Sunday, January 27, 2013

Making the short list of our favorite places: Futaleufú

Not far down the road lies el Bolsón, a town that was known for its hippie invasion in the 70's and is still known for its crafts markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays. We like it most because of this place:

la cervecería, el Bolsón

Camping at la cervecería, el Bolsón
(Camping at a microbrewery is tops! And they even give you a beer with each paid day. And they have nice showers, cooking space, firepits,... Can you tell we liked that place?)

Walking through the town of el Bolsón itself was fine and all, a bit interesting but not overly impressive. Neither of us is (ever really) in the market for handicrafts, and the rest of town wasn't all that captivating, but comfortable enough. It does have the advantage of sitting in a beautiful valley.

The flag over el Bolsón

wooden statue in el Bolsón
(hippie inspired art)

drunken school girl Xing (el Bolsón)
(drunken school girl Xing)

On towards Esquel we enjoyed the ride back towards the mountains.

Approaching the border with Chile at Futaleufú

Beautiful views, with much more water, became the norm towards the Chile side (Futaleufú)

Mike gets serious for the crossing into Chile (Futaleufú), frightening onlooking backpackers waiting for a ride
(at the border leaving Argentina. Lots of backpackers/hitchhikers hanging out trying to catch a ride.)

This time crossing into Chile was a little less painful than our first - we didn't have a sheepskin to lose, but still managed to forget that we had 3 peaches with us, so those got chucked. But an easy enough crossing that put us right into Futaleufú.

Futaleufú is a definite favorite for us. The people we met were all super friendly, happy to see us, open to travelers. The valley teems with peaceful beauty that pictures just can't capture (but we'll show you some anyways). Our first impression was that it's the good kind of place that we would be happy to stay for awhile. (How that could actually happen is the difficult part...)

Camping los Coihues, Futaleufú
(los Coihues camping just outside of town)

Main plaza, Futaleufú
(town plaza, now home to the region's only bank and provincial government buildings since Chaitén's ongoing destruction (due to volcanic eruption in 2008 and subsequent rerouting of the river right through town))

On the way to the Reserva Nacional Futaleufú

We went hiking in the new Reserva Nacional Futaleufú one afternoon. There are two main sections, Rio Chico and las Escalas, both of which are surrounded by private land, making access a bit challenging. Arriving at the ranger house in Rio Chico was easy enough (only 1 wrong turn) but the ranger was in town and the lady at the house (who turned out to be the ranger's mom and lived there full time too) was less than helpful in pointing us to the trail. Eventually we found enough help to find the main trail to an overlook, but didn't have the right pieces of information to find the full loop. When we returned we met the ranger, who was super nice, and gave us the hints we would have needed. Next time. Next time. But the hike we managed to take was still pretty sweet.

Mike on the way to the Reserva Nacional Futaleufú

Sector Rio Chico, Reserva Nacional Futaleufú

on the way to Sector Rio Chico, Futaleufú

Gorgeous views, Sector Rio Chico, Reserva Nacional Futaleufú

looking back towards Argentina, Sector Rio Chico, Reserva Nacional Futaleufú

We then wandered towards las Escalas, which required a 30 min ride to the next ranger's house, or at least we thought it was the ranger's house. The road gave us a nice view of Hells Canyon, a notorious whitewater rafting destination:

Cañon del Inferno, las Escalas, Reserva Nacional Futaleufú

The lady in the yard of the ranger house (not sure if she was the ranger, the ranger's mom, the gardener, or what) pointed us further down the road, and gave us some hints on how to get up to an overlook of the valley and a big waterfall. "Follow the red-topped poles through the field." So we parked with the sheep and did exactly that.

sheep pasture in las Escalas, Reserva Nacional Futaleufú

After we ducked under a barbed wire fence towards an obvious trail that continued up the valley, we took a break. While sitting there a group of 4 men came walking up to look at the exact spot we ducked under. Two of the men were national police, one was apparently the land owner. The land owner was not happy with people coming onto his land. We found that out when we went down to confirm the direction with them. His 2 concerns were (1) that if hikers are on his land and get injured by themselves or by one of his bulls, what's he to do? and (2) that if people keep busting his fence his bulls may disappear. Those are valid concerns, not to mention the fact that CONAF officials (e.g. park rangers) are specifically instructing strangers to cross private property to access the national reserve. The policemen didn't seem to be responding to Miguel, the land owner, with much respect or even courtesy (yet another example of how things often work in Latin America). We spoke to him with respect, apologized for our mistake of entering his land, and did what he asked of us (told him when we were leaving his land so he could be sure we weren't hurt). I think that tiny effort (is it even really that?) helped us forge a bit of a relationship with Miguel, so he invited us to stay and talk with him after the policemen left.

