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Published: February 12th 2014
PATAGONIA: Argentinian Rules...Following the Judge down Ruta 40.
When heading into the unknown...a Guardian Angel or four comes as more than handy.
When a stranger...a tall hombre in a ute flying an Argentinian flag says "Follow us...the road is dangerous ahead"...Do you follow?
We did...and who'd have guessed how it ended up?
There were supposed to be four of us but we are in Bariloche in the west and our friends who organised this trip are back in Buenos Aires in the east due to the accident on New Years Eve.
They had booked a 4WD for us four to drive down the Andes from Bariloche to Ushuaia at the bottom.
We can't decide whether to wait for them if the suspected sprained wrist is not serious or proceed on south...just the two of us.
After a couple of calls over a few days it was decided we pick up the 4WD and head south.
Her arm is not broken...but whether she has a sprained wrist that is minor or not is not known either.
Whether we can meet up somewhere is unknown.
We have accommodation booked
in Los Antiguos, El Chaltern and El Calafate, as without reservations it would be impossible to stay in those places.
We also have return flights from El Calafate to B.A. so those dates are known.
How we get to each place is up to us.
O.K...lucky I prepared an itinerary back in OZ of the places in Argentina and Chile I want to visit...bloody lucky as it turned out.
Maps ready...music ready...dance shoes ready...lets get ready to party...Patagonia here we come.
We met our first Guardian Angel at the car hire place.
We were having some difficulties as we could not speak Spanish.
We wanted to go in and out of Argentina and Chile and have them collect the vehicle in El Calafate way down south rather than us return it to Bariloche.
He was a Scot who led mountain climbs and acted as interpreter to ensure all was agreed and OK.
He advised us to get the biggest container we could and carry spare petrol as there was a petrol strike in Argentina.
Couldn't access any banks due to holidays in Bariloche and couldn't find
any containers for petrol either.
The first RHT I took I nearly had my first prang as I was on the wrong side of the road.
Yikes...Let's find Ruta 40 and get out of here!!!
The 4WD was a Ford Echo...not the Ford Explorer we were told our friends had booked...lucky there's only two of us as the boot is only large enough for two maybe three packs as it turned out.
Didn't get away until 3pm so heading south to El Bolson.
Ruta 40 is that road that goes from top to bottom of South America...some paved but mostly dirt or pebbles when we drove it.
Weather fine, clear, mountains beautiful...Aussie Rock CD for starters...INXS, Easybeats, Jet, Cruel Sea, ACDC, Billy Thorpe, Chain, Daddy Cool, Icehouse, La De Das, Russell Morris, Stevie Wright & Midnight Oil...plenty of Rock & Blues compilation CDs recorded by me to complement that...rocking along nicely.
Kinda glad its just the two of us.
Jagged peaks in El Bolson...now to find a petrol container.
The container we found at a servo...but a hose was not so easy.
A bit of a
tango by Denise with an old dude in greasy overalls was a high price to pay...but you've gotta do what you've gotta do...so loaded up with spare petrol in a 10 gallon with hose...just fitted tight in the back with the packs...off we go again.
Think we'll try a bit of driving Blues.
Couldn't risk anywhere to stay in El Bolson due to time so headed to Esquel...warned road has plenty of potholes south of there so gotta drive slow.
Pretty well as soon as we left El Bolson the mountain scenery changed to flat pampas with purple outcrops like an Albert Namajira painting.
We are now in Chubut Provence and Parque Nacional Alceres ahead with snow capped wave tips for mountains.
Enter Esquel looking like a ski resort with a metal snowman to greet us...but each place to stay says "No" until we find an out of the way A frame cabana where a smiling young man named Christian became guardian angel No. 2.
There was a march in town "No a la Mina"...guess objecting to mining...pizza with Brahma beer...an attic in the A frame but fear we'd knock
our ankles...so sleeping downstairs tonight.
In the morning Christian makes us a feast for breakfast of coffee and bread rolls with leche...and a heap of croissants and leche for the road.
He was tall and handsome...of Welsh & Italian parents (Esquel is the Wales of South America)...had been married twice before..."I don't know what is wrong with me" he admitted...probably too handsome Den thought.
"Want to meet our daughter" I could feel her thinking.
