Latest Update (as at 30/1/11):

Location: London. Back.

Total Distance Cycled: 10,325km
Days Biking: 140
Longest Day: 174km (2/12/10)

Saturday 13 March 2010

The Ruta de los 7 Lagos

We have had a magical week.  Since the last update, we have left the joys of Bariloche, and done a full working week of cycling.  About time, you cry in unison.  We know, we know - it has been a somewhat stuttering start, what with having to move North from the gales of Tierra del Fuego and then a bit of convalescence time in Bariloche, but we now feel that we are properly underway.  We (and the bikes!) have completed our first 450km.  We are getting fitter and more used to life on the bikes, and are starting to feel better about telling people what we are doing.  This week, we did 190km along the Ruta de los 7 Lagos, from Bariloche to San Martin de los Andes.  More about that in a moment.

We left you last in Bariloche, where we had rented a car for the weekend.  On Saturday, we headed down to El Bolson, known as Argentina's hippy capital.  In reality, it is a beautifully situated little town in a lush valley, surrounded by fruit farms and dramatic craggy mountains, partly blanketed in deep green forests.  The road there was stunning, snaking through dramatic views on every side, but a major reason for our visit was to visit Melchor and Camilio Mazzini, the second generation of the family who set up Helados Jauja in the 1960s.  We spent a fascinating hour with them, as only true ice cream addicts could, finding out about the business and tasting various of their latest creations.  You can't help but take your hat off to the brothers - modest and engaging but generous and passionate in equal measure about their business, they have returned to the family business after time in other careers, and are adamant that every ingredient must be the best.  This ranges from spending time getting to know the local dairy and fruit farmers, to hand picking pineapples from the markets.  It's pretty obvious why the finished product is the best, and why the queues on a sunny Saturday are long!  It was like Mecca to us.

During the afternoon, we spent time pottering through the relaxed artesanal market and wandered to the river before returning to Bariloche, complete with Sophie and Pablo, whom we somehow squeezed into our tiny car complete with oversized rucksacks and hitchhiking thumbs.

The next day we meandered down towards to the Hotel Llao Llao, often described as South America's finest.
My great grandparents used to stay here shortly after it opened in 1938, and even after it had burnt down a few months afterwards and reopened some years later.  It is lovely in a 5 star kind of way, and we treated ourselves to coffee on the terrace.  But we agreed that it has surely lost a modicum of its loveliness through having to be 5 star - ie. cashpoints and overpriced gift shops carved into the beautiful original log cabin interior.  Indeed, the banks of Lago Nahuel Huapi West of Bariloche have given into the tourist peso more than most of what we have seen so far.  Lovely in its way, but verging on twee and we did feel like tourists beating a somewhat worn trail.

Monday dawned and it was time to mount our steeds again.  Heavy rain did not help with our enthusiasm to leave Bariloche after our few days here.  However, as we loaded our panniers on and went through our final checks before take off, the clouds parted, and they were the last we saw of the grey or white fluffy stuff for the entire week - literally.  All week it has been around 30c by day (dropping to low single digits by night, admittedly), a true Argentine Indian summer.  And what a route to have such weather.  We have spent 5 days cycling the road from Bariloche to San Martin de los Andes, acknowledged as one of the world's most beautiful.  It lived up to its reputation in spades.

From the initial views over the crystalline waters of Lago Nahuel Huapi as we left Bariloche, we have drunk in nature at its best.  Sounds a bit pretentious, perhaps, but we have just had to feast our eyes on one entirely perfect view after another.  We spent the first two days skirting around the lake, watching Bariloche disappearing on the other bank.  Each time we stopped was at a magnificent spot, usually with nobody else there.

... except our doggy friends, who are invariably friendly, handsome and keen to hang out with us.  So much for Argentina's flea-ridden old mutts!  The highlight so far has been 'Sausage' (we named him), a stunning black setter type, who joined us late morning from a hosteria we rode past, stuck with us for our lunch shortly after, asking politely to share Liz's sardines between stints playing in the river.  It was only when he'd followed us for 3 or 4km afterwards, that we realised he'd adopted us.  After much deliberation, and seeing how much fun he was finding to chase the occasional car that passed us, it was decided I should walk him back home.  It was the right decision, as 'Goliath' was greated by whoops from the three young girls who'd been worrying about him.  He was only 8 months old, and it was sorely tempting to keep him with us.  Reluctantly we had to leave him, as he loped off with his girls, oblivious to the trouble he'd caused.  Liz was close to inconsolable.

Each lunch venue this week has been on either a deserted river bank or by a lake with water so clear you can drink from it.  We have swum in waters so cold you know they have come from glaciars, but so clear it could be the Caribbean.  White sandy beaches, you can't believe it.  All around have been mountains, sometimes blanketed in a rich array of different tree life, sometimes raw and rugged rocky outcrops.  The campsites have been delicious.  The showers work, there are very few people, we have been able to make fires for when temperatures have plummeted to near freezing at night, and life on the road is becoming a way of life.

The silence is golden, the stars at night are dizzyingly abundant,  like a sparkling white dust, clearer than you can possibly imagine. What a place this is.  We have been woken in the mornings to cocks crowing and chimango, hawk-like birds of prey, swooping and playing ourside our tent.  Or simply by the gently lapping of waves beneath the inevitable blanket of mist that forms over the lakes overnght.

There is a downside to everything, and it has not been an easy week physically.  190km in 5 days sounds eminently doable, but at best the road has been distinctly up and down, at worst almost unrideable.  The unsurfaced 'ripio' gravel has been tough.  The unseasonal heat and horse flies haven't helped either (more from Liz shortly!).  Suffice to say, she has been amazingly resilient getting through a hard stage in good spirits (though one or two of those horseflies might not agree!).  It has taught us valuable lessons and given us a much better feel for the bikes.

Our ride culminated in a spectacular 15km descent to San Martin de los Andes, swooping down smooth and elegant bends in the (now mercifully tarmac) road at 40kph or more.  Around every bend we expected a sting in the tail, and it never came.  All that climbing suddenly felt worthwhile.  We are now in San Martin, and the wind is howling outside.  It seems that autumn is making an overdue appearance.  It is the first day in ages that has not felt summery.  But San Martin is a lovely place for the weekend - like a lower key Bariloche, neat, well-maintained streets full of outdoors and skiing shops and cosy cafes, perched picturesquely on the edge of Lago Lacar.  We are getting ourselves and the bikes rested and organised for the next stint North, starting on Monday.  Next proper stop, Zapala...

PS. Beard coming along nicely (see photos), and I'm quite sure the curious shade of white on my chin will prove to be a mere teething problem before giving way to a bloom of dark hair.

1 comment:

  1. nearly too much to puke over. Wow! Just seems utterly amazing and thank you for such beautifully crafted descriptions! Let it continue. Like the beard, told you it was a plan! Clearly Lady Grecian 2000 might have to help - far too young to have a Father Christmas beard!!good luck Ding!