It was time to leave Bueños Aires for the mountains and Patagonia Run 2019. After an hour-long taxi ride and a two-hour wait at the airport, we were glad to get out of the city and see some Andes.
On the plane to Bariloche, John had the pleasure of sitting in front of a young boy in high spirits. He expressed his enthusiasm by kicking John’s seat, putting the tray-table up and down and making sounds I’ve only ever heard before in cartoons. Every now and then he yelled, “OH MY GA!”
Argentina seems very flat. At first it was like an ironed patchwork quilt—squares and rectangles of farmland in different shades of green. Then it was all unfenced and brown with white splotches. After a couple of hours the land started to wrinkle up and form mounds. Just as we caught sight of Lake Nahuel Huapi, though, something happened to distract us from the view.
The plane, you see, did a zoomie. That is, it put on a sudden spurt of speed for no apparent reason. I have flown in other planes and they didn’t do that. John and I exchanged a glance. The boy yelled, “Yeehaa!”
A few moments later the pilot made a rather breathless announcement in Spanish.
“He says he had to abort the first landing because of a warning,” John translated.
“Oh,” I said.
The plane flew around for a bit longer. Everyone was subdued. The plane descended towards earth again and I couldn’t help feeling it was going a bit quickly.
“Wow!” yelled the boy as he saw the lake up close. As the plane hurtled toward the runway, our little friend was thrilled and egged it on with a hearty, “Arriba!”
There was a ‘thunk’ and the plane seemed to take a long time to slow down, but otherwise the landing seemed to have been successful. There were no flames or explosions. The passengers all burst into heartfelt applause. This stimulated the boy to whoop and clap as loudly as he could (which was very loudly).
Bariloche airport looked like somebody’s house. Not having any check-in luggage, we zipped through it and hailed a taxi. The taxi driver drove very slowly to the wrong hotel and charged three times as much as a Buenos Aires driver would for the same distance, but we got there in the end.
The town was lovely, on the edge of the big, shimmering mysterious lake. It smelled like pinesap and woodsmoke and was populated by a lot of fat stray dogs, each one of which seemed to sleep in front of its own particular shop. The town’s main specialty seemed to be chocolate and in fact it was having a chocolate festival, clearly meant to coincide with the Easter tourist rush.
We got up at seven and took a taxi to the bus station, where we had breakfast of café con leche and churros filled with dulce de leche (which is sometimes translated as ‘milk jam’).
The bus ride to San Martin de Las Andes took four hours. It was chilly outside and I had to keep wiping condensation off the window to see the view: dry hills covered with jagged rocks, funny round little tussocks, big bright blue lakes and a couple of beautiful rivers.
The onboard entertainment was En Las Estrellas (Up Among the Stars) about an alcoholic movie director and Aquaman about a muscly merman. Both were pretty watchable though I couldn’t follow the dialogue (the latter had been dubbed into Spanish).
Just when I’d lost all feeling in my legs, we arrived in San Martin de Las Andes, a pretty town nestled between hills and sitting on the shore of Lake Lagar. The shops all had log-cabin facades, doing up the ‘mountain lodge’ theme, but at the same time they were pretty expensive (we later saw a jacket for sale for 33,000 pesos, which is equivalent to US$783!!!). The streets were planted with roses having their autumn bloom, and there was a big rose dell in the park near the lake. I thought this was a good omen, because roses run in my family.
We were both exhausted and a bit grumpy but I managed to get to race HQ to collect my race pack. When I told the registration official I spoke English, she directed me to a tall, sunburnt guy named Tim. “He is Australian. He will be able to help you,” she smiled.
“Nah, I don’t speak Kiwi,” he deadpanned, which was how I knew he was Australian.
Tim apprised me of the basics. I asked him if he lived here and he said he did. He’d been backpacking around South America and while hitchhiking had been picked up by a local girl. One thing led to another and he’d been here ‘in Paradise’ for ten years.
That evening John and I had a pretty good pizza and ravioli at Bar Del Pueblo, which was packed with other customers wearing running T-shirts and carrying race packs.
I woke up at 8 to a cold, misty morning. After a quick coffee downstairs, I walked a couple of blocks to the briefing session for the marathon. When I arrived the hall was half filled–there were about two hundred people there.
Several people in the meeting had special maté mugs and were sipping the mixture through their metal straws. Every now and then they topped it up with hot water from a thermos. Maté is something Argentines really drink, which constantly surprises me. I wonder why it hasn’t caught on in other parts of the world.
The man delivering the briefing was the race organizer. He was clearly a good speaker and a charismatic person. I didn’t understand anything he said but gathered from the pictures on the slideshow that there was going to be a lot of wind and that we shouldn’t litter. The only English word of the speech came at the end: ‘Thanks’. Everyone clapped and ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ came blasting over the speakers.
Thinking about the ‘muchos vientos’, I decided I probably needed a thermal top so John and I went looking for one in town. This done, we stopped into a café called ‘Unser Traum’ and did some serious carb loading.
Now for some sleep…hasta mañana!