Arriving in Sierra de la Ventana, I was immediately excited by the change in scenery. The Sierra, named after a tiny window shaped rock atop one of its peaks was a great backdrop to the town, but I was itching to strap on my walking boots and head into the hills. At the toruist office they handed me a flyer with routes I could take without having to hire a guide. The options were as follows: a six hour trip to scale Cerro de la Ventana (the highest peak in the sierra); an hour's walk up to a beautiful waterfall; or three hours walk to natural swimming pools. I didn't want to tackle the mountain alone, so decided to start with the waterfall and then probably head to the natural pools.
The bus left for the Ernesto Tornquista Natural Park at 8.30am, so I decided to get up at 7am to have breakfast and buy my lunch. What I didn't realise was that even though the town was based almost exclusively around outdoor activities, nothing was open to cater for the tourists until 8.15am. I grabbed some bread and cheese from the panaderia and got into the small minibus. As we were heading along the road, the driver breaked suddenly and the man next to me nearly spilt hot water all over the place, as he was refilling his maté. As we set off again down the road, there was a cry of 'mochila' and we all turned and looked behind, to see one of the backpacks from the roof lying in the middle of the road and us travelling away from it. Once retrieved, we headed once more towards the national park.
I registered my details with the wardens and they asked which route I was taking and I told them I was heading to the waterfall. No problem. I set off following the well marked path, enjoying scrambling over boulders and being amongst the beautiful mountains. After fifteen minutes I could not see any more path and asked a woman nearby which way to go next. She responded by telling me that there was no more trail, I had reached my destination. So I asked where the waterfall was, and she replied "here, there is no water, it's the dry season". Somewhat disappointed that my walk hadn't taken very long and not lead me to the promised waterfall, I returned to the wardens, who laughed when I exclaimed "there's no water in the waterfall". I asked if there would be water in the natural swimming pools to which they laughed again and said no. I took this route anyway and just enjoyed the walk, knowing this time that I wasn't headed to a nice place to cool off. My bikini under my walking clothes just added to the irony!
Back in town I went down to the small dammed lake to retrieve the key for our room from Nina. As I walked back I spotted the beautiful horse of a gaucho that we had spotted the day before. She was tethered to a tree and saddled. She looked serene in the dappled light and I took my camera from my bag. As I was taking the photo, a voice called from the hut behind me. The stern faced gaucho of the day before emerged, sporting a massive grin and asked if I'd like him to take a photo of me on the horse. I replied that I'd rather a photo of him on it. He obliged after a while and then put me on the horse and took a photo. He started jumping around taking photos saying "look at me, I'm a photographer" as I sat on the horse thinking, "look at me, I'm a gaucho!" We both enjoyed this for a while until he finally relinquished my camera and we started talking about tourism and Argentinian politics. It has been a slow summer for tourism in the Sierra, as there has been no rain to speak of for nine months and the town is very empty in comparison to other years. Argentinians who usually come for fifteen days only came for three or four, as Raul (the gaucho) explained, when there is no rain, there is no money. Farmers have been hit very hard. Because of this, Argentinians have headed to the seaside towns instead of the countryside. This explains why places such as Villa Gessell were so busy and the Sierra so empty.