Monday, December 8, 2008

Northern Patagonia resort towns in Chile & Argentina

Often times people stop and take pictures next to the bike, often when we are in restaurants or simply not around. In this case, two bus loads of travelers from Buenos Aires stopped just to chat with us. They asked what the cost for a photo on the bike would be, and Chris, always trying to enhance international relations, told them a kiss would suffice. We're not sure if these seniors were happier to sit on the bike or share a kiss....

After two restful days in Pucon we were on the road again to cross the border into Argentina and to San Martin de Bariloche at the end of the day. Rather than take the paved, beautiful pass we had taken several times the last time we were here, we decided to take a different, more interesting route south through the Chilean lake district and east to the Chilean border at Puerto Fuy. The ride started out as a welcome cool, foggy day with the roads rising and falling through green pastures and around beautiful lakes.

We got to the quiet village of Pt. Fuy and the waiting ferry around mid-day. There we found 5 drunk, wealthy Chileanos on fishing holiday and two Dutch bicyclists on a long holiday. Paul quickly investigated the options at the small restaurant and treated us to a dozen delicious empanadas for lunch. While we waited to board the ferry (there is only one a day each way, 1pm departure from Chile and 4pm departure from Argentina) we got to know the Dutch couple and hear about their travels.

Here is a video approaching the ferry:

The ferry ride took about 2 hours and we landed in the wonderfully forrested Lanin National Park on the Argentine side. From there it was rough dirt road until we hit pavement just before the quaint town of San Martin de Los Andes.

One of the many narrow bridge crossings:

SM de Los Andes is at one end of the famous 7 lakes drive down to Bariloche. When we were here 6 years ago most of this road was still dirt. Now we were surprised at how much it had been paved (about 50% and the rest in being prepared to be paved). Much has been done in the past decade to pave the popular and scenic routes in Patagonian Argentina, and it appears that for many motorcyclists that the dream of conquering many of these storied, challenging dirt roads will evaporate within the next 10 years at the current pace. On the other hand, it will open up opportunity for those who prefer to stay on the pavement.

We stayed in Bariloche for the last 4 days. Our friend Paul left on Friday for Santiago and his flight home. At our hotel we met a German couple on 2 motorcycles and a Dutch couple with a 2 yr old son riding a tandem bike and pulling a trailer. Can you imagine how difficult that must be?! The German couple is in their 50’s with grown children and traveling for the first time outside of Europe. We meet the most interesting and intrepid people on the road!

Bariloche is very touristy and quite expensive overall, but a good place to relax for a few days. We were a bit disappointed by the graffiti in the central square and all the rowdy teenagers playing loud rap music (in Spanish of course!) and basically taking over the place for themselves. It’s a real shame because the last time we were here 6 years ago, the square was a beautiful place with a lovely statue in the middle (now covered in graffiti) and old people and families enjoying the view over the lake towards the Andes. I guess the financial crisis since we were here is partly to blame.

We did have a wonderful day however riding out to Hotel Llao Llao (one of the nicest/fanciest hotels in Argentina) and the circuit around the peninsula. We had a very expensive fruit smoothie on the patio and walked around the beautiful grounds. There is nice trekking on the peninsula and beautiful beaches to take a swim. Hopefully the photos will do it justice.

We left yesterday and are now in the town of Esquel a little further south in Patagonia. Of our two options riding south after El Bolson we took the rough dirt road through the Parque National Los Alerces which was very well worth the bumpy/dusty ride to see it. The lakes are beautiful and the forest is filled with huge alerce trees, some as old as 2000 years. There is a lot of fine dirt on the road around the lake and in the air around here. The locals told us that it is from the recent volcanic eruption which wiped out the village of Chaiten in Chile, just over the Andes from where we are now. The volcano dirt/dust is all over our motorcycle and riding gear. Just 5km before reaching the pavement, we got our first (and hopefully last) flat tire. Normally a simple routine, the process took a bit longer with all the dust spewing up from the traffic.

We are now staying in a wonderful cabana for about $35/nt and it is nice to cook our own meals again. It’s like a mini version of our Winter Park townhouse. We will stay here until Wednesday so that we can take the famous Patagonia Express narrow-gauge train tomorrow (it only runs a few times a week). After that we don’t know where we are going. If the weather forecast looks good for heading south on the Argentine side of the Andes we will go to the layover town of Perito Morreno and then El Chalten for Mt Fitzroy. If not, we will probably cross back into Chile at Futeleufu (not too far from here) and head south down the Carraterra Austral to Cohaique.

There is a lot of free-ranging cattle on the roads, and they don't always want to get out of the way: