Tag Archives: San Martin de los Andes

Horsing around

12 Jul
Lake trek moment

Riding in to a glistening mountain lake was the highlight of our Chilean horse trek with Lot.

Salto de las Rosas, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina
[by Jeremy]

We haven’t seen another soul all day. The mountains reflect as if the lake were a shimmering sheet of tinted glass. The gentle swish as we ride through the shallows of the clear lake waters is the only sound. This is nature, on a grand scale and at its raw and unspoiled best.

It would have been hard to make the trip – the visit of my sister Karen and 19-year-old nephew Callum – more perfect at that moment – but it hadn’t started so well.

Keen readers will recall that when Paula’s parents came to visit last year they got delayed in the US due to freak storms. Then when they finally got to Buenos Aires they couldn’t reach us in San Martin de Los Andes because of unseasonal snow. Two days later they finally landed, having been diverted to Bariloche and then had to endure a 5-hour drive through a blizzard back to our cabaña.

That’s why we left nothing to chance when Karen and Callum came to visit. Everything’s organised – now I can sit down and read the paper. What’s that? A national general strike? On the day they are due to land in Buenos Aires?

Bugger. We stand right behind those fighting for better wages in the face of high inflation – we just wish the struggle had taken place on a different day! Nothing to be done but put in place Plan B.

Apartment view

View from our apartment in Bariloche – all we needed now was someone to share it with.

Frantic phone calls to our good friends Karen (yes, another Karen – this could get confusing) and Gustavo in BA to beg for their spare room and their services as tour guides for a couple of days, and accommodation and friendly faces are sorted.

Now to rebook the flight. No problem. Aerolineas Argentinas book it for the day after the strike ends and they will arrive with us only about 30 hours later than anticipated.

What’s that? Aerolineas Argentinas have cancelled the reservation? Why? What do you mean you don’t know? Who asked you to? You don’t know that either. I don’t know the words in Spanish for incompetent bunch of shits but another 24-hour delay is now inevitable.

At least they can enjoy a nice time in BA. So it’s off to Boca to visit the famous football stadium and dockers’ houses. Does that man have a knife? Yes, he does and he seems to want all their money and jewellery. Quick thinking by our friend Karen persuades them my sister has nothing on her and they make do with yanking off her gold chain and stealing Karen’s phone and some useless bank cards.

So by the time they finally arrive with us it’s fair to say we are feeling more pressure than ever to deliver the holiday of a lifetime. My sister isn’t demanding – she just insists we see a smoking volcano, a snow-capped volcano, a glacier, spend a night in the Andes, go horse riding, see some waterfalls…oh, and photograph lots of birds including a condor and a woodpecker.

Day one in the Lakes District we are lucky to see anything at all, but at least when the clouds obscure the views in Argentina you can rely on great wine and sumptuous steak to make you feel better. We order three big steaks between the four of us – they bring us five. Why? Because this is Argentina and they didn’t think we had enough meat.

And from then on things just start getting better and better. By the next day we have blue skies, incredible views over the lakes, we climb to a mirador and snack on chorizo and blue cheese, we drink great wines, catch up and plan the next few days.

Lake selfie

Together at at last. Whoop!

Karen and Callum, Cerro Catedral, Bariloche

Karen and Callum at the top of Cerro Catedral – with view of Lago Nahuel Huapi – Bariloche.

One thing you can be sure of with my sister is there will be no sitting around relaxing – she hasn’t come all this way not to spend every minute seeing something.

So we hit the road early next morning for the spectacular Ruta de los Siete Lagos, a wonderful scenic drive bathed in blue skies and sunshine, a fantastic wine bar en route, a few delicious alfajores, a comfortable – if slightly strange – cabaña in San Martin de Los Andes and a slap-up binge on boar, venison and craft ales at El Regional.

Suitably fortified we break for the Chilean border and the first – but not the last – f&@king hell – moment of the trip. After a bird-filled drive, a lakeside picnic and the customary border sign photo opportunities, there’s still disappointment about the volcanoes hiding in the clouds.

We wind our way down the cordillera towards the house in Curarrehue owned by the very generous parents of Santiago – one of the pupils in my sister’s class back in the UK (no, she’s not educationally challenged, she’s the teacher) – which has been offered to us for as long as we need it. As we approach the village I take a glance in the wing mirror to be greeted by the sight of the massive snow-capped peak of Volcan Lanin graciously emerging. Bing! First target down.

Volcano Lanin Chile

Karen gets her first look at the majestic Volcano Lanin, Chile-Argentina border.

Curarrehue is a small village. The house is 7km further out in the wilds, along a gravel road. It’s a spectacular setting and a beautiful wooden house. On the way, in the distance we can make out the smoking cone of Volcan Villarrica. It just about counts as target number 2 but we’ll have a much closer encounter in the coming days.

We arrive at the house to be welcomed by Santiago’s granny , Isilda. And what a welcome! A delicious cazuela has been lovingly prepared and we quickly become aware this is no one-off. Isilda wants to look after us – and I really mean look after us, so well. She won’t hear of us going to buy bread, she’s up first thing in the morning getting the fire going and baking delicious bread. We offer to cook dinner – she looks at us witheringly and serves up another scrummy treat. Callum gets his first – and definitely not last – taste of the super-sweet caramelly dulce de leche. He’s in heaven.

In return for all the kindness, we accidentally leave the door open and let a mad goat in to the house to run amok. Whoops.

Karen and Isilda

Karen and Isilda, our adopted Chilean granny! Curarrehue, Chile.

