Esquel, where the universe was conspiring against us
Did you ever have the feeling the universe was conspiring against you? That no matter what you do, things just keep going wrong like some spirit of all the bad karma in the world was suddenly in control of everything that was happening. Is this what being in mercury’s retrograde feels like? If so, it described our first days in Esquel perfectly.
We arrived to Esquel after our time in El Bolson. We were rested and happy. We were excited to hike more and continue training for even bigger hikes. The bus ride was short and without incident. Things were running smoothly. Maybe too smoothly? Maybe that is one of the undiscovered laws of the universe, that when things are going too good, they have to start turning for the worse?
We had 2 plans for Esquel. The first idea was to ride on the historic, steam powered, narrow gauge railway La Trochita, aka ‘the old Patagonian express’ (made famous by Thoreau):
Straight out of ‘The Little Engine That Could’, Laurent fell in love with the idea of taking this train. It is supposed to operate a tourist service, as it no longer does its longer route. But no. It wasn’t operating ANY service when we arrived to inquire. The office was closed, seemingly shut down. La Trochita sat lonely out in the back, a glaring example of plans that never materialized. Maybe this is what started the bad karma? Little ol Trochita? The look of disappointment on Laurent’s face was heartbreaking. We tried to have some fun anyway:
The other idea was to use Esquel as a base to get to the nearby Parque Nacional Los Alerces (Alerces in Spanish, is the word for Larch trees (a type of huge, endangered tree). Esquel lies south of El Bolson (about a 45 minute bus ride). It serves as the main entry point to get to the park since it’s only 60 km away. So we figured transportation into the park would be easy.
We figured wrong.
There was only 2 buses a week that went there and it didn’t coincide with our little camping plan. At all. Ok, we thought. We can come up with a plan B. We’re flexible. Maybe we could rent a car and drive to the park ourselves? We inquired about car rental prices. The prices quoted by our hostel were a bit out of our budget. Quite a bit. We checked into tours. Again, too expensive. We asked if people wanted to share a car. We waited for positive responses. We tried to think of a plan C.
The next day we had no answers. We found a budget car rental company online but you couldn’t actually make a reservation for the car on their website. Fortunately (so we thought) it was located in the bus station in town! We got lucky, I thought. We trudged over to the bus station (quite a bit out of the way) and to our dismay, the office was closed. No hours were posted either. We frantically asked people in the station if they knew anything. They said to come back at 4. They assured us that the office would be open then. We came back at 4. Still closed. We were told to wait until 5. We even waited til 6. No one showed up. Another day passed.
Plan D. We didn’t have a plan D. We were still hung up on the idea of finding a reasonably priced rental car. So we got a list of every car rental company from the tourist office and went in person to beg and plead to the ones we hadn’t already. We went back to the still closed office in the bus station. After that, we fiinally found somewhere with a car for a reasonable price! But they wouldn’t have the car for 4 days. Umm….no good.
The last place on our list was on the outskirts of town and we hesitated as we walked though the run-down residential streets. I had good vibes for the place because the name of the car rental company was ‘Laurent Cars’. This had to be a god sign!
The address led us to a small, pink colored, dilapidated shack of a house. Neither one of us wanted to knock. We were sure this couldn’t be the right address. We asked a guy passing on the street if it was correct and he said it was indeed the right place. Meekly, I knocked at the door. A pissed-off African woman opened the door and in very bad Spanish asked what I wanted. And in our very bad Spanish we asked if they had a rental car. It seemed bizarre and highly unlikely at this point. She said ‘one moment’ and shut the door in our faces.
Laurent wanted to walk away and even I wasn’t so sure anymore. Just as we really considered walking away, the door opened and a beanpole African man stepped out. We asked him if he had a rental car and he amazingly told us he did! Next thing I know,we were standing in his weird garage where one white, piece of crap car stood. Turns out he spoke a weird version of French, which made it easier for Laurent to ask him necessary information. The guy told us the car was available right now if we wanted it and for a reasonable price. We both kind of looked at each other as if this was not really happening but then we just shrugged and said okay. In another hour, we had packed it up and started driving the mere 60 km to Los Alerces. When we arrived we discovered the park was worth the hassle:
This is when everything went in its right place again. The park was amazing and empty! It was right before the busy season started. We got to camp in some of the most beautiful spots and had them all to ourselves (for FREE!):
We went on day hikes that took us up extraordinary vistas:
And afterwards we could have beer and lie here in another picturesque camp spot:
The arctic lupine flowers were in bloom:
And everything in the universe seemed good again. Funny how things work that way.
Some more photos from Los Alerces: