Argentina 9: Ruta 40 to Bariloche and then to Paso Futaleufú

  Before we proceeded from San Martin, a number of housekeeping issues had to be performed including a vehicle service. On a stroll in Caro’s suburb, we witnessed the damage the 3m snow had inflicted on houses and trees in the area during the past winter season – we were quite happy to not have arrived too early in the season. Caro’s friend Valeria, a freelance guide, provided us with some extra tips what to see where in Patagonia. In preparation for the cold and inclement weather in Patagonia Karin and I tested our emergency sleeping arrangements inside the vehicle (sleeping without opening the roof tent). It could work –but only under extreme conditions would we make use of it. Well prepared we left Monday 20th November along Ruta 40 – the Siete Lagunas Ruta which we had enjoyed so much previously. The route was lined with spring flowers in red, yellow, violet, white and pink, especially the lupines impressed. The snow on the mountains completed this picture perfect route. In the well-known ski resort Bariloche we drove up the Cerro Otto, a mountain peak with summer trails and winter ski pistas. The lunch in the revolving restaurant with a surround view of the Andes perfected our day when a Condor passed close by. Bariloche had a bit of European flair and we ended our day camping at Colonia Suiza with Anna, the host. Visitors here need to note that lunch is the main mealtime –we found all restaurants in walking distance closed in the evening. Next morning we made our way to Villa Cathedral – a picturesque ski resort with many lifts, however rather dead in summer. When we left Bariloche we had to drive past the poorer communities of the town and understood, why break-ins into vehicles happen frequently (Anna had warned us never to leave our vehicle unattended in town when shopping – sad, for the town was beautiful). Driving along Lago Nahuel Huapi, along many clear rivers and streams we passed El Bolsón ( spoiled ourselves with an ice-cream for lunch) and finally stopped at Lago Puelo and watched kite surfers enjoying the strong breeze before retiring on Camping Delta Azul which offered a very sheltered spot for the night. Which one is the egg? In the morning we photographed the Cerro Tres Picos(2492m) across the lake Puelo and then proceeded along the RP71 with many lakes and rivers. We passed  leisurely through P.N.Alerces (huge trees, cypress-like that reach ages older than 3600years, Fitzroya cupressoides, height >70m,diameter 5m). Finally we turned off at Trevelín (a Welsh community) and camped at Eco-camping Viñas Nant y Fall, where Sergio, a wine farmer, established a beautiful campsite for overlanders. He proudly gave us a tour of his immaculate cellar where he produced approx. 8000 bottles of exclusive Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. This is the southernmost farm producing wines. In the evening Sergio changed into his role of chef in the restaurant where he cooked up a storm for us. It should be noted that Sergio allows overlanding vehicles to park if travelers need a break to fly home. Next morning we had to eat all we could as we would pass back into Chile and no fresh produce may be taken across – so we prepared a huge breakfast with fruits, honey, eggs, yoghurt etc. The Ruta RN 259 through Paso Futaleufú to the border and Ruta 231CH along Rio Futaleufú was gravel but very scenic and one of the most beautiful. We passed both border post rather quickly, but as expected, on the Chilean side a thorough check for uncooked foodstuffs was performed. This blog cover 17th to 23rd November 2017

