Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Our final days in Patagonia

By morning the rain and sleet had stopped but the wind was still quite fierce. As I took Winston for his morning walk, I could see that the snow level in the surrounding mountains and on the volcano was considerably lower and I hoped we would have no problems with leaving. We also make a stop at the capilla and while Winston remained on the steps under an overhang sheltered from the wind, I checked out the inside. It is a simple wooden building with long, low beams supporting the ceiling. The pews were wooden and hard – no padding here for kneeling. In lieu of stained glass windows depicting religious scenes there were only a few pictures nailed into the wood. A single light bulb hanging from a wire was the only light source. A small altar with a crucifix behind it dominate one end and beside it a small table covered with pictures of saints and candles which people had lit as they knelt and prayed. Beside that lay a basket of unlit candles and a box for donations. The only sound came from the wind as it whistled through gaps in the wood planks and the noise from the rain hitting the roof overhead. It was possibly one of the most simple of chapels I had ever entered yet as I knelt the underlying feeling of peace permeated me. Just a few minutes later a woman entered and moved quickly to the side table. She lit a candle and placed it beside the faded photograph of an old man. She then turned to me and with tears streaming down her face, she said something rapidly in Spanish and in a dialect I couldn’t follow as she gently touched the face of the old man. I have no idea who the man was, why she was crying or what she said but her grief was palpable. She beckoned me over to here and I moved to her side. I took her hand and together we knelt and prayed while she wept. Then still crying, she squeezed my hand and with a quick smile and a simple “Gracias, senora”, she left. It was time for me to leave also as I could hear Winston restlessly moving around when the door opened. With a last look at the photo of the old man, I left to collect a suddenly exuberant dog and the short walk back up the hill to the campground. We packed up, said goodbye to the campground manager and with one more quick drive through the town and past the steaming outdoor pools, we were on our way. As we descended into Caviahue, the huge Pampa which surrounds the lake and town was again glowing in autumn splendor and the volcano was enthusiastically puffing away. Luck was with us in that the sun was out and the wind had completely died down, leaving the lake like mirrored glass as it reflected the mountains and nearby volcano. We stopped and parked on the outskirts of town and Tom grabbed the camera. “I’ll be back in about 30 minutes “he told me and took off across the road and down the embankment to the lake. Winston and I were satisfied just clamoring around the plateau and checking out a group of sheep and some birds. When Tom returned he was pleased with his efforts. The photos of the volcano mirrored by the lake were truly spectacular showing the huge plumes of smoke drifting into the air and across the lake. Once on paved road it was an easy drive back to Las Lajas where we spent the night again. The following day, found us back on Route 40 heading north. We are now at the northern end of the province of Neuquen, the final province in Argentina that defines the Patagonia region. Route 40, true to form is paved in parts and then with little warning turns into a gravel and dirt track, and this is a major artery to much of Argentina. As the sun was starting to set, we finally arrived at the small hamlet of Bardes Blancas. The campground was barely more than a piece of dirt secured by a wire fence, attached to a restaurant but it is all we need. We are now in the province of Mendoza. Grapes and olive oil. Tomorrow we will be in the city of San Rafael. Wine country. Ah, yes!

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