Posts Tagged With: ROAD TRIP!

Day 288: Bariloche – Argentina – April 1st

Sometimes, camping isn’t actually that bad. Sleeping in a dorm bed is generally alright, but the mattresses sometimes have a massive groove in the middle. Sometimes you can manage, sometimes you wonder why you paid money for this when your camping gear is in your backpack and comfier than most. Oh, but now our pad is leaking…damn.

The drive from Villa de la Angostura into Bariloche winds around a national park, Nahuel Huapi, and despite driving along lakes and mountains for the past couple of days, this was probably the MOST scenic of them all! It’s hard to describe.

It is nice to go against holiday traffic, as there was a 3km queue going into Bariloche. Argentine government always have these checkpoints in and out of any towns, and despite not really checking for anything (at least they are polite) they always come up to talk to you. So we’re not envying the people on their way back home, waiting probably an hour before actually getting on their way. Don’t complain about traffic back home, it happens everywhere in the world!

Around Bariloche, there’s a popular route known as Circuito Chico, or small circuit, taking you around the lakes and into the national park of Llao Llao along with other scenic locales dotting the landscape along the coastline of a magnificent lake. Cozy log cabins, intimate tea houses and world class resorts line the road of Circuito Chico and it really makes a perfect spot for a family vacation. We drove along, got off for a few walks around the park area and thoroughly enjoyed the views. It was funny, as now the tourists have left the “No Hay Lugar” signs have now dropped the No and morphed into “Hay Lugar”, all within a 2-day span!!!

Deep into the woods, a town known as the Swiss Colony exists with a small road and cozy log-cabin houses, delicate restaurants and meticulous gardens make an awesome weekend for all. And what’s another Argentine retreat without…..a craft brewery!! We stopped by for two pints, snapping photos of the seemingly German-inspired looks and taste before heading back to Bariloche to return our car, and call it an end to our road trip.

Back in town, we didn’t load our iPhone’s email and couldn’t find the directions to our hostel! We headed to the marvelously located tourism office, smack dab in the middle of central square, and got amazing help and an awesome map telling us where everything is. We drove up to the hostel, unloaded our packs and asked for our reservation……which wasn’t there! W T F? After a few minutes of panic, we logged onto the hostel wi-fi and realized WE WERE AT THE WRONG PLACE!!!! Haha…after traveling for so long, all the hostel names sound the same =P

We checked into the the right place, which was actually a house converted into a hotel. And my my, what an awesome house, with a beautiful backyard with the view of the lake and tasteful décor. The owner was a bit taunt, but the service and facilities were great for us to sit back and just chill out for the evening. We booked a late bus ticket, so spending an afternoon lounging around the yard reading books wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. And at night, we caught up with one of our friends from the Antarctic cruise too!

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Day 286: San Martin de los Andes – Argentina – Mar 30th

Waking up in our comfortable (we can’t repeat this enough times, Heroko!) Feathered Friends sleeping bags. Munching on some pita bread and ham, cooking a pot of tea we packed up quickly and were back on the road to the next town. We were on the road at 10am, and the road was absolutely ridiculous!

The road was absolutely packed with small compact sedans with families on vacation, but despite the wide dirt road their lack of off-road ability made it a very slow road trip for their family. The DIRT road was drafting up some crazy dust, with visibility barely 5m in front of the car, it was hard to spot the numerous cyclists that weaved along the side of the road for some off-road tournament. Respect. The best was when going up-hill, a rather large man riding a bike was supported by two athletically built men, each with a hand on the large man’s torso pushing up the hill. Sportsmanship!

Arriving onto the scenic town of San Martin de los Andes, it is a town located at the edge of a lake surrounded on both sides by mountains. Kayaking and sailing yachts are rather popular in this posh little town filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. We stopped by for lunch at a lake side cafe with a patio overlooking the lake. The key though, was that this restaurant had Wi-Fi, and after last night’s fiasco we really wanted to make sure we booked tonight’s place to stay! The restaurant Wi-fi was not very good, but we managed to book our hostel in Pucon, Chile, thinking we would cross the border in the afternoon and arrive to the city in the evening.

