Patagonia 2007 in a Chevrolet Corsa (tip: read this as a good medicine if you cannot sleep :-)

Patagonia Travel Blog

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**Trip to the north of the south of South America**

Everything in life has a beginning and a finish, like this story I'm gonna tell you. Some years ago, at least 4, during a chatting with a friend the idea was born, better said, the desire of knowing the Patagonia in Argentina. This friend is César, from San Pedro, close to Colonia del Sacramento. Every time the travelling subject surged, stubbornly Patagonia appeared.
In 2005 the desire became an idea, and the idea shared with two more friends (Malena y Erica) became a project. We spent that year in meetings with good homemade cooking , "trying" to give a real shape to the project. Time, money, dates, they were difficult to agree for 4 persons living in diferent places with diferent ocuppations (a mechanic, a teacher, a museum guide, and a farmer).
Anyway, the genuine interest of all of us to reach the destination helped us to be flexible in dates, time and money to can do the trip. The date would be january 2006. Not far from that date, Malena gave us the news she was going to attend to a course in Spain. This trip would take her time and specially money, discarding her participation in the trip to the south. Since the project was developed among 4 of us, César, Erica and me aggreed to postpone the trip for the future, and instead of that to share with Malena something in our own country during the summer. Everybody happy with the plan change, and thinking about some beach in january, but only 2 days before to leave Erica told us she cannot get time off in her work.
"Well..... we'll do something in Passover", was the consolation. But for that date I was working in a farm in Ireland during 10 weeks. The rest of 2006 was already discarded because work for the 4 of us.
Starts 2007, and on march I got my first brand new car. A Chevrolet Corsa. So I impose myself the goal to reach the south of Argentina anyhow. For laboral reasons Malena and Erica could not take part of the trip, and César was enthusiastic at the beginning, although later got some complications. Insisting on the idea I sought another trip-mates.
Appeared in the list some friends from Switzerland and Ireland, everybody very enthusiastic with the project, but finaly nobody with time to do it. Then I found a website ( about travelling, where I post a note looking for trip-mates. Some days later Andy answered my note, a canadian originaly from Romania, currently working in Phoenix, Arizona. We exchange some info about ourselves and about the trip, and finaly we agree to start at end of november. Closer to the date César told me he was coming too, so since then we were just counting down.

Andy's arriving would be on november 20th to Montevideo. I'd pick him up in Carmelo (156miles from Montevideo) around noon. I was waiting, but he didn't arrive. I became a little worried, when I got his call from El Salvador, telling me he just realized his flight would have one more stop at Lima, arriving next day to Montevideo. He bought the ticket by internet (US$850), and the Lima stop was not in the schedule. Besides de inconvenience, next day he arrived to Carmelo with no problems. Next day (thursday 22nd) we left towards Colonia to pick Cesar up, and to show a little of the city to Andy (Colonia is Humankind Heritage Site). That little took us all the afternoon long, and finaly we departured at night. On the road we decided to stop at my house, and to leave early in the morning. We did it in that way, and at 6:12 friday 23rd we left my place. The odometer was in 13596 km (we'll take this number like the 0 of our trip), and the sky predicted rain. Passing Dolores (56km from my farm) the rain appeared, and it was with us till Entre Ríos.
At 9:10 we were crossing the Gral. Artigas bridge, km 236. The paperwork is very easy, still it's not necessary to get out of the car. We took 14 road , with rain and heavy traffic of trucks towards Concepción del Uruguay. There we took 12 road to Victoria, going through Rosario de Tala. At Nogoyá the main avenue is under construction. Careful with that. Since there the rain stopped, although the sky was heavy cloudy. Victoria and crossing the Paraná river. Huge the work on the Paraná, 59 km of terreplains and 11 bridges. Starting this road an official of Gendarmería (argentinian police) stop us and tell us close to Rosario some fishermen are cutting the traffic, complaining about some ban to fish in the Paraná. We thought we'd lose the lunch waiting us at Dante's place, a friend of mine who lives in San Lorenzo, where we'd do our first stop. I met Dante in 2002 in Minnesota when both of us attended to the MAST program (Minnesota Agriculture Student Trainee).
The toll is before the largest bridge, right before the Paraná, and it costs A$9 (it was the most expensive toll in the whole trip, the rest oscilated between A$0.60 and A$2). Fortunately the fishermen were stopping just the trucks, and Gendarmeria was detouring the cars into Rosario, so we had to look for some streets, but returned to the road after short. Coming out of the road in San Lorenzo another toll (A$0.60). At San Lorenzo more streets under construction, with almost no signs. Most of the trip the signs in the roads were bad, few or inexistent. After 558km, we arrived at 13:30 at Dante's home.
After lunch Dante brought us to look around Rosario, beautiful city on the shore of Paraná river. Some pics, specially in the Flag's monument, with very nice light at night. Next day, saturday 24th, we tried to start early, but it was not possible because night before we shared a great "asado" with Dante and his family, and long chatting after dinner. It was long time since I was at Dante's place (1 year), and he was getting ready to go to Fargo for 3 years to study a master in phytopatology.
Earliest we could get ready to hit the road was at 8:30, but Cesar forgot some stuff at Dante's place and we had to come back after some km. By the way Andy stopped by the Post Office to send some postcards, and finaly we hit the road at 9:30.