A couple of Chilean Gendarmerie were talking with Miguel about trespassers and animal stealers on his land when we happened to be walking around on his land.  After showing Miguel more respect than the officials did (which was not a difficult level to surpass) he invited us to mate on his porch.  And then he invited us to have some of his land in trade for a 4x4 truck.  Too bad trucks are so expensive in Chile...
(the cops flanking Mike, Miguel, and Jill)

Jill's first mate in South America!  Miguel offered us some mate and conversation after we were trespassing on his land (by following advice of the park ranger...there are some land access issues that still need to be resolved...)
(sitting on Miguels' porch drinking some mate. He liked to joke around and kept coming back to asados (BBQ's), vino, and chicha de manzana. He then offered to trade us some of his land for a 4x4 truck. maybe we will find a way to go party with our neighbor Miguel now and again. Too bad trucks are so expensive in Chile...)

So while the whole trespassing thing suggests the authorities have some issues that they need to resolve with the population, it really turned out to be an enjoyable afternoon for us. (Partially because Jill's been secretly hoping to be invited to mate, and this was her first time drinking a mate in South America)

Miguel's place, las Escalas, Reserva Nacional Futaleufú
(Miguel's place, las Escalas, Reserva Nacional Futaleufú)

las Escalas, Reserva Nacional Futaleufú

While Futa had cast a strong spell on us, we were still looking forward to continuing on and seeing what the infamous Carretera Austral had in store.

NYE in Bariloche

Bariloche is an interesting place, especially during New Year's, right when we happened to be there. The city was teeming with students who had just graduated high school, taking their class trip, often all seen wearing the exact same outfits either on tour buses or storming the streets chanting their school song. This time of year also brings large amounts of Argentine tourists with their families, enjoying summer break. It also draws a lot of outdoor tourists from the US and Europe, as the Bariloche area has a lot of biking, climbing, hiking and skiing (in their winter) to do. What most people don't see is the other side of Bariloche, with the gravel roads and makeshift houses, where a lot of people live who moved there to try to find work in the tourism industry.  The city has two sides, one all but hidden.

The highlight of Bariloche for us was to hang out with our friend Lisa for a week. We also had a really good time getting to know couchsurfer Carlos. We met up with him almost every day we were there. He drove us around the area, took Lisa climbing, and met us out at the bars several times. He was one of those people that you feel like you have been friends with for a long time, even when you have just met him. We really enjoyed hanging out with him and his friends.  (So much so that we forgot to get a picture even...)

Just outside of Bariloche, there is a loop called the Circuito Chico, that has a lot of spectacular views. You can take a ski lift called Cerro Campanario up the mountain for about $10, or you can hike it instead. It turned out to be a little steeper than expected, but worth the hike.

View from Cerro Campanario in Bariloche.

Lisa and Jill at Cerro Campanario in Bariloche.
(Lisa and Jill at Cerro Campanario)

Lisa and Jill hiking down Cerro Campanario in Bariloche.
(The hike down was fun too.)

We were actually in bed by 12:30 on New Year's - we had had too much fun the night before.

Lisa attempting to open a wine bottle using a boot at the hostel in Bariloche.
(Lisa attempting to open a wine bottle using her hiking boot. It didn't work that well - but it was cheap wine and the cork was really hard to get out, even using a cork screw. A good attempt nonetheless.)

After New Year's, we decided to be active (a resolution?), so we rented bikes and rode the 30 some kilometer (about 20 mile) Circuito Chico.

Biking the Circuito Chico in Bariloche.

View while biking the Circuito Chico in Bariloche.

Jill and Lisa with at the Berlina brewery in Bariloche.
(It's nice that they have breweries along the way.)

Bahia Lopez in Bariloche.

Jill biking the Circuito Chico in Bariloche.
(Jill en route)

Lago Gutierrez in Bariloche.

Lisa and Jill with Bar Dog in Bariloche.
(Dogs were a big theme in Bariloche, and this dog was named Bar Dog by us, as every evening he would come into South Bar, do several circuits to get pet, and then lay down under a table or in the corner.)

