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Los Alerces National Park
Pretty much the whole journey from Esquel or Trevelin to this point will have you sitting on the edge of your seats and gasping at the amazing alpine scenery. From the Pasarela, we hike a couple of kilometres through the rainforest to the shores of Lago Menendez, taking care not to disturb any of the wild boar or pumas that range across the park.
The drive to the park, created in the 1930s to protect the Alerce tree and awarded in 2017 the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, takes us past Laguna Terraplein, where swans, flamingos and geese congregate and where, occasionally, eagles, vultures and condors feast on any of the countless cows and sheep unlucky enough to have met their maker on the shores of the lagoon. We enter the park through an area blackened by repeated forest fires and hear the story of the dramatic events that befell when several thousand square kilometres of a type of bamboo flowered simultaneously in 2013, the first time the plant had flowered in the area for more than 50 years. We pass through the village of Villa Futalaufquen, where in the 1950s, Richard Llewellyn wrote the sequel to How Green Was My Valley, Up, Into the Singing Mountain. We follow the shores of Lago Futalaufquen (Big Lake, in Mapuche, Llyn Padarn, in Welsh) and the impossibly turquoise Rio Arrayanes to the Pasarela Bridge next to Lago Verde (Llyn Peris, in Welsh).
This protected area of Valdivian (cold weather) rain forest, home to surprises ranging from stately Alerce trees exceeding 4,000 years of age to tiny nocturnal marsupials, has a glittering jewel at its centre, visible from the shore of Lake Menendez - Cerro Torrecillas, a mountain from whose peak the Pacific Ocean can be glimpsed. But the Grand Lady of the Park is not just a mountain, it is a mountain wearing a stole of pure ermine - a groaning, exploding, turquoise, brilliant white ancient glacier which protects its summit from avaricious climbers.
Los Alerces National Park, is an area of 2,630 square kilometres and is noted for its temperate rain forest (which is only present in 7 regions of the World), lakes, rivers, glaciers, marine fossils and the largest population of the Alerce tree in Argentina, one of the longest living trees in the world. It supports a wide diversity of wildlife, including the Andean Condor, the puma, wild boar, mink, the elusive Huemul deer and, surprisingly, a native marsupial, the Colocolo Opossum. It is listed by Conservation International as one of only 34 Biodiversity Hotspots on Earth (which they define as the richest and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life), by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site, and by the World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund as a Global 200 Ecoregion. The UNESCO Andino Norpatagonica Biosphere Reserve, which includes Los Alerces National Park, when joined with its sister reserve on the other side of the Andes, is almost twice the size of Wales.