Photos and paintings by Antrese Wood.

If I wake up early enough, I can watch dawn’s first light paint the rocky peaks of Los Gigantes from my kitchen table. A wall of windows faces west, giving me an unobstructed view of the Sierras Grandes in western Córdoba here in Argentina. Los Gigantes are the highest peaks of the range and the first to catch the early morning rays. In the winter months, the sun sets directly behind them lighting up the sky with brilliant oranges and deep purples.

From Villa Carlos Paz, it’s about a two hour drive to the mountain range. I follow boulevard Sarmiento to Ruta 38 towards Cosquin then make a left towards Tanti on Ruta 20. The two lane highway cuts through cement houses surrounded by low brush. Occasionally, I’ll spot a gaucho riding his horse on the dirt trail parallel to the highway. The traditional black beret and poncho contrasting sharply with the cell phone pressed to his ear. I catch a shot of a young boy riding along behind. When the road straightens, and I can see far enough ahead, I pass the ‘65 Citroën that has been chugging along in front of me. In the distance three dogs are basking in the sun a few feet from the pavement. A golden lab- shepherd mix gets up, stretches lazily and waits for me to pass before crossing the highway.

The pavement ends abruptly and a dirt road leads me into a canopy of eucalyptus trees. High walls covered in vines hide estates, some lived in, some long abandoned. As I pass a gate, I catch a glimpse of the house at the end of the lane. Through a large front room window, I see sunlight pouring in through the caved in roof. I focus back on the windy road, avoiding sharp rocks and deep ruts created from last weeks rain. The houses dwindle out and after a few twists and turns, the view opens up.

 

Once I reach the top of Cerro Blanco, the landscape morphs into pampas. The road stretches across the grassland, groups of trees mark the occasional ranch house:

I stop to take a picture of a herd of cattle hanging out by a gate. Behind me, in the distance, I can see Lago San Roque, the Sierras, and Carlos Paz. In all the times I’ve been out here, I never read the hand painted sign: Nudist Camp, 4 kilometers.


The colors on this stretch of road shift depending on the season. In September, the earth is bone dry, most of the color bleached out of the grass by the combination of winter drought and frigid temperatures. December brings summer rains and emerald green grass, it looks like Ireland. With the dry autumn weather of May, the colors shift into pale green ochres.


After another forty-five minutes, I reach a fork in the road with cement cube with an open face to the road, a bus shelter. On the side facing me, a hand painted sign with thick red letters reads Casa Nueva, empanadas, miel. I follow the arrow pointing left and reach Casa Nueva, a small ranch surrounded by fruit trees. My door is barely cracked open when I’m greeted by a golden mutt. As I reach to pet his head, he rolls over for a belly scratch, still wagging his tail, sweeping the dust and leaves from under him. It’s not officially spring yet but the last few days have been pretty warm. The apricot trees are showing buds. I hear the loud hum of bees in addition to the wind mill which provides electricity to the ranch.

There are two entry points to Los Gigantes. Felipa’s is on the north side and farther from the base of the mountain but she is so warm and welcoming, I don’t mind walking a few extra kilometers to the trailhead. Besides, I can stock up on local honey and homemade jam for the price of parking at the other place.

I say hello to Felipa and then cross the grass to the back gate. Across the river cairns mark the way through the high grass of the pampas.

My husband and his friends spent their adolescence in the craggy peaks of Los Gigantes. They’d ride their bikes up the same roads on a weekly basis and then spend the weekend camping out in the peaks. He knows this area like the back of his hand and guides groups to the summit. He’s told me stories of how quickly the weather changes and how often hikers get lost in dense fog. Even on a clear day, its easy to confuse cattle trails for the real route.

On this trip I’m here to do some landscape painting so I don’t have a guide. I follow the cairns and the Hansel and Gretel trail of stones across the pampa. I keep the ranch in sight just to be sure. I spend a few hours painting before I head back. I’ve made the summit several times and I’m feeling the urge to go again, just not today. I know better.

Approaching the Summit

 

 

 

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