Week 90 & 91 - Great Camping, Dirt Road Heaven and HantaVirus
We left Junin de Los Andes and headed South to Bariloche on the smooth tarmac road. We took a little detour to a stunning lake (Huechulafquen) I seem to remember) with a snow capped volcano in the background where we met another bike traveller, but unfortunately there was a huge sign saying no motorcycles, so we couldn't follow the road all the way along. Sad times!
We'd heard a lot about Bariloche and its beautiful surroundings next to a stunning lake, however it seemed crazy expensive to stay there from what we could find and we'd heard a lot of reports of thefts from travellers in the area, maybe because it's such a popular destination? Who knows! All around Bariloche, but particularly before we got to it, there was so much traffic, it was crazy, but the one thing that made up for it was the stunning scenery. The whole area was full of beautiful lakes and greenery. We started longing for the dirt back roads again as the crawl of the traffic and the busy roads made it quite tiresome.
We met a lovely guy at gas station on route on a Honda Tornado and he gave us some visor cleaner, which was really nice and actually much required at the time. We stuck around for a bit and chatted, as well as having a bit of a comfort break in some extremely overused and unclean bathrooms and a spot of rehydration. There were so many travellers on bikes, most from Argentina and we hadn't seen so many in one place before throughout our whole travelling experience. You could certainly tell it was high season in Patagonia. The traffic continued to be slow and heavy until we finally got to Bariloche. We doubled backed to a burger van for great Milanesa sandwich while we had a think about what we wanted to do. Feeling full after only half a sandwich each we decided to continue on, and I'd seen a few very remote places with a couple of tiny, basic campsites marked. Our leftovers also meant we had enough for dinner at our campsite somewhere.
Fortunately the traffic thinned out after Bariloche and we ended up in a tiny place called Rio Villegas. We found a super small camping spot next to river a river, and the only other people there were packing up to leave. It was only 150 peso/pp, which was a bargain for the tranquility and surroundings, although with the only facilities being just a toilet, you could see why people would be put off staying. The Argentinians who were leaving told us about a walk near by and showed us a few pictures. It certainly was a beautiful area and I hoped I'd understood their instructions well enough to be able to find the walking route at some point during what turned out to be a three night stay. We stayed two nights to begin with because we wanted to do the walk that had been suggested to us, and we stayed the extra day due to rain and not wanting to pack up everything in the rain. Also, it was just so beautiful and so quiet that we were quite happy to stop still with the whole place to ourselves.
The only companion we had on the campsite was a great sheep that Kelvin named Emily. She came around chomping the grass each day and seeing if we had anything she could steal. We learnt quite quickly to keep things out of reach or hidden away or she'd have it!
On the second day we went on the walk and found a beautiful blue river (Rio Manso). We had to cross the river we were camping next to, which was bloody cold, and then follow a sandy dirt road until we got to a clearing. There were some footpath indicators so we just followed them and it was so peaceful. The path went up high besides the river with a stunning view over it, and then back down again. Some sections were a bit slippery with mud, but for the most part any able human being would be able to manage it. We just kept walking for quite a while, stopping off at various points and taking some photos. Kelvin also found a big stick to whittle and turn in to a walking stick. We really enjoyed it and we only met one other couple on the way back, so we were glad we'd left early on so that we had the place to ourselves.
There were lots of little shops in the village which was awesome, we had grown to love the out of the way shops, they had everything we needed, but looked like they were in someones living room, stocking up with fresh food has never been so much fun. We got fresh meat, fresh veggies and even some wine and cheese. Camping heaven! We also had a large tree stump that we used as a cooking and prep table, as well as a large BBQ area that we could use if we wanted. We could have actually spent longer there, no internet, such tranquility, basic of facilities, a river and a beautiful view with no disturbances. A small slice of heaven for us, although I could imagine it'd be hell for some.
