We were back in Argentina and back on sealed roads in Trevelin. Its a pretty town with strong ties to Wales, just like Gaiman directly to the east on the coast of Argentina where we had stayed a few months earlier. We found a nice campsite for the one night we stayed in Trevelin before riding 190km to Lago Puelo where our friends Lucas and Florencia were visiting family.
Travelling along Ruta 40 on the west side of Argentina is completely different to Ruta 3 on the east coast. Ruta 3 is flat as flat can be, with towns about 4 hours riding apart in the Patagonia region with nothing in between, not even trees. Conversely, Ruta 40 hugs the famous mountain range of the Andes along the western side of Argentina so it has beautiful twisting roads with forests, rivers and simply inspirational riding scenery.
It was a cold day when we left Trevelin with clouds threatening to rain on us. Nowdays we often throw our wet weather riding clothes on top of everything we are wearing anyway to stop the wind chill so we were prepared if it did get wet. Luckily no rain though and the skies got clearer the closer we got to Lago Puelo.
Lucas and Florencia met us at an intersection on Ruta 40 at the turn off to Florencias family home. It was so good to see them again but they looked tired. What we hadn't realised when we organised to see them, was that they had themselves been travelling all over Argentina and Brazil visiting family and friends. They were exhausted, having driven 10,000 km in a couple of weeks. Not in their famous limousine as it was still in Canada, but in their 4WD.
Florencia's family had been building a new family home in Lago Puelo for the last few years. They purchased some property out of town at the base of a mountain and surrounded by an enchanting forest of pine trees and berry bushes. The home itself looked like something out of a lifestyle magazine. It had a central kitchen, lounge room and dining area with an open fire and bedrooms off to the sides. It would be the perfect place for a family Christmas. Janell was really taken by the home and veggie garden. In fact so was Negrita who made herself comfortable in front of the log fire all day.
It was hard getting Janell out of the house but we spent an afternoon with Lucas and Florencia showing us around El Bolson. Like most towns in Argentina they have great markets around the centre of town and loads of ice cream shops (called Heladeria's). One of the market stalls was selling blowguns and we all had ago at blowing the dart through the pipe and hitting the target. Surprisingly we all did really well, Florencia nailed it hitting the middle of the target every time. Stu was a close second and Janell was just happy she didn't injure anyone or break anything.
If you remember, we purchased new tyres for both motorbikes back in Buenas Aires through a friend of a friend who gave us a really good deal. The problem was neither motorbike was ready for new tyres at that time so we had them shipped to Lucas and Florencia in their home on the east coast of Argentine, Comodoro Rivadavia. Janell was ready for her tyres at that point but Stuart was not so Lucas and Florencia very graciously offered to take his tyres to Lago Puelo. So on top of spending time with our friends, Stuart and Lucas fitted the much needed new rear tyre.
The time came to say farewell again for now. Florencia and Lucas would soon be returning to Canada to work and sort out their limousine so we are hoping to see them if we make it there in time.
From Lago Puelo we continued along Ruta 40 for 135km to San Carlos de Bariloche. This is a very popular tourist destination so we booked our accommodation ahead of time through booking.com. On the advertisement for the hostel it boasted great location with views over the city to the lake. It certainly wasn't wrong but we nearly died when we saw the entrance to the hostel nearly 2 storeys up from the ground level. If there's one thing we hate its carrying all our stuff (and we have a lot of stuff) up and down ramps and stairs. It was Stuarts turn to checkin so off he went but returned with a pleasant surprise. Because of Negrita, the hostel put us in an apartment with a courtyard a few houses up which they thought might be better suited to us, and it had a lift! Sometimes you just get lucky.
Bariloche is an outdoors destination. Our first day we hiked to the top of Cerro Catedral. In the winter this mountain turns in to a ski resort but in summer there are hiking trails, well optional trails you can walk anywhere you want. Getting to the top was easy enough, we followed tracks in the direction of the peak. We got totally lost coming down though so what should have only taken 2 hours to descend took around 3.5 hours. Still we got plenty of exercise, enjoyed the magnificent views at the top and ate ourselves stupid when we got to the bottom because we decided to leave our lunch with the motorbikes (thinking it wouldn't take that long).
The next day, a little stiff from hiking, we hired bicycles to ride around the lake. Its a 25 km circuit really well geared up for tourists. Our hostel made the booking the night before so when we rocked up at 7am our bicycles were ready and waiting. We just had to fill out a disclaimer form and listen to a safety briefing. This is a great day out and we'd highly recommend to other travellers. The riding is fairly easy with only a couple of steep ascents at the start if you take the route anticlockwise. There are sections of forest to ride through, local artisans to visit and cafes and restaurants for resting and relaxing. We returned our bicycles at 3pm because we wanted to head to the local brewery on the way home for some beer tasting.
Happy that we had made the most of our time in Bariloche, and Stu got some exercise, we were now headed for a little town in Chile called Malalcahuello where we had friends from Sydney, Lavinia and Fernando. We rode 360km north from Bariloche on Ruta 40 and camped in the town of Zapala for $5. Ruta 40 takes you more inland here so the flat plains returned. The campsite was contained within the local sportsground and was really nice. We had hot showers and plenty of company from dogs and horses. Of coarse the best part of camping is hot porridge for breakfast in the morning! Its a good meal for a riding day and border crossing and we certainly needed it for the border crossing in to Chile.
We decided to cross at Paso Pino Hachado. With all our criss-crossing between Chile and Argentina in the south we knew the border crossing would take one to two hours. We knew wrong! This particular border crossing in to Chile was crazy and as we heard later is notorious for long queues. It took us 4 hours of queuing and 1 hour of paperwork. Consequently we were well behind schedule arriving at Lavinia and Fernando's property. We embarrassingly arrived at 10pm, very apologetic for the late arrival and explaining the insane border crossing. They were still up and having a glass of wine with other friends staying with them so we very gratefully joined in and relaxed.
Lavinia was a work colleague of Janells from Pittwater Council. Lavinia and her Chilean husband Fernando had bought three properties in the little town of Malalcahuello several years ago and had been traversing between Chile and Australia over the years building eco-cabins on one property and a nature conservation park of 120 hectares up one of the nearby mountains. They drove us up the mountain and while they worked collecting seeds from the endangered Araucaria trees which they have been preserving on the property, we hiked up the top to see the incredible view with 3 volcanoes. It was summer and hot at the top but in winter this area is covered in snow. Hard to imagine when you're puffing for breath in a singlet and shorts under a blistering sun.
We stayed two nights in one of their eco-cabins with another young couple from the USA. The cabins were fantastic, probably the most luxurious place The Pack Track has stayed with the most comfortable bed in the world! Unfortunately we couldn't stay longer in Malalcahuello but it was a very memorable experience, a little surreal and quite frankly incredible for Janell to be having wine in Chile with a friend from work in Sydney. Malalcahuello really is a special place and its easy to see why Lavinia and Fernando decided to move their lives there. It was so wonderful for us to see the great results of hard work and vision paying off for our friends. Anyone interested in more information can visit their website http://www.chilewild.com