be one of the injection nozzles, or..., and the crankshaft appears to wobble a tiny bit, must have taken a pretty bad hit once."
That doesn't sound good, it seems like serious maintenance is called for, better now than later. Jeff makes an appointment and climbs in the driver's seat himself, just in case...

At least we'd made it home!

I move camera gear and bags into my car and drive over to Carlos' to schedule the next shoot for our video project. As I start the car again I hear - once more - a short "plop", just like this morning. No rushing sound this time, no water either. Instead, I can hardly move the steering wheel. Turn off the engine, open the hood, and check hydraulic fluid: everything ok. But why does the v-belt hang so loosely between the pulleys? It hasn't torn, where did its tension go?
Then I see the pulley under the car! The tension arm is broken!

"Can be fixed in half an hour" diagnoses the mechanic, whom Carlos had miraculously conjured up at 8pm this haunted Friday!

"Provided you find the appropriate spare part" he adds quickly.

Oh no! Not again!
The last time it took six weeks to find a part! And we just came back from Chile, where you can get anything at your friendly Ford dealer right around the corner!
Que mala suerte! What bad luck!
And today, of all days!

I leave the car in the parking lot and take the bus. Only ten minutes later I'm at my front door and turn the key in the lock. Well, I try to turn the key.
But no cigar - nothing moves. The key remains solidly in its vertical position. I rattle the key, the lock, the door, finally the entire house. Nothing moves.
It's 9pm by now! Do I have to wait another 3 hours for this damned Friday to pass? Will the key, the lock know then, too, that the Thirteenth has passed? Will they then give up their stubborn resistance?

I decide to look for an "alternate" entrance. And, lo and behold, I manage to make my way to a door on the balcony, which appears to be unlocked. I know that the alarm is set, but shouldn't I have the regular 30 seconds to enter the password?

Slowly I slide the door open and tiptoe in the kitchen,...YEWYEW-CHIPCHIP..the f@#$$ horn screams like it wants to waken the dead.
Twenty seconds later I have the code punched in and everything returns to silence.
Two minutes later the phone rings:" Hola, how are you? This is your alarm monitor, everything ok?"
The fact that I know the proper password convinces the guardian angel. He buys into my story and advises to call a locksmith first ting next morning.

Next morning?
On Saturday?

Forget it! Tomorrow the lock is going to work like it should!
Tomorrow I'm going to find the spare part for my vehicle!
Tomorrow the sky is going to be blue again!

But now, today? On Friday, the thirteenth?

No way I'm going to cook dinner - I don’t' want to burn this place down!
No way I'm going to take shower - let's leave the water tank alone!

Nothing but into bed and under the covers!


The four pillars of a successful day

The other day I spent a whole day in "el pueblo" as they say here. In "downtown" San Martin, that is.
I had a full list of to-do's, running from drawing money at an ATM to spending same money at an agency for personal improvement (hairdresser) and everything in between: grocery shopping, checking with the mecanico if the spare parts for my "antique" had finally been found, getting photocopies of my passport at one of the print-shops (for the 7th time), more shopping, checking my POB and on and on.
All in all, I figured, it would take me the better part of the Argentinean business morning.
No such luck! At 1:30 pm I was not even half way through my list. Rather than driving the 10 miles back to the house and return for a second attempt in the afternoon I decided to stay in town until it was scheduled to wake from its 3 hour siesta around 5pm.
I hiked a couple of blocks to my favored take-out kitchen only to find the doors locked.
Sh.., of course, it was Monday, which for "Los Patos" is the day off. No lunch!
I opted for a couple of the excellent 'media lunas" - the local version of a small Danish - for a quick sugar boost instead and headed over to La Pasteleria Piamontesa.
Success! The sweet half moons were deee-li-cious.
Off towards the lake, camera at the ready. But nothing struck my photographic eye. The streets were deserted - claro! Siesta! - the sun hid behind a thick grey overcast - no more radiant sky, no colors at all - and even my most reliable protagonists, the street dogs, had disappeared.
The hours dragged along.
Five o'clock, finally. I called the mecanico. No answer. I walked over, in the hope that he was working in the electromagnetic shade of his hydraulic lift so that only his cell phone was incommunicado. Nada!
Slowly, but inevitably, the level of my frustration rose.
Next stop: post office. Dios mios! A queue of about thirty people! I couldn't even get through the door!
Was it worth the wait to ask for the key to my box? when the chance to find something was perhaps fifty percent? No! (stupid me - why did I forget my key at home in the first place?)
Enough is enough! I decided to call it a day. A pit stop over at Cinco Sentidos and then back to the Golf was the plan
As I walk through the door of my favorite bookstore/cafe in San Martin I hear Ella's "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" waft thru the air. Ah! music is going to save me - and the day - once more! Now a cortado and the world is back in harmony again. I pick a heavy photo book from the shelves for entertainment and climb the stairs up to the cafe. As the smell of coffee hit's my nostrils and stimulates yet another 'sentido' a memory flashes through my mind: isn't this here almost like another place I love some 80 degrees of latitude to the North? Books, pleasant music, interesting clientele, great coffee, more books - The Boulder Bookstore, of course! How many Java's, Darjeeling's, Mary Jane's and pumpkin bars have I consumed in the Bookends Cafe, enhanced by whatever songs the crew behind the counter sent to the speakers. Not that I needed to be rescued from deep frustration very often, no, not in Boulder. Instead it was - and still is - a place, which rarely failed to inspire me in some way or other.
There are a few other 'hot spots' in Boulder, which are definitely capable to put a positive spin on any given day. Hit one of them and the day will be a success, because you know that you'll find what you've been looking for. And if you're not looking for anything, you'll find something all the same. In my book three stand out: Eads, the empire of magazines, periodicals and newspapers, Liquor Mart with its unequalled selection of wines of the world and McGuckins, which calls itself a hardware store - in unsurpassed understatement.
The second sip from my cortado, which would be something between "ein kleiner Brauner" (a little brown one) in Vienna and a mini-cappuccino in Italy, pulled my mind back to San Martin: could anything be found here, which is vaguely equivalent to those four pillars of a successful day in Boulder? I asked myself.
Sure can! I was enjoying the supportive action of one pillar right at this moment: the soothing atmosphere at Cinco Sentidos.


Sitting above the bookshelves, nibbling on a ham and cheese tostada, checking emails or surfing the web on the gratis wifi, having a brief chat with Niko or Carlos who own and run the place and watching customers rummaging through literature and asking for recommendations, proved time and again to be the perfect time-out on a day filled with - mostly frustrating - chores downtown.

