Pucón (Chile) (30th April) – Paso Mamuil Malal – Junin de Los Andes (Argentina) – San Martin de Los Andes – Villa La Angostura – Bariloche – El Bolsón – Lago Futalaufquen – Trevelín – Aldea Esolar – Paso Ancho – Futaleufú (Chile) – (18th May)
Rain and cold are my least favourite climatic conditions on a bicycle tour so, going forward, I made the choice to wait that combination out. Although in a rush to get south as I enter the bowels of Patagonian winter why suffer through its worst aspect when that is the very thing I’m trying to avoid by rushing south? Dry cold by itself I find somewhat bearable (to an extent) with the right equipment (which I hope I have). Days of persistent rain, however, are another matter.
So after what seemed like an eternity waiting out the bad weather in Pucón a short clear weather window opportunity appeared and I grabbed my chance to get the **** out of there. With one of the two good days used up climbing Volcano Villarica, there was no more time for procrastination. However, perhaps now characteristic of my somewhat reluctant trip south, I managed to leave late.
Lago Quillelhue before the Argentinian border – scenic one might say. A two year old could take a good photo here.
Since the Chilean side is generally thought to be wetter than Argentina I crossed back over to Ruta 40 and down through the touristic Ruta de Los Siete Lagos (seven lakes route) and touristy towns of San Martin de Los Andes, Villa Angostura and Bariloche. With their brand new wooden architecture, ‘chocolate shops’ and expensive prices it felt more like being in the Swiss Alps than Latin America. Pleasant enough, although not something I’d signed up for and far removed from the 1.50 dollar almuerzos (lunches) of Bolivia and Peru. It’s undoubtedly a nice scenic route but there are stretches of quite fast moving traffic with little shoulder to speak of. It’s just about bearable but having developed a slight obsession with fast moving vehicle avoidance I found it far from ideal. (The worst parts for me were Junin to San Martin and then 20km before Bariloche to El Bolsón and then the turn off for the Parque Nacional Los Alerces detour.)
Scroll to bottom for potentially useful waypoints I marked
Having said that, there were definitely some highlights, here’s a photo journal of my slow moving days to Futaleufú.
Any sadness at leaving Volcano Villarica behind is quickly forgotten as the almost identical Volcano Lanín takes it place.
Serving as a useful backdrop for a close up shot of the intriguing monkey puzzle tree.
The road pleasantly winds up through Chilean forest, quite steeply for a short stretch.
And then past the gorgeous Lago Quillelhue… It’s a dia libre (national day off) in Chile so various other people are lolling about, but not enough to detract from the beauty.
I then I stumble across this picnic spot, a few kilometres down the road. It’s late and cold when I get there but I get my first taste of Patagonian hospitality when a generous couple invites me into their pristine camper van for some very tasty homemade pizza and wine. Soon their friends turn up and thoughts of an early night quickly disintegrate. More wine, Pisco Sour and some kind of alcoholic passionfruit drink appear. My pleas for early night sobriety are fervently ignored.
Eventually I manage to escape towards my tent and notice the clear starry night. Here is my attempt of a night shot, a little dark maybe but you get the idea.
I don’t need to be asked twice when I’m invited in for breakfast the next morning.
Their bull terrier. The most passive dog I’ve ever encountered. It has something delicious in its ears, their other pet couldn’t get enough of them.
Enjoying the jovial Chilean company, most of the day starts evaporating before my eyes and I search deeply for the motivation to break away from my new friends. My willpower is truly tested at the appearance of a succulent pork barbecue late afternoon… Sadly it’s late and poor weather is forecast tomorrow. After a small taster I press on to the border a few kilometres down the road
Volcano Lanín still towering over me.
My third crossing into Argentina.
I enjoy a fantastic headwind downhill into Argentina and make some fast progress with the last one or two hours of diminishing light.
That tailwind turns into my windiest unsheltered tent night ever and I lie there wondering whether I will be blown across the river. A delightful spot, however, I am appreciative of my luck in asking the right house to camp on their land.
Not unpleasant autumnal hues on the ride to Junin the next morning.
In Junin de Los Andes I’m tired and frustrated at not being able to find the delicious calorific meal I have been dreaming of, all viable options are closed, even at midday. Finally a burger stall opens so spend my only pesos (the atms aren’t functioning in predictable fashion) and head off towards San Martin de Los Andes. It’s a short 40 kilometres but I suffer through a very inconvenient headwind and some quite grim traffic. Hitch hiking or taking the bus seem to be far more appealing.
After a night in an overpriced hostel (270 pesos for a dormitory) in the very touristy San Martin I head off down the much quieter Ruta de Los Siete Lagos.
The local wildlife attracted to the scraps from humans.
After a rainy night in the free camping by the scenic Lago Villarino i push on to get to Villa Angostura.
The quantity and speed of the traffic notably increase once it joins the road from the border and it becomes somewhat less enjoyable.
After a couple of days in Villa Agostura exploring Parque Nacional Arrayanes, I make light work of the 80km to Bariloche in an afternoon with the wind (mostly) on my back.
Cerro Campanario in Bariloche: half an hour to climb and a not too bad 360 degree views of the surrounding lakes.
Staying at the casa de ciclista of Estevan Coco (find on Warmshowers.com) a few days off the bike are inevitable. His house has about ten other cyclist tourists all (wisely) travelling the other way.
A great place to stop off but I get bored of walking 3 km to get into town and am pleased to finally head off towards El Bolson after a few days
Dreary cloudy conditions serve as a constant reminder that even Autumn is nearing its end.
Having left late I fall 40 kilometres short of El Bolson. The rain encourages me to search indoors for a camp spot but there’s an unfriendly vibe and no viable options. After half an hour rummaging around in the dark and rain and the thorny wet undergrowth I spot another building which turns out to be a restaurant. I’m delighted to find out they’re far more friendly and offer me this wood shed for shelter. As I bed down for the night a large rooster three metres from my head cuts short my celebrations but it’s too late to find an alternative. From 3 a.m. onwards its intermittent crowing feels like bolts of electricity through my body, not a fitful sleep.
The final stretch to El Bolsón reveals a surprising amount of fast traffic on the road but it’s bearable.
Yet another couple of days off and it’s on to the dirt road to Trevelín and Parque Nacional Los Alerces.
I pass the entrance of Los Alerces after 6pm and am forced to find a wild (and prohibited) camp in the woods and rise early for another dreary morning.
It’s undoubtedly a beautiful park and, most importantly, traffic free.
After a night in paid camping in Trevelín, it’s onto the border where my chain snaps and I struggle to repair it for around 40 minutes and I nearly cry.
When I finally sort it out it’s dark so I camp just before the border and play around with my camera.
Next to the roaring Rio Grande, it’s not bad for an impromptu camp spot.
And then into Chile for the fourth time this trip.
Cows lounging about enjoying the sun? It looks warm but it’s actually not far off zero degrees.
From the border it’s a short 10 kilometres to Futaleufú
Where I camp near Laguna Espejo in the thoughtfully Laguna Espejo accommodation.
Waypoints and potentially useful camp spots, places to stay etc can be downloaded here (click top right box and then download the KML):