Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Lakes District, Argentina - Paddleboarding Legally

The Lakes District of Argentina continued to entertain and wow us as we headed south. We hiked some big peaks, and again found they were covered in a layer of deep ash due to the 2011 eruption of Volcan Puyehue. While we were hiking to a peak known as Cerro Belvedere, the wind was so strong that clouds of ash filled the distant sky. We eventually had to turn around because of the ash in our eyes and mouths. On the plus side, our faces were baby-butt smooth from the exfoliation treatment.

The view from Cerro Belvedere of a small section of  Lago Nauhuel Huapi the largest lake in the region - 60 miles long!!!

Outside of the large town of Bariloche, we drove up a long, slow, painfully pot-holed road to visit Mt. Tronador and the large glacier creeping down its slopes. It was our first glacier in South America, so we were excited to see it in action. From our camp spot, we could hear the thundering echo of the ice breaking off the glacier. At the viewpoint, we spent the entire day viewing the icebergs in the lake change shape and hoping to see/hear pieces of the glacier crash into the lake. We got a thumbs up from one of the rangers when we set up our camp chairs on a little knoll overlooking the glacier. The only time the glacier made a move was when we were eating lunch INSIDE THE TRUCK!!  We heard it, and later saw the violent-looking aftermath in the lake. DAMMIT! Pictures below.

Our camping spot below Mt. Tronador. Cheers to the best television screen nature can offer.

Our viewpoint for the entire day overlooking the Tronador glacier - the glacier is brown because of all the rocks on it's surface

Spoiler alert: now that we are in the heart of Patagonia and all of it's huge glaciers, our day at Tronador seems kind of silly. Oh well, it was still fun.

Continuing south, the town of El Bolson had been on our list for a while after we learned that it is the microbrew capital of Argentina. They grow 3/4 of all the hops IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. To say the least, we had some beers! The region boasts a warm micro climate that not only grows hops, but also abundant produce including big juicy berries of all sorts. We spent a day outside the town cooling off in the sparkling, turquoise water of the Rio Azul pictured below.

Rio Azul: This swimming hole was called "El Paraiso" (The Paradise)

Rio Azul: A contrast in temperatures.
After getting up the nerve to jump into the icy waters, I had to bake myself a bit before heading back to shore

A little further south in Alerces National Park we put our paddleboards to work - and it was legal this time! With a little foot work, we found that we could paddleboard between the lakes on crystalline, trout-choked rivers. We were so stoked when our strategy worked out the first day: we locked up the paddleboards and gear at our camping spot, drove the truck about 6 miles to the next camping spot, ran back to our paddleboards, then paddleboarded back to the truck. We repeated this process on 2 more rivers without a hitch. Pictures below.

This river was teaming with giant rainbow and brown trout

The viewpoint during our hike back to the truck: the lake and river we were about to paddleboard (we were excited!)

Scott never passes up a "jumping rock"

Swimming with the trout

Next up, back into Chile for some very impressive glaciers among other things...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Lakes District, Argentina - A Little Crowded

Our first visit to Argentina was not timed very well. We crossed the border into the beautiful and VERY popular region known as "The Lakes District". The official holiday/summer season was in full swing, and we were about to get slapped in the face with it - packed campgrounds, 20-minute lines at the gas station, smoke-filled air from all the camp fires - you get the idea. Despite all of that, we still enjoyed the heck out of it. Our time in the area was split between paddleboarding the crazy-clear lakes and rivers, and hiking some ass-kicking routes to the tops of the surrounding peaks.

One of our first stops was in the small tourist town of San Martin de Los Andes. The town sits on the shores of the gorgeously blue Lago Lacar, pictured below. No wonder so many people flock here during the holidays.

In San Martin de Los Andes, we parked/slept on the street near a hotel called "Hosteria Wesley". While we were parking, the owner came bounding over to the truck offering us anything we needed. He was so kind and so welcoming. We used his internet signal for a few days and filled our tank with water from his hose - so nice.

Further south, we settled for a night at Lago Hermoso ("Lake Beautiful"). It was so warm, we did some yoga on our paddleboards, knowing that a refreshing swim was guaranteed. Pictures below:

The area we were driving through is called "Siete Lagos" (Seven Lakes). There were definitely more than 7 lakes.  It's popular with hitchhiking backpackers and bikers because of all the campgrounds scattered along the beautiful lakes. Scott loved seeing so many backpackers carrying guitars with them. This is very unique to Argentina.

On our next stop, we camped near Lago Villarino and Lago Faulkner (so many lakes!). Here, we finally met fellow overlanders, Sam and Erica, from SongOfTheRoad.com (pictured below). We had really been hoping to cross paths with them. They are a smart and insightful couple who find adventure in places most people pass by. They have been on the road for almost 2 years. Like most of our run-ins with other travelers, the meeting was way too brief. We stayed up late sharing stories and having drinks before saying goodbye the next morning.

Camping on Lago Villarino:
Sam and Erica (left) inspired us to follow them through some tight trees, right down to the water for a great camp spot

Lago Faulkner:
While we hiked around the lake, the water was so clear that we could see GIANT trout from the trail 200' above the water

Above Lago Faulkner, the nondescript looking peak, Cerro Faulkner, made for a great, challenging climb. The ash on the top of the mountain was DEEP - like we were walking on a white sand beach. We later learned that a nearby volcano that erupted in 2011 (Volcan Puyehue), had rained 4 - 6 inches of ash all over the area. The ash cloud CIRCLED THE GLOBE  and caused flight cancellations in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Wow.

The view from Cerro Faulkner:
We could see the extensive Lago Faulkner and even Lago Nuevo and Hua Hum in the distance

The view from Cerro Faulkner:
From the road, this peak is not interesting, but once on top, you realize there is color, texture, and lots of ash

Nearby, at a tiny lake called Lago Espejo Chico ("Little Mirror"), we broke the park-rules a couple times. The campground at this lake was officially closed, but we decided since we were just "parking", not "camping", we would try our luck. No loud neighbors, no smoky fires, and clear, starry-skies. We enjoyed it for 2 nights!

There was a small, crystal-clear, turquoise river draining Lago Espejo Chico that was just screaming for us to paddleboard it. We were pretty sure it was NOT allowed (given that there were two signs stating that it was NOT allowed). We suspect this rule is to avoid conflicts with fishermen. However, signs also said "Fly Fishing Only", and since half of the fishermen were breaking this rule, and we were already breaking the no-camping rule, we decided to go for it. After all, we hadn't seen a park ranger for days.

The river is the most beautiful, clear river we have ever paddled. We were only able to go a couple miles before we stopped above some un-scoutable rapids. We exited the water, rolled up our inflatable paddleboards, and stuffed them in our backpacks for the walk back to our truck. It was just our luck that a park ranger drove by while we were hoofing it down the road with our bright orange paddles in hand. He stopped and told us we could paddle on the lake, but NOT on the river. Since he hadn't actually caught us on the river, he could only slap us on the wrists. It was totally worth it, and only a few trout were disturbed, we promise.

This was just the beginning of the fun that we had in the region. Stay tuned for Part II