And then there is "La Piamontesa".


For little more than a buck one gets four small pieces of pastry. Absolutely the best in town. And, believe me, I've checked out all the pastelerias within walking distance from the usual parking spots, all of them! The perfect supplement to bring the glucose level back into "feel good" territory. Fortunately, "La Piamontesa" is about as far west as you can walk in San Martin. Therefore, to succumb to the sweet seduction involves a modest stroll almost all the way to the lake. Pick up your media lunas and enjoy them at the beach. This little deviation powers you through the remaining tasks as if on turbo..
Shopping is the prevalent reason to drive down from the Golf, and often it's the little things, which I desperately need. Paper for the printer, form such and such for a rental contract, batteries. Shopping is also definitely different here. The 'all under one roof' supermarket does exist and is called Anonyma (how about that for branding...!) but often one is much better off searching for those little things in small shops.
One such small shop is Nehüen Yavü, which in the Mapuche Indian idiom means something like strong fight. Nehüen Yavü is as much 'only' a stationery shop, as McGuckins is 'only' a hardware store. You find everything from needles to wrapping paper to laptop bags to telescopes in the unfathomable depth of the establishment. While you're on treasure hunt they copy all your documents in triplicate, replace the cartridge in your fountain pen and count out the 17 paper clips you wanted.


Ah yes, of course: the standard amount everything is sold in, and priced, is 1, one unit, one single piece. You want a box of 100 sheets of photo quality ink jet paper? How many do you really need? 23?, fine, so let's get you the 23 sheets. Very interesting business practice, saves the customer money, costs the shop time - but works somehow. Without Nehüen Yavü I'd still be waiting for my "Social Security"-id: a quick run over from the office and I had the five copies of my visa in no time, which convinced the bureaucrat behind the desk that I knew my way around San Martin and therefore had to have lived here for some time.
And without the "Yavü" more than one trip to el pueblo would have been in vain. When the queue at the banco, the office of migraciones, or wherever was too long for my patience, I went there and took a quick trip around the store and left with one piece of something that made the 20mile roundtrip worthwhile. So this makes three pillars.
"Caso Commercial" completes he quartet. Even in what around here is considered an upscale residence (my casa at the Golf) a lot of little details need constant attention. Some of the light fixtures, for example, date back to the late 90's - of the 19th century! - and have to be replaced. And when the wind picks up the curtains start to move, telling me that I'd better buy 'burletes' and seal the frames and windows.


It was Carlos who directed me to the Caso as the one-stop for all things house and garden. With the stuff in its historic warehouse - and archives - one could probably built the house from ground up, provided one understands the recommendations of the immensely competent sales people given in rapid fire local lingo.
So there you have it, the four pillars of a "successful" day in San Martin de los Andes.
Not that I have to rely on them every day, but I know they are there when I need them.

Out ouf Rhythm...

Time to swing that pen again. High time!
The first quarter of '08 is already past, as is a trip to Europe. Two weeks in Germany and Switzerland require three weeks on the road - traveling my way, that is. Add to that a couple of days to get organized and packed (- all more complicated and time consuming when 'embedded' in the Argentinean way of living -) and a couple of days to get back into that Patagonian rhythm and it leaves you with more than a month out of sync with regular activities. Like writing a blog.
So it was "back to the old routines" when I came back to summer after my long journey. Or so I thought. But those routines were nowhere to be found.

A couple of days in "my old neighborhood" had obviously been enough to flip a hidden switch back to its "Standard" setting. "Standard" as in "normal Swiss operating procedures", where published opening hours and time tables were not used as rough guidance but as precise criteria to organize the tasks of a day. Where one could simply buy whenever and whatever was needed and (therefore) achieve with reasonable reliability what had been planned for a given period of time. In short, my expectations had realigned themselves with the experiences, which I had gathered within the well-oiled Swiss system over more than two decades.

On my way back this change of paradigm survived two Atlantic crossings without noticeable damage. In Patagonia, however, it was confronted with a different definition of "Standard" or "normal": more than three weeks after I had dropped off my car at the shop it was still 'out of service'. I was annoyed, to say the least. It didn't matter at all, when Pablo tried to explain that my Explorer with its manual shift was a rather unique specimen and to find spare parts for it was high-level detective work. I just wanted my car in drivable condition! But now it looked like I had to go back into hitch-hiking mode again with the ensuing lack of flexibility.

Then the story with my "office furniture"..
A scant 24 hours before my departure for Europe a truck had shown up with my household goods from Switzerland! Finally, after more than three months! So now, there were things to do: assemble the mountain bike, set up the stereo, install computer, printer, scanner... and buy a table/desk and a small shelf and my workspace would be ready to go. I had seen something suitable in an office in San Martin. I went back there and asked the lady at the desk where she bought it. " Well, if you want to buy it, you have to go to Buenos Aires." she said. What? Is the señora trying to tell me, that I have to drive 1000 miles to shop for a simple office desk? Yep, that's what she was trying to - but she offered an alternative: "We had this one done by a local carpenter, takes about two to three months." Oh great!

Within a mere couple of days San Martin had dialed down my speed of living, had forced back the hidden switch to its "Patagonia" position.
It took almost a week until I had rearranged myself with the local rhythm, until I had accepted, once more, that a leisurely trot allows for a better view of roadside details than a full gallop, until I had truly arrived a second time.

Volcano Lanin

Well, there I was and realized that the quick back and forth between summer and winter had been a contrast enhancing experience. The mild temperatures in Switzerland in February should have made the transfer to the Argentinean summer easy, but the heat hit me with full blast. Not only me, the locals were complaining, too. Nobody could remember such an extended period of above 90F, the drought was t h e topic on the local station Radio Montaña. Heaven and earth assumed an almost New Mexico-like appearance: on the ground the grass had withered, whatever little humidity was left had retreated to the sky and boiled up in wild clouds. Boiled up, not boiled over: the occasional high altitude precipitation rarely made it to the ground.

gate_clouds_7617 - - - - SMA_conv-SS_7591
Afternoon clouds near the Chapelco airport - - - - - - and the evening "development" as seen from the porch

The perfect set up for what had to happen eventually, and quite "naturally": lightning provided the initiating spark and it took off from there. One evening a little bit of smoke, which seemed to have died off the next morning…then the wind picked up and in the afternoon the flames ran wild. The forest fire was about fifteen miles away but on its second day I had soot on the porch, the smell of cinder in the house and the visibility had dropped to three miles.

