Monday, March 9, 2009

Ulaa, Chile

Sarah is taking a little break from the blog because she is muy muy ocupada, so I (Nick) will take charge for a bit. Don't expect to be brought to tears with my writing. I'll try my best.

Last week Sarah and I went to Ulaa, a resort/organic farm on the border of Chile and Argentina. If you can conjure up an image of the exact opposite of Buenos Aires, Ulaa is it. Clean, pristine, remote, chilly, and quiet - it was a perfect vacation from BA.

But, we felt like Lewis and Clark trying to get to this place. Allow me to give you a run down of our journey to Chile. I think this will probably take up this entire blog post.

We had to take a 20 hour bus ride (double decker) from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. Then after a brief layover, we took a slightly smaller bus, 3 hours south to Lago Puelo (near Bolson). Then we had to take a taxi from the bus station to the port of Lago Puelo. We arrived at the shore of a lake where we were instructed to seek out a Senor Claudio, a boatman. He was to take us, by boat, to the edge of Argentina, right on the border with Chile. Now, to me, this seemed hilariously ridiculous, that we had to find a specific man to take us to Chile, not a boat service, or a ferry, or anything resembling legitimacy.

But we did just that, asking dock workers for a Claudio. They assured us he existed, but was out on the boat and would return within an hour (mas o menos). So we took the time to relax near the lake, it had already been over a full day of traveling. It was cold, and there was a slight drizzle, but the blue lake surrounded by mountains on all sides was beautiful. We got some coffee to re-energize and went down to the water again to wait for Claudio. I'd be lying if I said that we weren't nervous - our hopes depended on this boatman, if he didn't appear we would be short out of luck. We had no backup plan, and it was getting dark.

But sure enough, a boat came after about an hour and a half, and Claudio was the driver. We asked if he could take us to Chile, to which he replied "today?" "Um, por favor," I think was our desperate response. Though, this didn't seem to be a problem for him. He asked if our papers were in order. We scratched our heads for a minute, but realized that the little trailer on the shore with the half-sleeping policeman was the customs "office." We scurried over to the RV, and we were quickly processed and returned to the boat. Hopping on the speed boat, we heard Claudio on the radio to Martin, who was our man at Ulaa. He was to pick us up in Chile (via another speed boat). The radio crackled and Claudio couldn't quite get through to Martin. He gave up, put the receiver down, smiled, and despite the lack of confirmation, we departed.

We zipped across the lack, bouncing on the wake. Sarah and I smiled at each other, laughing at the situation. We looked around in amazement. "Can you believe where we are?" We asked each other. Traveling on a speed boat, across a virgin blue lake in Patagonia, about to cross the border of Argentina into Chile. It was frigid, but beautiful and very awe-inspiring.

A series of rapids ahead of us assured that we could go no further. Claudio turned the boat towards the shore and we got off. "We walk from here." Puzzled, we picked up our bags and followed him. We headed up the hill and started walking. Crossing rocks and creeks along the way, Claudio lent us a helping hand, making sure we didn't fall into the creeks. We jumped from rock to rock, and teetered across logs that bridged the rushing water. We laughed at the absurdity of this. At one point we had to really leap from one rock, across a wide creek, to another rock. Claudio first, I followed. Sarah froze, "I can't!" "Yes, you can." "No, I can't!" "You can do it," Claudio encouraged her. Probably more out of pressure than confidence, Sarah jumped, and Claudio caught her hands and safely balanced her on the other side. She exhaled a huge sigh of relief. Sarah is pretty tough.

We walked for about 15 minutes and Claudio instructed us to sit. "OK, wait here. In about 10 minutes, a boat will arrive from down river to pick you up." Thinking we didn't translate his Spanish correctly, we stared blankly back at him. "Just wave your hands when you see the boat. OK?" Still a bit confused, but not wanting to sound like wimps, we said, "OK, perfect." Claudio smiled and said, "OK, see you next week." Before we could question what was about to happen, he turned to walk away. What kind of system was this? What if the boat didn't come, were we supposed to send out smoke signals? Remember how Claudio struggled to get through to Martin on the radio, to tell him to pick us up? Yeah, well, if Martin didn't hear on the other end, we would be stranded in Patagonian oblivion. "This boat better show up," I said.

Amazing. Like clockwork a boat whipped around the bend, from Chile, and pulled ashore. We hiked over across the rocks to meet it. A rugged mountain man set out to meet us halfway. We approached and he pointed to me, "Nick?" "Si!" And we shook hands. "Y Sarah?" "Hola Martin!" "Vamos!" We headed for the boat. We threw our bags on the little speed boat and climbed in. We were introduced to the boat driver, Claudio (No, seriously, his name was also Claudio. An Argentine Claudio took us by speedboat to meet a Chilean Claudio who picked us up, also by speedboat. I'm not making it up).

Our second boat journey began. It was getting dark by this point and in broken English Martin explained, "Yesterday, very nice day, but it rains, and today is frozened." We nodded and admired the utterly unbelievable scenery.

After about 15 minutes we approached the end of the lake, and an impressive cabin perched on the hill. Chilean Claudio switched off the motor and glided in towards the dock. Martin hopped onto the dock and turned around to help us. "Welcome to Ulaa."


Sara said...

I've been down there too, but just on the Chilean side of the border. It's beautiful.

Laura said...

Good job, Nick!
2 more posts and we´ll forget about! :)
See you on Sat.

Katie said...

Lewis and Clark - I'll say! Patagonia is indeed beautiful but remote. I hope you enjoyed your stay at Ulaa!

Bessie Julia said...

from the few pics, it looks beautiful. Hope you two are still doing well & having fun! We send hugs from the states. :)

Hira said...

What a story! I loved it -- and yes, Sarah is one tough cookie! :)