Pulling into a town called Esquel, the launching point of Los Alerces National Park, we did a quick trip into the tourist office to find out some information on this unknowingly massive park. We stopped by the grocery store to stock up, and then had to try a few banks to get some cash. Again, something not as easy as it should be. Driving into the park, Uriah had a little too much fun with the windy and curvy road and I tried to contain my motion sickness, successfully. We were greeted by a homey looking visitor’s center. Although the park ranger wasn’t the most friendly, the building was loaded with information about all the campgrounds and activities. They ended up having three options for camping: Libre (free but with no facilities), Agreste (paid with facilities), and Organizado (resort style camping). By now you can probably guess which type we chose… Deciding to head towards a campground that both the lady at the tourist office in town and the park ranger had recommended, we slowly continued down the gravel road with locals whizzing by. After finally finding it, we were quickly disappointed. Maybe it was the hype from the two recommendations, but it wasn’t at all what we were expecting. Having passed numerous other free campgrounds, we decided to continue back on the search. Heading back the way we came, not too far down the road, we stopped by one that wasn’t even listed on the park map but looked promising. It was close to the water (this park was loaded with big, beautiful lakes), not very crowded, and most importantly, free! We set up camp with just enough daylight and got to see a beautiful fiery orange sunset. We cooked up some spaghetti and hit the hay.
The next morning we made a plan for our stay in the park. This park was divided into three segments; North, Central, and South. In the northern part, where we were staying, we were going to jam all the hikes we could in for the first day. Then the following day the central and southern sectors. We set off for our hike filled day. Our first hike was through a beautiful forest and featured some awesome humongo trees. Instead of clearing the trees when they fell they made steps and bridges out of them which was an interesting feature. Since we just started “car camping” I was still used to my normal toilet when I need to do my business. The hike was connected to an organized campground so I snuck through, I guess more like ran through, the woods to sneak in to use the potty. We ate some lunch in the parking area and headed off to the next hike. We arrived to a sign that stated you had to register. The “registration” ended up being at a local guardaparque (guard station) and was just a paper book with a bunch of names and passport numbers. A little too sketchy for us. Continuing to the third hike, another obstacle. It ended up being one that you had to pay a guy to watch your car…being that it was in a not too crowded national park it didn’t really make any sense to us and the park entrance fee was already enough. We opted out of this one as well… But as we were driving away, we convinced ourselves that it was pointless to be all the way out here and not do it because it costs money. We turned around and payed the local to “watch our car”…from nobody. In the end we were extremely happy we paid for it. This hike was alongside a river with multiple paths. At our leisurely pace it ended up filling up our afternoon. On the way back to camp we found A CRAP TON of firewood and decided to go ham sandwich on a fire that night. The logs were a little too big to fit in Maria so Uriah went hulk smash and spent some time throwing them into rocks to break them up. Since it was a little bit cold and breezy we did the only sensible thing and cranked up our fire to Florida camping status and ended up falling asleep by it.
The second day I woke up and had an extremely strong urge to take a mountain lake bath. Why? Good question, I have no idea. The water was cold, but with the sun out, it was semi-bearable. At least Uriah got a good laugh out of it. With that done, we set off to explore the central zone. Our first hike was to a small waterfall. When we got to the top Uriah decided he wanted to go further, and of course, it’s never as easy as it looks. It led us through some unstable ground and a lot of face planting branches. The good news is, it was to another awesome waterfall surrounded by beautiful little pools that we had all to ourselves. Hike number two was also to a waterfall and it was almost like deja vu pushing ourselves up to the very top of the waterfall. Of course me being accident prone, I ended up twisting my ankle. Limping back to the car, I ACE bandaged myself up. We passed into the ranger station on our way up to the next hike. I went in because I had some questions about which trails would be closed so we weren’t wasting time driving around the park. I was unsuccessful because I apparently I am easy to ignore. -_- So we drove on up through to our lakeside hike and guess what? It was closed!…shocker. Another thing we have learned in South America is that a lot of things aren’t open and with no warning. The last hike was luckily open and pretty easy, featuring some old cave paintings. Back to the campground we went again and had a blazing fire that may or may not have burned some holes in our tent and tarps.
We awoke and did our usual packing up routine, then headed out of the park. Most of this drive was the boring vast openness as explained in the patagonia preface post and was filled with lots of nothing. After a long day of driving we finally got to our next destination, Los Antiguos, just as it was nearing dark. Happy travels from U and B!