The fire at Lago Lolog in its early stage

Apparently, the Indians knew which dance to dance. The following day a front moved in and brought the first rain in about two months. It really poured, flushed the dirt out of the atmosphere and helped the guys at the forefront to gain control. About 2500 hectares of brush and forest had gone up in flames, all of it in the Lanin National Park; fortunately, without casualties or damage to property.

The two wet days didn't bring true relief, however. As soon as the last cloud had disappeared we were back to " high desert mode", sky clear, winds light and variable, temperatures in the high eighties and relative humidity at about 30%.

Well, this was about six weeks ago. I'm posting it anyway to maintain a somewhat coherent style - and also because I had to catch up with the "German-speaking" part of my blog - and link to new photos.

Transition period

As soon as the date indicator on my Swatch jumps to Dec 24 a very Special Theory of Relativity seems to go in effect. Not the one which predicts that when moving at extreme speed the clocks tick slower, but one which postulates just the contrary: stay put and time will fly.
During the last business days before Christmas I'd been constantly running around trying to get people moving on my move - on my cargo, that is, which still sits (supposedly) in a storage shelter in Buenos Aires. Doing pretty much the same for days without any discernible effect gives the impression that nothing moves, not even the large hand on the clock on the kitchen wall. Now, on Christmas Eve, I felt a relaxing decompression, there was nothing I could do to accelerate my pressing business. The decision to go downtown was driven only by momentary inspiration and not the need to follow up on administrative foul-ups. The visit with Carlos at "Cinco Sentidos" served only the purpose to browse Internet or bookshelves and not to conduct yet another strategy session on how to proceed with insurance and customs issues. Even shopping for a couple of Christmas presents turned into an entirely relaxed affair, thanks to the low key character of a holiday season during summer months.
At 9:30pm I left home to join Claudia and Gustavo at a Christmas Eve party Argentinean style. About twenty five people, mostly young families with kids, met in the huge, almost empty living room of a house, partly still under construction. Dardo, master of the house, heaved one load of beef and sausage after another from the grill in the open fireplace on the big table, which was already overloaded with salads, potatoes, rice, beer and wine etc., etc..

Buenanoche_Clau - - - Dardo_asado_7048

At midnight "Papa Noel", aka Santa Claus, arrived and handed out a couple of presents. No big deal, no competition for the most expensive gift, the most original Christmas card or the most illuminating decoration - very pleasant. And while the kids unwrapped their presents, the adults toasted to a Merry Christmas.


Christmas day turned out to be in stark contrast to the big, family-style affair of the previous night.
In my favorite bookstore I had met a retired doc, who had spent more than 15 years working in Boston. After finding out that I was a physicist he invited me spontaneously to a small luncheon in his house, remarking "..that a physicist is exactly what's missing in my club !" - Oh well...
It turned out, that the American Way of Life under the NeoCons was not his cup of tea at all, so he decided to quit and move back to his home country and settle in Patagonia. He lives in a wonderful house high above San Martin, with spectacular views. To get there, however, takes a lot of courage, some boy scout tracking experience and a working four wheel drive, as the last 4 miles resemble a steep hiking trail. Food and wine was great, conversation very interesting with a high entertainment value. Not only is the guy a knowledgeable connoisseur of classical music, he also has the equipment to celebrate his hobby. And he's also a bit "loco", or should I say: idiosyncratic, which helped no end whenever the conversation threatened to turn boring or mundane.

During the last days of the old year nothing much happened. Only time passed.
Then New Years Eve came and with it a kind of a replay of Christmas: a different circle of friends met, this time at Claudia and Gustavo's. Since the traditional fireworks had been cancelled due to extreme drought conditions in the surrounding forests, we could concentrate fully on gourmet food and exquisite wines - and on pleasant company...


Afterwards I stayed put and let time fly. Now we are already deep into 2008, high time to send out best wishes for a happy New Year. In Germany there is a proverb, which says that New Year's wishes are accepted until the first hay is cut. Well, here you have to be careful with that. Gustavo climbed already into the cherry tree while the "other" tree was still displaying its festive decoration!


So here they come: All the best for 2008 - health, success, fun, interesting adventures, profound insights and a bunch of great friends....

Life near hole 18

There is something to living on a golf course, even if one can't tell a number 2 from a number 7 iron and wouldn't know how to hit the ball off a tee with either one.
Above all it's the scenery. The carefully designed and 'built' landscape around the eighteen holes with their greens, ponds and bunkers resembles an expansive park, which constantly invites to a leisurely stroll. Discovering small, surprising details, like a fairway mirrored in the pond or the shadow from a row of pine trees cast across a green, makes one appreciate the creative thought that went into the layout. In the case of the golf course here, at the entrance to the San Martin valley, there's also the location in the hilly terrain at the foot of Chapelco Mountain, (from which the "Chapelco Golf & Resort" borrowed his name) which in itself is enough to create an almost magical atmosphere. From 'my' house, up on the flank of the hill on the eastern boundary of the site, I have a superb view, which, especially during the evening hours, is the best tele-vision show on any channel.

hills_eve_6824 - - - porch_eve_lenti_7037 - - - blackrock_evered_7011
Foothills of Chapelco, just south of the valley to San Martin - - - wave over my porch - - - burning clouds

mate_clouds_7034 - - - blackrock_evecloud_6856 - - Chap_eve_lenti_6958
my evening drink ( Mate tea) and evening clouds - - the last cumulus (for a change) - and lentis settling into the night

Secondly, there is a clubhouse. From its big saloon it affords magnificent views of lanes one, nine and eighteen with the mountains as backdrop and, as a kind of contrast program, one can watch the minors take their first swings on a little green serving as a kindergarten, while the majors battle it out between the hazards. Oh well, yes, of course, there is the food! This is a perfect place to get eyes and palate satisfied simultaneously. From the menu I conclude, that clubhouse and Hotel (five stars - Argentinean stars, that is) collaborate closely in the gourmet department: food and drink is excellent! Despite the upper class ambiance prices are very modest, at least when compared to a typical Swiss country diner.

