Today was our free day at La Junta. The horses would have this as a day off before carrying us back down the mountain again tomorrow. So we woke up at around 8. Tatiana already had the stove going and breakfast well underway. We had fresh rolls, sopapillas (fry bread), coffee, and cheese. It was very yummy. It really was amazing to watch how well she could cook on this stove. She knew all the nuances with that stove and worked her magic on everything she made. She always had a large smile on her face but she seemed a little hesitant to communicate with us too much. It seemed was was rather shy and probably feeling a little awkward with the language barrier. After breakfast, Scott went to help Joracio maintain the trail. They would be spending the better part of the day our working on the trail. He told us about a nice nature trail that we could hike, but warned us to wear two pairs of socks under our hiking boots as leeches are sometimes an issue on the muddier parts of the trail.
Scott told us the folk wisdom in which the Argentinian Tatiana and Joracio have faith that states that the first twelve days of the year equate to the twelve months of the year. Today was January 12, which would coincide with the 12th month. December typically has nice weather, so they expected the weather today to be nice as well. Looking around the sky was a bit cloudy and looking like it could go either way. We liked the idea that we would have a nice day. We gathered together a few items and headed out for our nature hike at around 9:30.
Corbata greeted us at the door and jumped up on us. He came with us for the hike. He was excited to go someplace, I'm sure it didn't matter where. He just liked to go. The nature trail looped off to the right into the woods soon after coming out the front door. First stop was the fogon. Like at the bottom of the trail there was a nice spot for a large group to gather together and have a fire. The trail continued off. It was nice with small markers guiding the way, identifying plants and trees. Lex and Christiane had also created a little guide book with a map of the trail and information about the flora. There were some muddy spots, but the trail was well-maintained and there were logs where necessary to cross more difficult spots. At first I was a little paranoid about the possibility of leeches in the mud. Craig said that he should make a little movie of me with the camera, and I said that we could call it the "Blair Leech Project."
We followed the trail to an old lake. The trail continued through the woods, across a marshy area and eventually became a makeshift dock that stuck out into the remains of the lake. The lake itself is more of a marsh but it had a tremendous feeling of solitude nestled in the valley. It was a beautiful place to stop and simply enjoy the surroundings. Once we were finished there we proceeded back to the main trail as it continued up above the valley floor to two waterfalls. Along the way we saw a 4000-year-old alerce tree, a species which grows only one centimeter every fifteen years, and is found only in the temperate rainforests of Chile. When we got to the first waterfall the view was shrouded somewhat by all the vegetation growing all around. The mist off the waterfall was exactly what some of these plants want and many took full advantage of their location. There was a small structure nearby but you couldn't see the waterfall from there. This waterfall was enticing but we wanted to see even more of the flow. We tried to gauge on the map how far it was to the next waterfall. These attempts were futile so we had to simply decide to continue on our course to the next waterfall. We didn't know exactly how far to expect to go to reach the second waterfall and we had some time constraints to consider. Corbata, who had been always within proximity, always just preferred to go. Didn't matter where.
We decided that we should continue along up the trail and make a decision as time marched on. We crossed over many different obstacles on our way up the trail. This section was far more steep and took a lot more effort. We had seen the waterfall from the valley floor but it was so hard to now judge our location. The trail wasn't very long but it was pretty steep and it was fairly humid and uncomfortable. The rainforest surrounding us was beautiful. The trail was a terrific way for us to get closer with our surroundings. As we continued around a small bend in the trail the sound volume of the water crashing against the rocks increases. We know it is now very close. A few more steps forward and we were treated to a terrific and rather close view of the waterfall. At the base there was a small shelter which had a fire pit and a hanging pot above it. There were matches, two mugs, teabags, and a container of sugar. However, we had been told that Tatiana would be cooking lunch for us at 1:00, and we really didn't have time to make a fire and cook up some tea. We wandered around the area taking a few photos and just taking it all in. It was such an alluring rainforest, absolutely green, gorgeous and lush. The waterfall came cascading off multiple layers of rock. It looked like a few nice areas to do some basic rock climbing but we didn't have any time left to explore the area. We really needed to move along quickly since the maps aren't to scale and we didn't really know how long the trail back home was. The whole trip was a loop trail afterall. We felt like we could easily spend a few days taking in all that our new home offered but for now we needed to get moving.
On the way back to the lodge for lunch we moved along pretty quickly. There were a few places where small log bridges were constructed to aid in the crossing. Although somewhat precarious, all were in fine working condition and served their purpose well. When we had pretty much looped around the entire trail we found ourselves travelling along the river. In this section the river was somewhat deep and the water was absolutely crystal clear. Below the surface of the water, we could easily see some immense submerged fallen trees. They were huge trees but they looked remarkably preserved under the cold river water. They were really quite a sight to see. It was difficult to predict how deep the river was along this point. A few feet at least but the trees looked like they were just below the surface. The detail was all easily distinguishable as the sunlight streamed through the river.
