25 S Chile, Argentina

CHILE – ARGENTINA: SOUTH CENTRAL.                                           April 2006

            The RN40 (Ruta cuarenta) took us north from El Calafate (Argentina). The guidebook described it as “a mythic road, through one of the wildest most uninhabited parts of the planet through interminable stretches of flat isolation under wind-whipped swirly clouds with only condors for company”. Most stretches were kidney-jarring gravel and Jan had to steer against the strong wind.  Guanacos crossed over the road and rheas scuttled off at passing traffic. (Guanaco=Llama-like; Rhea=Ostrich-like).

            One night we parked on a farm, Estancia Telken. It had been a sheep farm, but 15 years before, Volcano Hudson in Chile, 160km away had deposited tons of ash on the grazing and also suffocated the animals. She is of Scottish descent and provided a meal in the gracious old homestead. It was served on lace and a silver bell summoned the three courses from the kitchen – including shepherd’s pie and raspberry roly-poly for desert with dulce de leche (The typical Argentinean caramel or milk jam).

            Near the farm, a track led to Cueva de los Manos where we saw cave paintings of hand imprints done 8000 years ago. There were hundreds: done in yellow, white, brown, red and black; also some drawings of guanacos.

            Los Antiguos, next to Lago Buenos Aires, has a warmer micro climate. Unlike in the rest of Patagonia, things grow there. (But the wind still blows!) Rows of Poplar trees provide shelter around the fruit trees on the little plots. The orchards also had to be dug up from the volcanic ash.

 

INTO CHILE

Chile Chico and the cheese.

The huge Lake Buenos Aires (2nd biggest in South America) straddles the border between Argentina and Chile. On the Chilean side it is called Lake General Carrera. At the Chile Chico border post we had not been careful enough with our fresh food products. The official confiscated a big chunk of cheese from our fridge. He marched away, chuffed with himself, and we were thoroughly cheesed off!

            The winding road around the lake took us a whole day. 170km of spectacular scenery - around the deep blue lake with it’s backdrop of mountains and forests. We pass by the Hudson Volcano with huge swaths of destroyed woodland surrounding it, following the eruptions of 1991. Tree-stumps remain where logging and creating of pastures also had destroyed huge tracts of land.

            Jan had to avoid the pot holes and slow down for the corrugations. Leoné could admire the huge forests of Nothofagus trees and the views of Cerro Castillo, the mountain range with its weathered castle-like basalt spires and gleaming glaciers. The Spanish word for gravel road is “ripio”. (“rip your vehicle apart”, we say)

            In Chile we are still far south of the capital city, Santiago. We travelled north along the Carretera Austral (Southern Road), an incredible feat of engineering through mountains and forests and over rivers. The road was started in 1980 and was built mostly by the military. In Coyhaique’s museum we saw photo’s of the construction of this 1200km ‘penetration road’ stretching south from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. At the museum we also noticed photographs of military parades with rows and rows of Series 1 Land Rovers parked over an entire parade ground.

            As we drive, we see snow covered mountains reflected in lakes and stop at water falls, tumbling down steep ravines. One overnight stop is next to the mirror-like Puyuyapi fjord. Its little harbour is strewn with multi-coloured boats. The next day we find the perfect spot with stunning views to relax for a few days. It is sunny and we sip some Pisco Sours. Jan repairs a brake fluid leak and a tiny radiator leak. We prepare to have a barbecue but the weather turns foul and we end up having hot soup in the motor home. We do some photo editing on the laptop until the batteries start complaining.

 

BACK TO ARGENTINA

Futaleufu and the sniffer dog

After travelling east, next to the raging aquamarine Futaleufu River with its rafting and kayaking facilities, we cross back into Argentina. This time the border official brings a huge golden Labrador into the campervan to sniff out fresh produce; under and even onto our bed! He finds nothing……

            At the junction of the RN40 we fill Dipli’s diesel tank. In Argentina diesel is about half the price compared with Chile. After 164000km Dipli’s fuel consumption has gone up by about 15%. The Ruta cuarenta stretches next to the Andes and goes for nearly 5000km, most of the length of Argentina.

            Trevellin is one of the towns settled by the Welsh. At Nain Maggie Casa de Te we enjoy an Argentinian-Gaellic high tea consisting of a spread of eats and delicious Welsh black cake.

            The Internet café in Esquel is described as “2 floors of cyber madness”. We park in front of it. There is a lot of business to catch up with. In between the e-mail sessions, the pc is set up with spreadsheets. We spend what is left of the night, right there.

            The rose hips shrubs with yellow leaves now have bright red berries. Apart from the tea and jam from the fruit, they also sell cosmetic oil from the seeds in Rosa Mosqueta beauty products.

