Patagonia: Argentina By Bus
For several seasons photographer Thomas “Creager" Stöckli would have preferred spending his summer cruising around South America with some of his best friends, rather than sharing the last snow on European glaciers together with thousands of other fellow sufferers. But always when it came to realising his dream, at least one external factor made an exploration of the southern hemisphere impossible. But this year everything seemed to turn out just perfect, when the Nitroriders Markus Keller and Gian-Luca Cavigelli flying in from New Zealand, their teammate Marc Swoboda straight out of Vienna and Creager coming over from Zurich and met up in Buenos Aires, all facing each other with a huge smile, knowing that from now on it would be just great! Travelling around Argentina with a bunch of friends, Andre Sommer and his Bondibus and your snowboard gear in the trunk! Is there anything better you can think of?
Only the security guy at the airport managed to push us back into reality, when he told us that we should take a little better care of our luggage. But as we were about to follow his advice, we were already on the hit-list of the gangster standing closeby. Only thanks to Markus Keller’s flair for such situations, no-one had to continue his trip without bag, except for the potential thieve of course. The next challenge was more of a linguistical one, when we tried to book a bus to Bariloche. Thanks to great effort from tour guides Markus and Creager, we shortly after found ourselves inside a luxury coach with adjustable recliner seats. This was supposed to bring us from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. In Argentina the bus is the best way of getting from one spot to another; cheap, comfortable and reliable! The next 17 hours mainly consisted of sleeping, eating, farting, snoring, laughing, drinking Matè, eating, some more farting and of course one or another power nap to relax from all the other very relaxing activities which a bus ride offers. A great opportunity to put us in the mood we’d stick with for the following 2 weeks. Imagine what it’s like travelling for such a long time on such limited space, always with the same guys surrounding you, always someone blocking the toilet when you need it most, always someone that took that last sip of milk for his muesli already and always someone snoring when you’re trying to sleep. But we were ready for all of that, come hell or high water! With regards to the long journey to Bariloche, not only Argentina’s magnificent landscape is worth mentioning, but also the temporary disappearing of Gian-Luca after loosing the snoring-battle with the old lady opposite him, which forced him to find another cosy spot in the far back of the coach.
The morning after the four of us arrived more or less well recovered in Bariloche, where a hippie’s dream-camper was standing there waiting for us: a 1971 Magirus-Deutz motor-coach aka The Bondi! Owned by André Sommer, freeride-snowboarder, hippie himself and bon vivant in person. He immediately toured us through our new home and presented us his pimped up former schoolbus from the inside. Also he explained to us newcomers the most important rules of his 20m2 empire, which are indispensable for surviving several weeks on such limited space. Starting with the handling of the water pump for flushing the toilet followed by the necessity of the security bars on every cupboard, everything was explained to us in detail. The inner life of the bus filled us with enthusiasm about the upcoming trip, and – what a surprise - the elaborate beer tab was elected as the ultimate feature. After all the excitement, André started off his hosting activity by serving us a cup of tea. After a chat with him at the fold-out table, we soon figured that we’d found a very friendly and motivated guide to tour us through the country.
André explained the plans he had prepared for the next few days and then we went on our first little journey in our rolling palace. After a few meters only, we figured that any owner of such a bus must be a pretty chilled out dude, as it’s cruising speed would drive any normal person crazy. So there we went, the five of us, and took the road in direction of André’s home, where we met up with his girlfriend and future wife Sophia. As we arrived at his home base, André filled the water tank and equipped the bus with electricity and a wireless connection to make us, spoiled kids as we are, entirely happy. When returning from our first shopping tour, we explored another characteristic of Bondis. It’s kitchen and storage space are tight enough making it necessary to load every single item individually through the kitchen window and store it at the right spot in order to prevent total chaos. So we had no other choice than to form a miniature supply-chain, lead by André Sommer, commanding four desorientated snowboarders, and making sure everything would end up where it had to be. To end the day we went on an excursion to the nearby Nahuel Huapi-lake and visited the Berlina-brewery of one of André’s friends, where we all had dinner together. Back in the Bondi waited for us a first night in our collective dormitory, that consisted of four drawer-like beds.
