4 Bariloche Vignettes

One day I was standing at the bus stop outside of our apartment on my way to the grocery store. As I waited for the bus, an older couple pulled up outside of the boutique across the street. The woman got out of the car, looked in my direction and called out, “A donde vas?”

I did that confused looking around thing that you do when you’re pretty sure that someone isn’t talking to you. But she had to be. I yelled back, “Al mercado,” wondering why the hell this strange woman was so interested in my afternoon plans. She seemed satisfied by this answer and disappeared into the boutique. After she came back out and got into the car, the car pulled up alongside of me. She rolled down the window and said in Spanish, “I’m sorry. You look almost exactly like my friend. Would you like a ride to the market?”

Why, yes I would. I climbed in the back.

Once I opened my mouth they knew that my Spanish wasn’t quite up to par, so of course they started speaking perfect English. The man asked about where I was staying and it turned out that he was friends with Jamie, the owner of the apartment. “Tell him that Juan the painter says hello. He’ll know who it is.”

I tried to ascertain if he meant painter as in artist, or painter as in house painter. I guessed by their dress and their manner that he meant the former.

Later when I talked to Jamie to relay the message, he told me that “Juan the painter” was Juan Lascano, the artist. He said that he was one of the most famous artists in Argentina. I don’t know anything about contemporary artists in the US let alone contemporary artists in Argentina, so I’ll have to take his word for it. But should Argentine contemporary art ever come up in conversation, I can now say something like, “Oh, I just adore Lascono’s Llao Llao paintings. You know, he gave me a ride to the grocery store once.”

We made the trip to Colonia Suiza in order to get to the trail to Laguna Negro. Colonia Suiza was not like my either of my fantasies, but it was pretty damn cute. When we got to the trailhead, the sign said, “Refugio Italia, 14 km.” I didn’t know what the trail was like, so automatically I began to panic. Adam, who has gotten quite good at reading my face even if I’m trying to conceal my emotions, assured me that we would just start walking and check it out and after a couple of hours we could turn around if we had to. Having properly placated me, we hiked for quite some time over very easy terrain through a gorgeous forest next to a storybook stream. This stream which flowed next to us for miles, was one of those that is almost impossible to resist diving into. Only the vision of me jumping into 40 degree water and causing a wildlife stampede with my piercing screams deterred me. Adam kept checking the time and saying things like, “We’ll just keep walking for another twenty minutes and see how things look,” and “Let’s just keep going until we find a good spot to eat lunch.” I knew from the beginning that we were going to go the whole way to the refugio, so I wasn’t really surprised when Adam took off the kid gloves and said, “There’s no way I’m going back now.”

And even though the trail was getting much steeper, I have to say that I actually agreed with him. Of course I lagged about twenty minutes behind him and I did a good deal of cursing along the way, but eventually I made it to the refugio and the lake at the end of the trail and I felt strangely exhilarated. The lake itself was fairly run-of-the-mill, but it was where the lake was that was important. Looking out from the rock where we were perched, I was astonished at how far I had climbed. The ridge lines of the surrounding mountains cut jagged swaths across the sky and everything on the valley floor looked like it was part of a tiny museum diorama.

After lunch we headed back down the trail and since it was Saint Patrick’s Day, I put on my Ipod to listen to Irish drinking songs which are incredibly motivating. By the time we got back to Colonia Suiza I was in a stellar mood. Adam, although he had not been listening to Irish drinking songs, was similarly pumped up. He threw out a crazy idea: “Let’s not wait for the bus. Let’s just walk back.”

By that time we had walked 6 km to get to the trailhead and 28 km round trip to and from the refugio. Uncharacteristically, I nodded my head in assent. What was another 6 km? Woo hoo! I want to party tonight!

About 4 km into our walk back I started losing steam. The sun was merciless and I had run out of drinking songs. Although we were still in high spirits when we got back to the apartment, my desire to party had significantly diminished. Adam had a beer, I had a glass of wine, we read a few chapters of our books and then it was lights out.

Two summers ago I spent one of my two days in Salzburg trying to gain access to my money. The bank had decided after several weeks of purchases and withdrawals from Germany, France, Spain, and Hungary, that Austria was just the last straw, and they froze my account leaving me with no access to cash. You might think it would be a simple phone call to fix such a problem, but it definitely isn’t, especially when you are conducting business from a pay phone with a disposable phone card that may run out at any second. After many frustrating attempts, I finally got someone who said that they could reactivate my account, but first she had to ask me some questions. She went on to interrogate me about my purchases, one by one, from Germany to Austria. “And were you in Nice?” she asked, pronouncing it like the word “nice” instead of “neece.”