The restaurant was packed event at 2pm, and the service was slow but the steaks (by default, that’s the only thing we’d order anywhere!) were once again hitting the spot. Cravings for steaks come up every two days when we travel in Argentina! We got the bill, and left this beautiful town and onto our destination of Pucon, Chile. An adventure destination of sorts, we were interested in hiking up to the top of the volcano and possibly toboggan down (the highlight of any vertical climb, being able to slide down!).

Driving from San Martin to the border, we were stopped in our tracks on our way there, not really knowing what was going in front of us, and signs say we’re at least 2km away from the border crossing. With our experience with Chilean/Argentine customs officials, the time to cross the border in places where NOBODY crosses took about 30-45mins. And when we saw the lineup ahead, winding roads made it impossible to judge the length of the queue but after 10mins we quickly changed our minds and headed back to San Martin to avoid a 4hr wait in line to cross customs……ditching our idea of climbing the active volcano in Pucon and instead switched it for a more relaxing time around the beautiful lake district of Argentina. Freedom of choice, a luxury when time and itineraries are never set!

Back in San Martin, we checked the tourist office to see if any space was available ANYWHERE. Tourist info offices in Argentina/Chile are the best we can imagine, with long hours, multilingual workers, and the best is that they have a list of available places to stay and would help you find one that suits your needs! This tourist office was swamped, and the only place available for the day was a hostel on the outskirts of town with two beds in a female-only dorm. We headed out there to ask, but the worker wasn’t able to book us in unless she had permission to from the other girls in the dorm room to see if it was okay for Alan to stay, but they weren’t here in the hostel! We debated outside for 5mins, and figured we should book the rooms first and ask the girls when they came back, but when we returned the worker was just putting up a “Full Occupancy” sign outside, saying the tourist office is sending two girls over here as we speak!!! CRAZY!!

Late in the afternoon, we were a bit lost as what we could do, so we drove 1hr north to another town, aptly labeled as the trout capital of Argentina for its popular fishing excursions. There, at the tourist office we heard the best phrase we’ve heard so far when we asked about available occupancy: “No es possible”, or “Not possible.”!!!! CRAZY!!! Driving around, we checked a few ‘motel’ like places along the highway but to no avail we drove back to San Martin without having done anything, and without a place to live.

The rain stopped, and we ended up checking into a campsite on the outskirts of town (again), with decent facilities but an awesome view of the lake. The wide variety of places to live, from camp sites to hilltop cabanas with 3 rooms and a living room overlooking the lake make us wonder why there isn’t much like this back home! We pitched our tent, headed out for some groceries (most importantly wine), and ate a ½ kilo of ice cream! Ice cream in Argentina is super delicious and super cheap!

Not a productive day as a tourist, but the drive around the areas was quite fun nonetheless! 

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Day 285: Villa de la Angostura – Argentina – Mar 29th

Waking up in a nice, comfy bed, we had breakfast looking out to the garden. We bid our farewells to the nice lady, who were playing with her visiting grandchildren happily in the garden, nice. Needing a bit more pesos, we asked her about where to exchange money in town, so she made a few calls, and exchanged it herself! Ha ha… nice grandma is also illegal foreign exchange player.

What she did mention to us….is that today was Semana Santa, or Holy Week, in which all of Argentina has about a week of vacation! Looking quickly online, there were still a few hotels available but we weren’t sure which city we’d arrive to in the evening, so we didn’t book anything…not a good decision!

We skipped lunch but headed over to the bar and ordered a platter for 2, which included some finger foods and two beers. What we actually got was a table full of meats, cheeses, bread and olives enough for probably 4 people on an empty stomach? Crazy! We sat there surfing the net, nursing our beers and planning our trip and writing our extremely outdated blog.

At 3:15pm, we sprung into action, heading to the nearby establishment that we came here to enjoy…. Naim Maggie. Trevelin was a town originated with a large Welsh settlement in the 1800s, and this is one of the reasons most people come to this border town. The store is still operated by Grandma Maggie’s children/grandchildren, and with her recipes. We entered as soon as the sign swung to “Abierto”, and the whole place had 3 tables including us. When the next group of people came in, they were told to come back at 5:30pm! Wow, lucky us! The tea came with several pieces of buttered toasts and two salty (!?!) scones….. with the lack of variety and the strange salty scones, we drank our tea in bitter disappointment. That was, until the massive platter of sweets showed up…. it didn’t take long before Alan devoured his share of food while Jiajia nibbled on a bit of each. We wrapped up whatever we couldn’t finish, and was totally satisfied with the meal that wasn’t dehydrated or steak.

