Still Not Bored Of Lakes Then

As we drove into Bariloche the other day we saw paragliders swooping down from the hills and we thought, what a fucking incredible place to be really high up! Then we wondered if it was available commercially but we couldn’t see any offers in town amongst the rafting and the Circuito Chico, so we did a bit of Googling and we found Hernán Di Lorenzo of Parapente Bariloche, one of the properly qualified and licensed tandem masters here, and we booked to go with him.

That’s Tarrant suspended from a piece of cloth, dangling in front of a bloke we found on the Internet.

Your flight is going to depend on the weather and your weight but I’ve no fucking clue how much I weigh right now. Probably as much as a small elephant given all the food I’ve been cramming into my chops recently. I ruined the fly zip on my trousers recently because my chub will not be caged. I hazarded a guess and didn’t crash land in a spiky tree so I couldn’t have been too far off.

I think she enjoyed it then.

So on Friday morning we waited for Hernán and his team at the foot of a cable car. He showed up bang on time but he’s the only one who takes customers up in the air. He asked us who was the chonk of the two of us (obviously not in those words) and I confessed that I was the chonk so Tarrant got to go first. I sat in the shade and made a dog friend as she went off in the truck to jump off a cliff with a man strapped to her back. By the time she landed she was a proper smiley lesbian, grinning so hard I thought her face had split.

Getting their shit together. Hernán is the only one who does the tandem thing so we went one at a time. As he was carefully packing the parachute away after Tarrant’s turn he told us, “My bedroom is a mess, but my kite is perfect!” That was comforting then.

Then it was my turn. We left Tarrant in the car park and we wove our way up Cerro Otto which is significantly higher than the hill we went up yesterday. In fact you can see Cerro Campanario from here, it’s absolutely dwarfed by the mountain we were about to launch ourselves off for shits and giggs. Oh dear gosh. See, I’ve done this twice before, I knew exactly what to expect, I know there’s no drop after the run, that the wind just takes you gracefully into the air. I trusted Hernán implicitly, he wanted to faceplant the floor from a great height about as much as I did. But literally running down a steep slope off the side of a mountain is not the natural order of things and my legs turned to jelly.

A nice, comfy seat several metres above the ground.

“Are you nervous?” he asked. His mate piped up, “Is there a little bit of shit in your pants?” I mean, yes to the first question and probably to the second question. They waited for the right gust of wind and then it was, “Run run run!” I ran. Or I tried to anyway, the parachute pulled us back then Hernán pretty much just shoved me off the hill. And we were flying! I sat back and enjoyed the ride and yeah, we were right, Bariloche is a perfect place to go paragliding. We twisted and turned and eventually landed actually quite well in the field by the car park. I think we landed well anyway, I didn’t stack it into a pile of shit and my ankles remained intact.

That eyehole fodder though!

We headed to Parque Nacional Los Alcerces straight afterwards which was about five hours solid driving. It’s not meant to be five hours but the RN40 winds through the mountains with few opportunities to get past tankers or trucks or vehicles that would probably rattle apart if they exceeded 70kph. It’s predictably gorgeous though, you’re flanked by stone and evergreens as you make your way south. Eventually we were steered into the RP71 which was sealed until it wasn’t fucking sealed anymore and oh yay, here we go again. Our life had pretty much been dust since we started this road trip. The campsites are all made out of dust. The roads are made out of dust. My lungs were probably coated in a fine layer of dust and my nasal defenses had gone into overdrive. You could hold buildings together with the crap I was excavating from my nostrils.

Sure, I can’t breathe through my nose on account of it being packed full of dust but if this is the trade off then I guess I’ll take it.

We’d intended to use one of the wild camps (camping agreste) within the national park. You have to pay an entrance fee which we did, then we passed a few campsites both free and organised, then it turned out the site we were aiming for didn’t permit camping anymore. We carried on until we saw a sign for wild camping and organised camping. We turned left when we should have turned right and fell victim to the allure of a proper shower and a flushing toilet. There was a shop selling beer and firewood and yeah, suddenly our night of free camping just became a lot more expensive. What can I say? As I get older I just fucking love nice things.