Corbata stayed with us for pretty much the entire way. He ran ahead at times and would then meet up with us again. Anytime we decided to stray off the main trail and check out some alternative destination, Corbata would eventually realize this and appear to see what we were doing. It started to become very funny because it was clear how well we were being watched by the dog. All we would have to do is call the name and Corbata would come running. Although we were separated at times throughout the day, it didn't surprise us that he arrived back at the guest house at the same time as we did.
Tatiana saw us arrive in the meadow and quickly walked up to the guest house to prepare lunch. Andres was playing by banging nails into the boardwalk with a hammer. When we were seated at the kitchen table, we took a picture of him peeking through the doorway at us. He was such a cutie and always giggling. In no time Tatiana served us fresh rolls, butter, cucumber salad, and a very hearty soup which consisted mainly of peas and potatoes. It was delicious. Andres "rode" by the door, using a stick for a horse, carrying a cooking pot and a rope. He was really showing off and starting to lose a little of the shyness we saw yesterday. Tatiana also made cake and rolls and served us some cake for dessert. Once again everything was terrific. While we relaxed, I wrote in the journal and Craig looked at some maps of the area. The cabin has a little library of books and maps. I perused The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It seemed pretty cute and funny from what I read of the first few chapters, and I put it on my list of books I want to eventually read. (Update: Since returning home, I have read this book and I highly recommend it.)
After a while we went outside for a short walk and ran into Tatiana, who asked if we wanted tea. It really is a great tradition to have a tea time like this. In much of our travels we have been amused when things just stop in order for tea time. We told her that would be great, and she told us to be back in 15 minutes. We walked around the grounds a bit and took some photos outside while the light was nice. In no time at all we decided to head inside for tea. When we went inside Tatiana was waiting with coffee, cake, and rolls. Andres, feeling a little more comfortable with us than he had yesterday, came in and sat down on a bench behind the wood stove. Tatiana was flicking a matchbox and Andres imitiated her. He was being very silly and cute, and we all laughed hysterically. This got Andres laughing even more. Andres had the best giggle. It reminded us of Randy in the "show mommy how the little piggies eat" scene in "A Christmas Story". I took a couple of movies of Andres dancing around and played them back. At first I couldn't figure out how to play them with sound, but then I figured it out. He and Tatiana were very amused, and when Andres heard his own laughter on the movie, he laughed even harder. We were all in hysterics. It really broke the ice between us and Tatiana. Whereas before we felt more "catered to" and unable to communicate very well, we felt like we had finally really bonded with our hosts.
After a while Tatiana and Andres headed back to their house, and we took nice long hot showers. The wood stove heated the water and the shower was so refreshing. The stall was a typical shower with fully working plumbing. The water pressure was even noticably strong and felt terrific. The fact that the wood stove heated the water was completely beside the point. This was a fully functioning house and once again we were amazed at the quality of the bathrooms we had access to on this trip. Whether hiking or horsebackriding we have sure been amazed with the facilities available to us.
After his shower, Craig shaved outside on the porch at the wash basin. There was a little mirror hung up on the wall over a large metal bowl seated on a small table. There was a pipe and a hose bib that allowed him to get all the water he needed. When done the water is simply splashed out into the grass. It was very quaint. As the sun was getting lower in the sky, the whole property took on a nice yellow glow. After the joy of our showers and feeling all fresh and clean we sat outside on the porch looking at the mountains with Corbata. I went inside and grabbed a roll to give him as a treat. It was always difficult to determine if he got any food and we wanted to make sure he got something. Even if it meant one less roll for the humans tonight.
Tatiana came back and started dinner. Then, as if all timed perfectly, Joracio and Scott returned from their day of maintaining the trail. They were cutting fallen trees to lay the logs over the precarious muddy spots. For us, although the day seemed to really speed by, we were feeling very relaxed and very much at peace. We talked to Scott for a while out on the porch but soon he went inside to help Tatiana with the vegetables. We headed inside as well. We really wanted to help but it seemed they always had everything under control. It seemed we would actually be in their way. We showed Joracio and Scott the camera movies we had taken of Andres. We all got a few more good laughs out of those short videos. Tatiana announced that dinner was ready and we all sat down in the kitchen. We had vegetables (baby corn, carrots, zucchini, and garlic), baked smoked salmon, and rice. I had some Santa Emiliana Savignon Blanc and Craig had a Moosehead beer. We had yummy apple fritters for dessert. As always, the food was fantastic and we enjoyed it very much. Tatiana really is a great cook and a wonder with that stove. She had finished everything and left the guest house around 9:00. We stayed up until 10:30 talking to Scott about our trip to Guatemala.
Before we knew it, it was getting late and we decided to head to bed. After getting everything ready for the transition we blew out all the candles and used the light of our headlamps to guide us to bed. We were very much enjoying the peaceful days and nights at La Junta. We could easily see ourselves spending more time here. It didn't seem possible that in just a few hours we would be waking up and heading back down the mountain pass. We knew we would really miss this place and treasure our memories of it.