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Published: November 24th 2008
Three years ago, about this time, I began digging around on www.travelblog.org, just looking at beautiful places around the world. The Lakes District of Patagonia in Argentina jumped out at me. The pictures were amazing and made me long to see this part of the world. It hasn´t disappointed. There are large, jagged, snow capped mountains ringing lakes with water so clear you can see the bottom twenty feet down, expansive blue skies contrasting beautiful green pines and deciduous trees, there are extensive trails with wonderful campsites, and people more than willing to help show you the way to the trail heads. It is fantastic; I feel like a kid in a candy store.
We spent a little while in Bariloche, which is a large town in the middle of Nahuel Huampi National Park, on the shore of the lake which shares its name with the national park. It is extremely touristy; while at the beginning of my travels I may not have liked this, now I´ve grown to appreciate some of the benefits. Namely, the tourist information offices are incredibly helpful (and speak perfect English!) and there are plenty of stores to pick up camping gear, etc. On our
second day in town, we jumped a local bus out to Cerro Lopez and climbed the steep slope to the top. There are a myriad of wandering, criss crossing, paths through the lower forest, which move uphill along a river, all leading up a slope which varies from soft sand to large rocks. Towards the top we came upon a huge snowfield, where we hiked on a well worn trail, slipping and breaking through the snow (and of course throwing snowballs) as we went. Finally we came out on the rocky ridge line leading to the refugio at the top of the mountain. The views of the lakes below were incredible. From that height the lakes are incredibly blue, matching the color of the cloudless sky, and offset by the enormous forests and gray and white peaks on the horizon. It was amazing.
We then decided to see some of the other lakes in the region. There is a well known route, called the Seven Lakes Drive, which many tour companies do by simply plopping tourists in vans, driving to each of the lakes where people get out of the vehicles for a predetermined amount of time, and then
pile them back in the vans as they head to the next stop. In order to have a bit more independence, we rented a car for a couple of days. It was a great decision, it had been a while since I had felt the freedom of a road trip. We turned up the iPod, rolled down the windows, and cruised around the area. The scenery was beautiful, we got out at our leisure and enjoyed the area, and we took quick stops at a few cities: San Martin de los Andes, Villa Angostura, and Villa Traful. The latter was one of my favorite places to date. It is a small town of three hundred people on the shores of Lago Traful. There are only a handful of buildings, a couple of restaurants and cafes (none of which open until after 10), a few cabins for the fishermen that seem to be the largest percentage of the tourist population, and not a single stop sign in town (nor a paved road in an hours driving distance).
On the first night of the road trip we road a short way outside of Traful and saw a deserted beach. We stopped
the car, inspected the area, and decided it was a perfect place for the night. We threw our sleeping bags directly on the beach (we don´t have a tent) and slept out in the open. We ate some random food we had grabbed before setting off and Burton and I made a fantastic fire, despite Eric´s ridiculous protests of how great of a fire he would have built, how much faster he would have built it, and despite the fact that his lighter fell apart as soon as he handed it to me and I had to start it with a flint stick (which he never could have done). (Eric´s edit: I truly would have had a fire up and raging 45 minutes earlier when I went to start setting up the wood and Kyle protests that "You´re from New Jersey... You don´t know how to make a fire." Obliging to let the Wisconsin boys get their kicks and make a REAL fire, I read my book as they made their fire arrangements. These self proclaimed fire experts proceed to break my lighter (perfectly functional when I handed it over) and then tried lighting toilet paper on fire with the
Not all the winter snow has melted yet.
