Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sierra de la Ventana, Argentina Travel Journal

The natural window at the top of Cerro de la Ventana, Argentina (photo by Luis Bastardo)

This month, Luis and I are hiking and camping our way through Patagonia so that we can meet up with our friends from New York in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. We have a very loose plan (read: we have no idea what our route will be), but are generally heading south so that we arrive in Chile at the agreed upon date of Jan. 5th. Since we had already traveled down the coast of Argentina a couple of years ago, stopping in places like Puerto Madryn to visit the stunning Peninsula Valdes (aka Poor Man’s Galapagos), we decided to travel inland this time. We arrived first at the tranquil town of Sierra de la Ventana, known for its artisans, laid back atmosphere and its beautiful green spaces, including the provincial park, Parque Provincial Ernesto Tornquist, home to a small mountain/large hill with a natural “window” or hole at the summit. We were planning on staying with someone local that we found on the CouchSurfing website, but unfortunately he cancelled at the last possible moment and, after an overnight bus trip from Buenos Aires, we found ourselves stranded in the town at 6am without a place to stay. No worries, though, tent in hand, we strode over to the nearest campsite, El Camping Paraiso run by a friendly couple name Joseluis and his wife, Mabel.

Sim and Luis taking a rest at the midway point of the climb
  A pleasant, clean and quiet place, the campground has room for tents but also has private cabins and shared clean bathrooms with hot showers…perfect! The price for camping was $10 for two people per night and the cabins were $16. As we were setting up the tent, Luis suddenly stopped, looked at me and said ”Are we crazy for sleeping on the ground when, for $6 more, we could have a private cabin with a nice soft bed?” I replied “Yes, we are.” And so we promptly took down the tent and moved into a warm, cozy cabin. When we were settled, we explored the town. It’s fairly small, but has plenty of restaurants, shops, cultural events, a municipal pool open to tourists and nature spots nearby to explore. Local residents are extremely friendly and helpful and we were invited to several parties, cultural events and art expositions in the first few hours of our arrival. The next day, one of the business owners gave us a ride to the provincial park so that we could hike up the Cerro de la Ventana (“hill of the window”) to see the natural hole carved in the mountain by water and wind erosion.

A family of wild horses traverses the hillside (photo by Luis Bastardo)

We started at 10:30am and hiked until 6:30pm, but it was a tough hike. The mountain is steep, very rocky and filled with tree roots and the trails are not clear, although the signage is generally good. Our feet and legs were aching because of the constant impact of the hard surfaces (there is only a short part of the trail that is on soft earth) but the view from the top was fantastic. The natural hole channels and concentrates the wind, so we had to hold onto the rocks to keep from being blown over by the force of the winds. As we were descending, families of guanacos (a smaller, caramel-colored cousin of the llama) and wild horses, foals in tow, passed above and below us on the rocky precipices, while groups of screeching red hawks flew overhead. The wildflowers were colorful and abundant, in shades of bright yellow, pink, violet and flaming, almost glowing red. In the late afternoon, the colors of the surrounding hills and fields deepened into tones of deep blue, grey, gold and green and we could see clearly for miles around us. We finally descended into forests of pine, eucalyptus and jasmine, slumping on to the grass tired and aching, but surrounded by an incredible mix of natural perfumes under the shade of the tall pines. It was worth every blister!

Guanacos on a rocky ledge, Cerro de la Ventana, Argentina (photo by Luis Bastardo)

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