Slice of pie

Isilda supplied us with a constant flow of homemade treats.

Over the next few days we never stop. We all brave the challenge of some tough white-water rafting – fantastic fun if a little nerve-wracking at times. We drive as close as you can to the smoking mass of Volcan Villarrica – the exclusion zone is still in force after it erupted just two weeks before we visited. We take a madcap night-time drive up in to the mountains to bathe in an ‘unofficial’ thermal springs with no electricity, but a few candles and plenty of wine and laughs.

Volcano Villaricca, flanked by monkey puzzle trees, near Pucon, Chile.

Volcano Villaricca, flanked by monkey puzzle trees, near Pucon, Chile.

Next day we take to the horses – this is no conventional tourist horse ride. Lot, Santiago’s uncle who lives next door, takes us out to round up his wild horses, then we saddle them up and prepare them before setting off over the mountains. We ride across the plateau, through a monkey puzzle tree forest to a hidden lake, accessible only on horseback, where Lot had grown up. We ride through the lake. It is incredible. The reflections are perfect. The stillness eerie. It is one of those days when you can’t stop smiling, except when finally you grimace after 8 hours in the saddle. Or if you are Paula and you ride smack in to a tree and almost end up in the enchanted but freezing lake. Honestly, we didn’t laugh.

Craving a night out we head for the village. The first restaurant is open but apparently has little or no food. Nor does the second. Like many a time on this trip we end up somewhere unexpected – at the restaurant attached to the gas station. It’s surprisingly tasty and serves a good bottle of wine too.

With our departure fast approaching we get ready for the big family send-off. A lamb asado is prepared, relatives gather, we chat, laugh and frankly wish we had more time to spend with such a welcoming and fun family.

But there’s no rest for the wicked – some targets haven’t been met yet. We have the most stunning day’s drive back to Argentina. Volcan Lanin is majestic. And it’s like we’ve organised a bird display – they swoop, they sing, they dart and then the condors glide high overhead. Bing!

Our final adventure is to get high up in to the Andes, sleep in a refuge and do an ice hike across a glacier the following day. The route up to Pampa Linda is incredible but as we arrive at base camp the wind and sleet begins – we have no choice but to try and make the 4-5 hour hike up to the mountain refuge. Within half an hour the skies begin to clear and the vistas become amazing – back down in to the valley, up to the snow capped peaks, across to the burning red of the autumn forests.

Hiking to Refugio Otto Meiling, Argentina

Hiking through autumn leaves to Refugio Otto Meiling, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

As we near the trickiest part of the hike the massive glacier and its accompanying 1,000ft waterfall makes itself heard and then seen, crashing down in to the valley. It is stunning. But it’s also not good for a vertigo sufferer like me – sheer cliffs and a precarious route along the edge to the refugio. To make matters worse the snow is starting and it’s getting late.

Castaño Overo glacier

The snowy weather closes in as we approach the Castaño Overo glacier, with its massive waterfalls. Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Argentina.

I decide I cannot go on, I urge the others to go ahead and I will retreat to the van. They, understandably, don’t want me to have to go down alone, especially as it will be dark in two hours. An impasse. I win. I head back down, at a trot to start with, then a full-on run – I make it back down the five-hour route in well under two hours, persuade the cafe owner to open the door, sell me a beer and fall shattered in to bed with views of where I hope they have arrived.

They have arrived, and while I’m worrying about them they have no such worries. The park ranger has let them know I’ve made it back down and they are happily tucking in to a gourmet feast, courtesy of the owners of the mountain refuge. Their climb up wasn’t easy, as the snow had got heavier, but the warmth of the welcome more than made up for any hardship.

Gourmet dinner at Refugio Otto Meiling

They tried to get over our separation.. with a gourmet dinner at the mountain refuge, Otto Meiling. Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, Argentina.

In the morning they were greeted with new snowfall and views they will never forget.

It’s fair to say everyone finds the ice hike a bit scary as they lowered themselves in to crevasses on the end of a rope but, hey, it’s another incredible and unforgettable experience and surely the final target is met.

Er, no. What about that woodpecker? While they are hanging off the end of a rope I’m trekking in the picturesque valley below. What’s that? A woodpecker? Sure is. I take a picture with Karen’s camera to prove it. Bing? They insist it is photoshopped. It’s so unfair!

The worst thing about having family and friends to visit is having to say goodbye – but that isn’t the case this time. Hold on. Before you think me cruel and heartless it’s because we knew we were heading back to the UK for a visit just 12 days later – knowing the luck they had getting here, we wonder if we might arrive before they do.

Days: 1,378
Miles: 37,366
Things we now know to be true: There’s no point in arguing with a Chilean granny.

See no evil, hear no evil...

What happens on the trip, stays on the trip.

EVEN MORE PHOTOS IN THE GALLERY BELOW! Click on any image to open as a slideshow.

Snow joke

18 Dec
Lago Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

Snow in the mountains – good. Snow in my face – bad.

Cucao, Chiloé, Chile
[by Paula]

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.

Snowy road to Bariloche

Driving to Bariloche to collect the parents from the airport..

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.

Patagonian border, Junin de los Andes

Ominous black skies as soon as we arrived in Patagonia at Junin de los Andes.

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.

Spoiler alert - spring sprang eventually.

Spoiler alert – spring sprang eventually.

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.

Cheers!

Cheers! The parents finally arrive in San Martin de los Andes.

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.

Days: 1,172
Miles: 29,038
Things we now know to be true: It’s being together that matters.

MORE PHOTOS BELOW!