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       WESTERN ARGENTINA DIARY part 1    

1/1 2013 - 20/1 2013

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Chile

 In an effort to learn and understand mist consumption in cloud forest plants such as bromeliads and orchids, the significant impact of frequent mist on highland dessert plants such as cacti, as well as the preferred conditions and environment of terrestrial orchids, I travel to Chile and Argentina. The aim is to gain an understanding of the mechanisms in micron hydration as well as some data related to this very little studied subject. However, this present diary does not deal with this subject; it merely describes the adventures I encored along with the studies, which took me from the edge of Andean glaziers through bone dry deserts to high fog-forests and lowland tropical rainforests. The scientific work will be published elsewhere, and used in my daily work. This is my second tour to Argentina, the first was a special cacti tour in 2003.

  Some facts about Argentina. (Jump to the diary)
 Almost as long as Chile, Argentina stretches 3650 kilometres, covering 21,462,574 square kilometres on the south eastern South America. The population is close to 42,000,000 but here are room for a lot unspoiled nature, especially in the western, rather dry part I have chosen to investigate.
 The first Europeans came in 1502 and after Spanish dominance and a civil war in 1820, the independence was declared in 1816. Over 75% of the citizens are still Catholics, 11% atheists and a few Jews and Muslims. Unfortunately, the languish is Spanish, but due to the kindness and helpfulness of the people, I don't find it difficult to travel on my own.
 The western part, which I will travel through, is dominated by the mighty Andes, and the South Atlantic Ocean to the east and south. The highest peak is 6,959 metres, the lowest part is -105 metres. This forms extreme different climates, ranges from subtropical in the north to subpolar in the far south. I concentrate on the temperate and hot, although I will have to pass high, cold passes.

 As with the climate, spading from perm frost to tropical rainforest, the biodiversity is waste. Here are everything from penguins to pumas, coca to cacti and hornero to hogs. Those can be found in the 29 national parks of which I will pass through several. There have been recorded 1026 species of birds of which only 19 are endemic. 398 different species of mammal are found here along with 9372 species of plants.

  The local money: Peso is rather easy: ARS 1000 = DKK 1190 = € 159

Hoover the photos to see the text, click to enlarge. 
 
1/1 2013. I enter Argentina from Chile, and in no-man's-land, Parque Nacional Lanin starts. More icy peeks and old Araucaria araucana, but before I can enjoy that, I have to cross the border!

 After last times failure, I am a bit nervous. The cue seems endless, and it feels like it doesn't move. Only activity it the horse-flies, which have a perfect supply of fresh blood. After two hours, I get the stamp in my passport, and half an hour more, the car is cleared - what a relief!

 Down through a very dusty gravelroad. Pretty soon, it becomes significantly dryer. I spot a new flower and make a stop. Then I reach a semi-desert, which I think I will see more of the next days. Strangely enough, it seems like the successfully are planting pine trees in it. That was not something I would have thought possible!

 Narrow bridges over vide rivers, dust and dust, until I reach a sealed road - a real relief. The landscape changes again, now I drive through steppe with yellow grass and sheep. I am heading towards San Matin los Andes, not only is it large enough to have an ATM, it should be pretty and the starting point for a fantastic road.

 The sun is nearly setting behind the mountains when I reach this movie-set-like city. Wooden houses, green trees, flowers, loads of happy locals enjoin a cosy summer evening. I try several banks, before one accept my Visa card. You can choose between dollars and pesos, and the highest amount suggested is 300 pesos. After having re-drown that, I figure I have to pay 10% to my Danish bank - ouch!

 Treat my self with a descent meal - I hope. The price considered, I ought to get half a tender cow, tail and all. What I get is a hamburger, that taste more like fish than cow. No tips!

 I recon the wealthiness originates form the skiing industry, and the city have understood growing on that. At the end of the main-street, a huge lake starts. I passes several hostals going into town, and I figure there must be some on the way out. Wrong! There is a fantastic road, carved into the mountain, folowering the lake.

 It is the road I came for, but it is getting to dark to appreciate it. I stop at a campsite, next to the lake shore, but it is already freezing cold, and 50 pesos for a piece of lawn and a shower! The next is real primitive, and no shower is included. The bridge is rustic and wobbly, and despite I just crossed it, I'm nervous on the way back too.

 Just at it get dark, several large owls crosses the road, and I find one more campsite. Still 50 pesos, but they have hot water, and it does not feel that cold - yet. A fast shower before the turn it off at ten, tent up and then the diary. Work to after midnight, and I still haven't adjusted my plan to the new point of entry.