So, theoretically, between working (writing stories, articles and blog entries), relaxing and eating, there is not much incentive to leave the place. In reality, things look different. A lot of those little errands, which I usually (in Europe or the US) took care of online, via phone or email, require personal presence in Argentina. Paying a bill, any bill, means handing over the dinero to the guy at the bank, the lady in the office of the phone- or insurance company. And for that one has to go downtown. Which is about 10 miles away. No problem, if one has a car. Most of the vehicles I see driving around the course are compatible with the upscale environment. Large SUV's, monster-pickup's and every once in a while something more sportive, a souped up Honda or a spiffy Beamer, 'spare'-mobiles should the family car require maintenance.
With respect to the automotive segment of the resorts inhabitants I fit in nicely with my '94 Explorer. I am lacking, however, the trendy ragtop to cover for the occasional time-out my "Big Blue" needs, when the oil needs changing or the wheels aligning.
And it's then, that there's something else to living on a golf course: the challenge to get around without a car.
The first time I had to take my car to Jorge, the mecanico whose grandpa lived in a small village near Luzerne, Switzerland, was about a month ago. So I dropped Big Blue off and took the colectivo downtown, had a coffee at my favorite bookstore and then took the bus to Junin, the next town about 30 miles east. I told the driver to add a stop enroute at the "golf" and from the gate it was a 25 minute stroll to la casa mia.

Of course, it was the other direction, which posed the real challenge. There is no official bus stop at the entrance to "Chapelco Golf&Resort". And since it sits at a long straight section of Routa 234, where everybody goes at least 70 mph one last time before hitting the brakes for the first S-turn down into the valley, there's little chance that anyone would see, much less stop for a lone hitchhiker. So the options are to somehow flag down the bus from Junin or to call a cab from San Martin, a 12 buck one way extravaganza, which I wanted to safe for real emergencies. I walked to the gate to inquire. The girls told me, that the bus would be leaving Junin in about 10 minutes and take roughly 20 minutes to get here. Why don't I sit down in their a/c-ed booth and listen to music on the Internet while waiting. With five minutes to go I walked away from Salsa out in the sun.

After a short while an ancient Jeep - vintage late fifties, I'd guess - came out of the gate, pulled up and the driver motioned me to "embark". The thing was painted in light blue - yes, painted, with paint runs and orange peel surface allover. Heavy shipyard-steel was welded in, where time and weather had eaten away the original parts. And, just like on a boat, there was a windscreen, but nothing one could describe as roof or cabin or doors. Only the roll bar made of heavy tubing didn't seem to fit the rather maritime appearance. I parked my backpack on a roll of heavy-duty steel rope and stowed my legs underneath two big loudspeakers dangling down on thin wiring from a steel plate serving as instrument panel and firewall. Then we got rolling. Up to about 30mph the Oldie accelerated rather smoothly, but then we seemed to hit something like the sound barrier. Our vehicle started to shake and rattle, vibrations ran through the chassis and I was glad I had a heavy bar right in front of me to hang on to and thus avoid going over board. Obviously it wasn't an atmospheric shockwave, which agitated the poor Jeep to such a degree, and the surface of the road had nothing to do with it either: only smooth asphalt. The way my driver clung onto the steering wheel and the cautious manner in which he lifted his foot from the accelerator pedal gave the clue: one of the wheels had started to run amok, due to an unfortunate resonance between spring forces in the suspension and the centrifugal forces on a rotating tire. After a hundred yards, the front axle had hardly started to behave, I felt the faint pressure of acceleration on my back again. The needle of the speedometer, the only instrument in the panel, approached in erratic motion once more the dreaded 30mph mark. I realized: my fearless pilot went for a second attempt to find a hole in the barrier - and by sheer magic he found it. This time our topless racer slid without even the slightest shiver across the critical threshold and reached an amazing 47mph.
Everything was cool. Almost everything. My chauffeur still worked that steering wheel like in frenzy but nothing much seemed to happen to the direction the Jeep was going. That steering must have had a play of at least half a turn! All the while he was whistling merrily - and now, as we approached the infamous S-turn, he began adjusting his New York Yankees baseball cap, with both hands, as if this thing was on full autopilot. With the confidence of a true master he negotiated the two curves at full speed but then our ride in the "zone" had to come to an end: "Road construction, one lane only" a big sign warned. On the washboard surface of a torn up section our mustang went into full rodeo mode. Señor New York Yankees fought and swore and almost ripped off that wheel, but we made it. He stopped in front of Jorge's shop and I disembarked. As I felt solid ground under my feet I thanked my stunt driver and wished him happy driving. " Only to my mecanico" he answered and added with a grin " no more Jimmie ", imitating with his hands the wild gyrations of the unbalanced wheel.

subprime-renting crisis

The plan was all set, the plan concerning accommodation, apartment, house, the place to stay that is. But then reality interfered. Sounds familiar? Well, I for one have experienced this often enough: life is what happens while you're making plans! And what happened was, that all three or four rental objects from which I wanted to pick my final residence had disappeared from the market - and nothing new had popped up.
Ok, for the first couple of days everything was cool, it was low season in San Martin and Claudia had no problems offering me one of her cabañas.

CdB_3780 - - - CdB_3695
Claudia's "Cabañas del Bosque" - - - and my breakfast table there

During the preparation stage it had been Claudia, as well, who came up every other week with new ideas and possibilities for rental property and thus generated a sound optimism. Right after my arrival she hit the phone again and scanned her network of friends for new options. But this time it was different: whatever emerged popped like a soap bubble one tried to catch. Take the "dream-palace" for example (see also: " The Idea"):

The house on Tierra del Sol

up until now I hadn't been able to give up the dream of living in that house. Meanwhile the palace had been sold, but change of ownership was to take place only in March '08. Up to then, it belonged to one of Claudia's friends. So perhaps there was still a chance to spend a couple of months in an exquisite ambience. We set up a date to discuss if and how dream and reality could be merged. The place of the negotiations, the grandiose living room of the house up on the Tierra del Sol, renewed old desire, the first proposal for monthly rent payments confirmed old fears: 1800 US $ was way above my budget. The justification Angeles offered for this sum was to set a precedent for the weeks to come: "... if we rent to tourists we can get 4 - 500 US$ per week.." My question, whether she'd find enough tourists willing to pay that price for the entire period of November through February was left unanswered. Obviously, on Oct. 11, the day of our rendezvous, no reservations had been made.

Since nothing new showed up during the following week, Claudia began to get nervous. After all, a big weekend was about to come: official end of season, with lots of attractions, special events and one last run for slopes and accommodations. This was the big opportunity for all hotels and hosterias, which had not closed down yet, and all those, who had a free room to rent, to cash in one last time. And I was 'blocking' one of Claudia's two bedroom cabañas!

