Ruta 40 South
We used our second stay in Bariloche primarily to settle some things, to organize, to plan and to relax before the upcoming travel days. We had great weather, so we focused on the many small, public beaches at Lake Nahuel Huapi. So we had chilled breakfasts in the morning sun at Playa Perito Moreno, which was only a 10 min walk from our cabañas, or went for an evening beer at the sandy Bahia Serena or Playa Bonita. Our cabaña at Vanessa's place was only a block away from the main road at the lake, protected by the trees in a small forest, but we didn't hear the noise of the road an; it was our little oasis of peace after a day in the city. Of course, we did not miss the opportunity to visit one or two other tourist highlights making use of the great weather. For example, we made our way up to the Cerro Campanario, from which you have probably the most beautiful view of the surrounding lakes and all the peaks in the area. We also explored San Pedro Peninsula and, after a siesta, we watched the sun set on one of its secluded beaches. We also continued to try out culinary delights: the small but very authentic Cervezería Gilbert we had excellent burgers, the Patagonian restaurant Mallin with its unbeatable slow braised lamb and its delicious goulash with spaetzle, and the traditional Cervezería Kunstmann, fantastically located on the beach overlooking the lake, were on our list. We also visited the largest and most famous chocolate factory in Bariloche and waited half an hour in "Rapanui" for an unbeatable chocolate ice cream. In between, however, we prepared fresh Ravioli at home - with a bottle of Malbec and a subsequent Chin-Chon card game we had cosy nights. When our batteries were recharged and the Gaucha was ready for the upcoming long trip to the south of Patagonia, and after a visit and some tips from Oscar, our friendly Land Rover specialist in Bariloche, we went back on the legendary Ruta 40 - from now on always heading south.
On the first day we had to drive 350 km to Esquel, which we had already visited two weeks before. So, after the last calls with family and friends, we set off fully packed, but with swimming trunks and bikinis ready because on the way a real highlight was waiting: Rafting on the fantastic river Rio Manso! Marina knew the agency Extremos Sur, which is run by four friends, and the guys organized two places for us without further ado. So after a good hour on the gravel road we reached John's estancia in the middle of nowhere. With us the guides arrived with the other 20 participants and there we had a small breakfast. After the first instructions, the neoprene equipment was distributed and off we went with the sprinters down to the river. The Rio Manso rises at Cerro Tronador, the highest mountain in the region, crosses Chile until it finally flows into the Pacific Ocean. We would attempt to conquer it in our inflatable boats for its final kilometers to the immediate Chilean border. Divided into three boats, each with a captain on board and a rescue kayak in the water, we set off. We were in Mariano's team, together with a couple from Uruguay and four diplomats from the German, Austrian and Chilean embassies - as it turned out, a super team. In the beginning, we first practiced the most important commands in detail: forward, backwards, stop, all in the boat, weight to the left or right. At the same time he showed and demonstrated in detail how to behave, if someone went overboard. Depending on the depth of the water, we had to drift downstream or swim to the boat, and we also discussed the worst case scenario, when the whole boat would turn around and someone would be trapped underneath. Phu with so many instructions you really get quite respect for the task! Fortunately, there was not much time to think about it, because the first rapids were already waiting for us. Christian and the Uruguayan had seats in the two front rows of our boat and thus had to implement Mariano's commands from behind first - the others then followed our rhythm. A great feeling when you master the first fast passages without any problems. Each successfully overcome rapid was celebrated with our paddle cheer and Mariano prepared us in detail for the upcoming ones. So it went for a good two hours through numerous more and less wild rapids of level 3 to 4. A few times it felt tight, now and then the whole boat was flooded and in a few moments we thought we were done and will meet us in the water down the river. But in the end we mastered the entire section of the river with success. At some quite passages we could go for a swim and everyone voluntarily went overboard for a cool bath and let themselves drift downstream for a while. In front of the dream scenery of the Rio Manso in the middle of nature was simply sensational. The other boats had a few men overboard cases, but in the end all of us arrived with only a few scratches, at the border to Chile. Here we came out of the water and, since the actually closed border consisted at this place of only a wooden gate, we crossed it for at least a photo. We thought about trying illegal entry, but after hearing that a three-day walk across the Andes to the next village awaited, we left the idea quickly. Instead, a fabulous asado awaited us at John's estancia - an excellent alternative. With delicious meat, salads, bread and beer, we shared our expriences and everyone was exhausted but totally happy. Soon it was time to say goodbye, because we had still a good three and a half hours down the Ruta 40, into the dusk to Esquel. Here they were already waiting for us at a campsite at the gates of the city, where we pitched our tent, quickly went shopping, took a hot shower and fell into the tent dead tired - what a great day!
