Week 89 - New Year Lakeside!
We left Mendoza with Paul and Aida (lifeunloadedrtw) via their friends house, who also loved bikes. Sadly they didn't have time to come on the mini adventure with us, we also found out that we would be unable to go to the lake we'd planned to go to (Laguna del Diamanté -34.16642, -69.69490) because the road had been closed. Damn!
We made an alternative route plan given that we couldn't get to the lake, and decided to head to San Rafael and then towards Atuel Canyon. Instead of sticking to the tarmac Ruta 40 we decided to head off to San Rafael on a different route, which made things a bit more interesting. We ended up on a super gravelly dirt road which came as quite a challenge. I'd definitely got more used to these types of roads, and a little more comfortable with the back wheel squirrelling around, but to say I was completely relaxed and comfortable would be a rather big overstatement! Finally we got to the end of the seemingly never-ending gravel road and stopped for some food, chain lubing and fuel in San Rafael.
It was such a beautiful day, although sweltering hot, but as we left San Rafael and headed off on RP173 towards the Camping Municipal in Parque La Paloma (-34.82492, -68.45523) we could see some monstrous black-grey clouds in the distance. As we got closer everything got a lot darker, and all of a sudden the floor was covered with leaves, branches and white balls of ice. There has obviously only just been a huge hail storm and there were cars parked under all of the trees; they'd obviously tried to take shelter from the onslaught of deathly hail stone. We were so thankful we'd missed the downpour as we were completely open to the elements, and we'd literally only just missed it by a minute or two. Phew!
The road was really slippery but we managed to find our camping spot. It was eery with a band of low level mist sitting in the trees and the ground was sodden following the storm and the now melting hail stones. I picked one up and it was literally the size of a golf ball. I'd never seen anything like it!
Fortunately there was a concrete platform that the ranger said we could pitch our tents on, which was really nice. There were no toilet facilities as it was a free camping spot, so that was a bit of a challenge with very few places that were out of sight. We planned for a fuel station stop the next day so we could use the toilet properly, so to speak. Despite the dampness, it was a beautiful camp spot right next to a beautiful river and red cliff opposite complete with waterfall. It was also so very quiet, and only one other person staying and it was free!
First things first, we got out the beers, had a walk around and a chat with the rangers before pitching the tents, making some food and setting up a little bit of music...not very loud at all with our mini speaker.
Unfortunately later that evening a family turned up in their car, pitched their tent about 2 trees away from us in the huge campground and proceeded to whack up their car stereo to full volume. Aida asked them nicely if they wouldn't mind turning it down a little, which they actually did and they didn't turn it up again. That was a new one for us as normally people turn it down for a few minutes and then crank it up again until the wee hours, but we were pleasantly surprised and we even got some sleep.
The next morning we woke to discover these black things all over the inner tent, and we could see the shadows of them on the outer tent and in the pole sheaths. There were huge ants all over our tent. They were clinging on for dear life with their massive pincers and even after shaking the tent we couldn't get rid of them. We had to slowly and carefully get out of the tent, close it, take off the fly sheet, remove all our belongings carefully and then aggressively shake the outer and inner tent. Even then there were still plenty embedded in the pole sheaths, so we hung it up on a tree while we packed everything up and got dressed.
It was a nightmare, I'd always managed to avoid ant infestations and always tried to work out where ant hills were or ant trails and keep well away, but these ones seemed to have come out of nowhere.
After a while of faffing we were back on the road and today was canyon day. The first place we came upon was a large reservoir 'Grande Reservoir' with an island in the middle called Isla Submarine.
At one end was a huge damm so we stopped to have a bit of a look over the edge and a rest before heading on along RP173 again, which took us up to a stunning viewpoint over the blue reservoir. It was much more picturesque from up there.
Then we got to the real canyon part. It was really beautiful with condors flying around over us and the road winding up and up and then back down again next to the river, with stunning rock formations.