Taking 33 road we passed through Venado Tuerto and Rufino, where we came in Buenos Aires province. In Trenque Lauquen we took 5 road to Santa Rosa. There we got some recomendation to visit Parque Luro. This is a national park born originaly like a game preserve property of Pedro Luro, who brought friends from Europe at beginning of 20th century to hunt during 3 months every year. The visit was too short since the park was closing at 7pm, and we arrived at 6:30pm. We were sorry don't stay longer to enjoy the 7200 hectares of park. From Santa Rosa we had took 35 road, and now we took the 152, bringing us trhough General Acha, to take later the 21 to Chacharramendi, arriving there at sunset (8:50pm, 1423km). We got lots of advice about the "Conquista del Desierto" (Desert Conquest) road, driving it completely awake, because is too monotonous. So we stop at Chacharramendi to stay over night in Chacharramendi Hotel (A$25 a person no breakfast). Being the only hotel in a town with around 250 inhabitants, the facilities are more than enough (air conditioner and nice and clean restrooms) and the price very affordable. At Santa Rosa somebody told us about a "Pulpería", a kind of traditional store 100 years old, working now as a museum. We found the museum keeper house, and we agreed to visit the museum in the morning. It was very kind the woman keeping the museum, accepting open it for us sunday at 8am. When we were coming in Chacharramendi we saw a restaurant, and we headed to have dinner at that place, to meet in there one of the most interesting "characters" in our trip.
His name is Beto, a man born in Misiones (very north-east close to Paraguay and Brazil), having worked many years in Corrientes, Rosario, and Buenos Aires. Around 7 years ago he was unemployed, and before an offering to come to La Pampa to work in a ranch, his wife supported taking the decision to come over there. After a while they left the ranch and moved to the town itself, working in the little restaurant at the gas station, Beto as a waiter and his wife cooking. Around 3 months ago they had the chance to open this place with some saved money during the last 6 years, plus the money they got for their car. The place has a charming outlook, and the dishes they offer are very good, but not as much as the treatment they give to the customers. Andy took lots of pictures, including a regular customer with typical costume. When one meets people like Beto just realizes always there is a future, only it's necessary to work hard to give it a shape....
Next morning we visited the Pulpería, very interesting, and hit the road once more. A Gendarmeria officer asked us for our names just in case they find us later out of the road..... The road is really monotonous, 180km with no turns, no hills, nothing, just a straight line. Every 9 or 10 km there's a windmill, some trees and a "parrilla" (kind of a grill to cook with wood) to stop and take a rest. In some places it's possible to stop in one of this resting places and to see the next one and the previous one. At Reforma we fill with gas (super A$2.50/lt), and bought some just baked pastry. About middle of the way we found a recent accident, a Renault Kangoo rolled over, and Gendarmeria was helping them.
Finished this road, we took 151 road, passing by 25 de Mayo, where an animal sanity stopping collects A$3, take a look at the trunk, and "clean" the car with an imperceptible dew sprayed authomatically against the FMD (foot and mouth disease). Let's remember Patagonia is the only part in Argentina free of the disease.
A friend of my friend Bebe Flores, adviced us about avoid Neuquén city, with a lot of stop lights, so we took before 234 road, the apple and wine road, guiding us to Cutral-Có, bordering the Cerros Colorados dam on Negro river. The road is longer, but the views are worthy, and somebody told us we save some time after all. From there 103 road to Zapala, to take the legendary 40 road to Junín de los Andes. The 40 road starts in Usuahia at the very south, and goes all the way besides Andes Cordillera till Quiaca, at the very north against Bolivia border. 5000km!
Around 35km before Junín 40 road keeps going towards left, and to go to Junín we took a piece of gravel road under construction. It's worthy to drive it slowly, not only to avoid to break the car, but also to enjoy the great landscape. A couple of km ahead, at right hand, there is a viewpoint with info about the condor. Just in front there are some cliffs where the condor have nests. The zoom of my old JVC camcorder (16x) was not good enough to get the details of these majestic birds, but gave me a better idea of their size (till 3 meters of wingspan). The viewpoint is around 3 km from the cliffs.
We arrived to Junin at 7pm and totalizing already 2159 km from my farm. At the tourist office we got some info about lodge, with "cabañas"a cottage or shack) for 3 at A$120. We checked the first one in the list, but they asked us for 130, and next ones had no vacancies or closed. Then we saw a sign "rent cabañas per day". A man in the 50s asked us for A$95. We stayed there. Humberto Novillo, the owner's name was originally from Cordoba, but since some years living in this place, although completely new in the business of renting cabañas. He recommended us what to visit, and the top place was the Lanin volcano, with several options, watch it from the north at Lanin national park, or from the south in a boat at Huechulaufquen lake. We decided to start the day with the first view, taking advantage of the morning light, very good to take pics. The road to the park is very good, pavement till the entrance to the park, where changes to gravel. Also starts there a wonderful forest of araucarias, a beautiful tree. Because the park is a protected area, it's possible to see young and old trees, some of them with several centuries on their branches.
Arriving to Gendarmeria booth, just in front there's an information office, but nobody was in there. We worn out the restrooms, almost brand new looking. Then we started the path to the volcano, among a wonderful forest plenty of colors. With our cameras and a bottle of Terma Patagónico (a non-alcoholic drinking prepared with herbs, in this case from Patagonia) the official beverage of our trip, we walked for a while to reach a kind of viewpoint, after the forest and over the valley, looking clearly the majestic volcano. From there we saw some snow, apparently close and easy to reach it. Cesar had the idea "if we keep going to the snow?". Why not? Supposing it'd take 15 minutes, after an half hour the snow was as far as at the beginning.... But in the way we found a small landslide, with a spring and some snow melting down. Still we delighted drinking some water of the spring.
Back in the car Andy tell us he wants to cross the chilean border just to have the stamp in his passport, and by the way to see the Lanin by the west side. In the chilean customs, before the question if we had fruit or vegetables, Andy must eat in a rush a couple of avocados he bought last night in Junin. Chilean side give us better views, inVillarica national park the araucarias stand up still in middle of the road. We found a sign warning about "obstacles on the road", and after a turn we find a huge araucaria in middle of the road, absolutely worthy of have been respected. We did around 15km of very bad gravel road, choosing to come back, and to leave Chile for next opportunity.