Back on the road….and this time it was an actual road and not a dirt track! Our destination for the evening was Bariloche and its surrounding cities which are aptly named the Lake District for the abundance of beautiful scenery and lakes around it. Problem was, the roads were slowly increasing in traffic as we passed El Bolson. Originally we planned on staying here for the night but it didn’t look very pretty and even driving 10min into an endless street lined with shops, honking cars and street lights, we turned around and went back onto the highway.

Arriving into Bariloche was even more of a disappointment, as it was jammed pack with cars on both sides of the street, and people weaving in and out of traffic! This must be the true impact of Holy Week!!! We drove around, reading infinite signs of “No Hay Lugar” (No Occupancy) posted outside EVERY hotel office. We are talking…EVERY where, starting about 20km out of Bariloche there were small hotels that had the sign, and also everywhere within town as well. The hotel with an opening we checked back in Trevelin was fully booked, and we were seriously contemplating sleeping in the car for the night. It was 11pm, but with no other alternatives we drove another hour out to the next town, a smaller town which we thought may have availability. Passing through some winding roads in pitch darkness, we could feel the scenery being pretty if only there was any sun….

We drove into Villa Angostura, and the town centre was really crowded despite being midnight. The holiday spirit definitely is alive and well, and the town resembles quite a bit like mountain-resort town of Banff, Alberta. We drove around the town trying to find a place to stay, but with our guidebook managed to locate a nice little campsite outside of town… THAT STILL HAD SPACE!!!! Even though we checked in at 1am, there was still someone there at the camp office. Crazy! We pitched our tent, showered (great facilities in the campsite!), cooked up a pasta meal and were off to bed. From drnking beers at a cool bar to delicious Welsh tea to camping, what a crazy day!

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Day 284: Trevelin – Argentina – Mar 28th

Waking up, the weather outside was foggy and wet, reassuring us that not waking up for the sunrise was correct! Down at the dining room, the host brought out some really awesome breakfast. With real coffee, tasty bread and delicious jam. The whole setting reminds you of wonderful B&Bs you’d get in Niagara or somewhere warm and cozy! Talking to the host, we confirmed that she was indeed born in the village and the daughter of one of the founders of the village. This whole house was built by her father, and the craftsmanship is astounding as everything in the whole place is ORIGINAL. Our hardwood floors couldn’t last a single winter without showing signs of shitty craftsmanship, theirs lasted 50 years…. Looking around the house, it was full of interesting objects and pictures of this towns short but storied history.

We headed out, bid our farewells to the host, and wandered aimlessly around the town. There was a carpet factory tour, but they were on siesta when we got there. The town itself was very small, and lots of little hotels and shops dot the streets. Not in much of a hurry, we ate lunch at a recommended spot, and had possibly the best steak AND best beer we’ve had on this trip so far. The beer was actually produced by another child of the original founders, and never have we had such a tasty fruity lager before. Unfortunately, they don’t sell it anywhere else! And only a few restaurants have it!!! Such a shame…… and as much as we loved to stay and relax here for another day, we had much more ahead of us.

On the road for the rest of the afternoon, we made it to the Chilean border town of Futuleufu around sunset. There’s one thing that’s almost as impressive as the Chilean tourist offices, it would be their parks. Every city, town or village has a BEAUTIFUL and MASSIVE park located in the middle, with lots of public space all over. You really feel that the gov’t here is at least doing something, and seems pretty organized as well. We snapped a few pictures and headed to the road leading us back into Argentina. Getting out of Chile this time was much easier, and we got out of the office in about 10minutes before driving another 5minutes to the Argentine customs office. We rolled in, and the office pointed us to a spot to park…strange, seems like all the officers were all standing outside. When we got out of the car, they yelled at us “MAS RAPIDO, RAPIDO!”. We were confused, but never are we going not do what the customs officer says, so we ran inside and did our stuff. A slight confusion occurred with Alan’s dual passport situation, as his Cdn passport is almost running out of pages he opted to switch to his HKSAR passport, which gave the customs officer too much to contemplate. Nevermind, they were too eager to shut down and head back home as they closed at 8pm! Turns out, we got there at 7:58pm…. lucky us, as a car got turned around as soon as we got outside.

