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Published: February 9th 2010
From El Chalten it was a long two day drive to Bariloche on the legendary Route 40 which runs north to south through most of western Argentina. Despite being the main road which connects Patagonia with the north of the country, it's only partially paved with long stretches of dusty dirt road. This makes for a slow and bumpy ride on the truck but it's great to travel for hours through the wilderness of the Patagonian steppe, almost never seeing another vehicle - just the occasional guanaco or rhea and the enormous Patagonian sky overhead. Some argue that the ongoing paving of the road is destroying its mystique and romance but after long stretches of dirt road you can appreciate the value of progress. The only disappointment of the trip was that we didn't find any of the classic Rota 40 road signs for pictures but I had already sorted myself out with a patch in El Calafate.
We made good progress on the first day so decided to detour to see Cuevos de las Manos (the Cave of Hands), a UNESCO world heritage site. These are caves in the canyon of Rio Pinturas, itself a beautiful canyon, in which
are paintings of various animals and stencilled imprints of over 18,000 hands. The paintings are up to 9,000 years old and remarkably well preserved for their age. The purpose of the hand prints remains unclear, perhaps some ritual significance or simply a signature. It was an interesting site to see in a stunning setting and well worth the detour.
After some cards and beers on the truck we arrived in the small town of Perito Moreno, our base for the night. Not much going on in Perito Moreno on a Saturday night, it's just a stopping post on Route 40. The Hotel Belgrano was like time travelling back to the 1970s but it was comfortable and they did a really good (and huge) steak and chips for a hungry and weary traveller. Early next morning we continued on, stopping for a last roadside lunch and probably the last bit of plate flapping I'll do for a long time. In late afternoon the landscape changed from the flat, dry Patagonian steppe to the green and mountainous features of the Lake District and we arrived at our final stop, Bariloche.
Bariloche is a sweet town in a beautiful setting, located
on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi and surrounded by the mountains, lakes and national parks of the Lake District. The landscape attracted many Swiss and German settlers, whose legacy is most notable in the huge number of chocolate factories and shops in the town. There's lots of trekking and other activities to do around Bariloche but having had my fill over the last two weeks, it was strictly chill out time for the two days here. The one must do activity was to take the chairlift up to Cerro Campanario, 17km out of town, which has amazing views of the lakes in the area. After lunch we visited the nearby Fenoglio chocolate factory and museum which, while interesting, was a long way short of Willy Wonkas. After the final group meal, we went to the Antares brewery pub. Antares is an excellent Argentinian beer, which we had occasionally since Ushuaia. They had 8 types of beers available and when we saw the option of having a 65ml glass of each, which came in a mini beer glass on a board complete with tasting notes (en Espanol), Terry and I had to choose that. All except the honey beer and
wheat beer were good, with a couple of very strong beers noticeable even in 65ml.
With the tour over and everyone gone their separate ways, Tuesday was a day to get organised. I moved from the hotel into a hostel - got to get used to budgeting from now on, sent a package home to lighten the weight of my bag and lose some of the cold weather Patagonia gear and bought my ticket for Cruce de Lagos, a boat/bus combination trip that would take me across the Andean lakes back to Chile.
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