Day 7: Bariloche, El Bolson, Los Alerces Nat'l Pk

Trip Start Dec 02, 2008
1
9
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Trip End Dec 26, 2008


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Where I stayed
Lago Verde Wilderness Resort

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Day 7: Drive from Bariloche to El Bolson & on to Los Alerces National Park:  Lago Verde Wilderness Resort, Tuesday, December 9th

We wake up leisurely and open the curtains to see the large monkey puzzle tree just outside our window and the view beyond of Lago Nahuel Huapi.  It's a beautiful bright sunny day, full of promise!  We make our way downstairs to the continental breakfast at Los Juncos and are pleasantly surprised to find fresh squeezed orange juice (such a treat!), an assortment of breads, fresh sliced fruit, granola and cereal, all beautifully displayed.  The housekeeper is very friendly and fills a giant cup with coffee and warm milk.  This morning, we sit at the same table we had for our candlelit dinner last night.  But now, the sun is streaming in and we gaze out at the lake.  Los Juncos just feels so homey and comfortable.  We're happy.   During our stay in the Lake District, we will stay in various hotels and lodges, each with a unique feel and experience.  Comments and photos of each are at the end of the Lake District journal!

Our plan is to drive south to Los Alerces National Park.  It will be our first taste of the big wide-open expanses of Patagonia and we are curious what the roughly four hour drive will be like.  I have this image in my mind of vast space that will be mesmerizing.  After five days in the city of Buenos Aires, we're both ready for the feeling of breathing room!  In our hearts, although we enjoy cities, we are not city people, preferring the quiet and beauty of the natural landscape. 

We plan to break up the driving time with a stop at El Bolson, a midway point, approximately two hours from Posada Los Juncos and Bariloche.  On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays local craftspeople show and sell their wares at the Feria Artesanal.  If we have time, we may also stop at the Leleque Pioneer Museum, located on the Estancia Benetton, South of Cholila (tel. 02944/451141; Tues-Thurs 11am-5pm) It is 6km from town on RP 15. The museum displays Patagonia's history, formed by early Indian communities and the European pioneers.  Another possibility is the home of Butch Cassidy in Cholila.  We'll see how it goes!  Our intention is to enjoy whatever it is we do and neither of us are feeling that we have to do it all!   The drive and its associated scenery is our main attraction for the day!

We pack the trunk of our rental car and oh boy, we can't get the luggage cover to hook in place so that the luggage will be hidden!  We call Gabriel at Movil Rent-a-Car and try in Spanish to describe the problem.  This is advanced Spanish, as in beyond a 5 year old, so we show the housekeeper at Los Juncos the problem and she communicates in Spanish for us.  Gabriel will be over in 20 minutes.  We are not sure if he is bringing another car or is going to fix this one, but we each find something to do until he arrives.  Harvey gets out his book by Jacques Buzan, "From Dawn to Decadence" and finds a garden bench; he has just started it and it is 802 pages.  Hopefully, he will only be able to read a few pages before Gabriel arrives.  I get out my camera and walk around the garden and photograph the brilliantly colored flowers growing against the walls of Los Juncos. We wait, we wait, and we wait.  And then we wait some more.  We are wondering how long 20 minutes is in Argentina.  The housekeeper comes out and offers to call for us.  Gabriel is one kilometer away.

Gabriel looks over our luggage compartment, sees the problem and exchanges this car for a VW station wagon that he has driven over in.  We test out the luggage compartment in the VW, re-do the paperwork and Gabriel shows us around the car.  We are not upset with Gabriel, since he clearly has responded and given us a better car.  It probably took him time to get the car ready for us - or whatever.  But what would have been accomplished to be upset with him?  We are thankful and say so - he has taken care of our problem and we are now ready to go!

As we are driving out of the Bariloche area, we talk about our reaction and think we responded well.  Harvey sums it up: you can't control all events or things that happen, but you can control your attitude and your reaction.  We think that this is a big key to happiness and a positive life.  Sometimes you just have to give yourself an attitude adjustment.

Yesterday, we flew from Buenos Aires, population of 13 million, to Bariloche with a population of 93,000.  Today, we depart Bariloche's resort area to drive south.  The map indicates that we will be driving through a valley, with mountains on either side, and small villages long distances apart.  El Bolson will be a big town appearing out of no-where with a population of 20,000.  That will be our last big town as we proceed further south into the northern section of Los Alerces National Park.  Anna has told us that there are two possible routes: one passes through Esquel and has more paved kilometers but a longer distance than the other alternative that is a more direct route on a gravel road passing near Cholila.  She has recommended the more direct route indicating that it takes less time and we follow her advice.  We will take the paved Route 258 to El Bolson.  From El Bolson, we will follow the signs for El Hoyo, Epuyen and Cholila, which are on Route 71, a gravel road.  On the outskirts of Cholila, we will follow the signs for Lago Rivadavia.  This will lead us to the north entrance of Los Alerces Park. We do not follow the signs for Esquel!

Prior to our trip, I ordered a driving map: "Lagos Del Sur Araucania" map by Zagier & Urruty Publications, ISBN 1-879568-95-0. It is available on Amazon and from http://www.patagoniashop.net.  This map covers the Lake District, but only goes as far south as El Bolson.  Anna gave us a guidebook of Los Alerces National Park that also has a driving map in the front cover that proved very helpful.  Although the book is written in Spanish, there are English abstracts and a Spanish-English glossary.  The hiking alternatives and local maps are excellent.   I would recommend that you order this before your trip:  "Las Guias Sendas y Bosques for El Bolson, Lago Puelo and Los Alerces National Parks".  If you are visiting other national parks in the Lake District, check out their other titles and their maps.  Their website is:  http://www.guiasendasybosques.com.ar
Although gas is cheaper in El Bolson, we decide to fill up before starting out from suburban Bariloche, feeling more comfortable with a full tank of gas.  This is our first fill up and we quickly learn that it is full service in Argentina.  Harvey unlocks the gas tank and chats with the attendant while I look around.  This station is also a minimarket and at first glance it looks like it could be here in the states.  Looking more closely however, I see one can purchase ice cubes with water from the glacier and there is a coffee vending machine selling mate!  In how many countries, in December, can you be at a gas station and see beautiful colored roses planted in a garden and look out at distant snow covered mountains?  We're going towards those mountains and I am excited!

