I Found My Favorite Place – Eco Camping in Puerto Guadal
This moment happens to me on most every trip. I’m cruising along, staying here staying there, small towns, big cities, soaking up sun, trekking in the mountains… and then it happens. I find it, my favorite place of the trip. I won’t even say ‘thus far’ because I usually know that this is THE spot. This place is always a bit different (although I’m realizing after this trip that it’s most always somewhere warm, maybe I should learn from this), and it’s always shaped by the circumstances in which I come to find the town. Where I came from, who I meet, the weather, how long I have been traveling so far, all factor in.
For the past three weeks I’ve been in the south of Patagonia, battling fierce summer winds, doing multi-day treks, forming some friendships that have spanned the course of over two weeks of traveling together. It was an amazing three weeks but my body was needing some r&r and my soul was needing some solitude.
Un Destino No Turistico
With this frame of mind I arrived in Puerto Guadal, a tiny pueblo on the shore of Lago Carrera Austral (view on a map). I came via an 11 hour overnight bus from El Chaltén to Los Antiguos, then an hour long border crossing in a collectivo, followed by on other three hours in a collectivo along the twisty, bumpy gravel road along the shore of the lake:
“You sure you don’t want to go to Rio Tranquilo?” I was asked twice by the collectivo driver. Rio Tranquilo is a more common traveler stop on the shore of the lake. “No, quiero ir a Puerto Guadal.” No, I want to go to Puerto Guadal. But I was really heading into an unknown, searching for an Eco camping spot I had found online that I knew not much about:
The collectivo dropped me off on the side of the dusty road at the turnoff to the camping spot. With all my things I set off in the sun up the 1km length of road to reach Un Destino No Turistico. The name is very literal but it’s true! After 20 minutes of trudging up the hill I reached an oasis – trees, lush grass, beautifully constructed wood buildings.
Knock knock … And I meet Rocío and Marcelo, the owners of the hostel. Marcelo is a quieter guy (at least in terms of interacting with the hostel stayers) and Rocío is a firecracker of a personality, off and running with an enthusiastic hello and tour of their property. I’m immediately charmed!
She takes me to the camping area where I have my pick of space in a tree shaded grassy spot. Then off to the hostel building, where there is a dorm of eight beds and one room with twin beds. I’m not allowed in this side of the building though since I am a camper, but she gives me a look anyway. The rest is open to me.
The bathrooms are dry compost bathrooms, meaning they separate liquid from solid and you have to pour sawdust down once you’re done. They are the nicest bathrooms I’ve seen in any hostel so far which somewhat amazed me. No smell, very clean, and they use no water resources. My camper shower is outside next to the greenhouse and is solar powered – suggested hours are 5-10pm to have warm water. She tells me I’ll have to rethink my usual patterns if I shower in the morning, but that is what a sustainable lifestyle is all about, rethinking old patterns. I wait until 5pm then take my shower… and it is warm! Success.
A Local, Organic Dinner Experience
Later, I ask about buying some vegetables from their garden and she says when I’m ready to come over with the colander from my kitchen and say “I want vegetables”. So I do just that, and off we go! First up is the greenhouse, holding at 92degrees F, and that is with the door open.
I have my choice of cilantro, lettuce, parsley, celery leaves (the actual celery stalks are too small yet). She has squash just starting to show. Tomatoes are a couple months out. She picks me the biggest cabbage leaf I have ever seen “La quieres? Si no, la voy a comer mañana, esta lista, deberías comerla!” Or something like that. Basically, if you don’t eat it, I will, so you should take it! So I do, but first I get a photo for size:
Ok now off to the outside garden. Carrots aren’t ready, but giant peas are, so we throw a couple into the colander. On the way she throws some feed in for the chickens – mix of muesli and water. Here they are in their “chicken run”:
They started with three chickens and a hen last year, and now have 30… One chicken just had 16 babies! They aren’t sure what to do with their expanding brood. October through December last year they had over 300 eggs per month. Now they are down to just one or two a day, which is good, Rocío says, because her cholesterol was already high and all those eggs were making it — she cuts herself off, then she throws her hands higher in the air, opens her eyes wide and makes a sound like “can you believe this high?!” I start to realize that she always talks this way and it’s fun and good for helping to translate!
At gardens three and four she picks some arugula, spinach, chard, chives, garlic stalks (the bulbs aren’t ready yet). By now my colander is full and I’m already dreaming up ways to cook this in my simple camping stove pot. Yummmmm.
Dinner tonight is pasta with sautéed chard, cabbage, garlic stalk, some acidic leaf she gave me to boil in the water, tomato, navy beans, Parmesan, salt and pepper (the tomato, beans and cheese I bought from the store). I mix in a hard boiled egg, and then have an arugula/cilantro/chive salad on the side with olive oil and red wine vinegar. I was so fun cooking, especially having the place to myself to spread out all my fun pickings:
I settle in with my meal and watch an episode of The Walking Dead on my ipad, one of the first times I’ve watched any tv in the 6weeks I’ve been traveling. Felt like quite the luxurious evening! Side note, I don’t recommend watching that tv show during dinner, it’s not the most appetizing thing visually to see someone’s head chopped off.
Fresh Morning, Fresh Bread
The next morning, I wake up LATE for sleeping in a tent. 9:30!! Wow. The day is fresh, meaning still crisp and slowly getting sunny – perfect. I wander up to the kitchen and make some tea from their dried mint leaves, free for use. This plus a banana and yogurt is perfect way to start the day.
So there I am, sitting at the outside table in the sun, reading my latest book Shadow of the Wind (loved this book by the way) when Rocío calls out from behind me -“Hola hola, buenos dias! Tengo un regalo para ti.” She walks up with something wrapped up in a kitchen towel. “We have bread fresh from the solar oven this morning and I just had to give you a piece of it, it wouldn’t be right for you to have your breakfast and not have this bread. It’s still warm!” She then hands it to me, and it is – warm, fresh and delicious.
I ask about coffee, since I wanted to buy some of their fair trade coffee grounds, and off she runs to get the other half of the coffee pot missing from my kitchen … “Porque necessities cafe…” Because you need coffee. I guess my haze of being half awake from deep sleep is pretty obvious! I make a fresh batch from my new bag of coffee grounds, settle in to nibble on some of that bread, and am. officially. in. heaven.
Their solar oven is a big reflector satellite-shaped thing, with a pot elevated in the middle of it. It can bake a loaf in 1.25hours if the sun is out. Rocío says she has to rotate the oven every 15minutes or so to be sure it’s lined up directly with the sun. While we’re looking at maps and talking about my day, the sun goes behind some clouds. After a quick check on the bread (by “check” I mean a good sniff by the top of the pot) she thinks it’s ok, that the bread is done enough. Taking off the lid, there is a beautifully raised loaf of bread! Normally she would like it more “tostada” but this will do. Crisis averted 🙂 I hope some of that bread carried over to tomorrow morning!
I’ve never felt more a part of the process at a hostel before. This feeling was probably made even moreso by the fact that I was the only one there. Having time to take a couple days to live very simply and be very aware of the little things – where my food came from, where my trash would go (mainly compost and these building blocks they build with all of the plastic packaging we throw out –>
–> how and when water would be warm, and then just the feeling of the sun and the smell of all the flowers…………… Yes, this is my place. THE place of the trip. I hope to be back some day!
Here are some photos from exploring the area: