Not far down the road lies el Bolsón, a town that was known for its hippie invasion in the 70's and is still known for its crafts markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays. We like it most because of this place:
(Camping at a microbrewery is tops! And they even give you a beer with each paid day. And they have nice showers, cooking space, firepits,... Can you tell we liked that place?)
Walking through the town of el Bolsón itself was fine and all, a bit interesting but not overly impressive. Neither of us is (ever really) in the market for handicrafts, and the rest of town wasn't all that captivating, but comfortable enough. It does have the advantage of sitting in a beautiful valley.
(hippie inspired art)
(drunken school girl Xing)
On towards Esquel we enjoyed the ride back towards the mountains.
(at the border leaving Argentina. Lots of backpackers/hitchhikers hanging out trying to catch a ride.)
This time crossing into Chile was a little less painful than our first - we didn't have a sheepskin to lose, but still managed to forget that we had 3 peaches with us, so those got chucked. But an easy enough crossing that put us right into Futaleufú.
Futaleufú is a definite favorite for us. The people we met were all super friendly, happy to see us, open to travelers. The valley teems with peaceful beauty that pictures just can't capture (but we'll show you some anyways). Our first impression was that it's the good kind of place that we would be happy to stay for awhile. (How that could actually happen is the difficult part...)
(los Coihues camping just outside of town)
(town plaza, now home to the region's only bank and provincial government buildings since Chaitén's ongoing destruction (due to volcanic eruption in 2008 and subsequent rerouting of the river right through town))
We went hiking in the new Reserva Nacional Futaleufú one afternoon. There are two main sections, Rio Chico and las Escalas, both of which are surrounded by private land, making access a bit challenging. Arriving at the ranger house in Rio Chico was easy enough (only 1 wrong turn) but the ranger was in town and the lady at the house (who turned out to be the ranger's mom and lived there full time too) was less than helpful in pointing us to the trail. Eventually we found enough help to find the main trail to an overlook, but didn't have the right pieces of information to find the full loop. When we returned we met the ranger, who was super nice, and gave us the hints we would have needed. Next time. Next time. But the hike we managed to take was still pretty sweet.
We then wandered towards las Escalas, which required a 30 min ride to the next ranger's house, or at least we thought it was the ranger's house. The road gave us a nice view of Hells Canyon, a notorious whitewater rafting destination:
The lady in the yard of the ranger house (not sure if she was the ranger, the ranger's mom, the gardener, or what) pointed us further down the road, and gave us some hints on how to get up to an overlook of the valley and a big waterfall. "Follow the red-topped poles through the field." So we parked with the sheep and did exactly that.
After we ducked under a barbed wire fence towards an obvious trail that continued up the valley, we took a break. While sitting there a group of 4 men came walking up to look at the exact spot we ducked under. Two of the men were national police, one was apparently the land owner. The land owner was not happy with people coming onto his land. We found that out when we went down to confirm the direction with them. His 2 concerns were (1) that if hikers are on his land and get injured by themselves or by one of his bulls, what's he to do? and (2) that if people keep busting his fence his bulls may disappear. Those are valid concerns, not to mention the fact that CONAF officials (e.g. park rangers) are specifically instructing strangers to cross private property to access the national reserve. The policemen didn't seem to be responding to Miguel, the land owner, with much respect or even courtesy (yet another example of how things often work in Latin America). We spoke to him with respect, apologized for our mistake of entering his land, and did what he asked of us (told him when we were leaving his land so he could be sure we weren't hurt). I think that tiny effort (is it even really that?) helped us forge a bit of a relationship with Miguel, so he invited us to stay and talk with him after the policemen left.
(the cops flanking Mike, Miguel, and Jill)
(sitting on Miguels' porch drinking some mate. He liked to joke around and kept coming back to asados (BBQ's), vino, and chicha de manzana. He then offered to trade us some of his land for a 4x4 truck. maybe we will find a way to go party with our neighbor Miguel now and again. Too bad trucks are so expensive in Chile...)
So while the whole trespassing thing suggests the authorities have some issues that they need to resolve with the population, it really turned out to be an enjoyable afternoon for us. (Partially because Jill's been secretly hoping to be invited to mate, and this was her first time drinking a mate in South America)
(Miguel's place, las Escalas, Reserva Nacional Futaleufú)
While Futa had cast a strong spell on us, we were still looking forward to continuing on and seeing what the infamous Carretera Austral had in store.