Capital – Buenos Aires Currency – Argentine Peso (AR$) Language – Spanish
26th November 2012 – It was so easy to get through the Argentinian border, we just handed in a stamped ‘salida’ (exit) piece of paper and we were waved toward a bridge that climbs steeply over the Rio Uruguay. We say goodbye to Gilles and Chantal as they are heading west to Santiago in Chile to catch a plane to Tahiti for Xmas. We hope you have a wonderful time and who knows….maybe we will meet up again when you return in January.
Vehicle lights on all the time on the roads as in Uruguay. We could have been back in France when we suddenly see a huge Carrefour supermarket. Once again we had got rid of all the food that we thought might be taken at the border but nobody even came to look at the vehicles let alone search them. We buy bife de chorizo steaks that Leti and Emi had recommended. Very hot here.
After crossing the Rio Uruguay we reach Gualeguaychu. We are now in the Entre Rios province which means between the rivers Uruguay and Parana which converge into the huge Rio de la Plata. We have decided to head for Victoria, situated at the edge of the huge Rio Parana. The roads are only one lane each way and vehicles are driven very fast. Many newer cars on the road now which are capable of faster speeds and we have already passed 2 accidents in a very short space of time. Groups of children and large women are holding out terrified, fluttering birds tightly in their hands in the hope to sell them……horrible. The landscape is very flat with cornfields, cattle and horses and large areas of water with tall reed beds at the sides of the road. We arrive at Victoria very late and very tired after a long day and eventually discover El Ceibo for camping where the guy arrives with a torch and leads us to the campsite. Toilets very basic and no showers, so it will be another bucket wash.
27th November – From Victoria the straight road crosses the huge, flat marsh, river and wetland area of the Rio Parana for many kilometres, incredibly green with so many birds and cattle and horses everywhere, it must be a haven for wildlife. We see a barge transporting cattle along one of the many waterways.
9 peso to go over the huge steep Rosario – Victoria bridge and the flat sky line reveals the tall buildings of Rosario, spread along the banks of the Rio Parana and in the Santa Fe Province. This is the town where Che Guevara was born and we have a very successful day there, particularly in obtaining our vehicle insurance from very helpful people at San Cristobal offices and which will insure us not only for Argentina but also Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil. We take ages to find our way out of Rosario’s suburbs, which spread for miles, some leafy green areas with attractive houses, other areas with shanty towns (villa miseria), piles of rubbish and litter and make-shift homes put together with anything that can be found. It’s 6 p.m. and the roads are choked with traffic, fumes, heat and dust. The grid system of roads means there are many traffic lights which take ages to change and we cannot find anywhere to stay for the night as all the available campsites are closed until December. We finally find a big lorry park behind a garage just outside of Casilda. This will do but our steaks will have to wait until tomorrow!
28th November – We are away by 8 a.m. and within half an hour it is raining providing some relief from the heat. The flat marsh and water areas continue, even the cattle don’t seem to mind wading through deep water to reach their grazing.
We enter the province of Buenos Aires and shortly after are heading directly south, still on Ruta 33 toward Bahia Blanca on the coast, although still some 500km distant. Because of the watery landscape, mosquitoes are a real problem everywhere, driving us insane when we stop at what we thought would be a nice place for lunch and then to look at a very elaborate shrine by the roadside dedicated to Gaucho Antonio Gill, one of the many characters that have been elevated to saintly positions through superstitions and miracles.
Antonio Gill was a 19th century Robin Hood who ‘robbed from the rich to give to the poor’ and was reputedly able to predict the future.
We arrive at the town of Tenque Lauquen with tree lined streets and discover that there is camping in a big, park like area and a hot shower we are told! The ablution block is in a terrible state however but there is hot water in one shower only in the ‘mens’ and we are the only people here, so no problem!
29th November – Back on Ruta 33 with the same view of vast wetlands. Combine harvesters are out in the fields and there are many huge grain silos. A strong wind from the east is keeping the temperature a little cooler today. Approaching Pigue, we see faint shapes of hills in the distance, the Sierra de la Ventana with the Parque Ernesto Tornquist and where we plan to stop. This is the first high ground that we have seen since leaving Minas in Uruguay. Albergue Hostel and Campamento is situated in the park at the foot of craggy hills amongst beautiful scenery and ancient pine forests.It is also the base for climbing Cerro Ventana. The walls of the communal sitting area are full of photographs of the owner having climbed many of Argentina’s mountains. Photos also showed the hostel and surrounding area covered in snow in the winter months.
30th November – It pours with rain for most of the night, with winds strong enough to rock the Land Rover and we are worried about falling branches from the surrounding trees. However, by the afternoon the sun is out and we are able to discover what a very beautiful area this is by beginning to climb to the ‘window’, a large, weathered hole in the rocks almost at the top of the Cerro Ventana.
The higher the bases, the more difficult the climb, until we are having to find our own way over huge rocks with the occasional yellow circle on a post to keep us in the right direction. The ‘window’ is at base 10 but by 7 the wind has risen almost blowing us over at times, shadows are spreading and grey clouds are looming, the going is slow and we still have to get back down. We decide to turn back and I can understand how climbers must feel when they have to turn back just short of their goal! Never mind, the views have been spectacular and the exercise a lovely break from sitting or driving.
1st December – The cloudless blue sky would make a perfect day for a climb but we are going to return to Ruta 33 and head for Bahia Blanca. We fill up with fuel and follow a guy in his car who has offered to show us where the supermarket is. Another kind gesture, these people really go out of their way to help and we really appreciate their kindness. Backing out of our parking space in the car park, another car does the same and….ouch! No damage to Moby but the other car belonging to an elderly couple, has broken lights. We exchange insurance details but difficult to know whose fault. We leave the scene after the lady has given us both a hug and a kiss and her husband has shaken both our hands!! Thank goodness we got our insurance cover, as these things happen.
A few km out of Bahia Blanca and we suddenly come to our first inspection for meat and fruit. A huge diappointment having just picked out oranges, apples and apricots and now these are all taken from us but we can keep our salad and vegetables. Our meat might also have disappeared from the fridge had I not diverted the guy with talk about Peninsula Valdes and Ruta 3. The locals we presume know about this of course and it is only the likes of us who are taken unawares! Bet those guys enjoyed our fruit! Not a good day so far.
Our stop for the night is a nice area with trees behind one of those ‘Saviours from Shell’ …….a garage at Pedro Luro. When we ask permission to park, they say ‘no problem.’ Two lovely dogs with hopeful eyes arrive and of course get something to eat and then lay in the dust by our Land Rover for the night.
2nd – 3rd December – The dogs are there when we get up and we give them biscuits and water, they are very thirsty. Stray dogs are such a problem here as in Uruguay…….very sad. By 7 a.m. it is 25 degrees in the shade, it is going to be hot today. Shortly after being on the road again, there is another check point for meat and fruit. I tell the guy that everything had been taken at Bahia Blanca and we are waved on.
An incredibly strong, hot wind thunders through the window as we drive, we can hardly hear each other speak, we have to shout. Dust is rising in clouds from the flat and sandy landscape and drifts across the road like a sandstorm. Combines are out in the fields creating more dust. The scenery does not change km after km. We arrive at the wind blown, hot and dusty town of Carmen de Patagones located at the mouth of the Rio Negro and one of the oldest Spanish settlements. Our card doesn’t seem to work in the ATM and we see our first dead dog at the side of the road, am sure there are many more – they have to be incredibly street-wise to survive. Missing our fruit in this heat as we drive along as we are always sharing apples and oranges and it is Sunday so nowhere open to buy more.