 2/1 13. It is a cold night, and I wake up numerous times; cold to the bone. When I exit the tent in the morning, the grass is crispy! The tent is completly wet inside, so are the pillow and sleeping bag. Breakfast at the awesome lake, soaking in sun energy, and then of to some Argentine adventures. I'm still trying to find a replacement for the Jerry Can I left in La Junta. When I finally find one, they can't find the cork!

 I go south on Ruta 40, which is partly sealed, and runs parallel with the Andes. Most sights I have found is along this road, and the first part is just astonishing. Blue lakes, dense, green forests, snow-coned mountains, few grassing sheep and then more panoramic views!

 Only problem is the dust in the non-paved stretches. The fine dust keep the air filled for a long time, and I even have to fight my own, when I do one of many stops. I reach Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, but drive right through - with a few stops. It is mainly forest, and the climate is not fare from Danish. A single stop at a river fro coffee and fixing the windshield spray.

 After the park, the landscape changes slowly. The rocks is replaced with loose gravel, almost sand-like. The environment turns dryer, and the plants shift. Again, I do several stops, but the first serious is at Parque Nacional Los Arryanes right outside Villa Angusture.

 I have no map, and the instructions is real bad. Never the less, I try, and end at a peninsular as expected, but at a wrong gate. It say "Istmö de Quetrihue". Back into town to ask, and have the tank filled while I'm at it. They are out of gasoline, but I was at the right gate! Not fair to have another name on it!

 I pay 50 pesos, and can have a look at their map. One track leads out to the end of the peninsular - that's it! It should offer some interesting trees, but I fail to see the entreating aspect. The bottom is almost bare sandish gravel, many trees are dead and there are little else vegetation. A single bulb - or is it an orchid?

 I decides to check the two look-outs while I am at the top, and they are worth it! Each facing their way, each with its lagune. I could have done with a panoramic camera! Back down town to find a bank. This town is much like the one I saw last afternoon: Skiing during the winter, swimming in summer make big bucks. But they somehow manages to keep it cosy and provincial. Unfortunately, the banks have never heard of Visa!  

 Out through a less wet area, through what appears as sand dunes, but most likely are volcanic debrief. Next city of any size is Bariloche, and it is yet one more tourist trap. The entire main street is made up by hotels, but the few banks hold their money. Well, the last in town let me withdraw 500 pesos for the day - that's it. My own bank charges me still 30 more for the "convenience".

 The town should be a visit worst due to its log-and-stone houses. Many are just wood, some are ugly brigs. I do a tour up and down the main street, and see a lot of Spanish speaking tourists and a few back-packers. On my way out of town, I pas the huge lake; Nahuel Huapi. The first place I try to find gasolina have only gas, but then I'm in luck, and I even get a 10 l plastic dunk, just without nozzle.

 I head for El Bolson, not because it is famous for anything - but just because of that. The prices have been way to high for me in the last, posh places, and I would like a nice, warm room for the night. Planning to do quite some work, and would like to find me a hostal around six.

  El Bolson might just be that place. A bit more scrubby, fewer hotels and more shops for the locals. Their cars are really warn out specimens. Some are that old i actually should recognise them, but they have been banged-up so many times, I fail to recognize some. The hostals I try, seems to be closed.

 I end outside town at a camping lot, who advertises with dormas. It is tiny huts with nothing but a bed. Shared bath with the people in tents. Bring your own towel and toilet paper. Just as I have paid 140 pesos for the chamber, I find out it usual stay above 20C at night - tent could have done it!

 Walk back to town to find dinner and do a bit of shopping. Most places have closed, but a nice looking place sell me a sandwich with plenty of not-that-tender steak and some home-made oven fries. For 70 pesos, I would have hoped for more! Argentina is NOT as cheap as it was last I visited! With the speed I use money, the "allowance" from the bank at 500 pesos a day won't make it!

 Despite my head-start on the work, I still don't get done to midnight. Too many emails, photos, shifted plans and too little time.

 3/1 12. I get nine hours of completely undisturbed sleep, well deserved, I think. Several of the very noisy plovers are walking the sorry excuse for a lawn, and I finally get a picture. They sound a bit like parrots - just more loud, and usually they are real jumpy. I head down Ruta 40 towards the Parque Nacional Los Alerces.

 The roads first leads through rocky mountains, covered in forest. Then, the trees disappears, and the the steppe takes over for now. Along the roadside, several invasive flowers lightens up the scenery. The fields are fenced, and occasionally, a rustic farm can be seen, way out on the fields. As so many other places, the animals are nowhere to be seen. Guess it is sheep who grasses the annual grass, once a year.