Just then, a friend of hers called up, indicating that her cabaña/vacation home had unexpectedly become available again. It wasn't going to be the final place for me, but at least a save haven until end of November. No use waiting any longer...

mima_house_6102 - - - kich_liv_6246web
The second step: my little vacation home

This was the second step of my project called "settling in". The little house offered everything needed for a stay of several weeks and all the stuff I had brought in two suitcases fit in somewhere. But once - or if ?? - my shipment with computer, books, music, mountain bike showed up, I'd be quickly running out of space. And apart from that, for a long term habitat it lacked room, the inspiring corners, nooks and crannies, where work in progress and future challenges could unfold. The search had to go on.
After a timeout of two weeks I started again. I visited real estate agencies, Claudia started a new round of calls and Martin, a compatriot from Nuremberg, who owns and runs a hosteria in San Martin, also contributed tips and tricks for a more efficient search. "Thanks" to the level of my language skills the communication was at times difficult, interesting, embarrassing, quite often funny, too. Daniel, in his cupboard-size office, appeared disturbed during more important work than trying to find rental property for a newcomer. He tried to discourage me with unacceptably high rents and an almost arrogantly fast and barely audible way of talking. Karina used romantic photos of a snowed in little two room hut and a slightly blurred shot of an attractive woman (selfportrait?) to entice me to her offering of country living for 1000 US$ a month (broadband connection included). Pamela invited me spontaneously for a drive to the only 'rentable' object in her files after she learned, that I was one of the mad pilots, who surf on strange waves in the sky whenever the wind drives everybody else crazy.

lolog_snow - - - cascada_house_6403
the two room (skiing-?) hut - - - and the house that wasn't for rent - in the end

All these little adventures promised hope and kept me busy for a couple of days, but any prospect for something even remotely appropriate? no cigar!
And time was running out. Around Christmas the high season begins and that is the time when anything with a bed and a roof over it would be considered superb accommodation, command premium prices and nevertheless be picked up at first sight by the vacationers from Buenos Aires and abroad. I got nervous, as I couldn't imagine where new possibilities would come from. The real estate people were of no help, Claudia and Martin and their circle of friends hadn't produced anything either. A nice house for a week or two? to the tune of three or four hundred Dollars per? no problemo! but something for a little longer and little less? no señor! Obviously, everybody was holding out for the chance to make quick money over a short period of time and thus rather leave the house empty than committing to a longer-term rental.
On the market everything had become prime real estate. For me it had turned into a subprime-renting crisis.

To stand any chance at all I had to increase my budget.

And then, suddenly, things got rolling.
A friend of a friend of a friend... actually, it was a friend of the mother of Claudia's son Adriel's girlfriend - got it? - who apparently wanted to move to town from her house on a golf course about 10 miles east - and was looking for somebody to rent the house. Would I have any interest? Would I ? of course, I had to! For reasons explained above, it was unlikely that I'd be able to stay in my little vacation home into December. Two days later Claudia and I drove out to the Chapelco Golf & Resort, stopped at the gate and asked for directions to casa E24. I was excited. Chapelco Golf & Resort, I had found out, was a project of golf legend Jack Nicklaus and the British Taylor family. Grandpa Don Santiago Taylor had arrived in San Martin in 1918 and settled down on a ranch called " Estancia Chapelco". Both families had apparently gotten to know each other while being neighbours near Miami in Florida. About ten years ago they had started the project Golf and developed an 18-hole course (par 72, for those interested) with 430 private lots distributed over more than eleven hundred acres.
This wasn't a cheap neighbourhood. The residences reminded me of the beautiful house on the Tierra del Sol. Most of them showing off huge glass fronts, which opened up to a panoramic view spanning from "Chapelco Chico" in the south over the valley towards San Martin, the snow covered peaks at the Chilean border in the west to the local peak "Cerro Colorado" in the North. And among those "estates" there was allegedly something affordable? Hard to believe!
I relaxed as we entered the driveway to Virginia's casa. This was not one of those multi thousand square foot palacios, it seemed to be a cozy house in the local architectural style, in which each room sports his own roof. The view: nothing short of spectacular, the size: appropriate, the furniture: practical, the equipment: everything necessary available. Well, that's it, or what?

house_front_6787_400 - - - House_living_6806_07_400
To each room his roof (1, 2, 3, 4, - incl kitchen) - - - eating, living and viewing

The days after this visit were spent discussing, negotiating, drafting contracts, organizing documents, moving money across the table, and - in the end - even signing all necessary papers. Quite an effort: different countries, different customs, in parts even different regulations - and in all these meetings I faced three (at minimum) women. When I drove up to our first encounter Adriel greeted me in the driveway of his mother-in-law to be (I translate loosely): " Hola Wolf, there's quite a bunch of women waiting for you in the living room! " This sounded jokingly admiring at first. But after three days of talking business it had acquired a different flavor: whew, these women sure use up a lot of ones energy resources...

But now I sit on the couch facing huge windows and while I'm typing into my laptop my glance wanders up to "Chapelco Chico", over to "Cerro Colorado".

"...on a lazy sunday afternoon.."

Now, what was that quote about planning ones life?
Never mind: in most cases the right things happen in life, despite all plans!


Nederland, Ward,...

For the time being I live in a 'suburb' of San Martin called "La Vega", which is the Spanish word for wetland or floodplain. Yes, I know, you would haver never guessed as the place whose name sounds so similar - and by using the plural: Las Vegas, even amplifies our expectation of an abundance of natural moisture - is known for exactly the opposite: an arid desert climate with the ensuing water resource issues.

Looking out the window and using a little imagination I can easily understand how this neighbourhood here acquired its name. Check out the place in Google Earth here: < 40° 7'42.38"S - 71°16'42.63"W > and you'll agree. Heading East out of the center of town, the main road climbs through a gap between two small hills reaching out from the ridges to the North and South. Then the valley opens up and its floor becomes flat as a pan. About 10 miles further East a hill, appropriately called "lomo atravesado" - the hill across - marks the end of this vega. A small river and runoff from the mountains in numerous creeks keep the water table high enough, so that parts of this plain have areas of standing water most of the year.

