Helsingfors - on route to a second Helsinki??
I've got to blink twice when I see the sign “Helsingfors 75km” on route no: 40 from El Calfate towards north. We can't bring ourselves to drive past it, without finding out why, in the middle of Patagonia, there's a place with the same name
as that of our capital city. The dirt track to Helingfors is bumpy and it takes two hours of riggety driving to get there. At some points I wonder whether there was any sense at all in this spur of the moment idea. The view from the car window consists mainly
of the dry plains of the pampas, but we notice that the snowy mountains in our horizon are getting closer as we journey on.
We cross several, rather dubious bridges, and their wooden structures clank suspiciously when we drive across. Out of them all, the beautifully pink bridge crossing the river Condor is our biggest cause for concern. Epeli sits just outside of its height restrictions, but we manage to fit through as long as we stay bang in the middle of the arched bridge. We stop and take some photos of Ibis birds and Mara rabbits that's really hopping along by the side of the road. We see some condors too, but they, soar so high in the sky that despite our best efforts we can't catch a photo of them.
When we finally reach our destination the views
are breathtaking. Lake Viedma looks beautiful as it glimmers in shades of blue, with snowy mountains surrounding it . I could easily believe that we were at the Norwegian fjords perhaps, but it's hard to assimilate this scenery with that of Helsinki. At the
end of the road there's a homely little hotel ; “Estancia Helsingfors”. Once the staff hear we're from Finland, they make us feel very welcome and allow us to camp on their parking lot overnight. We go for some coffee at the hotel bar and hear
an interesting story about the history of the place.
It turns out that the name of this place isn't familiar by coincidence. In the early 1900’s a Finnish man called Alfred Ramström arrived here on horse back, having skied some of the way here. He built a house and established himself as a sheep farmer. He also planted trees around the house to provide some shelter from the constant wind and tried growing various crops in his garden. It feels odd to think that the tall trees around us once saw Alfred and his family go about their day to day lives in their midst. The farm grew huge, stretching over 20,000 acres of land and Alfred ended up building a separate stone house for his servants. The ruins of that building are still visible at the back of the yard. Life here, by the foot of the mountains, on the edge of a harsh desert, in a cold and windy climate certainly wouldn't have been easy. Journey to the closest town, El Calafate, took a whole week, so the family only visited it once a year to replenish their supplies. The story goes that often times, the hard earned money saved over months, vanished pretty quickly at the local bar. Towards the end of his life Alfred took ill with cancer and passed away in Buenos Aires in 1942. In the end, the state of Argentina ended up claiming the farm land and made it into a nature reserve.
On the next day we take a little hike up to the mountains surrounding Helsingfors. We get to see a beautifully clear, almost turquoise lagoon, formed by meltwater from the glacier, situated a little higher up on the mountain. The water going down the mountain runs in a gushing stream. Rather charmingly, the glacier between the peaks was named “Alfred”, after its founder.