Chile 6: Christo Redentor border to Santiago

    After a cold and early morning we left the camping site in Uspallata, traced back in the direction of where we came from and tried to take some shots from the site of some ruins. Then we continued along Ruta 7 into the Andes mountains towards the border. After a long tunnel, without emergency exits and ventilation, we reached the Chilean border, the traffic of trucks was heavy. Crossing took approx. 45minutes as it was a joint border station and quite effective. The Chilean customs was thorough, as we had expected, and a sniffer dog was placed into our vehicle to sniff out foodstuff (or drugs?). The road into Chile consisted of many kilometers of winding asphalt and resembled a serpentine, hundreds of truck moving up and down. On the sides many ski lifts were visible and we passed many tunnels and bridges that used to be in use for the railway, now defunct. As we descended the spring flowers increased spectacularly, reminding us of Namaqualand in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. When we reached San Miguel we decided to call it a day, had a buffet lunch with asado at the restaurant El Sauce and camped in their yard and got access to staff ablutions after some negotiations with the owner. In the morning we continued along the good Ruta 57 into Santiago, the capital with 7 million inhabitants. We found our way to Los Condes, an upmarket and clean suburb close to the centre where we stayed with Gerd and Paulina Eylerts, whom we had previously met in Cusco. Gerd rents out safari vehicles and as luck had it, his larger Mercedes camper was in use at the time,which allowed us to park next to the house to camp. Find Eco South Cone Touring here. We appreciated Gerd’s assistance greatly in getting a service done and the brakes checked while in Santiago – a huge city and not too easy to get around. Gerd also arranged the required toll payments (Peso 13000 for 2 days) for us while using the Santiago freeways- it is an automatic system without tollgates - and we were quite unaware that being stopped could be inconvenient and costly.   Armed with additional suggestions of places worth visiting in Chile, we found our way out of the maze again to get onto Autopista  Central Sur 5, drove past San Bernado, Paine, San Francisco de Mostazal, Rancagua to San Fernando, took the Ruta 90 westerly towards Santa Cruz, turned off near Curiaco to visit the wine estate Viu Mananent in the hope that we could also camp there overnight. After lunch in the Food Studio of Pilar Rodriguez (very good!) we did a wine tour by horse cart, learned about the wine production of the estate in stainless steel, clay, cement and wooden tanks and vats. They produced Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmeniere, Malbec and Syriah wine. We were permitted to camp free in the parking lot and met Swiss travellers (by bike) Tobias Bähler and Walter Gubi – a security guard patrolled by night, so this was a very safe overnight stay. As we drove to Santa Cruz we were able to buy fresh asparagus,strawberries and cherries at a farm stall – a real treat and not expensive, both being in season. Our route took us then to the coast via the towns Lolol, Hualañe, Licanten, we followed the beaches with dark sands until we reached Constitucion and Chanco, where we camped in the forest reserve Frederíco Albert Faupp.   Next morning we continued via Pellehue along the coast till Mela on the Rio Itata. The road was lined with spring flowers. On the way we turned off near Cobquecura to visit the Iglesia de Piedra, a huge cathedral-like rock formation on the beach with three entrances, two of which faced the sea and flooded at high tide. We were fascinated by the dark brown volcanic sand beaches, somewhat unusual. At Mela our route took us inland via Quillon to Autopista 5 Sur, passed Cabrero and easterly until we reached the town Salto de Laja with its scenic waterfall that we visited next day on foot.   Olivier, the Swiss owner of Camping Don Ambrosio, allowed us to camp although normally they only have cabañas. We made use of the shower and toilet in the sauna and enjoyed a 38 degC soak in the hot tub and had an excellent lunch in the restaurant after our visit to the falls. Being Sunday this was a popular outing for many locals. When we continued the weather was overcast and cool, agriculture made way for forest plantations as we passed Los Angeles, Mulchén, Collipulli and Victoria where we turned off onto the R71 to get to P.N. Tolhuaca – we were the only campers. The stroll to the beautiful waterfall Salto Malleco was worth the 5km round trip and so was the walk on the boardwalk at the lake to observe birds, here we also spotted a beaver. Morning temperatures were cold 3degC at 950m when we continued, after a welcome hot shower, we drove through forest and the Araucaria trees along the ridges were lined with snow. At Salto de la Princesa we sat on the river bank and had lunch, as we continued along the 181-CH we saw vulcanoes Tolhuace (2806m) and Lonquimay(2865m), unfortunately both in clouds, nevertheless we turned into P.N.Mallalcahuello and drove up to the snow line –beautiful black and white scenery, but the volcano remained largely hidden. We retreated and found excellent camping and food at Hotel Camping Suizandina with its friendly Swiss owners. Fortunately we could sit inside as it started to rain, temperature dropping to 3 deg C, while inside the fireplace kept us comfy. After a hearty breakfast we said goodbye to overlanders Hartmut & Lisa Dassel in their VW T5 combi, also on their way south, we might meet again. The R89 took us to Lonquimay, additional snow during the night turned the landscape into a wonderland for us. Then onwards on the R95S along Rio Ruanuco through Mapuche land, along Lago Icalma, it remained cloudy so we missed good views of vulcanoes Nevados de Sollipulli (2282m),  Llaima(3125m) but sights of Condors were rewarding. We crossed a valley with lava and where huge tree trunks were swept down from Vulcano Llaima. After Melipenco, Cunco, along S61 to Hortensias, Los Laureles and on to Villarica. Here all camping seemed closed, so we ended at Camping Molco Beach near Lago Villarica shortly before Pucon. Isaac, fluent is English, had worked for the US Army before settling here offering camping and space for events. From here we drove via Pucon and the Paso Mamuil Malal (1100m) to the Chile-Argentina border which we passed within 45minutes both sides and without customs search of the vehicle on the Argentinian side. As we continued over the pass we sadly could not see Volcan Lanin in the clouds on the way to our friend Caro in San Martin de Los Andes where a hearty welcome awaited us and we exchanged stories into the small hours of the morning, Caro prepared a delicious meal of home-made Gnocci, fresh truffles and plenty of red wine.   Blog covers 5th to 16th November 2017

