Outreach – Bariloche Day 4

Today we climb a mountain. The idea was to reach the top, but after a late night last night, and with a very late start to the day, our chances were diminishing rapidly. Add to this a very large group of people, and you start moving quite slowly, according to the abilities of the weaker members. This is not a problem, it is just that with the time we had available to us, getting to the top was now looking very unlikely.

Our outreach team on the mountain

Our outreach team (LtoR: Tabita, Guillermina, Gabriela, Karley, Leonor, Miguel, me)

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Outreach – Bariloche Day 3

Today I wake with one eye stuck closed. After washing it with water and heading to the doctors I am informed that it is conjunctivitis, a common ailment here often contracted through dust entering the eye. Unfortunately, all of the pharmacies are too far away to get the needed eye drops, so I continue the day without them, washing my eye in cold tea as a home remedy to help for a while.

Our day, upon reaching the church, is to help prepare lots of food for what will be a church party to celebrate the end of 2009 and the beginning of a new year. Three of our team head out with the pastor to a neighbouring city of Bariloche, called Dina Huapi, to visit with families related to the church, while the other four remain in the kitchen to help with the food preparation for what is expected to be a very big party tonight.

Reaching Dina Huapi

The pastor with his son, me in the middle, and Miguel and Gabriela on the right.

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Outreach – Bariloche Day 2

Our second day is quite different, and we spend the morning building brick walls, cooking bread and gnocchi for lunch. All of us get to do something that we have not done before, and have fun doing it too. After lunch we then put on multiple layers of jackets for the cold and the rain that has arrived, and head out to go to a distant neighbourhood to share with the people about Jesus.

Once we have knocked on every door, or actually clapped loudly at every yard entrance (you can’t enter normally because of the fierce dogs kept in the yards), we then arrive at the house of believers where they hold a church service every week. It is here that we do a couple of skits for them, before Karley (Canada) and Tabita (Romania) lead worship. I share a reflection on who God really is, based on Revelation chapter 4 and we then bid our friends good bye and return for dinner in the church.

Building brick walls

Building a brick wall to separate the kitchen from the dining area.

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Outreach – Bariloche Day 1

On the 26th of December, Boxing Day, we gathered our team together and heading off on an 18 hour bus journey from Puerto Madryn to Bariloche. Upon arriving in Bariloche, we head out to the church with which we will be working for the next week. Our outreaches tend to be organised per week more than anything. Our goal is to help, serve, teach, and be an asset wherever and whenever we can during this time.

This first day was filled with getting to know different people, being introduced to the church and its members, and being allocated our home for the week. Miguel and I stay with Luis, in his small home, while the girls head out on the bus to a much larger house. After settling in, we all return to the church for the last service of 2009.

Sleeping on the bus

Taking advantage of the bus ride to catch up on some sleep after the Christmas celebrations.

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Conquering the Snow

A Day of Small Beginnings
It was a bleak day when I set out towards town, ducking down to follow alongside a burbling stream with the aim of walking along the rocky beaches facing Lake Nahuel Huapi. This was a more preferable route although a little longer than that of following the roads.

rocky beach
The rocky beaches of Lake Nahuel Huapi

The dark threatening clouds that I saw hanging ominously over the windswept lake when arriving at the beach threatened to make the day wet and gloomy. Yet a there were a few slender rays of sunshine forcing their way through this grey landscape, reflecting off the water’s surface and sweeping over assorted buildings that caught the eye in their radiant glow. This land of contrasts presented such an amazing scene as to remind me of just how fortunate I was to be in a place as beautiful as this.

Reaching the town around lunch time, I stopped by my favorite chocolate shop for a delicious hot chocolate and some lunch. With that rudimentary and yet delightful task completed, it was now time to conquer the snow. You see, it had snowed only two days earlier leaving the mountains covered even to reaching down as far as us where it droppd a little snow onto our lawn.

The Joy of Snow
Having lived in tropical and subtropical climates for my entire life, snow for me is still a novelty. Although my experiences have included moments of skiing on the mountains, the whole idea of living in a place where I could see the entire process of transformation from a green and sunny summer to a snow covered winter totally fascinated me. So when the snow fell that night I was as ecstatic about it as a young boy, running around wildly in the yard and covering myself in snow.

Rob covered in snow
Getting covered in snow and loving it

I swore to myself that I would head up one of those snow covered mountains on my next day off. The two nights leading up to today were extremely late and followed by mornings starting way too early, and the deep black circles under my eyes indicated that my body had a profound need for rest. Yet this was the only day available to me for the next two weeks, so my Aussie instinct of “She’ll be right mate” kicked in and I determined that nothing was going to deter me from getting to the mountains. After all, I had eaten well enough in the morning and had some food with me for the climb.