Around 8pm we arrived to San Martín de los Andes, km 2381. In the real estate board we get info about cabañas, finding "Cabañas de Troncos" as the cheapest one, A$80 for 3 persons. With low expectatives because the price, we find a dreamed place, worthy to be enjoyed during many days, not only a night like we did. We got the cabaña 1, just next (less than 4 meters) to a creek coming down from the mountain. Next morning we got ready to face the 7 lakes road. That day we stopped lots of times to take pics in every lake besides the road. When you exit from San Martin to Villa La Angostura, detour to the viewpoint. From up there the view is breathtaking, seeing the town and Lacar lake. Don't come back to San Martin, keep going by the gravel road through the forest, it'll join with 234 road some km ahead. Not far from there we stopped at Split creek, a curiosity, is divided in two branches going each one to each ocean. Later Machonico lake, and ahead Hermoso lake, that needs a little detour from the pavement. Once there we were taking pics, when we met 2 "gauchos" riding horses, and a group of around 15 teenagers girls, all of them riding horses. The guides told us they were working with a company owner of land there, in Uruguay, and in USA. All of them game preserves with different specialties. On the lake we saw a sign advertising homemade bread. Following the path we reached "Winca Mahuida" (who looks for the mountain, in mapuche languaje, which is one of the native nations), a mountain shelter under Juan's care. Originally from Junin, Buenos Aires province, Juan has been last 7 years at this place. Previously he was working at Caribbean sea as a scuba-diving instructor during 12 years. Juan was around 65 year old, and he told us the cold winters were affecting his health. Last 3 winters he moved to town. Because his back and not getting a good profit with this business, he was thinking seriously about "Z plan": go to Caribbean again or to Brazil shore to settle a little bar at the beach. We chat for a while and buy a loaf, very tasty. Once we were on the road again, I could not avoid to compare him with Beto, the man at Chacharramendi restaurant, and I found several similar features: adventurer, enterpriser, but with a big difference marking their future: Beto has a great partner, Juan was alone. When there is not ambition, the only thing moving us forward is somebody to share things with.
Later we took some pics at Vuliñaco cascade, and Falkner and Villarino lakes. From there we took 65 road to reach Villa Traful, but first got erroneously a path bringing us to a camping area on the west shore of Traful lake. There Patricio welcomed us, a boy 19 years old, from Bariloche, father of a 2 y.o. daughter, who was in charge of this place since 1 month ago. Theoretically he'd be there during the whole season, but already he was doubting to endure the isolation. He told us was earning A$1500 a month, being already owner of his house, and clearly this meant for him unworthy to study. Scarcely he attended to school. Comparing, my friend Dante, an agriculture engineer in charge of a genetic program for sunflower and sorghum in a multinational seed company is earning A$3000.
We left Patricio and kept going to Villa Traful. The road is not gravel, just dirt, so good only with good weather, and better at daylight, since is very sinuous. Traful lake is, in my opinion, the nicest in the whole area, having a wonderful surrounding.
At the Villa we found very expensive cabañas (since A$300) and the only cheap one (A$120) closed by insects spraying. The option was Vulcanche hostel (A$30 each). The kitchen was very dirty, and the attention one of the worst we got during the whole trip. In a small market we bought some bread, cheese, ham, Terma, and apples, A$70. Later I told to my friend Bebe about these prices, and he kindly rememberd me he warned me about getting food before to reach Traful ("I TOLD YOU, STUPID". Honestly it was a detail I forgot. And honestly, we were doing the trip with 0 in projection, I mean we were stopping just where night surprised us, and using the daylight as much as we could.
Close to the Villa we visited 2 cascades, in CoaCo creek and Blanco creek. Recomendable, although they are not the most spectaculars we saw in the trip. A detail, people from Patagonia has a completely different perception about distances than uruguayan people. That's logical considering the size of this huge territory. When somebody tells you "CoaCo cascade?, oh yes, it's just around the corner, walk 100 yards and you'll find it", in 'uruguayan' that means "CoaCo cascade? oh no! that's far far away, at least 1500 yards walking through a sinuous path...."
Wendsday 28th early, we left Villa Traful to Villa La Angostura. This part of the road is under construction, and some places there's just one lane. Careful driving by night. On this road we found Correntoso and Espejo lakes, re-taking pavement and arriving to Nahuel Huapi lake.
Villa La Angostura is cute, with a main street plenty of wonderful wood buildings. At 10am and km 2580 arrived to this place. Cesar has there a known person from many years ago, related in some way with his family. An original from Montevideo, settled in La Angostura since many years ago, running a travel agency. Through "Yuso" we got "locals" price for the trip to Los Arrayanes forest (A$38, when regular price is A$76), and we lodged at La Angostura Hostel. The trip and the hostel just perfect. The trip was great, but the guide woman didn't speak english, so the foreigners without idea about spanish could not understand all the info this woman shared with us. The trip in a boat surrounds the lake shore showing the residential area of La Angostura. Los Arrayanes forest is in a peninsula at 12km from La Angostura dock. It's possible to reach the forest walking through the park or by the boat, or just do the trip one way walking and another one by boat. But the guide told us the path was no clean yet, because during the winter some trees fall down, so it'd take around 3 hours of hard hiking to come back through the path. A couple from New Zealand was coming in the boat to return walking, then I translated this warning for them, and since it was already around 5pm, wisely they decided to come back in the boat. In the forest the path has a railing, guiding people through around 1000m in a circle, and the guide comments about every tree in the way. Finishing the path there's a wood cottage where tourist are invited with a hot chocolate (tasting like too few), and by the way they sell chocolate cakes (A$9 a slice). It's said Walt Disney got inspired in this cottage and this forest for some of his movies like Bambi.