Lisa licking the chocolate stirrer at the Chocolate Museum in Bariloche.
(Bariloche is also famous for its chocolate. This was at the chocolate museum. We didn't actually take a tour because they were not giving away chocolate samples.  Only Lisa knows how their outdoor chocolate sample tastes)

Beer on the beach in Bariloche.
(Nothing like some good beers on the beach to end an excellent vacation.)

Why We Like Argentina

We were excited to get back to Argentina because of the free to cheap camping, extremely friendly people and the always available and always delicious milanesa...

The ride over to Mendoza was relatively uneventful, but we did meet a couple of Canadian guys, Greg and David, who were also heading that way.  They had been on the road for about the same amount of time we have, had met on the road and have been traveling together off and on since California.  David was selling a house in Buenas Aires, so they had been there several months.  They were just finishing up a very rainy trip through southern Chile.  We had a good time hanging out with them for a couple days in Mendoza.

Mike at customs with Greg and David from Canada.
(Mike, Greg and David at the border after customs. Jill was reprimanded by an official for taking the picture. Apparently it is illegal to take photos inside the customs building. Customs was pretty painless here, with us having to wait in line for about 20 minutes. It was extremely organized, with both Argentina and Chile processes being done in the same building.)

On the way to Mendoza.

On the way to Mendoza.

Mendoza is known for its wine, and there were lots of bodegas (vineyards) surrounding the city. We ended up overindulging on the cheap Mendozan wine, forcing us to stay an extra day or two. Once we got out of town, we headed to San Rafael, a smaller town that also has a lot of grape production. We had been in contact with an English couple, John and Annette, who had done their own South American motorcycle trip about 10 years ago. They bought a farm outside of San Rafael 7 years ago and now make their living growing and selling grapes, walnuts and plums. We got there for Christmas Eve and enjoyed hanging out on the farm for a couple of days. They are a very entertaining couple with lots of stories and knowledge of the area. They were nice enough to share their food with us, and we plan on returning to work for a few weeks on their farm once we have made it to Ushuaia and back.

John and Annette on their farm in San Rafael.
(John and Annette on the farm)

From there, we headed south, needing to be in Bariloche within a week to meet up with a friend of ours who was coming in from the States.

On the way to Chos Malal on Ruta 40.
(There was not much to look at for quite a while heading south on Ruta 40.)

On the way to Chos Malal on Ruta 40.
(Then we finally got some decent views of the mountains. About the time we could see the mountains, however, we also started feeling the infamous cold winds that Patagonia is known for.)

On the way to Chos Malal on Ruta 40.

Camping in Chos Malal.
(We were frozen but happy to arrive at the municipal campgrounds in Chos Malal. It even had hot water. Chos Malal was a nice little town, from what we saw. In the morning we were looking for some empanadas on the plaza and a municipal worker stopped us, asked us what we were looking for, and then had us follow him on the bike over to a delicious pizza/empanada place.)

The next day we made it to Zapala. The drive was nothing too exciting, but we were again able to find cheap municipal camping just outside of town.

Camping in el Bosque in Zapala.

Milanesa Napolitana at the truck stop in Zapala.
(Probably the highlight of Zapala for us was eating at the truck stop - los Camioneros - just down the road from El Bosque camping. This Milanesa Napolitana (breaded meat with tomatos, cheese and ham on top) was delicious!)

The next day we headed down to San Martin de los Andes, a very touristy small town.

On the way to San Martin de los Andes.

Camping with wifi at the tent in San Martin de los Andes.
(And the ACA (Argentine Automobile Club) campsite had wifi in the tent!)

A little too close for comfort in San Martin de los Andes.
(This truck parked a little too close for comfort while we were eating lunch in town before heading out. At least he didn't hit the bike.)

From San Martin, we headed to the 7 Lakes district just north of Bariloche. It was beautiful, but had lots of traffic, as it is vacation time in Argentina and there were lots of people in the area.

The Seven Lakes region on the way to Bariloche.

The Seven Lakes region on the way to Bariloche.

Behind a horse in the Seven Lakes region on the way to Bariloche.

Waterfall in the Seven Lakes region on the way to Bariloche.

View from our campsite in the Seven Lakes region on the way to Bariloche.
(The view from our free campsite on Rio Villarino)

The Seven Lakes region on the way to Bariloche.