Cerro Catedral resort
The Cerro Catedral ski resort

Choosing the Mountain
To make things easier, I decided to get as close to the mountain as possible before starting my climb. Cerro Cathedral seemed to be the best choice as it is Bariloche’s main ski centre and the bus would take me right to the base of the mountain. So after climbing on the right bus, I sit down for the 40 minute ride and head out ready to conquer the snow.

Surveying the mountain as we are arriving, I see two main ski paths coming down from the top and decide to climb up the main one on the left. Being somewhat safety conscious I stop by a local worker to advise him of my intentions and then start off full of energy. Progress is easy in the thin snow at the base of the mountain and the slopes are not too steep when following the roadways. The weather was also good for this time of year with all of the menacing storm clouds hanging out over the lake and leaving the entire mountain clear.

First Mistake
With a strong sun and no wind it was not long before the clothes I had on became far too hot. The energy created by climbing fast up a mountain requires just the minimum of protection and so everything came off except for the singlet top which remained to provide a little protection from the sun’s rays. It felt more like spring than winter.

Lying in the snowSnow imprint

Ignoring the sign saying that I was leaving the area of the ski zone, I assumed that it would be possible to catch up with the main track by cutting through the shrubs. But after a heavy fall of snow, the shrubs are bent over and loaded with snow above, and present mounds of snow covered branches that end up trapping feet beneath you. So after struggling with the shrubs for 15 minutes, showered upon by snow from above and falling into it every time my foot got trapped below, I decided that it would be easier to retrace my steps and find another way up. There was, and it was only around the corner from the sign that I had ignored. Lesson learned.

Early Progress
After finding the entrance to the ski slope and making good progress, the ground started to take on a much steeper angle and the snow grew deeper. Although it was now more demanding my progress was still good. The fresh snow however proved a lot more of a challenge than first anticipated.

There were two layers of snow, the first was light and fluffy and reached up well over my boots while the second layer even with its crusty firmness could not hold my weight and would give way under each step, sinking each leg in almost up to the knees. This two-stage process for each step combined with the lifting of sunken legs from the deep snow and an ever steepening slope eventually took its toll. Progress became slow and laborious. There was no rest from the deep snow.

Gondolas across the snow
Gondolas seen over the snow

Slowly but surely, not giving up nor slowing down, I finally make it to the top of the first section of the slope and throw myself into the snow face first to make an imprint and to cool off a little once I am there.

After taking a detour and following the service road I continue my way upward following the skiing slope. The mountain continued straight upward, steep and hard. All seemed fine as I continued to push myself to maintain the same rhythm as before. Up ahead I could see the main cable car lift building and restaurant. The idea of stopping there for a rest sounded fantastic, but somewhere along the way I lost the ski track and ended up in snow as deep as my waist. The going got very slow.

Wearing Out
It was at this point that my body started to show signs of exhaustion. Lifting leg after leg high enough to drag through the deep snow, falling over and picking myself up again after discovering a rock or plant buried beneath my feet, and walking over unstable, semi-frozen snow that sometimes held me up and other times would let me sink deeply was enough to sap any remaining energy that I may have had left.

Mountain peak
Close to the mountain top

Finally coming out of the deep snow, I find my way along the service road for the last few hundred meters. The snow was still very unstable and many times I found myself stumbling as one foot sunk randomly through the semi-frozen surface. The struggle from the last part of this climb had exhausted me and this last unpredictable section seemed as though it would never end.

Highest Point
Finally reaching the complex, it was incredibly dismaying to see it not only closed but still under heavy renovations. I had been climbing a little over two hours to reach here. Looking around, the only place that I could find without snow was in a corner of the patio, with nowhere to sit. I stop here and take some highly needed rest, enjoying the view and cooling down after the effort of climbing.

Before long my feet are getting very cold and I quickly discover that my feet are sodden. The untreated leather boots were wet right through. The much colder weather at this altitude quickly started to strip away any warmth that I had generated during the climb. Layer after layer of warm clothes that had been stuffed into my backpack were quickly removed and worn to keep what little warmth remained in my body. With the heavily thermal clothes layered up to five layers deep I was warm enough to consider eating lunch. The only problem was that I had forgotten to bring it with me. In my pack the food that remained was a block of cheese and some stale bread with a packet of honey-drop sweets.