We have about 600 kms to Los Antiguos today so we can grab our hotel bookings. This town is next to Lago Buenos Aires, the second largest lake in Argentina and was wiped out by a volcanic eruption and rebuilt.
We have booked to get the taste of the Cherry Festival...the ads say it is the biggest in Central Argentina...music stars a plenty...hotel rooms so precious we fear if we don't arrive they'll give our rooms to others. We'll see if they can let our friends' room as they aren't coming...might save us paying for it.
We get petrol in Esquel then again in Grobenador Costa then turn off Ruta 40 onto Ruta 20 as the
road looks better on the map.
This means we drive through Central Argentine pampas to Rio Maya.
The landscape is flat, flat & more flat with round thorny bushes as the only vegetation.
The road is dusty but hard...other cars about as rare as mountains.
When we reach the turn off to Ruta 22 to Rio Maya we stop.
There are heaps of Mapuche gravesites at the crossroads and a semi trailer just sitting there. The indigenous mapuche build little shrines by the road adorned with red flags, figurines of saints, cigarettes, softdrink bottles, mementos to carry into the afterlife...all together at this junction in the middle of this dry desolute nowhere.
Arrive at the Rio Maya River...a shock of blue lined with green in this barren land.
Taking some photos then Den drives off...am I taking too long?...clowning around.
Eventually she returns and we have a bit of a laugh and drive off...up a steep incline...sharp drop to our right.
Suddenly there is a 4WD coming down the steep dirt road right at us...then swerves at speed to the right around us...SHISSH that was close!!!
Ping...brain engaged...we were on the wrong side of the road...someone could have been killed...and it would have been our fault!!!
It's moments like that that can be life changers.
Our clowning around had broken our concentration...the consequences could have been catastrophic.
What if the 4WD calls the police?
Time to lie low and settle down. Long distances today.
Find a nice spot by the river for lunch...croissants, leche from Christian and strawberry jam we picked up at a roadside stall.
A police car cruises by...then stops on the bridge above us...hearts racing...checks us out then drives off...hearts still racing.
Enter Rio Maya township...a hatchwork of short dusty streets...but can't find the road out of there south...it'll be Ruta 40 again but we can't find it.
The General Store can't help...Denise again suggesting we'll have to learn Spanish when we get back to Oz.
So we pull into a petrol servo for directions.
A couple of utes are filling up there. One had an Argentinian flag on the aerial at the front...the drivers of both chatting to us with good English...they don't know each other...just being helpful...a
man and a woman in each ute.
"Follow us" the tall one with the flag says "The road is dangerous ahead. We are going to Perito Merino. It's on your way."
So we fill up and follow.
The one with the flag leads, the second ute then us...head through a gap in a hill...onto a road of large pebbles...definitely the roughest road we had been on to date...and the dust and pace were high...our Ford Echo fighting to keep up.
After about 12kms the ute with the flag suggests we use 4WD gear as the road is so rough...and pulls in behind us.
Later he indicates to pull over and we all stop at the side of the road...just past a small truck with hay bales in the back and a small silver car.
The small car with a young English couple had broken down and the truck was from a nearby ranch giving a hand.
The tall Argie took charge and the guy from the ranch had a 12 year old boy with him trying to jack up the car...but the jack was too small and kept slipping. I feared it would
TIME TO PARTY
By the roadside...English, Cecelia, Zina & Denise
drop on the boy.
The English couple were heading to El Calafate and their hire car was much too small for the task.
They soon realised they had been staying in the same hotel at Parque Nacional Los Alceres as the couple in the second ute.
Suddenly there was a party happening by the side of the road...repairs on hold...everyone chatting...getting to know each other.
There is no other word for it...we were having a party...in the middle of nowhere...10 of us!
Out came the mate...with an acute on the e...that acrid tea sipped through a metal straw...don't say "Gracias" or you don't get another turn.
I took photos and videoed.
The tall Argie supervised and the rancher and boy did the work. The small car had a broken petrol filter...and blow me over...the truck had a spare one in the back...and refused to charge for it.
We all posed for photos...camera after camera...hugs all 'round...and the small car back to Rio Maya for proper repairs.
We thus continued in convoy for the next 124 kms in 4WD gear through thick gravel...utes flying ahead...really rough road.
Just before the turnoff to Perito Merino we were stopped for a Police check.