 The area opens to a wide valley with willows and plenty of green grass. A river meanders it way thought, and the farms look a bit more "healthy". As the road turns into gravel, I reach the park around noon. The valley narrows in to almost a gorge, and huge trees takes over. It is yet another perfect summer day, and here are quite some people around.

 The road follows the blue river Arryanes and the many, large lakes it forms. The area seem popular with the locals, which apparently are haven their summer vacation now. Many roads leads down to posh campsites, and I try several, just for the scenery.

 I do several trails, but the floor of the forest does not reveal anything of interest for me. I would have thought here was several different species of orchids, but the sheep and goats might have gotten them first? A stop by a river for coffee, and then deeper into the park. It is a drive-through park; only one road leads through, and locals and busses uses for a shortcut - I think.

 One of the waterfalls make me stop, and the trail - partly public open - offers some fantastic views over the nearby lake. I reach the other side of the park after three hours, and it is a open, more steppe-like part. I have a feeling for orchids by a river, and there are! Two, maybe three species, of which one flowers. Here are other flowers too, and I try to capture them all.

 The road climbs a low pass, and a new, real large valley with a serpentine road and meandered river continues to the horizon. I stop several places, but the scenery is just too large for the camera - or the pictures should be shown in wall-size.

 A narrow and deep gorge with a river deep down, are crossed by a cast-iron bridge. Like most others, I stop to have a closer look. The river is used for swimming, but I'm sure it is freezing cold water!

 The slightly yellow grassland continues to Esquel, where I turn in. I figured I would be back within a few days, and it would be a perfect place to have some laundry done. A bit asking around, and I find an open laundry. They can have my cloths finish by tomorrow evening, and that is perfect. Now, I just have to remember the cloth, when I passes through again - and find the place!

 I check-out the city while I'm here. Seems rather rich, with modern shops and everything freshly painted in bright colours. Fare from all shops are open, and I figure it is the summer vacation. Along with the modern cars, some real old bangers from the farms drive around too.

 I figure I better feed the car, but the first two gasoline stations are out! The last have, but the queue is understandable long. I hope this is a problem related to Christmas/new year! Bit hard to do touring as I do, without gas! Finding my way can be a problem. Sometimes, I reach a T-junction, but there are no signs at all. Other times, one sign say 29 Km, the next occurs after 7 Km, and it say 32 Km. Many times, I have to drive 35-50 Km out of town before the first sign indicates I'm on the right track.

 Outside the city huge, low gravel hills, covered in steppe vegetation takes over, and that remains the theme for the next hundreds of kilometres. I do several stops, when I spot a new plant, or a scenery I just have to try to capture. As I feared, it does not work: They are too big!

 I almost have the fine, sealed road to my self. Despite the homogeneous scenery, I enjoy the ride. A single alteration is a waste swamp area. Here, the sheep are shifted with Hereford cattle, and to my big surprise; flamencos. I reach Tecka around seven, but there are no campsites, hotels or other over-night facilities.

 I am prepared to do a "in the car" experience, but the sun is still up, and I head further down Ruta 40. The farms are really scatted, and then I meet a huge, new factory-like construction. Could be a butchery or something else - I have no idea!

 The next tiny village is Gobernador Costa, and here I find a hosteria. It is rather big and fairly modern, but the price is 150 pesos, including breakfast - I hope. The supper is not, and I pay 50 pesos for a spaghetti bolognaise, which is quite good. A short stroll up and down the main street does not reveal anything interesting.

 4/1 13. I get the included breakfast: Three slices of oven-roasted bred with jam and a cup of coffee. Then, it is off to the south on Ruta 40. I drive rather slow to try and save fuel, and spot interesting plants along the road. The entire day will be through steppe, based on the debris of an ancient and enormous river. The old banks are still visible, and formed by gravel as well.

 Most plants are cushions-formed, some one centimetre high, other up to half a meter. My original plan was to take the gravelroad near Chile, but I figure I will get enough gravel, later in the day. Route 20 and 22 will form a slightly detour, but it is a smooth sealed road.

 I stop numerous times to investigate the flora. Time and time again, new plants seem to dominate, and I make a stop for each. The fields are fenced, and it seems like the farms are located for each 25 Km or so. On many of the signs, the distance is set to 15-25 Km down their private gravelroad.