Drinking snowRecharging snow with water

Water was also a problem as I had run out of water on the climb. A nearby ice wall was dripping enough to be able to suck water from the melting snow and provided the liquids that my body desperately needed. The energy however just could not be found in the foods that I had brought with me. Even though I ate some of the hard stale bread and as much cheese as was possible to stomach at one time it was not any of the instant energy foods required by a worn and tired body. The honey-drops were the closest thing to what I did need but when I tried to eat them I felt sick and stopped. The idea of getting sick on top of a mountain that I still need to walk back down again was not a favorable idea.

The weather also had started to close in, with clouds of snow forming overhead and a wall of white cloud clutching the opposite ridge. My goal had been to reach the summit of the mountain, but when my body does not gain any energy after resting and with the weather closing in this idea is quickly put to rest. Where I am will have to suffice for today.

Heading Back Down
Finally it is time to return back down the mountain. Rather than return the same way in which I had come, I make my way over to the other ski slope that I had seen on my way in. I make a false start by trying to reach it by climbing a steep hill up to my armpits in snow that was impossible to climb and which sapped much of the little energy remaining. Instead I follow underneath the cable car towers, weakly struggling along until reaching a service road traversing the mountain that will take me there. From here the going is easier but with deeper snow and I stumble often.

Somewhere in my mind was the idea that upon reaching the ski slope everything would be an easy ride back down by sliding on my belly like a penguin. It was not to be. The snow was very soft and powdery and any attempt at sliding even on the steepest sections of the slope was stopped short behind a wall of snow. Snow plowing would have been a better word for each attempt.

Side road to the main ski trackSnow stream

Making my way back down the slope by walking, the ground beneath the snow is uneven and full of surprises. Every few steps I find myself falling or stumbling and having to lift myself back out of the snow. With already extremely low energy levels being sapped more and more by every fall I finally reach a point of sheer exhaustion and collapse into the snow. Every step had been an effort and every fall required strong mental as well as physical exertion to get back up again.

Calling for Help
As I lie there my thoughts turn to the task ahead. What would normally be a very easy descent had now become a massive task. The idea of trying to make it down the long and steep ski slope in my current state seemed somewhere between highly difficult and impossible. The signs my body was giving off indicated a desperate need for energy and rest, two things that were not available to offer it in my current position.

There on the deserted ski slope it felt more remote than it was. As I considered my options the idea came to me to call and ask for prayer from my friends. I had never prayed for something like this nor had I ever asked for prayer for something like this but it seemed a very reasonable option in my current state.

My feet on snowView down to the village

What happened next defies reason. At least from my perspective it does. While I had been lying on the snow I had also been monitoring my body and the signs it was giving me. Within a couple of minutes of asking for help all of the signs that had indicated exhaustion in my body disappeared and a new strength rose within me. It was not like a fresh strength as though I had not climbed at all but rather a strength that gave me a desire to continue my downward plight.

Lying there a little longer just to be sure this was not a passing feeling I rose to my feet to be greeted with a new strength. It was a strength that covered over the exhaustion that I was feeling, and not only a strength but also a fresh desire to get down this mountain.

The Final Return
Now back on my feet I head off walking through the snow. The same uncertain ground is beneath me yet I find that I am no longer stumbling. As I continue downward there comes a crest in the slope where I can see the base of the mountain and all of the buildings again. Progress is good but it still seems slow so I decide to start running, throwing myself down into the snow at times just to see if it is possible to slide. Each time I throw myself down I am stopped almost as quickly behind a wall of snow. Sometimes in using my arms to drag myself along I can make it a little further but the effort for the results is just not worth it.

The energy and stability with which I am descending surprises me. Not slowing down nor holding back I continue running down the mountain slope. My cold and wet feet are now freezing and starting to hurt with the cold yet the rest of my body is breaking out in a profuse sweat from the effort expended in the run. Finally I reach the very last section of the slope where it is covered with people learning to ski and enjoying the fresh snow. It is here where I discover a track in which by sitting down it is possible to slide freely, and do so all the way back to the car park.

My descent was now over, and the mountain adventure had ended. Energy levels were low but nowhere near as low as they had been at the point of the phone call for help. All that remained now was to wait for the bus to take me back home. I had done what I had come to do; I had conquered the snow.

Standing on the snow
Conquering the snow

After calling my friends again to let them know that I was safely down the mountain, I returned home on the bus and stopped at a nearby restaurant for a hearty, solid meal. Then after a short walk home, I threw myself in the bed and rested. Even with the extra energy that came through the prayers of my friends it had not taken away the exhaustion that I had previously felt. But I felt great for having spent the day in the snow, climbed a mountain, and seen another part of Bariloche that I had not seen before.

