Monday, 12 May 2014

The Argentinian Lake District

After bidding farwell to Simon and Olivia who were heading north I headed south for San Martin de los Andes which was only a short 45 km ride away on relatively flat terrain. I took a nice long picnic break half way through to somehow devour most of the delicious banana bread and corn bread Olivia had presented me upon leaving. You would think that my appetite would have plateaued by this stage of the trip but it seems to increase by the week!

I had been put in touch with Mariano who was an Argentenian bike enthusiast living in San Martin de los Andes. Mariano (aka Pomelo, meaning grapefruit?!) ran a rafting company on one of the nearby rivers. After tracking him town he welcomed me into his home like a long lost (cycling) brother! Mariano had done several big bike tours in South America. It turned out that we had both passed through Colombia around a similar time during the protests and road blocks of August 2013. Mariano had hosted a few other touring Pan American cyclist who I knew from the road who were further ahead of me by this stage. He was in great form as he had just finished work that day for a few weeks off to do some bike touring with his lovely girlfriend in northern Argentina and was then heading off to a football tournament in Brazil in June.

By this stage of the trip, mainly because of autumn fast approaching I wasn´t planning any more long lay overs but as there was heavy rain the next day I made the most of my time off  by doing a long over due clothes wash. I felt like it was the first time in months that my clothes were actually properly clean. Later in the evening Mariano had plenty of tips for my route further south as he had also toured southern Patagonia as far as Ushuaia.
It was in San Martin de los Andes that I discovered Argentenian bakeries.... WOW! Very impressive. Probably the best I have encountered of any country on the trip and you can get probably three quality sticky buns for the same price as one in Chile.

I had my first bit of snow the day I left San Martin de los Andes as I climbed out of town. The next few days I experienced some shabby weather with a fair bit of rain. Depite the weather I passed some beautiful lakes and forest scenery. The night before I made it into San Carlos de Bariloche my tent had got soaked in a down pour so I was thrilled that I had somewhere indoors to stay once I got to Bariloche. I had put up with miserable rain all day and with some windy gusts by the lakeside on the outskirts of Bariloche so I was thrilled to make it to TT`s place. TT was a pal of Pomelo´s and another touring cyclist who had cycled all the way from Argentina as far as the States a few years back. Being a fellow tourer I think he understood how appreciative I was to get a roof over my head for the night and a place to dry out my tent and all the rest of my soaking gear after the drenching I had received!

I left TT and his family the following morning planning only a quick look in the city centre before cycling on but it seemed like a lovely place and with the weather having picked up I could see that Bariloche was surrounded by spectacular landscape. I decided to stay an extra day or so and rather than imposing on TT and his family again I took the rare move of checking into a hostel.

It turned out to be a great move as I met some lovely folk including Stefano who was an Italian off-road motorbiker on a world tour. I tend to mostly promote other cyclists blogs but this guys photos have to be seen to be believed.
A talented photographer and a lovely guy. Having traveled from southern Patagonia we exchanged notes on the routes ahead and he tipped me off about Jos an Australian touring cyclist I could look out for in the coming weeks who was heading north.
I managed to get a very funny night out with the gang from the hostel where I finally got to sample
an Argentenian craft beer .. or two. It was a testing evening for my Spanish comprehension to take in some Spaniards rat-ta-tat machine gun speed chat with some equally fast talking Argentenians!

Bald power - Stefano the off road motor bike tourer and myself
Paula (from Madrid) practices her Irish dancing after a crash course
from some dodgy Irish guy the night before.

Delicious homemade burgers all round having worked up a good appetite on our
day trip to a local viewing point.

El Bolson was the next proper town I hit after Bariloche where I stayed my first night at an Argentenian Bomberos. Meat is a lot cheaper in Argentina in the supermarket compared with Chile so I was treating myself to the rare bit of meat in my diet with some quality Argentenian chorizo and morchilla which is a very tasty kind of blood sausage similar to black pudding except better!

So if you have missed a few trips to the church in the previous months does spending a full night
there count as a catch up... not if you're sleeping I suppose.

After El Bolson I had a beautiful blue skied clear crisp autumnal day to Cholila where I had organised to stay with a Polish priest. After I had showered up and shared a tasty vegeterian meal we headed off to meet some of his friends for a 30th wedding anniversary. They were having a meat feast and didn´t decline the offer of more grub! Being a Saturday everyone was in great form and it turned out to be quite a late night so I didn´t hit the road until early afternoon on Sunday.

This friendly fella accompanied me through most of Los Alerces National Park

I had a big day on the Monday as I had to make sure to make it all the way through the beautiful "Los Alerces" National Park on a hilly dirt road. I was not allowed to camp in the park despite passing lots of lovely camp spots. To be honest I had no intention of camping as there had been a rat infestation of the park during the summer and they were carrying a pretty nasty virus so I made sure to make it indoors in the town of Trevellin on the far side of the park that evening. I ended up spending a rare night in the warm common room at the back of a police station. It was another opportunity to do some tent drying after a downpour the previous night.The only catch was that I had to be up and out by 6.30 am the next morning so an early start to pack up the gear. As it was dark until after 8 in the morning I headed off to a petrol station to make the most of the free wifi before hitting the road again proper. I was heading for the Chilean border which I crossed early that evening at dusk.

The road towards Chile


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