Monday, April 4, 2011

Three days in the Sierras

Reminding myself that one of the main reasons I studied in Cordoba was to visit the Sierras nearby, I finished classes Friday and hopped a bus for Villa Carlos Paz which is a resort town on a lake in the Sierras Chicas. It sort of reminded me of Palm Springs, or a mini Vegas, because it's got casinos, lots of shows, endless restaurants, vacation homes, kitschy tourist shops, etc. But also a big lake, which I enjoyed walking around.

Above is a typical Argentine vacation home, with the ubiquitous 'persianas', the wooden blinds that are basically on every apt or house window in Argentina. I'm guessing this is a Mediterranean thing, but I assume of Persian origin. It keeps things cool, but it also makes it dark! Above that is yet another Falcon. There are still tons of them here...and of course the green ones were notorious during the dictatorship as they were used by the secret police to kidnap people who were then disappeared. A visit from a green falcon was ominous to say the least, and Ford gave the Falcons to the government (cost of doing business was their defense, but it only reinforces what it's important to remember about corporations, which seem to continually prove the adage 'for evil to triumph, it's only necessary for good people to do nothing.' Corps seem to be a little more aggressive about doing nothing, other than maximizing profits, and if people are killed, well.... cost of doing business?)...On a lighter note, a staple of the Trebolian diet: (I favor the empanadas de verduras which are filled with fact I once made an allusion to Popeye, which in Castellano, unlike other foreign words which are usually just pronounced in the phonetics of their origin--wifi for example--is pronounced Po-pay-zhay :)

Palo borracho!
I hadn't planned on going to Capella del Monte, but everyone kept raving about it (often a reason not to visit something while traveling in my experience) but Capella del Monte delivered!

Many legends are attached to this mountain, including that it's the final resting place of the Holy Grail, and OVNIs (UFOs) are spotted here frequently. Just as is the case with Mt. Shasta, there are theories that there's an underground city peopled by aliens who will usher in the next age, etc. The little town at its base is full of the same types of folks as the town of Mt. Shasta and there are all kinds of shops with spirituality themes, massage, etc. I'm well known for my eye-rolling, but also am open to see what all the fuss is about and, as many of you know, I'm somewhat of a reluctant mystic. And I have to admit, this mountain did blow my mind. They call it the 'energia' and it's definitely present. Not only is the mountain beautiful, but there's something exhilirating about it experientially that's not explainable. It's a few miles from town and I luckily hooked up with some Argentine neopunk college guys and we shared a cab out to the  base, where they tell you it's a 7-hr roundtrip to the top. It was 12:30 as I'd missed the early bus, and my return bus was at 6, so I surrendered to the fact that I would likely not be able to get to the top. But once the exhiliration kicked in, I climbed it in 3 hours up and back (Isaac, Kelvin and Christian will understand as I've pulled this on them on Mt. Baldy and elsewhere. Luckily I was alone, so I didn't have to annoy anyone...que macho, que facho :) I've been feeling old and physically somewhat beat up of late, but I do still hike like an 18-year-old. Early on I nearly stepped on an enormous tarantula the size of my hand (and my hands are big). Yikes, I  hopped away and it chased me for like a foot before running off...que horroroso! as they say here. And they're venomous here, unlike the ones I see all the time in California, so maybe that explains all the exhiliration that got me up the mt so fast. Then again, people often have these 'animal' experiences in such places, so who knows. Capella is the strangest green color, sort of kiwi like my roommate's new kitchen...a very distinct and particular green. Like most of Argentina, it's mostly treeless with some squat little beeches or willows and lots of bunch grasses and shrubs. There were several groups of people, and oddly not a single foreigner, so it was just me and the Argentines, and it made me think about how much I like them generally. They're very spirited--the three neopunks were so nice and chatty, and the cab driver was cracking jokes as we bumped along the dirt road. On the bus ride up, I sat next to a 26-year-old policeman, Gabriel, who was the nicest guy, talking about his Polish grandmother and generally just being a regular young man who I'd never guess was a cop other than the shaved head. But like many cops here, he was totally hot, which sort of takes the edge off. And he was just 'open' like most people here are. It's like they're all relatives or something, it's quite sweet. They are definitely 'a people' like I haven't felt much in the US of late. They're always up for a good time, laughing at themselves, clowning around, being of assistance in a good humored way, very polite, always really polite in a casual way...they call you chico, joven, muchacho...they drive like maniacs, yet there is basically no road rage.. they use their horns in the way you're supposed to, just to alert others....some tourists get pissed off cuz they dont stop for crosswalks, they run redlights, etc..... it's a bit insane, and I really worry about kids and old people as I'm sure bad things all seems very Italian as I recall from Florence and Rome years back, but maybe it's just Mediterranean in general. Yet it's like once you just sort of let go of the whole who's-in-the-right, it all just sort of flows in its fucked up, oh-well way. Argentinos just seem to know how to enjoy life regardless of how screwed up it is. Many people here are frustrated as is easy to understand with the economic and political problems of the last century, which still resonate. But there are tons of cafes and it's like people just shrug their shoulders and say 'what'll you have?' Good cheer is a strength as is the ability to live for today, even if it might sometimes be a little fatalistic. I know this is all anecdotal and I don't want to go too far out on a limb here--one Argentine told me it's because you never know what the peso will be worth tomorrow, so spend it today--but back home it seems like the most common thing to have numerous conflicts each day about who is or isn't in the right, who is or is not respecting you, etc., who didn't use a signal, who didn't say thank you--there's something stubbornly inhuman and hateful about it. I only feel its echo here when I'm really tired or in a huge hurry, so maybe that is the actual key to the whole thing. Or maybe it's our legalistic, lawyered-up society or our endless effort to create a more perfect union (American idealism is admirable to me in many ways), but perfectionists are unhappy. I know that there is terrible corruption here, grinding, really 3rd world poverty in the villas (slums) that surround this and most cities, so I'm not saying they have it right, but whatever the case, they have something very right on a social level that we are REALLY missing. Below, a bad photo, but it shows you a family of cartoneros (people who pick through the trash for cardboard, bottles, etc...see my earlier entry from BsAs) from the villas who appear each night, many like this family that use a horse and cart to get around.
But there isn't the shame associated with poverty here and people are generally very nice to people hocking stuff at cafes (pens, lighters, etc.) in a way I don't see back home. No one honks at the cartoneros. Again, they're all Argentines on some level and they support each other in these little, but constant ways. Someone asked me:  is Argentina a third world country or what? Of course, it isn't, but parts of it are.....Second world? No, it's first world in a lot of ways....I sort of felt like that scene in Chinatown when Jack Nicholson is slapping Faye Dunaway's face asking: Is she your daughter or your sister?....and with each slap, Faye responds...daughter...sister...daughter..sister....its the same here: 1st world...second, third....first...third ...second.....Like Faye, it's all of's Chinatown,Jake.
Anyway, I feel very welcome here, and they welcome you everywhere in a very sincere manner. Old men pat me on the back, kids make faces--or stare, cuz blue eyes are very strange and otherworldly here--all the handsome young men and pretty women smile and have ZERO attitude here and they're all dropdead beautiful, which is what I thought created attitude. It doesn't apparently and that's wonderful to see :)
So, did I get off the point, or what? Back to the mountain. When I reached the top, there were a bunch of people sitting very quietly while a handsome guy strummed a guitar and a beautiful girl sang in a high voice the opening bars to Four Non-Blonde's "What's Up" ....."25 years and my life is still/ trying to get up that great big hill/of hope/for a destination....'ll need to change that to "48 years and my life is still..." to get the full effect as I felt it :)
It was weird, because it was in English and they were all Argentine, and other than pop songs they don't speak English.....and the band is from San Francisco....and the air was still and everyone was just rapt and the mts spread out all around us. And we all just sat there while they played and sang...and then everyone clapped. And like I often feel on a mountain, I was home. It was one of those weird little peak moments...the song mentions 'brotherhood of man' in a clearly more cynical way, but that was the feeling for this extranjero.
Life is subjective, alright? And even though it was an American--excuse me "Estadounidense"-- song, one never feels that horrible imperialistic feeling one gets from McDonalds or Coke when it's a song. Music is borderless and 'shared' and it brings people together generally. And then this beautiful girl jumped up and asked me to take her picture and could she take mine, and she was the usual really friendly stunning-looking Argentine girl, and I was about ready to turn hetero and ask her to come with me to Chile and write poems and eat empanadas and lose ourselves in Spanish and I could play the guitar and she could sing...but just then the three 20-year-old satyrs who'd been trailing me up the path crested the peak, and this time shirtless--and let me quote Isaac: "Mother of God"--and that little hetero thought was way gone way macho, ni facho, ni hetero.
I had to head back down as my time was scarce, so I thanked the guitarist and the singer and down I went, blissed out, reveling in how much I love mts--many of you know my favorite thing to do is backpacking in the Sierras--and I realized I really only feel at home on a mountain. Like really, really. So for maybe the first time, I was home in Argentina and that was nice. For now this is home...and I'm leaving in a day! I met more characters on the way down, including a beet-red sunburned dude who I offered my sunscreen to, but who in response, laughed and said 'acostumbrado', which means his skin is accustomed to it....hmm, really..... but he grinned so big, what could I was an Argentinism sure thing. Finally, I reached the bottom and crossed the little suspension bridge over the river.... there were 3 little kids running back and forth, and I got my belt loop caught on the handrail to endless peels of laugher courtesy of the tikes....truly a clown moment. In the parking lot, I grabbed a different taxi and this guy was great, a Salteno, going on and on about food and fernet and how you didn't have to drink it with coke...coke is bad for you..drink it with soda. I had a few hours to burn back in town and it was siesta, so the town was dead...just perros callejeros, groups of teenagers and young skateboarders, and a few cafes open. So I sat back and enjoyed a bottle of Quilmes and watched the little town slowly come back to life around 5. The taxi drove by once and honked and waved....I already have a friend in town :)
Speaking of the youth, I just have to mention these rasta have them, sort of like those rat tails from the 80s...but these are singly dred locks, and usually off to one side of the head., never right in the middle like a rat tail...they can be 4 to 8 inches long..the rest of the haircut is normal...although some have multiple rasta tails. Sometimes it's like a mullet of rastas, but not quite as they have those sort of Euro soccer haircuts that are more graceful than the mullet could ever hope to be. OK, a digression, and I couldn't get a photo as it's obviously awkward....and I cant find one on google....I'll keep trying and maybe I'll meet a rasta cola dude to photograph....
So.....after a hellishly long bus ride back to Cordoba (the return is always awful no matter how you do it), during which I met another Gabriel to practice Spanish with--he deals in antique toys--I stumbled home to bed as I had yet another mt hike planned for Sunday.
Me and Fede headed up to Los Gigantes which had been in my head for weeks--we got rained out one weekend, and then the strike nixed the next one--so I'd developed a lot of anticipation. These are the hikes I always go for...somewhere way out that's hard to get to where there will be hardly anyone....Sure enough, Los Gigantes was just that and the pictures tell the story better than I could....

This Indian lady had a little cafe out there in the middle of nowhere. Her father had been the original guide in the area, so she'd stayed and raised her son there as well who's now about 20. She served us empanadas and coffee (or me anyway...Fede insists that Argentines never drink coffee with empanadas) while Argentine folk music played in the background... Below is her place in a little grove of trees behind us as we headed up the trail.....

A gladiator moment, as we came to call them....As you'll recall in the film Gladiator, after the gladiator dies he walks through Elysian fields... with his hand out and brushing through the wheat as he heads toward his lost family. This bunch grass was incredible and all over the place.

Those of you who have hiked with me know I always like to take a dip, no matter how cold, and this was the spot.

As you can see, the skies darkened, and we were battered by a hail storm before making it back to Felipa's for more empanadas and cafe. All in all, a lovely day in the mountains, where one forgets what country one came from, what country one is in and who one is. A lovely experience......
Waiting for the bus back.....Thanks Fede for being my guide and friend in Cordoba :)

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