I had conquered the snow!

Bariloche by the lake
Bariloche, a city by the lake

Stream at base of first ski slope
The main entrance to the slope I climbed

See more photos…

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The Effects of a Volcano

The ashes of the Chaiten volcano in Chile have now reached Buenos Aires.

As a result all flights to the south have been cancelled, as well as
flights to the United States. If more ashes arrive all flights will be

In Bariloche the ashes continue to fall. Schools are closed or
closing, people are remaining inside, dust masks have been sold out
around the city, and most places are closed. All road traffic is
virtually non-existent, and drinkable water is becoming scarce.

Currently located in Buenos Aires, it is hard to see any ashes here,
but it is a very large city, and the airport is on the western edge,
toward the volcano. Should the ashes continue to fall my return to
Bariloche may be delayed. Just as well that with the jobs remaining to
repair this house where I’m working it’ll keep me busy. I’d love to
get back there though to see how things have been affected.

One of my concerns is how this will affect the snow this season, but
this is minor compared to the difficulties that the ashes have wrought
in every affected area. One volcano, a little ash, and how
significantly we are affected.

Volcano Next Door and Other Activities

I imagine that You are probably already informed of the volcano in
Chaiten, Chile that is currently in eruption. Well this smoking
mountain is only a few hundred kilometres from me on the other side of
the Andes Mountains. We have been fine in Bariloche, escaping the
ashes until today.

A Xinhua Photo

Today they have arrived. Instead of snow, ashes are floating down over
the city and environs, covering everything in sight. This ash affects
everything it touches, destroying some things, polluting others, and
clogging up the rest. It affects breathing, hinders road transport (my
current concern), stops flights, and closes down the city.

Right now I’m in Buenos Aires, with the hope that I’ll be able to
return Sunday night. Buses to our neighbouring city of Esquel were
cancelled while the ashes were falling. The situation is very
changeable so it will be the day before when this becomes clear.

Not only is it the ashes that may cause travel hiccups but for the
next 9 days farmers are blocking the mayor traffic routes around the
country. They are striking against government control over what they
can grow and export, and also to ask for higher meat prices.

Paro de Productores Cortan Rutas

During their talks with the government, when communication breaks
down, they take to the main routes and block traffic. Their main
target is the trucks, but as a result there can be large delays,
exceeding 6 hours.

So for now I continue working on fixing up this old house. My work
involves covering doorways with plaster board, building a mezzanine
floor with stairs and handrail, and helping calculate the materials
needed to finish the work here.

The work is extensive, with rendering, painting, repairs, and many
ceilings yet to be done. With only one week here, my work will be
focused on the most urgent things, that need to be done before people
can occupy this place. Already the bathrooms and kitchen are mostly
finished and usable, with hot and cold water. The rest of the work
will be finished once they are living here.

That’s my lot. Take care and have a great day.

Life in Bariloche

In early March I returned from Peru to arrive back in my home base of Puerto Madryn. Late to mid March I was on the move again, to spend two months in Bariloche, a beautiful city nestled right in amongst the Andes mountain ranges and alongside a huge blue lake. It is also home to a LOT of chocolate. It is here that a new YWAM base has started its first Discipleship Training School, and I am here to help them in the school and to also help build, buy, fix, or sort out whatever they need in the base building area. Of course, it seems that wherever I go, there is something also related to websites involved. But that is par for the course these days.

It has been almost one month here now. So how has it been?

I am enjoying Bariloche, and although I was supposed to be here for only 2 months I am now here for 3 months, until the DTS school ends, which is actually great in a lot of ways because now I will get to finish my first DTS school as staff since being in YWAM. It always worked out that somewhere along the way my other activities would pull me out of the school early. So this is a good thing.

Bariloche is now getting cold. We had our first snow fall on the mountain tops two nights ago and most of it has now melted away. It is truly magnificent to see this amazing sights, things that I have never seen in my life before and I am really truly enjoying it, even if I have to sleep with a jumper and socks so early before winter. It has been a really windy month here and the wind blows so strongly through the night that it rattles our roof and wakes me up. Every time that I wake up I wonder if the roof is going to get blown off. It hasn’t yet, and the wind has now died down so that has to be a good thing.