To get to Route 258, Anna had told us that there would be a section on a gravel road near Lago Gutierrez and she said that we would think that we are lost, but we will be fine. We're glad that she had told us, because that's exactly how it felt!  Take a look at the photos to get a feel for the narrow gravel road in this area.  Route 258 is a paved road with good signage periodically providing the kilometers to El Bolson as well as cautionary signs such as "peligroso" (danger) that warns us of curves.  We skirt the side of Lago Gutierrez and Lago Mascardi.  As we see the landscape, we feel we could be in Alaska, western Canada or New Zealand - mountains, lakes and trees.  It is really neat how the road follows the contours of the mountains and streams.  In Europe, roads might be tunneled through the mountains, but the area is populated and the land is used as efficiently as possible.  Here in Patagonia, there is lots of land with no buildings or people in sight. The only hints of people are not obvious; it is the fences that can sometimes be seen off the side of the road and the power lines.

We reach El Bolson around 3:00 PM, park the car and enter the first restaurant we see - we're hungry!  We order the daily special which is an assortment of grilled meats, a parilla.  As it arrives on our table and we see the enormous portion with unfamiliar cuts of meat, we are reminded how picky we can be as eaters.  Sometimes we can be adventurous, but it seems not today!  We eat what we know, which is beef and chicken and give the sausage a try.  The other cuts look like organs of strange shapes and a blood sausage - we pass.  It still is plenty of food for us and we are full.   As a note, there are a number of restaurants on the main road near the feria with outside cafes.  Also, on the north entrance to El Bolson, on the main road, is the local brewery and restaurant.  I have a photo of it, if you would like to stop in, you can get a view of what to look for on the road!

We walk a few blocks and find the feria.  We stroll past the booths and see wood products, plants, jewelry, jellies, aromatics, boomerangs and other stuff.   Maybe we are late in the day or early in the season; according to the Lonely Planet guidebook, the market has over 320 artists who sell wooden cutting boards, handcrafted jewelry, mate gourds and many food vendors, but today the number of artists is considerably less.   We comment that we feel we are back in the 1960's and walking among hippies.  At times like this, Harvey feels uncomfortable because he feels that we have an obligation to share by purchasing things, but there isn't any stuff that we want.  It's starting to get late in the afternoon and it is time to move on to Los Alerces National Park which we believe is 1 - 2 hours further south.

We follow the main road south out of El Bolson, following our map and we make a right turn.  I quickly catch that we turned a bit too soon (heading toward Lago Puelo National Park) and we recover by turning around and looking at a specific intersection again.  Okay, we are now on the correct road south!  Whew!
We drive south for about two hours, most of which is on a gravel road. Huge, open spaces.  Big sky. Big mountains.  Big ridges.  It's all here!  Local cars occasionally pass us and when they do, a dust storm covers us and visibility is poor.  I am impressed that when we find a dust storm in front of us that Harvey maneuvers to determine the location of the vehicle and when it is safe to pass.  If I were driving, we would still be in Bariloche trying to make a left turn on to the main road!  At some point, Harvey realizes that if he goes faster, the ride is smoother.  This kicks up more dirt, so when we pass would you believe bicyclists (!), Harvey slows down so that they won't be covered in dust.  The views on the side of the road are dramatic - mountains and valleys.  In the final approach to Los Alerces, we pass between two mountains of 1700 and 1900 meters, with the road following next to Lago Rivadavia.  Wow.

We are relieved to finally arrive at El Aura Hosteria at the Lago Verde Wilderness Resort.  We will have our very own cabana!  We are shown to our cabin and are alone for maybe two minutes, when we hear another couple next door.  We didn't realize that there is a shared wall between the units!    We look at each other - somehow Harvey knew that there is only one other couple staying here and they are on their honeymoon - we roll our eyes to imagine being next to them in such a beautiful place, but having to hear our neighbors!  So we go back to Diego and nicely, in Spanish, explain and ask if it is possible to move.  He says no problem and we move next door, to a completely private cabana, no shared wall.  It is really a two bedroom unit with the second bedroom closed off.  If booking at El Aura, be sure to only book the full private cabana and not the one with the shared wall.

We walk to the lake that is in view from our cabana and from the beach we see across the lake to the mountains.  On the beach are two beautiful trees of which I will take pictures tomorrow.  They will make beautiful portraits!

Harvey is on the internet.  I am writing this journal.  The maid is getting the cabana ready for us.
We have a lovely three course meal served by Diego.  We meet Patrice, the manager, who informs us that the boat trip that we had reserved for Thursday is only available tomorrow.  So, tomorrow is set!   We are glad that we had made reservations in advance.  Tip:  We had been told that in off-season, it is important to reserve excursions in advance, so that if there is a reduction in scheduling your hotel will notify you and make alternate arrangements so you are not disappointed.  In peak season, it's equally important to make reservations for this excursion as it is one of the most popular in the park and you don't want to be turned down for lack of space.

We go back to our cabana, light a fire that was prepared for us earlier upon arrival, and before we know it, it is time to turn off the lights and consider it a day! 

Today's photos!
http://www.margieswebgallery.com/galleries/argentina/Day7%2012-9-08/
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