cigarette lighter from the car! Haah! FINALLY, they got it started 45 minutes later, but I believe they learned their lesson.) (Kyle´s edit to Eric´s: Dude, you are a mommas boy from the Jersey burbs! The closest you got to starting a fire growing up was turning on the propane grill. And, your lighter was only perfectly functional if by functional you mean able to fall apart immediately.) (Kyle´s example of Eric´s edit to my edit: "Dude, what are you talking about!?! Are you serious? Whine, whine, whine. Cry, cry, cry. Boo hoo.") (Eric´s edit to Kyle´s edit to Eric´s edit: As this is Kyle´s blog, it pains me (Sonny, go ahead and pump your fist) that he always gets the last word in any blog argument such as this. So I will not refute further but standby my earlier comments. I´ll leave you with a few words that Erin (you will be introduced to Erin a few paragraphs below) graced us with at dinner last night directed towards Kyle: "Even when I´m on my period, I´m not as moody as you.") (Kyle´s edit to Eric´s edit to my edit to his edit: True.) Shortly after the bickering had ended
The end of the Cerro Lopez hike
the sunset threw pink across the sky, turning the clouds into a florescent hue, dropping a red highlight on the mountain peaks, and everything was mirrored in the reflection from the undisturbed water of the lake. That night the stars were as clear as I´ve seen, and, as I´ve never been this far south, as Eric pointed out, most of the thousands of stars I saw that night were brand new to me. It was one of the highlights of the trip. It only got better in the morning when the sun rose directly across the lake from our little beach, turning the sky and the lake into an array of orange, red, purple, and dark blue as dawn brought on the day. Eric and I got up and he gave a little yoga lesson on the beach. Uninterested, Burton decided to keep sleeping in the car. Afterwards we had a quick dip in the incredibly cold waters of the lake and got back on the road.
We did a little hike at a national park outside of Villa Angostura, a small town packed to the brim with high end tourists an hour north of Bariloche. The highlight of
the national park, which encompasses a small peninsula jutting out onto Lago Nahuel Huampi, is a rare type of tree that grows in the area. The trees are like a birch tree, but are a brilliant cinnamon color. However, the 24 kilometer hike in and out to see the trees simply wasn´t worth it. While it wasn´t difficult terrain, it wasn´t exactly the most sensational either. Check out the pictures I took and don´t bother doing it yourself... Anyway, that night we looked for another campsite on a lake as we were leaving Angostura, but had no luck. Finally we admitted defeat and headed back to Bariloche to get a warm bed and a shower.
The next day we headed down to El Bolson. It is a small community two hours south of Bariloche. We stayed at an amazing hostel, called Refugio Patagonica, just on the outskirts of town. It was a wonderful little lodge with a view of the mountains and the guys working there had a wealth of information on hikes in the area. That night they had a wicked asado, an Argentine BBQ. They started a fire in the enormous fireplace, warmed up the grill grates,
One of the Lakes
DonÂ´t remember which lake this was that we stopped at, but it was gorgeous
and spread the wood coals under the enormous slabs of meat as they grilled directly in the fireplace. The meat was amazing, and the bottles of wine made for a great Argentine meal. The next morning we planned on doing a hike early in the morning, but we woke up to our first day of sour weather with overcast, rainy skies and high winds. We waited a few hours, checked out the Saturday market that El Bolson is famous for, and were hoping the weather would clear. It didn´t. I gave in and decided that with a month of hikes throughout Patagonia upcoming, many of which will be in worse weather to more spectacular locations, this hike wasn´t worth it. Eric, of course, had a sore foot from a previous hike (he is proving to be quite fragile), so he and I headed back to Bariloche to take a day off, and a night out. (Burton´s edit: As I try not to get into a bickering match with the married couple, Kyle and Eric, I cannot resist here. It was not that Kyle just gave in, he actually lost a bit of his manhood. We went to El Bolson for
Mountains and Lakes
A lot of shots like this...
hiking and because there was a few clouds he decided to put his tail between his legs and wander back to the hostel.)
Now we are preparing for our 1,600 kilometer road trip down Ruta 40 through the gut of Patagonia. Only half of the road is paved, cities are sparse, and there are more sheep than humans in the few that we do cross. Again, we could have done a bus or tour for a bit cheaper, but we figured seven days doing it at our own pace, checking out small places most people don´t get an opportunity to see was worth the extra little bit of cash. And, it gives us the opportunity to be ourselves... i.e. the FM transmitter will be cranking out some dance tunes, Eric will be singing at the top of his lungs to Madonna, we´ll bicker about the most ridiculous stuff, Burton will jump in only when he can´t handle it anymore, I´ll jump back harder with arms a flailing, and Erin, a friend we met in Santiago from San Fran, will just shake her head and laugh at the calamity of our being. Oh, and for you Kauai folk, Eric´s friend
Drew caught up with us, finally. He had been pursuing us since Peru and sped up, skipping a few spots, once he heard of the road trip. So, for the next week, its on like Neal Cassidy and Jack Kerouac. (Eric´s edit: And I happen to be reading On The Road right now).
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