Monday, January 7, 2008

Two Filthy Kids, One Erupted Volcano, and New Years on the Mountain

Luis's appreciative social skills do not include sharing nature with anyone who isn't family or friends. He's grumpy if he knows there are other campers anywhere within shouting range. I understand his distate for crowded campgrounds; I, too, would rather stay home than sleep in a tent twenty feet from somebody's stereo. Luis's needs, though, are more extreme: he doesn't even want to see anyone. Just nature, please (or rather, nature, damnit!)

Which is why Calfuqueo, the Echenique way-off-the-map campsite, is such a blessing. Five hours from Neuquen, and then ten miles along a sort-of-a-road, up into the mountains, across a few streams and a bit of mud, and we are there. Most people wouldn't attempt the drive, even with a 4 x 4, given that if you got stuck it would take hours to walk to the main road, but Ruben seems to like the adventure of off-roading with his low-to- the gound, front wheel drive Ford Escort. He has been camping here for years, braving the terrain in all sorts of inappropriate cars.

The place is stunning, and a long, long way from the nearest neighbor. Four very crudely constructed shelters perch on a hill; a five minute walk along a path is a lovely little mountain lake; a one minute path takes you down to a stream, for our drinking water. This is the summer camp of goat herder friends of Ruben's, who, back in the 80's, invited him for a visit. As picturesque as it is, I have a hard time imagining three months sleeping in these "shelters", with only goats for company.

On this camping trip, we are armed with: an astounding quantity of food (on the fifth day, Ana was still bringing out the good stuff. It was bottomless!); borrowed tents in various states of disrepair (thank God for tape. Lots of it); an assortment of blankets and sleeping bags, (which had seemed like plenty for everyone, but a few of us ended up sleeping with our coats on anyway.) And of course, the essentials of any Argentine camping trip: lots of meat, and a few good knives.

Our crew traveled in two cars, and consisted of: One Argentine father-in-law (good ole' Ruben, Lucas' tent mate); my sister-in-law bar owner/scriptwriter (Ana); a friend from Buenos Aires, who looked as good on the fifth day in the mountains as she did on the first (Iliana); one enthusiastic husband who was everywhere doing everything at all times (guess who); one very independent two year old who's filth level, and the inability to stay clean longer than 10 seconds reminded me of Pig Pen from "Peanuts"; her four year old brother, almost as dirty, who spent much of his time "designing" trains in the dirt (Lucas' has been on this train theme for the last two months. His singleminded-ness is truly astonishing); and one, upper class Mexican boyfriend (Ana's) who had never been camping before. Fero, (Mexican boyfriend) we could tell, wasn't used to the mundanities of cooking, cleaning, etc, but he was so affable we didn't hold it against him. And me, the mom, who's main concern was keeping the kids from getting lost in the forest. Which did happen to Lucas, by the way, in a five minute lapse in which I was busy with Maite and no one else was around. The worst twenty minutes of my life, believe me.

During the days we took hikes, some short and one very long (kids stayed back at the camp --thanks Tia Ana), played in the lake, which was marvelous fun for everyone, especially Lucas and Maite. They were naked little nymphs, splashing in the water, screaming and laughing, flittering along (Lucas flits; Maite "chugs" ) the shore. We ate a lot, drank enormous amounts of mate, played card games, sat around the fire late into the night, played with the kids, roasted meat, drank lots of beer. Put more tape on splintered and abused tent poles, shifted tent sites to escape zealous ants, hauled more water from the creek, changed poopy diapers, tried to keep Maite and Lucas from taking off their shoes. You know, camp stuff.

On New Years' Eve, we drove down the mountain, to a little town where Luis's friends own a cabin. "Rustic" is an appropriate word, here. We still had to haul water, and squat furtively behind trees, but at least we had a roof, a cook stove, and eating utensils. Matching plates, even. It was there we toasted in the New Year, with an abundance of food and grog.

Ana, Fero, Iliana, and Ruben left the next day, to tour a bit in Southern Argentina and Chile, and our little family of four was alone once more. We stayed several more days --Moquehue (the little town) and Lake Alumine is so lovely and green, and the cabin is so comfortable (and free), we are reluctant to leave. As we are driving out of town, on the last day, we learned on the radio that a nearby volcano had erupted, just over the border, in Chile. Unaware of the "danger", we had spent that day hiking. No wonder the town had seemed so eerily quiet.

This was the biggest camping trip I've even been on, in terms of number of people, and days out. Unique, too, that the Echenique family, across two hemispheres, could be together. Not a bad way to spend the last few days of 2007, and the beginning of 2008. So Happy New Year to all my readers; may it be a year of promise and adventure for all of you. It will be for us.