At night in the hostel, eating some pasta prepared by Cesar, chatted with David and Ingvill. David is from Oregon, USA, and Ingvill from Norway. David is a enologist, and they are travelling all around Argentina and Chile, staying during the whole season to visit the vineyards area in both countries.
There was another guy from San Francisco, around 40 years old, speaking very good spanish because he has spent lot of time during the last 4 years travelling around South America. This time he began at Chile, crossing to Bariloche where he bought a pro mountain bike and the necessary equipement, going up to Mendoza. I asked him what was his job, and with some sarcasm he told me "I rob banks". Very profitable business, I answered back, understanding he didn't share details about his life. Andy commented me later that this reaction was very typical from northamericans with lot of money, trying to keep away the attention from themselves.
The woman cleaning the hostel, washed up some clothes for us, certainly very cheap. One pair of jeans, 2 shirts, 4 T-shirts, 6 pairs of socks, and 4 underpants, washed and ironed A$8. At evening we took a look around the main street, and we could not resist the temptation to come in a chocolate shop (A$50 a kilo, but in Bariloche the cheapest is A$65). The idea was to buy just a little pieces to taste it, but the truth is those little pieces were for free at the store, and then after taste a lot of them we bought an half kilo eating it by the street...
Next morning Cesar went to say good bye to his friend Yuso, and I downloaded pics from the cameras to DVD. In Quetrihue Kodak centre I got very kind attention, and it was the cheapest place in the whole trip (A$10 a DVD). Besides they invited me with a mate during the waiting time. Not very good mate, but the important was the detail.
Coming out from Villa La Angostura we went to Bayo mountain, and since the lifters to the summit were running (A$30) we climbed up to take some nice pics, although the sky was heavy cloudy. The last meters till the very top are by walking, but the view is worthy. Once back, we went to watch Del Angel cascade, on Bonito river. Mandatory to take a pic. When we were walking the 300 meters from the road to the cascade, meet a couple who did the trip to Los Arrayanes day before with us. They told us they came back walking by the path, and they need 3 and an half hours of hard hiking to reach the dock. This day, same than previous one, they looked very happy and "connected" each other, being a couple around 50 years old, very touchy and smiling. Cesar comments "these 2 are 'escaped'", how you know?, "I'm used to see those faces and attitudes in my museum". Aclaration: Cesar runs at his house with his family a museum at San Pedro, close to Colonia del Sacramento, and he already knows half of the time it's better doesn't ask about relationship of visitors.....
Arriving to Bariloche the wind was tough from north side, giving to Nahuel Huapi lake appeareance of ocean. Beautiful view. At tourism office they recommend us some cabañas and hostels. But we found the "air" at Bariloche is in another "level". Starting with parking that is not for free, and certainly expensive, so we parked the car by the lake and walked into the town.
With the good experience we had at La Angostura hostel, we leaned to repeat it at Bariloche, but we got in a hostel not associated to Hostelling International. "Condor Andino" was a nice place, at the beginning, with parking for the car (A$10). We got a room for 4 with bathroom, having nobody else to share it with (A$30 each). Most of guests in the hostel were young people from Israel, very unpolite and arrogant. Usually in the hostels there's a natural exchange about trips and places in the conversation, but in this case those guys being a big and closed group don't give any chance to exchange opinions. At the morning having breakfast with Charly, in charge of the hostel that day, Cesar ask him if it's always like that, with so many Jews. Charly's face was very expressive saying it was always like that. Whispering added "you know what was Hitler's mistake?.... doesn't finish the work". Bad joke, obviuously I didn't like it, but at some point it was talking about how bad was those guys behaviour. Another little trouble we had at the hostel was on the second night. Nobody told us about somebody to share our room. Share it was not a problem, don't know somebody was coming in without notification was the problem. At night, Cesar and myself already sleeping, Andy was taking a shower, and suddenly a guy came in the bathroom with not warning. Once he gets out, Andy tells me about, and we decide to lock the door and keep the key in the door. Around 6am the guy completely drunk tries to open the door. After a while start to hit the door. So I get up and unlock it. He gets his bed and fall asleep at once. At the morning, already leaving the place, there was not Charly, so we forgot the situation to complain. Undoubtly independent hostels are not like the Hostelling International net hostels.
Bariloche is big and very commercial. We did circuito chico, going till Llao-llao, a famous hotel close to Nahuel Huapi. From there we kept going to Colonia Suiza, a small village with some nice places. By the way we came in a trout farm, but because it was too windy it wasn't possible to watch the trouts because they go to the bottom of the lake. Anyway we bought one kilo of fresh trout (A$20), and at night we prepared it in the hostel. Next day was not so good weather, and we walked around Bariloche itself. Came in a seeds store where Andy and Cesar bought different types. Walking around, a girl wearing typical swiss costume appeared to offer us some chocolate. She was a seller of a Colonia Suiza shop. There was a huuuge variety of chocolate, and we had the time to taste all of them.... "wanna taste our home-made beer?". Who's oneself to reject and invitation?... We came in to try the beer, and later the liquor, and the wine, and the smoked deer, hog, trout and cheese. Of course we bought some smoked stuff plus some chocolate for dessert.
Since the weather was not the best to climb some mountain for good views, we dedicated to check some nursery shops looking for some small plant of Araucaria, because Andy fall in love with those trees in our visit to Lanin volcano. We visited 3 different places, and in the last one, close to Llao-llao hotel, we found some very small plants, perfect to fit in the luggage. But we thought better to buy them just in the way back to avoid them some extra days in the luggage.
