Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thoughts from two months in

We’re two-thirds of the way through our time at Desierto now so I thought it was time to run an update on how day to day life goes around here and how I’m finding it. At this stage thoughts are starting to lean towards what I am going to do when I finally get out of this place. The boys spend a lot of time talking about what we are going to eat when we get back to En-Zee. Also a good percentage of our conversation revolves around the merits of the female anatomy when in peak physical conditions, and the ways in which we would like to appreciate said anatomy. The seeming inability to get the internet going here and (relating to this) the way some of the Chileans can’t seem to find their asshole with a guided map and a set of instructions to follow is also the subject of some discussion.

My days are fairly repetitive. At 7:45 I wake up. It’s dark. I eat oats and toast and drink coffee. No one talks much. I write a 10 minute email, brush my teeth and get my gear together. By 8.30 we are heading to the river to cross. Crossings range from calf to waist deep and vary in temp from tolerable to glacial.

The moon was still cranking after I arrived at work.
Then it’s up the climb to work. It’s a pretty brutal ride. The first part is designed to be a downhill track I think (there will be access to it up the way via a swingbridge later) and then later there is a brutal series of switchbacks and straights at a good gradient. We built a good chunk of the climb and have been building the descent for a couple of weeks. The descent is a whole lot of fun, we are meant to be building tech xc and although I think it’s a bit wide and smooth to be called that there are some good tech sections and some fast and loose bits. The track is a loop and we are about a day away from connecting up. (Note: This track is now finished. The new to work ride is a shorter flatish ride to a river flat in a valley.)

Anyways, work runs for nine hours a day and we have two breaks. Much of my time is spent on the mattock but I’ve also spent a fair chunk of time on the chainsaw now as well.  I’ve also been able to build a few bridges and other features which breaks up the monotony of moving dirt. The lunch is pan, a flat-bread sandwich filled with marginal meat, too much butter, a slice of cheese and a heart attack of mayonnaise. They are mostly terrible. Some days we toast them to make them edible. We are provided two a day but I opt to swap my second for a jam sandwich. There’s also some fruit and some very unhealthy snacks.

After work we ride home by 5 and then try and find things to do. It’s hard. Three nights a week a few of the boys do some core exercises. They are torturous but keep me away from the snacks. Speaking of which, every night we after work we get to have a kid’s party with chips, biscuits and fizzy drink. I’'s all pretty unhealthy times on the food front. Meat, simple carbs, sugar and fat tends to dominate meals.

Some of the boys. The crew is full of good sorts
 and makes the trip bearable.
If we don’t do core exercises there isn’t much going on. It’s basically dark when we get home and after this long here I don’t feel like riding. There’s no internet. The t.v. gets a bit of a thrash and I read a bit too. But it tends to be boring and it’s a long time until tea which tends to drop at about 7.30. Then after tea we tend to watch something from someone’s hard drive on the flat screen. Entourage has been a favourite for the boys and we’ve started watching Sons of Anarchy too. Then it’s time for bed a bit later.

And then it repeats six days a week. That’s about all I’ve got going on at the moment. I love my job but the lack of anything else going on is a little bit depressing. Having the internet would really make things more bearable. (Note: since this was written we have gained the internet. Huzzah!) I want to know what’s going on in the outside world and what’s been happening with friends and family. I also wish I could start planning my trip, enquiring about things I want to do and booking stuff.

I didn't expect to enjoy using the saw,
but I'm comfortable with it now.
But I have no doubt in my mind that this is the right job for me. I’ve really enjoyed the job and I love being in the Patagonian wilderness. Even on the bad days, I still think the work is alright. The experience has solidified a lot of things for me. I know what I want to do with my life with greater clarity now. I’ve met a bunch of great people who have become great friends. I’m fired up to get into a whole lot of new things from listening to the lads talk about their passions. I feel a lot more self-sufficient, more competent and more confident. It’s been a great experience in many regards and I’m looking forward to the last month (although I’m equally looking forward to this month being over).

