SOUTH AMERICA OVERLAND #4

28-Jan-2009: Bariloche, Argentina (Argentina, Chile, Argentina)

After an amazing ten day expedition to Antarctica, it was time to bid farewell to the Clipper Adventurer crew and expedition team. The weather to welcome us back to Ushuaia had turned very cold and windy, much wilder than in Antarctica! We were very pleased to find Troopy safe and well. After stocking up on food supplies, we resumed our overland adventure north to Alaska!
 
From Ushuaia, we headed for Tolhuin where we refuelled with the cheapest locally priced diesel in Argentina! Luckily we had enough cash since this is one of the few service stations that we have been to that did not accept credit card. We have heard that diesel was cheaper in southern Argentine towns near the border with Chile. However, foreign registered vehicles pay up to 50% more for diesel at service stations that are within 150 kilometres of the border.
 

After refuelling, we backtracked along the windy dusty road to San Sebastian and then crossed from Argentina back into Chile. It was the most hilarious border crossing we have ever encountered as the television in the immigration and customs hall was showing a program similar to Australia’s Funniest Home Videos. The TV show had everyone including the customs and immigration officers roaring with laughter with side-splitting antics from local Chilean contributors. What a delightful border crossing! From here we headed north to catch the ferry which would take us from Tierra del Fuego, across the Magellan Strait, to Patagonia on the South American mainland. Whilst waiting for the ferry we noticed a large sign warning us not to deviate off the main road since there were unexploded land mines from the 1970’s conflict between Argentina and Chile. Fortunately today, Argentina and Chile are on good terms with each other. That night, we found a camp site in a gravel pit (our favourite kind of campsite) that overlooked the Magellan Strait.
 
After a short drive the next morning we crossed yet again from Chile to Argentina at Monte Aymond. This is a busy border post due to the fact that it is the most direct route connecting the Argentine mainland to Argentine Tierra del Fuego. The proceedings here were slower than normal since the same immigration and customs officers at the Argentine border post processed travellers and vehicles coming from both directions. The Argentine customs officer asked to see our “seguro” or compulsory Third Party Insurance, which we had hoped to be able to buy at the border post. Although we did not have the TPI, the officer was kind enough to issue us the temporary vehicle import permit anyway and impressed upon us that we should buy the TPI in Rio Gallegos. He even gave us the address of an insurance firm where we could purchase “seguro.”
 
It was here that disaster struck! We went to read our email only to find that our laptop computer had been over too many bad roads and would fail after being powered on for one minute. For a computer geek, this was a real dilemma. Geoff diagnosed the problem as a bad mother board. This meant that we would not have a computer for the remainder of our trip. This was most inconvenient as it meant that we had no way to send out our regular newsletter, to update our WEB page, or download new maps to the GPS.
 

We arrived in busy Rio Gallegos around lunch time and were able to purchase third party insurance easily which covered Troopy in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. We found another substantial supermarket where we bought more food and empanadas and headed out of town on Ruta 5 heading North West to El Calafate.
 

The drive to El Calafate was very scenic. We were constantly amazed at where the road construction crew have cut a road through very rugged terrain. El Calafate is the gateway to the Glacier Perito Moreno, one of the most active glaciers in the world.
 

El Calafate is a pleasant tourist town with a leafy main street. It reminded us of Pucon in Chile. The town has a relaxed atmosphere with many Argentine and foreign tourists strolling and shopping for adventure tours, enjoying the nice sunny day at various alfresco cafes and restaurants. Many of the buildings in the main street are built log cabin style giving a cosy alpine feel to the place. We decided to try a pizza at a very well patronised pizza restaurant with rustic decor. It was an expensive pizza but also very delicious!
 
El Calafate seemed like a safe town for tourists although we did see police presence on many street corners which made us wonder if the town had a high crime rate. Some weeks later, we heard from other overlanders that one overland vehicle was broken into while parked in front of a busy supermarket. In another part of town, another overland vehicle was burgled at night with its occupants coming away traumatised with superficial cuts and bruises.
 

