Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
I like to think that one of the few positives of being away from the family is that my parents have taken some trips to Latin America that they might not otherwise have embarked upon. Each year they can escape those harsh Scottish winters and spend a few weeks somewhere tropical, relaxing with Jeremy and me. [I mean, really, you could argue that we’ve done them a favour by buggering off half way across the world.]
So we felt we had some explaining to do when they arrived to find spring in Patagonia looked like this.
To be honest though, by time they arrived we were all so relieved that no one really gave a stuff about the weather. They had truly had a journey from hell.
We’d driven 1,000 miles from Buenos Aires to meet them in San Martin de los Andes, one of the main towns in the Argentine Lakes District – a walk in the park compared with their five-day trans-Atlantic, trans-Argentina epic.
It’s no secret that Patagonia has untamed weather. But it seemed hard to believe it could be that bad, as we sweltered in the heat while driving west across the endless pampas. We started to hit some extreme winds at Laguna Blanca on day four. Then, literally, as we crossed the invisible line into Patagonia at Junin de los Andes, we hit a black wall of rain and cloud. The parents were due in two days, and we’d kind of promised them spring.
We woke up the next morning to sleet and jaw-achingly freezing wind. The one saving grace was that we’d booked a cosy cabin for when they arrived. We toughed it out for a couple of nights in the van, and excitedly headed out to an internet cafe to check that they’d got to Buenos Aires. They hadn’t – they were still in Miami. Extreme weather had also hit large parts of north-east Argentina and beyond, and flights into BA had been cancelled. Bugger.
Thereafter followed three days of crackly Facetime calls, emails, texts, visits to airline offices, taxis to and from airports, hotel searches and a several bouts of frustrated swearing.
After the Miami delay everything, including hotel and connecting flight to San Martin, was shunted back 24 hours. They finally arrived in BA and had to overnight there before the next flight. We checked into the cabin without them, and rattled around, tried to be patient. The next morning we were getting ready for their arrival when Jeremy looked online at their flight status: CANCELLED. Buggeration!
There’s only one flight a day to San Martin, and the bad weather was making it impossible for it to land. Despite the equally bad forecast, the airline re-booked passengers onto the next day’s flight. It was obvious that would be cancelled too (and, in the event, it was).
The parents were getting pretty stressed. “I’m not sure we’ll even make it there til next week,” said dad, before threatening to hire a car and drive the 1,000 miles instead. To add to their woes, they trudged back to central BA from the airport to find that their hotel, and the next seven they tried, was fully booked.
“This really was an almighty cock-up – there was no way today could be the first time in three years that we ran out of petrol.”
Jeremy and I went to the airline office in San Martin – they explained that the airport had none of the equipment needed to land with poor visibility. So why didn’t they automatically fly everyone to the next nearest – fully equipped – airport at Bariloche? Shrugs all round.
We took an executive decision and asked the airline to change their flight to Bariloche for the following day. We’d make the three-hour drive there and pick them up.
I stood in the snow, waving the iPad around for a better wifi signal. “Dad, we’ve changed your flights, you’re coming to Bariloche.” Crackle crackle “what? no… Baril… booked… San Martin…” crackle.
“I know dad, but we’ve gone and changed your flights. You’re getting up early, and so are we. We’ll see you tomorrow, in Bariloche.”
We set off at 5.45am. Half an hour later, we stopped for petrol in Junin, to find the station closed. We drove to the next one. Also closed. Shit. The tank was pretty low and we felt sure there were no other gas stations for a long way. So we did what sensible people do, we asked a policeman, who told us there was another gas station 5km up the road. Phew!
We drove, and drove, and then drove into a snowstorm. “This is more than 5km,” I said, “but why would the police say that when it wasn’t true?” We kept going until it was clear there was no gas station, but by this time we didn’t feel safe to turn around on a mountain road in a blizzard.
