We left the Carretera Austral at Villa Santa Lucia, (remember from the previous post, the town that had been covered by mud) and headed up the dirt road towards the Argentinian border, following the Futaleufu river after passing Lago Yelcho. At the start it looked like we were going to climb high up through the mountains, but in reality the pass over the Andes ridge was an easy one. The blue Futaleufu river was a popular destination for those who like whitewater rafting and canoeing: everywhere along the way we passed launching spots. At the few peek-a-boo spots through the trees, we could see rafts speeding downstream. In the town of Futaleufu – filled with adventure seeking backpackers – it was easy to find a restaurant to have lunch before we’d cross the border. Despite being surrounded by snow peaks, it was getting hot: a short siesta time in our camper parked along the central plaza felt more like sauna time: we soon continued towards the border.
Once back in Argentina, we looked for an overnight spot and ended up at “The southernmost vineyard” which also offered camping. It was truly a beautiful, well built and maintained place that promised designated RV spots with electric and water hookups and Wifi throughout the premises. The camping fees were the highest we’d encountered so far in Argentina so we were a bit disappointed when, after we were informed of the price and some shady RV spaces were unoccupied, we were directed to a tent camping spot where all the amenities were out of reach and shade trees too low to keep us somewhat cool during the 30⁰ C heat. Using the Wifi from outside the bathroom block was not what I expected either – for that price and promise. We decided to look for a better, cooler spot further down the road.
We found our place in the shade after Kristopher and Verena, a German couple we’d met before, on the pretty beach in Chile and again on the road, adviced us to go up to Laguna la Zeta, the lake nearby the town of Esquel – they had enjoyed quite some time there when the COVID-19 quarantine started and they were not allowed to enter the town. They knew the area well and showed us a few beautiful spots along the shores… we elected to stay in the shade of a pine forest overlooking the lake and its beach guests enjoying the cool clear waters below us.
Here we stayed for the hottest days, waiting for the weather to cool. During the cool early mornings we walked around the lake: about half of its perimeter was accessible for camping with many lovely spots on soft green grass or between low hanging trees; the other half was pasture for horses and cattle, the lake’s edges were bordered by reeds. The far and shallow end of the lake was a bird sanctuary: the soft, marshy ground along this side kept us, intruders, at a safe distance for them not to feel threatened. By late afternoon our shady pine forest filled up with day guests, who parked their cars around us and emptied their trunks of beach chairs and blankets, and walked down to the waterside loaded with food, their thermos bottles and mate cups. By evening all would be quiet again when everyone, except for a few campers, left. We made friends with our Brazilian neighbors Mattias and Clarissa,who arrived one day in a tiny overloaded Suzuki Jimmy, heavy with a roof tent with side extension, complete camping gear, bicycles and their dog. Befitting the norm of many Brazilians, they automatically included us in their dinner plans, so sweet! We contributed wine, appetisers and salad, and enjoyed some rich meals together at -for us- odd dinner times.
When the weather cooled down some, we hit the road again. Unfortunately the Parque Nacional de los Alerces, which came highly recommended, was on fire. We heard from our German friends, who went ahead, that they were forced to leave the park when the fire encroached around them. We took the main road instead and approached El Bolsón when the next heatwave hit. Just in time we reached a pebble beach along the Rio Azul, where immediately we found a friend in Mario and Maria, who practically lived there already for a few weeks in their camper and trailer. He went out of his way to show us the best spots. Here, again (it is mid-summer here) the beach filled with day guests by late afternoon, leaving us by ourselves for the rest of the time to enjoy the sun in the shade, the clear, cool water of the river, and nature beyond…Until all of a sudden the location seemed to have been discovered: on our last evening we got inundated with campers who settled all around us! Good thing we already were planning to leave the next morning, with the next cool spell.
El Bolsón is a small town on Ruta #40. (With a surprising amount of traffic!) The main square and several buildings around the center are charming, while along the main through fare, an abundance of bakeries, deli and cheese stores tempt one to buy too much. We should not stay too long here! Already a while ago, our South American insurance agent had invited us to visit their farm/campground not far north of El Bolson, so we made that our next stop. We reached it over an extremely bumpy road, when – fate has it- I forgot to lock one upper cabinet door and a heavy glass bowl fell out, shattered on, and broke our sink cover: during our seven- some years of travel this was only the second time this happened. !Always check the locks of your cabinets before driving!
The farm, embraced by mountains on both sides, stretched along a stream lined with green trees and bushes. Most of the land was naturalized, somewhat controlled by the grazing of a small flock of sheep and a family of rabbits. From an elevated viewpoint you could see a multitude of green circles in their dry grassland, created by a sprinkling system. Three years ago a forest fire nearly destroyed all the work done to the land, the life stock, and the buildings. Since that time they try to keep the worst of the drought out by diverting a water source into the sprinklers. We enjoyed a couple of quiet days by ourselves, and evenings in good company of our hosts Klaus and Claudia.
It was time to revisit Bariloche; the town that used to be the pearl of Argentina back in 1978. Back then, every Argentinian we met asked us what we thought of their country, and asked if we’d been to Bariloche yet – we should defenitly visit – which we did, just before crossing into Chile. From that time, I remember the beautiful mountain scenery with poplars in their golden autumn glory, with bushes full of rosehip and clearwater creeks. Of Bariloche I remembered the German/Swiss Alpine building style, with lots of natural wood and balconies, and their chocolate – you could not leave without buying some. How it had changed: the chocolate was still popular, but Bariloche had become a rather ugly city with hectic traffic and a terrible reputation of petty crime. We heard so many warnings, never to leave your vehicle unattended. We heard from fellow travellers that had their window shattered and camera equipment stolen when shopping for groceries, or of some, even when in the car, that had their door locks broken… We decided this time for an expensive campground, and not to stay longer than necessary. By then the temperature had dipped to 13⁰C (30⁰ Fahrenheit dip from the week before) with freezing winds throwing up white caps on the otherwise beautiful blue lake bordering Bariloche. We were ready for the last leg of our Argentinian trip, along the 7 lakes (actually 13) in the Andean mountain range north of Bariloche. And hopefully some more summer weather.