bahia hostel

This is a comeback story, a tale of two rural communities in Argentine Patagonia that had almost faded into obscurity forever, if it hadn’t been for the tenacity of three people. While only 102 miles apart, it takes about four hours to travel across the stony terrain from Cabo Raso to Bahía Bustamante, both located on Chubut province’s remote coastline. Years ago Cabo Raso and Bahía Bustamante where abandoned by their residents, but thanks to the dedication of the tenants these rural communities have been brought back to a (remote) life.Far from the bright lights of Buenos Aires, in the the vast expanses of rugged land, craggy coastline and the clear blue sky, these two smatterings of houses provide true escapism in the ever-connected world of today.

Cabo Raso

Cabo Raso is the only inhabited town for 100km, sitting on a mass of desolate stoney space against the Atlantic. Even in summer, you can live through four seasons in just an hour. Crisp dawns ease into baking afternoons, the day ending on an amber sunset best taken in on the roof of the bunker. Throughout the year the wind howls its briny sea breeze. One of the only places left where you can really switch off, here there is no means of communication; not even a phone line.

Cabo Raso’s story begins at the end of the 19th century when German migrants disembarked in a bay whose waters are uneasily inhabited by sea lions and orca. These migrant ranchers built El Cabo and a new life from the ground up, shipping in materials from Europe. Their plan? To use it as a base while setting up shop as sheep farmers in desolate Patagonia, projects that took years to pull together.

But as Argentina modernised the town went into decline, the construction of Ruta Nacional 3 that skirted far west of the community was the final nail in the coffin of El Cabo as it used to be. Drivers now had no need to take Ruta Provincial 1 which previously took them straight past El Cabo. Stone houses and their imported tin roofs were battered by relentless gales and El Cabo’s last resident, Mercedes Finat, died in 1987. Surfers and fishermen seeking isolated but generous waters would rock up for a few days, camping out among the ruins and ex-military bunker. But no one considered making this oceanside wilderness 47 miles from the nearest store their home until seven years ago.

20 years later, couple Eliane Fernández Peña and her ‘El Gitano’ (gypsy) Eduardo González painstakingly began to clean up the litter-strewn site, braving that first harsh winter with a wood burner in a single room and one mission: to restore the village with its original materials. Their efforts have paid off. El Cabo now rents six cottages and buses-turned-dorms to those looking for ultimate peace and tranquility, and thanks to its devoted population of just two, it ranks as an isolated dwelling rather than a hamlet. That number multiplies for one weekend each February, however, when El Cabo hosts the annual Fiesta de la Sal Marina party, organised by Sal de Aquí, a sea-salt producer which sources water from the bay.

Bahía Bustamante

Bahía Bustamante’s story begins in 1953 when Lorenzo Soriano left Spain for Patagonia aiming to find a reliable source of seaweed in order to continue producing hair gel. In the San Jorge Gulf he found the algae he was looking for in abundance and this community – the world’s first seaweed village – sprang to life.

Home to 400 seaweed harvesters and their families in the 1960s and 1970s, Bustamante was then resplendent with a school and church. But like Cabo Raso, beautiful Bustamante was slowly abandoned. That is until Don Lorenzo’s grandson Matías stepped in 15 years ago. He single handedly restored a dozen cottages, reviving the tiny village and providing new levels of luxury to the harvesters’ former homes.

Few places in the world have such an abundance of wildlife. Bustamante has been labeled Argentina’s answer to the Galapagos but instead of the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors, Matías’s community sleeps just 18 people at one time. While not literally an island, the remoteness of Bustamante means that it essentially functions as one. Matías maintains that all nature lovers are welcome here but seaweed and sheep farming remain the source of income for the village, rather than tourism.

This is South America’s only national maritime park; Patagonia Austral and its natural assets are priceless – few other places host such a diverse variety of species exist within such close proximity. It is the nutrient-rich algae that makes these waters perfect ground for breading and living. Here you can see sea lions and orcas in the same spot, the blubbery bodies of elephant seals lazing on the rocks, and the flightless steamer ducks clumsily flapping their way around the San Jorge Gulf.

 

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