 My time here has really taught me to take the little things for granted. We have it so good in New Zealand, everything is at our fingertips. Out here nothing is easy to get. When we get a good pan day or an afternoon of sun, I’m a very happy man. I think living this simply has been very good for me mentally. It’s great to be away from all the bullshit that was cluttering my life before I left. It’s great to have a bit of time to think. It’s great to change and grow. I’m lucky to be here and I’m getting as much out of it as I can.

So overall Desierto is a bit bittersweet in places but I am glad I made the choice to come here.

When it's good here, it's pretty bloody good.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Maria's Desierto pancakes recipe

Here at the luxurious lodge of Lago Desierto, we enjoy the little things. Things such as a smashing Sunday pancake breakfast, cooked by one of the boys for all of the boys. The process and recipe follows.

To make Maria’s Desierto pancakes you will need: 3 eggs, a pinch of salt, water, half a plate of flour, butter or oil, and Maria.

The process actually starts on the Saturday night with an epic half-drunk RPS battle between all of the lads. Proceed to repeatedly lose your RPS matches. Hang your head in defeat and drown your sorrows with a stiff piscola. 

Wake up Sunday morning feeling slightly seedy. Get a coffee on the go. Try to get the pancake recipe out of the maid, Maria. Battle with the language barrier. Stare blankly as she rattles off a whole lot of Spanish phrases which seem to suggest pancakes aren't on the agenda right at the moment, Hang your head in shame as she clearly indicates that you are a knucklehead.

Ignore the suggestions to leave pancake making until later and proceed to start making pancakes in the kitchen anyway. Maria will see you are making pancakes no matter what and step in to help. Watch as she breaks three eggs in a bowl. Take the wooden spoon you are given and beat the eggs thoroughly. Meanwhile, Maria will add a pinch of salt and a cup of warm water. Continue to beat egg mixture until it is frothy. Maria will pour in half a plateful of flour (the plate smaller than a dinner plate, more of a snack plate). Beat this mixture until it is smooth. Maria will then add around half a cup of cold water to the mix. The final mixture should be smooth and pretty thin.

Watch Maria heat a frying pan with a splattering of oil or butter in the bottom. She will then ladle a ladleful of mixture into the centre of the pan and swirl it expertly to the edges of the pan. The pancake should be very thin at this stage. After a few minutes on the woodstove, watch Maria flip the pancake easily. Maria will leave the pancake to fry for another few minutes and then remove from the pan.

Attempt to repeat the cooking process you have just witness. Swirl the mixture unevenly and struggle to flip the pancake in the pan. Realise you are clogging up the kitchen and move to the dining room. Continue cooking pancakes on a portable gas cooker for the next hour, while talking bikes or smack with the boys. Halfway through make up another batch of batter. At some stage, curse your terrible efforts at RPS battling from the night before. At the end of it all, hold your head high with the success of amateur cookery.

And there we have it. Follow these simple steps and you too can enjoy pancakes Desierto style.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Paloma Paloma Paloma

For a while now I’ve been digging mountain bike tracks at the fabulous Lago Desierto. There are two sites linked in the same company (for those interested there is a website about it here) and the boys had been eager to get down to the other site, Lago Paloma, for a long time. Paloma is the original site with miles of unbeatable singletrack and some of the sickest terrain out there. So we were all stoking when it finally happened and it couldn’t have gone any better.

A quick note on Paloma. There are currently 40-odd trails on the site with more planned in the near future. There is a huge variety of riding there. First of all the terrain varies from open grassland right through to alpine Beech forest. All styles of riding are catered for as well. Over the course of our day we got to ride climbs ranging from smooth and gentle to technically challenging, hit tight technical traverses and smashed downhill’s both flowwy and technical. It’s pretty much paradise.

The Niner on the move
The day started bright and early with a jetboat ride to the sister site. From the start the weather was perfect. We went down in two boat trips and I was in the second one. When we arrived the boys had settled into the other lodge. I was quick to knock back a proper coffee from their machine and then we were into the riding.

The first climb, 80/20, wound its way gently up the South-West face of the hillside. This climb snaked its way up the hillside at a steady gradient for a gain of 260 odd vertical metres. The boys mostly stuck together as a group for this and there was a fair bit of bike swapping going on. It was pretty unusual to ride on the baby wheels but I have to admit they weren’t actually so bad.