We stopped several times on route and did think about having a swim, although if we weren't going to be camping there I wasn't overly keen on taking all my bike kit off to put it back on slightly damp skin. Too much of a faff in the immense heat. Unfortunately there weren't many out of the way places we could camp, and it was still early in the day so we cracked on.
We then came upon a little town called El Nihuil. Most places seemed to be shut but we found a little restaurant that was happy to make us some toasted sandwiches, and we were also able to buy some much needed cold water. We had a good chill out, filled out bellies and then said our final fair wells to Aida and Paul who were going to head back through the canyon, and we'd head West towards the Ruta 40.
The roads were long, straight with very minimal shelter. We were now following the RP180 and had no clue where we'd end up getting to. Fortunately, the gravel wasn't too deep and we managed to make some reasonable progress. We travelled for quite a long time in the vast nothingness of the RP180 and then the RP186, probably about 200km in all since leaving Aida and Paul, before reaching a ranger station in the middle of nowhere. I knocked on the door and after a while someone came to say hi. They were very happy for us to camp there and showed us where we could use our camping stove in a little more shelter. They even had toilets, although no running water so like many places it was a case of filling a tub with water from the water butt and pouring it down the loo to make it flush.
Sadly there was no drinking water but there was another water butt we could use to wash hands etc, so that was fortunate. Unfortunately the area was very open with a lot of wind, especially by late evening, and despite our best attempts to create a wind barrier around our little tent we still ended up with all our stuff covered in a layer of dusty sand by the morning, so we had to give everything a thorough shake out before we packed up and got back on the road towards the Ruta 40 again to head South. Saying that, on reaching the Ruta 40 we needed another fuel top up so we actually headed north 21km first to Malargüe. We stopped at a gas station for a bike and body fuel top up and met Thomás on his Honda Tornado 250. He was undertaking an oil change and the attendants were happy for him to do this and advised him where to put his oil etc. Apparently a lot of the fuel stations allow an oil change on site, which is really good.
We continued on from there a little while all together, but after a while we hit a gnarly bit of Ruta 40 where there were multiple deep ruts made of very loose chippings. Thomas decided to continue alone as wasn't keen riding off road and didn't want the pressure of riding with other people. We assured him we were quite happy to stay with him in case he needed help, but he was happier getting through it by himself so we continued on ahead. We saw him again later after we'd found a hostel in Chos Malal to stay at and went for a walk around town. Sadly we couldn't stay another night as everything was closing for New Years, so the next morning we headed to the fuel station for fuel and breakfast where we met Philippe from France. He was well travelled and also on a DR650, which he was loving. We all chatted for an hour over a couple of coffees and a rather beige breakfast. He was then off in one direction, and after fitting a new exhaust bolt for my header pipe we set off in the opposite direction. It was New Years Eve and we had no idea where we'd end up and we were really hoping we wouldn't end up somewhere with several conflicting stereos blaring all night, as is the South American way. We continued on back roads most of day, on the RP6, RP21, a small portion of Ruta 40 and finally on the RP13 towards Lago Aluminé (-38.91727, -71.13164). It was so beautiful and all dirt roads which we absolutely loved.
On the small portion of the Ruta 40 we hit, we stopped for some more fuel and bumped into a couple from the USA and Spain. He owned vineyard in Mendoza (MTB; Mike tango Bravo). We chatted for a while and they gave us bottle white wine out of his cooler to aid our New Years celebrations. I think he was quite worried that we didn't have any wine on us ready for NYE! How lovely of them. I was also super excited to have entered Patagonia. I'd dreamt of going to Patagonia since watching a kayaking video years before with Deb Pinniger talking about the stunning rivers there.
After our gift receiving, we continued to lake Alumine and on the way looked at wild camp spots but tonnes of people camping. They were camped up along the rivers on the route, BBQ's out, massive camping set-ups all ready for the New Year's celebrations. We went up and down the RP13 near Villa Pehuenia before we stopped at campsite right on the lake. It came to a total of 500 pesos to stay, which wasn't bad and they didn't add on a crazy price for the bikes like some places. If you had car it was 300 extra!!! It was a stunning place, and even better really quiet. We took the spot of a family that left, which was so lucky. They were moving on as they weren't keen on the facilities, but we saw this as a huge advantage. Due to the minimal facilities and the hot wood burner shower that was only available in the evening between certain times, most people opted not to stay there. Perfect! Also, we now had our chilled bottle of tasty MTB wine, which made the evening all the better.
