There isn’t much I can do about my missing stuff – it clearly isn’t here at the aerodrome – so I return to the path and keep heading south. I cross a bridge as the Kiwi couple on bikes pull out of sight, taking a left at a fork in the road. When I reach the fork I see what might be a house or a barn or something down the right. I have no clue what I’m doing but I try a Hail Mary and head right.
It’s a house with a few horses and chickens around. As I round the corner I see the tractor, Damien and Hendrik, and all our shit in a pile. Ohhhh man. Relief washes over me, the sick feeling immediately leaves my guts and is replaced by a bun with salami and cheese in it, offered to me by Damien. They’re perplexed that I missed the part of the conversation where the guy told us to get our bags at the house just past the aerodrome. I can’t really explain it but it doesn’t matter now, I’m just so glad to see my shit, especially my tent and sleeping bag.
I don’t see Ricardo anywhere but apparently he’d been there a few minutes before and had agreed to take all of our stuff to the boat via horseback. The guys are chillaxed – we can definitely cover the last 9 km in 2.5 hours – and I follow suit. We don’t see Ricardo anywhere but we leave our bags in situ and head back out onto the trail.
The trail ascends again, but not as steep as the first time, and the surface is a lot better for walking. Not far past the 16-KM marker I hear Damien (in the lead) give out a whoop. Twenty seconds later I see why.
There’s a corresponding sign on the Chilean side and this drilling-platform-looking-thing indicating the true demarcation:
We put Hendrik’s camera on a tree stump, set a timer and get a group pic in front of the Argentina sign. I’ll post it in a update when I get it from him.
The trail changes immediately from a well-surfaced, vehicle-traversible road to a true woods path, so much so that as I lead the way Damien asks “Are you sure this is the path?” There’s no surfacing at all, just a lack of vegetation and mud. There are a lot of short ups-and-downs and we have to slow down and watch our step, trying not to bail.
Not only has the trail changed but the vegetation has as well. It’s more lush and the trees are absolutely covered in lichen, which is strange because I was always under the impression that as the Argentinian side of the border was approached things would become more arid. There are even little patches of marshy-looking terrain here and there.
Streams no longer run through culverts but directly over the trail. Waterproof boots FTW. Soon the streams are the trail. Mostly I can just trudge through but in a few places I throw down some fancy footwork to jump from rock to rock.
We catch up to the Kiwis and a group of bikers coming the other way as the terrain is turning seriously marshy. The other group tells us we’ve got a few river crossings ahead (uhhh, what?) and then the last three kilometers or so are all downhill. We quickly say thanks and good luck and keep on going.
Previously there had been some streams over the trail where someone had thrown down a few logs to make it easier, but they weren’t really necessary. At the end of the marshy section was a ~2 meter wide, fast-flowing stream. Shit, do we have to take off our boots and walk through this? It’s gonna be cold and it looks like we’ll be just about up to our knees. The bikers did it, I suppose. Then we notice a single log down across the stream, looks thick enough to hold a person. Damien quickly runs across and Hendrik and I follow. Nothing to her.
We repeat this a few more times but they’re easier – instead of a single log there are two or more, so we can leverage each foot on the inside of two separate logs, basically just strolling across at a pace not much slower than we were walking. Then we reach a bit of a more serious crossing – it’s deep, wide, and there’s only really one log; there are a few smaller ones but they prove to be rotten and therefore useless. Damien goes first and crosses without issue. I go next and it’s the same. Hendrik follows last and he makes it across as well. I take a pic while H is making his way across:
The water doesn’t look that deep but that’s a testament to how clear the streams are here. You can clearly make out stones at six feet of depth and more.
We head up one or two more short climbs and then the trail starts to descend quickly. Shit, there’s the lake! One more (easy, two-logged) river crossing. We hit a clearing and we can see the Argentinian border post and the boat below. The trail turns really steep and slick now, we have to slow down despite our excitement. It’s about 4:15 and it’s right there though, we’re in the clear so it doesn’t matter.
A real bridge – intact and with real lumber – comes into view and we know we’ve made it. The Argentinian gendarmes’ horses are grazing nearby when the building comes into view. Shit yeah! Only 4:30 too. I’m sore, tired, sweaty and maybe a little dehydrated but we made it!
Take a quick look at the lake, sweet looking boat with a spacious interior, pat the dogs that are roaming around (even here, at a lonely border post), try not to step on the chickens running around underfoot. The officers temper our excitement as we storm in: one person at a time for passport stamps, fellas. I’m looking around… Where’s our stuff?
As I walk past a window I hear a bang on the glass. I look in to see the passport stamper, both Damien and Hendrik, and Ricardo in the room. Ricardo has his hands up in a “Huh?” gesture while D and H both have looks of disbelief on their face. Immediately I know this isn’t good and I feel my heart sinking.