We are now driving through the Rio Negro province of Patagonia. The river flows into a narrow valley, home to a thriving fruit farming area (hence the fruit checks) that contrasts with the surrounding desert area that we are now driving through. Hardly any traffic now which is probably a good thing with this wind. 35 degrees when we stop for lunch and the few lorries that pass toot their horns and wave.
San Antonio Oeste has no camping, so we drive a few more km south to Las Grutas where we find a campsite just a walk from the beach in the Golfo San Matias. It is run by an elderly couple, the wife having been brought up in Kent in Orpington and Bromley…..what a small world! A delightful couple who make sure we are sheltered from the scorching wind and have a hot shower in the most superb ablution block that we have seen so far. What a wonderful find and we are the only people here! There are swarms of dragonflies that we are told appear when ever the wind arrives. Apparently it has not rained properly here since March and the roots of the trees have been creeping their way into the drainage system of the house and ablution block, to find water. We stay an extra day to catch up on jobs and have a walk along the beach. Mosquitoes still a problem .
4th – 6th December Another check point shortly after leaving Las Grutas but only for meat. A hound dog sniffs around our vehicle, all OK and we are waved on. At the next dry and dusty little town of Sierra Grande, we make our first visit to a local carniceria (butcher) and have fun using our bit of Spanish selecting some meat, 2 slices of bife bola de loma…..looks good. We were told by the guy at the check point, that if we can prove that our meat was bought locally, then we will be allowed to keep it, so we keep our receipt safe!
We are now travelling south on Ruta 3. The vast skies are an incredibly clean and clear looking pale blue. The scenery may continue to be desolate but the skies certainly are not. We now enter the Chubut province where petroleum and mining are largely responsible for its prosperity. We take Ruta 2 for Puerto Piramides, the only village on the famous Peninsula Valdes and UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the rugged coastline and steppe type vegetation have created a haven for wildlife.
The Istmo Ameghino visitor centre near the entrance to the park, provides interesting information about the history, flora and fauna of the Peninsula and is well worth a visit. We glimpse views of the Golfo San Jose on our left and Golfo Nuevo on our right, both a startling, deep and beautiful blue. Southern Right Whales migrate annually to these mating and calving waters, between June and December and we are hoping that there will still be a few mothers around, waiting until their babies are big and strong enough before leaving for the ocean. The Orca whale can also be seen on the Peninsula between March and April, when they lunge on to the shore to snatch up sea lion pups. The Peninsular is also home to large populations of sea lions and elephant seals, the latter having now left for the open seas.
Puerto Piramides, although small, has everything including a campsite with many French camper vans and some Germans with their huge unimogs but no Brits. It is the only place on the Peninsula where boat trips can be taken to watch the whales.
5th – 6th December – If you hit the weather right on this Peninsular, you will be rewarded with incredible views, colours and wildlife. There are 4 main sand and gravel tracks which cover a large area of this vast Peninsula which extends over an area of approx. 4000 square km, much of which is owned privately by huge estancias. Punta Pardelas with beautiful views across the Golfo Nuevo was our first stop. Sea a deep blue and turquoise, so clean and clear, masses of fossilised shells underfoot.
Grey gravel roads for Punta Delgada, like Namibia with the same clouds of dust. The most amazing, huge skies patterned with clouds. The flora and fauna here has adapted to the arid climate conditions, the scarce rainfall and the strong winds. The scrubby vegetation, not only helps to stabilise the ground but also provides shelter and food for animals. There are several types of reptiles, birds and mammals. We saw Mara, a mother and baby, both sitting motionless not far from the road, many guanaco, a member of the camel family and rhea or choique in the distance.
At Caleta Valdes we were thrilled to see Orca whales patrolling the waters edge and sea lions laying on the beach close to the surf.
The clouds had begun to gather when we went out in ‘The Southern Spirit’ to watch whales but it wasn’t long before we were amongst some mothers and babies. A great trip!
Great to meet Axel, Nicole and Benedikt from Germany who were whale watching on the same boat and who were staying on an estancia at Punta Norte on the Peninsula. Many thanks for your interesting chat and hope you all enjoyed the rest of your holiday.
7th December – After leaving the Peninsular we take the gravel and sand track toward Puerto Madryn via the beautiful beaches and cliff tops. We see more sea lions and whales out at sea. We find shelter from the wind behind tall bushes and camp the night on the beach.
WE WOULD LIKE TO WISH ALL OUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR.
8th – 9th December – Welsh settlers who arrived in the Chubit Valley in the 1800s, founded several towns and colonies that still bear their Welsh names such as Dolavon and Trelew, the latter appearing to be wind blown, dusty and not an attractive place to look for somewhere to stay. A short distance west on Ruta 25 however, brought us to a green oasis – the Welsh town of Gaiman, famous for its Welsh tea houses and situated in the Chubut Valley. It was full of tree lined streets, houses with gardens full of flowers and green farm fields full of lettuces, onions, beans, alfalfa and other crops. It was a paradise after miles of desolate steppe. Camping Bombero Voluntaries was right next to the local fire station (bombero) and also run voluntarily by the firemen! It was situated alongside the Chubut River and right opposite the tea house where Princess Diana had a Welsh tea in 1995. Being the weekend, many families came here to enjoy a barbecue, including a great group of scouts (mostly girls) with their team leader. They insisted on sharing choripan with us (bread with a tasty barbecued sausage) and then gave me one of their embroidered scarf clips.
Two loaded cyclists also arrive, Juan Fran from Spain with Agata from Poland having been really struggling with the gravel tracks, strong wind and mosquitoes.
A little later Alberto from Italy joins us, also well loaded with his back pack, having hitch hiked from Buenos Aires. A busy day talking with so many people. The deafening siren goes off a second night at the station and the fire engine takes to the road once more. We really are not sure if it is a nightly practise or the real thing!
10th December – Juan and Agata leave this morning heading west to Chile to try and avoid the Patagonian winds down the rest of the Argentinian east coast. Good luck with your journey! We take Alberto with us to visit Bryn Gwyn Palaeontological Park, 10 km south of town. There we follow a trail that guides us through a tour of the geology that represents 40 million years of geological change, from when the area was a vast savannah similar to that of Africa. This is definitely a ‘must do’ as the views are amazing, the skies huge and the desert landscape stunning.
Fossils and remains of crabs, seals, dolphins, penguins and other now extinct species, have been discovered in this park.
The walk ends by climbing a hill that incredibly was once the sea bed and is now covered in fossilised oyster beds.
There is a wonderful panoramic view from here looking across to the incredibly green Chubut valley, a green strip of land between desert landscapes.
11th December – The wind is hot and strong and today we are visiting Punta Tombo on the coast where there is said to be the largest nesting colony of Magellanic penguins in South America and December is the time when the chicks are starting to hatch. Their nesting burrows go as far as the beach and then stretch a long way inland amongst the shrubby vegetation, that has adapted as always to the desert conditions and ever present wind. The penguins had the right of way and just seemed to pose for all the photographs!
Heading south again and no idea where we will camp for the night as all land still fenced off. Huge black clouds in the distance bring heavy rain which will settle the dust and give Moby a bath. We finally find a garage on this wind blasted road at Garayalde where we can park at the back with buildings on 2 sides to shield us. We ask permission to park and again ‘no problem’ what would we do without these garage stops!
12th December – The wind is really vicious and very cold this morning, so hot drinks inside the garage cafe are very welcome. The landscape continues to be a sea of grey/green scrub to the horizon with not a tree in sight. Can’t imagine what it must be like to live on these remote estancias in such a flat and windswept environment. The huge skies however, continue to be beautiful. Soon after Comodoro Rivadavia, the largest town on the Patagonian coast where its inhabitants live almost exclusively off the oil and petrochemicals industries, hills suddenly appear creating shallow valleys and we catch a glimpse of the sea, so it is now a very different and more interesting type of desert landscape.
