Good Vibrations in El Bolsón

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November 12th 2007
Published: November 30th 2007
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Summit of Cerro PiltriquitronSummit of Cerro PiltriquitronSummit of Cerro Piltriquitron

Ruth approaches the summit of Cerro Piltriquitron. We were very tired at this point after a steep scramble over the snow, and seeing the summit was a big inspiration to keep going.
El Bolsón

When I read that El Bolsón was known for it's micro-breweries and hiking, I had a feeling we might be visiting the town. We liked it so much that we based ourselves here for a week, spending most of our days hiking in the mountains around the town, or further afield in Lago Puelo or Alerces National Park, and our evenings drinking beer and planning our next adventures.

El Bolsón was founded as a hippy community in the 1960's, but don't come here expecting everyone to be lying around stoned and listening to Bob Marley! The people here seemed no different to us from anywhere else in Argentina. It's the first and only non-nuclear community in Argentina, though what exactly this implies beyond the statement I don't know.

Climbing Piltri: Our first Patagonian Summit

Any visitor to El Bolsón will have noticed Cerro Piltriquitron, or Piltri, or Ptqt as we ended up calling it. This mountain overlooks the town, and is supposed to be one of the energy centres of the earth,. It's said the vibrations it emits are among the reasons why the people here are so relaxed. The summit is at an altitude
Paraglider near PiltriquitronParaglider near PiltriquitronParaglider near Piltriquitron

Not me, unfortunately.
of 2280 metres, and can be reached in a full day hike from El Bolsón, though in November, when the snowline is low, it is a very difficult hike. Another couple from our hostel had attempted the climb but turned back because of too much snow, so we were worried we might have difficulties too.

The starting point of the climb is Piltriquitron Platform, 13 km from El Bolsón, at approx 1000m altitude, and also the departure point for paragliding from the mountain. The platform is only accessible by ripio road, and the taxi from El Bolsón costs us 50 pesos. You could walk all the way from El Bolsón, though if you then wanted to climb to the summit, you'd need to spend the night at the Refugio. Our taxi driver was a bit of a nutter and did the trip in a far-too-fast 15 minutes. From the speed he took the corners of the switchback roads, I think he had something of a "Fangio" complex, and even more worryingly, he spent as much time as us looking at the views!

We got there in the end, and from the platform followed the well marked trail to
Cerro PiltriquitronCerro PiltriquitronCerro Piltriquitron

After climbing the summit, it was nice to look back at the peak from the comfort of our hostel!
Refugio Piltriquitron, at 1450m. The trail passed by Bosque Tallado, where we stopped to see the amazing wood sculptures made from the fallen trees. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the refugio, where we stopped for a cup of tea with the friendly owner, Manuel. We could see plenty of snow from the refugio, but Manual insisted the summit was reachable, but very difficult, especially the icy section below the summit. We left our details at the refugio (you need to do this for all difficult hikes in Argentina) and tried to understand Manuel's detailed instructions before heading off. There was a very helpful picture of the path in the refugio, which we decided to photograph, and without which we would never have found the summit.

After leaving the refugio, the path was not so well marked. It took us 3 hours to reach the summit from the Refugio, and it was a difficult climb as we had neither crampons nor ice-axes. Towards the end of the climb we had to scramble over the snow, rock and even some ice. It was very tiring and we had to take frequent rests. Very like climbing Toubkal in Morocco. The summit didn't come into view until towards the end, but we had a good idea of the direction thanks to the instructions from the refugio. We were both exhausted and exhilarated when we made it to the top - our first Patagonian peak. The summit was very narrow, with dangerous slopes on all sides so we needed to be very careful. There were fantastic views from the top, despite the clouds. Descending was much easier: we put on our waterproofs and slid downhill, toboggan style, over the snow, making it back to refugio in just over one hour.

Back in El Bolsón, we rewarded ourselves with an ice-cream in Jauja, a combined cafe/restaurant, chocolaterie and heladeria. All the ice-creams are made from organic milk, and they have unique flavours such as Patagonian berries. The food, especially the desserts here are excellent, and they also brew some delicious home made beer. No surprise it became our regular stop over the next few days.

