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Published: April 2nd 2007
Bar in Alto Rio Segunrer
February, 18th 2007 - March, 4th 2007
I am immensely happy to get to write about the undoubtedly best trip of my life, the very first time
I set foot in the Southern Hemisphere, Argentina. Sunday, 18th
The initial plan was simple: I would meet Ciccio in Buenos Aires and, after changing airport, we would
fly together to San Carlos de Bariloche, Patagonia. Ciccio was flying from Cork, Ireland whereas
I was leaving from San Francisco International. The only flaw is that flight BA0247 did not reach
Ezeiza that day and was postponed by several hours; Ciccio got on his own to the little Bariloche
airport the following day. That night I think I arrived in Bariloche at 10.30PM and I took a shuttle to
downtown; most of the cheap hotels had no vacancies but I was able to find a decent room with an
American fella from Tucson that was travelling alone the entire South America in an incredible 6-month
journey. That night I discovered "Quilmes", the beer that would keep good company to me and Ciccio for
the rest of the days... Monday, 19th
After waking up one hour later than I thought I
Motorcycle on Ruta 40
went downtown to pick the car up; this is where I saw
the legendary Nelson for the first time. They were a little embarassed not finding my reservation and
told me the car wasn't ready; in a couple of hours they got me a fairly new Chevrolet Corsa (funny
thing Opel apparently does not exist there). Meanwhile I had the time to explore the city and bought a
fantastic windstopper (even Ciccio admitted it's a nice jacket). I still didn't know if Ciccio would
really make it but, for my joy, he arrived in perfect time with the flight LAN rescheduled for him:
that was the real beginning of the vacation.
He saw how small the Corsa was, so we agreed to upgrade it with a better car: after all we had to
face the dreaded Ruta 40. For about three times the original fare Nelson gave us a brand new pick-up;
I think I never saw Ciccio that happy. At that point we had already given up trying to sip every last
penny and we were really happy. That day we stayed around Bariloche and visited one of the many lakes
nearby (that region is called "lake region"). We
Our first car, which broke shortly after
took Route 237, which reminds me home since it's
the highway I take every day to commute to work. We slept in a hostel that was super cheap,
50 pesos (1 pesos is one third of dollar or one fourth of euro). Tuesday, 20th
Our original idea was to head south as soon as possible, but too many factors made us decide to visit
the north neighbourhood of Bariloche, the Lake region. Still euphoric about our "camionetta" (that's
how Nelson defined it) we made a loop through RT231, RT65 and RT237. Quite soon we realized that
in Patagonia there are not so many paved roads; we were not warried, though, because of our
high-clearance vehicle. It was mid-afternoon when we finished the loop and started travelling south
towards our destination, El Calafate. I don't know who is the really unlucky one between me and Ciccio
but 40 Km south of Bariloche the "camionetta" died; the immediate reaction was laughing, the second
was opening a beer and waiting for somebody. A nice guy with a pick-up pulled over and tried to
help us out but he knew about motors as much as we did; he couldn't even call help with
The substitute of the "Camionetta", a honda CRV
because there was no network.
While we were talking the car started, so we promptly hit the road again. How naive of us!
The car stopped next curve!
We opened another beer and, hard to believe, ACA (automovil club Argentina, the equivalent of AAA)
passed one moment later. At the end of the day we got a free lift to Bariloche, where some very
incompetent mechanics tried to fixed it with no success. Nelson, who was there, gave us a substitute:
a Honda CRV (same car dad just bought).
We were a little disappointed, but maybe that slimmer car was better - after all -
for the use we did of it. We spent the night in El Bolson, where we had a good trout in a
fancy restaurant. We also shot some pool and, although I play like a maniac, I lost to Ciccio.