We are now in the Santa Cruz Province, the second largest province in Argentina but with the lowest population density. Sheep are the most numerous residents here on the large estancias of dry grassland, semi-desert areas, high tablelands and sheltered valleys. Ruta 3 brings us next to Caleta Olivia but what a GRIM town! Piles of rubbish everywhere, graffiti on every available wall, litter and plastic, unfinished buildings and groups of stray dogs everywhere, the Alsatian breed appearing to be dominant. The centre of this town has an enormous statue to do with the petrochemical industry, the only interesting thing. Unfortunately there is a demonstration in front of it which results in a deviation and we waste much time trying to find our way around the dirt tracks in the outskirts of the town, where it looks as if somebody has decorated every bush and scrubby plant with plastic. The rain squalls turn into torrential rain once we are back on Ruta 3 and lightning lights up the sky. We decide to keep driving to our next planned destination,,,,,the Reserva Natural Bosques Petrificados where we know there is camping on an estancia and an interesting Reserve to visit. A gravel track takes us the 25km to Estancia La Paloma amongst some hills, light is fading and it has been a long day with a lot of driving. There is a beautiful sunset however, the pink and yellow light from the sun trying to force its way through heavy rain clouds as if painted on wet, watercolour paper.
13th December – The young guy at the estancia tells us this morning that he is leaving for Comodoro Rivadavia in his truck and will be away for 3 days, so we are left with his lovely black and white dog and a little grey cat for company, both of which, we discover, have been left big tubs of dry food, so presume they are used to him suddenly disappearing.
The Reserva Natural Bosques Petrificados was another 25km down the gravel road from the estancia and what a stunning wilderness we discover. Who could possibly have believed that this could be only 50km from that bleak and desolate Ruta 3! The black and jagged shape of Volcan Madre Ehija could be seen clearly in the distance but the colours and shapes of the surrounding hills are spectacular.
In the Jurassic period, even before the Andes rose in the west, this area was a humid, coniferous forest region. After volcanic eruptions flattened the forests and buried them under ash approx. 150 million years ago, water and wind have gradually uncovered the now, petrified trunks. The size and colour of some of these trees is amazing!
This is not a place to be missed and certainly a highlight in our trip!
Back to La Paloma and we are greeted with a waggy tail dog. We have lunch and then climb the hills behind the estancia, with the dog racing after us and enjoying our company. The stones on the ground are amazing…..such colours, and the views remind me of Dogon country in Mali, when we climbed to the top of the escarpment and looked out to the savannah stretching for miles, with the odd track visible amongst the wilderness. La Paloma was also set amongst this remoteness and stillness and quiet. Tonight we don’t even have electricity and the stars are spectacular!
14th – 15th December – In 10 days time it will be Xmas Eve……I wonder where we will be? We give the dog a final hug before leaving once more for Ruta 3, I think he knew we were going but his owner should be back today.
We reach the coast again at Puerto San Julian situated in a bay facing Gibbet Point, where both Magellan and Drake are said to have executed mutinous crew members! Still approx. 370km to Rio Gallegos however, the last town on Argentina’s mainland Atlantic coast. It is bleak, cold, windy and wet and we are disappointed to find that the Monte Leon Park on the coast has decided to close because of very muddy tracks due to the heavy rain and so we are not going to be able to have another night in the beautiful wilds.
And so the next day, back on Ruta 3 and heading for Rio Gallegos, we have some rain and some sun. Such beautiful vast skies still that interpret the weather in front for us, as we continue to follow flat pampas, dotted with sheep and herds of guanaco. When the sun illuminates the silvery, yellow grassland, it looks beautiful but when the rain clouds hover it appears grey and uninteresting. This huge space, continually around us above and below, is really beginning to catch on. The only down side is that one can never explore either to the right or to the left, as all this land has been fenced the whole way down, private property belonging to the remote estancias, most of which you never see, as they are often at the ends of remote tracks that stretch away to the horizon. Our visit to the Petrified Reserve however, has unlocked the secrets that can lay behind these vast, flat landscapes and reveal magic! We certainly prefer the grassland steppe with its shades of yellow and pale green, to the grey scrub.
And so after stopping for fuel at Rio Gallegos, with its big river of the same name, we head for the Argentinian border, where the stamping of many papers is once again a very serious business. To be able to cross into Tierra del Fuego on the Argentinian side, we first have to enter Chile for a short ferry crossing over the Strait of Magellan. As this only requires a very short stay in Chile before returning into Argentina, I will keep it within our Argentinian diary. The ferry will take us over the narrowest part of the Magellan Straits.
When we disembark, we are staggered by the queue of vehicles waiting to return to Argentina. It was at least 3km long. We think they may be waiting all night…..how terrible! But now we have to find somewhere for the night and in the small town of Cerro Sombrero we find a Hostel that kindly allows us to stay in their parking area. It is 10 p.m. and still broad daylight and the wind has finally dropped.
16th December – Now travelling down the main Isla Grande in Tierra del Fuego, its archipelago separated from Patagonia by the Magellan Strait which we have just crossed. Known as ‘Land of Fire’, about two thirds belong to Chile and the remaining part to Argentina. The paved road soon changes to a very rough and corrugated gravel road with many pot holes and it looks as if this will take us the 120km to San Sebastian, where once again we will cross back into the Argentinian side of Tierra del Fuego and then head down to Ushuaia. The scenery on this route however, is very beautiful…..rounded, green hills unfolding from one another, wide valleys and streams, a big sheep farming area and we see many lambs. Instead of warning signs for guanaco, there are now signs to watch for foxes and it was not long before we saw a grey one at the side of the road.
Having completed our short trip in Chile and crossed the borders back into Argentina, we arrive in Rio Grande for diesel and discover a local chess club having a competition in the garage cafe!
Back on Ruta 3 with a very ominous looking sky and we find a place to stop for the night at camping Norte amongst a forest of Lenga trees, one of which is decorated for Christmas. There are a number of other local people here and smoke is rising between the trees from their barbecues. Bill gets the kelly kettle going for hot water. Don’t know what we would do without this marvellous piece of equipment and it has created a lot of interest. We use all our unwanted paper and collect dry wood to start the fire in the container under the kettle and so it is also very environmentally friendly. No sooner do we arrive however, than down comes the rain, torrential rain and bitterly cold, although we are fairly sheltered amongst the trees. Feel really sorry for the locals who were about to cook their steaks and sleep in tents! Impossible on a night like this – definitely not camping weather but thank goodness we can now live inside Moby.
17th December – We discover we are the only people left here this morning which is not surprising after all the rain that we had last night. Back on Ruta 3, Ushuaia still 150km and we suddenly see snow capped mountains on the skyline. we pass beautiful Lago Fagnano surrounded also by mountains and soon they are all around us, water cascading down the gullies, rivers in the valleys and forested slopes….very exciting to see such a change in scenery!
And so we arrive in Ushuaia surrounded by mountains, capital of Tierra del Fuego and the worlds southernmost city, where the average summer temperature is barely 10 degrees but we can enjoy almost 18 hours of daylight! There is a large port with big cruise ships in the harbour, some interesting shops in the main street of Saint Martin, many catering for climbers and hikers and having a good range of warm clothing, boots and accessories, many restaurants and cafes and the displays of Ushuaia’s famous chocolates look delicious!