Argentina 8: Parques Talampaya and Ischigualasto

At Talampaya we hoped to see the impressive canyon and formations of red sandstone. Camping was permitted in the car park and a warm shower possible, we ate at the restaurant and we arranged to join the morning tour into the park. It was not permitted to drive in one’s own vehicle, the only way is by guided tour. The 2 ½ hr trip was by minibus, we visited the petroglyphs, strolled through the indigenous garden and then drove deeper into the canyon to see the gothical cathedral formation. On the way we saw Maras, belonging to the rodent family. The tour concluded with a visit to the totem, the torres and the monk. We took a short stroll through the dinosaurus park of Talampaya displaying various models of those that inhabitated this area before their extinction. Then we continued southerly on the RN76 and RN150 until we reached the gate at Parque Ischigualasto which is part of the neighbouring province San Juan. Here we booked ourselves in for the 40km round trip late afternoon – it was self-drive in convoy following the guide. We stopped at all worthwhile view points and received detailed explanations. Interesting stops were the painted valley, the stone canon ball field, as well as the museo of the Ishigualasto dinosaur established by William Sill. We carried on to the formations submarine and the iconic mushroom. Along the high red cliffs we saw more condors just before sunset. Camping again took place in the carpark –however no opportunity to shower and the men’s toilets were closed due to renovations – no alternative provided. Next stop was San Juan, the town did not impress due to the plastic pollution along the roads, we drove out of town to the Dique de Ullúm lake and visited almost all camping sites around it and we did not find a suitable one. Either they were filthy, being renovated, private or closed. We ended taking a cabaña at Hotel Bono, fairly expensive and sub-standard for the the cost. Later we found out that the Hotel had closed for a while as the lake was dry and was only slowly able to recover. We left early, crossed San Juan, the city center looked more attractive than the suburbs the day before. Continued on the RN40 to Mendoza with ever increasing vineyards in this desertlike area reminding us of the Hexriver valley in the Cape. In the city we visited Plaza España decorated with ceramic tiles as well as Plaza Independencia, where a food festival and fair took place. Since wine tastings on the wine estates was by appointment only we did not go, but continued to Uspallata on the RP52, a beautiful mountain pass, spring flowers everywhere. Later the day we found camping in Uspallata at Ranquil Luncay, another camping site that we shall remember due to its incredibly dirty ablutions and lack of hot water.   The next morning we aimed to cross into Chile. On the way we stopped at the viewpoint of the Aconçagua,the highest mountain of South America(6961m), as well as at the natural bridge Puente del Inca with its sulphur-rich termas. This blog covers 2nd to 5th November 2017

Argentina 7: Quebrada de la Conchas, Multi-Coloured Mountains and Pumice Formations