Us guys are now living upstairs in the room above the kitchen. It has a wooden floor and by nature of being above everything one would think that it would be really warm. But all of the windows are wooden and really bent out of shape. I have had to get the grinder out to get some of them to actually shut. Even closed, the wind whistles through the gaps and so our room ends up being the coldest place in the house. Just today I was up there at the balcony doors putting foam sealing strips and pumping silicone into all of the gaps in the frames. There is still a slight breeze coming from somewhere but now the curtains do not move around in the breeze. Hopefully tonight will be a little warmer now.

The DTS school is going really well. My role has been translating during all of the classes. I am also brushing up on my guitar skills and leading the worship times which has been a challenge yet worked out really well every time. There are three ladies and two guys in the school, so I am discipling the guys and because one of the girls is from Canada and only speaks English I also help the others communicate with her, and her with the others. She shared with everyone today about some of her frustrations of not being able to communicate and took advantage of the moment to also share some of the things that she had been wanting to say. The others had felt her frustration and sympathised with her, also sharing with her their frustrations of not being able to chat with her too.

Although the prices of everything here are much higher there are many more things here too. The city here is a little bigger than Puerto Madryn, with about 130,000 people here and about 50,000 people in Madryn. The best part of it all (for now) would have to be all of the different chocolate factories and being able to stop in their coffee shops and enjoy a rich hot pure chocolate drink every visit to town. A little indulgent I know, but ooooh so wonderful, and besides I hardly head into town, only once or twice a week.

So that is life here in Bariloche. All of my stuff is still over in Puerto Madryn, and even though I brought over two really loaded suitcases it seems as though I hardly have enough stuff for the cold. It is really really cold even now, probably because of the high levels of humidity, and some of my warmest stuff is not feeling so warm any more. Will have to start layering up the clothes soon. But I am really enjoying this place.

It has been great to come here for this time.

Back in Madryn – But Going Again

I guess it has been a while since writing something here. Life in missions seems to get really hectic at times. Even when I was travelling there seemed to be more time to write than now-a-days. At the end of every day, when I normally write something, I am exhausted and just want to sleep. Yet it is right at this moment that the people in whose house I am staying want to talk with me. So another hour or so of chatting and finally I collapse into bed, exhausted. The next day it starts all over again.

With each day like this, time for getting to the internet is limited and when I do get there, it is normally only enough to read my emails and answer just a few. The time available to write something more involved is just not there, and although a laptop would make things easier, I am yet to enjoy that luxury. So for now there will remain a 2 month gap. The events of Peru will have to remain written only in ink in my daily journal.

Now that I am back again in Puerto Madryn, there is more time to be able to write. However, in a couple of days I am on the move again. Bariloche is my destination, where a new YWAM base was opened one year ago. In Bariloche they are starting their first Discipleship Training School, which I will be helping in, and we will also be building a new room onto the house to help out with their need for more accomodation.

So here I am in Puerto Madryn, and three weeks later I’m off again. No wonder I love this life so much.

Trekking the Andes Mountains at Bariloche

Bariloche was our last stop during this stretch of travelling, and we had determined that we really wanted to walk across the Andes Mountains. Since this was the first time that we had considered something like this, many people recommended that we get a guide. So we did. It turned out to be a great idea, as he took us places we would never have gone, gave us a pace we loved, and taught us many things about the environment as we moved through it.

Our trek started on Day One with a steep climb into the mountains with the reward of an amazing view of the city and surrounding lakes. From here we continued on until camp, somewhere in the middle of this incredible mountain range. It froze overnight, but was a beautiful clear day for Day Two when we continued through the peaks to reach a wonderful cabin in the middle of nowhere. Chris slipped in the snow along the way sliding down to impact against a rock and tumble to within centimetres of a twenty metre cliff and certain death.

After a day of rest at the cabin, we took a huge Day Three challenge of reaching the lakes while the boats were still running. This made it a short day even with a very early start, and involved a gruelling half-walk, half-run across the base of “El Tronador” mountain called this for its thunderous rumbles caused by cracking in the mammoth ice sheets that cover its face. There was little time for rest on this day, and a lot of moving. The weather came in on us, with rain, snow, and wind before finally opening up in the afternoon with a bright sunny end to our walk.

We were glad to reach the lakes, and for our Final Stretch we boarded the first of two boats that would return us to Bariloche. There were no other hikers with us, other than the occasional day trekker, but there were many tourists. We were exhausted, and slept a good part of the trip. Back in Bariloche, a bus returned us to our hotel where we could recover and celebrate yet another amazing adventure during our travels. After this, it was time to head home.

Trek Day 1 | Trek Day 2 | Trek Day 3 | Final Stretch

Bariloche Trek Day 1


Bariloche Trek Day 2


Bariloche Trek Day 3


Bariloche Trek Final Stretch