We decide to drive into the Tierra del Fuego National Park so that we are there for trekking in the morning. We camp on the western side with a few more overlanders, with views of mountains, lakes and rivers. We meet Joop and Adriana from Holland in their massive Daf vehicle and share stories. The sun is out until late and turns the snow-capped mountains a rosy orange.
18th December – Cold but bright and we spend the day walking around trails amongst rivers, lakes and mountains. This park was created in 1960 to protect 63,000 ha. of the southern tip of the Andes and it holds the distinction of being the worlds southernmost national park. Eras of glaciation have created a beautiful and wild landscape of mountain chains and deep valleys, with lakes, rivers, peat bogs and forest.
Two Upland geese, male and female, guard their nest on the ground not far from our camping place and a Fuegan red fox wanders about close by looking for food. The beaver’s dams were interesting to see, although large ripples in the water were all that we saw of the beavers themselves.
The track in the park ends at Lapataia, 3063km from Buenos Aires via Ruta 3 and 1000km from Antarctica!
We drive down to the pier in the evening to look out across the Beagle Channel and meet up again with Alberto.
19th – 20th December – We take Alberto with us today back to Ushuaia to stay at Camping La Pista del Andino for two nights. Hot showers and a warm communal sitting area with WI FI and a coffee and hot chocolate machine, were very welcome. Many more overlanders there and we park amongst them, Moby dwarfed by the sheer size of some of their trucks but still creating a lot of interest. We indulge ourselves to an amazing lunch at Bodegon Fueguino Restaurant, one of Ushuaias many historic, wooden houses. This one was originally built in 1896 and today their speciality is succulent roast lamb served with a choice of sauce. It has a warm and cosy, rustic interior and we sit on sheepskin draped benches. The meal is delicious, washed down with a half bottle of Argentinian Chardonnay……what a treat! It is pouring with rain and bitterly cold outside, the mountains completely covered in low cloud.
21st December – We were very cold during last night which is not surprising, as when we leave Ushuaia, we discover there has been a heavy fall of snow. The tops of the mountains have a thick layer and the snow plough has already been out on the roads clearing the snow to the sides. Still sleeting and we have the heater on full blast!
The sun is out however as we return to Rio Grande and not quite so cold. The first garage we try for fuel has run out and we queue along the road at the next. We can’t complain, as this is the first time we have had to do this. We arrive back at the border at San Sebastian, where there is a very long wait in a very long queue of people snaking outside the building before we can get stamped out of Argentina.
And so we return into Chile where we only lose a lemon and some garlic, as we had tucked into the last of our oranges and bananas before reaching the border. Because we will be staying in Chile for a while now to begin heading north through the Andes, we invite you to continue reading about our trip under Chile. We are also hoping for some warmer weather!
27th December – Leaving Chile and its spectacular Torres del Paine Park today to return into Argentina in order to visit Los Glaciares Nacional Parque and the Perito Mereno Glacier. This massive ice field is the third largest ice mass after Antarctica and Greenland and much of it is covered in glaciers. It would be really nice if we could be there for New year.
The small border posts for both countries are a very simple procedure this time and nobody even came out to check for meat and fruit. Once in Argentina again, we take the famous Ruta 40 for the first time, through the soft yellows and greens of rolling hills and cattle country once more. We arrive in El Calafate, named after the calafate bush which apparently has delicious purple berries. The town is situated on Lago Argentino which freezes over in the winter allowing ice skating, plus many other different winter sports. Camping El Ovejero, with many other travellers,is expensive at 125 peso each but it is the summer high season and this town is a big tourist attraction, being a base for visiting Los Glaciares Park.
28th December – The Perito Mereno Glacier is in the southern part of Los Glaciares. The sheer size of this awesome, white giant, is quite unexpected, 35km long, a 5km frontage and rising 60m above the water. Although it moves at a rate of 1.5 – 2m per day, the front of the glacier breaks off at an equal rate, so that the glacier remains more or less at the same location. The creaks, the groans, the rumbles and the occasional resounding roar as chunks of ice break away and plunge into the water of the lake below it, is incredible. The 4km of walkways have been planned really well to give excellent viewing of different parts of the glacier wall and as the sun came out, vivid blue ice appeared between the jagged cracks and crevasses. As we climb higher on the walkway, it is possible to see the top of the glacier, curving away into the distance between snow covered mountains. The following photos help to say it all about this jaw-dropping experience! There are more photos of this glacier on ‘Argentina – Photos’.
We return to Calafate to enjoy a wander along the main shopping drag, full of many quality shops such as Timberland, Lacoste, Columbia etc. plus the most luxurious chocolate and ice cream shops with every flavour possible, including calafate. The restaurants appear quite classy too but a quick look at the menus outside, show meals to be quite pricey. We meet Neil and Julie Bird from Doncaster in the UK, with their black Land Rover ‘Matilda’.They are the first driving over landers that we have met from the UK, although plenty of Germans, Dutch, Swiss and French. We have an interesting chat and am sure we will meet up again as we are both heading in the same direction.
29th December – Leaving Calafate today for the northern part of Los Glaciares where the sky-puncturing peaks of Fitz Roy – 3405m and Cerro Torre 3102m offer some very challenging and technical climbing for experienced mountaineers. We are lucky to see the above mountains clearly today and the blue sky colours both Lake Argentino and Lake Viedma, a beautiful turquoise. All water in this park is said to be drinkable.
The little town of El Chalten inside the boundary of the park, has an excellent tourist office that gives lots of advice on trails, flora and fauna and even what to do if you come face to face with a puma! The track through the whole park however, is terrible with corrugations, stones and clouds of dust, plus a very strong wind and a whining noise from Moby’s engine, all beginning to take a toll! We want to find a nice campsite for the New Year and have time to investigate the engine noise. We finally discover Camping Bonanza run by two young and very enthusiastic owners with two lovely puppies. A rustic but cosy little place with some other over landers, including Neil and Julie, Dutchies Joop and Adriana with their massive truck and some Swiss people that we had met in the campsite in Calafate.
30th December – A drastic change in the weather, bitterly cold with a strong, biting wind and rain, just awful and almost too cold and wet to do anything. The mountains are completely hidden under low mist and cloud. This evening the showers that were promised to be hot, were barely warm….another shock to the system!
31st December – After one bad day there is nearly always a good one and today couldn’t be more different, with blue sky and sunshine, revealing beautiful views from our camping place and creating a real lift to everyone’s spirits!
Bill is now able to investigate the engine noise. He suspects the alternator and fortunately is able to change it as we have brought a replacement with us. We hold our breath and the engine purrs…..well not quite, Land Rover engines never purr but it is great to know that all is well again! Very annoying though, as Bill fitted a new one before we left and already one of the back bearings in it has let us down. The brushes are not even worn, so it should have lasted a lot longer, especially as it was a genuine part.
We can relax now and have an enjoyable evening with Neil and Julie and Joop and Adriana around the barbecue.
A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR to all our family and friends. If we could have one wish, it would be to have our family out here to also experience some of these spectacular places that we have been to so far on our journey!
1st January 2013 – After studying the maps, Bill, Neil and Thomas (the Swiss guy) have decided over a bottle of wine last night , that we should all try to find a pass over the mountains into Chile to begin our journey through Chile’s Lake District, at Villa O’Higgins. Thomas also has some information from German cyclists that were successful but we have not yet heard of vehicles doing this, as the route will depend on whether we will be able to drive through some rivers. I have my doubts however, as according to our map, the track stops some distance short of both border posts. However, if we can make it. it should be a very remote and interesting journey and very nice to begin this famous route – the Carretera Austral, right at the start of the southern end.