We entered the Perito Moreno National Park late in the afternoon and drove to the glacier some 27 kilometres into the park just before the sun began to set. The Perito Moreno Glacier is about 29 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide. Standing about 50 metres high and 130 metres below the water, the glacier is one of the most active in the world, advancing around 1.5 metres per day.
 
The National Park has done an excellent job of building extensive walkways to take budding and enthusiastic glaciologists to vantage points very close to this impressive glacier. Every fifteen minutes or so, the stillness of the air was punctuated by crackling sounds reverberating through the glacial valley. We regularly heard loud rumblings, like a lion’s roar, as big chunks of the blue-vein cheese like glacial ice broke off and plunged into the deep blue lake waters. The thunderous noise sent tourists rushing to the edge of the walkway to try and capture the avalanche of falling ice. It is one of the most spectacular and remarkable glaciers we have ever seen. We left the National Park well after sundown and found a soft grassy patch under a bridge to set up camp. By this time it was close to midnight. It was difficult to get to sleep as the wonderful experiences of the day kept going through our minds.
 

Next morning, we left the El Calafate area, taking the road to Tres Lagos. We drove through dry, arid, canyon country shaped by what we imagined to be erosion from glacial melt rivers and the ever present strong winds. We could see Mt. Fitzroy in the near distance standing tall and proud above all other rugged peaks. This peak attracts many hardy hikers and trekkers from all over the world. We also saw travellers on mountain bikes fully laden with saddle bags full of supplies and camping equipment.
 

The mountain and roadside scenery north towards Baja Caracoles was mostly devoid of vegetation. It was dry, desert country. Strong headwinds made the drive on gravel roads quite challenging. We heard of a remote border crossing that would allow us to cross from Argentina into Chile just west of Villa O’Higgins which would be ideal since it is at the very bottom end of the Carretera Austral Highway. This fitted in well with our plans so we turned off the main road and headed west towards Estancia Los Faldes on the way to the border. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere as we journeyed through the very bleak desert countryside.
 
The countryside gradually changed as we gained altitude and got closer to the towering Andean mountains. We were now in prime estancia country rich in green pasture for grazing sheep, cattle and horses. We encountered stockmen on horses herding hundreds of sheep with the help of at least six to eight cattle dogs. This fertile valley is watered by many small creeks criss-crossing the valley to join the main tributary of the Rio Mayor. We were amazed to see this oasis in the “desert.”

After a number of sizeable creek crossings, we eventually arrived at the Argentine border post at El Bello. The border police in civilian clothes came out to meet us. When we asked about crossing into Chile, they told us that it was not possible at this time of the year because the river that separates Argentina and Chile was too deep and fast flowing due to the seasonal snow and glacial melt. At this time of the year only walkers and push-bikers can cross over a narrow suspension bridge, originally used for herding sheep in single file across the river.
 
The border police were happy for us to drive as far as we could and look at the Chilean border post on the opposite side of the river. One of them came along to be our guide as he was familiar with all the river crossings. Our new found friend took us along a very small track through the enchanted woods. It was very picturesque as we drove through green meadows bursting with wild flowers and old forests with streamers of wispy moss draped over tree branches and trunks like organza curtains swaying gently in the breeze. We saw many fallen trees called “Lenga Nires” which have a lifespan of only 20 years before the branches start to break off and the tree eventually topples over. Imagine how eerie it would be to be alone in this forest on a very dark moonless night!
 
