In the north of Patagonian Argentina, just a few hours away from the Chilean border is El Bolson, a mellow town where a vast number of hippies migrated to from Buenos Aires back in the 1970s. One afternoon, while visiting the local feria artesenal, I caught sight of four men laughing over a bottle of wine and I think it was just because they seemed so approachable that I found myself walking over to them and introducing myself. Five hours later, I was still there, slightly dizzy from the cheap wine and the thrill that came with meeting such wonderful, charismatic people, who appeared to be equally happy in my presence. When one of them asked if I’d like to join them all in the mountains for a few days, I instantly knew it was going to be one heck of an experience and didn’t hesitate in saying yes, before returning to the hostel to pack my bags and check out.
I ended up spending a whole week in this small, remote house in the mountains where I was suddenly experiencing the real Argentina; rather than sitting in the hostel watching other backpackers stare at their iPads, a trend which has unfortunately become so commonplace, I was watching local artisans make their jewellery and, rather than browsing the stalls down at the market, I was standing behind them helping my new friends sell.
I spent those days with the artisans working at the market, preparing endless vegetarian meals (it appeared I was the only one who wasn’t against eating meat), trying my hardest to participate in conversations, though my Spanish was broken and their English was non-existent, and dancing around the fire as they played a variety of musical instruments until I was too exhausted to stand. One evening, we visited some friends of theirs who had invited us round for dinner and everybody sat on the floor with no plates or cutlery, eating out of the pots with their hands. I secretly loved the fact I could finally enjoy my food properly and make a mess, knowing that nobody around me cared.
By the end of my time in El Bolson, all the other market vendors in this small town recognised me and I never walked past one without receiving a wave, a cup of wine or a brownie loco (if I was lucky). I had begun to feel like a local, rather than a tourist, which I loved although eventually I had to tear myself away so that I could continue with my travels. It was a truly amazing cultural experience, however, and one that I shall never forget.