Thursday, 10 November 2011

El Bolson and Cajon del Azul

Living in Argentina for 4 years, I was able to explore much country, and El Bolson proved by far my favorite place. This small, hippy town, tucked away in the Andes, is the perfect sanctuary from the city, if you like nature that is. Just a two hour bus ride from Bariloche, winding through many Andean valleys, brings you to the laid back "whatever life may bring us" town that attracts many artists and writers. It is the kind of town where you just want to sit outside and read a book and just relax all your senses. Once revitalized, head off into the mountains for day trips or overnighters at the refugio cabins that provide accommodation and sometimes food. First off, I recommend visiting in the summer months (December- February) so you can take advantage of the outdoors activities in warmer weather.
The best thing about the town is the feria that occurs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The market offers all sorts of items from jewelry to clothing, from fresh fruit to children's toys. I spend hours walking through the stalls and always find something new.  My advice: Don't eat before you visit it because the food vendors are amazing. Pair a fresh fruit smoothie, made on demand, with some cheap and delicious empanadas and top it all off with a Belgian waffle with strawberries and whipped cream.
On the topic of food, there are some great trout places in the town, but the best food I encountered was a small ravioli take-out place in the wast side of town. We stumbled upon the place by accident, and didn't comprehend that it was a take out place until the lady had thrown together all the tables in her front yard. The ravioli was to die for, my favorite were the salmon ravioli in a four-cheese sauce and the butter nut squash ravioli in a nut sauce.
Getting out into the mountains is easy from El Bolson, there are quite a few refugios hidden away. The hikes can be beautiful, as well as entertaining, as many have plank bridges that feature the half comical half frightening signs warning only one person to cross at a time. With planks dangling into the water or some outright gone, the sight seems reminiscent of the stereotypical bridges about to break over boiling lava in some film.
My favorite hike was to the Cajon del Azul. The 10 mile walk, which took us around 4 hours, is very picturesque, winding up hills of ancient cypress trees and into valleys. A number of streams and Rio Azul cross your path, helping with the heat, but the real treat is the Cajon at the end. At the Cajon del Azul, rock walls jet into turquoise water so clear you can see the trout below. Coming from the mountains the water may be a little cold, but lying on the warm rocks after remedies that problem.
We didn't stay at the Refugio Cajon del Azul, instead opting to do the trip as a day hike, but once you get up into the cajons paradise you defiantly want to stay. While we spent the day lounging around the rocks and diving into the water, but there are a number of activities near the refugio including caves and the virgin forest that could provide entertainment for a couple of days.

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