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The Lakes District, ARG


March 21, 2019

The Ruta 25 heading west from the Atlantic coast began to flatten out again to typical Patagonian landscape but no wildlife presented itself and then as we approached the Ruta 40 on the west side of the country, we began to see mountains.  We spent a night at the old standby: a YPF station and although the WiFi was crappy, the night was quiet.

The sun is getting up later these days; it’s now fall in Patagonia.  Today continues our streak of sunny days and drive north is quite pretty.

We make it to our morning stop:  The cabin on the ranch which Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid owned and lived in for four years.

When Butch’s gang began to feel pressure from law enforcement in America, Butch, the Sundance Kid (Harry Longabaugh) and Etta Place, fled to Buenos Aires, Argentina and purchased a ranch in Patagonia.  They settled in a four room log cabin on 15,000 acre ranch on the east bank of the Rio Blanco near Cholila. 

The grandson of the current owner of the property, maintains it and restored it back in 2007.  There is no signage until you get right up to the “driveway” and the fellow, Mauricio, seems to sit there all day awaiting visitors.  He does not charge a fee but we made a donation.

We continued north towards Argentina’s Lake District and made a stop in Esquel (a Welsh settlement) just to say we’d seen it; it’s has a lovely setting with mountains all around and it’s a popular ski destination for Argentinians.   On our way into town we were escorted by a small flock of parakeets – it was so pretty but we didn’t get the camera out fast enough.

There was this strange sculpture along the main street though – we have no idea what it was.

Our destination today was the small city of El Bolsón as recommended to us by friends and we want to hit their big market tomorrow.  Finding a place to stay proved a bit difficult as it being a holiday hot spot (like many ski resorts they have many activities to partake in over the summer), prices were steep for few amenities.  We opted find a residential street and park there.  Turned out we could pick up a free WiFi network here so it’s a nice bonus.

Here in El Bolsón we are at 43ºS – just over two weeks ago we were at 66ºS in Antarctica and at 54ºS at Ushuaia.  We’ve come a long way north in a short time – we’ve already done over 2800 km / 1700 mi – that’s a great deal for us – we’re still trying to get ahead of winter.  The area we are in now is mountainous – we’re at the base of the Andes again.   This town has a reputation of being a “hippy haven” of which we saw a few when we visited the market but it’s certainly full of tourists.  Where we are parked there are lots of parakeets at dusk and dawn.

Saturday after a good sleep in, we had brekkie and headed to the market which is held about three times a week around the central square.  It was 11 am and they are supposed to start at ten but, being Latin America, things were just getting set up.  We hit a grocery store and a fruit/veggie store instead and returned to Tigger for a bit.  When we got hungry we headed back to the square and the market was in full swing; we bought some “food truck” lunch, Fran found a new purse/bag she’s been wanting for a while and then we stopped at small sidewalk bar and enjoyed a Corona in the sunshine – it’s a pleasant 22C / 72 F now.

The nice weather continued through Sunday and we left El Bolsón heading to Bariloche in the Argentine Lakes District to spend a couple of days with American overlander friends we’d met in Bolivia who were renting a house there.  Enroute we made a detour and stopped at a labyrinth made of hedges and had some fun there.  It was very well maintained and we got the “retiree” price which is weird as we have no ID that says we are.

On our way northward, stopped at a cute little bar just of the Ruta 40 – The White Owl has amazing views and we enjoyed a drink and a pastry with Pablo.

San Carlos de Bariloche (its full name) was once a resort town for the country’s elite.  It has now become the principal destination for the Lakes District. There are two national parks:

  1. Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi is the most visited national park in Argentina. Bariloche sits on the southern shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi which is the source of two major rivers in the area that flow to the Atlantic.  The lake is the largest in the district and its name means “tiger” in Araucano.  It is 557 square kilometres (about the size of the city of Buenos Aires) was discovered in 1610 by a Jesuit missionary; and
  2. Parque Nacional Lanin which borders the former to the north and includes three of the lakes on this route.

The city is a central point for such outdoor sports as skiing, trekking and an abundance of water activities.

It is also the chocolate capital of Argentina!  There are many, many shops selling chocolate of varying quality, some with cafes attached and even one with an ice rink!

we passed our first two lakes:  Lago Mascardi and Lago Guiterra.

We were to meet Tsugumi and Barnaby at five, so we first did a scenic drive called “Circuito Chico” along a few lakes and bays just west of the city.  This scenic drive is one of the most popular as it can be covered in a half day trip.  There are several view points stops overlooking many lakes, bays and nearby mountains.

Upon arriving at the rental residence of our friends, we got settled in their driveway and enjoyed some time with them and their children, Portia (11) and Cope (8) who are now attending a semester of school here in Bariloche.  Tsugumi made us a nice Korean beef dinner and the evening.

Monday, they let us do laundry and we did FOUR loads (including sheets and floor mats) after which we took the local bus into El Centro to check it out, especially the chocolate places.  We found a McDonald’s to enjoy a fountain drink (rare in South America) then Doug found a shop with a hat he liked.  For a very popular tourist spot, Bariloche, while it has a couple of Bavarian style buildings, does not have as much character as we’d hoped considering it’s a sister city to both Aspen and St. Mortiz.  Like many places in Latin America, with a little imagination, they could really do a lot.

there are people with Saint Bernards in the square that you have have your photo take with

We took a taxi to Cerro Campanario where you take a chair lift up 1049 m / 3440’ to a panoramic view over the area.   This is the lake, along with several arms of it, that you see from up here.