It’s still packed dirt and dust that gets everywhere but it’s packed dirt and dust with facilities. I do so like a facility in my old age.

The RP71 follows Lago Futalaufquen with side roads taking you down to lakeside beaches. Our campsite was spitting distance from the lake and it’s safe for swimming. I was in there like a shot, my swimwear still smelling faintly of sulphur after Copahue. Honestly, what an awesome way to wash the aforementioned dust off. I mean, I’m probably still going to contract some manner of respiratory disease but to be fair, given where these ridiculous unsealed roads have been taking us, it’ll absolutely be worth it. Even if my lungs fall out through my arse and I have to keep them in a box for the rest of my life.

It takes Tarrant a little longer to get in the water on account of all the squealing she has to do first. It’s quite time consuming, being this dramatic.

The following day we were hoping to take a boat out to an ancient forest of alerces trees, the trees this national park protects, but I’d read that your best bet was buying the tickets in Esquel for the following day. Except we’d not been to Esquel. Fuck it, we’d risk it for a biscuit and if we couldn’t get on the boat we’d just amuse ourselves with a few trails until we melted into steaming pools of useless. So it turns out if you park at the car park (not free but not expensive) you can walk to Puerto Chucao and when everyone is checking in with their pre-bought tickets you can hand over a stack of cash and buy your ticket there and then. It’s a bit risky, the boat was pretty full, but we got seats and after disinfecting our shoes we boarded.

Even the ride out is a treat for the eyeholes.

They’re pretty shit hot on the shoe cleaning thing. This section of forest we were heading to is very protected and they don’t want dirt, seeds or fungus carrying over from here to there. Some of these trees are hundreds of years old. Some over a thousand. One is 2600 years old but more about that bad boy shortly. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect but what we got were two bilingual guides and a trip across a gorgeous lake to a spot where we could all gawp at a glacier. Yeah nah, still not bored of glaciers despite seeing a metric fuck tonne of them in…oh wait, did I tell you we went to Antarctica?

Behold, yet another glacier. It’s retreating of course, like most glaciers are.

Then we cruised a little more and docked at Puerto Sagradio where we were split into two groups and led on a little woodland walk through the Alerces Milenarios forest. This was great. We learned so much. Your three main trees are the coihue, the arrayan which are the orange trees we saw in Bariloche, then the alerces which is sort of a larch but it literally only grows here in this region of Argentina and Chile in the rainiest part of the Andes. It’s endemic. It was logged to buggery on the Chilean side 300 years ago but as this side was harder to reach, and still is, a lot more trees survived.

I can’t remember how old this alerces tree is but I’m pretty sure it’s more than 1000 years old.
This is caña colihue which is some manner of bamboo. It grows for 60 to 70 years, flowers, dies straight away and seven years later it falls down to allow light to get to the new plants.

There was quite a lot of dragging ourselves up hills in the heat, past felled coihue trees. Apparently they fall down a lot as the roots are shallow and they take healthy trees and footpaths with them. This walk used to be a loop but part of it is closed off now so it’s a there and back. We could walk as far as a 1300 year old beast of an alerces before we headed back to go and see El Abuelo. The tallest, oldest alerces of them all.

A spot of tree related carnage. The tree that fell was a coihue over 600 years old.
The branches of an alerces tree.

He’s quite the specimen! He’s got a hole in the side where loggers 300 years ago checked him to see if he was worth chopping down and thankfully for us his grain is wonky. The bark on these trees is distinctive and peels away in huge, solid strips. Sailors used these strips to fix hole in their ships, notably Fitzroy. When they were logging them and sending them back to Europe they didn’t realise how hard they’d be to replace. They only grow an average of a millimetre a year, more if it’s wet and less if it’s dry, so you can’t casually replenish your stocks. We’d walked past a 30 year old tree on the trail and it was such a tiny, skinny thing.

El Abuelo. The grandfather. It’s impossible to fit this tree in one frame and I can’t emphasise the actual size of this 2600 year old tree. Lesbian for scale, but the top of it shoots way up above this photo.

