Villa Traful and the benefits of spontaneity

We left BA on a rainy Sunday afternoon armed with copious amounts of podcasts, road snacks and an overwhelming sense of relief to be back on the road. The task at hand? Make it to Bariloche, 1500 km south west of BA through the infamous Pampas region. We need to be there by Monday as on Tuesday our replacement cards arrive by FedEx at a hostel, courtesy of my brother.

It took us two days of long 8 hour drives to the sound of Dan Carlin’s voice discussing the history of the Persian Empire from the Assyrians, to Cyrus the Great, to Darius and eventually Alexander the Great to finally reach Neuquen, the first major town since we left BA.

 

On the way we stopped to check out some “dinosaur footprints”. Naturally we were skeptical but seeing these in their natural setting, by an azure lake was impressive.

Dino prints in the mud of the lake shore

100km outside of Bariloche, as I am dreaming of good coffee, salivating at the prospect of a good wine bar and above all excited to not spend 8hours straight in the car, Andy suggests a de tour.

“Let’s turn left here. 35k to Villa Traful, I think I read a few lines in a book about it”

What exactly was read is not explained.

A reluctant “fine” from me and off we go. Down one of the bumpiest dirt tracks we have come across.

10k in and we spot some vast, vertical walls prime for climbing.

Off the plains. Switching horizontal for vertical

15k in we get a first glimpse of the lake. It’s a deep blue colour, with pine trees growing right on the shore and waters so clear you can see each and every pebble from the road.

Last light fishing. Patagonian classic

 

25k in we spot the first camping site, it’s packed. 30k in and we now have a full view of this tiny alpine village with about 100 wood houses, a clutch of hotels and cabanas and young families and pensioners taking long strolls in the dedicated walking paths around the lake. It reminds me of Kellerman’s resort in Dirty Dancing. At the tourist information desk we are pointed to the only cash point in town and told of a beach 3km outside of town where we can set up a wild camp. Looks like we have a plan.

An evening at our camp spot.

 

Only the cash point does not accept our one remaining card. Mad scramble around the car, pockets are searched, bags are turned upside down. 600 ARD. That’s about £30 and we want to spend about two days here. We have enough food for dinner and breakfast and like mature, intelligent adults decide to postpone the problem to the next day.

Beach Tres Marias is everything we could have hoped for. Quiet, only a handful of other campers around, right by the lake offering ample shade. A run, some P90x to the amusement of our neighbours, dinner and movie in bed.

The next day we discover that the local supermarket accepts cards. Two day stay plan is therefore back on track, we stock up and decide to spend a day by the beach, reading, meditating and doing as little as possible. Andy builds us a dining room. We move from our little spot only to gather wood for our fire.

On Saturday morning, after coffee, bread, cake and chocolate (it’s my cheat day from diet) Andy suggests trekking to see some waterfalls.

“Maximum two hours” he says.

“I’d like to get to exercise propoerly for 20minutes or so if possible”, he says. “Run for the start of the trail?”

By now, we’ve been through this a couple of times. I’ve walked and run beside Andy long enough to know that his gate is about twice as mine. Most importantly, I should have realised that seeing as we were going to be running on a track that leads to a waterfall, we would be running UP. But now, high on chocolate and carbs I failed to see the signs. So of we went running up a very steep track, overtaking other bewildered trekkers who I am sure are now telling their friends stories about the two gringos that were running up the mountain at noon in the middle of the summer.

Half an hour in and we are still running. But that point I have (finally) put two and two together and have done the math. But I think of the chocolate and the bread and I keep running up stairs. Thankfully, when we get to the first waterfall, we realise that it pales in comparison to some others we’ve seen during our trip. We decide to skip the second one and run back down to the car where I finally get an edge on Andy courtesy of my fully functioning and un-injured knees.

At the lake, I dive straight into the freezing cold water and take in the surroundings for the last time. A quick bite, a glass of wine and by 3pm we are back in Gellan, heading to Bariloche while I catch myself thinking “thank god for detours”.

In a previous life I was a water creature. Hopefully a mermaid rather than a coral reef snake; but definitely a water animal

Trelew

We did not intend to spend any time here. Described in the guide as a city of many people but few charms most travellers just drive through. But alas, courtesy of a broken phone and a smashed boot we had to spend a couple of days here. And we actually liked it.

Granted, there’s not much to see but if you are into history and nature (i.e. Us) the Palaeontology Museum is a must see. The museum is both a research and exhibition centre as the largest dinosaur skeletons in the world have been found only a couple of kilometres out of this sleepy city. Crammed in a small space, we explored 1,5000 skeletons and fossils, only one of which (a fossilised dino egg) is kept in a glass cabinet. Want to touch the femur bone of a 76 ton dinosaur? Go ahead. It’s only the largest fossil ever discovered.  Measure yourself against its 3-plus meter foot? Help yourself … Want to leave your kid for a pyjama party in the museum for a night complete with a tour of the lab? No problem. This little gem is at the forefront of paleontological discoveries and kicks the Natural History Museum’s ass.

Trelew Paleontology Museum

We spent a good couple of hours here fascinated by the plethora of findings and spying on the palaeontologists who work on the latest findings behind a glass window in front of all visitors.

The rest of our time was spent in phone repair shops, mechanics, nail salons (me, not Andy) and local canteens serving grilled meat, fries and salad in search of good wifi. Drinks here are filled with sugar; options when dining out are always sodas or alcohol. Ask for water and you get a look like you’ve asked for a kilo of heroin. It’s no surprise that almost everyone we meet is overweight.

Trekking around Mt. Fitzroy – chasing the shot(?)

In which we climb to a ridge for a view of ‘The Fitzroy traverse’ at dawn, and meet the mountain’s legends.

'Summit' ridge at dawn. WINDY
‘Summit’ ridge at dawn. WINDY

Another weather check, another pensive look exchanged. 24 hours. We pack bags, check food, water and waterproofs and set off in light rain from the far end of Chalten in late afternoon. The plan is simple: a 10k hike to the foot of a ridge ascent that promises panoramic views of the Fitzroy skyline.

Continue reading “Trekking around Mt. Fitzroy – chasing the shot(?)”

Cerro Castillo, Chilean Patagonia : a walk into the hills

In which we seemingly spend 24 hours on different trips…

Cerro Castillo
Sunrise at Cerro Castillo

Cerro Castillo in Chilean Patagonia is a striking set of rock spires, above a glacial lake. It is a 6km, 1200m trek to reach a ridge, affording grand views of the range, the first 4km of which can be done via horse. We got into the tiny three-block town that serves as a base for the peak mid afternoon, planning to make the trip the following day. Time and tide, and indeed weather and horses, wait for no man. So things took a turn for the spontaneous. The following internal narratives cover the ensuing twenty four hours. Turns out they were quite different experiences…

Continue reading “Cerro Castillo, Chilean Patagonia : a walk into the hills”

The Chaiten volcano – surprise!

In which we hike to the 2008 volcanic crater rim…

Chaiten volcano crater

 

The last thing you’d expect to hear on the bleak, barren and sulphurous rim of a volcano crater it has taken three hours to reach is a baby crying.

Volcan Chaiten, until  May 2008 wasn’t volcan Chaiten at all. It was just another mountain. But then ‘SURPRISE’, it blew up. Over the course of four days this put 200 million cubic meter of material on the surrounding area after throwing it 20km into the sky.

Not all surprises are nice.

Continue reading “The Chaiten volcano – surprise!”