And so we all leave Los Glaciares with a cloudless blue sky and take Ruta 40, a very rough dirt road at this stage, through real cowboy country, remote and wild, with occasional glimpses to the west of the snow-capped Andean chain of mountains. We pass the sparkling turquoise jewel of Lago Cardial and are treated to two, short stretches of smooth tarmac from a new construction, before reaching the small town of Gobernador Gregoris, an amazing, green oasis in a wide valley along the fast flowing Rio Chico. We all find a place to camp for the night by the edge of the river.
2nd January – As we leave the green of Gregoris behind, we are back amongst the rugged, desert landscape, guanaco and rhea running from the sides of the road as we pass. Guanaco nimbly leap the fence like graceful antelope, whereas the rhea squeeze though the wire strands, pushing their heads and long necks though first. The tar road unfortunately does not last long and we stay well behind the other vehicles to avoid the dust clouds.
We stop to take a photo of a huge, old wagon cart on the top of an escarpment and what a surprise when we walk to the edge. Far below, an estancia is hidden amongst a green oasis, dotted with blue areas of water and many trees….what a paradise! We can see cattle and hear many birds.
Back on tarmac and a line of 6 motorbikes pass us going in the opposite direction. I love seeing these guys with their loaded bikes, also enjoying the freedom of this huge country, they nearly always wave, like these guys one after the other and one stands up on his pedals. They are very often, we discover, ‘boys from Brazil’!
We pull in at a Road Maintenance stop and fortunately Thomas speaks Spanish and enquires about the road and pass ahead. The guy there informs us that the rivers are very low at the moment and with our vehicles, there should be no problem to cross. Sounds promising and looks as if this passage into Chile could be possible after all! We finally turn off Ruta 40 and take a stony track – Ruta 35 and with some amazing skyscapes!
At Alma Gaucha, according to our map, the track finishes. We reach a pair of white gates, the land ahead belonging to estancia Entre Rio but we will ask permission to go through it. This lush valley is really beautiful, another real secret hidden away amongst rugged hills, snow-capped mountains, forests, rivers and so much wildlife. We see many large hares and a fox, a variety of water birds, baby ducklings in the marshland waterways and disturb a flock of Upland geese. Horses, cattle and sheep are everywhere, what a wonderful place but very harsh in the winter. Much colder here even now.
We come to our first river and I wade across carefully with Thomas’ girlfriend, their dog swimming behind us. We both carry a strong stick to check for depth and of course the cameras, as this crossing has to be filmed! However the water is only just over our knees and this poses no problems for all 3 vehicles.
We meet two gauchos on horseback with their cattle and dogs and once again Thomas’ Spanish comes in useful asking advice and permission to cross their land. However, not such good news this time. After a week of rain, they do not think that the last river will be possible to cross but they suggest we check at the Argentinian border post, still a few km. ahead.
The young gendarmes at this remote border post – Paso Rio Mayer Ribera Norte, are all very casually dressed and really helpful. However, they agree with the gauchos, that the last section of river at present, is too deep to cross, being at least 11/2 – 2 m deep and flowing very fast. They offer to take us to see the river in their battered unimog and everyone except Julie, piles in the open truck at the back, whilst I am offered the front seat in the cab! There is no proper track now from here to the river, approx. 5 km, but these guys have obviously driven to it many times and know how to pick their way through the Lenga forests, deep ruts, ford small rivers and slowly make their way up and down a couple of very steep hills. It was a slow process and we are all shaken, jolted and rolled around, although probably everyone in the back has the worst journey and white knuckles, trying to keep upright! The old unimog looked as if it was on its last legs inside as well as out, but it tackled everything that was thrown at it slowly and steadily and the good looking Argentinian gendarme next to me, certainly knew how to drive it through this testing terrain.
We eventually arrive at the river in a wide valley. The shallower parts between gravel banks could certainly have been crossed but when we arrive at the last stretch, it was obvious how dangerous this would be to try and cross. A narrow, wooden plank bridge is suspended over the river here. Cyclists have managed to make this crossing by unpacking everything, taking over their bikes first and returning for all their luggage. There is even a note pinned to the bridge from the two German cyclists who had achieved this! However, very frustrating for us after tackling this route and then finding we are unable to cross the very last river – 2km beyond being Chile.
On our slow return journey back to the Argentinian border post, the guys took us to a hidden waterfall. We investigated some unusual bird cries and they showed us two nests on rocky ledges, one each side of the falls. The mothers were probably making their warning cries because of our arrival, as tucked underneath their legs, were furry grey babies.
Back at the border post, a photo session follows, with the young gendarmes, the driver holding a lovely black cat that had suddenly appeared from their hut.
I think they were quite disappointed to see us all go, as I can’t imagine many people arrive here. We have had a great time with them all and can’t thank them enough for the ‘outing’ in their unimog, which I was told later, had no brakes! We of course have to return and decide to camp on the other side of the river that we all crossed, just in case more rain somewhere could suddenly make it deeper. The wind is very fierce by now, so Bill and I have to find our own camping spot in the shelter of a hill and trees, otherwise we would not have been able to put up our roof tent.
4th January – We have the river on the other side of the track and a beautiful view and we enjoy our surroundings whist waiting for the others to reach our camping place. We all retrace our tracks back to where we had left Ruta 40 and head north again to Bajo Caracoles where we fill up with fuel at an inflated price – but we are in the middle of nowhere, and meet another German traveller with a Land Rover 200 Tdi and enjoy a chat.
We are now going to take Ruta 41 that should take us to another small border post into Chile a bit further north – the Paso Reballio. Some of the mountains on this remote route are spectacular, with a range of beautiful colours, in fact the young gendarme at the Argentinian border post has a picture postcard window!
Another 14 km and we arrive at the small border post for Chile. No problem with our papers and the gendarme comes out to open the barrier for us. He opens it, stares at our vehicle and then closes it again and tells us to wait a minute. We think it a bit unusual but guess he has to check on something but then he returns with the bombshell – we are not allowed into Chile with a vehicle that has the steering wheel on the right hand side! We are dumbfounded but think he must have made some mistake as we show him our route taken on our map which has already involved entering Chile 3 – 4 times and the stamps in our passport to prove it. But no, he is adamant that this is the rule and the boss also comes out to confirm it. Our documents are screwed up and binned and in fact he has turned quite sour, turning his back and walking away. He is obviously not going to change his mind and also turns Neil and Julie away when they arrive. Our Swiss friends with their VW Dormobile, conform to the regulations of course, and so we say goodbye to them as they drive through. We return to the office to ask for our ‘salida’ stamp in our passport as this is necessary once you have been stamped into a country to prove that you have also left it, but he refuses to give us this and just scribbles something on the ‘entrada’ stamp. We hope this does not give us problems later. And so the four of us leave, Neil adamant that tomorrow he will be phoning the British Embassy in Santiago in Chile, to find out if this rule is in fact correct. Neither of us have heard about it during our planning of this trip, have never seen it mentioned in books or on the internet or from other travellers websites or blogs.
However, there is always a plus side to all of this as Bill and I decide to take the mountain route on our way back that hugs the border with Chile and very glad we did. I think the photos show the fantastic scenery that we passed through, as well as an interesting sheep estancia.
4th January – The whole of this remote route has been a real highlight until we finally arrive at the blue expanse of Lago Buenos Aires, the second biggest lake in South America after Lake Titicaca and then the small, oasis-like town of Los Antiguos situated on the banks of this huge lake and sheltered from the winds in the lee of the Andes. Bags of delicious, black cherries for sale from the nearby cherry farms were the main attraction for us however, but we were just too early for the Fiesta Nacional de la Cereza (cherry festival, including a rodeo) which would have been fun but fills the small town fit to bursting!
