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
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).