Our other big hike in El Bolsón was to the Escondida Waterfalls, 10 km from town. We reached it via Mirador del Rio Azul and Cabeza del Indio (The Indian's Head), two other interesting sights
Cabeza Del IndioCabeza Del IndioCabeza Del Indio

It does look a bit like a human head!
near the town. The Mirador was our first stop, and after 5km of dusty ripio, the view of the beautiful Azul river, framed by the snow-capped Chilean mountains in the back, was a nice reward for our efforts. Another kilometre took us to the Cabeza del Indio, a rock form which resembles a human head. It took another hour to reach the waterfall, but it was well worth it. There was a good circular walk around and down to the waterfalls with excellent viewpoints at strategic points. In summer I imagine it's a very busy place but we had it to ourselves other than our guide, a stray dog who followed us around the path, and stayed with us till we left. He was very good at finding the way!

Cholila: On the trail of Butch and Sundance

We rented a car in El Bolsón to go explore Los Alerces National Park, a quiet and relatively difficult to reach national park, which was originally set up to protect the alerces trees. Our drive south from El Bolsón took us past Cholila, famous as the home of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who arrived here after fleeing from
Alerces National ParkAlerces National ParkAlerces National Park

View of the glacier above Lago Menendez
the police in the USA. Even today this area feels very remote, and the only access is by a long ripio road. We hoped to see the cabins where the outlaws stayed but we couldn't find them. I guess they chose them too well.

Alerces National Park - Remote Beauty

Later we reached Alerces National Park and made our first stop at Lago Verde. This is one of the smallest lakes in the park, but also perhaps the most beautiful. We first went to Mirador Lago Verde, where a 2.3 km circular path through the forest passes by a number of viewpoints from where you can see the beautiful lake, in a postcard type view with the snow topped mountains in the background. We then drove a few kilometres south to Pasarella Rio Arayanes, a walk which runs through the forest passing Lago Menendez and Lago Verde. This was a superb walk: you pass many interesting sights along the way including rare alerces and arrayan trees. There are helpful information panels (in Spanish only but easy enough to understand) at frequent intervals and many miradors at strategic viewpoints over the lakes. It takes about 2 hours to complete the walk, and the scenery is incredible.

By now it was 7pm and we still had no accommodation sorted for the night. Our guidebook listed a few hotels, but all the cheaper ones were either closed for the winter or weren't where our guidebook had marked them. The count of mistakes in our Footprint Argentina guidebook is now into the hundreds! We continued along Ruta 71 and, just as I was starting to think we'd be sleeping in the car, we eventually came to Hosteria Quime Quipan, which was open, though way beyond our budget. Given the late hour, we were running out of options, but we managed to negotiate a room, with dinner and breakfast included for 250 pesos, down from 300. Ruth is an expert at these negotiations! This was about 3 or 4 times more than what we´ve become accustomed to paying in Argentina, but it was only for one night and when you convert it to Euros it's not so bad!

In fairness, our room was lovely and we had a perfect view of Lago Futalaufquen, and the beautiful Cerro Dedal overlooking it. Before dinner we walked down through the gardens to the lake, and if there is a better located hotel in the park, well, I'd love to see it. Dinner was also excellent: we had a four course meal with wine, after which I vowed (not for the first time in Argentina) to give up meat for a while! The owners were very friendly, and our only regret was we hadn't arrived earlier in the day. I think it was a little overpriced but it's a seller's market in Alerces National Park, where accommodation is limited.

We left the hotel early the next day in an attempt to get an early start on Cerro Alto El Dedal, the mountain overlooking Lago Futalaufquen. This is one of the most impressive peaks in the park, and a well marked circular trail leads from Futalaufquen up the mountain. The summit is at 1916 metres altitude, but during our hike the snow appeared from about 1400 metres, and we couldn't progress much beyond the tree line as the snow was over a metre thick in many places and impossible to cross. Sadly, we turned back, but the views were still excellent.

