Argentina/Chile: The most ass-backwards way to get from A-Z!
The past 10 days have been spent making my way north. When looking at a map, I must say that I have taken the most ridiculous route possible, however it`s been quite good to me.
As I bounced along Ruta 40, I had plenty of time to reassess my travels and figure out what I wanted to accomplish in the (gulp) 7 weeks I have left before leaving South America. I came up with some pretty extravagant decisions: I want to see caves, and I am not going to go into Chile. Pretty good for 10 hours of thinking, eh?
And then I went through Chile….so much for having a plan.
Since I had one famous South American road trip under my belt, I decided to go for another. The Carretera Austral, or Great Southern Highway, (although Highway to me implies paved road – which this most certainly is NOT) is a mostly single-track and gravel road that connects Puerto Montt with Villa O`Higgins in Southern Chile. I only had the time to do about a 1/3 of it and quickly at that, but it looked a lot more interesting that doing the same stretch north on the Argentine side. This was also the one area of Chile that I didn`t get to see when I was here in the summer of 2000. It seemed quite easy to just bop over into Chile and take the road north. Not so. At this time of year, buses only run every few days to certain places and it turned out to be more time consuming than I had wanted, but I was rewarded with a lot of spectacular views along the way. I`ve seen many breathtaking views, but never have I been anywhere where such views stretch for miles & miles and continue day after day! A much better way to do the trip would have been to rent a car so that I could stop at my leisure and not have to take really bad photos out of dusty windows, but that just isn`t feasible by my lonesome. Of course, the only proper way to do it (and all of South America for that matter) would be to follow in the great Che`s footsteps and do it all by motorcycle, but I`m quite scared of motorcycles, nor do I know how to drive one.
The 1st jaunt was from Los Antiguos, Argentina, across the border into Chile Chico and then on to Puerto Guadal. Half of the people on my micro were snoozing. Wake up people!! Don`t you know how beautiful it is outside and how much I went out of my way just to see what you are missing? Sheesh. The majority of the first two days were spent circling Lago Buenos Aires (or Lago Carrera General as it`s called on the Chilean side), and it`s the next biggest lake in South America after Titicaca (yet to come.) The color of the water is a brilliant turquoise blue with mountains surrounding the lake. I was lucky to be sitting next to a tour guide who was happy to narrate much of the journey. I spent the first night in Puerto Guadal with a super nice older couple who have a son who lives in Utah and they wanted to tell me ALL about him. It was good practice though, because as soon as we crossed the border, I had to adjust my ear in order to understand the high-speed mumble of the Chileans. The next morning I had to hitchhike 5 miles out to the main road to catch a northbound bus to the next village. I do believe this was my very first solo full-on, thumb-out, hitchhiking experience. I must be good at it because the first truck that drove by picked me up and was actually going an hour in my direction so I was able to save on the bus fare. This particular stretch was extra rough because it was one continuous washboard, which my young buck of a 20 year old driver chose to barrel down making it impossible to take any pictures and I had to settle for just gawking out the window wondering how a place could be so peaceful and beautiful. The next stretch was on another micro and at some point we ventured from the lake and headed north through the mountains. Fall is my favorite time of year and this year I`m a lucky girl because I get two of them. It`s a perfect time to be driving down tree-lined roads as the leaves are turning.
Several buses, vans and random trucks later, we fast-forward a few days and I find myself in Bariloche, Argentina. Boy it`s good to be back. Chile is expensive!!! I mean, I had to pay a whopping $14 per night for a room…my most expensive lodging yet. In order to get back into Argentina and where I wanted to ultimately be, I had to take an 18 hour bus ride from Coyhaique, Chile to Osorno, Chile…VIA BARILOCHE. However, the kind folks of Quilien Bus Company informed me that I couldn’t actually get off in Bariloche “for administrative reasons.” I wanted to throw myself out the window as we drove through my destination after 14 hours on the bus and I knew I was going to have to go 4 hours past my destination, only to turn around, pay ANOTHER bus fare, and go back the way I just came from. Such is the logic of Latin America. I did however convince the bus driver to drop me off at the AR-CH border which spared me the last 3 painful hours….that apparently was ok. I spent a full hour, and wasted a coveted passport page exiting Argentina, entering Chile, exiting Chile, and entering Argentina (mind you, this is all happening in a one-block square area), and waited patiently for a bus to pick me up. First bus…nope, no can do lady you aren`t on the roster. Second bus, no can do lady…bus is nearly empty and I know you are willing to pay real cash for a seat…but um no. Third bus, you aren`t on the “official” list okayed to go into Argentina. GRRRR…..about then I decided to befriended a nice customs patrol man and he made it his quest to help me out (they must be pretty bored at this border station) and he schmoozed my way onto the 4th bus that went by…so finally, a day later and a whole lot of dollars shorter…I am in Bariloche….heart of the Lake District.
The Lake District was right up there with the Amazon and Machu Picchu as “looking-forward-to-moments” for my South American circuit. I`m here and it`s just as wonderful as expected!!! I had intended to stay here only 2-3 days, but it’s now day 6 and I still haven’t left. Bariloche is known for its chocolates and I really wish I was here with Lani to see how much money she`d spend and lbs she`d gain on chocolate. She`s going to be in hog-heaven when she gets here!!
My days in Bariloche were spent meandering around the adorable little town and taking day trips out to the many lakes of the region. It reminds me a lot of Breckenridge, with a latin flair – naturally. My favorite view was from the Cerro Campaneiro lookout (see pics) which provided a great 360 degrees view of the area and the lakes that stretch for miles. I spent one day hiking at Cerro Catedral, the most well-known ski area here (it doesn’t hold a candle to ours) and on the third day I bumped into a guy I had met the week before in El Chalten. I was quickly adopted by him and his 3 fellow Spaniards for the next couple days and together we rented a car to do the 7-lakes loop (see pics). It was nice to be able to do the drive this way, as it was much cheaper, a heck of a lot more fun, and we were able to do it at our leisure instead of getting stuck on a conventional bus tour!
I took the plunge though and will be leaving Bariloche tomorrow, heading north to Mendoza – the heart of wine country. I’ll be settling in there for nearly 10 days as I check out the area and wait for Lani to resume our joint travels!