This was a day full of mystery and wonder. Firstly, it was a mystery why we though going into very small towns in the off season was a good idea, and secondly, we were wondering if we would make it to a town with a petrol station before running out. More of that later though. We decided to check out of our hotel and, instead of doing the 7 lakes tour in one day, take a relaxed drive through the lakes and find somewhere to stay when we felt like it. The 7 Lakes drive (or siete lagos in Spanish) is supposed to be a very scenic and beautiful tour, which most people do on a bus in a day. The tour does miss out some of the other lakes and does not really allow for stopping and checking out waterfalls etc. Our first stop was Villa La Angostura
which is supposed to be the place where wealthy Argentinians go on holidays.
It is about an hour and a half away from Bariloche. You do need to be very awake while driving as at this time of year there are patches of ice on the road. It is beautiful in the sun, but drops down very quickly on the shade covered sides of the mountains to about 3 degrees. Villa La Angostura is a pretty little town. It is actually split into 2 parts. One on the lake directly and one a bit inland. The inland part is a main road which is full of wood and glass buildings �" log cabin feel. You can see the difference in the place between here and Bariloche based on the standard of the shops, but in reality, there is not much there. The area prides itself on being called little Switzerland, and from the architecture etc it is evident why. We took a bit of a wander around and had a quick bite to eat and then set off for our next stop �" Villa Traful.
BEWARE - WILD COWS
About 10km from Villa La Angostura, which is really the start of the 7 lakes tour, we were back into off-road mode again and once again, Koala Bear was put through its paces in testing stretches. I would not like to drive these roads in the wet. It goes from mud to soft sand to river bed type stones. From there it was past a succession of lakes, each more beautiful than the last �" Lago Nahuel Huapi, Lago Espejo, Lago Correntoso. This is where we made our first choice. We figured that Villa Traful (on Lago Traful, which is not one of the 7) would make a nice place to stay overnight. We had heard it was really beautiful, but that there was not much there. Right on both counts. This took us off on roads, even worse than the normal roads from before, for about 35km.
Amazing scenery. There are trees which have died and stand out white against the other green trees and red of the autumn colours on the mountains. Again, too, we were extremely lucky with the weather with another clear day. We also saw quite a lot of fairly wild looking cows. I forgot to mention in the Estancia Christina area around the Upsala Glacier, there actually are wild cows (and horses). They were left there when the people got moved out from their commercial farming and general destruction of the environment so that it could be turned into a national park. The cows have apparently adapted to living in extreme conditions in the mountains and the shape of their hooves has changed too. You can see the signpost: “BEWARE �" WILD COWS”. At the beginning of Lago Traful we stopped to take a look and I must say it is the most idyllic, peaceful place I have ever seen.
Our welcoming committee on the lawn of the police station
The lake is like glass. From there we continued on into the “town” to find a spot to stay for the night. Well, we discovered the reason that the lake is idyllic and peaceful. There are no people there. It shuts down in the off season. There are no shops, no hotels and no people. Most importantly, no petrol stations. By now we were hovering on the quarter tank mark, having done 460km and a signboard saying 99km to the nearest town �" San Martin de los Andes. Hmmm. So off we set back past the idyllic lake and onto the “main road” again. If you can call it that. Again, past more beautiful lakes, which were not with the backdrop of a setting sun: Lago Villarino, Falkner, Machonico and up to Lago Lacar where SMdlAndes is. Along the way, we did stop to see a waterfall and watch some cows running down the road (which luckily by now was back to tar) being followed by a gaucho on his horse with trusty dog by his side.
Villa la Angostura
Watching a procession of cows running down a highway is quite something to behold. With 50km to go. The petrol light came on and it was now dark. Kat was having visions of us hitchhiking to town and trying to decide what to do with our luggage: leave in the car, hide behind a tree, take with us, etc. Not really a nice prospect to be in a country where you don’t speak the language and don’t know what the next town holds. I am sure my mom can commiserate with Kat after many similar experiences on family holidays with dad and I driving…. Needless to say the last 50km were a pretty silent affair, with me freewheeling downhill and trying to minimise fuel usage on uphills. Luckily, the speed limit is 60km/h and there were not many cars on the road.
Water goes downhill
We probably saw less than 15 cars in the entire time between Villa la Angostura and SMdlAndes. But we got there safely in the end and found a hotel (no petrol station at the time of writing, but will get there). Found a little spot for a bite. San Martin de los Andes seems like quite a vibrant little spot. We have been sampling the Malbec’s (Argentina’s most famous red wine variety) along the way. Without a wine guide (mentioned before) it is quite difficult to work out what is worth drinking, but last nights one, a Norton 2002, was very nice. At AR$ 44 pretty reasonable too (about £8).