The hotel cost 120 pesos that night. Wednesday, 21th
The typical breakfast was "media luna" (croissant), coffee and milk and I'd say I expected better
coffee. That morning we left pretty early because, for some reasons, the checkout in Argentina was always at
9AM. National Park Los Alerces was our first destination
of the day and, few Km after the entrance,
the paved road ended. We stopped in a picturesque parilla (steakhouse) with an outstanding sight
of the surrounding lake. Esquel and Tecka were the only towns we encountered before getting to the
famous Ruta 40. The road seems never-ending; the landscape had already changed a lot from the
lake region and it was getting close to something that looked familiar to me: southern California and Nevada.
The fauna was something totally new for me; we saw armadillos, chinchillas and many other animals
I was ignoring before. It was with big surprise that I discovered all my colleagues know them all...
That day we slept in Alto Rio Segunrer, an amazing little town in the middle of nowhere. There are
"only" three hotels in town and they also serve as the only restaurants; just to have a look around we
ate in a different hotel and, as I expected, there was no menu: that night they served soup and chicken,
The main road of the village was clearly unpaved and I can say very little was going on that night.
We spotted a bar and decided to go for a
Los Alerces National Park
beer: it's really hard describe with words what the
atmosphere was in there. There were 4 or 5 locals, already drunk; there were 2 horses "parked" in
front of the place... We asked for cerveza, but the bartender said he had run out and the only drinks
available were fernet and a sort of whiskey. First we went for "fernet cola", the best seller in
Argentina, then we bought 2 bottles for about 20USD and we paid few drinks to the cowboys that,
to pay us back, wanted us to try the horse. I was a bit drunk and, before I realized it, I was lying on
the back of one of the two horses while "the painter" (the nickname we gave to one of those guys)
was hitting it with strenght; Ciccio, who was laughing, did the same one minute later.
It's worth saying the horses were not saddled! We took a bunch
of pictures and I also left my "route 66" t-shirt to them as gift. I am pretty sure they are not
used to tourists other there, because I think the famous Patagonia buses stop in bigger towns with
more accommodations. The hotel price was inline with
Ciccio on the horse
Ciccio in the back of the Painter's horse (no comment)
the bar: 60 pesos. Thursday, 22th
We woke up at the usual time and had a pretty decent breakfast (even though no "dulche
de leche" was served). After taking a last glance to the little town we were on our way on the
Ruta 40. That morning we started counting the cars we were crossing and speculating on the
total daily number and the result was pretty scary; we already knew there is no road service
on Ruta 40 and really were not looking for troubles, since we had to be in Calafate shortly.
We passed by Rio Mayo and then Perito Moreno; I initially thought this was the famous glacier,
but it lies many kilometres south. I gotta say Perito Moreno was not really nice; we filled up
and searched for a place for lunch but it was 2PM and everybody was in "siesta". Few days before,
in a parrilla, a Chilean man suggested us to pass to Los Antiguos, next to che border. We went
there and, with big surprise, eat in a Dutch restaurant! There was a waitress, dutch, who could
speak english and I realized how much an advantage is to speak the same language...
The Danish (!!) restaurant were we had Cordero
We had "Cordero"
(a sort of lamb stew) and, I gotta say, I didn't like it too much (of course Ciccio liked it...)
We think that must be the cherry
city, since cherries were in every course and we saw advertisements about the town's cherry
festival. The plan now was clear: spend a day in Chile and loop back within 24 hours.
The border experience is always frightening; on the Argentian side there was a soldier that
really looked intimidating. We also did a big mess with the car paperworks; the rental car, in
fact, has a special document that allows you to go to Chile and, by mistake, we provided the
Nissan's paper that we accidentally kept. I suppose we were brave enough to turn back (we
had already passed the Argentinian checks) and confess the misunderstanding; I didn't see the
face of the officer (as usual I sent Ciccio to do the dirty work) but he was probably disappointed.
On Nelson's side, it now results that his "camionetta" is in Chile...
Right after the border the pavement started again and it was pretty new and smooth; We thought
we had gone back to civilization but, after Chile Chico
(the first city, after about 10 minutes)
the paved road ceased again.