From here we dropped into the Back Bowls area of Paloma, a valley facing Westwards towards a deep ravine. We split into a couple of groups here as no-one was too sure which tracks were the best to climb. I decided to go up a track called Snakes and Ladders, which headed down the Bowl for a while before climbing back up in a series of switchbacks. The track was pretty pleasant but it was here we ran into our first sign of heavy frost on the track, which made things slightly trickier.

Dan lurks in Jabba the Hut

We were ahead of the rest of the boys so we sat in the sun and had a quick bite. They soon caught up and then we headed upwards slightly on the Southern Traverse. At this stage we started running into areas of bush which was a pleasant change. The next track we went onto was Ewok Village, which was a mildly technical climb through the trees. It did feel like the Ewok Village out of Star Wars, with lots of wooden and rock bridges winding through the trees. I had a pretty pathetic stack on the track where I fell off the edge of the track and down a bank into a pile of rocks. It would have looked very funny if anyone had seen it. On Ewok Village there was also a point worth stopping at: Jabba the Hut. This was a hut made out of rocks and wood which had bench seats and a fire pit in it. Basically this place was pimp and I had smoko envy in a big way.

Ewok village rolled on to Alpine Monkey, which I now know is a downhill track. This explains why it was pretty tough going. We were back out in the open and a lot of the frost had melted, making the track boggy and greasy in places. We were all pretty pleased to get up to the LZ (that’s Landing Zone, basically a chopper pad) for a break and some food.

We split into two groups here, with some people taking the correct uphill climb and others, like myself, opting to take a sweet techy xc traverse called Terremoto Traverse and then attempting to ride up a section of steep downhill track called LTD. Terremoto traverse was excellent and I’m really glad I hit it but the climb, Gorse Pockets, sounds like it was a good time also. The traverse was good and tight as it wound through the trees with some rocky sections and tricky corners. For tracks of this nature, this rated as one of the best I have ever ridden. Riding up LTD was a bit of a pipe dream but walking it made us all excited to come down it in the near future.

At the topmost LZ we had climbed a pretty healthy amount (I think somewhere in the 600m range but don’t quote me) and we all enjoyed the opportunity to relax in the sun and take in the scenery. Autumn in Chile is a beautiful time to be in the Patagonian countryside as there are a lot of reds and oranges going on in the trees with snowy mountaintops above. Looking around we could see a lot of sick country and all the boys were pretty fired on the idea of more tracks going in further up or to get in for a reccy on foot (even though seeing either through is unlikely for us).

Barry covets the Niner
Once we had recovered sufficiently we started our run down. LTD or Live the Dream was up first and it did not disappoint, with big flowwy corners down its entire run through the forest. Halfway down we saw (for some of us, for the second time) Barry, a creepy cut-out of a person lurking in the trees wearing a yellow raincoat and dark glasses. Barry is pretty hilarious and he’s a good sort once you get to know him. LTD shot out into some rolling open land which would have been better if it wasn’t so wet from the frost. There were big sections of deep mud which somewhat took away from the flow of the track. But we followed a track called the Cattle track along to the Back Bowls and then headed up the Caboda Road.

Steaming it down LTD
The boys had been pumped to hit a few tracks because of their reputations. LTD was one. Flow Valley was one. Death Cookies was one. But Super Cougars was probably the most anticipated track of the day. I found it to be slightly too tight for the 29r in places but there is no doubt that it is an incredible bit of single track and left all the boys grinning hugely. The description for the track is downhill flowing and that was exactly what we got.

Back at the Paloma lodge we ruined all of the food we could find. Then we looked at the time and realised we had time for another quick run so it was back onto 80/20. The legs were starting to feel a bit cooked so we were grateful when we managed to scheme a shuttle up with the Caboda driver. Then it was onto Flow Valley. This was possibly track of the day (although LTD and Terremoto Terrace compete). It winds down the hill in a series of swooping turns which were serious fun to ride. Afterwards we went onto Death Cookies which was a bit more of a technical downhill track and also a great time.

Soon we were back on the jetboat home in perfect conditions. The day couldn’t really have gone any better. When we got back we relaxed in the dying sun with some cold cerveza to round out an excellent outing.

