Argentina: Rio Azul Natural Protected Area/El Bolson (Mar 25 to Apr 1, 2015)

How did I spend 7 days in El Bolson, Argentina? Well, after multiple days of no/crappy wifi in El Chalten (Argentina) and a 22+ hr bus ride to get from El Chalten to El Bolson, I spent the first day at my cozy hostel glued to my cell phone and tablet basking in good wifi and catching up with family and friends. But after that, trekking, of course!

El Bolson is a small town (population 13,000+) with a variety of restaurants, cervezarias, and shops. It’s known as a hippie town for the variety of hand-made crafts sold throughout town and at a permanent artisan market held three times a week. Given the lakes and mountains surrounding the town, El Bolson is most well known for fishing, rafting, climbing, and….trekking. While there, I trekked in the Rio Azul Natural Protected Area (part of the world’s largest UNESCO temperate forest biosphere reserve).

For my first trek, Yara (Israel), who I’d met at the hostel the night before, and I dayhiked up Cajon del Azul, located along the crystal-clear waters of the Rio Azul. From the trail, we could see smoke from the arson-set fire in Parque Nacional Los Alerces, south of El Bolson. Fortunately, the winds favored us and we couldn’t smell the smoke. Later that day, Dave (England), who I’d trekked with in Torres del Paine and El Chalten, arrived and we went out for a beer at one of El Bolson’s many cervezarias.

The next day, Dave, Luca (Italy), whom we met at the hostel, and I began a 4-day trek up the Arroyo del Teno river valley to the Hielo Azul glacier, over a steep ridge to Cajon del Azul, over another steep ridge to another river valley (Dedo Gordo?), then to Wharton, a small town north of El Bolson. Along this route, there are refugios, log and/or stone huts offering, at a minimum, a kitchen/common area with a wood-burning stove, bathrooms, drinking water, beds, and a campground. Some even offer hot showers, hot meals, and cerveza casera (home-made beer brewed onsite). On Day 1, we trekked to Refugio Hielo Azul, located in a gorgeous, picturesque valley surrounded by mountains. It was so lovely, we decided to dayhike in the area on Day 2 and stay there a second night. On Day 3, we trekked to Refugio Cajon del Azul where we stopped for lunch. After lunch, Dave and I bid farewell to Luca who was returning to El Bolson, and we continued on to Refugio El Retamal, also in a picturesque valley surrounded by mountains. At each refugio, after we set up our tents and ate dinner at camp, we spent the rest of the evening in the warm, cozy hut playing dice games (Farkle and the Argentinean version, Cinco Mil) and drinking cerveza casera. Talk about luxury backpacking! On Day 4, we completed our trek and decided to hitch hike (a first for us both) back to town. With thumbs out, we started walking, stopping periodically to eat wild blackberries growing on the side of the road. Either we looked odd or none of the dozen cars that passed us where going to town because no one stopped or even slowed down. Finally, after an hour and a half of walking (this in addition to the miles of trail we’d walked earlier), we were picked up by a very nice Chilean couple on vacation. Thank goodness because we were still quite a ways from anything (i.e., bus stops, taxis, or phones).

Back in El Bolson, we decided to spend the last night in town at a hostel that also had a campground. It was like camping in a unkept city park (with small bits of trash, cigarette butts, and street dogs everywhere) but it was super cheap (about $8), the showers were hot, and there was good wifi in the reception area. As we walked into the hostel, I was very pleasantly surprised to see Chloe and Toby, an American couple I’d met at my hostel in Puerto Arenas (Chile) and had run into on the Torres del Paine trek (Chile) and in El Chalten (Argentina). They and their dog were on a multi-year road trip from California to the tip of Argentina and back. Later that night, Chloe, Toby, and Luca, came to our campsite and we spent the evening chatting, eating snacks, and drinking lots of good, cheap Argentinean wine. It was good times with good friends in a shitty little campground. Ha! And it was a great last night in El Bolson after trekking in the gorgeous mountains and valleys surrounding town.

Here’s a teaser picture. Click the link to see the full photo album:  https://goo.gl/photos/1b4xXkm7cwwfyRFLA

Enjoy!

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Travel notes: recommend La Casa de Arbol Hostel (good communal kitchen, friendly, helpful staff); don’t recommend Patagonia House Hostel (the camping area is trashy); bountiful beautiful veggies and fruit, tap water in El Bolson and river water in the natural area is potable (no treatment needed).

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Argentina: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares/El Chalten (Mar 19 to 24, 2015)

How did I spend 6 days in El Chalten, Argentina, the self-proclaimed trekking capitol of the country? Trekking, of course! After a few days of rest in Puerto Natales, Chile, recuperating from the 9-day Torres del Paine trek and a 8-hr bus ride to get to El Chalten, I was ready to hit the trail. It turned out that Dave (UK), who I’d befriended on the Torres del Paine trek, was heading to El Chalten to hike as well, so we took the bus and trekked together. Besides being a charming small town (perm. population 1,100) with a variety of restaurants and cervezarias, El Chalten is located in the Rio de las Vueltas river valley and surrounded by mountains (hence the trekking and climbing reputation). After just a short walk from town, you enter Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (no entry fee and free camping) and have access to multiple trails. For our first hike, Dave and I dayhiked the 6.8-mi (11-km) Loma del Pliegue Tumbado trail, the only trail in the park where you can view the peaks of Las Torres (10,177 ft (3,103 m)) and Fitz Roy (11,171 ft (3,405 m)) together. From the mirador (view point), the panorama of snow-covered peaks, including the two famous peaks, was spectacular, only made better by the sight of Andean condors soaring overhead. The next day, we started a 3-day, ~22 mi (35 km) loop trek where we watched the numerous peaks, including the Las Torres and Fitz Roy peaks, light up with the rays of the rising sun. Spectacular! All this and we enjoyed amazing weather (sun, light wind, and no rain) during the entire stay in El Chalten! It was a much-needed respite from the cold, windy, wet weather we had in Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales. Back from the trek, I enjoyed the best homemade almond tart ever and spent the rest of that day and the next relaxing at my hostel, chatting with fellow travelers, planning my next destination with glasses of more good, cheap Argentinean wine, and enjoying the views surrounding the charming little town. It’s no wonder that El Chalten is a mecca for trekkers and rock climbers (yes, people climb those peaks!).

Here’s a teaser picture. Click the link to see the full photo album:  https://goo.gl/photos/jP2VvvThPnxygVUY8

Enjoy!

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View of the Las Torres and Fitz Roy peaks from the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado trail

Travel notes: recommend Travelers Hostel Patagonia (good communal kitchen and spaces, friendly staff, many large windows, great view); the panaderia about a block from the hostel on the opposite side of the street has an amazing almond tort (and other super yummy baked goods); recommend buying groceries, especially produce, elsewhere (cheaper, better selection and quality); tap water and water in El Chalten and in the park is potable (no treatment needed).