We drove forever that day; the landscape in Chile is totally different and, once again, we were
more than surprised of the sudden change. In few miles we passed from desert-like vegetation
to mountains; I still cannot believe they were the heart of the Andes!
The city we wanted to reach, Cochrane, was more far away than we thought: the plan for the night
was spoiled. We stopped in a small farmer town called El Maiten and, after asking help at the only
open shop, we ended up to a private house. The old man who answered the door was surprised, but
hosted us for the night. He didn't even know the change between Argentian pesos and their currency
(I still don't know the rate myself...). We slept decently and left decently early in the morning. Friday, 23th
The old man asked us for 40 argentinian pesos, but for the first time in my life we left a 50%!t(MISSING)ip
and paid 60 (this was still the first part of the vacation and we were still giving high tips,
cause we did not realize how much we
Landscape in Chile
The road with did that day is probably the nicest I did in my whole life: it was a nice, unpaved,
winding mountain road with magnificent views. After a few hours we passed through a little town
were we did not fill up because we did not have money (at least the right currency).
As it often happended we found an intersection with no signs whatsoever; after guessing the
(right) way we asked confirmation to a farmer that was living really close by: Ciccio (who, for
some reasons, could talk fluent spanish...) went out asking and... came back with a farmer that
needed a lift to his town. The old man really looked like I imagined farmers in South America;
we tried to talk a little bit, but our fake Spanish coudn't keep a dialogue up.
After dropping the guy we countinues towards Argentina; mile after mile the road was narrowing
and getting worse. I was driving tired and hungry this lonely rocky road (while Ciccio was
drinking beer) when the most feared of all troubles came: we had a flat. According to the
guide - which, to me, was a little too conservative - if you were
Hike in the Los Glaciares park
to face Ruta 40 you better
have two spares. Naturally, we had only one. Ciccio never changed a wheel before and I hardly
did it in the past: what an adventure! It was really windy outside when we started searching for
the tools. As usual, the immediate reaction to a problem was opening a beer and smiling, saying
"this will make it more adventurous" (and I still think it's true). While we were in the middle
of our duty, Police passed! I felt really safe at that point. We were running out of fuel and the
policeman told us the next gas station was after 100Km: that meant that having another flat or running
out of gas would really cost troubles and considerable delays. We stopped at the border, where we
found more strict checks than before and then we were on our own again. After Paso Rodolfo
Roballos we hit Ruta 41 and in half hour we really euphoric:
we had reached Bajo Caracoles. Our joy, though, was to be stubbed out pretty soon when the
lad at the gas station told us they were running out of gas and he could give us only 20 litres.
road conditions, 20 litres are about 200 Kilometres, we couldn't even reach the next
gas station! With this in mind we went to the "gomeria", where the man was really not nice to us.
We bought sandwiches, coffee, chocolate and enough beer to survive until reaching Gdor Gregores,
which was really
not on the way. The detour was worth it, though. Gdor Gregores was a real city (with paved roads!)
and we found a really good accommodation, what they call "cabanas". The only regret is that if
we had not gone there we would have spent a full day without seeing any paved road!
I am pretty damn sure nobody in the world would have gone out that night, but we did it. We found
a pretty poor pool hall where the tables were so bad it was hurting my nerves. Then we found a
nice bar with a regular pool table where we played a few games. In that place we had also "Fernet
cola", one of the recommendations (he he). It was already two days we didn't have meat, but we
were eating sandwiches and chocolate all time. The cabana cost us 100 pesos. Saturday, 24th
Lake view (2)
chap that owned tha cabana suggested us an "alternative" route to get to RT40: RT29. We
decided to do what he suggested and, in no time, we were in the wilderness again.
I probably established a new speed record for that unfrequented road: 120 Km/h! Ciccio was
complaining at the beginning, than he gave up. In way less time we thought we got to Ruta 40 again.
