Bienvenidos a El Bolson, Argentina. There are still dirt roads and the aptly named Rio Azul (Blue River) runs through town. Four days a week there is a local artisan’s fair in the Plaza Pagano (Pagan Square) where you can find beautifully hand-crafted jewelry, scarves, hats, mate gourds, food and local beer. And everyone is always drinking mate. A good thermos, mate and something to drink it from are always about 2 inches away from any Argentine at any given moment, at most. It's lovely!
I’ve spent a few days at La Casa del Viajero (www.lacasadelviajero.com.ar), a wonderful little hostel on the edge of town. I walked here the day I arrived, and I had a map but the road just kept going and I hadn’t seen any signs of the hostel, but after about 25 minutes I walked under the wooden sign through bushes and found myself in a beautiful little community in the trees. There are chickens and dogs and cats and backpackers running around and hammocks abound. The owners Laura and Agustin are amazingly kind and make us feel very welcome. They are so mellow and have movie nights where we watch Argentine movies.
I have spent several days chilling out at the hostel and working on grad school applications. Yeah, whose idea was it to apply while I’m in South America? Oh well, this is the most relaxing place to write and a girl here named Isa revises cover letters and essays as her job, so she’s been helping me a lot which has been invaluable. I also went on a day hike with two other American girls at a gorgeous lake called Lago Puelo.
Yesterday Juliet, Carol and I went hiking up to Refugio Piltriquitron (say that five times fast). Piltri is the highest peak in the area. Apparently it means something about how beautiful it is when the clouds come down around the mountain peak, according to our taxi driver who dropped us at the trailhead. After two hours of relaxed walking we arrived at the Bosque Tallado, or Carved Forest. There was a fire here many years ago and artists had the brilliant idea to hike up and carve a bunch of the dead trees into beautiful statues. There are 30 total and we wandered around and posed with the pictures for a while before having a delicious lunch in the shade.
We continued on toward the regugio and to our delight it was only about 15 more minutes instead of the 45 we were expecting. We strolled up to see people lounging around drinking homemade beer on a large grassy lawn in front of the two log cabins up there. Dogs and beautiful snow leopard looking cats ran around and begged food from picnic-ers. We promptly reserved beds, dropped our packs and started drinking the delicious beer they made up there. It was excellent and so relaxing to while away the afternoon among the lupines in the sunshine sipping cerveza casera. The result of afternoon beers was early evening exhaustion and after cooking up some pasta and pounding water, we were thoroughly drained of energy. I played a few songs on guitar and we all crashed around 9:30, by far the earliest I’ve gone to sleep in South America but I’ve been fighting a cold so it felt good.
We woke up casually the next morning and after a breakfast of their homemade bread and raspberry jam (which was about $4 for an entire loaf of bread and jar of jam) we started on our hike for the summit of Piltri. We met two other Argentine women along the way and hiked with them which was really pleasant and good Spanish practice. I got super excited to be climbing mountains and even though I was feeling a bit sick and the scree slope was steep and slippery, I climbed and climbed and arrived at the summit first. So, being the only one up on top of the world, I decided it would be great to be naked there, so I was. That was fun until the wind picked up so I got dressed and the others arrived and we all enjoyed the unparalled views of the mountains and valleys around us.
Another hour and a half and we were back on the lawn by the refugio eating to our hearts’ content. We were all so hungry after the climb and enjoyed the rest of the bread, jam, avocado, eggs and cheese. By this time the hike was really catching up with me and I found myself exhausted during our descent. To my utter delight, by the time I got to the upper parking lot the other women had found us a ride back down in the bed of a pickup truck, which brought us right into town. Thank you Argentina!
Back here at La Casa del Viajero it’s great to meet back up with Max, Jerome and Jon the Frenchmen, Dan and Beth the English hippies who love to juggle, Isa from Germany who is healing a knee injury, Rosana the energetic Argentine on a short vacation, Gisamina and Cynthia who are working here and are so kind, and of course Agustine and Laura. It’s good to be “home”.
Front porch of the Casa del Viajero