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Day 5 Los Alerces National Park

We rose early and left Esquel at 8.15 for the drive into Los Alerces National Park, where we followed the shores of Lago Futalaufquen (which means "Big Lake", in Mapuche) and the Rio Arrayanes to the Pasarela Bridge next to Lago Verde. From there, we hiked through the rain forest a couple of kilometres to the shores of Lago Menendez and met Pablo Gervasini and his guides for a 45 minute boat ride deep into the National Park.

Los Alerces National Park, is an area of 2,630 square kilometres and is noted for its temperate rain forest (which is only present in 7 regions of the World), lakes, rivers, glaciers, marine fossils and the largest population of the Alerce tree in Argentina, one of the longest living trees in the World, with specimens in the park exceeding 3,000 years of age. It  supports a wide diversity of wildlife, including the Andean Condor, the puma, wild boar, mink and the elusive Huemul deer. It is listed by Conservation International as one of only 34 Biodiversity Hotspots on Earth (which they define as the richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life), by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve, and by the World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund as a Global 200 Ecoregion ("the most biologically distinct terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecoregions of the Planet"). The UNESCO Andino Norpatagonica Biosphere Reserve, which includes Los Alerces National Park, is, when joined with its sister reserve on the other side of the Andes , more than twice as big as Wales and bigger than Denmark, The Netherlands or Switzerland.

Our drive into the Park was impressive enough, with craggy and snowy peaks all around us, mirror lakes with geese, swans and flamingos feeding, avenues of giant monkey puzzle trees, deafening cascades and an increasingly dense rain forest, squeezing us on to a ever-narrowing trail. We passed Lakes Futalaufquen and Verde (known by the Welsh settlers, of course, as Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris, after the two lakes they would have been so familiar with in North Wales) and, after an hour or so and as our camera was in danger of overheating, we came to the Rio Arrayanes. Named after a tree which, due its habit of drawing vast amount of water into its branches, is always freezing to the touch, the river presented a colour so deep a shade of blue that it was like looking into a lake of lapis lazuli. Although more than 5 metres deep, the bottom was clearly visible. And, high up to our left, the Torrecillas Glacier, our target for the day, covered the mountain like a giant sapphire, occasionally glinting beneath its coating of fresh snow.

Unfortunately, Pablo explained, the "Prefectura" (the Argentine navy, which has responsibility for the lakes in these parts) had cancelled our trip due to high winds, which were causing dangerous waves on the enormous 14,000 acre lake.

We had been due to climb, initially through dense forest, eventually emerging above the lakes, following the wild river created by the melt waters of the Torrecillas Glacier high above us. At one point, we would have had to inch our way across a fallen tree with the river roaring only a metre below. After a trek of between 2 and 3 hours, we would have reached the turquoise lake which lies at the foot of the glacier. Mini icebergs bob around on its surface: I had been looking forward to some 10,000 year old ice in my celebratory drink! The only sounds up there are the explosions of ice as the glacier creaks and groans its way down the mountain.

Then, we were due pass to the opposite shore of the lake, where we would have taken a one hour hike through the rain forest to reach The Grandfather, an Alerce tree of some 2,700 years of age.

So, Jeremy got his thinking cap on and quickly replanned our day!

We walked into the rain forest and had a picnic overlooking Lago Verde and then retraced our steps through the National Park and headed for Trevelin. En route, Jeremy saw a familiar car, had a quick chat with the driver and before you could say "Torta Negra", we were enjoying a Welsh tea at the home of Arturo and Rosa Lowndes in the mountains above Trevelin. They have a fruit farm growing everything you can think of, including rhubarb, horse radish and those favourite from my childhood, blackberries, red berries and white berries. They even had white raspberries and black tomatoes! They export the cherries from their 20,000+ trees to Marks and Spencer! Arturo, who speaks perfect English, is the Secretary of the Welsh society in Trevelin and he proudly told us what they were planning to do with the Chapel (Capel Bethel) in this, its centenary year. Rosa, who comes from the Welsh colony of Sarmiento in the southern part of Welsh Patagonia, chatted with us in Welsh and English and explained the traditional recipes of some of the vast array of cakes arranged before us! It wasn't easy to leave, but we eventually got back in Jeremy's car, thankful for its ability to carry our ever-increasing weight, and headed off to see Mervyn Evans in his hand-built flour mill at the other end of the "Beautiful Valley". Mervyn's father, Vincent, realised a life's dream when, in 2009, and at the age of 82, he visited Wales for the first time, playing his accordion on the BBC and regaling all he met with tales of Patagonia, all uttered in perfect Welsh!

Trevelin was named for the wheat grown there (Tre=town and melin/felin=mill). Its long sunny days and cool nights provide the perfect growing conditions for wheat, which was acknowledged as being among the finest in the World. Mervyn has got together with a local baker and they are now making wholemeal organic bread to the original Welsh recipes. They are even considering exporting their flour to Wales in packs with the traditional recipes printed on the outside. I am sure it'll sell like hot cakes!

On the opposite side of the valley, lies the source of the Avon Mawr ("Futaleufú" in Mapuche; Rio Grande in Spanish), the water behind the Amutui Quimey("Lost Beauty", in Mapuche) Dam. This area used to house some of the favourite picnic spots of the Welsh, including Lago Situación and the waterfall on the old Avon Mawr, until they flooded an area dominated by four lakes to make a hydro-electric dam to feed an ugly aluminium smelter in Puerto Madryn. The pylons make their way through the Beautiful Valley (perhaps lessening the beauty somewhat), over the mountains beyond and through the desert to Puerto Madryn, over 500 kilometres away. Just like in Bala, the locals didn't have much of a say of how their water was used. However, the view from the dam wall is breathtaking. Not just in its beauty, but because, especially today, it was difficult to breathe because of the hurricane blowing west from Chile, down across the Andes and over the few miles of water of the dam straight towards us, seemingly intent on removing my hat and Jeremy's false eyelashes!

Then back to Esquel via some of Trevelin's ingenious irrigation schemes (Gaiman didn't have them all, you know) to La Española, Esquel's answer to Cabañas Las Lilas in Buenos Aires, and THE place to eat Argentinean meat, also serving the best salad in town.

Los Alerces national park, a beach on Lake Futalaufquen

Los Alerces National Park, Lake Futalaufquen looking towards Gorsedd y Cwmwl

Los Alerces National Park, Lake Futalaufquen

Los Alerces National Park, River Arrayanes

Los Alerces National Park, the moraine of the Torrecillas Glacier above Lake Menéndez

Trevelin, looking towards the mountains behind the town

Trevelin, a small selection of Rosa Lowndes' cakes for tea

Trevelin, Mervyn Evans' hand-built mill



Esquel - Chubut - Patagonia - Argentina - Email: info@welshpatagonia.com

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