It is funny to read travel guides: they speak about "the dreaded Ruta 40": that broad gravel road
was our highway! It was by far the best road we did in Patagonia! Ruta 29 brought us to
"Tres Lagos", a pretty ugly town where everything was closed for the siesta. Our goal for the day
was to get to El Calafate but we were really early, so we headed to Los Glaciales National Park
through RT23. The Park is divided in two parts: North and South. The South part is more famous
because of the well-known Perito Moreno glaciar. That day we were in the North side; RT23 ends
in El Chaten, a very nice little town in great expansion. After so many miles we were totally
exhausted, but we decided to go
Los Glaciares National Park
for a 3-hour hike (it was nice to discover that we could do
a 3-hour hike in 2...). The reward was a nice view of a distant glacier and, for the first
occasion, I was able to use my new binoculars (he he, I forgot them every other time, damn it).
Back at the car we decided to have early dinner in a very nice parrilla where, I have to say,
the food was great! Finally we started to eat meat again and, I guess, we continued until the
very last day. In El Chalten there are no gas stations and, furthermore, from there to El Calafate
there is nothing (nothing means nothing). We did 55 Km with the reserve light on, once again that
was really frustrating. I didn't see the first part of the road from El Chalten to El Calafate,
because I fell asleep after one second. Poor Ciccio was driving under the most unconvenient
circumstances: after lunch, after dinner, drunk, tired...
The lights of El Calafate made it look like a little Las Vegas; the city is actually much smaller
than it seems, but it is still big enough to be considered a city. That night
we found a
"hostaria" for 170 pesos: we didn't really seek for anything cheaper, we just wanted to see few
people and have some rest. The little downtown is really nice; we found a pub at the first
floor where there is a nice view of the city and we had probably a beer. We also found a place
with pool (he he) and we put our name in the waiting list, but it was really getting late and
we decided to go to sleep: the next day would, yet again, be long and tiring. Sunday, 25th
After the usual breakfast (toasted bread, jam, bad coffee) we were heading to Perito Moreno!
The weather was not any good and it was drizzling, but we didn't want to risk going in the
afternoon. The journey was not too long and, in less than 2 hours, we were at destination.
Perito Moreno is an american-like attraction: no hike is necessary to admire the beauty of the
awesome glacier. The breathtaking view shut us up for 10 minutes; I couldn't believe my eyes.
It really is how everybody describes it; some parts of the glacier are collapsing into the
surrounding lake, so
the sharp noise you can sporadically hear makes it even more incredible.
We did what all the tourists do: we stared at it for half an hour, conjecturing about
temperatures, people died in the past years, water, how magnificent South America is.
We headed back to Calafate pretty soon: we were hungry and tired and that was our last full day
in the city: Ushuaia was waiting for us.
Back in Calafate we found a cheap hostel where we had a double bedroom and we went to eat
in a famous parrilla that was suggested in the guide we had. Food was great as usual and after
lunch we really had to walk a little to digest! That Sunday we walked forever downtown and
bought some souvenirs and t-shirts. Finally I could pay with the credit card again.
The night we went to the same pool place and played for at least one hour; as usual, I think
Ciccio won: what a shame! Before going to bed we stopped for a "fugazzetta" even if, with
big surprise, Ciccio didn't want. The hostel cost 120 pesos, not too bad. Monday, 26th
In the morning we stayed in El Calafate and
Irish pub in Ushuaia
did some more shopping, then we went to eat
to another Parrilla. I couldn't really eat any more meat, but Ciccio had what he says was one
of the best "chorizo" of the vacation. We went to Budget, where we found a fat fella that
brought us to the airport. Only there we realized how much more we had to pay for "el coche":
Nelson gave us 1500 Km (we thought we had unlimited mileage) and we exceeded by about 1000 Km!
At the end of the day we paid Budget extra 1200 pesos (400 USD); we don't regret it and, if I had
to give a suggestion to anybody traveling to Argentina, I would recommend renting a car: it is
really worth it.
