The Shire of the North

El Bolsón. A shire characterised by its hippie tranquility. The town is situated 100 kilometers away from Bariloche (the Swiss village of Argentina) and lies at the feet of ‘Piltriquitrón Hill’ in the Rio Negro province. Since hippies roam the streets, they thought it would be a good idea to declare the town a nuclear free zone. No nuclear activity is allowed anywhere near the town. Why on earth anyone would want to use anything to do with even the concept of nuclear in these parts baffles the imagination but still they stand proud not to have anything to do with the stuff. Fleeing the city of Buenos Aires, they pledged to only shop local, to only produce local and only sell local. Sad to see that way of life gradually changing to accommodate the influx of tourism, but the dwellers go about their business selling everything artisanal nonetheless. Beyond this, there are more breweries than in Munich during Oktoberfest. IPA, Rubio (blonde), Rojo (red) and a sweet variant known as Frambuesa or raspberry beer. But more on that in a moment.

As we reached the end of our painstakingly long bus (23 hours…) journey, it became apparent that this would be a relaxing experience. Fem found a rather delightful place called Earthship Patagonia, a commune of sorts (except we weren’t subjected to joining any strange cult) that had quaint yurts, an outside shower and a building concept known as Earthship. Earthship is a self contained ‘off-the-grid-ready’ home. The design is focused around six principles or human needs. In short, it was fascinating to watch human ingenuity at its best. Our host and land owner Marcel was proud of his construction, boasting how the warm the houses were and how easy it was to live a simpler life. He spends six months per year in Patagonia and the other six in New Zealand (although we never got the bottom of what he actually did in New Zealand, rather settling on a cryptic answer of “that’s another part of my personality” with a subtle grin on his face). Our yurt had a big comfy double bed and a moon window to watch the stars through. At night not a sound could be heard, which brought me back to my childhood growing up in Noordhoek (except for the odd Egyptian goose honking away). Coming to these sorts of towns makes you realise how good it is for the body and soul to get away from the hustle and the bustle of city life. We’re not designed (here’s a podcast that covers the subject) to live in harsh big impersonal concrete and asphalt jungles. Something I can attest to living in New York City (although the energy was electrifying, it eats away at the senses). Other aspects of the Earthship farm included a rather pokey but cosy kitchen and an outside ‘dry toilet’, which was nothing short of a convenient home for flies (if we were to live this way, we would skip out on this bit of design…).

Apart from the commune experience, the town had much to be discovered. We decided it was best to rest up a bit and not do any hiking, seemingly losing our enthusiasm a bit. Instead, we decided to rent out a few bikes and cycle to the Puelo Lake, 20 kms from the city centre. After passing about 100 craft brew breweries we finally made it to the Lago Puelo National Park. Upon arriving we were stopped and asked to pay €6,- each to enter. We thought this to quite a rip off, seeing as we had paid €20,- for 4 days in the Torres Del Paine national park. Instead, we opted for a ‘secret route’ to the lake. A journey that would take us through thick and endless raspberry bushes, eventually ending up at the beautiful glacial lake. Situated on the border between Argentina and Chile, the lake plays host to locals and tourists alike. All coming here for an afternoon asado or just to relax and enjoy the surroundings. After sitting, skipping rocks and reading there for about an hour, we had to leave to get back before sunset.

That evening we decided to enjoy a bit of a bite to eat and treated ourselves to a delicious parrilla (or steakhouse in English). The place, Parilla Tucuman, had nothing special on the inside. As we entered we were greeted by horrible fluorescent lights and the strong smell of cleaning detergent. Did we really want to come here? Before we could turn away, a big jolly Argentine shuffled us to our tables. What had we got ourselves into, we thought, there was no one else in the room, surely that would be a good enough reason to leave? Feeling sorry for the guy, we decided to give him the benefit of the doubt (always support the local family places, we dutifully said). We ordered our food, and waited in doubtful expectation. What followed was a perfectly cooked steak, a testament to don’t judge a book by its cover. Bellies full, we made our way back to our yurt for another night of cuddles with the locally adopted cat.

Next, we had to taste some of the local beer. It was somewhat strange to see
the German influence on this part of the country, with many artisanal breweries owing their names to the original German settlers in the region. Dotted across town, the breweries (cervecerias) never seem to end. A hipster’s wet dream! The history of the town is fascinating, with the first Germans settling here in 1926 and bringing with them their weisse and bieren. Today, the hippies have adopted the slow pace of life.

As we weren’t feeling the hiking, we thought it was best to move on from this sleepy hollow and onto the next town up north….Bariloche.

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