We moved on South a little through the stunning hills of Patagonia, but the temperature was definitely dropping. The rain hadn't been coming down in the morning but by the afternoon it started. We stopped at a Petrobas petrol station on the outskirts of Epuyén for about an hour and a half to thaw out and have some coffee and snacks; fried cake...not the healthiest, but about the only thing on offer and actually much needed. We could see the weather was only going to get worse and we'd also seen on the news in the petrol station about the outbreak of Hantavirus, a haemorrhage virus spread by vermin. Apparently Chubut area, which we were in, had a recent outbreak so they were warning people to be careful and stay away from areas with rat/mouse droppings and not to camp in long grass. I certainly didn't fancy coming down with that! We used their WiFi and charged our phones, but there was lots of crap coming through after no internet for four days, and the weather forecast was looking bleak.
Slightly warmer and with all fingers now functioning we got back on the bikes and headed off on the RP71, finally getting off the Ruta 40 for a bit. We managed to find a tiny hostel in Cholila. We were going to camp, but the weather got so bad and it was so cold that we went for the comfort option. The place we found was called hostal Piuke Mapu and they had one double bed left in shared room for 250 pesos/ppn. We took it as it was a warm place and very cosy, even though one of the work-aways was sleeping on a single mattress right next to our bed, and the other one was on a bed at the other end of the room.
There were loads of cyclists staying, hiding out of the crap weather, and some motorbikes to. We met a guy called Simon from Australia who was travelling on a KLR. We all got on really well, so we chilled out for a bit and then went to get empanadas and wine. We found a tiny little bakery who sold 24 empanadas 300 pesos. Bargain! We took our little haul back to the hostel and enjoyed them thoroughly. They were particularly good quality empanadas and super tasty, so we all felt happy and full. The Argentinian cyclists were having a good sing song in the hostel... the best song was 'twist and shout' which I hadn't heard for years! We were glad we'd found this little gem of a place and after all the chat and singing we went to bed about 2am.
The next day decided to stay an extra night as the National Park we wanted to go and explore was still rainy and cloud covered, and we wanted to make the most of being there and hopefully camping a bit. We went off shopping for a reason to go for a bit of a walk, chilled out, looked at some maps, did some reading and got stuff charged up ready for the next few days of no electricity or internet again....woohoo! Then it was time to get more empanadas...it may be our last decent ones for a while and there were so many people in the hostel it was easier than cooking...plus we had to take another long walk in the rain to get them, so always good to stretch the legs! This time we just ordered pollo and carne, as we'd voted that they were the best flavours. Mmmmmmm! Whilst we were waiting the lady in the bakery gave us some free baked goods and we had a good giggle with them. It was then a swift walk via supermarket for wine and cider, before heading back to the hostel. We talked to the French workaday girl a lot of the evening and gave her an empanada, which she agreed was really good. Her workaday was a very bad deal, having to work six days, six hrs a day for just a dorm bed. If you compare it to our Workaday deal back in Ecuador it was an absolute joke! There's no way on earth I'd have agree to that, however, beautiful an area it was. Also, it was a dorm bed squashed in with other people, and no food included. I think I would have just wild camped near a river so I could wash, and gone walking every day instead, but each to their own.
I did worry that the regions' tourist industry may take a bit of a hit over the next few months though due to the Hantavirus, and being spread all over the worldwide news, specifically mentioning this area. Apparently, a local chap had been clearing out a shed that was quite dark and had mice or rats in, then went to a party. Not knowing he had the virus he then passed it on to about eleven or twelve of his family at a party, but fortunately it hadn't gone any further. Unfortunately for them though, that's not what the news was saying, and there was a lot of worry. Apparently it's always been around, but this was just an 'outbreak'.
The next day we all went to supermarket to pick up some supplies for a couple of days and then on to the National Park (Parque Nacional Los Alerces). It was 350 pesos/pp entry but it was stunningly beautiful, not too many people and plenty free camp spots. It was a bit nuts as there were expensive campsites with facilities you could stay are, but as we went past the ones we could see, people were literally camped right next to each other like a mini festival.