We arrived at the sheep-bridge crossing and immediately realised why it would be impossible to attempt crossing the river. It was disappointing to know we had come so close to the border and not be able to get across. To add to our disappointment, we could see the Chilean border post on the other side of the river. As a result, we would now have to drive a further 300 kilometres north before crossing into Chile.
Our excursion did not end at that point, for Eduardo, our guide and border official, took us to another sheep bridge crossing. This time, Troopy crawled up a steep hill through an even more magical forest. We stopped the car and walked down the other side of the hill to a small sheep holding pen directly connected to a suspension bridge for moving sheep across the fast flowing brown murky river. We reckoned the border police here have the best posting of all. They are assigned to different postings for a month at a time. To be working in such a beautiful and tranquil location would be just sheer bliss and pleasure. The job definitely becomes more “stressful” during the peak season when, on average, there are around eight vehicles and a handful of tourists riding their bicycles through from Chile into Argentina each month! We took our guide back to his border post, bid each other farewell with souvenirs and bear hugs and started our drive back to the main road. Along the way we found a delightful campsite under a tall stand of trees beside a wide flowing river. This had been one of those really memorable days that will last in our minds forever.
 
The next day, we arrived at Baja Caracoles which was quite literally a “one horse town” at the crossroads intersecting north, south, east and west. The fuel station, cafe, and hostel is owned and run by one man. He operates between the three businesses in half-hour stints. So while he is cooking and serving customers in the cafe, people wanting to buy fuel have to wait half an hour before getting served.
 
Baja Caracoles was also the windiest and dustiest town we have ever come across. It was uncomfortable, even painful to be standing in the open as we were constantly blasted by endless grains of sand and dust. It was hard to recommend this place to anyone unless in a dire emergency. The wind was unrelenting! We felt sorry for Simon the motorbike rider who had to endure all the wind, cold, heat, rain, sand and dust while we sat in the air-conditioned comfort of our Toyota Troopcarrier.
 
Our windy adventure continued along more gravel roads to Lagos Pasados. The altitude dropped from 700 metres to 200 metres but the strong headwinds continued to assail us. We took a brief respite at Lagos Pasados, a tidy town with tall poplar trees planted close together as a windbreak. Here, we found other overlanders on motorbikes taking refuge in the local campground.
 
Journeying on from Lagos Pasados, the canyon country became very rugged and by the end of the day, we found ourselves surrounded by green coppery dome shaped hills. The lake here is a rich copper green colour and is not immune to the windy conditions either. The gale force winds whip up a modest surf on the beach which might have been ideal for body surfing but for the icy cold glacial melt waters. After an exhaustive search, we made camp in a small clay-pan, trying but failing to shelter from the howling winds racing through the numerous canyons. It was a noisy night’s camping with tents flapping from the ever present high winds.
 
The next morning, the windy conditions prevailed! We edged on slowly and carefully, quite weary from the lack of sleep the night before. Simon our motorcycle companion decided to break the monotony by doing his usual stunt of flying across the dry clay-pan which made us cringe as clay pans can have a deceiving hard surface with a soft layer of mud underneath. Today’s clay pan excursion would be like no other!
 
We saw Simon starting out confidently like a lark without a care in the world. (He claimed to be chasing a piece of paper containing a girl’s phone number that blew out of his hand!) Halfway across the clay pan, the motorbike came to an abrupt halt and sank belly deep into the mud. It was funny at first to see the situation unfolding but we soon stopped laughing when we realised that Simon was stuck for good! We did not relish the idea of trudging into the sticky situation but the poor man could not get his motorbike out without a lot of help.
 
The wind was so strong that it was near impossible to stand upright and keep our balance. It was a mammoth task which took us hours to winch the bike out of the mud. What a sticky business! The mud was greenish black, sticky, thick, slimy and smelly. We were another inch or two taller as the soles of our boots were caked with mud. Simon was very disappointed at the sorry sight of his motorbike! It was very nicely coated with green Argentine mud! Fortunately, he could still ride the bike but it would take many days and lots of coins at the jet-wash to get it all clean again.
 
Despite the gale force windows, we had a lovely extended lunch stop by a stream in a beautiful green valley. Simon gave his bike an initial clean-up. The mud was not water soluble, which meant that the mud had to be scraped off. We also cleaned our boots and washed the dirt and dust out of our hair with the help of a portable shower hooked up to the Land Rover engine.
 

