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.


  1. Mike e Jill foi um grande prazer em conhece-los também, quando forem ao Brasil entre em contato.
    Um grande abraço e suerte!!!

  2. Mike and Jill was a great pleasure to know them too, when they go to Brazil please contact us.
    A big hug and suerte!!