LaVega_6761_400 - - - LaVega_6762_400
La Vega - the wetlands and the ridge to the north

But I digress. I wanted to say, that my current place is about 4 or 5 miles out of town. There is public transportation and the buses, whose routes connect even the remote satellite villages, run frequently and reliably and are cheap. For 45 cents you get a tour through different suburbs and neighbourhoods and the entire stretch of downtown. All that often times in vehicles, which have apparently completed their first service-life in a city close to that I just arrived from. The emblem next to their front entrance identifies that as the City of Basel, Switzerland.
So, whenever I go downtown for a single purpose, like running one of my favorite administrative errands, and don't have to worry about carrying home five plastic bags full of groceries, I take the 'colectivo'. Since I never know to how many diffferent places over what stretch of time my bureaucrazy adventures take me, I go well prepared. My backpack holds something to read, a notebook and an assortment of pens to write, my laptop - in case there's a forced pit stop at a wifi cafe - and the Nikon. It's the latter, above all, which over time has helped me to gather some insight into the town of San Martin. I suspect that these impressions are of a snapshot quality in that they reflect a rather momentary interpretation of what I see. A couple of months down the road I might relate to them in an entirely different manner.
Anyway, what is San Martin de los Andes like? Three towns(?) kept popping up in my visual memory as I was trying to find someplace to compare it to and for today I will refer to two of them only: Nederland and Ward. I know: these are not hot spots on any tourist map of the (western) US. So I apologize: what follows has been written primarily with my Boulder friends in mind.

Nederland? Not that San Martin looks like Nederland, much rather, for me, in some ways it 'feels' like it. In one corner a tourist town: a couple of small, nice shops, sport equipment, skiing, snowboarding, hiking mostly. A cute Hamburger place, perhaps.
And across the main drag, along a dusty gravel road the hide-outs of ex-hippies, secondhand stores for this and that, books, clothes, CD's.
The studio of a local, "indie" radio station hidden behind a group of pine trees.

SMA_Colo_6116_400 - - - SMA_Colo_6429_400
A cute music-and-games bar - - - - and the "indie" radio station, in San Martin

What defines this town for me is the mix of expensive cars carrying skiers in expensive gear to the slopes of Eldora and the locals, discussing along the counter of a small diner with a dusty parking lot in the back the exceptional spring skiing of last winter or planning the backcountry hikes of the coming summer. The locals seem to be mostly aged college kids with their studies in an extended holding pattern.

Yes, this is Nederland..

Most of this I've found here in San Martin, as well

And sometimes even more: right downtown, across from a hotel, a shack, which must have been one of the first buildings when the early 'pioneers' set up shop along the shores of Lago Lacar. And that reminds me of Ward.

SMA_Colo_6398_400 - - - SMA_Colo_6140_400
looks like ? and is: San Martin

Of course, there's the other San Martin as well, playing in an entirely different league and reminding me of a town as different from Ward or Nederland as one part of San Martin is from another.
More on that in a later post.


The numbers game

Days go by fast when you're number 127 in a queue at the bank, or 39 at the meat counter in the supermercado, or even 17 at the icecream parlor. Almost everywhere you have to take a number first to become a potential customer, a client, simply a person, who wants something. Otherwise you're a curious spectator at best, a minor nuisance, really. Individual characteristics, personality, physical size or strength, beauty or wits don't mean anything. To join the "flow of business" you've got to have a piece of paper with a number on it. Only then do you turn from Mr. Nobody into a respected person, only the 2 or 3 digits help you to acquire a real identity.
That was something I had to learn. Often enough, after having carefully assembled a simple sentence with my limited spanish vocabulary, I mustered all the courage available and stepped forward to the counter to ask or place an order. But even before I could pronounce the first palabra, the clerk looked at me slightly surprised, all other customers a bit annoyed. Some had even changed to an aggressively self-defensive stance. Only after somebody had waved a little piece of paper with a number on it, did I realize: wrong move - back to square one! But where do I get my identity from? After an intensive search I found the "dispenser" hidden behind the entrance door.
Once more to end of the queue!
Ok, learning takes time. In most cases 10, 15 minutes in line and everything is cool. But it can get worse, a lot worse. Like yesterday morning. Right after opening hour I came to the Registro Civil to apply for a "DNI" (documento nacional de identidad). Already ten people ahead of me! And where's the roll with the numbers? I can't find it. The next person arrives and asks: " Good morning, who is last?" At first nobody answers, then I realize what he's trying to find out: the last person to arrive was me! Duh! A different way to find out about one's standing in the 'workflow'! But why, then, holds the guy across the aisle one of these numbers in his hands? After he's finished with his 'business' here, he storms out of the office, down the stairs, waves his number and says something about "Banca Provincial".
When it's finally my turn, I learn, again. In addition to the copies of passport in triplicate, the 4 mugshots and all the other documents I also need a receipt for the payment of an administrative fee. And that has to be paid at the local bank. And at the bank you have to be a number. I storm out of the office, down the stairs and over to the Banca Provincial. A bunch of people is waiting outside the front door - doesn't look good! I try to squeeze by to get to the infamous roll. And again I feel annoyed looks on my back, again I see this posturing for self-defense. What's going on? After all I'm trying to pull my number and the dispenser is there, up front, right!? Then I understand: they're all lining up to pull their number! Dios mios!
When I finally grab the piece of paper I read 361. The LED panel says "turno 121" - and then I see a sign at the door which advises: today we close at 11, power cut!
The calculation is quick and easy: 240 clients for 6 counters in 90 minutes - forget it!


On my way out, an old guy points with his number at me: 237. And then, with a wry smile on his face, he stretches out his other arm, palm up. I see, he's selling time! And over there, a number from the butcher store is being traded with one from the bank, and back there, looks like three guys are playing poker for a number in the high one hundreds.. Ah, all these numbers games.
For today I have enough. I need a coffee!

"How good is your Spanish?"

How good is your Spanish?

Today is one of those days, when one can easily fall in love with the place, the region. The first glance out of the window made the Patagonia hormones jump: from a faint red in the East to a bluish, almost pitch dark black over the lake to the West, the morning sky had painted a gradient over the mountains which would drive any Photoshop artist into desperation. No point in taking the Nikon out, either. But with my eyes I could take in the beauty, suck up more than enough energy for the day.
A couple of days ago the morning light had been compatible with digital photography. Compared to the view at a parking lot from my kitchen window in Brugg it was literally from a different world


My view from the kitchen window in San Martin - the clouds disappeared soon thereafter.