5th January – We say goodbye to Neil and Julie also camping last night in Los Antiguos. The British Embassy in Santiago returned their call with the news that in fact it is quite correct that Chile can and should refuse entry to right hand drive vehicles but it is obvious that this is not always adhered to and we were unfortunate enough to meet one gendarme who was going to stick to the rules. For us we have decided, this is no problem for now, as Argentina has so much to offer. However, Neil and Julie want to be in Santiago for the finish of the Dakar Rally and we are to hear later from them that they were able to cross into Chile a bit further north without any problems!! Enjoy the Rally and the rest of your journey.
We head north to Esquel through a very bleak and monotonous landscape on a terrible stony and rough road with a ferocious wind. One poor cyclist has set up his tent at the roadside, his bicycle laying there and he has obviously given up. Don’t know how he could have kept upright, as the wind would have been blasting him sideways on. Rio Mayer is hidden away at the bottom of a sudden ravine, grim and dismal with windblown rubbish decorating the fences. Esquel still just over 400km and nothing to stop for between here and there, apart from checking our directions with the guy in the sentry box at the army garrison. However, this guy was obviously not allowed to speak or even move an eyeball in our direction but could blow a whistle, to which another guy came marching out of a hut with a big machine-type gun to see what we wanted. After throwing an arm out in front of him and then waving it around, we guess we are on the right track……or perhaps he was telling us to hurry up and go! The road is completely fenced each side as usual and no shelter anywhere to get out of this cold wind for the night , so we continue to Esquel where we arrive in the dark and rain after 618km. Not the best way to travel but it happens sometimes and we are fortunate in finding a campsite at the beginning of town where we could still get a hot drink and hamburgers!
6th – 8th January – It was cold enough last night for the nearby mountains to have had a fresh fall of snow. A little bit disappointed by Rough Guide’s description of Esquel being a Wild West town with gauchos riding through, as although it was a nice town, it certainly didn’t appear to be something out of cowboy country and we didn’t see one gaucho on horseback….perhaps we hit the wrong days! We do however, have an excellent evening meal at resaurant La Barra. We are the first ones through the door but by the time we leave, there is not one table empty and people are queuing for places…….a very popular restaurant!
We leave Esquel for the Alerces Nacional Parque, passing through Trevelin in a beautiful green valley.
This town was founded during the period of Welsh immigration to the Chubut Province and reminded us very much of Gaiman on the east coast, as once again it was full of Welsh tea shops.
We arrive at the Alerces Park in another ferocious and cold wind and find camping at Bahia Rosales, a really large and very nice campsite next to Lago Futalaufquen. The lake however, is like a rough, open sea with waves being blown in a white mist.
We are awake for most of the night waiting for the moments when the wind gathered momentum with a roar, ripping through a gap between the mountains, across the lake and through any gaps in the trees. Quite worrying at times and the Land Rover and roof tent rocked, but we had tucked ourselves away amongst trees and bushes and so we make it through the night! Such a change in the weather the following day and we take a steep climb with views of the lake, to a waterfall, lots of bamboo growing wild amongst a huge variety of trees and shrubs.
9th January – A beautiful day, bright blue sky, a few clouds and we are back in shorts and T-shirts. We drive to the centre of this Park to take a number of hiking trails beginning with crossing a swaying suspension bridge over the Rio Arrayanes, where fishermen were fly fishing in crystal clear waters.
The trail took us beside Lago Menendez, as far as the view point for the Glacier Torrecill…….
and then returned via Lago Verde.
Such fabulous scenery, the lakes and rivers a brilliant blue, forested hillsides and snow clad peaks. We see the beautiful Arrayan trees with their unusual bright orange bark…..
and an Alerce tree, a baby at approx. 300 years.
This park is famous for its ancient Alerce trees, one of the oldest living trees on the planet, with some surviving as long as 3000years. A boat trip to the north of the park will take you to see ‘Abuelo’ – the Grandfather, an Alerce standing at 57m and estimated to be approx. 2600 years old.
Our second campsite in this very beautiful and relaxing Park, is at Bahia Solis at the beginning of Lago Rivadavia.
Moby has many admirers here including the very nice young Argentinian guy from reception who comes over to practise his English. He is studying to be a lawyer and will make a very good one I should think.
10th January – We leave the Alerces Parque today following Lago Rivadaia flanked by forested mountains, snow on their peaks. We both think that this is one of the most beautiful parks we have visited so far along with the Torres del Paine in Chile. Now the wide green valley between the mountains goes all the way to Cholila where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid took refuge between 1901 and 1905. They bought land and built a farmstead and tried to make an honest living, before having to flee after being falsely accused of a bank robbery. Cholila again, doesn’t seem to match up to my book description of ‘a dusty little town’ with its leafy green park area and flower-filled beds along the main street. The fields just outside of town were filled with lupins, wild flowers and cattle and surrounded by snow capped mountains.
We visit El Maiten where the hills are more rugged and bare and where we had been told there were old trains. A fascinating place, plus a graveyard for many old trains.
But what luck, the old steam train that travels between El Maiten and Esquel, is in the station preparing for its journey and we spent a very interesting time there. I particularly thought of my cousin Michael when taking these photos as I know he loves old steam engines.
We return to Ruta 40 heading north for El Bolson where the scenery could belong somewhere in the Alps. And so on to San Carlos de Bariloche, now in the Rio Negro Province, where perhaps the Alpine scenery of mountains and valleys explains why so many of the first settlers here were from Italy and Switzerland. Difficult to adjust however to such a sprawling town, the huge suburbs of which, look very poor. We are not impressed. After some necessary food shopping, we leave on Ruta 231 to Villa La Angostura. We discover a campsite en route and stop as it is nearly 9 p. m. and been a long and very hot day, temperatures in the 30s. We are right by the edge of Lago Nahuel Huapi, with a beautiful sunset at the end of our day.
11th January – We pass through Villa La Angostura situated in the far south of the Neuquen Province, also on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi. Every building in the main street of this small but sophisticated and immaculate looking town, is built in an Alpine style using huge timbers and rock from the surrounding landscape. Ruta de los Siete Lagos (7 Lakes Route) winds for 110km between this town and San Martin de los Andes, taking in the lake scenery of two magnificent Patagonian Nat. Parks – Nahuel Huapi and The Lanin. Today however, the northern unmade track is a dust bowl from vehicles in front of us or from those passing and road works are in progress making it worse. We close the windows and this is one of those times when it would be nice to have air conditioning! We were very happy therefore, to reach camping literally at the edge of the lapping waters of Lago Falkner, with a wonderful view right in front of us. A wooden table, seating and a barbecue for our chicken are there for our use.
We meet Daniel and Jessica chilling out from a hectic life in Buenos Aires. We hope you enjoy the rest of your holiday – keep up the guitar playing Daniel! Moby continues to create a lot of attention, few people walk by without stopping to admire him, take a photo or stand by him for a photo, women as well as men! They seem fascinated by the lift-up roof. Many Argentinians it seems, would love to own a Land Rover but the cost of spare parts and repairs makes it an impractical vehicle.
12th – 17th January – Love and best wishes Debbie for a very happy birthday on the 13th!
We drive into San Martin de los Andes on the shores of Lago Lacar in a peaceful valley between forested mountains, buildings built once again from local timber and rock. We could have been in a European alpine town with its chocolate shops, pastry cafes, upscale restaurants, boutique shops and a Plaza full of trees and beds of rose bushes. There is even a red London bus parked in the main street to take people on tours. It wasn’t long before we were tucking into coffees and slabs of chocolate cake, all served on locally made pottery….what a treat!
