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Falling in love with El Bolson, Argentina: Part 2 — the nature

Posted by on January 2, 2012
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We’ve left El Bolson and are now in Bariloche, Argentina — a beautiful, albeit far more touristy, ski resort town in the Rio Negro Province. For the first time, we had a really hard time leaving somewhere when we drove off from the amazing La Casona Odile. It was such a good fit for us, and we felt so at home. At the same time, the world is so big, there’s so much to see, and we had a big bike ride in mind for Bariloche, so off we went.

But before I completely move on, I of course need to close up shop on my other reason for El Bolson — the nature.

A little background first: El Bolson was a hotspot for Buenos Aires hippies in the 1970s and has since come to be known for its artisan crafts, sustainable practices (though all of Patagonia seems to be good at that) and pristine natural wonders just a hop, skip and a jump away.

Every other hike we’ve gone on — Colca Canyon in Peru, glacier trekking in El Calafate and the W in Torres del Paine — involved bus rides of two to five hours to the actual start of the hike. But in El Bolson, nothing took more than 30 minutes to reach.

We had three full days to spend outdoors, so we analyzed it — the way Eaman and I always do — and broke it up like this:

Thursday: Easy to medium hike to Cerro Piltriquitrón and artisan market
Friday: Medium to hard hike to Cajon de Azul
Saturday: Reward ourselves with a day at Lago Puelo, a rocky beach in the next town over.

(And ice cream on all days, duh.)

Here’s how it panned out:

Cerro Piltriquitrón. The hike was fairly easy and the views looking out onto the valley were stunning, but THE HORSEFLIES WERE INCESSANT. We’ve experienced these pests — a larger, noisier and sting-equipped cousin of the housefly — here and there around South America but their headquarters must be El Bolson. They pestered us all the way up the mountain, all the way throuh the Bosque de Tallado (sculptures that hippies carved out of wood in the late 90s) and all the way down the mountain. We sure as hell weren’t about to do the two-hour hike to the summit with them circling us.

They wouldn’t even let us eat our lunch outdoors in peace, so we were forced to eat inside the car. We drove our car to the edge of the mountain to at least have a view for our meal. (p.s. The sculpture garden isn’t really worth your 16 peso entrance fee.)

After a visit to the artisan market (meh), we healed our horsefly wounds with homemade ice cream from Jauja, a popular helado shop with locations in El Bolson, Buenos Aires and Bariloche. Their flavors and colors are unreal. Without a doubt, our favorite ice cream of all time. I mean, we had it every day we were there.

Cajon de Azul. By far, the coolest thing we’ve done not just in El Bolson, but in my whole three months traveling as well. (Machu Picchu was amazing, but not very off-the-beaten path.) This 2+ hour hike was a mix of exasperating uphills and steep downhills, but it also had really pleasant breaks of flatness. I’m all for challenges, but sometimes it’s nice to take in your surroundings without worrying about your racing pulse or rolled ankles.

We crossed two bridges that had a max of one person at a time. Whee!:

We ran into a lovely Canadian couple, Graham and Sarah, from our hostel along the way and joined them for packed lunch and beer — kept cold in the river! — by one of the first refugios. It was a beautiful plot of land, bordered by the freezing Rio Azul.

But the highlight was reaching the cajon de azul, or blue canyon. And it clearly lives up to its name:

And with water that clear, deep and inviting, how could we not cliff dive into the water? Graham jumped in first, and Eaman, though a smidge apprehensive, followed suit. Sarah and I were pretty set on not doing at all; she has a fear of heights and I have a fear of being underwater and not being able to come back up. But then it hit me: Did I really want to walk away from this opportunity?

So after a lot — and I mean a lot — of coaxing, waiting, debating, standing up and sitting down on the edge, I did it. I blacked out between when I stepped off and when I hit the water, but man, what a feeling. Cool, crisp water in a gorgeous canyon unlike anything I had ever seen. That was one for the books. We were so content that we didn’t even bother to do the extra 45-minute hike to a further summit. We sat there the rest of the afternoon.

P.S. There was recent tragic story about an Australian girl who went lost on this very hike. Her friends had dropped her off for on Monday, but when she hadn’t returned, signs began to pop up all over town asking if anyone had seen her. Apparently, she was attacked and abused by a local along the way and was found Friday — the very day we went on the hike — bruised, dehydrated and of course scared. Thank god she’s been found, but wow, scary stuff.

Lago Puelo. A quiet rocky beach with views of the Andes mountains. What could be better?

Pretty much nothing.

We had time to swim (it was cold but not frigid), time to watch the hilarious Argentine families play and time to kayak.

A particularly blue part of the lake:

There is sooo much more to do in El Bolson, like multiple-day camping treks, horseback riding and fishing, that could’ve kept us occupied for much longer, but for our three days of fun, I couldn’t have imagined a better variety.

Though we’ve loved everywhere we’ve visited thus far, El Bolson is the first place we’d actually return to. And I hope it’s soon. I’m experiencing some serious withdrawal!

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