El Bolson, Patagonia, Argentina

Independent – Contents Page

Perfect... Poppy’s Cabana

On a visit to El Bolson, Argentina, Ben Connor seeks then ditches bohemia for the comforting arms of luxury.

The bright blue sky, the twittering of birds, the lush green trees and soft refreshing breeze… gone. As the door closed behind me I was enveloped in a dank, dark room. There was a strong smell of stale cigarettes and marijuana. My lungs convulsed with the sharp plummet in available oxygen. Detritus of every kind covered the floors, dusty bookshelves and table before me. At that table sat a little boy, pant-less, his face smeared in some kind of nondescript gooey food matter.

This was the hostel Chacra El Cielo (The Heavenly Chakra). I was in El Bolson and these… these were definitely hippies gone wrong.

El Bolson is a beautiful village at the foot of the Andean mountains in the province of Rio Negro in the north of Patagonia, Argentina. Situated in a verdant valley, it is surrounded by native forests and vitalised and shaped by multiple fresh rivers, lakes and creeks fed by snow melt from the Andes – which provide glorious views to the west. A strong agricultural and cattle breeding community, El Bolson is famous for its organic produce (particularly it’s fine fruits), intensive cultivation of hops, wood artisans, goat and sheep milk products and large contingent of hippie residents.

At times taking a shine to the bohemian side of things and having favourably viewed the website for Chacra El Cielo, a self-described agro-tourism hostel on the outskirts of El Bolson, we thought it might be a good place to spend a week of rest and relaxation. The website (with it’s sunny pictures of the farm and hostel) advertised an organic farm with various animals and gardens from which they produce their own ‘bread, beer, jams, wine, meat-products, liquors and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables’. It seemed like the place to be, but something had gone wrong.

Poppy's Cabana

Further inside, I found the sleeping quarters consisted of a cramped, dusty room cluttered with far too many bunk beds. I put down my bag then walked back outside into the fresh air and brilliant sunshine. I looked around, while lush and verdant, the farm was in disarray and, other than that dark world inside, there was nowhere else to sit and enjoy the wonders of the Patagonian outdoors.

This would not do. My partner and I decided to go for a walk. Having passed some very pretty looking cabins in the ride up the hill out of town we were seriously considering paying top dollar for a slice of the good life. With many cabins to see, we split up and soon lost each other.

After a series of unfortunate events we were saved and united by a jolly holidaying couple from Buenos Aires, who were passing by in their car. Hearing our story and of our desperate desire to acquire a reasonably priced cabin, they offered for us to stay with them in theirs. They had a whole upstairs loft with two beds free, you see. We could pay half the price and it would be a win/win wine, cheese and merry making situation.

How could we refuse?

Malbec, Raspberries & Cream

With the aid of their car, we acquired our belongings and soon arrived at the most luxurious wood cabin I have ever seen: It had the cutest little kitchen; a bedroom with a curved wooden wall and ceiling of exposed beams that was like being in a ships cabin; slate floors; South American tapestries on the walls; indoor ferns hanging from the cosy upstairs loft; a woven basket and old pot belly stove for decoration; a chain and metal sculptured chandelier and wooden furniture in a massive entertainment area with angular wooden sidewalls and a front glass wall with big beautiful curtains leading on to a balcony that provided a majestic view over the valley.

Outside, downstairs and to the right of the balcony, was our very own (lime-treeless) bower. It was nestled into the hillside with a picnic table looking across a rickety bridge and bubbling brook to a forested area on the other side.

When our new friends left, the following day, we paid to have the whole place to ourselves. It was only US$28 a day between us, less than we were averaging when on the move and with a kitchen to ourselves we could buy all our groceries; our costs were reduced substantially.

That little cabin (one of Poppy’s Cabanas) was perfect. We stayed a week.

Puppets at the Crafts Market

On Tuesday, Thursday and weekends, between 12pm and 4pm, Plaza Pagano, an ellipsoid park in the centre of town with a grass lawn and a pond, comes alive with El Bolsons famous feria artesenal (crafts market), a hippie affair in which Jim Henson style puppets, jewellery, paintings, sculptures, pottery, textiles and clothing of a distinctly eastern nature are sold. The districts renowned organic fruit produce also goes on sale as do a gamut of tasty empanadas and sweats. On market days, we walked in to town, milled about, bought gifts for friends, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, fresh fruits and vegetables and delicious pastries from one of the bakeries on Avenida San Martin (the main road). We would also stop to watch the many buskers juggling or carving it up on their drums, guitars and basses.

One market day, walking past café Jauja on Avenida San Martin, we stumbled into a mass of clowns and became entwined in a complex pantomime we could neither escape nor comprehend, but non-the-less found very entertaining. It seems they were in town for a South American clown convention of some kind.

When not at the markets, we basked in our luxurious cabin, cooked ourselves fine meals, drank fine wine, read, played music, wrote, watched DVD’s on our lap top, went on walks, chatted and generally had ourselves a very good time. While we may not have stayed at The Heavenly Chakra, our charkas were doing just fine.

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