Published: February 1st 2008January 28th 2008 Back to Argentina
View from the Chilean Customs Post
Travelling across international borders in South America on a Sunday is never a good idea. Our journey from Pucón to San Martin de los Andes in Argentina, which normally takes 4 to 5 hours, took us a whole 8 hours. We were delayed for three hours outside Pucón waiting for cyclists in the Ironman competition to finish their cycle. They had a worse journey than us though, having to cycle 100 km, swim 3.5 km, and run 40 km on a very hot day.
The border crossing at Tromen is surely one of the most beautiful in the world. Both the Chilean and Argentinian customs posts lie beneath the spectacular Volcan Lanin, which towers over everything else in this area (it's almost 1000m higher than nearby Volcan Villarrica). There was a surprising lack of snow on the mountain, and an Englishman on the bus, who lived in San Martin, told us he'd been crossing for 20 years and had never seen that little snow in January. This gave us a lot of hope for our planned climb . The sky was completely clear that day giving us a fantastic views of the volcano, surely one of Argentina's
finest sights. San Martin de los Andes
Once we reached San Martin we were forced to revise our plan to climb Lanin. At the start of January, a crevice opened in the glacier near the top of the mountain, meaning you can now only reach the summit with a mountain guide, regardless of your experience. Whilst this is great news for the guides in the area, it meant we would have to fork out 750 pesos each to reach the top, a bit too much really! Travelling for 5 months in South America has made us experts in changing planned itineraries at short notice so, with a little help from the excellent staff in the Lanin National Park office, we devised a 3 day hiking plan through Lanin Park.
San Martin in high season is unbelievable. We had been here for a day in November, when it seemed like a an elegant, relaxed town. In January most of Buenos Aires decamps here for holidays. There was a queue at the tourist office which reached outside the door, and barely a room in town to be had in town. The cheapest we could find was 175 pesos - rather
Seen from Mirador Banduria in San Martin de los Andes
a lot when we had become used to paying 80 or 90 max up to now. There were relatively few foreign tourists here (most are probably in Bariloche) - I've since read that San Martin is a favourite holiday destination for well off Argentinians. Despite the crowds, it's a lovely town, surrounded by mountains, and lying on the shores of Lago Lacar. We did a short afternoon hike up to Mirador Bandurias, overlooking the lake, passing by an indigenous community, whose ancestors have lived here since long before the Conquistadores. Later that day we started getting ready for the national park - we hired a tent and bought enough food to last us for three days. Watch out for the hot springs!
We planned to hike in the Hua-Hum sector of Lanin National Park, at the far west end of Lago Lacar, beside the Chile border. Hua-hum is accessible by bus from San Martin along a ripio (unpaved) road to the north of the lake. The first day's hike took us from Hua-Hum to Lago Queni, a remote and difficult to reach lake, along a 12km track through forest for the most part, with some lovely scenery towards the
River near Lago Queni
This was the only water source at Camping Queni. The water was ice-cold and delicious.
end as we reached Lago Queni. It was a straightforward enough hike, though we did have to carry all our food, clothes and camping gear. The road was very dusty so whenever a car passed (and there were many) we had to walk through and breathe dust. So much for hiking being good for you!
We pitched our tent at the free campsite, in a nice spot by the shores of Lago Queni, and took a quick rest before hiking for another hour to the thermal pools beyond the lake. The pools here were very rustic, dug out of the ground to catch the very hot water from the naturally hot river. It didn't look like much but it was very hot - like stepping into a jacuzzi. The water is supposed to be full of minerals that help cure all sorts of ailments. I'm not sure what heats up the water so much, but I assume it's caused by one of the many volcanoes on the other side of the border.
So there I am lying in the pools, careful not to stay too long as they're very hot. As soon as I came out I started
Before the fainting incident. The pool doesn't look like much but the water here is very hot. There are other bigger pools not pictured.
to feel dizzy, so I sat down for a minute. Next thing I remember is waking up seeing Ruth and a load of women in bikinis holding my legs in the air, and thinking "this is interesting"! Apparently I fainted and was out cold for about 20 seconds. Ruth shouted for help, and some of the Argentinian girls in the pools came to help, lifted my legs in the air, and helped me back to consciousness. What had happened was the heat from the pools had lowered my blood pressure, meaning there was a lack of blood to the brain, causing me to fall over and faint. Hiking 15km in the heat probably contributed too. I don't remember any of it, apart from feeling dizzy and a little dreamy when I came out of the pool. Luckily one of the women there knew exactly what to do. The people there were very helpful, giving me water and constantly checking on me as I recovered. I took it easy for an hour before walking gingerly back to the campsite.