„Brm Brm Brm Brr Brr Brr Brmmmmhhh“ …instead of an alarm clock from now on we were woken by the starting sound of the engine, which lucky enough was positioned right underneath our bedroom. Another remark: Spending an Argentinian winter’s night in a camping bus, only dressed in boxer shorts is a good way of exploring the limits of freezing body temperatures. Even before all of us had made it out of our drawers, André was already hitting the road with his Maté (traditional south american tea) in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, heading direction Cerro Catedral, the home mountain of Bariloche. Have you ever experienced a day of snowboarding when the peak performance of coordinative tasks already starts while at breakfast? No? Well then, have a try eating a bowl of cornflakes and at the same time making sure your coffee won’t spill while someone like André Sommer is charging some pimped up school bus over rough and smooth! When we finally arrived at the ski resort, we first went for a check-out and admired the vast extent of the resort, as well as the innumerable possibilities of what we could get out of it. Nature’s uniqueness including the long beards on trees, the bamboo growing out of the snow followed by rocks and lakes provide everything that will make any snowboarder’s and photographer’s heart beat faster. Towards the end of the day we found our first spot: A rather narrow and steep rock aisle. After a miserable battle with the paper-scissors-stone professionals Markus and Gian-Luca, Marc was the first one to be chased through the couloir. After all of this excitement, we had to calm down at the après, where Marc met friend and local shredder “Facu". Few cervezas later, and after having learnt the most important spanish words “tranquillo" and “mañana" the first riding day in Argentina was taking an end, leaving a huge smile on all of our faces.
Brm... again! This time we managed to integrate the distracting noise into our dreams for another five minutes before gettting up. The I’m-sleeping-and-can’t-hear-any-of-that-noise-you-guys-are-talkig-about-award clearly went out to Markus Keller who, as it showed, didn’t intend to pass it on for the remaining rest of our journey. Another day in Cerro Catedral was waiting for us, where we had already found a quaterpipe-spot with a fantastic background scenario the previous day. After hours of shaping, Markus, Marc, André and Gian-Luca managed to get just about two test hits before the snowpatrol chased us out of the resort, as they wanted nothing more than to finish off their day right at that moment. We definitely deserved some refreshment at the austrian conducted fast food stop at the base station then. The decision between Pancho, Superpancho and Megapancho wasn’t quite the easiest one. Our return trip got seriously delayed, when rumours revealed a promotional event of the Argentinian section of the Reef girls. Some of our crew seemed to have a hard time missing out on that one. The prospects of a hot shower, internet, pasta as well as entertaining evening activities, such as a stab fight between Markus and Creager finally convinced all of us tourists to return back to the Bondi.
Engine-alarm - round three. With some sore muscles and minus temperatures we got dressed in our damp snowboard gear, while the Bondi was shaking it’s way to Catedral… wellness at it’s best. Shortly after we found ourselves re-shaping the quarter, and André supplied us with another bag full of panchos, nice one! So finally we could get the session started. The quarter took getting used to, but mostly it failed at the inrun. Three hours and countless attempts of imitating Argentinian bird life (we mostly focused on Condors!) later, all of us got their shots. Satisfied with the day we cruised back home, happy with what we could get done in our first Argentinian resort. As the actual roadtrip direction north was supposed to get started the next day, we said goodbye to Bariloche enjoying our last night at a local steakhouse. If there is any international centre for converting vegetarians, then it must be in Argentina, as the meat overthere is just so unbelievably good. All we needed to take care of now, was the refill of our beer stock and the next morning we would continue heading north.
Our next stop was San Martin and the nearby ski resort Chapelco, where we arrived towards the evening, after another five hours drive. As the bus stopped, André worked on his local connections and soon after we found ourselves at a birthday party in one of the oldest houses in town. Hospitality and open-mindedness is what Argentinian people are known for, proved by the fact that the crew dragged us to the famous El Moro Pub after the party for another few drinks. Some hours later, André and Gian-Luca found themselves at the local casino, but that trip was never again mentioned by André which must have had something to do with how it ended up for him. San Martin seemed to be a pretty party-friendly place, so much the better, as it welcomed us with a rainy day which gave all of us some time to rest, relax and work on our chess and Uno-skills. An entire day with five people packed in one tiny place loaded up with snowboard gear, BigBrother seemed just so ridiculous compared to this. At night, André went strong with his home field advantage and showed us what exquisite dish could be prepared in his tiny little kitchen. The following day the weather was still bad, but we decided nevertheless that having a ride in the forest was still the better way, than spending another full day on 20 square meters, so we went up to Chapelco anyway. The Argentinian forest offered us plenty of opportunities to get rid of the past day’s aggressions, such as tree-bonk and a rather sketchy version of a natural jib. Creager, Gian-Luca and Marc went for some piste-jibbing after, where they had the chance of seeing the lifts working for the last time, as the following two days the entire ski resort faced a power cut. Apparently because a local indian tribe, by the name of Mapuche, sabotaged the current entry for the entire resort by chopping a tree just for this very purpose. “They will have their reasons for doing such things" is what we thought, so we spent another day with countless games of Uno, excursions to internet cafés and flirts with the beer tab. But after three days without electricity, we had to take a decision: Either continue our trip or go chasing some indians! With a close 3:2 voting we decided to go for the first option and Bondi was back hitting the roads of Argentina. Meanwhile our crew grew by including two females, André’s fiancé Sophia and her friend Charlie. Everything else would have been pure waste of space inside our luxury home!