The super-tiny airport had very little traffic and our plane was in perfect time. We arrived in
Ushuaia at mid afternoon and picked the rental car up right away at Avis. Once again, we escaped
the "Chevrolet Corsa" we had booked and had a "VW Gol" in exchange (Gol is a smaller version
of "Golf", maybe only for the south american market). The weather was cold and
it was raining. I really coundn't imagine "Tierra del
Fuego" that way: Ushuaia is a big
industrial city, by far the most developed I saw in Argentina after Buenos Aires. We found a hotel
and we went downtown; according to the guide the Irish pub was one of the biggest attractions.
We went there and had a not-so-good pint of stout beer, then we went outstide for some dinner.
We ended up eating pizza (fugazzetta of course) in an okay place. Although there was nothing to do
that night (it was Monday) we found a way to throw away some money: the Casino. I was actually
really lucky that night and won 150 pesos playing black jack. When we realized that everything was
closed we went back to the hotel. Tuesday, 27th
This was the only full day we had in Tiera del Fuego. Something we both wanted to do was to
see the penguins, so we drove all the way to Estancia Harberton, where we found a little bar
where we had breakfast. A boat (pretty expensive) brought us to a little island full of penguins:
what weird animals they are! The island is protected and no more than 15 people may stay there
simultaneously, nor more
than 45 in one day. We chose the English guide, who was a really
attractive girl that told us one month before there were many more penguins and that they were
migrating to colder places like the Falkland Islands and Antartica. It was funny that she
said "Falkland" and Ciccio didn't wait a second to tell her why she didn't say "Malvinas" (Malvinas is the
Spanish name for Falkland): the
obvious answer was that that was a very stupid war and when she speaks English she automatically
We went back from there and decided to head north towards Tolhuin but we soon realized how far
it was and how little it had to offer, therefore after about one hour we turned back to
Ushuaia. We found a hostel and went for some... pool (yes, I know, we are maniac about pool but
we coundn't help it). After dinner we decided to go back to the Casino and this time we both lost
maybe 100 pesos, not too bad. Beside that I would say we mainly drove that day.
I hate to say that but I was expecting something more from Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, but I
Tierra Del Fuego, Ruta 3
know what. It's also true that when we saw downtown with "good" wheather it was already a
different story: many people on the streets, mainly students, gave a totally different flavour
to this remote city at the "Fin del Mundo", the spanish way to say "End of the World".
We went to bed at the hostel that cost 120 pesos. Wednesday, 28th
Right after waking up we went straight to "Tierra del Fuego National Park": that was probably
the biggest disappointment of the far South. We decided to have a little hike to some falls; the
hike was short (about 20 minutes one way) but the falls were ridiculus! Beside a bunch of vegetation
there was nothing really interesting. We pretty soon left the park and went to a nearby glacier.
We took a chair-lift that brought us to a considerable elevation: from there we walked maybe half hour
to reach a vista point from where you could see Ushuaia and the surrounding bay. It was lunch
time, which we had in an all-you-can-eat restaurant downtown. The decent weather confirmed once
again that Ushuaia can be nice when crowded with people, but if one thinks that in the winther
Sign in Tierra del Fuego
terribly cold and they get 4 hours of sunlight a day one may not decide to move there...
We turned in the car at the airport and took the plane to Buenos Aires; that was a very bad flight
for me and I really suffered although I slept most of the time. Once we got to EZE we took a cab
to the hostel that Ciccio reserved online, "Porta del Sur". The location was fantastic, in the city
center of Buenos Aires and it was also pretty cheap; I surely recommend it to whoever happens to
travel to the Argentinian capital. For the second time in Argentina we went to an Irish pub that
was one "squara" (block) away from the hostel. We walked a little bit and reached "Plaja de Majo"
but the darkness concealed the real beauty of that part of the city and we decided to have some
shower and go to bed. Thursday, 1st and Friday, 2nd
We woke up not too early for the first time to discover that it was raining cats and dogs:
that was a good beninning, wasn't it?
