The word ‘Patagonia’ conjures up images of communities of amorous penguins waddling off to sea with their one true love or groaning glaciers heaving gigantic chunks of ice into clear lakes, ringed by snow-capped peaks piercing the skyline.
What tourists often overlook is the vast expanse of dusty nothingness that occupies so much of this region. In the shadow of the Andes, thousands of kilometers of anonymous, featureless landscape roll on, occasionally interrupted by a ‘town,’ which is little more than a petrol pump.
Los Antiguos is a charming anomaly, appearing like a mirage out of the dusty purgatory that occupies much of the Santa Cruz Province, on the popular route from Bariloche to El Chalten.
Los Antiguos enjoys abundant sunshine and an ideal micro-climate for growing fruit thanks to its location at the base of the Andes, on the shore of South America’s second largest lake, Lago Buenos Aires.
The local, indigenous Tehuelche tribe named Los Antiguous, or ‘place of elders’. The legend goes that the elderly tribe members would come here and rest, extending their lives thanks to the mystical powers of the climate and the freshest fruit in Patagonia.
The town is located just 7km from the Chilean border at Chile Chico and 57km west of Perito Moreno (the glorified petrol pump, not the glacier), from where a rather unreliable bus service makes the one-hour trip several times a day.
What’s most initially striking here is the abundant vegetation. Scrambling up to one of the town’s several lookout points, visitors will see a town of 2,000 inhabitants with a skyline consisting predominantly of leaves. Most of the land in the town houses the charcas, family-run fruit farms which export their produce all over the country. The people of Los Antiguos proudly remind visitors that the town is the ‘Cherry Capital of Argentina’. While famed for its cherries the town also produces a considerable amount of apples, apricots, peaches and strawberries.
Visiting the Farms
Setting aside a morning to meander along the sleepy, tree-lined avenues and visit the fruit farms is a must for any visitor.The people in Los Antiguos are known for their friendliness and the sense of warmth there that will last longer than the sugar-rush from the dozens of cherries you scoff along the way.
At Charcra Don Neno, it is easy to lose track of time sampling just a few of the many wonderful jams, chutneys, liquors and marmalades on offer. With the typical Patagonian charm, the hostess walks you through all the home-grown produce and upon request, guide you around the farm offering tasters of delicious strawberries, raspberries, calafate berries, redcurrants and, of course, plenty of cherries. Don Neno is a family-run business, with daughters helping to bake the bread and make the tarts with homegrown ingredients.
Chacra La Nueva Shepetovka open daily from 2 p.m.—9 p.m., is another friendly family-run farm. Here you can enjoy a cherry extravaganza in their café (cherry pie, a bowl of cherries and cherry juice, naturally) and a chat with Ricardo Jomñuk, the fascinating archaeologist owner. His discourse will probably cover fruit, the history of the town and his semi-precious stone collection. Visitors who hang around long enough will be invited to stroll the cherry orchards and take some free samples. Don’t get carried away though—fifty cherries in fifteen minutes is not recommended after cherry pie, a bowl of cherries and cherry juice.
The best time of the year to visit Los Antiguos is between October and April, although the town really comes alive in mid-summer. A pleasant climate and sunshine is virtually guaranteed and fruit stocks will be high.
• Cherry Festival
– In the first weekend of January (this year, the 8th-10th, 2016) is the big event of the year here, the Cherry Festival when people from all over the region come here to celebrate in a sort of Patagonia-family reunion. The party, now in its XXVII edition, features big name Argentine folk music acts, activities for kids and lots of cherries.
• Los Antigous Birthday Celebration
– On every fifth of February the inhabitants of Los Antiguos celebrate the now 64-year-old town’s birthday with music, dancing, drink and of course, food. The birthday celebrations include a ‘barbecue for the people,’ slow-cooked lambs offered to the hungry masses while local musicians sing and gauchos, Argentine cowboys, dance the night away.
-by George Warren