Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Lanin National Park, Pehuen forest, El Escorial and Termas de Lahuen
When we got up the next morning, those ominous clouds from yesterday had formed into a full blown storm. With blustery winds and some fairly heavy rain at times, we reviewed our options and decided to keep to our plan and go into Lanin National Park to the border pass into Chile at Paso Carirrine. It is 160 km (100 mile) round trip but Mariano is ok with the drive. Lanin Park, established in 1937 to preserve the north Patagonian Andean forest is the 3rd largest park in Argentina, covering an area of over one million acres. It is bordered on the west by Chile and to the south by Nahuel Huapi National Park. As we turn west halfway between San Martin de los Andes and Junín de los Andes along a dirt road, which today is quite muddy, we head deep into the temperate rainforest of the park. The topography is interesting, transitioning from pampa to smaller, rolling hills and then the majestic Andes. One of the most notable peaks to be seen is the Lanín volcano. Its impressive height of 3,776 meters (over 12,000 ft) means it towers over every other nearby mountain, making it the focal point from every angle. The magnificent peak is further accentuated by its permanent covering of snow. As we climb higher we pass Lakes Curruhue Chico and then Curruhue Grande. With no break in the rain, we decide to stop and walk the dogs by a small waterfall which drains from Laguna Verde into Lake Curruhue Grande. This is also an Araucaria forest. Araucaria trees (also known as Peheun or Monkey Puzzle trees) are an evergreen conifer pine indigenous to the temperate rainforests of Argentina along the eastern slopes of the Andes. The species is officially protected in Argentina and is a little different from the national tree of Chile, which is also a species of monkey puzzle tree found in that country's south central regions. Threatened by fire, logging and grazing, the tree grows to about 45 meters in height (140 feet) and lives up to a thousand years in the volcanic soils. They produce edible seeds which are prized for their high carbohydrate content and were an important part of the diet of the Pehuenche people who once inhabited the area. Hence their name as the Pehuen tree. I happen to think that these are one of the most fascinating trees in the world. The foliage which stick out from all kinds of crazy angles hang exactly like monkey’s tails although these are thick, bushy and green, many with pods on the tip. By the time we had finished walking to the waterfall and photographing the trees, we were all thoroughly wet and cold. We quickly toweled off the dogs as best we could and scrambled back into the jeep, where Mariano turned on the heat and we thawed out a little. Our next stop is at El Escorial, an ancient river of petrified lava rock. Along the road there is a bridge built over the rock to show where the lava flowed over the road and down the canyon. From the car we can see it beneath us and all around us and there is still evidence of where it decimated everything in its path and then solidified. It was quite formidable and is a sobering reminder of the devastation an eruption can bring to an area. From this point it is only a short drive to the Termas del Epulafquen, the thermal hot springs. Access is down a rutted road which we missed the first time and it was only when we were a kilometer or so from the Chilean border pass of Carirrine that Mariano turned around and driving even more slowly than previous, eventually spotted a dilapidated sign pointing the way down a hill. Just a few years ago, this was a spa and resort hotel that offered luxury amenities. I am guessing it didn’t work out. Today, the hotel is abandoned and of the seven thermal pools, only two small ones remain, one of which was surprisingly inhabited by a local Mapuchean family. We walked over the rickety wooden walkway to the pools and Marcela took my photograph as I tested the water with my hand. “Would you go in if we had brought swimsuits?” she asked me. I told her I would. I mean we had come all this way and the water felt marvelous considering the cold, rainy weather. Besides the local family looked like they were having fun although I think they were surprised to see us. As we got back in the jeep to head home, we pondered on ways that would make the thermals into a successful business enterprise. Given the remoteness and the difficulty of getting there, we concluded that the only way to make money was to turn it into an exclusive high dollar resort whereby guests were flown in by helicopter and treated to a sumptuous, elegant retreat that only the very rich could afford. Since we do not have the funds for such an expensive venture, we laid the economics to rest and took on the easier task of deciding where to eat dinner. The night before we had eaten at La Tasca, a favorite of Mariano and Marcela. We had checked restaurants on the internet and talked about our choices. We decided on Ku, another upscale parrilla style restaurant. We arrived back at the cabana with plenty of time for Mariano to take a quick nap and Marcela and I to check out our emails and get ready for dinner. After such a long day and with plenty of walks fortunately even the dogs are content to relax as the rain and winds continue.