We didn't even have a map of Buenos Aires apart from
Another shot of Ruta National 40
the black-and-white published
in the pretty detailed guide Ciccio brought. The breakfast was included and consisted of the
usual milk-dulche-de-leche-media-luna-jam; I was really fed up of that stuff.
That morning we spent some time in the hostel bar, which wasn't too bad at all; as soon as
the rain dwindled we started walking towards the "city center" (we were already in the city
center!). We promplty bought a map (and some umbrellas...) and visited a shopping mall.
Buenos Aires in the rain is nothing compared to good weather; I can say I never saw a city
as big as this one. London is probably one of the many neighbourhoods of this immense urban area.
The main difference between a 10-million-people city like Buenos Aires and another metropolis
like Los Angeles is the density of people: there were tons of pedestrians and drivers, buildings
and shops everywhere. We were a little worried prices would be stiffer in the Capital, but we soon
discovered it was not the case: we could go to a good-looking restaurant and spend 90 pesos for
steak, wine and dessert.
I believe that Ciccio and I really are not the common tourists: we didn't see Tango and
Another shot of Ruta National 40
go to many of the touristic places where you bet any other person would have gone; the only
(really) touristic place we went to was "Caminito", a very nice quarter known for the colorful
The first night went fast and, after a big dinner in a nice restaurant (with the slower waiter
I've ever seen) we loitered for hours searching for some something typical, I suppose. We ended
up drinking wine in a couple of places, then we decided to head to the hostel.
Friday went pretty fast; we walked all day and saw many facets of the city: probably the
only think I can't really stand is the incredible pollution they have. The traffic is made of
old wrecked cars (even cabs are ugly) and we literally had to go to bars after some time bacause
it was getting hard to breathe.
We went to the port area, known to be the restaurant area, and we decided to buy a ticket to
go to Colonia, Uruguay. The rest of the staying in Buenos Aires was really shopping and eating-
drinking and that is exactly the way we pictured it while we were in Patagonia!
the end of the night in the Hostel bar that was full of people; deadly tired we went to
bed after 2.00AM: we had to wake up 6 hours later to get to the boat to Colonia. Saturday, 2nd
I had never taken a boat before and I didn't really know how a port is: now I know the answer, the
same as an airport. There are checks and metal detectors, but with the Argentinian rigours... (I
could bring a machete with me and they wouldn't notice).
Colonia is a pretty little old town that faces directly the ocean and from the lighthouse you
could see Buenos Aires (it is two hours of boat away).
Beside that there is really nothing to do there! We walked to a shopping mall (that was the best
we could do that afternoon) and we realized Uruguay is a poorer country; the vicinity of Colonia
is pretty run down although I felt perfectly safe there.
For the second time we were in a place with a different currency and we didn't even know the
exchange rate, but they accepted Argentinian pesos everywhere.
We managed to go back to Buenos Aires earlier than our
Tierra Del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego
original plan, so we could have our last
dinner (sounds like Jesus...) at the port. The last night went fast and we talked most of the
time about the beauty of the places we had seen. The night ended... at Hooters, the American chain
known for curvy waitress and not-so-good fast-food like food.
Unfortunately the dream was soon to be finished.
Ciccio was the first one to leave that morning: his flight was at about noon but I had plenty of
time since flight CO52 was to take off at 10.30 from EZE.
My last day consisted in shopping and drinking the last glasses of awesome Argentinian wine which
would be terribly expensive in the US.
This vacation was a tour-de-force and I certainly don't recommend it to whomever wants to rest, but
it fits perfectly my personality and Ciccio's. I am writing the last lines of this blog about two
weeks later and I can't help remembering this fantastic adventure.
Thanks Ciccio and thanks fate, for once everything went right.
I hope I'll soon write about my next trip but now I better come back to my daily life for a while.
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