Driving into the even bigger city of Trevelin (est. 10,000 people!), we had a hard time finding the hostel we wanted to stay at. It was recommended by our guidebook, by our hosts in Puyuhuapi and the website pictures looked amazing!! Luckily, the tourist office was still opened at 8:30pm and we headed in to ask, only to find out IT HAS BEEN CLOSED FOR TWO YEARS! W T F? We had a tough time finding a place to stay, but drove around and found a really cute B&B run by an old lady in her own home…..

Cooking dinner, which was once again pasta with dehydrated soup mix, our host saw us cooking, then came in with a bag of apples saying she had too many and it was a gift to us. I think she pitied us at our meager (but tasty) meal, and gave us the apples out of kindness. What a nice lady! The apples were great too….haha!

We can’t wait til tomorrow, as the real reason we came to Trevelin lies in one, and only one reason….

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Day 283: Puyuhuapi – Chile – Mar 27th

Waking up and having some sweet freshly baked bread in our cozy hostel, we had a nice breakfast while our Polish friends already ate in the comforts of their own room. During breakfast, our host asked us “Quieren mas vida?”, and we were quite confused until she repeated “Quieren mas agua?”, which meant would you like more water. This was rather strange but every region has their own little version of Spanish, which made the ONLY graffiti we saw all of yesterday make so much more sense…. “Agua es Vida!”. Ha ha. Water is Life.

We headed out and drove to the airport located in the town of Balmaceda, a bit out from the city of Coyhaique. The Polish couple was extremely grateful, and we were also grateful for having their company. They would make their flight, and we made their day. Public transportation is NOT easy in this part of Chile, so they were happy to make Iit to the airport.

The drive towards Coyhaique are some beautiful rolling hills with farms harvesting their crops, as it is harvest season in the Southern Hemisphere. We didn’t plan on spending much time in the city of Coyhaique, but we had some errands to run to do it all. On our way into town, we saw two young girls with backpacks twice their size, and we thought “Why not?”, and picked them up! We weren’t going to the same spot so we dropped them into town centre, we later saw them working the streets hoping to collect money for food or bus? A pretty crazy way to travel….

In town, we were totally shocked by the massive amounts of traffic and the lack of parking space, both of which are never a problem in Patagonia! Stopping by the tourist centre, we got an EXCELLENT map for free , with the person speaking fluent English helping us out. He even pointed us to a great and cheap place to eat lunch! At first, he recommended us to go to a place downtown, which would’ve costed about $30CAD per person, and he made it sound like it was “reasonably priced”…. W T F? That’s SUPER expensive for lunch! Then he offered something else outside of town, and for about $5CAD we had a comfy, hearty meal cooked up by what appears to be an awesome, chubby mother. Chile is so expensive…. And what was even more surprising is that, in this town of 10,000 people…. They have a Mercedes-Benz dealership. What? Okay…

By 4pm, we were on our way out of town! We drove north, and after going past a strangely wet and humid National Park (it felt like the Amazon…but in Patagonia!), the sun started setting and we were in some pitch darkness, rounding a lake. There were some really strange buildings in the lake, and resembling something like a run-way with lights and red carpet? Yup, in the MIDDLE of the lake, so we’re thinking this must be one exclusive resort or something? There are thermal spas around here, but red carpet and flood lights floating on the lake seems a bit excessive… After driving for about an hour in the dark, we finally reached what appears to be civilization.

Our guidebook tells us this town is inhabited by about 600 people, and was formed by the hard work of 4 German immigrants back in the 1940s. Rolling into town, we turned into the first hotel, Casa Ludwig. It was the only place recommended by our guide book, but to be fair, this place was so small that it only warranted barely a page of words.

