Sunday, November 13, 2011

Driving the famous Ruote 40 to Argentina's lake district

 gravel road on ruta 40
dawn on ruta 40
Leaving wine country for one of the most beautiful nature places we have ever seen, Argentina's lake district. We drove over a 1000km's from San Rafael to San Martin de los Andes down the famed ruta 40, most of it paved with some graveled parts. Ruta 40 runs parallel with the stunning snow caped Andes to the west. We made pit stops in Malargue and Chos Malal, camping at the municipal campgrounds. Malargue, has an interesting observatory with astronomy and dinosaur displays (free on the day we visited what luck!). Our way to Chos Malal we saw 2 motorbike travelers that we had met earlier in Malargue, stuck on the side of the road with a flat. We stopped to see if they need help and chatted while they repaired the tire. Later that evening we would meet up with them again in Chos Malal, in the campground and enjoyed a late night of slow cooked asado with these 2 interesting Brits on their second tour of the Americas.

catching up on laundry
Yes! we are in the lake district

yeah, a warm place to sleep and watch television

all that biking and hiking gone to waste 

We reached the beginning of the the lake district at the town of San Martin de los Andes, and the weather changed for the worst. It began to rain and later turn to light snow but lucky with help of local tourist office we found a cozy cabin located in town for only $25 a night. Cabins are popular with Argentinians because they're equipped with a kitchen, bathroom and big enough for a small family and cost between $25 to $100 much cheaper than an hotel and more private. We ended up staying for 4 days and during the sunny afternoons we enjoyed hiking and biking, afterwards we would indulge ourselves in the local chocolates. Nights were spent inside the warm cabin cooking dinner and blogging. Now have never been to the Swiss German alps but San Martin de los Andes has a very European feel to it, from what travelers of those regions tell us it very similar. This small town is cute, clean and surrounded by lakes and mountains a place we can see ourselves retired in, yes it that nice.

After 4 days in a warm cabin, we hit the road explore the magical lakes of the area. The lake district of Argentina is comprised of 2 national parks Lanin and Nahuel Huapi in 2 provinces Neuquen and Rio Negro. Our first lake was Lago Hermosa, meaning beautiful lake and it was. Its spring time now so we had it pretty much to ourselves with the odd visitors here and there. After, we made a quick stop at Lago Falkner and decided to camp for the night at Lago Villarino, just across the road, its free with no service. Here we started to see signs of the ash from the volcano that erupted a few months ago in the Chile side. All the lakes here seem to be untouched with wallpaper backdrops of snow caped mountains, makes we want to explore the Rockies in my own country. 

Next morning we had breakfast on the lake and off to Lago Espejo (mirror lake) afterwards we visited the trendy town of Valle La Angostura, but this town was just covered in ash plus was windy as hell so visibility was minimal. We checked out the National park Los Arrayanes unfortunately did get to see the Arrayan tree forest (famous for its cinnamon color trees) because its at the end of the peninsula and the path was under maintenance lucky we didn't have to pay to enter. I guess its off season plus the ash was everywhere covering trees, buildings and also collecting at the shore lines. Next was the ski town of San Carlos De Bariloche, we planned to spend some time here but when we arrived we notice more ash, making it a uncomfortable place to be, plus the city was holding a woman's rights party so the whole town was booked for the weekend. We decided not to stay but checked out the centre and the surrounding area, had a late lunch in town and left the lake district for El Bolson.