But view and clouds were not the highlight of that day - it was rather my first job interview!
And here's how that came about:
Shortly before my departure I had gotten a surprise call from Claudia in San Martin. All excited, she had told me about an unexpected - and rather unusual - solution to my search for an appropriate accommodation: for the off-season period I could be a live-in "caretaker", in what she called a "boutique bed and breakfast" in a spectacular location high above lake Lacar. There wouldn't be any caretaker obligations except the 'task' to live there, i.e. be present. In exchange for my being there and, obviously, making sure that nothing unjust was happening, I was offered the use of a small apartment in the adjacent Teahouse for free. Why not? after all the vistas were one of the reasons why I had been so intrigued by the region in the first place.
As it turned out, my short hours in Buenos Aires didn't match with the schedule of the contact person for the resort and a foreseen meeting had to be cancelled. So, once in San Martin, Gustavo, Claudia and I took the first opportunity to drive up on a steep, adventurous dirt road for a close inspection of the place.

Well, the view was certainly nothing short of spectacular - the view of lake, mountains and sky...

Arayan_tea_6074_400 - - - teahouse_6078_400

As soon as I focused on the living quarters, however, it was a different story. A mattress on the floor and in front of it, on a small, old table, a big new TV set. Next to it an electric radiator/heater and close to the window a single chair. And that should be my residence for a couple of months? No way I could picture that, despite all the fringe benefits like free use of the Teahouse kitchen (a muscle-powered kitchen in the style of the Thirties with a large wooden oven and a small gas stove), the bar (the place, not the liquids) and the saloon.


To not leave under the impact of this - let's say: ambivalent - first impression, we decided to have tea and try the chocolate-coconut cake: absolutely delicious! For both I would - and most likely will - accept the challenging 4 mile drive up through potholes and washboard. But to live there?

Some of the magic of the place, however, kept stirring. As a studio for creative work, or a writer’s refuge, the attic would be hard to beat. Why not spend a couple of days, perhaps even nights, per week up there, so I dreamt, making sure everything is ok, and let the marvelous vistas inspire my creative mind, but keep the main residence somewhere else. This was what I intended to propose to the manager and agreed to meet for an informal interview during his visit to San Martin the following weekend.
Our conversation over coffee and brownies (more on those later) was conducted in English to avoid any misunderstandings with possibly far reaching consequences. It became clear quite quickly, that the situation at the resort really called for a full time professional caretaker/manager. So the questions were: would I want to be/do that? and would I feel up to it? - and my answers were simple and easy: No! With all these projects in photography, writing, video in the back of my mind I didn't want to commit too much of my time to running a "boutique bed and breakfast". I also considered the switch from scientist to hotel manager (in a region where I really wasn't versed well enough, yet, in either language or customs) to be a hairpin turn too tight to be successfully negotiated. This left a third question, which I then had to answer more for reasons of protocol: " And how good is your Spanish?"

When we parted, we agreed to stay in touch. Despite all, there was an area, where collaboration appeared quite feasible: after having enjoyed tea, cake and views while visiting the teahouse, I realized that my fifth sense had been totally neglected. There was a void waiting to be filled. How about some music, some gentle sounds? That would be fantastic. I could clearly see, how delightful a sunset with jazz and some exquisite wine from our "friends" at the Bodega Zuccardi near Mendoza (remember?) would be. And in order to announce "Take the A-Train", or "Blue Monk" or a Bossa Nova by Joe Henderson, " Spanish is certainly good enough".


Living and writing

I've been here in San Martin for more than 4 weeks now, but with my writing I've just about gotten to my arrival! Living and writing seem to be somewhat out of sync!

Well, that's no surprise, during the first couple of weeks there was simply too much living to do.

And sometimes I asked myself: where did I exactly arrive?

in springtime?
on a playground of climate change?
in the early seventies?

The spectrum of impressions was huge, obviously it took some time until I had managed to cope with them, to consolidate them into a first view of my place of residence south of the equator.
Sure, I "knew" the place. But through the eyes of a "permanent" resident it looked different than through the eyes of a visitor.

Springtime: the bloom was in full swing, lilac, dandylions, one or the other fruit tree and all kinds of local plants were pushing out their blossoms at full power. The temperature, however, didn't want to have nothing to do with it. Sure, every now and then, there was a day, which felt like early summer, when the sun cut through the UV-20 blocker in no time. But these were exceptions. Many a day, although not necessarily horribly wet or grey and overcast, was just cool, almost cold and the locals began to ask themselves if there was going to be a primavera at all.

primavera_SMA_6089_400 - - - Amancay_Chapelco_6104_400
- in el centro de San Martin - -and- - Suburbia, my present neighbourhood
But when the weather decided to be nice, it did so with an overwhelming intensity.
My second sunday here was such a marvelous day. Perfect timing, because that was also the last day of the skiing season up on Cerro Chapelco. Out of curiosity and a craving for altitude I drove up there.

Oh well! A season's very last downhill run, or summer-skiing in a T-shirt on some glacier never was my favorite. Skiing is wintersport for me, the more white stuff the better.
But here? It looked like a big "goggled and booted" crowd was desperately trying to shrug off obvious signs of global warming: the half-way committed dragged boots and skis or snowboards across a dry and dusty parking lot towards the Poma cable gondola. The totally committed appeared hours later suddenly on the last snowpatch about 300ft uphill of the of that very Poma lift. How they managed to "ski" down here from the more or less white slopes up there on the ridge remained a mystery.

snowpatch_lift_6174_400 - - - - chairshad_snwdirt_6189_400
on the slopes of Cerro Chapelco

Without skis, I was free and open for a different view of things -and had ample opportunity to try out my new lenses.

Chap_treestump_6194_400 - - - trees_Chap_Lanin_6169_400
- View from the slopes - over to- -Volcano Lanin-

On my way back I must have slid through a time tunnel. Suddenly, only small and smaller sized European cars of the late sixties and early seventies were on the roads. No, not the carefully and lovingly restored antiques of those times, only old clunkers which couldn't deceive anybody about their age. Mostly Renaults, from the venerable R4 all the way up to the R12, in all shapes, and states of decomposition, a few Peugeots and one or the other tiny Fiat. And. of course, that sweetheart of the in-crowd: the Ford Falcon (probably a Ford-Europe/Ford-USA hybrid, since I've never seen one in either the US or Europe) spiffed up with decals, monster exhaust pipes and outrageous paint schemes.

oldcar_blue_6477_400 - - - FordFalcon_6481_400
-back in the sixties?... - or - ...the seventies?....

All these were state of the art compared to that one..

... or the fifties ?

and it was for sale!