Our next visit is into The Lanin Nacional Parque, with the now inactive, snow-capped Volcan Lanin at 3776m.
This park borders Chile and the Nahuel Huapi Park that we have just left. Certain trees thrive on the volcanic soils, including the Pehuen (monkey-puzzle tree) sacred to the Mapuche people. These people (Mapu – ‘land’, che – ‘people’) have long been present in the Andean valleys and earn a living by raising cattle, timbering, mushroom gathering and growing fruit, as well as activities related to tourism, such as camping, hiking outings, horse riding and selling handicrafts. We stay at one of the Mapuche run campsites with another beautiful view across Lago Huechulafquen to the rugged mountains on the opposite side.
Our next campsite at the far end of The Lanin Park, must rate as No.1 along with Pehoe Lake in the Torres del Paine in Chile. Camping Mari Mari is a beautiful and relaxing place situated on Lake Paimun, surrounded by mountains and forest. It is really like a huge park land with horses grazing freely and when we ask where to camp, the guy just throws open his arms saying ‘todo’ – ‘everywhere’! We get all our water for washing from the lake, have a new yellow, crescent moon and a sky full of stars…..how lucky we are!
Whilst here we take a walk to a nearby waterfall and an interesting 2hr walk toward the base camp of the volcan, too hot to walk further!
We leave Mari Mari on a dirt road for Junin de los Andes which appears a bit sparse as we first enter, but after wandering round the side roads, we find everything we need, including a carniceria for those excellent Argentinian steaks as Bill is suffering from withdrawal symptoms, a bit like me if I run out of fruit! Last stop is for diesel and water and whilst we stand and fill the latter tank with a dribbly hose, our thermometer quickly reaches 40 degrees.
As we reach the RN 40 signposted for Zapala, the forested areas abruptly finish and the rounded hills are dry with grass bleached a pale yellow. Around another corner and a wide ribbon of water appears – the Rio Collon Cura surrounded by flat-topped, dry hills. This place is full of surprises – how quickly the landscape can change from glacial lakes, mountains and forests!
Our gravel track changes to tarmac to take us all the way to Laguna Blanca, a salt laguna situated at the foot of a now inactive volcano. Estafania, one of the Rangers there, is really helpful with advice and very knowledgeable about the birds of the lake and its environment. She obviously loves her job and staying in such a remote place.
Late afternoon so we camp in the black gravel designated area by the laguna and we are glad of the wall of volcanic rocks for some shelter against the wind. Estafania was right, we do have a beautiful sunset over the laguna this evening.
18th – 19th January – There are flamingoes and two black necked swans in the water early this morning. The Laguna is like glass today with not a breath of wind. A very peaceful place to explore.
Following many recommendations from people as being ‘a magical place’, we take Ruta 13 for Lago Alumine and the surrounding area. A track takes us into the Batea Mahuida Park and to a mirador for views of the hills and lakes – Lago Alumine followed by Lago Moquehue, connected by a short river. A cloudy morning but still a beautiful view between the Monkey Puzzle trees.
From Alumine we take Ruta 23, a dirt road which would also eventually take you to Pino Hachado, a small and remote border crossing with Chile. This area is said to have one of the highest concentration of pure forests of Araucaria trees – also known as Pehuen or Monkey Puzzle trees and sacred to the Mapuche people. This route twists and turns through a very different landscape to anything that we have seen so far. At times it became a desert with hills of yellow and white sand, dotted with the Pehuen trees, their tall, straight trunks ending in a mushroom-shaped dome of dark green, often outlined against the sky, as they seemed to prefer edges of escarpments, sometimes seemingly growing from the rocks themselves.
The valleys, dominated by rugged mountains, rocky outcrops and hills with their soft colours and dark shaded cloud areas, appeared endless and are home to remote Mapuche settlements, their cattle in the high pastures for the summer.
From here, Ruta 26 takes us into Caviahue and then Copahue. Volcan Copahue finally comes into view, its top hidden by a dense cloud of grey – it has been grumbling for a while now, as it does from time to time, but the inhabitants just shrug their shoulders and get on with life.
Copahue had a campsite in what was really a large parking area but the ablution block was really clean with great hot showers. The other Argentinian campers were a very friendly crowd, took more photos of Moby with his roof up and one guy even remembered us from Lago Falkner! Moby seems to be getting famous and Landy Camper (who did our conversion in Germany). should be feeling very proud! Very cold here – we are level with snow on a nearby mountain.
20th January – Only 10 degrees this morning – a bit of a shock after basking in the 30s! We look around Copahue but there is not a lot to see, as this town, which only has residents in the summer months, as it is under snow for most of the rest of the year, depends on the visitors who come for the therapeutic hot springs. There is a very strong smell of sulphur in the air as we walk through the steam between the bubbling grey waters, the temperature of which was about 90 degrees. It wouldn’t do to fall in! Lago Verde however, is pleasantly warm and is where people swim.
We venture inside the big Clinic which appears to be very well organised, in a tranquil setting with calming piped music and we are amazed at the amount of people waiting for an appointment with a doctor, a facial or a massage. Apparently it is necessary to see a doctor about your ailment and he will decide how many days are needed in the thermal waters and for how long each day. As we had not come to Copahue for its thermal waters, but to see the smoking volcano, we decide to head for the town of Chos Malal on Ruta 40 – a dirt, dusty and stony ‘road’ all the way – our Michelin mud tyres are really being tested!
Not far from Copahue however and hidden only 2km away from the main dirt road, there is another surprise. A small canyon and the Cascade del Agrio, the river bed, a bright orange and green.
The long drive to Chos Malal took us once again through a remote and rugged landscape. It is easy to forget once we arrive at this welcoming little town, that the desert landscape is literally at the end of its main street!
21st January – Ruta 43 takes us through the rugged Cordillera de Viento (Mountain Range of the Wind). We pass through the baking little town of Andacollo, the statue and models in the centre, a reminder of its booming mining days before the bust!
The river here has plenty of water but the colour of coffee. The small towns of Las Ovejas and Varvarco follow, the latter being the closest town to Volcan Domuyo at 4709m.
We take a track to Los Bolillos, where the sandy volcanic toba stone has been eroded into amazing abstract formations.
We have the tail end of a storm here, with a little rain and the drop in temperature is very welcome.
Back on the main dirt road, the scenery is stunning around every hairpin bend as we climb higher, passing Canyon de Atreuco and many spectacular rock formations and colours.
We finally reach the thermal springs at just over 2000m and camp in the car park of Villa Aguas Calientes.
22nd January – We follow the thermal springs here amongst the rocky hillsides. The water ranges in temperature from 40 to 95 degrees and is famous for its reputed healing qualities and the blue/green algae that flourishes in the waters.
Leaving here we take more narrow tracks that were probably at one time, no more than cattle trails up to the high pastures.
We visit the bubbling thermals of Las Olletas, the surrounding rocks stained brilliant yellow and orange.
The bubbling springs at Las Tachos, reached by walking a winding path around a steep hill, were even more impressive.
The deep and fast flowing Rio Varvarco is stopping us taking our chosen return route, so we have no alternative but to retrace our journey back through all this stunning scenery and stop once more in Chos Malal.
23rd January – We take to the tar on Ruta 40 for Malargue, the incredible colours in the rocks continuing – a geologist would be in heaven here! At Barrancas we enter another Province – Mandoza, which means we have finally left behind the vastness of Patagonia, a province that has provided us with some fantastic journeys through spectacular landscapes.
Malargue is known for its seed potato, garlic and chivito (young goat) which roam freely on the hills. This combination makes for a tasty cuisine! There is also a very well run campsite here with hot water even in the laundry and washing up rooms, a real luxury and this means I can catch up on some washing!