“Yes, I told you all of the countries that I have been in”

“How much money did you withdraw in Budapest?”

“Well, do you happen to know the exchange rate? I can tell you how many forints I took out.”

“Would you say it was about $200?”

“Sure. I guess. Whatever. Look, I can assure you that I am in possession of my card and no one has made any purchases with it but me.”

“Alright, I just need to ask you a few more questions.”

After quite some time my card was restored to working order and I headed straight for the pub.

Because of experiences like these, before we left I was careful to call the bank and have them make a note of where I would be traveling and when. That seemed to do the trick, and both my debit and credit card worked fine all throughout the South Pacific and Europe. However, at the beginning of January, my mom emailed me to tell me that I had received a letter from Bank of America that said that my credit card information might have been compromised, so as a precaution, they were going to close my account and send me a new card. Well, you can see the problem with this plan. So I called the bank and explained that we were traveling, we didn’t have specific plans and therefore didn’t have a mailing address, and that I would need to use my card as it was until July. With very little resistance, the woman agreed and told me that I could use my old card until July. “Well, that was easy,” I thought. Yes. A little too easy.

A few days later I tried to pay for groceries with my credit card and it was denied. Back to the phone. I was informed that my account was closed and I needed to use the new card. “But the person that I talked to the other day said that I could use it until July.”

“Well, you can still use it, they will just have to call it in for authorization every time you use it,” was the reply.

I was livid. “I’m in Argentina,” I said. “Even if my language skills were good enough to explain the situation, they wouldn’t do it.”

“They have to do it,” said the service rep, a little snottily.

“I’m in Argentina,” I repeated. “They don’t have to do anything.”

I’m not Argentine law scholar, but I’m pretty sure that there isn’t any law stating that businesses have to call foreign banks for credit card authorizations.

Much later I was offered to have my credit card turned back on for four days. Then I would have to call back every four days to reactivate it. I didn’t think that this plan was very sound and I expressed that to the service representative. She had another brilliant idea. “I could put your mom’s name on the card and she could call and reauthorize it every four days.”

I didn’t even know how to properly express the idiotic nature of that plan, so I just said, “I don’t think so.”

A couple hours and several service reps later, I finally got a manager to agree to let me use the card until we got to Bariloche where I would call and give them the address where they could send a new card. After a week of waiting in Bariloche I finally had my new card and a longing for a simpler time when people just used peppercorns for money.

Cerro Catedral is a big ski resort during the winter, but during the summer the village is still open allowing visitors to take a ride to the top of the mountain on the lift or to hike up to Refugio Frey. According to Adam it would be a great mountain to snowboard, but owing to my very limited snowboarding experience which consisted of an hour long lesson with a guy named “Bear” where I learned to turn only to the right and two painfully long trips down the bunny hill where I perpetually toppled over while three year olds whizzed by me, I had to take his word for it. The first part of the hike was fairly tame—around the side of the mountain with Lago Gutierrez shimmering far down below. The second part was through a splendid forest where we came upon a mini refugio built under a colossal boulder. The last two kilometers were the toughest and consisted of steep, rocky inclines which I fought with as usual, but altogether it was a rather enjoyable and successful hike.

After crossing a small stream and scampering over one more rocky path, we arrived at the refugio. We were in a valley completely surrounded by rough, ragged peaks. On the valley floor sat a nondescript lake and a stunning meadow bursting with shades of green, red, and rusty orange. I looked up at the sky which happened to be a perfectly cloudless sky-blue with the moon still hovering above one of the peaks, and I thought about how amazing it would be to camp there and to see the stars through that gigantic funnel of rock. I was overpowered by a desire to stay. Places like these can truly make you comprehend just how minuscule we are. Carl Sagan described the earth as “a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam,” which means that each of us is just a tiny speck on that mote of dust. Standing there looking up at those peaks and out across that meadow I felt that small. And I didn’t find that at all disconcerting or discouraging. On the contrary, I found it exciting. To be a tiny speck living on a mote of dust in infinite space means that I will never run out of things like this to marvel at.

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