Dan on the front of the jetboat, glassy good times

More photos here

Friday, May 13, 2011

Out for a little clamber

The boys have had a pretty good run this week. On Friday we got down to Paloma (the other site) where we got to ride some of the best trails I have ever had the privilege to awkwardly bluff my way through (more on this later, and pictures here).

The weather was stunning then and beautiful the next day when we worked to make up the day riding, and it was flawless again today. So despite an already big week a bunch of the lads went on a mission we had been talking about for a little while. It turned out to be a pretty big day. If you’ve been looking at the photos I have been flooding the internet with you may have noticed an abundance of high peaks around the site. Today we went and conquered the most accessible specimen, located to the South of the lodge.

We kicked off at about 10am. Six hardy gents left the lodge determined to reach the top. Immediately we split into two groups; four of us rode to the helipad and walked from there while another two decided to take a more direct route on foot. The climb was cold and icy as we waited for the sun to come into the valley. After about an hour we had wound our way up to the Helipad, battling icy track conditions the entire way up.

From here the sun was high enough to do its thing and the day proceeded with magnificence. We headed straight up from the helipad with the goal of reaching the top of the hill (sort of a range adjacent to the main peak) and meeting up with the other boys before pushing on to the main peak. This part of the walk was fairly steep and went through lots of prickly scrub which had me thinking lustily of gators pretty quickly. We scrambled up towards a wee grove of trees that I had wanted to explore for a little while.

The boys relaxed in the sun while I went for a little poke around the autumn foliage. The bush had an inviting feel to it as the trees were widely spaced and sunlight freely penetrated the branches and leaves above me. I couldn’t help but think that it would be great to run some singletrack through there, although building a climb to it would be an ordeal. When I popped out of the trees the boys on foot had caught up and we smashed back some food.

Soon we were back at it and the terrain soon changed to something very similar to alpine New Zealand. There was lots of little scrubby and tussocky plant life growing closely to the ground, which was becoming increasingly rocky. Also, patches of unmelted snow had started to appear. The group stated to split up a bit as some were pushing hard to get to the top while others (like myself) took a pretty indirect line to maximise sightseeing opportunities. A whole bunch of other peaks had become available for our viewing pleasure as our sightline was no longer obscured by hills as it had been lower down.

As we got a bit higher we started to face rock and scree pretty exclusively. Although we had come a long way the top was still off in the distance a fair way, and it was getting steeper. I didn’t really enjoy this part of the outing so stopped at a biggish patch of snow and got some snaps of myself taken. The top section was very loose and I spent as much time sliding backwards as I did going forwards. But soon I was at the top (I was last by a bit at this stage as I had been off with the camera) and admiring the remarkable view.

From where we were there was a line of vicious-looking snowcapped peaks for a full 360 degrees. Also visible were Lago Azul and Lago Paloma filling the large valley down to the East of us. The day was mostly still (I only noticed a breeze at the summit and even then it was light), resulting in deep blue glassy lakes reflecting the surrounding hills. All in all, it was a pretty good place to eat a well-earned sandwich or two.

Afterwards we got into the photo taking and I made the call that I needed to get naked and drink the victory beer I had carted up from the lodge. While I was naked with my sculpted torso matching the snow for both whiteness and splendour the lads couldn’t resist unleashing with the snowballs. Luckily they all have a pretty rubbish aim so I didn’t get the pelting I deserved. Bedy then gave some convenient rocks a good rolling, which is always a fun time.

It was pretty chilly up there and we were soon on the mission back home, skreeing down the piles of small rocks. The walk home was kind of a drag as we’d been out and about for a fair few hours at this stage and the steepness of the hill was hard on the muscles and joints. We were much faster down than up (unsurprisingly) and it wasn’t too long before we were back to the bikes.

I was looking forward to the ride down as I was knocking off a track I had never ridden (the last one I had left to knock off at Desierto) but when the time came to ride it I had an absolute nightmare. As the track is named Night Terrors this was kind of appropriate. When the track ended I headed to more familiar pastures and got into the zone a bit more. The boys had all taken different ways down but we all arrived at the lodge at similar times. Soon we were sitting down to a late lunch which was an ideal conclusion to an eventful day.