With clean hair and boots, it was a short drive to Paso Robellos, the windiest border post in Argentina! We exited Argentina easily and crossed back into Chile at the Cochrane border post, glad to leave the sandstorm behind and welcome the rain! The winds immediately subsided and the landscape quickly changed from bleak to lush green. The rain got heavier and by the time we arrived in the township of Cochrane, the drizzle turned into a downpour. We decided to stay two nights in Cochrane to chill out a little and explore the southern stretch of the Carretera Austral as far south as Villa O’Higgins.
 
The drive from Cochrane to Tortel was very picturesque. The road hugged the deep turquoise blue freshwater rivers and snow-capped mountains. Tortel is a quaint little town set on the water’s edge. The stilt houses were built against the hillside, many just above the water line and all linked by an extensive network of timber walkways from cove to cove even over the hill to the air-strip. Tortel is not far from the Pacific Ocean, being situated at the mouth of the Baker River which flows into the Baker Channel. One can take a connecting ferry to the ocean going Navimag Ferry (which took us from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales). The Navimag Ferry service plying this area navigates through small islands, fjords, narrow channels and glaciers and is a very spectacular cruise. In addition to tourism, the town of Tortel also has a thriving timber industry, mainly of cypress timber. All in all, it was a very pleasant and beautiful 250 km round trip from Cochrane down to Tortel and back.
 
We were very pleased that the sun was shining the day we started our drive north on the Carretera Austral Highway. This highway’s official name is Carretera General Augusto Pinochet. The construction of this gravel highway began in 1976 to connect remote communities in rural Patagonia from Puerto Montt in the north to Villa O’Higgins in the south. This highway was first opened to traffic in 1988 but it was not until 2003 that the road south to Tortel was finally completed. The total distance of this legendary highway is 1240 kms. Traditionally the road was a highway in name only, being mostly no more than a small gravel track. Slowly but surely, the road is improving. Today it is mostly gravel with some small stretches of bitumen or concrete around the main towns.
 
Our drive took us through small hamlets like Punta Bertrand, Lago Negro, Punto Tranquilo right up to Chaiten. These small hamlets are a paradise for keen anglers and boating enthusiasts. What a pleasure to behold incredibly beautiful scenery with crystal clear rivers and lakes of a deep turquoise colour surrounded by tall, snow covered mountains! There are many cottages, campsites and bed and breakfast establishments catering for holiday makers and fishing parties. The road is of loose gravel with large sections under repair and improvement.
 
From Villa Cerro Castillo, it is a lovely concrete road to Coyhaique. We climbed to the highest altitude of our trip so far at 1112 metres above sea level. Troopy fared really well as long as we kept up the revs going uphill. She was of course unstoppable going downhill..! We had no problems finding beautiful secluded campsites along the endless number of creeks and rivers. Daytime temperatures were very pleasant with blue skies and sunshine. Night temperatures typically dropped to a chilly 5 degrees Celsius.
 
Around Coyhaique, we saw the first wheat crops since we left the Lakes area and Puerto Montt. We found ourselves camping in an old forest area of a wheat paddock after having asked the farm owner for permission to camp on his property. The farm owner and his family actually live in town but were on the property to harvest gooseberries and replenish their meat supply. The others in our party who were born and bred in the city also had their first experience of seeing first-hand how a sheep was slaughtered. It was a squeamish affair but totally natural for the family to stock up on their week’s supply of lamb.
 
We called into Coyhaique the next morning to refuel and restock our food boxes. We saw a fresh produce market and could not resist buying a watermelon and rockmelon. It was simply delicious! Coyhaique seemed to be a hub for the farming district of this part of Patagonia. By this time, Geoff was suffering internet withdrawal symptoms so we had to call into an internet cafe for an hour or so in order to catch up with what was happening around the world.
 
We took a very brief detour through Puerto Aisen and Chacabuco on another nice stretch of concrete road. We did not linger long in these two places due to the distinct fishy odour in the air. Both towns are active in fish processing. We found a very nice place to camp just outside a private ecological nature reserve called Puerto Aiken Del Sur owned by the Catamaranes Del Sur Company.
 

