Argentine Lake District, continued; January 5-9
Bariloche we continued south in the Argentine Lake District,
though not very far -- our next stop was the smaller, more laid-back,
alternative-to-Bariloche resort town of El Bolsón.
Along the way Emily managed to score her fifth horse ride, guided by a
true Argentine gaucho (photo 1), and accompanied by Alex instead of Jennifer for a change.
El Bolsón has long been a magnet for hippies, but it gets its share of yuppies too, and those in between. We liked it:
Moving further south, we next visited Parque Nacional Los Alerces. We'd heard about this park more than once from locals we met earlier, who raved about how wild and unspoiled it is. We're certainly glad we made the detour. We stayed two nights so we could take a substantial day-hike up to a fantastic ridge; photos 2-4. (The hike is long and difficult enough that the rangers insist you register in and out, and they won't let you set off after 10am.) It was a brooding day, but fortunately the predicted rainstorm didn't materialize until late that night. We did, however, have incredible winds -- we haven't seen such winds on a hike since, well, since our previous trip to Patagonia!
If Emily decides to write a story about this hike, the winds will undoubtedly be described with colorful adjectives; they made Emily and Jennifer fairly nervous while scrambling across steep slopes and narrow ridges. (Too bad we left our trekking poles in the camper -- the improvised bamboo stick in the photos hardly did the trick.) Tim, meanwhile, seemed oblivious to the winds as he raced across the most treacherous sections looking at interesting rocks.
Near Los Alerces we made a brief stop at the Welsh settlement of Trevelin, where in the municipal museum the kids were invited to play the antique foot-powered organ (photo 5; Tim pumping the foot-pedals, Emily on the keyboard), and we had a lucky sighting of the Old Patagonian Express (photo 6), made famous by Paul Theroux's book of the same name.
Taking a look at the route map, our prolonged stay in the combined Lake Districts of Chile and Argentina generated quite a concentration of dots. (Los Alerces, the last dot before heading east, is considered on the border of the Lake District and Central Patagonia.) The length of time we spent in the area is testament to how appealing it is, both in its fabulous scenery and variety of things to do. The plethora of dots shows how much we moved around. What's not obvious from the map is that thanks to the dramatic geography of the area, a small move often takes one into a completely different region.
We're certainly not alone in our appreciation of northwest Patagonia at this time of year. In the thick of the tourist season now, campgrounds are very busy, and the more popular trails are rarely private. The vastly increased number of tourists doesn't bother us much, since people-interactions are always an interesting component of the travel experience. Nevertheless, we're glad that the majority of our time in South America was before the real summer travel season hit.
Next: Los Alerces was our last major stop before turning the Hot Chile Camper eastward to make our way across the country and ultimately to Buenos Aires, where we're due in a week. Even if we had more time, it's unlikely we would have driven further south. The southernmost part of Argentine Patagonia, where it gets interesting again, is an area we've traveled in before. As for the long stretch in between, one of our guidebooks doesn't mince words: "Virtually no one comes this way, because this is one of the world's worst roads through one of its bleakest landscapes."