Through the desert to the Andes

At 9 o'clock we pulled back the curtains of the Gaucha and looked at the surroundings. In front and behind us red-brown mountains towered up, on the right and left side of the valley everything was blooming green - we had landed in a canyon! As we explored our new surroundings, the friendly boss of the campground greeted us and told us about the many visitors that come in summer to the small swimming pool. Instead of swimming, showers were the order of the day, which we had refused after our late night arrival, the day before. Then, we packed everything up and set off, 500 km further west to Esquel. A village at the foot of the Andes Cordillera, near the border with Chile. Before that, however, we really needed to refuel – the day before this mission had failed. Unfortunately, the only gas station attendant here in the "Valle Verde" took it easy in the morning and opened his mini gas station only at noon. Instead of waiting further hours and after the assurance that there was a large gas station in Las Plumas, only 100 km further west, we set off with a quarter-full tank, back on the Ruta 25. In the end, we were glad that we decided to stay overnight, otherwise we would not have been able to really experience the fabulous desert landscape in the dark. Before that, we went up the canyon that we had driven down the day before at night, from where you have an outstanding view into the valley and an impressive dam awaits you at the top. The Ruta 25 continues through a spectacular desert landscape, the Patagonian desert, which becomes more and more mountainous and thus more varied towards the west. When the fuel needle was just before the reserve area (which we had never tested), we reached Las Plumas. We were happily greeted by the gas station attendant, who quickly told us that unfortunately he didn't have any regular diesel. We could not believe our ears - this could not be true! What he told us instead, you can already imagine: In 100 km in "Los Altares" there is normal diesel for sure. We were faced with the decision to fill up with the Euro diesel, which is not suitable for the Gaucha, or to test the reserve range of our almost 80 litre tank. We opted for the second and drove on with a queasy feeling in our stomachs. A good hour later and with still enough 15 litres of diesel in the tank we reached Los Altares and could finally fill up the tank. We found out days later, that the diesel was for free, because neither the gas station attendant nor we registered that our card payment had not worked =) "Los Altares" is not only the name of the village but also of the small canyons that accompany the Ruta 25 almost to the end. We were lucky to drive through it in bright sunshine and had imagined this eternally long east-west passage really much more boring, instead we could hardly stop making photos. Upon reaching the Andes Cordillera and turning onto the legendary Ruta 40, which criss-crosses all of Patagonia with its extraordinary landscapes, the weather changed and strong winds, rain and a thunderstorm moved in. Fortunately, this was over when we arrived in Esquel - a picturesque village where we had rented a cabin in Cristina's "Cabanas Las Lumas" for three nights. We liked the cabin very much and it was perfectly equipped for us. Cristina was currently out of town, so we found the key in the stash and quickly settled in. Our cabin was located 2 km outside of Esquel in Villa Ayelen, a small, beautiful settlement, which we immediately explored, bought the necessities and, after the long drive, made our way on foot to the village. There, we ate delicious goulash and pasta for dinner before heading back through the night and off to bed.

The next day it was time to explore Esquel. The village became quite famous during the last years, offering beautiful, varied nature and plenty of Welsh settler tradition. There is no better way to start than with a ride on the nostalgic Patagonian Express, which dates back to the early 20th century. The train "La Trochita", operated by a small steam engine, was once the important travel connection from Esquel, in the province of Chubut to Ingeniero Jacobacci, in the province of Rio Negro, quite a lot kilometres further north. Nowadays, the almost 100 years old and top preserved train is only running on the small section up to "Nahuel Pan", a small settlement of the Mapuche community. During the departure even the local TV station was at the station. On the one-hour drive, impressive views, fascinating mountain passages await us, and when we arrived in Nahuel Pan, in addition to a roaring wind over the Patagonian desert, we could marvel at delicious home-baked sweet bread, handicrafts and dance performances by the Mapuche. Along the way, at every roadblock, people waiting joyfully waved at us, took photos and videos, and celebrated "La Trochita." After the train excursion, we were ready for our first hike in Patagonian territory. With the Gaucha we went up to the "Laguna La Zeta" high above Esquel, from where we hiked a good 10 km through forests, across rivers, up to grandiose viewpoints with views of the surrounding 2000-meter mountains, plus blue skies, sun, a snack break and except for cows and horses, not a soul out here - welcome to the mountains! Back in our hut, we cooked delicious food, talked to friends on the phone and planned the next days. Finally we had arrived in the mountains, here we felt immediately at home and the great thing is that the mountains and their landscape will now always accompany us in the further course of our Patagonia trip - a wonderful feeling!

Trevelin is another village, only 20 km from Esquel, which is definitely worth a day trip. The Welsh immigrant tradition is very important here, so we had breakfast in an original Welsh teahouse with delicious bread and cake specialties while listening to English music - what a flash =) Well strengthened, we set off to first admire the waterfalls "Nant y Fall" located on the Ruta 259 in the direction of Chile, before we got a small guided tour in the winery of the same name. We were not only surprised about the fact that wine was generally grown here in Patagonia, but especially about which one: Riesling! The white wine known from our Swabian home region loves the cold temperatures prevailing here and with a lot of effort to keep them constant, it is really grown here, as well as Gewürztraminer. All the employees, of course, had their difficulties with the pronunciation of the two German names and asked us several times for help with the accentuation. We did not taste the wines, however, because in the afternoon we wanted to visit the old mill of Marvin, about which we had already heard so much. With us a group of motorcyclists from Cordoba arrived and so Marvin did not miss the opportunity to show us not only his still intact beautiful wheat mill including a little museum, but introduced us to his own little world. It turned out that Marvin was a kind of crazy collector, visionary and tinkerer who immediately captivates his visitors and knows how to show off his entire property in a tour that lasts almost two hours: A fully equipped workshop, in which one feels transported back 100 years, still intact propeller airplanes in the garage, with which he himself occasionally takes up to the skies, top-restored English agricultural machinery, as well as a self-created lake, including its own fish stock. Decorated with never ending stories from the history of his family, his village, Patagonia and all of Argentina, one can easily spend a whole afternoon with Marvin. Our plans for the rest of the day were cancelled, but that didn't matter. We shopped in Esquel again, packed our things and made plans for the next upcoming highlight and the main attraction of the region: The National Park "Los Alerces"! Here we had planned to stay at least three nights on the campsites and prepared for rainy days, because here it supposedly rains 300 days a year. Excited and full of anticipation for the upcoming nature adventure, it was a last time "Buenas Noches!" in our small but nice cabin in Esquel, where we liked it very much and which, with a little more time, has much more to offer, as well as a great ski area ready in the winter: Here we were definitely not the last time as guests - We come back for sure =)



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