I’ve slept in – oh shit! I’d set an alarm on my Chromebook but had the volume turned down too low to hear. I scramble to throw all of my shit in my bag, tie up my tent & sleeping bag bindle, strap everything together and run down to the plaza.
I get there with time to spare and there are several other passengers waiting to load on. Two young moms with toddlers, one tough looking hombre, a couple of 20-something chicks, two gringos I know are gringos because I’d heard them speaking French the other night at the restaurant, one probably my age, the other an older fellow, and a 40-something-looking guy who looks German. The bus has a very small trunk that’s already filled with parcels so all of our bags go on the roof with the two spare tires, wrapped up in a tarp and bungee-strapped down.
Outside of town the road almost immediately turns to a dusty, narrow dirt track. As is the case with every other road I’ve been on for the last several weeks, the scenery’s fantastic. Again, rivers, snowcapped peaks, pristine forests.
Once in a while we have to stop for roadcows, usually not far from the occasional homestead. A neat contrast is present with rustic, making up the fences, sheds and often the houses, and large arrays of solar panels. It might be their only electricity – there’s no grid here, the power lines stopped at the edge of town.
The road twists and winds, following the river, only to cross over then follow the river back. Probably not making much distance as the crow flies despite driving pretty fast, this bus driver is ballin the jack. The views are spectacular but as was the case the other day, trying to take pics from a bus on a bumpy road with dirty windows is very, very tricky. The best I can do…
After following the river for a while, we turn inland, but not before a piss and smoke break at an intersection. Unfortunately it’s probably the least photogenic place we could’ve stopped. Talk to the German-looking dude – he is in fact German, and he’s trying to get to a flight out of Buenos Aires in a week, trying to cross the same route I am but *needs* to get out of VoH by Wednesday or else he’ll likely miss his flight. While we’re talking we’re being assaulted by massive horseflies… Not as many as the other day, but seemingly way bigger.
Back on the bus, lots of the flies have gotten on as well. The younger French dude is using the curtains to trap and slaughter them. I tag team up on them and we start shooting the shit. He’s been traveling for five months and was planning to keep going but is homesick with Christmas coming up so he’s trying to get into Argentina (also via the backdoor) and then book it to France.
Half an hour drive further we reach a sign that says “Zona Urbana” – what the heck? Can’t be VoH already, it’s still early, and I didn’t think there were any other towns. A sign indicates it’s Puerto Yungay, and after seeing about 20 buildings (a third of which are dilapidated) we hit the end of town, a boat ramp. Sweet, I didn’t know there was a boat either. I’m not really researching much these days though, just going for it.
There’s a small cafe, grab a cappuchino and wait for the boat – can see it off in the distance. I proceed to the boat ramp and eventually all four of our Gringo Squad is kicking it on the ramp. The fourth squad member, a middle-aged guy, is from France as well. I don’t really catch his story though – unlike the other two guys he doesn’t speak English, and since my French sucks we communicate in broken Spanish. At one point we’re all trying to interact and in a succession of about three sentences we include German, Spanish, French and English, and somehow I think we all understand what just happened.
The vehicles load onto the ferry then passengers are allowed on. I quickly climb to the highest point I can and start taking pics. A few minutes out into the water the sounds of a car horn going off come from the town – a large truck has missed the boat and the driver’s apparently pissed. Surprisingly, our boat turns around, re-docks and lets him board.
As we disembark and get back on the road, it appears we’ve picked up some new people and the ride has become uncomfortably tight, so I figure it’s a good time to grab a few zzzs. When I wake up the scenery yet again blows my mind, and yet again I can’t do it justice with pics. The mountainside to the right of the bus transforms into a series of large, jagged “steps”, like mini-escarpments, each with dozens of waterfalls cascading from the snow and ice above. At one point I manage to count thirty waterfalls in my field of vision at once. Around the next corner I don’t even make an attempt – I might as well try to count the number of hairs on my head.
The rugged-looking dude talks to the bus driver up ahead and gets him to pull over at a small dirt path. He heads down the path and a few minutes later comes out with a chain saw. About twenty minutes later he talks to the bus driver again, gets off and heads down a tiny trail up a mountainside with a backpack and the saw. I can’t see any sign of civilization in any direction. Pretty badass.
We have another piss/smoke break overlooking a lake, maybe Lake “Cisno” or something along those lines? It’s alright but the mosquitoes are a menace, chewing me up in no time flat, and I’ve left my bug dope in my bag, still wrapped up in the roof-tarp. The younger French guy is a smoker so I try to stand close to him, hoping the mozzies don’t like smokes. I think it sort of works.
A sign announces our arrival into VoH very shortly after. This is a *very* small town, but it looks like half of the town consists of guesthouses, hostals and tourist companies, so we should have no problem finding places to stay or things to do. On our way to the “centro” we pass the Robinson Crusoe company’s offices, the company that operates the boat that is so pivotal to the next border crossing. It looks closed right now but we’ll try again tomorrow.
Loading off the boat, the German guy refers to his Lonely Planet and finds that a place called El Mosco is the best place to stay in town – campsites, dorms and private rooms to choose from. The entire Gringo Squad hoofs it over there and we grab dorm beds, with the exception of the older French guy, who decides to look around town to see what else is available. I still don’t know these guys’ names, but we’ve decided to undertake the border crossing together.
Back at the Mosco we’re all chilling on our electronic devices for a while and then the young French dude is talking food and I’m down. Neither of the older guys are around so we bounce and walk 10 minutes up the dirt road to a little restobar that has one dish to choose from – a three-course meal of salad, lamb and flan for about $12. With a beer it comes out to $16. Pricier than I’d prefer with limited funds in my pocket and no access to an ATM but the options are limited here. It’s not half-bad either.
On the way to the cafe I find out the name of the young French dude – Philippe. I also mention that I love this town and ask him what he hears… He says “nothing”.. That’s right. No dogs. He keels over laughing, “Holy shit, you’re right!” I fucking love this town already.
We run into German dude (who I soon find out is named Hendrik) on our way back to the ranch and he’s wondering what’s up for dinner. Shit dude, sorry man. We just ate without you. He went for a hike up to the mirador and was nowhere to be found when we bounced. Meet later for drinks though.
Me and Phil grab a 2-liter box of wine and take a couple of seats on the west porch of the hostel with about 10 other tourists, to drink, be contemplative and wait for the sunset. As the mozzies pick up most people head in but we ramp it up and Hendrik joins us for a glass or two. The fourth member of our Gringo Squad comes back to the ranch and finds us too, but he’s kind of a dick. It turns out he CAN speak English (I overhear him speaking English to Hendrik while I’m coming out from the kitchen), but as I hear him explaining to Philippe he just doesn’t WANT to, for reasons I don’t quite grasp. Our lingua franca shifts from English to Spanish and since Philippe and I are worse at Spanish than English, our understanding of the whole situation drops significantly.
Old French dude bolts (he’s turning around back north early in the morning – it sounds like a tent will be required for this trip and he doesn’t have one) and Hendrik also calls it a night. I’m going for a walk, maybe to find more booze but maybe just to walk. I do find a smidgen more hooch but I leave it uncracked, keep walking for a while regardless. I run into someone on a dark black sidewalk and it’s Phil on the same wavelength. See you back at the hacienda.
I’m chilling on the steps and Phil shows up, a couple more drinks and discuss our trips and trips we’d like to take in the future. I mention my hope to walk the Way of St. James at some point and it turns out that was how he started his trip, walking from his home in Alsace and over the Pyrenees to the northwest of Spain. Unreal, super jealous. We stay up a bit longer but cut it off not long after.