On New Years day we stayed at the campsite and had a walk to the lake, did some route planning and basically chilled out as nothing much would be open, and most people would be hung over. We'd slept so well as our campsite was so quiet, helped no doubt as they had set noise limitations. We've been places with noise limitations before, but normally they are ignored. This place was just so tranquil. Our camp dog kept us company a lot over the whole time we were there. It's not even like he got fed by us, other than the odd tiny morsel of food.
I did end up doing one small outing on the bike to the local village Villa Pehuenia in order to get us a few supplies for dinner. The mini market would be open from 1pm to about 4pm, and that was it, so I got there and joined the queue just before 1pm. I was definitely a source of conversation dressed in my bike kit with my bike parked right near the entrance. People saw the flags on my panniers and a couple of people started a conversation, asking me about my travels, and telling me about some of the places they had been. We always made sure as soon as we entered a country that we got a patch on with their flag, people seemed to like that. I find having the flags is a bit of an ice-breaker, and if I didn't have Cyril on the bike (my cuddly sloth pillion), which I didn't have on this occasion, than the flags would be the main starting point of conversation. I think people could easily tell you were travelling around and many found this interesting, which is great because we love talking to the locals, and for us this was a huge part of the travel experience.
On my return to the campsite I unloaded my little mini-market haul, much to Kelvin's delight. I'd managed to get some good local meat for a BBQ and some more wine. In Argentina, even the cheap box wine is good! In the absence of a BBQ grill, we used an old bicycle wheel we found instead. This probably wasn't the most healthy option but we heated the crap out of it before and hoped that none of the bits of wheel would come off in our food. We cooked the meat slowly as we'd learnt to do since watching the Argentinian's do their BBQing, and it was so tasty. Needless to say, our camp dog was back for quite a while that evening!
The next morning, the 2nd January, it was pack up time. It was such a beautiful day and we headed around Lago Moquehue on the RP11 and South to Junin de Los Andes via dirt back roads. Unfortunately my side stand started to crack where it had previously been shortened. To be honest I was really amazed it had done so well, considering we had the stand shortened in the first two months of being in Colombia at the start of our trip, and we'd done so much since then. We found a cute little hostel called El Rosal in Junin De Los Andes and stayed three nights in order to get the stand fixed. The only budget room she had for two of the three nights was a room with a bunk bed, and it was so hard to sleep because it swayed like anything. We pushed it up against the wall to try to minimise the sway, but every time Kelvin moved on the bottom bunk, the top bunk moved, so we were glad that on the last night we had a different room for a bit of a better quality sleep. Sadly, the only other room available would have wiped out our daily budget, so swinging bunk bed it was!
On the first evening I smoked out kitchen cooking sausages, so the place just stank of sausage after that, although fortunately, as us Brits cook quite early and the Argentinian's tend to cook much later, I don't think there were many people around to notice. On one evening, when I was cooking a spaghetti Bolognese, an Argentinian couple from Buenos Aires who spoke great English asked what we were doing. After I explained it was dinner they laughed and couldn't understand how we ate so early in the evening (6pm). For them it was just strange and still practically lunchtime!
We managed to find a bike shop and a welder the next morning. We sourced some parts we needed and also took the stand off the bike and delivered it to the welder to weld back together. We couldn't stay to watch as he would fit it in as and when, so we went in search of a grocery store. There was an amazing supermarket called 'La Anomina' but equally amazingly huge queues. Still, it was worth it and we stocked up on some yummy fresh food. Back at the hostel we charged everything, downloaded some stuff, then went off and collected the stand, which was now looking sturdy again, re-attached it and made a loose plan for the next couple of days. We were looking forward to getting deeper in to beautiful Patagonia.