 Many of the bigger plants have spines, like the Berberidaceae. Guess there would be more interesting flowers, if it wasn't for the sheep. Some have been bonsai'ed for ages, other seem to have developed a bad taste. Quite some are flowering despite the bonedry environmen. It is a tough place: Even the rocks are polished by the wind and sand through the years.

 The plants I can classify are Fabaceae, Asteraceae, Oxalis, Berberidaceae, Convolvulaceae and - grasses. A vixen with a large cub crosses the road, paying little attention to me. Soon after, a couple of the American ostriches; Rheas, are way more scared, and take off. 

 Due to the lack of a river, I settle for some rocks for my coffee break. While I wait for the water to boil, I notes the river-gravel consist of all different rocks. The originated from light volcanic eruptions, marble from ancient seas, clay-layers, granite, conglomerates and glass.

 A few times, I crosses rivers or lagoons, originating form underground wells. Willow dominate one brink and a small stripe of grass the other. The steppe starts within meters from the water. A few geese and plovers have found the oasis, but here are not much life. Even my radio is dead: Not a single station, not even a scratching!

 I reach Rio Mayo - which in NOT yellow - and the city with same name is made up around a huge military facility. I find some gasolina and the road leading further south. The road outside Rio Mayo have been maintained recently. Unfortunately, that means it is rather loos gravel, and trucks have made wheel tracks. My car does not have the clearance needed, and despite it being a rental, I better save it for now. I am still 187 Km north of the border crossing I originally planned at Chile Chico, and close to 1000 Km north of my planned tour. Realising I won't make it, I decides to turn around.

 When I won't do the gravel I thought, I chooses the originally Ruta 40 up north. It is more or less parallel with the sealed road I took south, but it should be interesting. Right outside town sand dunes make the ground for the steppe. I passes some small salt lakes, which look strange in the steppe vegetation. "The road is everything, the target nothing" might apply for the day.

 The only village for 200 Km is Alto Rio Senguer, which have little to offer, except a huge boulevard. North of it, I hardly meet any cars. In many stretches, the road have wheel tracks, flanked by 10-15 centimetre high walls. It fells like driving on ice, but when I hit the walls, it feel like sailing. Take some concentration, but the surroundings offers nothing new anyway. 

 I pas through Gobennador Costa again, but decides to try and make it to Ecquel and my laundry. A short stop for gas in Tecka, and I reach Ecquel. A tour round the city, and I find the laundry quarter to seven. I was in doubt, if it was after 19, or they closed at 19, and I might have been speeding, just a tiny bit, since Tecka.

 On the way into town, I noticed a campsite. Pick-up some dinner on the way, and book into a nice site for only 35 pesos. Got a feeling of, the night might be chill, and arrange the madras in the car. I've been driving well over 600 Km today, but most have been on smooth, sealed roads, and I'm not that warn out.

 Try to finish working early anyway, to get an early start tomorrow. I have 300 Km to the first site: Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi.

 5/1 13. I get the planed quick start on the day, but it only lasted half out the camp site: I picked up a nail. Change the tire is easy, getting to the spare tire underneath all the stored stuff is another matter! Up the Ruta 40 for quite some transport today.

 The surroundings will keep changing during the day. First, i get some massive gravel hills, covered in dead, yellow grass. As I reach lover parts, it might turn slightly green, but that about it for now. In the distance, true mountains can be seen thought the morning mist, but they seems to be stuck at the horizon.

 High above me, the first Andean Condors are building up high. The smaller kites patrol the stretch of road, which make up their prime hunting round. Road kills are easy game, and the birds have learned to flee in time. It is mainly rabbits that sacrifice them self, but other birds are occasionally on the menu.

 Just before El Hoye, I find a cosy looking Gumeria, which I have noticed the vulcanists are called around here. He fix the tire for 35 pesos - thought enough I was fooled in Chile, when I paid ten time as much - both times. I even get two new dust-caps and the other wheel checked!

 The landscape is changing: Now pine trees are dominating on rocks, and it is more rugged. I reach Parque Nicional Nahuel Huapi once again. This time, I'm here for a little gem I last for the our back. Behind Bariloche, a road leads around the large Cerro Otto. Who can refuse a volcano called "Otto"!

 First, I find the underpaid workers area, not fare away from a tin-camp in South Africa. It is a bit tricky to get to the road due to all the cars on that tiny road. It is a serious tourist trap, and for the first time in a long time, I hear other languish than Spanish. Why did it have to be American! I find a surpetmarcando, and buy some essentials like chocolate biscuits and some spontaneous: Toothpaste and shampoo.

