Argentina & Chile,

7th March - 28th March 2010

[5 - Bariloche to El Bolsón,

Senda Los Hitos:  La Pasarela del Rio Azul to Lago Puelo]

  Signs for Avenue San Martin in El Bolson.

One of life's pleasures in Argentina - a woman has her plaited as she sips her mate through a metal straw.


View from the bus of the route to Refugio Frey and the peaks above it, on the Lynch-Frey Trek.




Saturday 13th March

Up at 07h30, Kelson had created several shrill alarm calls emanating from his own voice-box, one no better than the other, though no-one could deny their effectiveness. The chilling rooster alarm call, sounding more like a rooster with a serious bout of dysentery, was chosen on this particular morning. The final packing and discarding of items surplus to requirements began in earnest. This was it! Whatever ended up packed in would have to be carried each day from here on for the rest of the journey! Harald had thankfully convinced me to invest in a pair of lightweight Argentinean crocs (I had not brought along sandals of any description) and for this I am eternally grateful to him until my dying day! Harald's wife Sibylle had kindly trundled over to baker across the road and brought back some Media Lunas (similar to croissants yet sweeter), which we enjoyed with Kelson's coffee. I was packed and ready to go, long before the arrival of our mini-bus transport, which was to take us to Bariloche bus station, where, finally, everything we were not taking on the bus, including a change of clothing, would be in storage for the next two weeks.

Ralph and I had been chased from the upstairs front seats with its broad front windows by Elena, like troepies in basics. Gosh, I hadn't been spoken to like that since I had been in the Army many years back in the days of conscription in South Africa. I learnt later that she had been an army instructor once upon a time. I don't really like talking about my Army days; Ralph, on the other hand, looks back on his with deep nostalgia and waxes lyrical when describing his experience, citing numerous anecdotes that have no doubt been told by many others, to the point of entering the realms of folklore. To this day he will refer to me as “Sersant (sergeant)” or “Korporaal (Corporal)” instead of by name, for reasons that escape me, mimicking an instructor's typically thick accent, emphasized by a skewing of the mouth.  The Army culture suited me not – I must be the greatest pacifist that walked the earth – so I have never comprehended the fondness that some seem to associate with this period of their lives.

Andre offered to change seats en route, as he was aware that I was keen to use every opportunity to take photographs. Having missed an earlier bus, we were forced to wait for the 12h30 to El Bolsón, which arrived late anyway. We reached the rural town in the southwest of Rio Negro Province mid-afternoon. The local flea market was still in full swing and buzzing. El Bolsón is a melting pot of the histories, myths and legends of the first indigenous inhabitants of the area together with various waves of European immigrants fuelled by the cultural movements of the 1970s (broadly the hippy movement), where simple and sustainable living practices are still a way of life. Certainly, vendors at the flea market seemed representative of that section of the community, even if by appearance only.

Harald deciding what to buy!


The flea market in El Bolson, a town fuelled by the cultural movements of the 1970s (broadly the hippy movement), where simple and sustainable living practices are still a way of life.

A change of plan meant that Elena had arranged for us to stay in a log cabin on an organic farm, resulting a single, young French occupant from being evicted. Basically, he returned from a day out to find the bunkhouse taken over by a bunch of Seffricans. People seemed to know he was French - was it his Gauloise-stained fingers or the large black beret across his brow? The tree-planting project to offset carbon emission by-products of our international flights (see CE calculator, Treksa website), during which we were scheduled to go outin person and plant young saplings ourselves, had been shelved due to it being too early in the season. Elena had confirmed that these would be planted later in April. Piled into a van which had taken us to the farm, we returned later on foot via a short-cut, crossing a bridge over the Rio Azul, to shop for dinner and breakfast the next day. Well, this might have been an organic farm but the state of cleanliness of the bunkhouse left much to be desired and a clean-up operation ensued. Elena was fuming though I cannot say if a word in anger was uttered to the owner. In the process though, I managed to bang my forehead square on the banister, for king and country, which made such a racket that Chile mistook it for another aftershock. Ralph practically rescued a cat stuck in a mulberry bush from the jaws of a dog and instantly stole my nomination for the local hero prize. Xandra was now on a mission to save the entire canine population of Argentina, feeding any dog crossing her path with Vienna sausages.

The organic farm log cabin just outside El Bolson.


The waters of the Rio Azul, shopping in El Bolson and relaxing whilst waiting for the bus, manana, manana.


Sunday 14th March

Harald insisted that he had prodded me only once with his walking stick in the course of my slumber on the upper bunk, when he felt his own rest had been disturbed, yet to me it felt like five or six times. A splendid breakfast of scrambled eggs, trout kippers and fruit salad was prepared and after packing, we walked into town. Leaving our rucksacks on a green near a bus stop, we took turns to head off to shop for the approaching major hike. Ralph and I pooled our food requirements, which were pretty similar anyway, fully conscious of the practicalities of having to carry the stuff later. Ralph, though, afforded himself two luxuries, condensed milk and honey. Given his intense dislike for shopping and supermarkets, thankfully, it went off relatively painlessly. We even had time for a quick café con leche at a sidewalk café, though not without caution from Elena to hurry us along (a tactic we were now becoming more accustomed to), as the arrival of the bus was now imminent. Well, it seemed that the bus system operated on a principle of mañana, so it was some time before one showed up, much to Elena's annoyance.