As we rode through there were some truly beautiful lake views. The only big disappointment was not being able to get to Laguna verde as there was no vehicle access, and you had to pay to stay in the expensive place in order to get to it as far as we could tell. It would also mean leaving the bikes unaccompanied, which wasn't an option.
We continued on, stopping regularly to look at the scenery, take photos and just generally enjoy the surroundings. We stopped at a couple of free campsites to check them out, but one or two were quite busy with young backpackers. We ended up free camping spot called Camping Agreste Cascada Irigoyen, right on lake Futalaufquen. I walked to the Irigoyen falls with Simon, which was on the other side to the road in the forestry and we had to scale some rocks to get right to top. The views were amazing, although the photos of the waterfall were not because the angle just wasn't right, but I got down and peered right over the edge...not something you'd want to fall off! Then it was back to the camp for fire, food, cider and wine. It was such a chilled day, and we had a great fire to finish it off.
We decided to stay extra day because the weather was great and it was lovely and quiet, with no-one camping anywhere near us. Kelvin and I went on a wood collection mission and then Simon and I went to shops in Villa Futalaufquen on the bikes, while Kelvin kept watch over the camp. Also his bike was the attachment point for our tarp, so he managed to get out of the little excursion. It was actually very successful, managing to source eggs, wine, cider, biscuits, baguettes and more. It was a tiny little village that we thought we'd find nothing. They even sold some fresh meat, but we had no grill (and no bicycle wheel) so we didn't buy any. Simon and Kelvin then set about making a Swedish log fire, or at least tried to. It had been yet another relaxed day in nature, with a snow capped mountain and lake backdrop, with a blue sky and no-one else around. Perfect!
We left the next day after some yummy egg butties, and headed to Trevelin. Simon had set off before us as we were a bit tardy with our packing up, but we saw him again in Trevelin at a gas station, and we also met a Welsh guy, from Swansea originally no less! I'd totally forgotten that there were Welsh settlements in Patagonia. He took us to the local chapel and school and told us about the 150 years of Welsh history in the area. It was so interesting.
We then went off for Ice cream and managed to find an amazing campsite called Viñas Nant y Fall. Simon had got there earlier and saved a spot for us. It was a bit of a treat after all of the free campsites we'd been at and wild camping. There were more people here but it was a relaxed place, no parties or loud music and a little indoor shop with seating area so you could get out of the cold in the night if needs be. We had a BBQ with Simon with the good chunks of fresh meat we'd sourced locally, and just chilled out in our new 'middle class' camping surroundings. It even had hot showers and WiFi! We were being spoilt. There was also an offer on, so if you stayed three nights you got the fourth free, so we decided to prolong our stay a little extra! They also had lovely dogs who came to visit us each day, mainly when we had food on the go I have to say though!
Simon left to head to Chile as he wanted to crack on with his journey and he was hoping to meet some friends he'd been travelling with previously. We just had a couple of super relaxing days, did some washing etc. It was lovely sunshine and many campers left as well, so we had a lot of the place to ourselves. Whilst we were there, a lovely couple called Lisandro and Julieta turned up in their camper van with their three dogs; Filipe, Pocha and Milko. We had a good chat with them a couple of times during their stay. They were just having a break away from home, taking a bit of a tour and hoping to get in to a couple of the national parks if they were allowed with the dogs. They came from a town called Rosario, North of Buenos Aires, and we hoped we'd get to visit them there before we left South America.
There were a few other van travellers there, and an Italian and Mexican couple who turned up on a Moto Guzzi. They'd had a few issues with their bike due to the 'bad' roads, and the corrugations had caused some things to break on their easy-rider style bike. It was cool though, and they'd been travelling quite a while, working remotely. For the life of me I can't remember the chaps name, but the lady was called Olga, we had a good chat all together and they left after one night.
The plan was to then cross the border in to Chile, which wasn't far away at all now. That would put us on the world famous Carretera Austral!