The hotel was charming, with a classic wooden interior, antique objects laying around corners, and a beautiful reading room with a fireplace warming it up. The owner was this charming German lady who spoke fantastic English, and being a very warm and welcoming host. The house was beautifully decorated, and within the reading room lays some great information about the history of this settlement, and some old photographs…. We cooked dinner, showered and huddled up in the reading room drinking mint tea and checking emails on Wi-Fi! Yes, Wi-Fi!

Honestly though, walking in the dark around the house was sort of creepy…haha!

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Day 282: Villa Castillo & Marble Caves – Chile – Mar 26th

Sleeping in later than usual, we were welcomed by the warming sunshine on our cabin. Making the best of what we had, we made another pot of vermicelli and ate it outside in the garden. There wasn’t much distance to cover so we took our time and decided to head back on the road at 10am. We stopped at the supermarket for the last two packs of vermicelli and at the cash register, Alan even taught the attendant how to cook them. Seems like the locals have no clue how to cook them, so we’re REALLY wondering how they even get them in the first place!?!? We headed to ATM for some cash. Problem with the card….. !?!? Shit, so we head back to the hostel where the internet connection is fantastic (no sarcasm!) to Skype our bank… they didn’t have a problem so we tried again. Turns out, the ATMs didn’t have a connection to the VISA network since our MasterCard cards work… damn. Then we needed to get gas, since the gas stations are spaced far apart and we try to fill up whenever we can to avoid any unnecessary surprises, and then we couldn’t find the stupid gas station after asking around so we headed back to the hostel once again to ask…. haha, what a morning! But wait, there’s more!

Finally by noon, we were ready to go! The towns here are very small, and there’s usually two roads. One coming in, and another heading out, and we as we drove closer to the road out we see two hitchhikers. Thinking about how bad the bus service was, their standard backpacker’s look we said why not and were on our way out with two new friends! They were a nice newly-wed couple from Poland, traveling in South America for their honeymoon!

The drive was extremely scenic the moment we left town. Twisting and winding, uphill and downhill, we were driving along the coastline of Lago Carrera. It was an amazing lake with a distinct hue of blue and a wind swept surface rippling across the waters, and the Andes were the backdrop. There were a few mines, and a few small cattle/sheep ranches would pop up here and there. The more frequent sights were wooden signs advertising fishing, horse riding, cabanas and asado (grilled meats) as a form of cottage-country travel for people. Those log cabins look very, very cozy, but we must beat on!

One big motivation for us to come to this area was because through talking with our HK friends from trekking, they mentioned about how they failed to visit the marble caves at town called Puerto Tranquilo (awesome name!). Googling some pictures, we were so mesmerized at the colours and contours of the caves and really wanted to go. When we were at Chile Chico, and they only had tours going every Mon/Thurs/Sat, and we weren’t waiting 3 days. To add insult to injury, it costs $100USD per person!! So we dropped our hopes and gave up going to the (now even more attractive because it is unattainable) caves…. but hearing from our new Polish friends, they were saying that it was possible to get a boat outside the town and it was cheaper. They heard this from a girl who rode a bike 120km through hilly+rough gravel roads to see them…talk about dedication!

The scenery while we drove definitely made it awesome, but we stopped so many times for pictures and the poor road conditions made it really slow despite being only 150km or so away. We were quite afraid that, this being rural Patagonia, that the boats would stop after a certain time, and we didn’t know how far it was to go or how long it took! All these uncertainties layered above the anticipation for doing something unexpected and previously thought unattainable made it oh-so-exciting. Alan had to channel his inner Colin McRae rally racing skills, and we made it to the outskirts of the town, but Alan actually sped past several signs without reading them properly…we turned back in curiousity, but turns out the sign was pointing down towards the dock for a trip to the caves!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EXCITED. And to make things more fun, the road down was a 45degree winding dirt road with hairpin turns!

We got to the dock, and our Polish friends with his Spanish skills, talked us into a boat taking us out for $15USD per person. FOR SURE! Everyone was so happy and excited! FINALLY WE CAN SEE THE MARBLE CAVES! The boat ride from the dock was only 5mins, and when we got there……anticipation turned into a bit of disappointment…. The marble formations were really pretty and totally amazing as we sailed our boat right into the caves, but the were darkly lit as the mountains blocked the sun as it was already in the Western horizon… It was nice, but nothing compared to what we expected! Aahhhhh! Oh well, not everything’s perfect.

