We left El Bolson saying, “peace out, hippies” as we boarded our bus for the seven hour journey north to San Martin de los Andes. We both woke up that day with colds, which I blame on our dirty airbnb apt and I’m pretty sure I also had a mild fever. With that said, the bus was comfortable and our seats were on the upper level so we had great views of the Andes and lots of blue mountain lakes.
I slept most of the way (as I do), but Harry poked me awake when a national guard and his drug-sniffing dog got on board. It was pretty crazy to see a twenty-something guy being escorted off the bus. Everyone was murmuring, wondering what would happen to him. Twenty minutes later he got back on board with a shit-eating grin and the bus continued on. It was obviously his lucky day.
San Martin de los Andes
San Martin is a truly lovely and picturesque mountain town sitting at the foot of the Andes on the beautiful Lake Lacar. Argentinians from all over flock to San Martin for outdoor activities like snow skiing, hiking and water sports. We were going to stay for three days but ended up doubling our time there since being sick slowed us way down. We needed time to rest before we could venture out and explore.
Oxen and Geese
One sunny afternoon we hiked up a dry and dusty trail for a bird’s-eye view of San Martin and Lake Lacar. The trail wound its way through land of the Mapuche, one of the aboriginal people of Patagonia. We were almost to the top when heard a chainsaw, and as we got closer we heard a man yelling. We weren’t sure what was going on but it soon became clear. There was a Mapuche man cutting timber and he had two large oxen loaded up with a huge log. The trio was wedged into the mountainside above us on a steep hill preparing to advance onto the narrow trail. They were about to come our way so we took off running, seriously worried that we might get trampled.
We made it to safety, totally out of breath, when we saw a couple of hikers coming down the mountain. Using broken Spanish and lots of hand gestures we tried to explain the danger that loomed just a short way down the trail. Looking completely confused the woman asked if we spoke English. Ha! We retold the story using English and went on our way.
A short time later we reached the top of the trail. We heard some boys whooping and hollering and saw a dust storm ahead. What now, we wondered? We were still feeling edgy from the oxen incident. All of a sudden a gaggle of panicked geese ran our way, desperately trying to escape from the boys who were chasing them. Our hearts were racing and I about died laughing at Harry as he screamed and jumped out of the way.
On the way back down the mountain we saw a pile of logs and remarked that the man and his oxen had been busy. We kept our eyes and ears open, hoping to see them in action. Sure enough, we heard him yelling and saw dust rising down the path. We were a little apprehensive about hiking down but the man yelled out for us to pass by. The trio was about to embark back up the trail with another log.
We were amazed to witness the antiquated logging technique that used oxen, yolks and chains. This was practically a scene right out of “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When they laboriously started moving up the path I turned around to take a picture. Just then the log slipped and careened down on top of the black ox’s back leg, causing both oxen to bellow and stomp. The man was the Oxen Whisperer as he calmed them down and coaxed them into motion back up the trail.
A highlight of our time in San Martin was connecting with my friend Tara’s family. Her brother Ron and his Argentinian wife Vanessa have lived in both San Martin and Montana for over 15 years. They own and operate Chocolate Lab Expeditions, a fly fishing company. Their two beautiful kids are bilingual. Tara’s parents happened to be in town visiting so they had us over for dinner. We laughed as we exchanged funny stories about life in Argentina. Such a great night!