San Martin to El Bolson

I spent another few days enjoying San Martin and was inspired by La Pastera, a memorial to Che Guevara´s trip across South America and his dedication to the liberation of oppressed.  I hiked around the base of the local ski resort and watched a Mapuche cowboy deftly manage a colt and mare, while a shepherd drove two oxen hauling a large wooden cart. The next day I walked towards Junin del los Andes and admired the beautiful homes in the hills, most of German heritage.  I visited Tatusz a last time and said my goodbyes, feeling sad that I probably would never see him again.  Then I jumped on the bus (after almost missing it when my alarm failed to go off) and headed for El Bolson, a 6.5 hour bus drive from San Martin (3 hours by car).  Arriving around 5:15, I walked around the town a bit, admiring the wooden buildings and the beautiful mountain range at its back.  The town is set in a deep valley, and I ambled along the two lane road which continues along the cordillera to Tierra del Fuego.  At the end of the town a forest appeared, and from there I followed  the road towards a wide shallow river where I found a Mapuche village in the midst of construction, with kids scurrying between houses and men cutting timbers and laying concrete.

At Casa del Arbol, the hostel that I stayed for a night, I met a young man from Buenos Aires who came to El Bolson on a journey and decided to stay and study with a local Mapuche machis, or curanderas/medicas (usually women) experienced in the use of herbs and plants for healing.  The Mapuche are very strong indigenous people who have resisted the genocide of Spanish and other immigrants in Chile and Argentina.  I spent a nice evening enjoying conversation and a rich risotto with my fellow hostel mates at la casa del arbol.  On my way back from the burgeoning Mapuche village at the edge of town, I came upon an environmental protest in the main plaza made up of Mapuche and hippies protesting groundwater contamination by corporate large scale gold mining operations.  One participant told me that already a large quantity of local groundwater is no longer potable.  I had hoped to catch the large Saturday market (aka ferria), but only caught the tail end.  I was told that everything under the sun is sold at this particular event, though I suspect that it is largely artisanal goods made by local families.  As I walked back along the main road, I was surprised by the quantity of soot, diesel smoke, and firewood smoke for such an environmentally-aware town.  I put a handkerchief over my mouth and tried to close my eyes, but they still watered and reminded me of the dirty air I encountered in Santiago.  I had hoped to go to the local lakes but ran out of time.  The closest one is 15 km away, requiring either a car or bike.  As usual, there was more to do than I had time for, but was glad to get a chance to see this unique part of Argentina.

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