One big constraint with our Polish friends was that, they had a flight to catch, and they were never sure if there was any transport to get them to the airport. We ended up convincing them to join us as we went further along Ruta 7, closer to the airport and more likely there would be transport. We drove 3 more hours into the dark, and the slippery roads and tight corners made driving a bit more dangerous especially under moonlight. There’s a full moon, and it was extremely scenic as it casts its glow onto the overlooking silhouettes of the mountain ranges.

It was late, we were tired but we were so glad we saw the lights of what can be called a town. It probably has more than 10 houses, too! It’s hard to know what to expect around here! We looked around for a hostel using our LP, but turns out the hostel didn’t have any signs, it was really just some person’s house, and for some strange fucking reason, they were FULL. We drove around, asked 2 more hotels, and they were also full! W T F? We really doubt them, but apparently there’s a Chile vs Uruguay World Cup qualifying match going on, and we think they are all in a bad mood because Chile is losing. One last try, we landed ourselves in a simple but clean hostel with cheap beds at $15USD per person. FOR A BED. W T F Chile. At least it’s clean.

We wanted to get here at Villa Castillo to do a day-hike up to see the mountains, but our hostel owner says a 2-day hike is required as it’s a long walk. So, we can’t do a day-hike tomorrow but our Polish friends are much happier, because now we can drive them to the airport and save them the uncertainty of waiting for a bus and waking up at 6am to wait for one! Awesome!!

And now, we’re off to bed while the cows are having a mooing party in the distant. Not joking… cows have been mooing in the fields non-stop since 10pm, and WE CAN HEAR THEM IN OUR ROOM. Haha, you can’t make this stuff up.

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Day 281: Chile Chico – Argentina – Mar 25th

The ONLY reason we are staying in Baja Caracoles is because going from south → north, it is the closest town to the UNESCO heritage site, Las Cuevas de las Manos, or Cave of Hands. Getting out of our awesome hostel, the playful dogs came out to say goodbye and we were on the road before 8:30am.

The gravel roads here are wide and quite well maintained, and the scenery is pretty awesome. Throw in some guanacos and choique (ostrich-like birds) walking around, it was quite fun! The best part was when a fox crossed the road about 300m of the car. After crossing the road, it stopped at the side of the road, sitting perfectly still and observing us as we drove by. We stopped, looked it in the eye and was totally mesmerized by this beautiful creature.

Getting to the actual entrance at 9:55am, we were greeted with a warm welcome from a young man and his father, along with a wonky looking admissions guy and his cuddly cat. Tours start at the hour, so we came just in time for the 10am guided tour! The father wanted a picture, and very friendly, wanting to take one with us as well. He then pointed across the valley to a car atop the edge, and our understanding is that it was HIS car, and they walked down the valley and up again to the park entrance. W T F? We thought he was joking….

The hand paintings reminds us of paintings you might see on the walls of kindergarten classrooms, but when the guide mentioned that they date back up to 9500 YEARS AGO. It took a minute, but lets count again….that’s 7500BC! Wow, respect. Thinking about it, this is probably the first time we’ve seen any form of prehistoric human activity that you’d associate with grade school education. The caves were only housing 30-40 people of a single tribe of hunters, with other locations scattered around the valley containing similar paintings. The strangest part though, is that these paintings lay on PRIVATE land… lets hope they are well preserved. There were some pretty fascinating rock paintings, a foot of a choique, circles denoting pregnant woman, guy with 6 fingers, and the chief’s hand with a massive aura of paint around it. Really, really fascinating.

On our way out, the guide in some broken English asked if we can drive the old man out to the main road. We finally realized they weren’t joking when they said they walked into the park entrance, and the son was going to run back to the car again! The route is pretty damn steep, we’re surprised how the old man managed to get here on foot… so of course we said yes.

The roads out were pretty steep, but driving rally is pretty fun if only the car had better specs. We dropped the old man off at the main road so his son can pick him up, and we were off on our way! The closest town was Perito Moreno, named after an Argentine hero (Like many of the streets and cities). We wanted to stop by for lunch, and managed to find a small restaurant serving some really awesome steaks. Chicken in Argentina has never been a good experience, but on the flip side steak is ALWAYS a good choice no matter where you are! Every two days of so, Alan would have this steak craving which would be easily cured with a visit to any restaurant, or if you’re lucky at the supermarket for the price of a cupcake back home. Strangely enough, the supermarkets never seem to have good meats, you have to be lucky and buy right away!

Delicious lunch and a beautifully scenic drive along Lago Buenos Aires, looking more like an ocean with strong currents than a lake, we arrived into the border town of Los Antiguos. The town was small but its location on the coast of the lake, but it was too early for us to settle and we crossed the border into Chile. Crossing from Argentina into Chile is strange, as the Argentine officers are almost always rude, always in a hurry but fairly hassle free. The Chilean border crossings are less intimidating, but are 100x more tedious. Not sure why, but they are super anal about fruits, vegetables and the sorts from entering the border and do a THOROUGH check of everything. If you drive in, they check your whole car + luggage. If you go through by bus, they check the bus, your carry-ons and every piece of luggage you carry. No jokes here.

Clearing customs and driving into the Chilean border town of 4000 people named Chile Chico, it was not small by our standards. We’ve come to enjoy smaller towns which don’t have the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, but still have the normal comforts of everyday life, and this town made that fine line just spot on. The town was neatly decorated with wooden pillars as you enter the city proper, with patches of grass as the median along the main road and wooden fencing surrounding EVERY PATCH of grass in the whole town. Being built along the lake as well, they weren’t too keen on building nice homes along the lake with good views and didn’t seem to make good use of its geographic location.

We found a nice little cabin with a small kitchen, private bathroom, Wi-Fi in the room, and even satellite TV! We were watching Simpsons in Spanish! Ha ha. Making full use of the kitchen, we wanted to cook our own meal to save some money, and it’s also a way to refrain from eating out all the time. At the market, the fruits and veggies were definitely a bit of a sad selection but considering we’re in the heart of Patagonia it is somewhat expected. The strangest thing though, is that we found SOY SAUCE AND CHINESE NOODLES for sale at the market! W T F? This town, 4000 people, in southern rural of Chile and no Asian faces whatsoever. The best part was when checking out, the cashier looked at the noodles+soy sauce combo and looked at Alan, asking what would be a good way to cook the noodles as if she had no clue!! WHY WOULD THEY HAVE THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE!

We cooked up a storm back at the hostel, having noodles + wine outside in the main yard.

Crazy strange road trip….

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Day 280: Baja Caracoles – Argentina – Mar 24th

We slept in a bit, grabbed a quick breakfast at a small coffee shop while Alan ate leftover greasy pizza (at 10am!). And looks like our map was outdated as there was a gas station at the entrance to the town! It sort of looked like something from rural Nevada back from the 1950s, but as long as it has gas it’ll do. On our way out, we were lucky in that the clouds actually cleared out, and you can get this AMAZING view of the whole mountain range. Our puny imagination was good, but it wasn’t this good! Oh well, maybe one day we’ll come back =)

Where we are now in Patagonia, the roads are built but most of it is gravel. After a drive of about 120km to the next town, we were amazed at how small and uninteresting it was. A one-street town, everything was closed, the winds whipped the sand all around and nobody was walking around. The allure of this region is mainly for its landscapes and so we weren’t too interested in the towns, but we didn’t expect it to be THIS run-down. Ha ha. There’s quite a distance between towns, so we filled up our tank again just in case the next one runs out of gas or something. We also stocked up about 6L of water, just in case we get stuck on the road at least we won’t die of thirst… Actuaries traveling still know they should manage our own mortality risk.

The road was mainly gravel, with intermittent construction zones where it was paved. With our less than optimal SUV, the pavement was such a blessing, even if it only lasts for 5mins. The scenery was expansive, wild and charming all at the same time. Guanacos, the untamed cousin of the llama, can be easily spotted from the main road. The roads were difficult, but added to the experience for sure as we sped our way through gravel terrain without a (human) soul in sight for miles on end.

