Onwards another 290kms south to a town called Esquel on the borders of a National park called Los Alerces. It was originally an offshoot of a Welsh Colony at Chubut and still has something of a pioneer feel about it being an open town in the middle of fertile, breezy valley with a backdrop of mountains. Apparently, a number of Welsh came to Patagonia to escape the imperialist English during the Industrial Revolution but they have mostly been assimilated into the local population. It’s a shame that the whole of Wales did not make the trip because then they might have been successful in establishing a New Wales. The Welsh dragon is evident in flags that fly alongside the blue and white colours of Argentina; there are tea rooms and Welsh names among locals many of whom can trace their ancestry back to the hills north of Swansea and Cardiff.
Other than the Welsh, it is here that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ended up after fleeing to South America to escape the clutches of Uncle Sam. They worked on a local ranch that was run by an American and spent their time smuggling horses into Chile. When, eventually, the forces of law and order caught up with them, having been ‘shopped’ by their employer, they moved north to Bolivia where they met their end in a hail of bullets. I know how they must have felt as we are never in the same place for more than a few days – the heavy hand of authority keeps us on the move constantly.
We went off for a trek in the park, to the top of ‘Cinco Saltos’ (five waterfalls), a mountain stream that rushes down into Lago Futalaufquen (no, I cannot pronounce it either). Debbie’s first choice had been a 7 or 8-hour yomp up to the top of one of the snow capped mountains but we were told that it was not possible because the snow was too deep and impenetrable. Lauren and I looked suitably disappointed. However, the Cinco Saltos was a very pretty five-hour walk that winds along the shore of the lake before taking off steeply upwards, winding through a forest of pine and bamboo, before emerging at the top of the first waterfall. We could not record the full effect on our camera due to the proximity of the forest which also blocked the best views of the surrounding mountains.
Our journey back to base was interrupted by Debbie who was determined to get an artistic photograph of Lupins (another UK import) with the mountains behind. Despite several valiant attempts, a mixture of trees, road signs and fences conspired to prevent the shot.