After a good night’s sleep, we continued north on the Carretera (also named Ruta 7) following rivers, some with interesting suspension bridges to explore. The farms gave way to tall green mountains and valleys. The gravel road and corrugations were tolerable and traffic consisted of trucks loaded with produce, timber and road construction materials. The Chilean drivers have been very friendly, courteous and law abiding. We would exchange “hellos” with the flashing of headlights or some vehicles would honk and wave at us while we were stopped for lunch. This is one of the most picturesque parts of the world we have travelled.
 
We came across a German couple who have travelled extensively in South America and stopped to have a good long chat with them. They gave us a lot of helpful information about where to store Troopy in Buenos Aires including GPS co-ordinates. They also talked about their travelling experiences in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.
 

Late in the afternoon, we called into the Parque Nacional Quelat. The park ranger did such a great job of selling the park that we decided to stay the night and avail ourselves of the hot showers on offer. The Quelat NP had very pretty campsites with soft moss-like grass. After setting up camp, we took a short walk across a suspension bridge to view the freshwater lake. It was very peaceful just to sit by the lake and contemplate the pristine view before us...deep blue lake encircled by tall pine forests. It rained continually during the night. Only later did we find out that this area receives 4 meters of rain annually.
 
Early the next morning, we hiked through old growth forest shrouded by thick mist and heavy dew. It was quite challenging in places but we had the pleasant company of native field mice and delightful red robins to encourage us along. The prize at the end of the trail was a fantastic view of a hanging glacier and waterfalls. It was a test of patience trying to photograph this glacier as it was constantly shrouded in heavy mist. We spent a long time waiting for the mist to lift and for the sun to shine through in order to get a good picture.
 
A group of young Israeli backpackers came up behind us. They were not long discharged from national service. It was very interesting talking with them, hearing their side of the story. One very petite girl said she was a tank instructor which we found quite unbelievable! Many of these young soldiers looked forward to travelling the world for 6 to 12 months to spread their wings for a bit before commencing university studies. They enjoyed the freedom of growing their hair and beards and being able to come and go as they pleased. We just marvel at their fitness, tenacity and courage!
 
We left Quelat NP late in the afternoon to continue our travel north on the Carretera Austral Highway. The road between Quelat and Puyuhuapi was closed between 10am till 2pm for rock blasting. The going was a bit slower along this stretch right up to La Junta as we negotiated around heavy machinery and detours. This area had a bit of German influence from early immigrants who settled in Patagonia as farmers.
 

Puyuhuapi is one such town with historic German homes. Small busloads of tourists visit the area and stop at the local cafes famous for German teacakes. We stopped to chat to two overlanders on motorbikes. One was from Panama and the other was from the UK. It turned out that Adam Lewis from the UK was the same guy who was hoping to ship his motorbike in the same container as Troopy from Australia to Chile. Our dates did not coincide. That’s the beauty of overlanding! We meet other crazy overlanders like ourselves all over the world and we never know when we will run into them again further along the track. We had a lot of fun exchanging travel stories and looking over each other’s vehicle setup and array of electronic and mechanical gadgets. To top off the afternoon, we found some really delicious apple empanadas for afternoon tea!
 

We got to La Junta fairly late and camped just out of town by a river. It was noisy to start off with as this area was frequented by locals fishing and swimming. We were later joined by 6 Chilean young men who were riding their pushbikes around Chile. We met this very friendly group at a fuel stop in town and they decided to follow us to this grassy camping spot. They tried to catch fish for dinner but the fish were not taking the bait. The boys had to switch to plan B which was spaghetti with ketchup. We felt sorry for these weary looking boys. Our campsite was considerably noisier in the night with a symphony of snores coming from the boys’ tents!
 
We parted company with the Chilean push bikers mid-morning and headed for Chaiten. We stopped for lunch at the confluence of Rio Frio and Rio Palenas. We had tried a couple of other stops but were not made welcome by big black and orange coloured flies. They would swarm around us and start to bore their hungry fangs into our skin. At this lunch stop, we were able to sit quite peacefully on a big log by the riverbank and enjoy our sandwiches.
 
