The road trip is soon to come to a slow halt in El Bolson. Towards the end of this migration of buses and nothingness the Argentinian hippie mecca acts as a fitting place to slow down, relax and abandon our recent rapid tempo. It seems that Charles Darwin’s description of eternal nothingness of Tierra Del Fuego applies equally to a much larger part of Argentina’s mainland, four long days of buses have presented us with a never ending sea of open blank canvas, an undercoat of muted ochre grass crying out for substantive colour and form. Oddly enough in this place so notable for lack of notability any quick dart west into the Andes and off the canvas explodes with everything that the bus window view is not, grand, inspiring and picturesque. We journey in the nothingness constantly viewing west to what we cannot always see but what we know is there, the much needed colour for this canvas where art is created only in the no-mans-land of the clash between two worlds.
Back on the road now we are plunged into that world of limitlessness, both in visual scope but also in emotional impact. The nothingness here does little to paint a picture for you or fill you with an impression, it’s all up to you to fill that space left with your own thoughts and imaginings. In that way the blankness is in its own way a platform for your own inspiration yet not inspiring in itself, a vacuum that wills you to fill it.
Pulling into a heaving throng of people the bus docks in, we are in El Bolson, this noted hippie haven for the alternative Argentinian. Our hostel owner is there to pick us up and we’re away, happy to be bedding down in a real bed in our own room for the first time in a while, this town providing a bourgeois luxury to belie the hippie reputation. Our first greeting is one big reminder of home, the billowing clouds of a bushfire blanket the town, a familiar February phenomenon to any Blue Mountains Aussie. Flanked by the Andes to the west and another steepling ridge of mountains to the east El Bolson runs in a channel that traps the smoke and throws the town into a light bulb like orange glow. The light is moody, atmospheric and strangely comforting,
Not yet ready to wind down the lifestyle to hippie pace just yet it’s hike time. Cajon Azul (Blue Canyon) is the well known walk here so we stay one more stop on the bus to walk up to Encanto Blanco, a refuge that we know little about. The bus pulls up at the base of Cajon Azul and in an instant we’re the only ones on the bus; we wanted to get away from crowds and I think we just succeeded. The bus driver corrects his timetable from 2pm to 2:45pm for the return pickup as we set off for our short day walk. Through a farmhouse, past a few horses and soon enough we’re plunging down a fire trail style path to a river before steeply climbing back upward. We walk through a fairly uninspiring hour or so of bush before the protected park begins and our path shrinks to a more familiar walking track. We’re trading off the probably more picturesque walk for peace and quiet, at this stage we’re not sure if we’re confident in that decision.
Soon enough though the path drops down again and runs parallel to an alpine river, now we’re getting into this. The river is pumping with a steep descent down the valley creating a continuation of rapids and small waterfalls all to the roaring sound of water and the surreal orange glow of our bushfire tinted day. It doesn’t look like we’re scaling a mountain today, it’s the river that is the focus for us, and it is a bit of a cracker. It’s not a huge river, it’s not massive waterfalls; it is however the typical icy cold pure example of what beer commercials might use to symbolise the freshness of their beer, it’s purity personified. At the most rickety bridge crossing ever negotiated by man we shuffle along our contraption that appears little more than a few sticks, some wire, bobby pins, paper clips and coat-hangers to safely make it to the other side.
So what is Encanto Blanco? It’s the cliche caricature of a hippie living in a small shack in the absolute middle of nowhere, I’m pretty sure our three hour trek was pretty much the only way to get to this patch of isolated frontier lifestyle. We’re not sure if we should pay something or register so a quick conversation sees our hippie host look a little bemused and say ‘enjoy’ as he walks back to his table. Apparently this setup is just what it looks like, a permanent and far more extreme parallel of us and our trip; an evacuation of self from the modern world and all its trappings.
Sitting beside this river of purity nestled in the mountains to have our lunch we’re bathed in soft light and the rich lack of fragrance that is fresh water, grass and trees; if ‘pure’ had a smell this would be it. On all appearances this place it is, or easily could be, free of vices, distractions, temptations and loaded with all manner of everything nourishing to the head and heart. The motivations for this trip began in 2010, the year that contained little other than stress at the hands of the emotionally punishing elements of our modern existence. We sought an adventure of course, yet much of our desire was underpinned by escape, escape from illness, uncharacteristic aggression and above all the sapping of fun from our relationship, something needed to change.
So staring at an example of the direct antithesis of the malaise that inspired this adventure the question floats in the freshest of air, could we live like this and adopt the notion of departure so completely? For the moment the resounding answer has to be no. Maybe we’re too dependent on the trappings so linked to our previous troubles, maybe we’re not brave enough, maybe it’s not even about bravery. Regardless of the resultant answer to the swirl of prepositions posed this is a great slice of perspective, our own kind of departure it’s what we travel to see, experience and think about. The more this small world we see the bigger it becomes before our eyes, there appears no end to the number of ways to exist within this place of infinite options. For now we’re happy to stop chasing and continue absorbing; after all, is there a single ‘right way’ to live? I think not.