December 1st we left Bariloche towards El Bolsón. The road is neat and th view just great. At the sides of the road the "Chochos" (a plant) were blossoming, giving a perfect frame to take pics of rivers and valleys. It was saturday, craftmanship fair at El Bolson square. Luckily somebody told us the fairy run between 11am and 3pm, so at 11:30 we were there to enjoy it. A very wide variety of craftmanship is shown at this place, most of them very nice and many cases very witty. We agreed to walk each one at his own, and to meet back in the car a certain way. At middle of the fair a woman selling seeds. Some of the seeds Cesar and Andy bought by A$10 at Bariloche it costed here just A$2... Better I don't tell them, I thought, but 15 minutes later I met Cesar, who tells me "did you see the price for the seed? fu..."
Ahead I see a craftman with semi-precious stones, most of them agathas and amatistas. They looked like uruguayan stones. I watch slowly the craftman, a colored man around 50 years old drinking mate. I watch the yerba (the leaves of a plant named yerba, used to prepare this traditional beverage, don't get confused with any drugs), it was thin.... but that's uruguayan yerba, I thought. I greet him and commenting his work, I ask him where the stones were from, "from Uruguay", and the yerba? "Canaria!" (that's an uruguayan brand). He was an exiliated from the dictatorship, arriving to El Bolson 7 years ago. As good colored man has the rythm in the blood, so he was teaching percussion and doing some craftmanship. He comment me many uruguayan live in there.
I liked better the craftmanship made with wood. Also the knives are interesting, with handle made with deer horn, goat bone, or.....ostrich finger. Those are novelty. I ask if they are made in the area, but they answer honestly that they are made in Tandil, Buenos Aires province, but with materials from Patagonia. Of course, there was not place to lie, stamped on the knives was "TANDIL". Still being novelty, I think they are not worthy of being bought since they are not made in the area. Anyway when we came back to Bariloche to bring Andy to take a bus, I bought one knife with ostrich finger made by a craftman in the square. The blade has stamped V. AYALA, suppously the craftman name, but now the doubt appears before me if maybe it's made in Tandil too.....
After a while walking in the fair, I met Andy and walking along we found a Mapuche lady, very nice dressed, and she herself a beautiful woman around 50 years old. Andy tells me to ask her permission to take some pics. She access with a smile. More confident, Andy tells me to ask her if she has a daughter... Andy's witty sally. Actually he did it sanely, because this woman had beauty appearence, so it'd be very interesting to see someone like her but 25 years younger. Looking for the right words to translate Andy's request, avoiding to insult this woman, I say to her at the time I pointed to Andy, "HEEE is asking if you have a daughter". She laugh on loud telling me yes, and pointing to an ugly fat girl just in front of us selling craftmanships. Nothing like her mother. Andy (and me too) very disappointed.
The fair was closing, and we went to have an ice cream at JAUJA, recommended place for Bebe, a genius giving good info. There are so many flavours.. even watermelon flavour... and a bunch of fruits in Mapuche, so one is all the time asking "what's that?". The girls selling have a lot of patience, allowing to taste a little bit of every flavour.
From there we went to cabañas La Osa, on the 16 road, in direction to Puelo lake, also by Bebe recomendation. Cristina welcomed us. The place is worthy to be enjoyed during many days, with Quemquemtreu river crossing at the backyard. We get the luggage off of the car, take a shower, and we returned to El Bolson to buy food. Andy wanted to check the fairy place to look for a little rubber piece of his camera. Cesar checked emails, and I walked around for a while. Came in a leather stuff shop where a young man, the seller, told me about his own experience living in this place. He was originally from Buenos Aires, arriving there 3 years ago in middle of winter, a very rainy winter. He told me in town almost it doesn't snow, just it rains, but going by the road to Bariloche or Esquel, just 5 km away is blocked with snow.
I bought food in La Anónima, a big supermarket. Bread A$4.90 a kilo, milk A$1.79 a liter, organic yogurt 4.15 a liter, a couple of wine bottles Michel Torino Seleccion 2.95 each, meat for the grill 10.50 a kilo. There it's possible to pay with american dollars if you spent 30% of the note. The rate exchange was 3.10 pesos by dollar, so I could pay with US$50 the A$59 of my buying. At the YPF and Petrobras gas stations is not possible to pay with dollars. Actually most of the gas stations in the trip didn't accept dollars.
We came back to La Osa and put the meat in the oven, but it was not working. We told to Cristina, and Daniel, her husband, fixed it at once. The wine plus the long day gave us a repairing rest that night. Next day we went to El Bolson, and at the tourist office recommend us some nice places to visit around town. Coming out of town in Bariloche direction we found a nursery, and Andy rememberd the Araucarias. We stop to ask about, and a very kind lady told us she had not any plants, but she had a friend with some ones. This friend had the plants in the house of another person, her cousin, at Epuyen. She gave us his phone. From ther we came in the way to Mallin Ahogado circuit. Around 12 km from El Bolson there is a cascade named Escondida, where there is a park and a botanical garden managed by INTA (national institute of agricultural technologies). Entrance fee A$3. There are 2 circuits: one around the forest with signs explaining the name of the plants and trees, and the another one allows to see the cascade since the base till the very top. Very nice.
We had another recomendation of Bebe, to eat at Danilo's Quincho, and since was after noon... In direction to Mallin Ahogado cascade, instead of turn to right to the cascade you keep going on the road, going through Del Medio creek, and in a turn to the right there it's the entrance to the left. Since the parking lot the place looks like a different place, a special one. A sign warns:
if you come to have LUNCH,
take the chance to know the place,
if you come JUST to know the place,
please come tomorrow!
