The Lagos of Argentina
It seemed to be a theme. We found ourselves repeating to each other, "This is not what I expected," and it was a good thing. With every curve of the road, a new lake would come out of hiding, greener and more unique than the last.
The fires in Chile were bad. They were bad enough to close most all of the National Parks in our route. We reluctantly (and now thankfully) crossed the border into Argentina where we were immediately faced with the giant Volcan Lanin. As the road twisted and turned through brown and empty farmland, we worried that we made a bad choice. Were we missing a contrastingly beautiful landscape just on the other side of the border?
We entered the first town, Junin de los Andes, and waited in a long line for a Cajero Automatico (ATM) only to be told (as is very common in Argentina) that it was empty and broken. We turned back to the road and hoped for better luck.
Sooner than we could have ever imagined, the landscape turned green. We entered San Martin de los Andes and were immediately surrounded by chocolate shops, cafes, and pizza joints dressed in carved wood and lace curtains. Young families skipped around with ice creams in hand, anxious to get to the green lake on the edge of town.
After a quick Spain-Glish discussion at a tour desk, we picked the mountain we would climb with a Mapuche campground at the base. We were craving to get up high and to see a bird's eye view of all the beauty we were experiencing down below.
We chose Cerro Mallo, a projected eight hour hike (to the top and back) with an elevation gain of nearly 5,000 feet. Our camp was right on the edge of the transparent water of Lago Lacar, so we decided to hike early so that we had sunlight to enjoy and cool off after the trek.
We had a late start to heading south from San Martin, so we ended up pulling over at a "Camping Libre" on a small lago outside of Villa la Angostura. ("Libre" means free and usually does not include services.) It was misting and crisp, so we opted to snuggle up and finish a rotisserie chicken from the market earlier. It was here that we met an extraordinary couple, Liz and Tyndall, who were on the last leg of a two-year bicycle trip from Alaska to the bottom of the world. We loved hearing their adventures while sharing stories and advice. You can follow their journey on pedalingperpectives.wordpress.com
The following day, we stopped in the town of Villa la Angostura. This was the first quaint town that truly illustrated the Patagonia essence. We fell in love with the artesian shops scattered with carvings of owls and Mapuche knit shawls and drooled over Oreo stuffed waffles drizzled in dulce de Leche. The town is on Lago Nahuel Huapi which was brilliantly mixed with shades of emerald and blue. After leaving, we could not stop planning our next trip back.
The next stop was Bariloche, which is also on the very large Lago Nahuel Huapi. We stayed in two different campground;, got to watch the Super Bowl in Spanish at an Irish Pub; and hiked the thrilling Cerro Catedral loop.
The hike began with about six miles of fairly easy, but strikingly beautiful trail to Refugio Frey. Here, campers and climbers built up rock blockades around their tents to shelter them from the harsh winds. The mountain lake was perfectly encircled by jagged, spear-like peaks resembling a gothic cathedral. We then scurried up more boulders to Laguna Shmoll and scampered to the next landing. There was no turning back, so we cautiously trekked across a ridge for two hours in order to reach a ski lift that thankfully was in service. An ice cold beer and sugary Pepsi later, we were at the bottom and safe! This hike was one for the books, but not one for those nervous by heights.
The last of the Lagos District was El Bolson, where all of our trekking thirsts were quenched. Outside of town, a dirt road lead us to a place called Wharton, which was two kilometers from a base Refugio called "La Confluencia". We slept in the parking area and completed a 16 mile hike the next day. All of the hikes from the base lead to a series of Refugios where anyone can set up camp for the night. Our decision to make a loop out of the Refugios lead to one of the toughest and scariest hikes we have ever done. (We are both quite scared of heights.)
The lakes district of Argentina has become a place that we dream of coming back to. If you have any questions or want to plan a trip, feel free to comment below so that we can fill you in! Until next time amigos!
-Bree and Trevor