It was late afternoon when we arrived at the checkpoint to the town of Chaiten. The volcano, 10km north of the town had been dormant for 9000 years, but in May 2008 it erupted and destroyed the town of Chaiten. Since the volcano is still active, the area is restricted and one must obtain permission and register with the police. We could see the volcano smouldering in the near distance, plumes of white and sometimes dark smoke wafting high towards the sky. The volcano had dumped so much ash in the area that the build-up of ash and mud caused the river to burst its banks and change its course weaving a path of destruction right through the middle of town. Some trees in the area appeared to have been burnt as they stood twig like with a sparse covering of singed leaves. No lives were lost as the town was evacuated in time but many buildings were half covered in mud and ash from the volcano. What used to be the port for the Navimag ferries from Puerto Montt is now a silted delta. The port had to be relocated north of town. The force of the flood must have been enormous since whole buildings were literally plucked from their foundations and moved further downstream to what was once the ocean.
 
We looked inside some of the abandoned homes and found pots and pans on stove tops, tables set for a meal, even a doll and a baby pram just outside the front of a house. It was quite eerie to think how quickly the folk in Chaiten had to abandon their homes and for many, to find themselves suddenly homeless and having to live with relatives, friends and strangers. There were big signs put up by some locals that called on the authorities to rebuild Chaiten. There were signs of the rebuilding effort. The mini-supermarket was back in business. There were bulldozers working on levy banks and trucks going back and forth moving debris and ash from the town. A small number of families were transporting their salvaged belongings to and fro.
 
We visited Chaiten in January 2009. A month after we were in Chaiten, the volcano again erupted violently. Since then all efforts to rebuild the town have been abandoned. How sad for the people of Chaiten who have to start life anew in another town!
 
That evening, we continued onto Termas El Amarillo, 25 kilometres southeast of Chaiten. Our travelling companions could not resist taking a warm dip in the pool fed by the waters of the thermal hot springs. The hot springs closed at 8 o’clock so we proceeded to look for a campsite. The sun was getting low in the sky. It did not take long as we soon found a very grassy area well hidden from the main road. The grass was waist high but we had a nice flat area for camping. We just loved the long summer days as this enabled us to pack much more into each day. We had no trouble falling asleep since we were worn out from the day’s adventures.
 
We left the Carretera Austral Highway the next day when we turned off at the village of Villa Santa Lucia, 75 kms south of Chaiten to head east to Futaleufu, the gateway to Argentina. We have had quite an amazing adventure on the Carretera, driving through the most spectacular countryside we have seen anywhere in the world. This lives up to its reputation as being one of the best road trips in South America. After another leisurely lunch stop, we arrived at the Carro Del Indio rafting camp to check out the price for a rafting trip down the Rio Futaleufu, well known to rafting and kayaking enthusiasts worldwide for its crystal clear blue and amazing wild waters waiting to be conquered!
 

Simon, our expert negotiator, managed to get a good camping and rafting deal for us, so we settled in for the next couple of days. We took the opportunity to do some washing and tidying up of our vehicles and have another hot shower. Kienny could not wait for the do-it-yourself wood heated shower she decided to jump in straight away for an icy cold one. She called it “preparing for the cold waters of the Futaleufu.” Overnight, the rain came down and the weather turned freezing cold.
 
We woke up to a cold miserable day scurrying to get our warm thermals, fleeces and rain proof jackets on. We were very content to sit by the fire. No one was motivated to do anything, much to the dismay of our Italian rafting guide. By mid morning, he managed to coax us out of our warm clothes into wetsuits, helmets and life jackets. Geoff and I were so cold that we decided to put two wetsuits on. We felt really constricted after that. It was either die of hypothermia or suffocation! The rafts were hitched onto the back of the van and off we went to start our rafting trip. They promised us hot chocolate, yummy sandwiches, chocolate bars and an adventure of a lifetime. Having spent 10 days rafting the Sun Kosi in Nepal, we weren’t sure what could possibly top that.
 