Unstraight, and wishful, thinking kept us going for a while longer until we accepted the inevitable. It was 120km to the next gas station and we didn’t have enough. This really was an almighty cock-up – there was no way today could be the first time in three years that we ran out of petrol.
We’d have to go back to Junin, or even San Martin. I could not believe that after everything my parents had been through we were going to be up to two hours late arriving at the airport – that’s if they were even going to be able to land in the snow. We have no phone, therefore no way of letting them know we’d be late.
I drove back over the mountain pass like a possessed maniac. “Would you like me to take over for a while?” said Jeremy, “Cos you’re scaring me a bit now.” I gripped the wheel and refused to cede control.
When we got to Junin, the gas station had opened. We filled up and screeched off, back over the snowy pass and south towards Bariloche in enraged silence, counting every minute as we went. We’d lost 90 minutes, but managed to claw back quite a lot before running into another snowstorm.
When we finally arrived we abandoned the van and ran inside to find mum pacing the floor in the arrivals hall. The relief on her face was a sight to behold. We hugged, swapped war stories, and drank tea, before heading off again.
On the way back to San Martin things were worse, partly because of traffic backing up and sliding around on the hills. We were held up for an hour in heavy snow. As I sat chatting to mum in the back and tried to stem our leaking roof with a tea-towel, Jeremy inched the van uphill and hoped we could keep our grip. Happy holidays everyone!
Once we got ‘home’, Jeremy lit the fire and we gave unnecessary fuel to our excitement and adrenaline in the form of gallons of red wine. It was Sunday evening, and mum and dad had left their house on Tuesday. They were knackered and strung out, but after a post-pub plate of beef stew and mash and a few more drinks, the recovery process was under way.
Perhaps I’ve taken up far too much of this post with a travel saga that’s not entirely representative of what turned out to be a great trip which even had some fabulous weather. But, really, who wants to read about sunshine and flowers?
We hunkered down for a few days, caught up with the each others’ news and took some bracing walks in winds that come straight off the glaciers and whip across Lago Lacar into San Martin. We also got to work on starting to sample some of the region’s specialities like venison, lamb, boar and trout. Not to mention Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
And the sun came out to play. The spring blossoms were in action, and we set about exploring the area’s seemingly endless selection of lakes, snowy peaks and national parks. It was lovely to share a little of our life in the van again, pootling around for the day and stopping off for lakeside picnics and tea.
We kept an eye on the weather before booking an overnight trip to the gorgeous ‘7 Lakes’ route south of San Martin.
Several hundred photo-stops later, we were heading to one of the final lakes when we picked up a couple of French hitch-hikers for the second time that day. There was just one last detour to make, to the small lake of Espejo Chico, before we headed for the town of Villa la Angostura. Turned out it might not have been the best time to load the van with an extra 200kg of baggage and personnel, as the road turned out to be the steepest, most rutted of the day. Even though our new transmission has – to date – performed brilliantly, I still have a lingering paranoia about the van making it up those horrid uneven rocky dirt roads that used to give us so much trouble.
As we clattered down the track, the French hitchhikers occasionally lurching off their backpacks towards my parents’ laps, I admired by dad’s new-found ability to sit silently in the back and Not Say Anything About Fucking Up The Van.
To my relief, we made it back up the hill and headed to town for some much deserved wine and pizza.
The following day we totally lucked out with the weather during a sailboat trip on Lago Nahuel Huapi, with a lovely stop at the little Arrayanes national park. Turquoise waters, snow-capped mountains, the sun on our faces and wind in our hair, it was the perfect day – only slightly enhanced by the wine and picadas served on the boat as we returned to Villa La Angostura.
Time flew as usual, and before long we were packing up the cabaña and heading back down to Bariloche for mum and dad’s flight back to Buenos Aires. Our last night involved falling into bed far too late, bloated with steak, woozy with wine, and knackered – just another typical night in Argentina.
And with that the parents went home for a rest, while we turned the van west and headed for the Chilean border.
Things we now know to be true: It’s being together that matters.
MORE PHOTOS BELOW!