Anyway, stuffed full of tree related knowledge we navigated across Lago Menéndez back to Puerto Chucao and walked back to the car. More of a slog whilst sweating a lot really. I could hear Lago Futalaufquen calling my name, the air was fucking lava, I couldn’t wait to get into the water. It’s hotter than it’s got any right being this far south but apparently their weather has gone to shit in Patagonia. Winters are colder than ever, summers are insanely hot. Once we were back I nearly collided with a kayaker in my haste to be neck deep in cold water.

I love these ibis. They’re as prevalent here as herring gulls are back home but they’re less likely to try and nick your chips. Probably a good job. They’d have an eye out with that beak.
Nowt wrong with our fire. Or our dinner of noodles. Definitely better than a dead thing roasted over an open fire. I’m not drooling, you’re drooling.

Tell you what though, Argentinians know how to relax and they know how to camp. We’ve not seen anyone struggle to get comfortable on a sarong spread out on the floor. They just unpack their chairs and tables from the car and set up where they please. By a river, on the side of the road under a tree, next to a lake. As I write the family on the next pitch are cooking half a fucking pig (or lamb?) on the fire. I’m not even shitting you. They actually had a whole carcass but they cut it in half with a hack saw, built a fire that could destroy empires and now half the animal is on a metal rack being turned occasionally. Legends. Tarrant has fire envy and keeps pointing out that our fire is aesthetic and not functional. There’s nothing wrong with our fire, it’s just not got anything dead propped up over it.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

Parque Nacional Los Alerces, Chubut, Argentina

Stayed at: Club Empleados Banco del Chubut, Parque Nacional Los Alerces

Club Empleados Banco del Chubut. It cost AR$2000 per person per night, plus AR$500 for the car but you only have to pay that once. Everything was great. Each pitch has its own table and fire pit, and electricity is included. Showers had hot water. The little shop sold snacks, soft drinks and booze and the woman working here speaks flawless English. It’s mere metres from the lake too but the beach is quite rocky. It’s only a short drive to a less rocky beach but I wanted a beer. WiFi is advertised but they don’t actually have it, she did tell us this before we agreed to stay.

Useful shit to know…

  • If you want to go paragliding definitely contact Hernán. He doesn’t have an office but he’s very responsive on WhatsApp.
  • His number is +54 9294 430 3003.
  • At the time of writing he was charging AR$38,000 per person which is US$103 at the Blue Dollar rate. You can pay cash or card.
  • I believe there are two companies that will take you over to the millenial forest. I’m not sure which one we went with as we just showed up to the dock and handed money to someone.
  • You’ll need to take some food but you can only eat it on the boat, not in the protected forest.
  • They sold tea, coffee and soft drinks on the boat.
  • The guides spoke English and everything was repeated for our (and that of a Dutch couple) benefit.
  • We got back around 4pm, perhaps just after.
  • If you don’t want to risk not getting a seat on the boat then you’ll need to find a tour agency in Esquel.
  • If you want to buy your ticket there you’ll need cash.
  • It was AR$18000 (US$96 officially, US$50 Blue Dollar) at the time of writing.
  • There are a lot of places to stay within the national park from expensive lodges and affordable cabins to both organised and wild camping. The latter must still be in a designated spot.
  • We had no problem getting a pitch on a small site on Friday night but by Saturday it was full.
  • It cost AR$3500 (US$19 officially, US$10 Blue Dollar) each to enter the national park. We were asked if we were staying or just driving through but we weren’t asked how long we were staying for. No one stopped us on the way out to charge us for extra days so I guess it’s good for the duration of your stay
  • I did hear them telling people that access to the park is closed at 8pm.
  • There’s very little phone signal in the national park. You might be able to send a WhatsApp every now and then but not always and not everywhere.
  • We did see Transportes Esquel buses plying the route through the park. You’re best off checking their website for prices, schedules etc.
  • When we went into Esquel to get petrol we did see at least one car rental place.
  • Regardless of how you get into the park please do consider staying within it one or two nights to enjoy that spectacular lake.

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