El Bolson is known as a hippy town. Although it’s not all that apparent at first, it becomes very obvious once you walk through the market. It’s a mix of locals selling self-grown organic vegetables, food stands and exile-hippies selling their art, but mostly hippies. I first tried to visit it around 11am, but found out that they hadn’t even started setting up yet. When I came back five hours later, they were already wrapping up everything again. I’m guessing business must be very good or non-existant, but I suspect the latter. I did get to see it the next day.. around 2pm seems to be a good time to catch people between too hungover to get up and getting ready for the next party.
But neither the hippies nor the market are El bolson’s main attraction. The surrounding mountain ranges are. El bolson lies in a small valley, with two mountain ranges shooting up around it. The first day, to get acclimated, I rented a bike to visit some waterfalls nearby. My idea of doing some of the carretera austral by bike died then and there. I did neither enjoy riding or rather sliding through the loose gravel nor swallowing the dirt of all the cars shooting by.. I almost turned around out of frustration. But in the end, there wasn’t too much uphill, the gravel got less after a while and the cars vanished almost entirely once I turned of the main road. The ride ended up being a nice little excursion. The first waterfall, cascada escondida, is a large water fall of 30 meters, that no matter how hard you try you’ll never see entirely.. It’s really escondida.
The entrance to the second waterfall, cascada mallin ahogado, illustrates the Argentinian’s desire for signs and prohibitions quite nicely. The amount of signs telling me about all the things that were forebidden was quite mesmerizing. The waterfall itself is actually part of a hydro-electric plant.. Which managed to maintain the natural beauty of the waterfall, while using it for electricity. The waterfalls were really pretty and the sun was shining relentlessly. But I’m finally adapting to the local climate, so that I could enjoy the nice heat rather than spend the time worrying about getting sunburned. I returned in the early afternoon, allowing for an extensive visit to the the tourist office and the mountain office, where I was recommended to do all the walks available. I was also given a rather basic map which showed, as usual, distances in time rather than kilometers. Luckily one of my earlier travelmates had introduced me to the awesomeness of maps.me, which allowed me to check the distance and, in walking mode, even the elevation covered in each hike. The latter, unfortunately, turned out to be not entirely accurate, but as a rough estimate it gives a good idea. The estimated times of the app are, however, just about as ridiculess as the ones given on the map. Just to the other extreme. While the map says I’d need 4 hours for 5 km to climb from 1200m to 2200m, the app says it should take less than an hour. Well I’m not ashamed to admit it took us longer than that.