24th January – We are now in the Western Cuyo region which includes the provinces of Mendoza, San Luis and San Juan. It has world class vineyards and the highest and most magnificent mountains in the Andean Cordillera. The word “cuyum’ means ‘sandy earth’ which is appropriate, as this desert region receives very little rain, mainly between December and February.It is irrigated by snow melt streams from the Andes and we saw many such channels in San Raphael, where we could have been in France with the vineyards and Bodegas.
Mendoza is approx. 420km from Malargue and so it’s going to be a long and hot drive. Although it is an old city, much of Mendoza’s historic architecture has been lost in earthquakes, the most devastating of which was in 1861, when the city was almost completely destroyed and thousands of people were killed. Following information from one of the tourist offices, we drive approx. 8km out of town to a family run campsite – Camping Suiza. Very crowded, so the young guy takes us to the garden of his grandmother’s house, with clay pots full of geraniums, huge, fan-shaped palm trees and so plenty of shade….perfect! These people will do anything to help you! Time for a G & T!
Thunder and lightning all evening, somewhere is having a storm but we seem to be escaping it.
25th – 27th January – Mendoza is full of tree-lined streets, pavement cafes and shady plazas, Plaza Espana being particularly attractive, with its decorative Andalucian tilework and monument to Spain’s discovery of South America.
We must recommend ‘Meschini’ in the Godoy Cruz district. Many thanks to Emiliano in particular, who gives up a lot of his time to see that we are sorted with oil filters and then finds an address of a 4×4 mechanic (Ruiti), who may have a cap hub to replace the one we have lost. This wonderful guy, who used to own Land Rovers for off-roading, has 2 cap hubs and so we celebrate all this, plus finding oil to do an oil change and getting Moby jet washed, by visiting Jumbo Easy. This turned out to not only just having a huge supermarket, a garden centre, big DIY shop and a shopping mall, but a restaurant with a fantastic buffet salad bar as well as hot food…what a treat, all very civilised, we could have been back in the UK and Moby is also sorted!
28th January – We leave Mendoza on Ruta 7, following the brown and fast flowing Rio Mendoza and the former Trans Andean railway into the spectacular Uspallata Valley, where ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ was filmed. All the mountains here are on a massive scale and the most amazing colours. We went through 12 tunnels all hewn from the rock.
We plan to visit the Provincial Parque Aconcagua tomorrow, so we stay the night at Puente del Inca, a short distance from the Park.
Our camping ground is really the piece of land belonging to a young couple with a dear little brown eyed, black haired baby. We are the only people there and they let us use their bathroom at the back of their house. Thunder still rolling around the mountains. Also at Puente del Inca, is the natural stone bridge over the Rio de la Cuevas at 2700m.Beneath this, thermal waters still seep amongst the rocks and ruins of a spa resort that had to be abandoned some time ago, due to a landslide.
29th January – We wake to a sky so blue with not a cloud in sight – what a perfect day to be walking in Parque Aconcagua and have a clear view of Cerro Aconcagua, 6962m – the highest summit in the Americas and also outside the Himalayas. Only 10 peso each to enter this park at Horcones and even from here there are fantastic views.
The mountains are the biggest we have seen yet……giants, in shades of many colours and soaring into the blue above us. Everything is dwarfed amongst them.
We pass Laguna Espejo…………
and have perfect views of Aconcagua’s South Face for the whole of our hike. Great walls of snow and ice to the right and jagged rocks to the left. This Face is apparently, the most difficult to climb.
Our 10 peso allows us as far as the wooden suspension bridge over the Rio Horcones. Treks beyond here can become very expensive but there were a number of hikers with huge backpacks obviously having paid to go further, possibly to the base camp.
We are quite happy with our wonderful views and on the return route, pass Laguna de Horcones at 2700m the water of which, changes from emerald green to a deep, sapphire blue.
We battle against a ferocious wind on the way back and Aconcagua’s summit is now partly obscured by clouds of wind blown snow.
After leaving the Park we drive into Uspallata and camp at the local campsite, nice hot showers but all needs a lot of attention. We meet Hans and Evelin Hermann Ruthe and their son, who was taking time off from his studies. Hans is a mine of information, having driven Camels and G4 Land Rovers through South America for a number of years. After parting with their Ex-Tec converted Land Rover, they now have a Land Rover 130 Camper home……very nice! It was very interesting to listen to Hans’ enthusiastic suggestions and information and we make many notes. Many thanks also for the maps, which will be very useful. We hope you all enjoy the rest of your journey before returning to Germany.
30th – 31st January – It’s going to be another long and very hot day as we head for San Juan on Ruta 40 and then north to San Jose de Jachal. The road here is very straight through a huge, dry valley of desert scrub, lined each side with mountains. An old, disused railway line follows our road and we see our first cactus growing wild with long, black spikes. Apart from the Rio Jachal, all the river beds are dry. There is hardly any traffic, not a settlement in sight and not a lot to see but it is somehow, a relaxing and peaceful road.
Although everywhere looks very dry in this area, as we leave San Jose, it is obvious that there has been heavy rain recently. Sections of the road have been washed away and there are many places on the road where water has washed down earth and stones from higher in the mountains, sometimes leaving the road awash with the red/brown water.
We reach Villa Union in the La Rioja Province, a prime wine growing region, famous for the Spanish Torrontes grape which produces a fruity white wine. We buy a bottle when we stop at the Tourist information, built of mud bricks and with a red earth floor. Besides the bottles of wine it also has many jars of various fruits, olives and olive oil on the shelves. Even the dogs are stained red from the colour of the earth here. We try Liz Grey Camping which turns out to be a fantastic place with such clean ablution blocks, hot showers and tables, benches and barbecues all under cover. It is so hot here now, high 30s and reaching 40, it is a must to be in the shade!
1st February – We plan to visit Laguna Brava after seeing a fantastic picture of it in the tourist office as we arrived at Villa Union. We head north on Ruta 76 to Vinchina and then west for the Laguna. At Jague we are stopped for formalities and our destination by a very nice guy in military dress. When we tell him we are going to Laguna Brava, there is a long conversation on his mobile and mention of a guia (guide). Difficult to understand everything due to the language but it seems it is necessary to have a guide, which does seem strange, as this dirt road to the Laguna, goes eventually to the border with Chile and I’m sure if we had said we were going there, we wouldn’t have had an escort. However, we have no room for a guide in our vehicle, as there are only 2 seats, all the others having been removed for our conversion. Suddenly a Toyota appears with people in it plus a guide to visit the Laguna and I suggest we simply follow them…..problem solved and everyone is happy! We gradually climb higher through the most stunning mountains in a paintbox of colours. We have never seen anything like this before – simply surreal!
The dirt track winds higher with precipitous drops, some rivers dry, others with water across the track. Laguna Brava is at 4300m and what a view…….Cerro Fandango at 5581m, Cerro Bonete at 6872m. All of these mountains further north to the border with Chile are giants, well over 6000m. There’s a cold wind blowing at this altitude but the sky is an almost translucent blue.
The Toyota arrives to remind us that we have a guia -‘a very good guia to take us around the Laguna’. We thank him for his help so far but this trip has been incredible and we want to take our time for more photos on the return journey and don’t really want to get involved with organised guided tours. And so we return slowly seeing many guanaco – no fences here to leap over, only steep mountain slopes or the valleys to escape to, but they appear to be far less timid than those we have encountered before.
I think the photos alone show what a fantastic,remote wilderness this is amongst giants of many colours. It has certainly been a highlight of our journey so far. There are more photos on ‘Argentina – photos’.