The "Switzerland" of Argentina

Been a hot second or two since we last posted- and for good (bad!) reason- we’ve been stuck, stucker, and stuckiest on our way back to Buenos Aires and Brazil. The bright side is that I can cover about a month (and counting now) in a relatively short blog post.

Anyhow, back to the past we go! Last we left you, we were heading west to the Lakes District with a Welshman and his Peruvian friend in tow. Before leaving BA, we stopped by the house of Maricel’s (Gareth’s Peruvian friend who would be joining us for two weeks) uncle. Typical of Argentinians, they welcomed us in with both arms, we chatted for a bit, and were not allowed to turn down delicious food and drink before our trip. Her uncle even drove half of us to a big box store to do some pre-trip shopping. Super awesome peeps, very thankful to have departed BA on a high note like that.

The four of us officially on our way west (then due south to Patagonia), we drove again through the middle of Argentina, which is a great drive if you get off on sensory deprivation. We stopped at a few campsites along the way, one of which gave us a top 10 “worst night of the trip” with swarms of mosquitoes and biting flies that left us all chewed up and hoping for better down the road. After a few days slowly making our way toward the lakes and the Andes, we finally arrived in San Martin de los Andes- Argentina’s version of Vail or Breckenridge or Chamonix. Any of those towns it was not, it turned out.

We parked up in town in a parking lot right on the edge of the lake, at this time of year the wind was howling and still biting cold, and resolved to wild camp for the night. The town around us lacked any authenticity- it looked like someone had once seen a Swiss village and built a movie set based on it (think: the final scene of Three Amigos, or better yet Blazing Saddles…but Swissier). Main street crowded with North Face and Nike stores, dotted with price gouging ‘local craft’ shops. We somehow found a “Mexican” food place and stopped in for the first of many disappointing ‘ethnic’ meals. Overpriced, super odd, and not all that tasty- a simple google search would show them that the food they’re serving isn’t really Mexican, c’mon guys! It’s our fault for trying to find ethnic food because we’re homesick, but also a word of caution to long term travelers down here as well…not worth the trouble ultimately.

While this town, and the subsequent towns like it in the lakes region were disappointing in their veneers (literally, like chalets built out of concrete and stucco with one thin layer of wood paneling to give the look of authenticity) and commercialism, they more than made up for them in beauty. That first night in San Martin portended things to come for the next few weeks, and I (for one) could not have been happier.

From there until we left to head to Patagonia, we slept in epic camp spots on the edges of beautiful lakes, nestled in the foothills of the Andean mountain chain. We were in the Lakes Region, north of Patagonia. While no one ever joined me, my routine was wake up, do my little workout routine of pushups and situps or squats, then jump into a freezing cold lake- an excellent way to wake up. Each morning, or sometime during the day I’d attempt to jump in every lake I saw, just became my thing.

After our frigid night on the lakeshore in San Martin, we continued south along what's called the Seven Lakes Drive planning to find a camp spot along the way. It was an amazing drive, and really started noticing the landscape we all think of when we imagine “Patagonia”: emerald hills, wildlife everywhere, life climbing out of every crack and nook, exploding and vibrant. It was all of that I promise you, but nothing at all compared to the transcendental, primordial beauty of Patagonia that we would come to witness. We hiked the four of us on a trail that I still think we pretty much made up, but had a good go of it for a few hours before returning to Masi and trying to find a campsite. What I can remember from this stretch during that day was pulling into yet another completely empty campsite, being quoted a price that would indicate there was imaginary competition, and the guy finally telling us the temperature would be too low for tents and Gareth & Maricel would have a really hard night outside. Also, that guy looked exactly like Sean Connery, the Argentinian version, it was amazing.

Eventually we camped in Villa La Angostura, them in a hostel, and us two in Masi in a campsite in town (begrudgingly). It’s great to have friends join the trip for all the obvious reasons, but I will say that concessions have to be made once they’re there- those wild camp spots we would’ve camped at before are now out of the question with two people in tents. Just something to think about when you ask people to join- make sure they know what they’re getting into!

From Villa La Angostura, we made our way down to Bariloche, where Maricel was catching a bus back to Buenos Aires (a 24 hour bus…I couldn’t believe we got that far away already!), and we were set to meet up with our old friends Brendan and Bridget once again! Of course it was sad to leave Maricel, but we were also preparing for our long and quasi-dangerous leg into the wilds of Patagonia in our ill-suited girl Masi, so having convoy companions like Brendan & Bridget (B&B from here on out) was an awesome prospect.

A big ‘ol hug goodbye to Maricel, nicest Peruvian royal Caribbean worker I know!, and big ‘ol hugs to B&B as we met up once again in Bariloche.

OK, we are woefully behind on this blog for several reasons…but I’m going to try and pick up the pace in the next episode- just needed to get this out first.