Well, we did have a fantastic rafting adventure. It was cold and rainy but the white water was exhilarating! We even managed to find space in our very tight wetsuits to fit in the sandwich, chocolate bars and hot chocolate which were most comforting on a very cold, wet day. We could not remember how we got on with the paddling in the tight wetsuits but our adrenalin must have moved our arms and legs in our quest to not fall out into the white water and be swallowed by the “tornado” and the “thunder.” Our guide was very cheeky at the last rapid when he purposely tried to tip us out of the raft but our teamwork instinct kicked in and we were able to steer our raft safely through to calmer waters. All in all, it was a really fun day and we were glad we went rafting. We ended the day with a nice dinner around the campfire with all the other rafters and kayakers, exchanging tales of how we survived the “Fu.”
 
Next morning was a beautiful fine day when we packed up and headed for the town of Futaleufu, about 8 kms from the Argentine border. We had heard that there was a Rodeo happening in the town but we did not know where. The town seemed very small and sedate for a Rodeo to be happening. However after lunch, we saw people on horseback dressed up like cowboys. We followed them to where the rodeo was.
 

There were many people from town and the surrounding district all seated on benches built into the hillside. The scrutineers and volunteers were busy marking out the arena and the cattle. The gauchos wore beautifully woven ponchos over their smartly pressed shirts and trousers. They were gently warming up their horses around the arena. They looked very smart with their outfits, shiny spurs and boots. The horses were very well groomed with polished saddles, straps, shiny buckles and ornately carved wooden and leather stirrups.
 

There was no doubt that this was a family day outing. The young and old were enjoying their picnic lunch of beer, soft drink and empanadas. There was a small contingent of volunteers in the kitchen with a production line making empanadas by the dozens. Many of us waited an hour for our empanadas. We stood and watched the ladies mix and knead the dough, then roll and cut the shapes ready for the filling and the frying. It was more than well worth the hour long wait, for the empanadas were the best we have tasted in all of Chile and Argentina!
 
So, it seemed the aim of the Rodeo was to find the best pair of gauchos who could herd a cow from one corner of the ring to the other in an orderly fashion. The cow must not be allowed to run in all directions or back into its enclosure before time. Each team had to run the frightened creature back and forth very quickly until it became very tired and be content to go where it was directed to go, which was back into the holding enclosure. The teams with the best time, costume and skill would proceed into the next rounds when they did it all over again until they ended up with the fastest team who was the winner. It was fascinating to watch the composure and horsemanship of these gauchos. Some teams worked very smoothly, efficiently and quietly while others were a little more dramatic. The atmosphere was greatly enhanced by the applause, noisy gestures and heckles from the spectators.
 
After about 4 hours of watching the elimination rounds, we left the rodeo and headed for the border. We exited Chile and entered Argentina at Chubut. We visited a fish farm close to Chubut called Arroyo Baguilt on Estacion de Piscicultura. This was a busy salmon and trout farming enterprise. We eventually arrived in Trevelin and camped in a forest of pine trees at the top of town.
 
The next day, Geoff and Rupert spent a good part of the day refuelling the vehicles. We felt we were not being treated fairly when the fuel stations were going to charge us tourist prices for buying diesel in bulk. Troopy and the Land Rover each took 270 litres. However, we discovered it was okay to buy fuel at the cheap local price if we filled up a 20 litre jerry can. So the two determined men spent the morning filling up both vehicles one jerry can at a time! The rest of us decided it was just as profitable to spend the time at a discount internet cafe.
 
After a late lunch, we finally departed Trevelin for Parque Nacional Los Alerces. We encountered the same disparity in pricing when we had to pay $30 Argentine Peso each compared with the locals rate of only $4 Argentine Peso. We had no choice but to pay if we wanted to see the park and continue north to Bariloche. At least the price included camping. This National Park is part of the beautiful lakes district of Argentina. We stopped to visit different viewpoints along the shores of Lago Futalaufquen. This National Park is very busy and popular with local Argentines and tourists. We spent the night at an idyllic campsite by the lake on Playa del Frances. It is very scenic with tall shady trees and a pristine turquoise blue lake, ideal for swimming.
 
