LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 93
By: Gabriela Pomponio
Photos: Kiki Boccarelli
THE "GOOD LIFE" IN LA ANGOSTURA
They say that it is the greenest town on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi. Here the forests are thick and lush, and the rainfall is constant. "A forest like that needs water", the locals tell the tourists who seem worried by the drizzle. However, they soon brighten up when the sun comes out, because then the "Villa" and its surroundings are unbeatable, and simply invite visits.
La Angostura's great asset is water. It is surrounded by the lake, and wherever one goes, one will end up on its shore.
Its name comes from a geographical accident. It was born in the place where Quetrihue peninsula is narrowest, at the beginnings of the arrayan forest. The date was 1932, and the inauguration of the Post and Telegraph Office provided a handy excuse to make the founding official. In addition to its natural beauties, the Villa has no doubt undergone a growth that is both esthetic and urbanistically sound.
Sailing on the Nahuel Huapi
Our idea is to sail over Lake Nahuel Huapi to Victoria Island, and then follow the coastline leading to the promising site of Piedras Blancas. The Bonita awaits us in Port Manzano. This is a 44-foot Ketch, designed by German Frers. Pure sensuality - the mere sight of it makes us look forward to the delights of the trip.
Juan Andres Tato, the captain, greets us. While he attends to last-minute details, we nose around the roomy, cedar-paneled interiors. There are two cabins with a private bathroom and a central room with a table that seats six people comfortably.
It is now time to leave, so we set off with the wind at our stern and sail unfurled at the bow. We leave the shore behind us and turn off the engine. Now the Bonita glides silently across the lake. The only sounds are the flapping of white canvas in the wind and the gentle slapping of the waves on our hull, while some seagulls keep us company overhead. Halfway through the morning Juan Diego, the captain's brother and the chef treat us to some canapes and a glass of chilled champagne.
Later on, we anchor facing the Piedras Blancas beach. This is an area much frequented by sailing boats, but today we are all alone: there is not another soul in sight.
A whitish-grey stone wall signals the entrance to the small bay. We land and start exploring the surroundings. We have plenty of time to walk through the woods and be invaded by a green, humid silence. We hunt for fungi, that grow large and colorful in Patagonia, but do not find any, it's not the right time of year yet.
We get back just in time for a lunch on deck. Juan prepared a delicate cream and pumpkin soup and a risotto made with pine fungi. Our contentment is absolute.
Evening is falling when we get back. The sailboat is heeling heavily, driven along by bursting sails. The sun is tepid. We stay on deck with the intention of enjoying every last minute left of the trip.
Yesterday the water, today the land. Fabian Fasce of "Nomades" had suggested we leave early for the Ņivinco Waterfall, and we do just that. We're off! We have to take the Seven Lakes Trail leading to San Martin de los Andes and do 25 km along an improved dirt track. We skirt Lake Correntoso with its guard of coihue forests and make a stop at the bridge over the Ruca Malen river.
A little further on are the home and corrals of the Quintupuray family. They are Mapuches who arrived from Chile before these lands became a National Park. They attend the Hosteria de los Siete Lagos, an unpretentious waystop where one can have coffee with home made bread and jam. It is also a good place to have a picnic on the shores of Lake Correntoso.
We follow on for some kilometers up to a minor fork in the road that one can easily miss, because the signpost is half hidden. We park near the river. The water is extremely cold, and you have to wade through up to your knee.
When Fabian comes here with large groups, he uses his r
opes and harnesses to improvise a suspension bridge.
However, this time it's only two of us, so this extra work isn't warranted. So, like the gentleman he is, he offers to get us across on horseback. We thank him for his courtesy with an almond chocolate bar that will help him get his circulation started up again in his feet. We crossed without a splash!
The pathway is signaled and the walk is an easy one.
We walked along a muddy prairie full of ņires, and afterwards continued through a maze of colihue cane that forms solid shady walls. The greenery is a refuge to thrushes, chucao tapaculos and thorn-tailed rayaditos. With a bit of luck, one can spot a woodpecker. We got onto the broad, stony river bed again, and returned to the forest, to finally discover the waterfall. Actually, there are three of them and the effect is really surprising. They do honor to their Indian name meaning "water whisper". We are only able to get to the first one however, and have to look at the other two from a distance, because they are only accessible as from December when the river level falls, and one can walk along the river bed.
Up the mountain
That afternoon we had planned our rappelling "first". Near the Correntoso, Fabian looks for an outcrop suitable for beginners. He finds one just over Puerto Arauco. Close by lies El Mirador coffee shop, with an incredible view on the lake. A stop for tea or a meal at this place is worthwhile at any price.