This place is just fantastic, with Del Medio creek passing besides the building, plenty of
trouts waiting for some remains (Danilo built a little dock where the tourist can throw the remains, watching the trouts eating). Inside has a lot of wood and animal skins, but all in good taste. We seated down and Danilo explained us it was simple menu, a wide selection of grilled meat cuts ("chinchulines, morcillas, chorizos, asado, cordero, cerdo). Fried potatoes plus a salad (both almost unnecessary with all that meat). Cesar wanted to try the homemade beer, but Andy and me asked just for water. But when the beer came (luckily was one liter bottle) the water remained in the bottle. Danilo tells us the beer is made by a german guy who lives in the neck of the woods, selling the beer just to the neighbours, among them Danilo. And also this guy teachs to prepare the beer. Soon the first recipient (10x25 inches) with coals under the meat to keep it warm appears on the table, and Danilo warns us it'll come a second one. Finished the meat it's time for the dessert, a tasty homemad "flan con dulce de leche", and like is used in homemade cooking, very abundant portions. "And now to have a good digestion", Danilo announces, "a 'carrero' coffee". Brings a ceramic mug, around 1 liter capacity, with a 'bombilla' (that's a small tube used to sip the mate). He explains us the mug has coffee, sugar, boiling water, and a bit of 'white waters', that's distilled beverages over 30º (whisky, grappa, cognac, pisco). He suggest to taste is, but just taste it, because still lacks an ingredient, and the reason to taste it it's to compare the effect the last ingredient will do in the preparation. With a pair of pliers puts into the coffee a burning coal. The fragance flowing in the air already helps to digestion... Tasting it again we confirm Danilo's said; the coal evaporated the alcohol, but keeping the flavours, and adding up its own, besides to warm up the drink. Danilo explains the origin of this beverage during the times when in Patagonia just there were carts in the paths, and the drivers facing the raw weather at nights gather around a fire, sharing this drink, putting each person his own beverage depending of his origin (chileans with pisco, italians with grappa, welsh with whisky) sharing stories and grieves. Everything wonderful, but now it was time to pay the bill, A$50 a person. Considering the quantity and quality of food, plus the attention, plus the physical place, nobody eating there will find that price expensive. Danilo recommends us some places to visit in the Mallin Ahogado circuit, like a stone museum, the "Indian head", and he tells us next year he'll open a new restaurant like this but right in El Bolson, by San Martin avenue, going to Puelo lake. We saw the building in our way to La Osa, and although still it's under construction, it looks very nice, but I consider it's gonna lose the magical touch of the surrounding area. It's more than worthy to drive some kilometers in the gravel road to enjoy the current location.
From there we headed to the patagonic stones museum. A couple of geologist is in charge of this place. They love their work. Any person who likes stones will feel in paradise here, who doesn't care stones will see the place in 10 minutes. It's a simple place with a big colection of natural stones in the outside, meanwhile in a small building there are worked stones.
We start to return, going by Azul river circuit, with beautiful views, arriving to the park where is the "Indian head", a rock with the shape of a human head. The view is just great, seeing at the distance Puelo lake. At this time it was almost the sunset, and we stopped at El Bolson to call for the araucarias. Nahuel answered, giving me directions to reach his place at Epuyen. At 8pm we were in "Lemuria", part of "Lemu" project, supported by Nahuel and his family trying to rescue natural forests and respecting nature and retrieving its true value. Rocio, Nahuel's wife, and Luana, their little daughter, welcomed us. Precisely there was a bunch of small araucarias, around 4 inches tall, what means they were around 1 year old. Andy bought 3 plants, and Cesar one more. While we arrange the plants to put them in Andy's luggage, Rocio got ready a mate, and soon we were chatting in a round. It was a pity we arrived so late to this place, and not wanting to disturb the schedule of this good family we came back to La Osa, certainly pretty late.
There was a lot to get ready, since next day, december 3rd, Andy was taking a bus from Bariloche to Buenos Aires, and from there a boat to Montevideo to catch his flight to Perú. It was a pity Andy wanted to "squeeze" his first time in South America, sharing his month on vacation between our trip and 2 weeks at Peru visiting a friend. Cesar and me had still not resolved what to do next. Cesar had to be back at home on 10th, so we had still a week of time.
Early at morning I paid to Daniel (who accepted me dollars without problem) A$220 for 2 nights, and we left to Bariloche. Once there we exchange some dollars at a bank, and later Andy wanted to go to the nursery in circuito chico, by Llao-llao hotel, to buy another plants. Arriving we realized it was closed, since it was monday morning. We came back to the bus terminal, and with almost no time, appeared once again the subject of Andy's old camera, that some days ago, between jokes and also serious chat, Andy said it was for sale, and made Cesar's mouth water. It was a Olympus Camedia 770, a semi-pro camera. For this trip Andy bought a second camera, another Olympus, but a bigger one, with several lens and filters, plus 4 gigas of memory. Well, the matter is Cesar kept on mind that conversation, and 5 minutes before the bus left, tells me to ask to Andy if still has the old camera for sale. Andy says he listens an offer. Cesar thinks a second, "US$200 is all I can". Andy also thinks a second, "you don't deserve it, but since your family treated me so good, I'll sell it to you". In the rush Andy realize he has the charger and accesories in the very bottom of his backpack, already in the bus, so he promises to sent them. Finally we say good bye, and with Cesar we must decide what to do. Both were a little lazy thinking to keep on the road south, but at the very terminal I check emails, finding one from Bebe recommending me strongly to visit Los Alerces national park. "We keep on the road south" I tell to Cesar, and then he thinks we can stop by El Bolson to visit that german guy to learn how to do beer. We arrive to Mallin Ahogado circuit, and we find this german man house. His daughter welcomed us, and he explains the course lasts 3 hours, and costs A$100 a person. I don't consider this price expensive, but for our travelling economy it was a lot. Then Cesar looking for a kind excuse, says to the german guy that the problem is we don't have hops, ingredient giving the classic bitter flavour in the beer. The german guy cut with 3 words Cesar's excuse: "I send you". He explains he has taught over 300 people from all around the world, whom he sends the hops. But then also he tells us actually his system is simplified, using malt extract instead of doing all the malting process. I think a good excuse is we have not time to stay 3 hours. Of course this man realized we were two poor traveller rats, and kindly invite us to come back anytime.