The next morning, Geoff and Simon went for a walk to Puerto Chucao. The rest of us had a relaxing morning. We left late morning and had lunch by Lago Verde. We met an American couple who drove their sedan all the way from the US to Argentina, fell in love with Argentina and stayed. They were very kind to offer us hospitality at their home in El Boson but our paths were not to cross again.
We got to El Hoyo fairly late but just in time to fill up with diesel again. This time there was no need to fill the tank jerry can by jerry can as El Hoyo was more than 150 kilometres from the border with Chile. This fuel stop was just below the 42nd parallel, and as such it was the last service station to sell the government subsidised fuel at the Patagonian rate. We filled our fuel tanks to capacity knowing that it would be a long time before we were able to purchase fuel at such a good price. From here we continued north to El Boson.
 
After the wilderness of Patagonia, El Boson was a big culture shock for us. It was abuzz with tourists and backpackers from all over the world! El Boson is well known for its beer, ice cream and chocolate parlours. We took a stroll through the main precinct where there was also a vibrant art and craft market.
 
The road from El Boson to Bariloche is a good bitumen road with very spectacular scenery. We never cease to marvel at the beauty of the mountains, rivers, lakes and forests of the Andes. We drove over the highest pass of our trip so far at 1062 metres above sea level. As we approached Bariloche, we passed by suburbs that were very wealthy with nice gardens, tall fences and big homes. We also passed by the not so wealthy suburbs with a greater density of population on a small block of land. The properties on the lakeside are the most affluent ones of all with superb views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and the alpine country beyond.
 
We decided to spend two nights in Bariloche and checked into a campsite at Camping La Selva Negra. This was very conveniently located 3 kms out of town with a bus stop right outside. The campground has great facilities and 24 hour security. We walked into the centre of town and treated ourselves to raspberry shakes and chocolate profiteroles at “Mamuschkas.” Bariloche is the chocolate capital of Argentina. Chocolate lovers would think they were in “chocolate heaven” in Bariloche. We were content to walk around town looking at the stone and wooden architecture of the town. There were shops catering to hikers, mountain bikers, kayakers and skiers. Getting laundry done at the lavanderia was the cheapest we have seen in all of Argentina! Since we were about to part company with Simon, our tag along motorcycle rider, we had a beautiful farewell dinner at the “hobbit house” named El Taquino. This very quaint looking restaurant was built entirely of hardwood. The doors were huge and chunky looking with wrought iron ring handles. The rustic table and chairs also gave one the feeling of being a tiny hobbit in a land of giants. The meals were also top notch! After dinner, we all enjoyed going to the cinema to watch the movie “Australia.” The night would not be complete without a few pieces of chocolate and an ice-cream from the chocolate parlour. We caught the last bus back to our campground at 1 am in the morning. We thought we were late night owls but there were a lot of families with very young children still out and about in town.
 
It was with a twinge of sadness that we said goodbye and farewell to Simon the next morning. We have enjoyed his company and friendship very much and we have had a fantastic adventure together. However, we had to push on towards Buenos Aires. We look forward to the next stage of our travels which will be to Brazil to experience Carnivale and then Iguazu Falls.

We trust that you will enjoy our pictures of Patagonia. The pictures for this section of our trip can be found by clicking here, here and here or by selecting the Next arrrow button at the bottom of this page.

A map of our trip can be seen by going to http://dreamers1.com/americas/GoogleMaps/SouthAmerica.html or by selecting the Map button at the bottom of this page.

The WEB site containing our travels in Africa, Russia and South America is http://overland.dreamers1.com or by selecting the Contents button at the bottom of this page.

Best Wishes,
Geoff and Kienny Kingsmill

Email: gkingsmill@yahoo.com
WEB: http://overland.dreamers1.com

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