For our first two days in Argentina, we stayed in San Martin de Los Andes. In town, the spacious campground had large trees, beautiful rose bushes, and wifi if you sat near reception.
There were many other campers in tents or hard top trailers. All with license plates that said Republic of Argentina. With a population of around 20,000, the town is a year round resort. Beach in the summer and skiing in the winter. Located on the banks of Lago Lácar, water sports and boat tours are a popular activity. Many restaurants and shops are chalet style, beautifully designed using gorgeous wood.
This happened to be the last week of summer vacation and the town was busy with tourists. So to our surprise the stores were closed all afternoon.
We waited and wandered down to the beach and back, until the shops reopened at 5 pm. But then we had no luck. The Movistar shop didn’t sell SIM cards for the cell phone. And I looked in several sports stores for a new day pack (my current 1987 model has a hole) but they were all priced at over $150 Cdn. Then the three auto parts stores we went to had never seen a rear view mirror glue kit before, even though I showed them our previous package, complete with Spanish descriptions. At the third place, the clerk kept staring at the package and shaking her head. Finally she told me to go to the bomberos voluntario. Go to the volunteer fire department to fix our mirror? Sheesh. This did not make sense. So we didn’t.
For the rest of the week we drove south on route 40, camping in two National parks and spending a few nights just outside the village of Trevelin.
On the way, we passed Bariloche, an Argentinian holiday capital. Located at the edge of Lago Nahuel Huapi, an enormous glacial lake, it provides access to the oldest national park of the same name Parqué Nacional Nahuel Huapi.
We did not stay in sprawling Bariloche though, choosing instead to drive on past the City to another park entrance. We found a beautiful little grassy campground on Mascardi Lake. Very tranquil.
Argentinians carry around mate cups like Canadians carry coffee, and several campers were eager to enlighten us on this favourite beverage. At one campsite, our neighbour offered us a taste of her mate, and showed us what type to buy. Mate consists of the dried leaves and buds from an evergreen tree that grows in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. You need a proper cup commonly made of gourd, and a bombilla, a metal straw that has a spoon shaped filter on the bottom.
To make mate you half fill the cup with leaves, add hot water, and drink through the straw. The difference from drinking tea is that you also carry a thermos of hot water, adding more water to your cup as needed. Mate is shared. You pass the cup around in your group, and each person takes small sips through the bombilla. Then when the brew loses its flavour, the leaves are dumped, and the whole process is repeated. All day it seems.
I had read that there are Welsh communities in Argentina and Trevelin is one.
People from Whales arrived in Argentina in the late 1800s seeking their fortune in a new country where they could also retain their language and culture. In Trevelin though, except for a few names, we saw no signs of welshishness. Just spanish.
But it was a pretty community in a very rural setting. Here we noticed many people dressed in the gaucho style, a beret (boing) and baggy trousers that can be worn loose or snapped at the ankle.
In town, the autoparts store had the proper kit to reinstall the mirror. This time there was glue in the kit. Finally, the rear view mirror is back.
And we purchased our very own mate cup, a metal bombilla, and a pound of mate. Which is almost a pound more than we will ever need. On trying it out, we overfilled the cup with leaves, so it was quite strong. And sharing it is weird. Not a bad flavour though. Like a herbal tea with a hint of dried grass. OK, more than a hint.
Out of town, we drove past herds of cattle grazing below snow capped mountain peaks. And stopped to watch a guy practicing polo. His horse raced around the field while he raised his long stick, then leaned down and whacked at a small white ball, driving it ahead. Like golf. But on a horse.
For two nights we camped in a vineyard that had a nicely landscaped area with a duck pond, a bridge over a creek and a brick parilla for each of the 6 sites. The water for the showers was heated by a wood stove and so only warm in the evening. We bought some of their wine called Nant y Fall.
We found a roadside shop owned by a guy from Spain who makes his own ham. The tiny space was crammed. A counter for cutting ham, a small bar with two stools and a plethora of booze bottles, a tiny table to sit at, hams hanging from the ceiling, and the rest was stuffed with Knickknacks and wooden handcrafted signs. The kind you might hang in your bar, if you had a bar.
We asked to buy ham. He brought out the whole leg and carefully sliced it by hand.
From Trevelin we headed north up to Parque National Los Alerces. Created to protect the alerces tree, one of the tallest and longest living trees on earth, a cypress variety that only grows in the Andes mountains. We stopped at the entrance gate and paid the foreigner fee of 400 peso each. ($8.60 Cdn).
The park is beautiful, but the roads not so much. A lot of gravel. Now and then we caught glimpses of snowy peaks rising above the tree line, huge expanses of rock quilted with dark green forest, and jewel blue lakes. The park has at least 6 large lakes and many campgrounds, some with services and some without.
At Lago Verde, we found a rustic campground with decent washrooms. Although the water was cold, we swam in the lake and then sat on the pebbly beach in the sun, watching kayakers come and go, and were entertained by a group of little kids straddling a paddle boat, having a grand time falling off and climbing on again.
Finally, we caught sight of the Magellanic woodpeckers. ( in Spanish they have the more descriptive name Carpintero Gigante). I was pretty excited to see them. In the trees just above our campsite the black and white female was making quite the racket, as loud and raucous as a squirrel. The male was busy knocking the heck out of the bark, bobbing his bright red head at a furious rate. He would not stay still for a photo. With a comical pointy head and thick beak, these guys are large, about 40 cm long, similar in size to the Pileated woodpecker that we see in Manitoba. Love them.
The next day we returned to Trevelin. At this point we had to make a choice.
The whole southern end of the South American continent is known as the region of Patagonia. The dilemma with exploring Patagonia is that it is in two countries, both Chile and Argentina. We could continue on route 40 in Argentina. Or we could cross back into Chile, hope for another 90 days on the tourist card, and take route 7, known as the Caraterra Austral.
Which route won out? The Caraterra. A 1200 km route through remote Chile, it is touted as a magnificent adventurous road trip. We didn’t want to miss it.
So we headed west on 259 to the border of Paso Futaleufú. Only a handful of people were there and it took about ten minutes to stamp out of Argentina. Down the road, it was the same time for entering Chile. No issues. Yay!
Vanna life: We found a toaster! We have survived on toastless breakfasts for too long. Found this one in the grocery store in San Martín. Works really well.