I was certainly fully recovered the next day as we walked 21 km, further than I've ever walked in one day
Hiking to Cerro Mallo
After clearing the treeline it was a straightforward hike along a ridge to Cerro Mallo summit.
while carrying all food and camping equipment. We made a quick diversion to see a nice waterfall once back at Hua-Hum, then walked the final 6km to Camping Nonthue, on the shores of Lago Lacar and Lago Nonthue. This was a well set up campsite with a shop, restaurant, showers and toliets though it did cost 14 pesos per person. After 2 days walking in 30 degree heat, we certainly needed the shower. We had brought just enough pesos to pay for the camping and a bus back to San Martin, so we couldn't buy a cold beer, nor could we change from our regular camping diet of pasta, porridge and instant soup :( Climbing Cerro Mallo
We had chosen Camping Nonthue as it's a good base for the climb to the summit of Cerro Mallo, a 1978 metre peak overlooking Lago Lacar. The following morning we started the climb. As the lake was at 800m altitude, we faced an ascent of almost 1200 metres. Moreover, it was even hotter than yesterday, and the tabanos (very annoying flies) were out in huge numbers, meaning it would be tough going. It took us almost two hours along a steep trail
View from Cerro Mallo
This is Volcan Chushuenco, in Chile, seen from the summit of Mallo.
to reach the end of the treeline at the top of the valley. Near the summit, we bumped into the family who'd sorted me out after fainting; luckily I didn't need their help with anything today. The views from the top were superb. We could see volcanoes Lanin, Villarrica and Chushuenco to the north as well as numerous Argentinian peaks in Bariloche's direction, and beautiful, almost hidden valleys, in Lanin Naional Park. We stayed on the summit a good 40 minutes as the weather was so nice. Mallo is one of the best hikes we've done in South America, and, for anyone thinking of doing it, it could also be done in a day from San Martin if you don't fancy camping.
That evening we put what pesos we had left towards buying two milanesas in the campsite as neither of us could face pasta and soup again. The campsite became very crowded that night when a group from Rosario rolled in on a minibus. They set up camp at 10, started eating at midnight and we're still partying at 5am! Just as well we weren't planning anything big for the following day. My "saviours" from the thermal pools
Sunset on Lago Lacar
This view is from the beach in Camping Nonthue
were also staying in the same camp - they must have thought we were following them by this stage. Before they left the next morning, they asked to take a picture with us as we'd seen them every day of their trip. I didn't get any of their names but perhaps they'll see the picture here someday. All I know is they're from Buenos Aires and they were a very friendly and helpful group. Back to San Martin de los Andes
It's always nice returning to civilisation after a hike, and I felt good after having my first coffee in 3 days. All we'd drank during the trekking was water from the rivers, lakes and streams, so we treated ourselves to a few beers that night. We also went to our favourite pizza restaurant, Nonnu, in San Martin and had our by now regular meal of pizza and empanadas. Our plan to return to Chile the following day was thwarted as there were no buses until the Sunday. So we had to spend another expensive night in Cerro Nevado. This, however, did give us a chance to do more hiking. This time we went for Volcan Colorado, a 1774
Back in San Martin de los Andes
A nice, cold beer after three days hiking in the park.
metre peak, very near to San Martin.
This was a straightforward climb up a valley, and then beyond the treeline to the summit, along a fairly obvious path. Just as on Cerro Mallo, the views were again fantastic. I can't believe an agency in San Martin was offering this as a guided excursion, as it was one of the easiest peaks we've climbed in Argentina. The summit was very windy but there was a good shelter behind the cairns marking the highest point. We were back down by 2pm, but then had to choose between hiking 12km back to San Martin or waiting till the 9pm bus. We set off along the dusty road and decided to try hitch a lift. Most cars were going the other way and in the first 2km only two passed and neither choose to pick up two dusty and sweaty hikers. Can't imagine why! However, in the next car were a couple we had met on the summit, whose picture I had taken. They were driving to the other side of the lake via San Martin and agreed to drop us in town. I think their names were Carlos and Ana. Carlos spoke
Summit of Cerro Colorado
Not the highest peak we've climbed, but for once I had the flag with me!
no English but Ana worked in the tourismo in San Martin and was practically fluent. They were a lovely couple and easy to talk to.
So that brought an end to a fantastic week in Argentina. We'd climbed a mountain and a volcano, hiked a good 50km at least and survived the hot springs! We had been travelling almost a month in Chile so it was nice to see some more of Argentina again (and return to cheaper food and proper coffee, both lacking in Chile). Our 7 days around San Martin had given us some lovely weather and beautiful scenery, and confirmed something that perhaps we already knew, that the Argentinians are very friendly people and that Argentina is fast becoming my favourite country!
There are more photos below