We returned to Barnaby’s house before the kids returned from school, took all the laundry off the lines and spent a few hours with them before we joined them for dinner downtown for parrilla.

We had discussed with Barnaby and Tsugumi our departure date and with a few factors involved decided to stay until Wednesday so we could drive Barnaby to the airport which was on our route.  Tuesday morning, they went into town for some errands and received a message from the house owner that he’d like us to leave today.  So we got the truck ready and waited for them to return from town to say “hasta luego”.

We stopped for some groceries, lunch and gas and began another scenic drive in this area called The Route of 7 Lakes.  We did about 100 km but mid afternoon and called it quits for the day.

This first part of the drive is not along a lake for much of the time but we did stop once to take a photo when we did reach then north side of Lago Nahuel Huapi:

We are parked in Villa Angostura, a small touristy place with a free parking lot with no services.  It is situated on the north shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi (lake #1) quite a bit northwest of Bariloche.

Wednesday, we continued along the “Camino de Siete Lagos” making several stops.

Nearby there is a third national park which protects a rare forest of arrayanes aka Chilean myrtle trees (the only other place you are supposed to be able to see these trees is in Japan).  We read that park is okay but is basically a 13 km long walk to see these trees and the entrance fee is steep.  However, we did note on iOverlander that someone pointed out there are a few of these trees located at a beach at the south end of Lago Correntoso (lake #2) so we’re headed there instead.

Enroute to finding this beach, we came across what is touted as the “shortest river in the world”: Rio Correntoso:

We made it to the beach on the shores of Lago Corrensoto and parked to find the trees.  These trees have leaves but are considered evergreen as they do not fall in winter.  The bark is a red/orange colour often called “cinnamon” and it bears a fleshing fruit at the end of the summer which are a purple/black colour.

Further along the “Camino” we reached: Lago Espejo  – Mirror Lake (lake #3) were we stopped at the campsite where pics were better than at the actual mirador.

When trying to visit Lago Traful (off the main track and not one of the seven but quite large),  we picked up a young Argentine man and he “guided” us along the remainder of the route all the way to San Martin de los Andes. The access to the lake is blocked off and you have to pay to get the beach, even if you’re not camping so we didn’t get to see this lake.

Then it was on to:

Lago Escondido (lake #4) (this means hidden lake and yes, it was hidden)

Lago Villarino (lake #5)

Lago Falkner (lake #6)

Cascada Vulinanco

Lago Hermoso – off the route but Simon recommended it (lake #7)  (the peregrines are not afraid of people around here!)

Lake Machonico (lake #8)

And finally we arrived at the end of the drive: the town of San Man de los Andes – located on Lago Lacar (lake #9).   It is a resort town on the shores of the lake is rather upscale with pretty streets and lots of shops and restaurants.  It’s rather like Bariloche before it became so popular.

We had a friend at the lookout:

We find a safe street parking spot, possibly even for the night and decided to go to a recommended pizza restaurant for lunch and it turned out Simon was headed that way too.  We enjoyed lunch with him and then decided since it was only 3ish we’d begin driving the east side of the lakes district to a campground that came highly recommended on a little lake in the middle of the Parque Nacional Nahuel  Huapi.

More than half the route was dirt and although we’d been told, “good gravel road” there was a lot of washboard – Tigger’s arch enemy.  Enroute we drove along the shores of Lago Meliquina (our lake #10)

and when hit the turn off to Lago Filo Hua Hum  (lake #11 and our final one) and it was more of a sand road and quite narrow in sections so we figured, this campground better be worth it!

We arrived around 5 and it was open (thank goodness – it is pretty much the end of summer season now so we do see that places are closed/closing).  They have a small office with a shop and café, a bathroom block with hot showers, WiFi at the café and lots of camp spots – some only for tents.  We took a walk around to find a lakeside spot and then drove Tigger to it.  It turned out to be very worth it.

fog was almost all gone by 10 am that morning
Lago Filo Hua Hum – like a mirror

We ended up staying three nights as it was SO peaceful.  Internet was slow but enough to just feel connected when we wanted to.  We did a lot of reading, relaxing and enjoying the views.  Doug some small jobs on Tigger, Fran did a little laundry and we felt somewhat rejuvenated after a busy few weeks of driving since Ushuaia.

We are now at latitude S 40º so we are continuing northward bound.  Daytime temperatures reached into the mid 20’s C / low 70’s F but seeing as it’s fall, it does cool off considerably at night; down to single digits C / high 30’s F. The days are definitely getting shorter; sun sets by 7:30 and rises about twelve hours later.  We do see some trees changing colour.

The drive back to the highway from here was very scenic but a crappy road with lots of washboard sections.  Today we saw a few rabbits, a fox and several small grouse – all of whom are camera shy.

When we hit the Ruta 237 we began moving eastward some as we hope to try and hit the coast for some beach time before things all close up completely for the season.  We realize it will be too cold to go swimming but walking along a beach and hearing the waves is one of our favourite things so with any luck……

As you’ve probably gathered summer in southern Chile and Argentina is not summer as we know and love it and winter is a’ coming so we gotta keep moving!