One strange thing we did notice though, was that the whole of Patagonia is FENCED along the roads, and inbetween parcels of land. Not only is this a monstrous use of human effort, but it was strange as there were barely any animals, or anything you’d really need to fence things out/in from….. Very strange.

Driving for most of the day, we arrived at a small ‘village’ called Baja Caracoles. It was getting late when we arrived, and this was the place we needed to stay for the night as it was the closest town to Las Cuevas de los Manos, a UNESCO Heritage historical site.

The village itself was uninspiring, if not creepy-looking. Driving around the village, you can totally visualize Javier Bardem holding his gas canister in a menacing look walking down the sandy roads, as in the movie No Country for Old Men. We stopped at the gas station to get some gas, and without any attendants or anything we simply drove up, filled our tanks and could’ve easily driven away. Being the honest folk we are, we headed into the gas station to ask if there was a hostel/hotel/camp site/someone’s backyard we could possibly sleep in. The gas station actually had some rooms, but the owner said he was full for the evening… W T F? Okay, whatever, but the best part came next as Alan tried to pay for the $175Peso of gas he put into his car.

With broken Spanish, this is what pans out:

Alan: “I want gas.”
Owner: “Okay” *comes out behind his counter to take Alan to the pump*
Alan: “No, I put gas. Already. Gas already.”
Owner: “Okay, how much?” *walking back to the cash register*
Alan: “100……75” (fading away as he tries to think how to say 175 instead of 100 and 75)
Owner: “100? Okay, give me 100.”
Alan: “No, 100 & 75. 100 & 75” *picks up calculator, types in 175*
Owner: “Oh, 175? Okay, give me 175.”
Alan pays the cash, and goes away thinking how easy it would’ve been to steal gas from this poor fellow. But the rule when it comes to honour system, is that you DO NOT BREAK THE RULES OF THE HONOUR SYSTEM. Shame on whoever breaks the honour system rules! SHAME!

We ask the gas station owner, and discover that there’s a ‘hostel’ in town, and it wasn’t hard to find as the village had fewer than 10 houses. The streets were dark now, but the lights were on but the door was locked, except for a sign in strange Spanish with an arrow pointing to the backyard. We entered, and two dogs happily greeted us, but the owner wasn’t there! This was around 7pm, getting late, and there wasn’t much we can do in a town like this. We waited in the car a bit until the neighbour told us to go to the gas station to look for Antonio. Okay, a 100m drive go to the gas station, but no Antonio there. The gas station owner told us to go to the police station, so another 100m drive we get to the police station but nothing but a small Yorkshire Terrier to greet us. We searched the back for some people, and the police chief told us to go to Antonio’s house, look for the house with the black SUV. Okay, we drive around the 10houses looking for a black SUV, none there!!!

We gave trying to find this elusive Antonio, and since the hostel door was open, we invited ourselves into the main room and set up our camping stove to make a nice single pot pasta meal (pasta + dried soup packages). We waited around, went to the gas station again to buy some snacks for the next day (in case we get stuck somewhere?). Strangely enough, they had some extremely ‘fresh’ tasting Pringles.. whowouldathunkit?

It was 11pm, we’re getting tired and the town is getting sort of creepy. It was creepy when the sun set, and the neighbour didn’t exactly give off the Love Thy Neighbour vibe, more like creepy old man that did 13 murders and had to hide out here, kind of vibe. We were in the hostel, so we just gave up waiting and checked ourselves into the room, which had a private bathroom and surprisingly hot water. It was all built like a temporary portable house but doesn’t matter, the place was clean and the bed was comfy. Alan waited out til midnight, nursing a beer and hopeful to meet this Antonio. No luck and off to bed we went.

At around 2am, someone knocks on the door. In a daze, Alan opens the door to find an extremely alert person who didn’t smell like he was out drinking all night. So…. why the fuck is he awake at 2am and checking his hostel when he could’ve checked it at anytime before 11pm? He was annoyed that we checked into his place without telling him, saying that I should’ve knocked onto a discrete, and totally unmarked door which connects to his own house. OKAY FELLA, fuck you. Anyways, I paid my money and he retreated back into the unmarked door to his own house, while we slept like babies until next morning in a strange start to our road trip.

Interesting day….

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