02.04.2006 - 17.04.2006
About two hours south of Bariloche, this restful and scenic town has been a place to get it away from it all since back to the land hippy-types came here in the 60's and 70's. It is known as the Woodstock of Argentina. How it fared during the Dirty War in the late 70's is an interesting question, and not one I know the answer to. I'll just have to come back to do the research.
It is located in a large green valley surrounded by rocky peaks, and is known to have a micro-climate which makes it warmer than surrounding areas. There are small chakras, selling some of the best berry preserves I have ever tasted, as well as microbreweries, (very micro) selling their own beer. Perhaps these are still being run by ex-hippies, but most are older and straighter looking now. There is also a craft market several days a week, selling jewelery, knitted clothes, some food, and the usual assortment of mediocre art.
We rented a small cabin with mountain views on the edge of town. Our hosts, who indeed seemed like back to the land types, had migrated from Buenos Aires 25 years earlier. They were extremely sweet to us with whatever we needed, and complained about the recent population growth in the valley. For them, it was no longer the quiet place that it had been.
We had our own kitchen for the first time in 6 months, and what a treat it was to "play house." We shopped in the local market, and did some cooking so that we could eat something other than meat and potatoes, the staple foods in Argentina. We had our "on the road" friends, EJ and Michael, over for dinner. When we didn't want to prepare a whole meal, there were different kinds of ready made empanadas, almost as good as in Salta. Pop 'em into the oven for 10 minutes and they were done. We even had a living area separate from the bedroom. It felt almost palatial. One of the luxuries of being home is having your own space. Of course, once you have it everyday it is easy to take for granted.
When we first arrived, we had no idea that we would spend more than two weeks here, but things really slowed down for us. We took a number of day hikes and bike rides throughout the valley. Often we were sidetracked by the wild blackberries which seemed to grow everywhere. We'd start out on a hike, come upon huge berry patch, and stop to pick and eat for hours. Belly aches were not infrequent. We could also buy raspberries very cheaply in the craft market. Between the wild and cultivated berries, I'm sure we ate at least two quarts a day. There couldn't be a better time to be here than fall. The days were comfortable, around 70 degrees, and the nights were chilly, sometimes with frost. We had heat in our cabin so that was okay.
El Bolson is also known as a kind of new age power spot, like Sedona, Arizona, and after five days it felt like some of that positive energy was rubbing off on me. We biked to a water fall and while Nanette painted, I just stared at the falls and the mountains for a few hours. I am not usually one to spend time just hanging, or contemplating, but it seems I did a lot of that here. Full of fruit and nut trees, the place just lends itself to that.
Quiet Country Lanes Abound
Oh sure, I did take some more strenuous walks up to a mountain refugio.
And we biked to Lago Puelo one day.
But mostly we did things for a few hours, and then read and relaxed in our "backyard." Nanette commented that she was sleeping a lot, like she often did in Culebra, in the Carribean.
View From Our "Backyard."
Somehow it just seems easier to relax while traveling away from home. There are no bills to pay, projects to complete, friends to meet, schedules to complete. You step away from the world you know, with all of its obligations, into the wider world, and you leave so much of that behind. Of course to many, our whole trip must seem like a long relaxing vacation, but that's not really the case. Extended travel is like the rest of life, with good days and bad days, and certainly not always relaxing. You do leave some of your baggage behind, but not all. I'm not saying that it doesn't beat working, and I am certainly not complaining, but it isn't always easy. It isn't always, well.... like El Bolson.
Piltriquitron at Sunset
Unfortunately, after 10 glorious days, our little home was rented to another family, so we decided to rent a car for a few days and go south to Parque Nactional Los Alerces, a large wilderness area. It is home to 2000 year old Alerce trees.
Renting a car might not seem like a big deal, but it was the first time in six months that I had driven a car, and this too seemed like a treat . And yet... in many respects, it was good not to have that responsibility. There is much to be said for having all of all your belongings confined to a mochilla, (backpack).
On the way there we took "the scenic route," a long and bumpy ripio road . En route we went looking for Butch Cassidy's cabin, where he lived for almost 7 years with the Sundance Kid and Etta Place. Etta was initially The Kid's girlfriend, but depending on you believe, they had some kind of menage a trois while living on their farm. We thought that this would be an obvious tourist attraction, but it turned out not to be so easy to find it in the small town of Cholila. We managed to do so, and then spent time exploring the deserted homestead.
We couldn't resist stopping at "The Butch Cassidy Teahouse," as it is described in The Handbook.
This is a stone farmhouse a few miles up the road, and is run by an elderly woman who is full of stories about Butch and his exploits, including the children he fathered whose relatives still live in the surrounding valley. She has some old pictures and memorabilia, and insisted on giving us meriendas, tea and pastries, usually served as a late afternoon snack, although we were there about noon. It was delicious, but expensive. I assume that she makes some much needed cash serving it to tourists like us, while talking about the Wild Bunch, as Butch's gang came to be known.
After a few years hiatus, possibly getting bored with semi-retirement, or with Etta, he and The Kid starting robbing again in other parts of Argentina. They were eventually killed in a shootout in southern Bolivia, though the bodies have never been found.
I digress, but I remember, dimly perhaps, seeing the movie many years ago, somewhere in the wilds of Montana, (Not Missoula). We thought many parts of it were funny, almost campy, but nobody else was laughing. People in our own wild west seemed to take it very seriously.
From there we continued to the national park, and took a few short walks in the spooky and damp forests, also deserted, and were able to see some Alerce trees. The oldest were in a remote and hard to reach spot, so we didn't see them. We went on to Esquel, a western feeling town with wide streets. It felt like you could hitch your horse up to the posts outside, but we pulled up to our hotel in our tiny Toyota, along with everyone else. This was originally a Welsh community, but we didn't see or hear any evidence of that. We did see La Trochita, otherwise known as The Old Patagonian Express, per Paul Theroux.
On the way back we had a paved and more direct road, but elected to spend the night in an isolated and funky farmhouse on Lago Epuyen.
We took one of the canoes out on the lake, in the sunny and warm afternoon.
We discovered a large floating Buddha beached on an island, and knew we had some to right place despite the lumpy beds.
When we returned to El Bolson the other family was still living in OUR cabin, and so we negotiated with the owners to rent a different one, not quite as cute, for another few days. On one of those days, we hired a taxi to take us to the top of Piltriquitron, the mountain outside of town, and took pictures of the valley and mountains.
We hiked to sculptures of Bosque Tallado, before walking the 10k back to our cabin.
It truly was difficult to pull ourselves away, but we had to return to Bariloche to meet our friends from home, Natalie and Allen.