Coming out from there, Cesar tells me he has a book with some beer recipes, so the only thing would be to find hops. We find out in town, and we go to a farm with hops plantation. The owner explain to Cesar that is not the time, and he has not any stored since the price is on the sky. Well....
We take 40 road to Esquel. By the way it's possible to appreciate a change in vegetation, with less trees. We arrive at 6pm at tourist office, km 3669. They gave us info about cabañas and hostels. We try first Casa del Pueblo hostel, associated to Hostelling International. Betina receives us very well, and she explains us from short ago she and a partner are in charge of the hostel. She offers us a room with 2 beds at A$65. We take it, and after shows us the facilities, she asked us if next day we'll visit Los Alerces national park. Of course, it's the answer. "Can I ask you for a favour?, today arrived an aussie girl, and a minivan asked her A$150 to bring her to the park". No problem. The poor Rachel was reading a book, gave up to get bore or spend A$150. That very afternoon we take a look around Esquel in the car, going to La Zeta lake. By the way to the lake there is a great view of Esquel. We bought some meat and wine for dinner, and came back to the hostel. Betina offers us the services of an adventure tourism agency, where the better option to us it was to do some rafting. It costs A$70 per 2 hours, and we ask Betina finds out schedules and everything. She calls and the price is changed, A$115, curiously that day was settled the new price. We thank Betina's inquires, but give up the adventure spending as much money (once more, the prices were ok, but too much for our travelling economy).
So the schedule for next day was to visit Los Alerces park, to visit a welsh water-mill museum, and finish the afternoon having a typical welsh tea in a place Betina recommended us, Nain Maggie at Trevelin. From Esquel there are 2 roads to go to the park, one directly but closed by works, and second one passing through Trevelin. This one is nice. From Trevelin to the park there is a piece of gravel road, later a pavement piece till Villa Futalaufque, already in the park, where there is a info center and a interpretative museum. The entrance fee to the park it costs A$12 foreigners, A$6 argentinians, but since there was nobody collecting the fee at the entrance, we saved the 12.
The park deserves to be enjoyed many days, but like since the beginning of the trip, we had just time enough to appreciate fraction of everything. The recommendation at info office was to reach the walking-bridge on Arrayanes river, walking around a path in the forest (around 3km long) with some views of Torrecillas glaciar, Menéndez and Verde lakes, and watching by the way some cascades and Futalaufquen lake. We missed just for an half hour a boat crossing the Menéndez lake to watch closer Torrecillas glaciar. Anyway the views from the path are beautiful. Coming back to Trevelin we took 259 road, coming in Nant and Fall cascades, gorgeous. Watch out, at the entrance a sign warns they are 2000meters ahead, I measured in the way back almost 5 km.
From there it's close the watermill Nant Fach of Evans family. The entrance fee is A$10, and the guided visit lasts around 40 minutes, but they yield like 2 hours because as many interesanting info, plus great Evans' humour. Attention: the guided visit is in spanish, so Rachel prefered to stay at the car having a nap. It's really worthy to visit this museum, showing the history moreover working and producing. Evans built a reply of a mill moved by water of the 1900, and he tells the whole history of the welsh colony settled in Trevelin (in welsh it means mills town). At the beginning of 20th century there was a growing flour industry in this place, but running the century the goverments from Buenos Aires destroyed it. Reasons? The economic interest of big companies in Buenos Aires very close to the goverment. Our historic goverments' niggardliness is amazing.
We were more than satisfied with this visit, being happy of having taken the decision in Bariloche to keep south on the road. At Trevelin we have the welsh tea in Nain Maggie, where they told us they prepared the bread and cakes with flour made by Evans' mill. We came back to Esquel, and Betina gave us some addresses of hostels at Puerto Madryn and Las Grutas.
Early in the morning (6:45) we left to Trelew. We took 40 road till Tecka, where we stop for restrooms, but since we had filled the tank in Esquel, and those are just 80km, we kept hitting the road to fill'er up at Pampa de Agnia (100km from Tecka), already on the 25 road. But there we found there was not gas station. Ahead there was Paso de los Indios (100km from Pampa de Agnia). There there was not any gas, and when I was going back to the car, a man from a Renault 12 calls me, "are you going to Trelew?", "Yes", "Watch out, I'm coming from there and there is not any gas in the whole way, I just arrived till here and have not enough to reach Esquel". Uffta We had slicely over half tank. I asked to the gas station boy if at least has not 5 liters, that was all I needed to reach Trelew without problems. He said to me his father has a wokshop, and usually keeps some gas. He calls him, but nothing. He tells me to ask in the hospital of the village, but I answer back I have not face to ask for gas in a hospital in middle of nowhere. He insists, "ask them, there is not problem". I come in the village and ask to some people at the street. No idea about gas. For last the worst negotiation is what is not made. I go to the hospital and they send me to the electric cooperative since they have generators, but I supposed they'd have just diesel, and I was right.
