Argentina // The Lake District //

El Abuelo

The most popular excursion in the park is the lake trip (“Safari Lacustre”) to the far end of Lago Menéndez’s northern channel to see El Abuelo (“The Grandfather”, also named El Alerzal), a gigantic alerce 2.2m in diameter, and 57m tall. This magnificent tree is an estimated 2600 years old, making it a sapling when Pythagoras and Confucius taught, but at the end of the nineteenth century it almost became roof shingles: only the fact that settlers deemed its wood rotten inside saved it from the saw. To see it you need to take a boat trip; the earlier sailing crosses Lago Futalaufquen and goes down Río Arrayanes to Puerto Mermoud followed by a thirty-minute walk across the isthmus to meet up with the later sailing at Puerto Chucao. The excursion is guided, but in Spanish only; if you want an English translation, you’ll need to organize a tour from Esquel rather than just turn up at the pier.

On the ninety-minute trip across the pristine blue waters of Lago Menéndez you get fine views of the Cerro Torrecillas glacier, which is receding fast and may last only another seventy years. To get to El Abuelo, a 3km trail takes you through dense Valdivian temperate rainforest (selva valdiviana), a habitat distinguished from the surrounding Patagonian forests by the presence of different layers to the canopy, in addition to the growth of lianas, epiphytes, surface roots and species more commonly found in Chile. Here a mass of vegetation is engaged in the eternal struggle of the jungle: height equals light. In addition to the alerces, look out for fuchsia bushes and arrayanes. Despite its name Lago Cisne is no longer home to any Black-necked swans; they were wiped out by mink.

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