Sunday, July 25, 2010

Week 6 – Life goes on in Patagonia

Matt and John walking home from work in ever decreasing snow

Like a clump of hoodies at a shopping mall, the snow here at Lake Diserto is still hangin’, but like blaring classical music this week’s combination of warmer temperatures, sunshine and rain has made some progress towards shooing it away.

Gauchos on their way up the valley, dogs in tow
Photo Graham Laing

It seems that life in Patagonia goes on in spite of the adverse conditions. The traverse we are building intersects a horse trail regularly trafficked by farmers aboard the ultimate of all terrain steeds; horses. With four legs to balance on, the horses are unfazed by unstable rocks or a metre of snow, plodding up gnarly slopes without a neigh of discontent. It was on a frosty Tuesday morning when we first met a trio of caballo riding granjeros or gauchos heading up the valley. Clad in llama chaps, ponchos and baseball caps, we conversed briefly in our best spanglish, discussing the snow, cold and their horses.

Only yesterday we saw a lone rider head up the valley, returning a few hours later with a motley herd of sheep in varying states of woolliness. Herding them down from the valley to greener pastures, the sheep unfortunately chose our carefully crafted track down the hillside, rendering it a muddy mess. While the damage was a bit disheartening it looks to be a one off and once the winter is over the racks should dry out and become a bit more durable for hooven traffic.

While Patagonian farmers ride horses, our recent supply deliveries have been getting to the lodge aboard a Unimog. Big tires and high ground clearance make this the mechanical equivalent of a horse, and the decrepit state of this specimen would prompt us to call the SPCA were it actually not inanimate.

Unimog in all her glory

With a bonnet strapped on with a bike tube, spouting pipe for a snorkel and scabs of rust on chassis and body this ‘mog has clearly seen some miles. Despite her age, the ‘mog still ploughed through the rivers and snow to the lodge with ease, only a low growl from her diesel engine giving an indication of the effort required. While food and supplies are welcome, arguably the best result of the Unimog’s visit is the pair of foot wide tire tracks it left, making it possible to ride our bikes to work without the momentum sapping snow of earlier attempts.

The completion of our multispan bridge monstrosity (dubbed ‘bridgezilla’) was one of this week’s milestones. In fact, it is such a masterpiece of engineering I’ve suggested we submit it to bridge builder monthly, the structural engineer’s equivalent of Playboy. River crossings can now be made gumbootless in dry-footed comfort. To prove a point I even piloted the El Terremoto across the planks, and will probably choose this way to commute while we work on this track. The alternative is a hub deep mash through a wide braid further downstream and while it is a rush, the risk of icy water ending up inside your gumboots (rather than the normal and preferable external location) was hard to stomach.

Matt's dismembered feet walk bridgezilla's planks

Officially past the halfway point of our time in Patagonia, and with body well adapted to the rigours of spade and pick work in trying weather, I’m really starting to enjoy the work. In particular the diverse building challenges that we face each day. Best of all is that all the skills I’m learning will be transferable to trails back home in NZ.

Mountain Pedaler out...

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