    From Cafayate we took Ruta 68 through the Quebrada de las Conchas – a road through interesting sandstone mountains and formations of different colourings. The day ended for us wild camping at the old rail station Alemania underneath the railway bridge along the river surrounded by inquisitive Criollo horses, dogs and cows. After Valle de Lerma we turned off and circled around the large hydro dam Embalse Cabra Corral on the RP47, all ripio (gravel road) and almost no traffic with beautiful landscapes. Finally we reached Salta. Here we again tried to find a handbrake cable for the landcruiser at Toyota, no luck. In the city center we bought a SIM card from Movistar to get connection to internet – useless in Argentina, as we found out later. Claro was expensive but possibly a better choice, locals later told us that for the south of Argentina Personal has better coverage – all in all seldom 4G although advertised as such. Salta has a number of plazas, churches and pedestrian zones which we enjoyed.   Then we drove out of town to Camping Papi Lalo where we arrived after dark, let us self in, but the banõs were locked. Being the only campers at this rudimentary site it did not pose much of a problem. Along the stream plenty frogs delivered a free concert and 10 horses chased each other around us. At 6am the owner collected her camping fee and opened the loos. We returned to Salta in the hope of finding a place to sell us the compulsory insurance we could not get in Brasil – by luck we met a representative of Triunfo Seguros who promptly arranged insurance for all the countries we were going to cross on the remainder of this trip. It also is possible to arrange this insurance with them up front via internet – if only we had known this beforehand. Their head office is in Mendoza. (Another company future travelers can try is Speiser Seguros.)   Next we followed the RN9 northwards, narrow and curvy, and passed two dams, the Embalse las Madeiras and La Ciénaga, skirted around San Salvador de Jujuy and Tumbaya and along the Rio Grande until we reached Purmamarca. Purmamarca ist best known for its 7-coloured mountain. We found a spot to camp in the grounds of Hosteria Bebo Vilte – dusty and with inadequate ablutions. In the evening we went to local pub/restaurant La Diabala where Ariel Ramirez performed local folklore music – he is a son of Zamba Quipildor, a revered singer of the Jujuy province – a very enjoyable evening ,especially because a visiting women choir gave a joint impromptu performance of Quipildor songs. Early in the morning we climbed a koppie in the town to photograph the seven coloured mountain (Cerro Siete Colores) during sunrise. Since there is another spectacular 14-colour mountain range further north, we pushed on towards Humahuaca via Tilcara, where we took a stroll to the Garganta del Diabolo, a waterfall inside a canyon, not too spectacular. At Humahuaca we met Marcello from Punta Arenas in his self-built vehicle and trailer – an unusual overlander! Outside the town we took the ripio RP73 to the Mirador del Hornocal (at 4350m elevation) to view the 14-coloured mountain range – the view,both in colour and formation, it is a worthwhile visit, best photographed in the late afternoon. Back in town we found no decent camping site so we wild camped along the Antigua RP 73, a road almost never used and were rewarded with a splendid night sky. We returned to Purmamarca along the Quebrada de Humahuaca and found better camping just outside town at Camping los Colorados de Chabelita, clean and with very friendly owners also catering often for motorbikers in their rooms. Following the RN52 the road followed a mountain pass down to the Salinas Grande –a large salt lake, somewhat disappointing if you had visited Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. Asphalt road up to Susques, then ripio RN40, plenty of curves through mountains and along the Rio Pastos Chicos with the beautiful volcano Tuzgle  5544m high. The area is known as Sierra del Cobre due to the copper mining in the past. We passed through the steel construction of Viaducto de la Polvorilla, well guarded, which transports water to the cities. We left San Antonio de los Cobres behind us and continued along the Ruta 40 south past a few high peaks all above 5000m. We were now in the Sierra de las Grandes, the dirt road wound up to 4937m and Karin felt the effects. A lot of ice was still on the ridges, we were fortunate that the road dipped down to 2800m. We drove up a dry rivulet in 4x4 and wild camped below stunning sandstone formations with a clear night that allowed some photographing. A short stop in Cachi after a 195km stretch of a dusty winding road allowed us to refresh before we continued to Molinos, the start of many wine farms to come. Following the Rio Calchaguies in the valley with the same name we passed many crazy sandstone formations until we finally returned to Cafayate, camping again Luz y Fuerza, but not before we sampled some more wine ice cream , flavours Torrentes and Cabernet.   The Swiss couple Peter and Sylvia told us about the Piedras Pomez – white pumice rock formations that could be reached by turning off at Hualfin towards El Peñon. However, our departure was delayed after we met the eccentric overlander Klaus from Dortmund, who has a wooden blockhouse on the back of his truck – complete with flowerboxes!   As we had to pass through Amaicha del Valle again we had a second chance to visit the Pachamama museum- and lucky we were – definitely worth a stop to see the geological exhibits as well as the art and the building by Hugo Cruz. At Nacimientos de Arriba we took a little 4x4 track up to the west to reach the remote Aguas Termales with its 37 deg C waters – ideal. We wild camped at this spot, locals drove up by bike to take a bath in one of the 4 private baths. Truly a wonderful place, just rudimentary. After a further morning soak we aimed for El Peñon via a desolate, but stunning landscape. At Nacimientos de San Antonia we turned off on to the RP43 after passing Laguna Blanca.     After El Peñon we turn onto RP34, only 4x4s were permitted towards Campo de Piedra Pomez, a large pumice field that originated after an eruption of Volcan Carachi Pampa (3393m) and then was eroded through wind and water. From here we returned to the Laguna Blanca (3200m) and pitched our camp with Guanacos and Flamingos. The morning greeted us with a 0deg C temperature and we took the RN40 via Belén, San Blas to Chilecito, however too early to pitch camp. So we continued to Nonogasta, turned off on a new tarred road to Puerto Alegre, then 20km ripio to the RN76, extremely dry and the road lined with the odd cow cadaver. We finally reached the entry gate to Parque Nacional Talampaya.   This blog covers 24th Oct – 1st November 2017