The police were
RONNIE & UZI
B.A. Attorney & Federal Court Judge
not interested in us...just in the Argentinians in the two utes.
We chatted while we waited...swapped emails...and I handed over my business card.
"You are an Attorney. I am an Attorney, she is an Attorney and he is an Attorney" the tall one said laughing.
Blow me over with a feather.
The tall one Uzi was a Federal Court Judge...his wife Cecilia a Prosecutor...the driver of the second ute Ronnie, an Attorney partner of a law firm in B.A...and his partner Zina an artist, two time National Art winner.
So we had to have another party...Police wanting to join in!!!
Ronnie & Zina were also going to Los Antiguos...Ronnie had camped by the Rio Baker 30 years before and wanted to repeat it with Zina.
Only problem...they didn't know there was a Cherry Festival...didn't have accommodation...and didn't know they had a problem.
So we offerred them our friends' available hotel room...looks like we'll be partying for another couple of days!
Stopped at La Serena on the way...a 2,000 hectare property on Lago Argentinos that was being modified as a resort but was never finished. Ronnie wanted to see it as a potential purchase.
The buildings were derelict...the gardens full of red, blue and calafate berries,
fruit trees and sheep...the wind howling off the lake...me wondering if it failed as a resort as its in a wind tunnel.
Arrived in Los Antiguos at 9.30pm greeted by stunning views...Chilean volcanoes and white topped mountains across the lake...the border only 6 kms away.
Our hotel Antigua Patagonia right on the edge of the lake with a long jetty...our friends not cutting costs booking this one...massive rooms...4 poster bed...amazing views...best hotel in town.
Population increased from 3,000 to 30,000 for the Cherry Festival...like a tent city in town...not a spare square metre anywhere.
It was impossible to get anything to eat due to the crowds...but Ronnie somehow got us into a restaurant where we had beef, salad, beer and red wine for 239 pesos.
Had the best sleep yet on our holiday.
What a day...this type of serendipity only happens when I am with Denise...gotta luv her!
Ronnie & Zina were only in that petrol station at Rio Maya as they had lost a petrol cap...had intended to be in Trevelin (near Esquel) but had to change the route.
So their serendipity was meeting us...we having lost the road.
Funny how life is like that.
the lake...families swimming...a river...mountain views to die for...Catholic church with offerrings to the Saint...don't know why so many drink bottles offerred...mapuche shrines...nil appeal at the Festival...just masses of people...massive human scrums around the music concert venues...just happy to wander...taking it all in.
Back at the hotel, a handsome gaucho and his new wife chat to us...met at university...she giving up career to be an estancia wife.
A famous Argentinian folk singer...Chaqueno Palavecimo and his band pose for us...so the Cherry Festival has turned up trumps after all.
Dinner with Ronnie & Zina at the hotel.
While Den & Zina had drinks, Ronnie & I had a game of pool.
I should disclose here that I had a mis-spent youth.
I had played snooker since I was 14 and hung around seedy snooker halls with my mates in my youth. I had even played competition snooker for a university club in Sydney as a law student.
So, even though I hadn't played for a while, I didn't expect to lose to Ronnie.
The first game I had sunk all my coloured balls and he had sunk only one.
I lined up to pot the black.
"Argentinian Rules" he called.
"You have to sink the black in the same pocket you sunk the last ball."
"What? That's a tough call."
I had positioned the black on the edge of a pocket and no way I could reverse it so I potted it and lost the game.
Ronnie 1 : David Nil.
The second game I gave him a caning with lots of laughs and lots of beer.
Ronnie 1 : David 1.
Now for the decider...Ronnie trying every trick to put me off.
Went like the first but somehow I sunk the black in the wrong pocket.
"Argentinian Rules" he called out.
Result of International challenge: Ronnie 2 : David 1.
Fair cop...gotta know the rules!!!
We last saw Ronnie & Zina at the Chilean border at Chile Chico.
We were let straight through after a long queue but Argentinians were not let in easily so officials complained about their papers and would not let them through until they could get more docs from B.A.
They sent us a photo
of them camping by the Rio Baker...one of the prettiest rivers we have ever seen.
How fortuitous we followed a Judge down Ruta 40 and were taught Argentinian Rules.
Yep...we love Patagonia...and the people we meet.
Relax & Enjoy,
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