LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 39
Pags. 56 - 61
By: Soledad Gil
Photos: Federico Quintana
EL BOLSON, EPUYEN AND EL HOYO
The villages of the Puelo. Melba lives in a trailer for 8 months of the year, on the banks of Lake Puelo, sewing necklaces of seeds and painting in oils on any scrap of cloth she can find. During these cold months she migrates like the swallows.
Nobody knows where she goes, but she always retums. Her daughter Rocío has brilliant blue eyes the colour of the lake, and runs barefoot along the paths, little wider than her feet. Every time that the biplane that carries tourists flies over the arca, which it does many times a day, Melba throws sweets, money or whatever she can lay her hands on in the air and, in a surprised voice, says " Rocío, look what fell from the plane". And Rocío's eyes open and light up like a Siamese cat's.
She runs to share her treasure with Patricio who is even smaller than she is. Patricio offers to exchange some grapes and Rocío retums to her trailer trying to keep her balance on the pebbles and dropping the grapes on the way.
It could have happened in the `60s, but Federico Quintana and I, the lucky envoys of LUGARES, saw it in Patagonia this year. Federico kept a seed necklace as a keepsake of the moment.
We arrived in Bariloche by aeroplane, but another option, if the trip merits the investment, is to send the car by truck (72 hours, at a cost of $450 one way). We had just enough time to make an essential stop at the Abuelo Goye to buy chocolates. We then left for Lake Puelo, 126 kms. distant on Route 258. This arca ¡s a National Park, with some arcas off-limits to the public but with others where salmon fishing, sailing and swimming in the Iake are allowed. Lake Puelo has the reputation for being the warmest lake in the region with enviable water temperatures of 18°C.
The weather was not suitable for bathing, but we were able to enjoy a boat-trip on the Dadel. Whilst sailing the emerald green waters we set our imagination free, making up stories about the Cárdenas family who make their living from cattle near the El Turbio glacier. Every now and then a cow strays and it is said that there are wild cattle wandering in the forests. In addition to the Chilean names that are famous in the region, the surnames Salgueiro, Pozas and Saludes are those of pioneers of the arca. Everything was a challenge back in the 30s, which, according to Ireneo Contreras, was when Rodolfo Benzano, the first doctor in the region, set foot in the Bolsón.
Today Puelo is a quiet Patagonian village where the forest generously offers its blackberries, raspberries, dog roses, pine, cypress, fungi and walnuts.... and all of this at different times of the year, allowing the people, even in the 20th century, to live off the land by hunting, fishing and foraging.
Paragliding and hang-gliding take place on the
Piltriquitrón Mountain; mountaineers also have 3290 metres of the Tres Picos to keep them busy. In El Bolsón the Jauja ice cream is wonderful. The dried flowers, the soft fruits and the wooden handicrafts all make it worthwhile to stop, especially in the summer when there are many local festivals, in this Andean region, which includes Puelo, El Bolsón, Epuyén, El Hoyo, Cholila and El Maiten.
We stayed at the Olaf Inn on the road between Puelo and Bolsón. Olaf exists in the flesh and is an overwhelming local presence, a kind of Patagonian Obelix. He is of genuine Norwegian ancestry. Ten years ago he began by setting up a restaurant and smoke-house and, only two years ago, he opened the hotel, which has rooms named after local Patagonian flowers and trees. Mario Menéndez, our National Park guide and owner of a newstand, grocery store and a local taxi service collected us. It was not in his plans to act as our guide but the mixture of his adventurous spirit and his thorough knowledge of the region made us realise Chat he would be the best companion on the Chubut roads. We were not disappointed in our choice.
Mario is not a local, he is originally from Buenos Aires, as are most people in the arca, nonetheless he is deeply attached to his new home. He has an uncanny awareness of the different quality of the light at every hour of the day and a precise understanding of the greyishgreen tones of the cypress trees when they are covered with dust in autumn.
We were amazed at the enormous number of amateur photographers we met, all experts in the never-ending succession of ochres, whites and blues of the seasons. They are authentic converts whose new faith is dawns and dusks. Worshippers of the sun who instantly stop in their tracks in contemplation. "When there are clouds over the mountains everything turns pink" explained Graciela, who is married to Mele. They both run the Lake Puelo campsite and operate the coastal cruises, which go as far as the border with Chile.
In the Andean region everyone knows one another. That is how we learned of Jorge Andreassi and his "Flower Power" greenhouse full of Patagonian plants. Jorge is not a native either, he arrived in the time of love and peace- the 60s, although the only remaining evidence of this is a red circular peace sign on the garage door. He pointed out some of his local species while we walked through the colourful rows of flowers - some of the 200 species he cultivates, which are guarded by the cats that roam freely. The cats get special, royal treatment since the hanta virus arrived in the region several seasons ago.
The next day we went to see the mysterious forest of "pitras" trees and the blue and white rivers. While we were discussing the advantages and disadvantages of living in this green and remote spot, Mario told us, while the sun was slowly setting, of the times when there was only one telephone in the village.
That evening Mario took Lis to see his fiiends Carlos Saraví and Susana Tosti, the owners of Bella Vista, a development of 120 plots, with an extraordinary view of El Hoyo. We were received with glorious barbecued chicken and lots of stories about their chosen home.
The following day, before Ieaving, we stopped by Epuyen and the Refugio del Lago belonging to Sophie Courtois, whose lands extend to Lake
Epuyen with a small jetty and a small orchard. Her husband Francois Deschamps organises excursions to Chile and San Carlos de Bariloche, which include sailing, rafting and mountain biking. Their home is unpretentious but cosy. It is completely isolated and is the perfect place for a rest cure. Sophie still has a French accent despite being a tme convert. We Ieft with the car filled with peaches, apples, plums and great expectations for the next stage of our journey. de allí con el auto lleno de expectativas, duraznos, manzanas y ciruelas.