Good Coffee, Beer and Mullets

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El Bolson, Argentina
By George Kalli

Enjoying the Delights of El Bolson, Argentina
Enjoying the Delights of El Bolson, Argentina
While traveling south through Chilean Patagonia, we decided to hop over the border to check out Argentina for a bit. We decided to head to El Bolson which is characterized as being a “hippie” town in our guide book. El Bolson has been a good first introduction to Argentina. It is quite a pleasant place. It is a rather small town nestled in a valley between the Andes and another small group of mountains to the east. When we arrived, El Bolson was packed with students from Buenos Aires who were spending their holiday here and in the nearby mountains.

I can see why people come here. There is great hiking just outside of town and there is a microbrewery with a campground located within walking distance from downtown. Now that is a business plan that I approve of. Much of the food served in the restaurants are made from locally grown ingredients and in addition to being delicious and fresh, are cheap. For little more than the price of two supersized value meals at a fast food chain in the United States we could enjoy an appetizer of regional chesses, two dinners of fresh, stuffed pasta, a half bottle of Argentinean wine, and two bottles of mineral water. And of course then there are the deserts, which were to die for.

In addition to maintaining the hiking trails, the local hiking group also manages a series of mountain chalets that are located along the trails. These mountain chalets are absolute nirvanas of the woods. They serve steaming hot fresh loaves of bread, homemade pizza, wine, and some of them brew their own beer. It doesn’t really get much better than that. I never thought that the freshest loaf of bread that I have eaten would be served at a mountain chalet located 10 hours into the Patagonian wilderness. Of course, since Argentineans like to think of themselves as Europeans, the mountain chalets also sell cigarettes. You can be treated to quite a helping of second hand smoke at the more accessible mountain chalets.

Argentineans are pretty well addicted to cigarettes. Apparently, nearly everywhere is a great place for a smoke. When we arrive to one of the chalets we are often asked by the Argentineans who are already there how long the hike took us. Generally a hike that took us 6 hours took them 9 hours. A hike that took us 4.5 hours took them 6 hours. It’s not that we don’t take any breaks while hiking, as they most commonly suspect. Rather it is the fact that we don’t take any smoking breaks while hiking.

Summer Morning at the Cerro Lindo Chalet
Summer Morning at the Cerro Lindo Chalet
In addition to smoking cigarettes, Argentineans are known for emulating other aspects of European culture. One of the benefits of this is that they drink good coffee – no more of the instant coffee that was prevalent in Peru and Chile. In many parts of Latin America, often in the very parts where coffee beans are cultivated, people are often surprised to discover that the most prevalent coffee is of the instant variety. One theory I have heard to explain this irony is that people actually prefer instant coffee because it seems more modern and prestigious since it comes in a fancy tin container and all. I’m not sure if that is the explanation or not but I know that I indeed prefer the fresh brewed variety over the Nescafe instant coffee variety that every breakfast in Chile comes with.

In addition to smoking addictions, another aspect of Argentinean culture that we find alarming is their apparent affection of the mullet. Before arriving in Argentina we were warned by other travelers of the country’s love affair with the mullet. Still, we were not prepared for what we found when we got there. Oddities such as mullets with accessories such as rat tails and dreadlocks are quite commonplace. A guy with a mohawk mullet with dreadlocks borrowed a pen from us at a bus station. Wow!

So after our initial hikes, we were looking forward to visiting more mountain chalets in Argentina. The initial three that we visited all had their own bit of personality such as the actual size, structure, and upkeep of the chalet, the beer that they brew, the culinary skills of the hosts, and the music that they play on the car stereo cassette players that are run off of car batteries. For instance, the El Retamal Chalet featured the Beatles with some Santana thrown in. Meanwhile, up at the Los Lagitos Chalet it was AC/DC, Pink Floyd, and apparently Metallica performing with an orchestra of some sorts (I did not know a band could try so hard to alienate their fans). In addition, I was determined to find out which one had the finest brewers of beer and best bakers of bread.

After the initial three mountain chalets that we visited, the fourth one, the Cerro Lindo Chalet, was quite a shock – our standards had apparently been set high. An older, somewhat squirrelish man with only a few teeth named Javier was the host of the chalet. At his chalet there was no beer, no wine, no fresh bread, no radio, and most alarming of all, not even an outhouse. Also, there was no stockpiled firewood, the front door could only be closed shut from the outside (locking in those still inside), and there was trash scattered about the yard (including ironically enough, a toilet). Javier had horrible smoker’s breath, an evil sounding giggle (think of Schmiegel from Lord of the Rings), and I could not understand a word of his particular brand of Spanish. I think that Javier will be best remembered as standing in his quickly deteriorating chalet smoking directly underneath the “Gracias Por No Fumar” sign.

Despite the shape of chalet, we had an amazing hike above it. We were lucky enough to have the weather hold out and allow us to hike for 6 hours in the alpine area above the chalet. It was quite dramatic, windy, and cold. We got some great photos. The highlight was running full speed down one of the snow fields for several minutes.

Best Not to Pee Here
Best Not to Pee Here
That night the weather deteriorated and we woke up to fresh snow, quite a bit of it. There was about 4 inches when we left the following morning and it was still snowing hard at 10 a.m. with no change over to rain. We hiked out through the snow, then rain, and as we reached the bridge at the trailhead, the sun.

Once again the Patagonian weather had set out to impress us. On our first hike it was steady rain, gusty winds, and lowering snow levels. While camped not far from the continental divide that separates Chile and Argentina, I found listening to the Patagonian wind to be quite enthralling. You could physically hear masses of cold, dense air from Chile shearing over the mountaintops and plummeting down to the valleys of the Argentinean side of the divide where we were camped. The approaching gust of wind sounded like an avalanche barreling its way down the mountainsides. It was quite ominous to lie in the tent in the dark of night listening to the approaching winds and anticipating the gusts that would eventually reach our tent. I was also amazed by what an adventure urinating could become in a good, stiff Patagonian wind. I learned first hand that some pretty amazing things can happen when you decide to pee on a mountaintop in an approximately 30 knot or so wind. My girlfriend Ashley claims it was one of the stupidest things she has ever seen.





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