Trevelin: A traditional Welsh Tea

The Welsh Tea may not be an
Welsh Chapel in TrevelinWelsh Chapel in TrevelinWelsh Chapel in Trevelin

La Capilla Bethel, built in 1910
authentic Welsh tradition (it originated in Gaiman in the early 20th century) but it's become such an institution out here that we had to give it a try. We missed out on our chance to try it in both Trelew and Gaiman, but we timed our visit to Trevelin perfectly, arriving in the early evening, when most of the tea shops are open. To anyone thinking of trying the Welsh tea, my advice is to skip lunch and build up an appetite. You´ll be glad of this when you see what they serve you. As we had already had lunch we went for the shared version for 30 pesos between us, rather than one serving each which would have cost 25 per person.

What followed was one of the richest and highest-calorie meals I can remember. We had 6 different types of cake, scones, breads made in the local mills, very rich butter, beautiful home-made jams, all washed down with the nicest pot of tea we've had since we started the trip. And that was only a half portion!

Feeling that we needed to do some exercise after all those calories, we went to see a couple of
Welsh Tea in TrevelinWelsh Tea in TrevelinWelsh Tea in Trevelin

Let the feast commence...
museums. The Museo Historical Regional is one of the better museums we've visited in Argentina. It's housed in the old flour mill, one of Trevelin's oldest buildings, and has exhibits about the history of the town, in particular the groups - mainly Welsh, but also the native people - who have lived in the town and area.

An interesting encounter

The next museum was even better. In fact, it was one of the most interesting places we've seen on our trip. The museum is in the home of Cleri Evans, granddaughter of Trevelin's founder, John Evans. She recounts the story of how her father left from Trelew looking for gold to the west near the Andes. During the trip Evans and his party were attacked by a tribe of natives. His two companions were brutally murdered but Evans escaped thanks to his trusty horse, Malacara, who leaped across a steep jump and away to safety. Evans was so grateful that he built a special tomb in his garden for the horse, which we also saw during our visit.

The talk Cleri Evans gave us was fascinating. It was mostly in Spanish, with a few English and Welsh
Ruth and OjotoRuth and OjotoRuth and Ojoto

Ruth makes friends with the cat from Refugio Piltriquitron.
words thrown in. She told us all about Trevelin, and how, had it not been for the Welsh settlers here, who voted to stay with Argentina during the boundary settlements, the town and the surrounding region would now be part of Chile. She recalled meeting Bruce Chatwin, when he visited Patagonia in the 70's, describing him as tall, wearing clothes that made him look like a stereotypical English man abroad, and always writing and observing. By coincidence, I was in the middle of reading "In Patagonia", though I hadn't yet reached the chapter where Chatwin mentions meeting Cleri Evans and her father, Milton. His portrayal of Milton isn't very flattering, but apparently he made up many parts of the book!

We stayed that night in Esquel, another town with Welsh links. We didn't do too much sightseeing here as we wanted to get back to El Bolsón in time to see Lago Puelo the following day, but we did have an interesting chat with an Argentinian girl who had studied in Dublin. It's a strange experience listening to an Argentinian girl with a north Dublin accent!

Our final day in the El Bolsón area was again spent hiking
Beer and HikingBeer and HikingBeer and Hiking

Drinking home made beer and planning a hike in Jauja.
at Lago Puelo National Park. I've probably written too much about all the hikes we did this week, but the trails and views here again were excellent, the scenery was fantastic, and if you're in anyway an outdoors type person you'll love it!

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


Escondida WaterfallsEscondida Waterfalls
Escondida Waterfalls

Beautiful waterfalls near El Bolsón
Bosque TalladoBosque Tallado
Bosque Tallado

Bosque Tallado is an outdoor musem on the way to Refugio Piltriquitron. The wood structures here are excellent.
Descent from PiltriquitronDescent from Piltriquitron
Descent from Piltriquitron

Ruth toboggans down Piltriquitron
Cafe JaujaCafe Jauja
Cafe Jauja

Supposedly the best ice-cream in Argentina is sold in Jauja in El Bolsón.

30th November 2007

Hi Barry beginning to wish I was over there - scenery stunning.
30th November 2007

As always, we are really enjoying reading all about your trip. Keep it up. Look forward to the next installment.

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