Polish immigrant Zacharia constructing yet another cabin at La Pasarela del Rio, south of El Bolson.

Before long, though, we reached La Pasarela del Rio Azul's camping and accommodation facilities, where we were to stop for the night and settled into a hostel bunkhouse or albergue. The site was huge and owned by a Polish expatriate from the war, who went by the name of Zacharia. An industrious fellow, he had built much of the accommodation himself and was in the process of completing another. I later engaged him in conversation as he planed lengths of wood for the new cabin. He proceeded to share his views on the history of Argentina during the time of the military junta and the current state of the country, which he felt was in decline. I gathered that he felt threatened by the current government, itself weakened by global recession, which he maintained were making political overtures to appease the political masses, at the expense of citizens not necessarily of Argentinean ethnic background. He criticised many whom he felt were content with receiving handouts from the state rather than making an effort to find work and utilise the resources and opportunities that the land offered them. He pointed to a dense, deciduous shrub close by which grows wild in the Andes, known as Rosa Mosqueta, referring to its numerous commercial properties. He mentioned that he was still working part-time in Bariloche in a logistical role in the nuclear industry. As an aside, this plant species is listed as a category 1 declared weed in South Africa, an invasive species in Australia and a restricted plant in New Zealand!

We sorted and packed our food split evenly between us, washed a few clothes, showered and relaxed. Despite the fact that we had baguette, cheese and ham, the others insisted that we join them for dinner, as they had cooked too much rice. The subject of the conversation turned to the merits or otherwise of Facebook, as not everyone had signed up. I recall being prodded yet again by someone's walking pole in the night, though Harald insisted that he had taken pity on me, regarding the method as somewhat inhumane. He claimed he pulled my toe instead in an effort to reduce the disturbance I was supposedly creating. Ralph had checked the weather forecast and it sounded ominous, with several days of rain being forecast later in the week.


Monday 15th March


Additional photos courtesy Ralph Pina, Harald Weber & Andre Greyling.



Setting out from La Pasarela del Rio over and along the Rio Azul, we encountered a local farmer attempting to divert the course of the river - sheer madness!


A map showing the traditional trail of Senda los Hitos, the Rio Azul down to Lago Puelo, Segunda and Primer Corral and Llanada Grande.






The route along Rio Azul; Stopping for lunch on day one of Senda los Hitos.

The day finally arrived for the start of the Senda Los Hitos trek! A decent night's sleep had eluded me, as I tossed and turned on my sides to avoid lying on my back, waking up with a sore hip and in some discomfort. Ralph and I shared a fruit salad for breakfast whilst Kelson made oat porridge for the rest of the group, soon to establish itself as the agreed breakfast for the entire group for the remainder of the trip. We left La Pasarela around 10h20, crossed the bridge over the Rio Azul and headed slowly into the forest, much of it plantation and adjoining farmland, stopping regularly to feast on wild berries, bright purple in colour, which we simply could not resist. We soon came across a clearing where a local farmer was using heavy machinery to divert the course of a river. The weather was gorgeous and the route undulating, with occasional steep slopes. We stopped for lunch at the entrance to Lago Puelo National Park, established in 1971 as an annex of the Los Alerces National Park, as snow-capped mountains appeared in the distance. After roughly an hour's break, we entered the dense Valdivian temperate rain forest.  We navigated out way on a clearly defined, well maintained path through the forest, crossing several rivers and streams via bridges. A sign at one such crossing made us think about the value of the natural surroundings we found ourselves in, which, roughly translated, read: "The earth never forgets that the trees are its first thought".




Lago Puelo -idyllic!

Eventually within a couple of hours, we descended to the cool, clear, azure waters of Lago Puelo. The mountainous zone where the park lies was modified by the action of glaciers, which created many rivers and lakes, including the one (Puelo Lake) that gives the park its name. The rivers of the region show high levels of glacier sediment (silt), which gives Puelo Lake its blue colour. With Argentinean border formalities at the border post (Carabineros) next to the lake completed, we settled in at the adjacent campsite. Tents pitched, we headed for the waters of the lake for a swim. Tea followed before preparations began to cook the first of our pasta dinners, the only variance in the days to come being the choice of sauce. Ralph and I had a good laugh at Andre's expense when we noticed that his group had purchased precisely the same pasta mix he had seen Ralph and I eating at Refugio Frey, supposedly "beyond rescue". We were amazed at the sorts of ingredients the others had brought with them, so perhaps Andre would shortly be "eating his words" instead courtesy of the cordon bleu chefs in the group. And then after dinner, they played a card game, I lie not! As soon as the skies darkened around eight, I crawled into my tent for the night.



Having completed passport and visa formalities at the Argentine Carabineros (border post), we settled in at our campsite at Lago Puelo.


(L-R) Xandra, Sibylle, Kelson and Harald. (L-R) Xandra, Sibylle, Kelson and Harald and (standing) Andre & Clare.


Settling in at Lago Puelo campsite.


Patagonia, Argentina & Chile

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