            Bariloche has easy camper parking next to its picturesque Lake Nahuel Huapi. It is also the chocolate town. How can one product be moulded, mixed, displayed, packaged and presented in so many ways! From the 5kg Easter egg to the personal choice from hundreds of different ones – served by pretty young girls with a tiny spatula and a big smile. We also try the local smoked trout – served hot with a chunky walnut sauce.

            It has been a long and lonely road. We meet fellow motor home travellers. One guy does translations en route; she sells CD’s with routes, GPS coordinates and pictures, by mail order. They are in a compact 4wd Mercedes bus. The Kiwi’s have been on the road for 14 years. They get massage training contracts at hotels and he manufactures massage tables in their long low American campervan.

            After some marvellous free wild campings on the north shore of Park Nahuel Huapi, passing San Martin de los Andes with its ice cream parlours and trendy tourist shops, it is time to go back to Chile.

BACK TO CHILE

Carirriñe pass and some 4wd.

 

At our lakeside parking the GPS shows our altitude as 600m, and the temperature inside Dipli is 1°C. We think we had better be over the obscure Carirriñe pass of 1178m before  night fall. The ascent is 50km of winding track next to one lake. There are narrow wooden bridges and we travel at 20-40 km/h, through a forest corridor, sometimes in low range 4wd, to enable careful manoeuvring over the rough surface. This border post is so seldom used by foreign vehicles that the carabineros doing duty as border officials, seem to struggle with the paper work.

                                                                                                           

            We had looked forward to soaking our travel-weary bones in the hot springs at Termas Epulaufquen but it is mid Easter week-end and bus loads of people are crammed into the pools.  The next day, after a long hike in Park Huerquehue in search of Araucaria trees (in vain) we move on and find thermal waters. We look forward to hours of total submersion but then we emerge quickly because the springs are too hot!

           

We have come back to Chile to see the trees, volcanoes and the attractive lakeside villages of Pucon and Villarica. One night we park in a lava bed between sunset  reflections on Lake Calafquen on one side, and the towering smoking Volcano Villarica (2847m) on the other.

                                                                                                                       

BACK TO ARGENTINA

The pass with The trees.

In pouring rain we cross the Mamuil Malal pass which runs through groves of Araucaria Araucanas trees. The Araucaria is an impressively old species of conifer. The female monkey-puzzle trees drop huge nuts. This has been a staple food of the indigenous Mapuche for centuries. We collect some of the long pods. After being boiled and roasted, they taste like chestnuts.

 

BACK TO CHILE

Landslide! The pass is closed.

            The weather clears after 2 days of heavy rain.  The Pehuenche pass leads to Chile  from Bardas Blancas. We arrive at the Argentinean side of the border for document control. There is a locked gate.  We are still 40km from the actual frontier at the top of the pass. The uniformed guards gather and tell us that the pass is closed due to a landslide and will be closed for 3 more days. They suggest that we drive 20km up the pass and go and wait at the hot springs of Termas Cajon Grande. These pools are in the veldt next to a river and surrounded by mountains. In spite of the brownish iron oxide colour of the water, the scenic soaking was bliss.

            After 3 days we go back down for the border procedures. On South African passports we do not need visas for Argentina and Chile and both countries also issue their own permits to foreign vehicles, so a Carnet de Passage is not required. The, by now well known, procedure is quick at such a quiet border; then we carry on over the pass. Ours is  the only vehicle and we meet the grader which has removed the rock fall and filled the subsidence – only just wide enough to enable Dipli to squeeze through between the cliff and the long, long drop down to Lake Maule below.

 

            We do not want to risk being fined, so this time, before the border control post, we consume all our fresh food in spite of not being very hungry!

            We are on our way further north to Santiago, about midway in the string-bean country between the sea and the mountains:  4300km long (but by road it is 5700km) and averaging about 180km wide.

What a shock it was to be out of the wilderness and on a busy free way to  Santiago. The air pollution was even more of a shock; to mind, and body. There is no campsite in the Chilean capital.  After considerable perseverance, Jan managed to obtain permission for us to park Dipli overnight on a hilltop-park overlooking the city.

                                                                                                           

Through ordering “boerewors” (South African sausage), we met a lady from Zimbabwe. Through her we met other Southern Africans during a brunch at the SA Embassy and at a newly opened South African Restaurant.  The “sausage lady” offered us parking at a house they were renovating. The luxurious “campsite” with three bath rooms, patio, pool and tennis court was the ideal place to wait 8 days for our plane to Easter Island. (Flying a week later saved us 60% on the fare!)

 

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