Days 60 to 63: Futaleufu to El Bolson, via the Incredible Alerces National Park
Sometimes when people ask about my travels, they float awkwardly general questions like “did you have a best day” or “was there a best bit”. But I tend to shy away from answering, as there are usually so many good days with characteristics so distinct from each other that it renders assigning a “best” instance meaningless. But as day 61 drew to a close, I found myself seriously considering whether it had been the best day, without even consciously considering the matter. Such was the day’s awesome aura that the notion of its superiority brashly forced its own way in, without prior invite from the question.
The day’s might was matched only by its simplicity, consisting solely of following a junctionless gravel road through the heart of Los Alerces National Park, surrounded by scenery that just screamed "Undiluted Patagonia" at the top of its lungs. Lake Futalaufquen gave way to Lake Verde, which in turn gave way to Lake Rivadavia.
Each was surrounded in all directions by forest-clad mountains, whose streaky snow caps reflected brightly under the enormous blue sky. The local geology has been shaped by repeated glaciations over millenia, creating a scenically spectacular mountainscape of moraines, steep valleys and craggy peaks. I found myself getting off the bike often and enjoying chill time down on the many stony lake beaches, where it wasn't uncommon to see fish feeding off the surface. If I’d been travelling with my own flyfishing rod, I might have even been inclined to pick a sweet spot and stay put.
The national park is named after the Alerce tree, which is generally regarded as the tree species with the second-longest average longevity anywhere in the world, behind only North America’s Bristlecone Pine. The oldest known living Alerce tree is over 3600 years old, meaning it has been alive since about 1600 BC. That’s about the same time as the Babylonians were developing their first astronomical tablets noting that Venus appears in different locations in the sky at different times of the year, or when the Bronze Age arrived in China. Really quite a long time ago. Alerces can grow up to sixty metres high with diameters of over four metres. The Alerce was a victim of heavy logging in the earlier development of Chile and Argentina, although thankfully today it’s a protected species in both countries.
As the tourist high season had well and truly ended, there was precious little traffic on the road or other people to be seen. Several campsites I passed all had their gates firmly locked shut, complemented by signs advising they were now closed for the next six months. I was left with a wonderful sense of being alone in the Garden of Eden; a rare and lucid moment where I was Adam, and this was the beginning of time. In a celebration of both nature and solitude, the poet Lord Byron once wrote, “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore; there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea and music in its roar; I love not humankind the less, but Nature more”. Swapping out the reference to sea and replacing it with lakes, the sentiment seemed entirely appropriate for a slow and unaccompanied cycle through the most delightful surroundings.
To top it off, I found a sweet place to camp right next to the shoreline of Lake Rivadavia. Like most other campsites, it too had closed for the season a few weeks earlier, so no-one was there to take any money and the toilet block was predictably padlocked shut. Shitting would be done in the woods again, it seemed, although after so long on the road I was used to it.
Another curiosity of this part of my voyage was passing the through the Argentinian town of Trevelin. Trevelin doesn't sounds especially Spanish, because it is isn't. Instead it's just a more Spanish sounding way of saying Tre Felin, which is Welsh for "Mill Town". It was founded by a bunch of Welsh that went out there around 1890/1900, in anticipation that more might follow and set up their own Welsh colony, to stop Welsh from being subsumed within English colonisation. The influx of future welshies never happened & the people who live there now look and sound as Argentinian as the rest, but they seem fiercely proud of their heritage; Welsh dragons were nailed onto people's front fences, some local sites had a Welsh spelling - even a guy who drove past me was clearly wearing a beanie of the Welsh flag! Quite a colourful and unexpcted interlude.