LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 82
Pags. 44 - 53
Text & Photos: Soledad Gil
WEST OF PARADISE
All roads lead to Esquel. Just as when you open an orange, the segments of the region all depart from the core: the Welsh, the fishing, the lakes, the superb views and the estancias. Then, each item leads to another and, in a few days in this area, will produce the perfect "combo", from which one returns with green memories of the Arrayanes river, the humbling experience of standing beside a thousand year old birch tree, the soothed nerves after all the various activities.
LOS ALERCES NATIONAL PARK.
This is the natural heart of the area. Its 260,000 hectares stretch to the border with Chile - but with no border crossing point - beyond which it continues as the Pumalín National Park.
Most of the territory is off limits to the public, a treasure made of the Alerzal (the larch forest) the Torrecillas glacier, the Cisne falls, Lakes Rivadavia and the Kruger. Lago Chico and the Stange, among others, are still inaccessible. Others, nonetheless, can be visited with a guide and a special permit issued by the National Parks authorities. It takes a whole day to find the basins of the Frey and climb the Dedal and Petizo Mountains.
Sportier types can arrange a three day programme that includes canoeing from
Lake Cholila along the Carrileufu River, crossing the Rivadavia and Verde lakes and the Arrayanes river- passing beneath the catwalks in the photograph - ending up victorious in the Futalaufquen.
The more bourgeois types, on the other hand, would most likely prefer to embark at the port of Limonao and do the trip the other way round. It is impossible to reach the Rivadavia in a motorboat, but the view from above, reached on Route 71, is just as wonderful as the one that a few enjoy from down below.
A few kilometres from Puerto Limonao the road comes to an end at the Hostería Futalaufquen (if only all roads ended at places such as this!) The hotel is a perfect example of Bustillo's architecture and flawlessly blends in with the rest of Villa Futalaufquen, where you will find the Park administration, a general store and the log cabins where the park-rangers live.
Like a miniature Llao Llao, the Futalaufquen enjoys amazing views and has wood panelled interiors that seem to continue from the staircase to the piano and from the bar to the dining room. It is without a doubt, the best option in the region, not least for its gourmet cuisine, which is unrivalled in the area.
Situated 30km from Trevelín and 1Okm from the border with Chile, Michael and Jane Beale's lodge is literally hanging over the Futaleufú. El Encuentro and the river are one. If it were not just a bit drastic, one could dive straight into the river from the window, but it is best to be shown around by Michael, who knows each and every bend of the river.
He has lived in this region since 1977, when he and his wife arrived at Lelequen from Buenos Aires. "We took the Jacobacci train and from there La Trochita" Jane tells us, " I was pregnant and I remember getting off at that bleak and cold spot, with that wind and I thought to myself "what am I doing here". Los Cipreses - some 2km from the lodge - is very far from being a bleak spot and Michael and Jane, who have started to take in guests quite recently, are already experts at the task.
Michael goes out with the fishermen and Jane looks after the ladies, taking them to the Welsh museum in Trevelín and telling them about the history of the pioneers. The museum, in addition to its display of treasures, is a perfect synthesis of the history of the town. It is housed in what used to be the Molina Andes & Cia, which operated between 1918 and 1953, when Perón forced them to close down the mill.
They sold off the machinery in Bahia Blanca in 1959 and it was closed until reopening as a regional museum. Jane also takes visitors to the small Nant Fach mill belonging to Mervyn Evans, who built it from scratch using the techniques learned from his ancestors. However, the attractions of the place go beyond the Welsh community.
Visits to Esquel, to the Nant falls, or to the Futaleufú are all different outings in a limited area. Those who wish
to go to the Futaleufú should keep in mind that they need to have their car windows engraved with the new licence numbers. At Los Cipreses, a tiny village, there is a man who makes his living engraving car windows, saving tourists the journey back to Esquel to have it done!
It is the most important town in the west of Chubut, concentrating the commercial activity of the region. We recommend that while you are in Esquel you try the ice creams at Mayor, ride on La Trochita, sit at El Argentino, go on one of the day trips with EpA or find a fishing guide and let him take over.
If you aspire to a real rest, Jane has a friend, Guingui WiIliams, who owns a fabulous sheep farm called El Condor - (1,800 head of sheep) which is really worthwhile visiting. It is very close to Trevelín and occupies 1,500 hectares with majestic views of the Andes. It belonged to Guingui's husband's great grandfather, Llwyd Ap Iwan, who was granted it by the government for his merit as a colonist. "This took place around 1865 when 50 leagues of land was distributed amongst the Welsh community ", recalls Michael Gough. "My grandfather Mihangel Griffiydd Ap Iwan began to rear Merino sheep, and it was thus that in 1912 he founded the Condor sheep farm."
Our hostess here is Guingui. Michael looks after the rams and ewes and if you wish to have a long chat with him, all you have to do is bring up this subject. The rural character and open spaces, but above all Guingui's charm, all contribute to make El Condor a different way of discovering Trevelín, Esquel and the surroundings. If on the other hand, fishing is your thing, then return to Esquel and let Andrés Muller be your guide. Andrés was brought up with his brothers and sisters in Esquel, and although many of them chose different destinations, Andrés remained faithful to these lands because of his love for fishing.
His favourite spots include the Los Alerces Park, the Pescado Stream- 35km east of Esquel - the Willmanco lake and the Futaleufú or Grande rivers. He knows them like the back of his hand and although he used to work with the "national hero" of the place Raúl San Martin, he has been independent now for many years and is following his own trails of trout.
No trip in this region is complete without stopping at Cholila. It was November and the lupins were in full bloom, exploding with shades of bright pink, lavender and cream. The Carrileufu River, with its clear waters, must have been radiant. And on one of those special, sunny days that lingers in your memory for ever more, Chela Ruiz of the Hosteria El Pedregoso invited us "You must come, it's lovely out here".
It was impossible to decline and Andrés Muller offered, not only to come with us, but via Route 71, much longer than the 40 (110km instead of 80km), much more gravel but also much more beautiful. Passing by, yet again, the Park la
kes, we could not resist stopping and taking endless photographs until we reached our sublime destination: Chela's hotel.
There is a footbridge leading to the Pedregoso with its characteristic yellow walls and grey rooftop. The superb backdrop of the Andes completes the magnificent picture. The hotel stands at the exact point where Lake Cholila and its source meet. With the Dos Picos opposite and the Cholila to the left, fishermen are in their element, with the universe to themselves, and another expert guide, Tito Tagle...only a few steps away. Other options include the Leleque museum, the foothills of the Andes, Bariloche, and countless trekking expeditions to choose from. It is all a matter of willpower and deciding where to begin.