As there’s always more in between the major sights than the masses discuss, Neera and I have a strict policy of not committing to any itinerary too far in advance. It’s the inside scoop from the region’s locals and some spontaneity that steers us off the trodden path. That’s where Lonely Planet travel stops and a lot of the true local life begins. Instead of the default gringo trail passage of Patagonia, zipping from El Chalten to Barriloche on a 24 hour bus, we hopped off at Los Antiguos half way.
This enabled us to cross back to Chile to hike the Glacier Exploradores and boat the isolated Capillas del Mármol. These are beautiful blue enormous marble rock formations, carved smooth by the guiding hand of currents over thousands of years. Every place we visit tries to drive home an obscure claim to fame for the biggest or best something.
Upon returning to the sweet Argentinian border town, we discovered its differentiator as the cherry capital of Argentina! At this point, nobody else in the country seems to be aware of this accomplishment except the town citizens and now us, but they have an enormous hand monument with cherry’s you can climb which in my opinion is alone worth the visit (photo evidence below).We arrived at sunrise and saw that coming 12 hours north brought us to a season that didn’t reach southern Patagonia – along with the Andean cordillera we witnessed the bursting colors of autumn. As long as you’re in Chile or western Argentina, this mountain range is your beautiful background and comforting point of reference, like the ocean for a coastal town. As happy as we were with our life of relaxation, we literally could not leave. Upon requesting tickets for the following morning, we were told the next bus out of town was in 4 days.
With little option, we dove into the life of leisure and spent our mornings reading, studying Spanish, carefully shopping for vegetables, and biking the town with the house dogs. In the evening our sweet host and new buddy, Nahuel, drove us to the water and with home made IPAs and a glistening lake ahead, we watched the full moon climb. Usually we found ourselves in developed destinations or a town with a renowned natural wonder nearby, this time we got a taste of pure and simple country life.
From village to tourist town, we moved our way up to the hipster hangout of El Bolson. The culture shock was potent… you could actually smell it on the locals’ hair. Everyone and everything was grungy. One in two people have dreadlocks* including the 5 year old kids running around who looked like long term backpackers minus the packs. Nobody seemed to have a care in the world, but seemed collectively liberated from worries of the future. As we were walking down the street behind this sweet young couple, the dad turns around with their baby in his arms and asks us, ‘quieres flores?’. I’ve never been to a place where so many people tried to sell me pot. The sheer scale of the distribution network was incredible and the nature of the proposition became as common as a waiter offering you a menu.
Our hostel was another world in itself. There was cat poo in the showers, people cutting each others’ hair in the communal bathroom, and stoned people blasting either reggae or electronic dance music day and night. To make the most of this foul falsely advertised institution, we cut out early with medialunas and fruit for breakfast by the lake and came back at midnight to crash for the night. Even still, the randomness couldn’t be avoided and I will never forget coming home to a high employee tattooing to one of the guests in the communal living room while their friends rocked out a jam session.
As a whole, this intriguing community of stoner hippies did have something to be tremendously proud of. In all of South America, they had the single most impressive crafts market we’d seen after 10 months. Keep in mind that as soon as the population hits double digits, any place on the continent begins a weekly fair, so being the best is no small feat. The variety and quality was unbelievable and instead of the typical repeat stalls, each one had unique and creative handcrafted creations, from culinary tools to vibrant art. We picked up a gourd and bombilla (maté kit) to call our own, and continued on grateful we didn’t live nearby – the impulse to purchase everything hasn’t been that compelling in years.
It was fascinating to see such a variety of culture, from a village where time calmly moseys by to a bohemian town of skilled artists. It’s wild to think that back in the day most places were just small towns with their own unique feel, undisturbed and uninfluenced by the other cities and people of the world. It’s in these smaller in between lands that we still have the opportunity to travel back in time to these micro-cultures. For that alone, I would hop off half way between the popular spots and roll the dice to see what a random town has in store for us any day of the week. If for nothing else, it’ll be interesting and remind us of how many different ways people can live life.
*this statistic is not based on fact or data in any way