Everything is for Sail

November 6, 2005

Manuel windsurfing in RodeoOctober 20th — For 10 years Manuel lived in San Juan, Argentina selling insurance. Four years ago he decided that that wasn’t the life for him. He sold all of his accounts and closed his office. He was a windsurfer, and while San Juan was just 199 kilometers from some of the best windsurfing in the world, it was 199 kilometers too far.

Manuel moved to Rodeo, a mountain town of less than 2000 people. It was a town without a movie theater, a bank, or even a single taxi. It did, however, have something special. In 1998 the government built a dam to generate hydroelectric power and improve irrigation from the Andean snow melt. Unfortunately, the hydroelectric project has been a failure. The dam does ensure a reliable supply of water to the city of Jachal 44 kilometers to the east, but it hasn’t been as useful for irrigation as had been anticipated.

What the dam did do beautifully was create a lake 5800 feet above sea level, right in the middle of some of the most reliable winds in the world. Along the southern shore is Playa Lamaral, the best beach on the lake. While it lacks the sand of coastal beaches it more than makes up for it with spectacular views of the snow capped Andes that feed the lake and the ridged brown foothills to the northeast.

Playa Lamaral is the spot that Manuel had scoped out as the best beach in his endless visits to the dique, both during construction of the dam and in the years immediately after. The beach was just a few hundred kilometers down the road from the enormous farmhouse that Manuel leased and turned into the Hostel, Rancho Lamaral. He knew this was going to be a special area, and he had the forethought to get some of the best real estate. The area is known as Cuesta Del Viento.

Manuel caters to a mix of windsurfers, fans and travellers on a budget looking for something different, and he does so really well. Soyan and I spent 4 terrific days here learning to windsurf in the relative calm of the mornings and watching the expert windsurfers put on a show when the big winds came out, late each afternoon. We also met a pair of travellers from Buenos Aires taking a break from camping and enjoying the laidback lifestyle at Rancho Lamaral. It is hard to camp when you can sleep in a bed with clean sheets, take a hot shower, watch a movie from the large video library and get breakfast included for just $15.00 pesos ($5.00 USD) a night.

Beyond windsurfing there is horseback riding, rafting and caves to explore, but having been away from work for a while now I chose to spend my time differently. I spent a few hours in a strategy session with Manuel where he and I designed some windsurfing packages. Then I set to work on a Spanish language and an English language a flyer for Rancho and Playa Lamaral. I also put him in touch with another entrepreneur who runs a nice hostal in Mendoza. You can take the entreprenuer out of the business, but not the business out of the entrepreneur.

If you like to windsurf or you are just looking for something different, now you really can windsurf in the Andes.

Here are some photos:

Windsurfers showing off.
Gaston and Mauro
Manuel the owner of Lamaral
Jonathan learning to windsurf

I love pot holes.

October 26, 2005

Road SignI love potholes — because that means the road is paved. We have just spent a fantastic week driving through San Juan Province, Argentina. We went from San Juan to Barreal to Rodeo to the Valley of the Moon and back to San Juan.

It was a great trip with spectacular landscapes, charming towns, wonderful people but some stressful driving conditions. We rented a Suziki “Fun”. Having a car was fun, but not all of the driving was.

We went 1000 miles over a few good roads and a lot of dirt, gravel, sand, and crumbling mountain passes with two way traffic on one lane roads. The winding mountain passes came complete with steep drop offs and only occasional guard rails. This was just the spot to drive a stick shift for the second time in my life and the first time in 18 years.

We endured 2 agricultural inspectors, 6 police check points, dozens of detours and hundreds of badenes or dips as we learned. We made the whole trip with out major incident. We did get stuck in the sand once, but this was on a national park road and we were with a ranger. It was a quick fix. We also turned back, afraid to cross a stream when we were headed toward, La Finca Media Luna, a hotel in the mountains.

I do have to credit Jim Roger’s and his very entertaining book, Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Road Trip, a story about literally driving around the world with some excellent advice: When inquiring about road conditions be sure to ask people if they themselves have actually travelled on the road, rather than that they have simply heard “it is fine”. Also be sure to ask several people. This saved us from driving a 120 mile “short cut” with 2 rivers only crossable by 4 wheel drive.

Here is a lovely “detour” that we drove on for 50 miles:

This is how you save money on gaurd rail. Only use it where it is absolutely necessary:

If you can’t see the videos, you can downlod the the detour or the guard rail videos.

Some photos of road conditions are available.