Day 8: El Abuelo boat excursion

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

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Where I stayed
Lago Verde Wilderness Resort

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Day 8: El Abuelo and boat trip excursion, Los Alerces National Park,  Lago Verde Wilderness Resort, Wednesday, December 10th

Silence.  Sounds of silence.  I wake up in the middle of the night and there are no sounds!  Is this like the moment between an inhale and an exhale?  Is it like the moment between thoughts?  Peace.  I lie and observe...and fall back to sleep.

Our cabana faces on Lago Verde and the morning light is beautiful.  It's another sunny day and the crisp clean air greets us as we walk to the restaurant for breakfast.  Diego welcomes us and we see our table laid out for us facing the lake.  We note a serving table of fresh baked bread, sweet cakes and fruits as well as orange juice and milk.  Diego brings out medialunas, croissants with a light sugar glaze, and toast.  We think this is our breakfast, so we are surprised and pleased when Diego asks us if we would like eggs!  We choose scrambled.  We also choose coffee, mine with warm milk.  The coffee is strong and full of flavor.  We are stuffed!  We have asked for two sandwiches to take along on the boat and these are prepared for us as well.

We depart in our car for the 1 km ride to the area where we are to meet the boat to cross Lake Menendez and see the ancient Alerzal tree that is 2600 years old, called El Abuelo (the grandfather).  Including the boat ride and walk, it will be a 5 hour excursion.  Parque Nacional Los Alerces protects the forests of the alerces tree or Patagonian cypress, similar in appearance to the redwood tree.  The alerce is one of the four oldest species of tree in the world.  According to the Rough Guide of Argentina, they "grow in a relatively narrow bank in central Patagonia, on acidic soils by lakes and only in places where the annual rainfall exceeds 3000mm, so they are more common on the wetter Chilian side of the Andes than in Argentina.  Growth is extremely slow (0.8 - 1.2mm a year), so it takes a century for the tree's girth to gain 1cm in diameter."  And now you know one of the reasons for coming to this park - we had to come here - I love trees!

From the parking lot, we walk over a pasarela or suspension bridge, right out of an Indiana Jones movie. We walk along a meandering tree lined path next to the Rio Arrayanes. Between the trees, we can see the turquoise colored river with sections of rapids; this is one of Harvey's favorite types of forest paths, where you can not only see the river, but hear it as well!  So cool.  There are interpretative signs along the 30 minute walk to the boat ramp at Puerto Chucao that describe the foliage and animal life of the region.  Even if your schedule doesn't allow the time to go on the boat excursion, a walk in this area of Los Alerces is worthwhile.  There are signs for a circular walk back to the parking lot and the alternatives are also described in the guidebook previously mentioned.

The boat excursion is guided, but in Spanish only.  We decide to sit on the top decks outside - it's a sunny day and the wind feels glorious!  On the 90 minute boat trip we get a beautiful view of Cerro Torrecillas glacier which is receding quickly because of global warming.  We arrive at the area where the alerces trees are and walk through the forest with the feel of a jungle.  This is called a dense Valdivian temperate rainforest. We see large stands of cana colihue (bamboo like), and a lot of vegetation, including arrayan trees that have peeling cinnamon colored trunks that are cold to the touch.  We pass rapids and lichen growing on rocks, and finally come upon El Abuelo (the Grandfather), a 2600 year old tree!   The tree is 2.2m in diameter and 57m tall. Take a look at the photos, although I don't think the photos really impart how big the trees are in real life.  We have a photo of a sapling, and we'll need to return in another life to see it fully grown!  This 2600 year old tree was "a sapling when Pythagoras and Confucius taught!  It almost became roof shingles; only the fact that settlers deemed its wood to be rotten inside saved it from the saw." (Rough guide)  El Abuelo's destiny was to be a sentinel for generations to know their kind.  We all fulfill our potential, sometimes in surprising ways.  We're glad that we were able to visit and meet El Abuelo!

There are people on our tour from Argentina, Switzerland, Israel, Germany and the United States.   All the foreign tourists speak English and some of the Argentinians help us out with some translation of what the guide is saying.  We all help one another to understand, each of us with limited Spanish vocabulary, but able to piece together a word here and there to get the idea of what is being said.  It is fun to speak with people from these countries and to hear of their travels.  We speak with an Argentinian father and son who are taking a holiday vacation together.  And to an Argentinian woman who speaks English very well and answers our questions about Jews in Buenos Aires.  We learn where the large synagogues are; one is at Libertad and Cordoba, near the obelisk and the other is at Paso and Corrientes.  The latter is in the Once neighborhood that we could have gone to.  After the bombing, Jews have moved to the Palermo area to live.   Mid-December is most definitely off season, with maybe only 1/3 of the boat's passenger capacity being booked.  This is a good time to be here, with good weather and few tourists!

When we return to El Aura, we stop in the restaurant to pick up our key and decide to sit and have some Argentinian beer.  It's a tough choice between the red, blue or gold bottle; we're not beer aficionados so for some unknown reason, we choose the red bottle.  Quite smooth!   Patrice & Jose are putting up holiday decorations in the restaurant and somehow we get on the topic of music.  Harvey goes back to our cabana to get his guitar and plays some Argentinian tango music for us. So enjoyable!

After yesterday's journey on the open road to Los Alerces, being woken up by the silence in the middle of the night, and today's boat ride on the lake, forest walks and seeing El Abuelo, I get the feeling that we are totally surrounded by a vast natural environment.  I feel like a guest welcomed into nature's home.  I love the feeling of physical space, with little development and few people.  This is raw wilderness, and I thank the Argentinian people for protecting this place as a national park!

And I thank El Aura that we can stay in such comfort inside the national park!  After our beer and Harvey's concert, we return to our cabana and just settle in for quiet relaxing.  Just a beautiful day!  At dinner I try trout, which is very flavorful; it actually looks and tastes like moist and tender salmon.  I liked it a lot.

I light the fire in our cabana.  One of my favorite things to do is to sit in front of a crackling fire.  And even though it's not terribly cold outside, being in this environment has spurred the luscious idea of sitting cozily next to the fire. Tomorrow, I will need a lesson, as it did not last very long as the logs didn't catch on.  We put our heads on the pillow and we go to sleep!  A wonderful day!

Today's photos!
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