Heading South to Hippy El Bolson

My visions of El Bolson were much like Villa Angostura, that is, a small chocolate-box of a town, charming in its own right that provides a good base for exploring the surrounding region.

Having read good things about the areas surrounding El Bolson, it was in our travel plans since before leaving Australia. We had wanted to spend another month here volunteering in another organic farm, to have a change of scenery and hopefully learn new methods, techniques and ways of sustainable farming that differ from Granja Tia Nora.

With a population of just over 27,000, El Bolson is well-known for being an alternative, hippy-artsy town and ecological municipality. Wanting to immerse ourselves in a sustainable community off the tourist track, we thought this is the perfect place to spend our next month of volunteering.  Naively, and much to my surprise, our experience of El Bolson was far from what I imagined.

When we arrived at El Bolson bus station we were met by our new dueno, Agustin, who took us back to the ‘farm’ and hostel where we would be staying – la Casa del Viajero.

La Casa del Viajero is located outside of the centre, in the poorer community alongside the Rio Quemquemtreu. The poverty of this community struck me because it is unlike the rest of the Río Negro province that we have seen, but I would prefer to say they live more simply than in poverty. There is a real sense of community and despite appearances we felt safer at night here than anywhere else. The dirt road that follows the Rio is lined with self-constructed mud and brick houses, and each family property is named on a white picket out the front.

Before arriving we knew that the duenos ran a small hostel on their property, but the first thing I noticed when we arrived was that the ‘farm’ listed on the WWOOFing website was actually just a hostel, with one yet to be developed huerta (greenhouse), two dogs and a few chickens at the back of the property.

We were shown to our residence and left to unpack. La Casa del Viajero was made up of two charming timber cabanas, typical of this region. Both are equipped with two dorms, one private room, kitchen, bathroom and a fireplace.

On the property, the cabañas are surrounded by the tall cypress micro forest. The place definitely has its charm and could be the perfect hideaway for a few days of peace and quiet away from the touristy cities.

On our first day of work, we were sent to sort out old glass and plastic wine and soft drink bottles that have been accumulated since the couple moved into the property 30 years ago.

Apparently there is a glass oven where they had planned to take them, melt them down and recycle them. In between the bottles was broken glass and the bottles had been there so long that the site had turned into a rubbish heap. We’re all for recycling of course, but we had come to learn more about organic farming and were disappointed that there was in fact no farm.

Nonetheless we decided to see what other work lie in store for the days ahead and the following day we started by creating a trout pond next to the house, but sure enough once that was done we were back sorting bottles. The work was not what we were told we would be doing so we decided we would stay only a couple of days more and get back on our journey south.

El Bolson is meant to be the ideal destination for all things sustainable agriculture. Both the Centre for Investigation and Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CIESA) and the Centre for Investigation, Development and Education of Permaculture (CIDEP) are here and in terms of economic sustainability the town and surrounding areas are literally the fruit bowl of Argentina, due to its warm micro-climate and fertile soil.

Unfortunately the weather for those few days was awful – cold, rainy, grey and not the type of weather that makes you want to go out for a hike, so we didn’t see much of the surrounding areas of El Bolson.

The highlight of our time at El Bolson was the artisan market on the Saturday, although it was not quite what we were expecting. The market functions every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 11am to 4pm in the Plaza Central, but apparently Saturday is the best day to visit.

El Bolson is famous for its artisan market. People from all around the area come to buy handicrafts, organic foods and clothing. We were excited to be able to buy some simple, fresh organic food, but as we found out, the feria is rather limited in this area. Though, it’s a good spot to buy traditional souvenirs and arts.

We took a day of rest on the Sunday and caught up on much needed sleep and organisation to deliberate our next steps. We would take a bus to El Calafate, and so the next day we would take a step closer to our ultimate destination in Argentina…the south.

Adelante…El Calafate!

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  • Natasha Malinda from Melbourne, Australia
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