We spent the next three days "on the road" enjoying the breathtaking Ruta 40 south with its spectacular landscapes and many friendly encounters. It started especially warmly the very next morning, when the dog from the campsite greeted us profusely and showered us with all her love and tenderness. After all the emotions, we went off on the road. We refilled in Esquel, we did some shopping, 540 km were waiting for us, until Perito Moreno, our destination for the day. The weather was great so we drove south at a relaxed 90 km/h with mate and chilled music with the windows down. It became so clear to us that we were in the Patagonian steppe; the landscape here resembled a desert. Sandy and rocky canyons came and went and sometimes the road just led dead straight into nowhere. The few oncoming cars and trucks were real highlights and each one was greeted with flashing lights and friendly waving. Sometimes we stopped to take photos, but the strong wind always blew us quickly back into the Gaucha, which our improvised window sealing in Bariloche apparently did very well, because we were dragging much less dust than before. Overall, the Gaucha coped excellently with the conditions and gave the impression that she was also visibly enjoying the long journey. Halfway there was the only rest stop, but our hope for a tasty lunch were unfortunately in vain, because we were too late and in the kitchen of the landlady everything was already eaten. Fortunately, we had enough provisions with us, so that we enjoyed them without further ado in the shade. Afterwards it went on and from now on we were accompanied by wild guanacos and also by choiques, the Patagonian ostriches, right and left of the Ruta, as well as by gigantic Condors over us. After almost 8 hours of driving, things in the small village of Perito Moreno turned out differently than expected. We looked for camping on internet, but the targeted campsites were unfortunately closed. Luckily we quickly found an excellent alternative: Raul's Minicamping! Raul is a proud grandpa of 14 grandchildren, but lives alone in his house and in order to have company from time to time, he has converted his garden into a small but exclusive campsite. We parked the Gaucha in his front yard and pitched our tent behind it, sheltered from the wind, before heading hungrily to the village's only open restaurant and ordering delicious pumpkin soup. Besides us, Raul hosted a couple from Belgium and an Argentinian family, all of whom were asleep by the time we returned. So we quietly showered and crawled into our tent, tired from the long journey.
They had already warned us the day before and at 08:00 in the morning the Belgians with their American camper rolled loudly roaring past our tent on the way to the mechanic. Now everybody was awake and we had breakfast with the Argentine family in the sun. However, we missed Raul, who had offered us hot coffee in his kitchen the day before and who obviously loves company, because he told us in one hour almost his whole life without a break and afterwards had about 1000 questions about us and about Germany and about everything. As it turned out, he was at the doctor for vaccinations and came back totally worried about us. Immediately he brought hot water for mate tea and we got to see just about all the photos of his family. Even though we would have liked to spend the whole morning with Raul, we had to move on after breakfast. So we said goodbye to him and tackled the upcoming 360 km to the next village on our route, Gobernador Gregores. In contrast to the previous day, the road today consisted largely of gravel. For the Gaucha no problem, but we were shaken quite a bit and the schedule must of course be adjusted. After just under an hour we suddenly saw a sign saying "Cueva de las manos" (cave of the hands) and then we remembered that the Argentine family had told us about it. With no internet and no reception, we had to rely on the good old guidebook, which we luckily had with us, to get more information. A UNESCO World Heritage Site only 50 km of dirt road away? Of course we went! The dirt road was quite bad and led through a canyon with threatening climbs and descents, but the Gaucha seems to particularly like this kind of terrain. After an hour, we looked down into a green river valley where the small estancia with the entrance to the caves was located. A super knowledgeable local guide took us on the footpath along the rock and with her we immersed ourselves in the world of many 1000 years ago. Surprisingly well preserved imprints of numerous human hands lined the rock walls. They date back to 7370 BC and also showed guanacos, hunting scenes as well as god-like figures of the people from that time. Totally impressive and unbelievable how well the paintings were preserved. The materials used, the protection from sun and rain and especially the protection from access from animals and looters by the park guards have contributed to the fact that you can still admire this work today. Our guide pointed out numerous details, for example, almost all hands were left, only very few right hands we could discover, which was probably simply due to practicality in making them. A few hands also had six fingers, a rare genetic defect that is corrected nowadays right after birth. Flashed by the impressive paintings and enchanted by the world 9000 years ago, we drove the Gaucha back to the Ruta 40 and followed it from now on again asphalted. At a small hostel we stopped for milanesas and at a rest stop we had hot coffee until we reached our destination for the day. From the experiences of the previous day we had learned and this time announced our arrival in advance. We pitched our tent on the lawn of a hostel with the legendary name "arrgelate como puedas", which means, install yourself as you can. We had some trouble getting our tent up securely because the wind was really blowing tremendously hard over the land here, so we hoped it would survive the night. Besides us, there were three Argentinian motorcyclists in the hostel who were also resting from the wind. When we offered them to bring something from the supermarket, they invited us without further ado for dinner and conjured up a delicious stew. Over some cervecas and vino, we told each other the best stories of our very different journeys until we headed for the tent and a windy, restless night.
The night was short, our tent held the roaring wind fortunately, but at 5 o'clock in the morning we were already awake and heard the bikers start their machines. They took advantage of the early morning hours when the wind died down and we also used it to have breakfast outside. Full of anticipation that after four days of travel we would finally reach El Chaltén, the outdoor sports village in the national park "Los Glaciares" directly at the southern Patagonian ice field, we packed everything together and set off as early as never before on our trip. The weather was not very good this day. We had not only strong wind but also a lashing rain, well super! But we were just in Patagonia and made the best of the rainy weather: drove kilometers south. The pee breaks were interesting in the mud and we were happy when we found a small gas station that was actually open, as all other rest stops today were strangely closed. We were not the only ones who sought shelter in the small gas station and ate lunch. A regional holiday was the reason why the streets and cafes were deserted, we learned, and so we set off lonely for the remaining kilometers. As if we had announced our coming, the cloud cover opened up on the last kilometers and we rolled into El Chaltén under blue skies and bright sunshine: a magnificent setting and a dream start to the coming week in the mountains!