There we went to Caviahue, a volcano resort close to the boarder of Chile. We stopped half way at a secret rest area and enjoyed the magnificient scenery with a BBQ. We sat at the fire talking until late at night, accompanied by André Sommer’s guitar solos. After that, the seven of us slipped into our drawer each, waiting for the engine to wake us up again.
Brm...brr..Brmmmm... After another few hours of bus ride, we finally arrived in Caviahue, a tiny village surrounded by mountains and a brimstone lake. But there was another driving challenge waiting for us between here and our night-parking at the base station of the resort: In the middle of the night we had to get Bondi through a puddle of mud in a hairpin bend. After 3-4 failed attempts, all of us, except for André, were unloaded for the last try. With superspeed, a perfectly executed power-drift and cheered up by the entire crew, Bondi finally made it through… Maximum respect to the driver. We were done with the day now, desperately looking forward to another night in Bondi. The next morning we checked out the entire resort and stopped at a huge windlip, where our first session handplanting that lip quickly evolved. But before heading back direction Bondi, we prepared the following day’s project: The “monkey-puzzle-tree" that was used for shaping a 3 meter transition towards it. So another handplant session under pretty icy circumstances followed the next day, after which we decided to go for an adventurous expedition exploring the las maquinas-sulfur spring on the peak of the mountain. Once we arrived at the former military base and at the same time at the border of Argentina and Chile, the sulfur spring turned out to be the probably hottest mudhole on earth. The picture we had in mind, ressembled more to something like a natural jacuzi than what was actually lying in front of us now, so we where rather cautious with getting into the warm mud. If you don’t mind the smell of rotten eggs and enjoy rolling in the mud, this is your thing. As even Serge Vitelli himself was sitting in the “pool" we came to the conclusion, that probably it wouldn’t do us any harm, and there we went. Back at the Bondi we crashed to bed and soon after the smell of rotten eggs carried us into dreamland. The following day was dedicated to hitting the road again and back we were in San Martin. Back in San Martin - back in the El Moro, who’s owner celebrated his birthday with a traditional argentinian BBQ. Thanks to his self-made guacamole sauce, Markus Keller was the star of the day with all the locals, while a little off, Creager got into some serious flirting with a female vegetarian. Very soon after exchanging the first words he got the chance to meet her boyfriend too, a manic indian paraglider with camouflage pants and a Crocodile Dundee knife attached to his boots. The friendly person he was, he explained to Creager that he wouldn’t have any problem skinning him if ever he even thought of touching his girl. Sweet! After Mr. Keller fell asleep in nearly every chair of the pub, we towards 6 or 7 AM decided to start thinking about getting back home to Bondi. This night didn’t leave us a choice for the next day, it had to be chill out. So that’s what we did, besides sleeping, enjoying another great dish and desperately trying to find a wellness hotel. Nevertheless well recovered, we once more made our way up to Chapelco the next day. Together with local rider Facu Sotomayor we decided to continue our road trip direction Cerro Bayo, after a not very successful search for spots. As the snow conditions as well as the wind situation wasn’t all that inviting over here in Chapelco.
As a road trip without any intermezzo wouldn’t be a real road trip, André recognised about an hour away from San Martin, that something wasn’t the way it was supposed to be with Bondi’s clutch. And there he went, dressed in his blue overall, to give the tattered Bondi some assisting clutch-massage. But help came too late! Disappointed André announced, that it was no longer possible to shift gears and that we had to turn around. It wasn’t exactly the smoothest ride that brought us back down to the next village in 1st gear, where Bondi broke down entirely. So we spent the night at a small village out on the countryside. The locals had some strange looks for us and early in the morning someone started working on the Bondi. We recognized a broken window, as someone had thrown a stone too. Poor Bondi. Conclusion: One night out in the pampas is enough. André worked on his local connections one more time and a few hours later the bus, including inmates, was towed back to San Martin. The new clutch was ordered, but André told us it would take at least another two weeks for it to arrive. It wasn’t all that bad news to us, as our trip was coming close to it’s end anyway these days, so we spent the following two days with some shopping excursions. When it came to the last night for Markus Keller and Gian-Luca Cavigeli and the second last for Creager and Marc, there wasn’t really a choice, good ol’ El Moro was the place to be, so there we went.
And yes, it was a quality party that night. Especially Markus and Gian-Luca took it to the limits, made best friends with all the local dudes and even scored at the El Moro table tennis tournament, full-on representing the Bondi crew. But unfortunately at a certain point also the best party gets to an end, especially when there’s a 15 hour bus ride and a flight across the Atlantic waiting for you the next day. Pretty much on time the others accompanied Markus and Gian-Luca to the bus terminal to bid farewell. Creager and Marc left the next day, same time but for different destinations, leaving Argentina, André and Bondi behind. Bondi, you were amazing! Thanks for your hospitality and for the great times we had together. Hope you’ll get better soon and you’ll be back in full glory with your new clutch. We’ll see us next summer, for sure! André, you’re the man, thanks for everything!