Well.... we took the risk, lift up the foot from 150kph to 90, and take out the gear in some downhills.... Theoretically we'd arrive, tightly, but arrive. By the way we ask in Las Plumas, nothing. Between Las Chapas and Cañadon Iglesias, we found a gas station looking abandoned, but to ask was for free. "Gas?", "I can sell you A$30", "Whatever!". At the price of gas down there, 30 pesos were 16,5 liters. 150kph again. We passed through Trelew, taking 3 road, and arrived to Puerto Madryn at 2:30pm. Drop Rachel at the hostel, and Cesar and me went to tourist office to find out about whale watching. They tell us already remain a few whales, only visible in a boat, but everyday the boats depends of forecast prediction to leave the harbour, and additionaly next day 2 huge cruisers would arrive, collapsing all the services at Puerto Piramide, the place where the boat departure from to watch whales. Anyway they told us the entrance to Península de Valdés park costs A$12, and gave us the watching companies. We call them and get 2 prices: A$70 and A$150. First one departuring in 1 hour, and another one in 2 hours. We left a hole in Madryn to arrive to Piramide. First problem was the entrance to the park. Bebe has commented me that in several opportunities facing the question if he was argentinian or foreigner, he saved lots of money with a "argentino, boludo" (a very typical expression from Buenos Aires). It seems there were lots like Bebe, because at this place there is now a camera focusing on the license plate of the car, and honestly the uruguayan plate has nothing similar to argentinian plate. Then we know the A$12 were for argentinians, and foreigners pay A$40!. I agree about this difference, after all the argentinians (supposely) paid taxes in their country, so some benefit it's good for them. Either I find expensive A$40 for foreingners, but it happens there are foreigners and foreigners. Apart of the conflict in Uruguay river shore, supposely we are like brothers, and we share a same economic block, Mercosur. It should be a diferent price for us of europeans and northamericans.
We began to fret. Since it is a national park we found animals on the road, like llamas, goats, and still sheep. So arriving to Piramide took longer than we thought. Once there the only option we had was the A$150 boat, but without warranty of watching any whale. With A$300 in gas we arrived to Uruguay back, so we gave up of watching whales, hopefully in next trip, at the right time and specifically to do this. We left to Las Grutas, where we arrived at 8pm. The hostel recommended by Betina had no vacancies, so we rememberd she also recommended a hotel, Sol Hotel. A$80 a double room with breakfast and garage. We took a look around the shore, and had a nice dinner in a "parrillada". The plan was to stay next day enjoying the beach, to face the road back home completely relaxed, maybe stopping at Dante's place one night. So we got up late next morning (9:30), had breakfast, and I went to check the car's levels. Open the hood and find the gearbox dirty of oil. Look under the car; all clean. Clearly the problem was some seal on the top, but since the car was under warranty, I call to the 0800 of Chevrolet Road Service. They tell me the closest workshop is in Viedma, and a truck would pick the car up at 2pm. We lost that day, because we could not enjoy the beach, having not a place to change clothes and take a shower after the bath, so the most we did it was to walk around the beach and town. The truck came at 2:30, loaded the Corsa and left to Viedma, 180 km away. The part of the 3 road from San Antonio Oeste to Viedma is as monotonous as 20 road "Conquista del Desierto". Cesar fall asleep, but Patricio' son, the driver, a kid around 4 years old, didn't stop chatting to me. We arrived 5:30pm. At the Chevrolet dealer Gastón Piazza receives me, I explain the problem, and at once he says it's a problem in the gearbox breathing-hole, clogged with dirt, and the pressure breaks a seal in one of the axles. "Don't worry, at last time your car will be fixed". We walk around Viedma. The city is at the Negro river shore, but it's not so nice. At 8:30 pm I came back to the dealer. Lots of cars leaving from the service, and at 8:50 my Corsa is ready too. We stayed over night in a hotel by Caseros street, just some blocks away from the dealer. At the hall I said to Cesar "do you think we'll arrive tomorrow to San Lorenzo? It's almost 1100km away". The receptionist, a lady around 45 years old, look at me and says "OF COURSE YOU'D ARRIVE! I GO TO SANTA FE IN ONE DAY AND THOSE ARE 1400KM" (I write it in upper case since she was almost shouting it!). Then she recommends us the best road, 3 to Bahia Blanca, 33 to Guamini, taking 65 to Daireaux, passing by Bolivar and 9 de Julio, 70 to Junin, 188 by Rojas to Pergamino, 178 to Rosario, Buenos Aires-Sante Fe highway till San Lorenzo.
We took the recomendation, leaving at 7:40, km 5012. By the way we stopped 4 times for gas, and half hour of resting. At 18:50 we were in San Lorenzo, km 6067. Time for relaxing, watch pics and share stories of the trip with Dante's family. Next day we had a wonderful lunch, more pics and stories, and got ready to leave after a little nap, around 4:30pm. Arriving to Colón with the idea to know the hot springs in the argentinian side, and to cross in the morning the bridge, when supposely was not people cutting the way. It was too late for the hot springs, so we stayed at a hotel in downtown (A$85 with garage and breakfast) where we had a room with not windows... In the morning we went to the hot springs in Colón, where we got very disappointed. A$10 the entrance, to find the swimming pool very dirty, some of them not only with insects, but almost dark water, and additionaly cold water. Somebody tells us one of the inner swimming pools was ready to be used. We go to find that the temperature was unbearable. A local person explains us they are heating the water, and the temperature was too much. NASTY. We left from there very angry towards the bridge, just to find some people was cutting the trafic, complaining for the celulose plant in Uruguay river. Actually they were just 4 people, and the cut on the road were some sticks and a painted sign with the legend "Please, be respectful of this cut"........... no words.
It was not worthy of more anger, and the cut was till 7pm, then we came back to Colon, and call to migration office in Salto. They confirm us there is not problems there, and we head north to Concordia. Crossing without problems we go to Dayman hotsprings, but is overflowing of people. Keeping on the road we reach Guaviyú hotsprings, a REAL HOTSPRINGS, with not dirty and re-heated water. After a good relaxing bath we hit again the road till Dolores, where the name of the town bring us back to the uruguayan gas price (Dolores means pains). With nothing more to tell we arrive to my farm, having driven 7198 km.
Still it's ahead to assimilate everything we lived and learnt, not easy task once we are back in the daily routine, trying to remember whole seen and heard, landscapes and "characters" like Beto or Juan, or Nahuel and family. Undoubtly a trip, moreover pleasent, always is a learning time.....
Next goal: 40 road all the way (5000km).. Anybody interested?

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photo by: jhedwards78