 As I finally reach the road, it is hard to see the lake or the mountains due to the massive wall of posh, Alpine hotels found along the road. It is a round-trip, and I prevail. What I think could be a way, is a golf cause! Then, it opens up, and it have been worth the tour! Awesome looks to both the blue lake and the snowconed mountain peaks. I make several stops - like every oneelse - but at first, it is just bone-dry forest floor.

 Then it receive more moist, and I find some large orchids. They have almost ripen or ever only the encasing left of the seeds, but they must have been fantastic! The big trees, the sun, the blue lake and the grey mountains make-up marvellous motives - if it wasn't for their size!

 Back through Bariloche, NOT looking for a bank, despite I actually need one, and out of Ruta 40 again. I have felt a bit peckish, but the fancy restaurants is not me for now. A small trailer stand in the exit from town it just right. I get an enormous sandwich with fresh salad and tomatoes along with a huge slice of a tender cow, prepared as I wanted it, and for 20 pesos!

 The mountains give way for yet more, low gravel hills with dry grass. Several oases ad the blue, but little water to the surrounding steppe. Some times, a meter away from the water looks as dry as the rest. I pass a small community, with a suspension bridge for the people and a tow-ferry for the cars and tractors.

 The hills are blowing them self up, ending as table mountains, but they remain rather dry. Once again, I am puzzled by the ability of the pine trees to cope with this steppe. I passes "The Devils Fingers" some chimney shaped natural rock formations, way up on a ridge.

 It seems like the road are folowering the huge Rio Limay and the lakes it feeds, for quite some time. Finally, it crosses, and one road leads of to the large city of Neuquen. I remain faithful to Ruta 40, and head towards Zapala. It should be fairly smaller, and I've been thinking of getting a early evening at a camp site, doing some cooking.

 The next 200 Km is through real dry steppe, with cushions-plants. Again, here are plenty of blue lakes, but the shores are completely dry like the rest. Perhaps it have only come her days ago? Then, a few of the lower areas, along the brinks or shores have huge Pampas grass. I have a feeling of, here might be warm enough all year for cacti, and start looking.

On a fenced field - but not for them - I spot a group of guanacos, who seem more curious than scared. Would have like to get even closer, but I give them some respect. And who knows: They might spit like lamas? Next stop is at a rarely seen group of rocks. And here they are: My most southern cacti. They look like dwarf Cereus, and there are even seeds but no flowers on. The soul is crusted with salt, and I have passed a pair of tiny salt lakes. Some large bulbs have green fruits, and I won't dear setting a name on them for now.

 I look at the sky, and figure why the Argentine flag is at it is: It is two stripes of clouds on a bright , blue sky along with the sun! I try to fit in the sun, but fails - for now. Not much better luck with a giant valley, which top is a layer of granite on top of gravel or sand.

 The few farms are still huge! Besides from barb-wire and ordinarily wire, they can't have many expensive. Oh. and the maintenance of the driveway. I stop to find more cacti, but as I feared, the open gravel areas are not their turf. But then I spot some cushions of what I believe to be a new, flowering plant. It is actually the thorns of real, low Opuntia cactus - or another cactus.

 I reach Zapala at eight, but fails to find anywhere to sleep. The city is called "dead swamp", and is offers little else. I head on towards Las Lajas, about same size, 35 Km further up north. Think I'm being pulled over by a police woman,  but she only want a ride. Had decided not to take any more hitch-hikers, especially in Argentina, where my insurance only counts for me. On the other hand is it a bit harsh to kick her out on this lonely road now. Besides that, she might know of a place to sleep!

 She is worth to English than I to Spanish. Never the less, she laugh all the time, and when we reach her home, i know she is thinking quitting the police, have two kids, left her man because he hit her, she work 12 hours every day, get paid 3000 pesos and quite some more!

 Well, she did also tell me about a hostalje, down town. I find Maitiken, after having checked with the police station. Unfortunately, none answers the door, and it is getting late. Then a window pops up on second floor, and a man calls put. Apparently, they have closed. I ask him, if the very nice Land Rover 110, is his, and it is!

 I get a cosy room with a kitchen with stow for 130 pesos, and start preparing my supper. Pasta boiled perfect, add sauce. Woops, it came with its own tiny pasta. Well, that add a crunch aspect to the meal. Coffee, diary, my own pay from the company, photos, budget, dishwashing, Slide-Show from the South. Well over midnight once again, and I'm not finish!

 From the most southern I managed to get, I head up north, through the central of western Argentina.

 

 

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