We climbed to the chosen place and got ready: helmet, harness, rope and down we go! Hanging over the bay, we walked down the rock face vertically with a strange feeling of being suspended in the void. We followed Fabian's instructions carefully, and everything was perfect; we saved our skins, and even managed to put a good face on it.
That night we were invited to Alicia Gorza Urbanet's home. She was one of the first people to arrive in Puerto Manzano, when the area was a real estate development lost in the wilderness, and almost nobody knew about it. Alicia has the "gift of the gab" and is a really sociable creature, so one day she just opened her house for meals, the way she used to invite her friends over. "My idea was for people to arrive and feel they're guests in the home of a Patagonian "aunt" ", she remarked. Then the informal sitting room meals become the occasion to try out the old family recipes of regional dishes.
Our hostess is a specialist in hare, trout, wild boar and venison. We try a sweet and mild home-made wine while awaiting the dinner. In our case she baked trout ("from the lake", according to Alicia), in a very natural tomato sauce. Among her pieces de resistance are homemade bread, smoked olives and musk rose wine, that are served while she tells us stories from the early days.
The previous year, when we were in the Villa, we had visited the workshop of Bunga Pok, a "virtuoso" who makes entertaining objects to decorate the home. This time we decided to see the workshop of Pedro and Susana Di Lorenzo.
The couple have been sharing their atelier for years, each doing his or her "own thing". Pedro is a silversmith. He learned the art of smelting and working silver in the criollo tradition. In the south, he included Mapuche motifs that now are the central point of his creations. Necklets, earrings, bracelets and anklets - everything is hand made in a pure silver that has not been chemically burnished.
Susana was introduced to the art of the hand loom "big time" when she settled in La Angostura, and a little old Mapuche woman offered to teach her.
Once she started, there was no stopping her. She works with two enormous looms at the same time. On one of them she weaves white and brown wool, and on the other she combines a bright red with black; these textiles will later become ponchos, bedcovers and tapestries. She herself dies the wool with cochineal and local plants -radal, maiten, plaņil, obtaining hues that would be impossible to duplicate with synthetic dyes.
She is now experimenting with natural silk, and has just woven some silk bracelets that have a silver clasp, made by Pedro, of course.
On the outskirts of the Villa, Emilio Alvear has a storybook workshop: El Ņirantal. It is right in the middle of the forest, and the branches that decorate the entrance already speak of the nature of his craftwork. He started off as a traditional type carpenter and today creates marvels with bits of wood he finds at the edge of the lake or on his long walks through the forest.
You could say that he almost makes no changes in the natural shapes he discovers. His chairs, lamps and coat-hangers follow the original lines of the wood that he picks up. In his workshop there are also Mapuche crafts on sale; Emilio brings them from the Indian communities in the area.
The summer in the Villa promises news. El Corazon de la Bahia, an exclusive cabin complex in Puerto Manzano, is on the point of inaugurating its Health and Beauty Center. Inspired by a European concept of relaxation, this facility offers hydrotherapy, massage therapy, oriental massages and a "pampering" cabin that deals in esthetics.
On their part, Las Balsas -an inn forming part of the exclusive chain of Relais & Chateaux- has built another suite with a view on the harbor. It has also extended its restaurant, now including a less formal sector to enjoy tapas and a food sampling room. By the year's end, the El Faro inn should be inaugurated, with a magnificent view over Lake Nahuel Huapi.
La Angostura is adding worth to its attractions. The arrayan forest with its historical little tea house is an ever-present classic, especially for first-timers. There is a boat service in the port that takes one there. Beyond the jetty is the chapel built by Alejandro Bustillo.
This year, Mt Bayo will remain open during the summer months, with parts of the chairlift working. At the base, bicycles and horses may be hired; the trekking fans, as always will use the pathways marked out for walkers.
The downtown area of the Villa is a good place to stroll at the end of the afternoon, and give in to the temptation of chocolates and smoked specialties. At teatime there are several tea houses with excellent pastries. We chose Cielo Verde, where one can try a great variety of homemade cakes and tarts that its owner, Elida Barba, personally bakes. Besides, it offers sweet and salty waffles.
Local gastronomy has won deserved fame, offering alternatives for every taste, and this year including brand new dishes that have received appraisal in the Gourmet journals. All you have to do is go to Villa La Angostura, settle down and make up you mind to enjoy yourself.