New options for my car search seemed to open up on each corner. And memories of weekends filled with fixing, tuning, modifying old cars popped up, when - to compensate for a tough week in lab and auditorium at the University - we'd get our hands dirty working on exactly the same models I saw here. Would I still be able to adjust the timing, tune the carburetor, change the alternator belt...?


Planes and Buses (wine in..)

Me -and- 150lbs of luggage? on one cheap ticket? Some of you might have raised the eyebrows. When I think back at the heavy hauling from the airport shuttle to the bus terminal of Buenos Aires, I'd venture that it must have been at least 250lbs.

Let's see: one suitcase of 50 lbs, the other one close to 60 that's 110lbs right there, then the huge bag with videocam, wide angle lens, 2 batteries, mic, cables, etc... that was the "carry on", plus my backpack, aka "personal item" holding - or hiding - my laptop, the Nikon, a couple of books, the Spanish dictionary and all that additional stuff like chargers, change, how many? ounces of eau de drinking and eau de smelling,...well, that adds up!

I paid an extra 100$ - only because I travelled via Atlanta, on Delta. Without the stopover in the USA, anything exceeding a 45lbs suitcase and a small beauty case would have been way beyond my financial reach. Yes, I read the fine print...

And I have to say: Delta was a pleasant surprise, really. Reasonable service, we got one, no: two, bottles of red wine for free - to "compensate" for a 30 minute delay on take off. This was the second time that happened to me this year - the delayed take off (last time, on my way to Denver we took off 4 (four!) hours late - on American) and the free drinks. The first I didn't mind, because my layover in ATL was scheduled to be 6 hrs anyway, the second quite agreeable.
Allright, Delta was most likely not responsible for my even more "agreeable" travel compañera.

Quite relaxed I continued at 8pm towards South America, night flight to BsAs. Tired as I was it took only a couple of sips from the Malbec - free again for some reason - and I fell into a doze-sleep, lasting a couple of hours.
I woke up right in time for sunrise.


Right in time, too, so that my new compañero de viaje, a decathlete of the Argentinian track and field team, could explain in necessary detail, where to best change the first traveller cheque and where to find the cheap "micro" (shuttle) to the huge bus terminal downtown.
Everything's cool!

Retiro1400_6036_400 - - - cotravelers_6043_400


In Argentina, buses are the most popular and - for all those who cannot afford a First Class airline ticket - the by far most comfortable means of transportation.
I had realized that about a year ago, when I took the overnight bus from Mendoza to San Martin de los Andes. Consequently, I was really looking forward to the 20 hr trip. After all, there was a "Tutto Letto", a fully reclining seat-bed, waiting for me.

Right on time we departed at 4 pm. Five hours later dinner was served, then a whisky for digestion and a movie to fall asleep with.
When I woke up, another movie was flickering across the screen - or was it not? Wait a minute, these shots seemed familiar somehow, was I still dreaming?
Wasn't this right out of "Diarios de motocicleta" ?
And the dawn - exactly like in the movie!

che_bike_6047_400 - - - dawn_bus_6045_400

Oops, the pothole certainly was real reality!

Just before noon we arrived in San Martin, again right on time.
After 60 hrs of travelling I was still reasonably fit. Fit enough, anyway, so that Gustavo's overwhelming welcome hug didn't bring me to my knees.

At home, Claudia had already prepared a sumptuous lunch and one of her cabañas to crash after a last glass of wine from Gustavo's well stocked wine cellar.

I almost felt like the lost son - obviously, I had found(again) my Patagonian family.


Will I make it - or not?
The more I put away, the more lies around - the emptier it looks, the more I see - the more I tick off, the more pops up - the longer I work, the more remains to be done - ...

Herakles had a similar problem with the Hydra: for each head he cut off two more grew back !
For my situation, however, his story can't offer a practical solution. In a condo, scorching what's left is likely to create more problems than it solves!

promvoll_5980_400 - - - promleer_5979_400

Instead: one more trip to the dumpster, another load of "keep-it-stuff" to be taken to the studio. And in between: organize the farewell party, cancel the last subscriptions, pay the last ( don't I wish!) bills, put the last laundry in, oh, I almost forgot: pack the suitcases - but then: what do I wear when everything is either stored, packed, disposed off, given away, or in the machine, with the dry cleaners or, unfortunately, lost ?

Sounds just like the chicken and egg problem in reverse: not which was first, but what can go last...

Well, I made it, of course - else I wouldn't be able to write about it.

During the farewell party I was able to hand off most of my 'scheduled' good-bye's personally and collect all wishes for a successful launch of my Argentinian adventure.

apero_5944_400 - - - apero_5963_400

Well, and then it was time to leave.
The gods must have been smiling on me. Just when needed the appropriate angels showed up. The last one, called Andi, appeared at 6am in a Volvo to take me and 150lbs of luggage to the airport.

A last glance to the Swiss sky, which had it written all over: all tracks are heading south !


The Idea

The idea...

popped up while I was visiting old acquaintances.
Claudia and Gustavo had invited me to come down to San Martin de los Andes after our MWP (Mountain Wave Project) Expedition to Mendoza and the Aconcagua region in the fall of 2006 had ended (look for some english pages in my blog there).

Eight years ago our MWP team had stayed with them during our first ground (or "wave"..?) breaking expedition to the Argentinian Andes.

So one Friday evening about a year ago I boarded the overnight coach and rode it down south to northern Patagonia.

The spring sunshine, the scent of fresh blossoms, the cafecito in a chocolateria, after the intense weeks in Mendoza it was the laid back between-the-seasons atmosphere in San Martin, which helped me wind down in a hurry. A clear sky, wide open spaces and vistas invited eyes - and mind - to roam freely.

lago_SMA_SCB_3865_400 - - - lago_loloch_3837_400

During a chat with Claudia and her friends over one more cafe cortado, my thoughts suddenly latched onto an interesting question: how about spending a longer period of time here, at the shores of beautiful Lago Lacar? life is cheaper than back home, the scenery much more spectacular, the sky, well, much more alive. That much was obvious. But there was more: I couldn't get rid of the feeling that life here seemed to be more dynamic, offering more options. I smelled pioneer spirit, became intrigued.
A wild brainstorm kept me awake most of the following night. And the next day I saw my castle in the air, a house, in which I would have loved to live. Dios mio!

ANge_house_3847- - - Ange_house_3852_400

20 hours later I started the 50hr trek back to Switzerland. How long would
this seductive idea, to spent one year, two, or more in San Martin, survive in the daily routine and comfort of my life in Brugg?