Matt, Ruth, and I took the 130km. drive down to El Bolson on Monday, and what a spectacular drive it was! This leg of Ruta 40 winds through massive mountain peaks and thick forest, passing several glacial lakes and pristine rivers. The roadside was adorned with the omnipresent, bright-yellow Scotch Broom interspersed with Lupines of every color…violet, blue, pink, and white… so it was an amazing palate of color, the flowers giving way to the deep green forested slopes that rise steeply out of the blue-green lakes, then the gray, jagged, rocky peaks and, in the distance, the snow-capped higher peaks. Breathtaking!
El Bolson is at 128 kilometers from Bariloche and 7 km from Chile. It sits in the beautiful valley of the Rio Azul. To the west it is hemmed in by a massive wall of jagged rock with pointed peaks that I can only liken to the Teton range. It was a chilly, rainy day, and clouds continually wrapped themselves around the cones high above and left fresh dustings of snow. To the east rise higher peaks, the biggest being Mount Piltriquitron (Indigenous Mapuche name, like many others here), elevation 7,500 ft. The biggest peak in this area is Tronador, part of the Andean Codillero west of Bariloche at 11,408ft.
The town of El Bolson was a magnet to “hippie” types in the 1970’s, and retains a bit of this feel. It’s just super laid-back and full of interesting crafts shops and organic restaurants. The valley is fertile and is home to many small organic farms. The specialties here are fruits and berries and also hops and all kinds of herbs, culinary and medicinal. There are several micro-breweries in the area that specialize in incorporating the local fruits into their brews.
We decided to hike a little ways up on the ridge line to look down on the town. From up there, the place reminded me a bit of North Conway, or how it must have been 30 or 40 years ago… or, more so Bartlett from atop Bear Peak; a level valley floor surrounded by mountains and scattered with humble homes and surrounded by various farms. We came across a couple of local boys on their bikes, and asked if they knew any more places with views. Sure they did! This ridge is their playground, and it turns out they lived on the little farm we could see wedged in to this beautiful little crag in the mountains directly below the monstrous fan of rock to the West. They took us for a typical 10 year old adventure, bouldering our way out to a rocky outcrop with a fantastic view to the north complete with natural sofa in the rock… their hang-out.
These kids were great! They talked us up the whole time, and told us that they had a bounty of ripe cherries (cerezas) at their place, and we agreed to buy some for $1.50 a kilo…what a deal! This was funny, because at first we thought they were saying cerveza, not cereza, and these boys were about 10 and were saying how much they loved cerezas. They told us that soon they would have lots of strawberries and raspberries. We said yeah, we would talk to their mom and arrange the purchase, but they said no…this was their deal. Young businessmen!
So we did a little bit of bushwhacking down the side of the ridge and came out upon their farm. There it was, a tree just laden with cherries. We started picking what we could reach, but the really ripe ones were up high. “No hay problema,” said the red-headed boy, and before we knew it he was way up that tree, out on a limb dropping fat, ripe cherries to us. His sister came out to help, and also climbed on up. We filled a couple of bags, and we owed them $3 pesos, but decided to tip them for their guide work and gave them $5. This definitely made their day! The entire adventure and interaction was great, like seeing things through the eyes of a ten year old again, just tromping through the woods to secret hide outs. We couldn’t have chosen a better pair of guides!
Yesterday, I went and visited my new musician friends; Pedro and his sons David and Gabriel. They live at the other end of town, away from the tourist center in a small house behind the church where their Grandfather is Pastor. It’s like a whole different town down there. Even Bariloche has it’s Villas. For those of you who don’t know, villas are sort of shanty towns that contain a large part of the Argentine population. Three million people live in them around BsAs. They are tough and dangerous ghettos, ridden with poverty and crime. The biggest Villa here in Bariloche is to the south, and doesn’t appear bad at all. It’s the usual thrown together shacks in a beautiful setting. I liken it to a trailer park I once visited in Aspen. Or Jericho Road, my MWV friends. Anyway, these guys don’t live in a Villa, just in a more nitty-gritty section of town without all of the tourist traps, hence, without all the tourists.
So we all hung out, drank Mate and talked about music and life. Pedro (originally from Patagonian Chile) was living in El Bolson in the 70’s when he met an English woman. David was born there, and then they moved to London, where Gabriel and their sister were born. In 1997, they returned (just the males) to encounter what was a very difficult period here in Argentina. But they love this region, and stuck out the hardship, fortunate that Pedro’s brother had a farm in El Bolson which kept them eating. Now they live happily and play some really great music, funky jazz, soul, and hip-hop written by Pedro, a gifted and seasoned guitar player. He cut his teeth on Blues and Rock, then moved on to Jazz and also plays amazing Classical guitar. The funky jazz, hip-hoppy thing they are doing now brings together all of their tastes and influences. Truly a family affair.
David speaks British English without a hint of an Argentine accent, and Castellano without a hint of British. He is the singer, and has a terrific, soulful voice. I was invited to stay for their rehearsal, where they had to teach a substitute drummer about 14 songs, as their guy is in BsAs for the holidays and they have a few gigs to play. The guy was really sharp, and picked the songs right up, though, after he left Gabriel complained that he was too Rock and not enough Funk, and said he had wished they had gotten their 15 year old cousin instead, because he knew the style. The cousin was passed over only because his drum set is, well, “mierda.” But the other guy was really good, and all went well.
They invited me to play a couple songs, so we hashed out a couple of things, and I’m going to help stretch their sets for the next couple of gigs, including a big bash on New Year’s Eve. They are even going to get a hold of a friends four-string vintage P-Bass, so I can play an instrument that I am totally familiar with. Pedro is quite professional musically, but his philosophy is that, above all, music has to be fun. So we’re going to bust out some jams and see what happens. I am very happy to have met these guys! They are in the process of completing their CD after a year and a half effort, and from what I heard of it, it is simply great. They told me they are definitely the only band playing this style in the area and, quite likely, in Argentina. I wish I could teleport them to the Up Bar for a night so all of my NH friends could hear how these Southern brothers do it! Y’all would be shakin’ it all night!
I miss you all, and wish I could share this amazing place with you in person and not simply through my email ramblings.
Besos y abrazos,