21: Gobernador Costa, Esquel, El Bolson & San Carlos de Bariloche

Days 43 – 52 (7th Jan. – 17th Jan.)

Day 44 (7th Jan.) – To Gobernador Costa
Every journey starts with filling-up with fuel since we don’t know where the next service station will be. They’re usually huge distances apart in Patagonia and we wouldn’t want to risk running out of fuel . However, we’re carrying a 10 litre fuel can in case of emergency, as well as a boot full of spare parts and tools. Service stations can become very sociable places as we usually generate a lot of interest with the sidecar. Today was no different. As we pulled into the one service station at Rio Mayo (a small town in the middle of nowhere), we were very quickly surrounded by a huge group of fellow motorcyclists from Chile, with Mark managing to answer their questions very well in Spanish. After the usual photographs of the sidecar had been taken they continued on their way south, to Ushuaia.

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We were heading northwards to Gobernador Costa, a small town at the crossroads of Ruta 40 and Provincial Route 63 which leads east towards the Atlantic coast. As mentioned in a previous post, Ruta 40 runs from the south of Argentina to the north and is some 3000 miles long; we’re presently about two-fifths the way up it.
After riding for about 230 miles today we stopped at a hotel in Costa for the night and will continue north on Ruta 40 in the morning.

Day 45 (8th Jan.) – To Esquel
The plan for today was to have a shorter ride to Esquel, as Mark still had some numbness in his right arm as a result of having to steer the bike through the extremely windy conditions over the last few days. The bike and sidecar have been notably veering to the right due to first, the extremely strong winds from the left (west) and second, the camber on the road which drops down to the right (east). So, the result is two forces pushing the bike to the right and he is continually having to push the bike to the left to keep going straight. Added to this, when a huge lorry passes us from the opposite direction there is often an enormous turbulence, plus with many stretches of road affected by numerous, and often deep, pot holes it can be quite treacherous in places.
The scenery has now become much more interesting with the foothills of the snow-capped Andes in the distance and the plains becoming greener and dotted with an unusual sight – trees. As we approached Esquel, the scenery reminded us of the Swiss Alps – with animals grazing and blue skies above, it was beautiful. The temperature has risen as well today, reaching highs of 30 degrees or so (which was uncomfortably hot with our bike leathers and the thermal linings in our jackets which we have needed up until now).

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En route to Esquel

We found a nice first floor apartment with balcony and parking below, and spent the late afternoon taking a walk in the town and relaxing in the apartment.

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Home for two nights at Esquel

Tomorrow we go to visit the historic town of Trevelin, a nearby town founded by Welsh settlers in the nineteenth century, as are many towns in this part of the country. The name translates in Welsh to ‘town’ and ‘mill’. Many Welsh migrants originally landed on the east coast of Argentina and named the main towns Puerto Madryn and Trelew, thereafter expanding their settlements along the Chubut river to the foot of the Andes which is where we are now. We hope to hear some of the locals speaking Welsh and may visit one of the popular Welsh teashops.
After Trevelin, the plan is to head for El Bolson which is a fairly large town south of Bariloche. Before we left UK, we arranged our third party motorbike insurance through a German couple who live near El Bolson – they run a farm and let travellers camp on it. Since the weather has warmed up we thought we would stay a while and relax. In an e-mail giving us directions to the farm they suggested we may like to help them out on the farm, so it may not be quite as relaxing as anticipated!

Day 46 (9th Jan.) – To Trevelin and El Bolson
Trevelin turned out to be less Welsh than we had expected. The tourist information centre had a large metal dragon statue outside and the directions for the bank and post office etc. had signs written 3 ways namely in Spanish, Welsh and the local indigenous language.

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Evidence of Welsh heritage in Trevelin
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Including dragon over tourist information office

There were very few people about so the chances of finding a Welsh-speaking local was remote, (so sorry David, no video for you to translate!) Our original plan had included a visit to Puerto Madryn and Trelew on the east coast (where there are still many people speaking Welsh) but because of our original starting point changing from Montevideo to Santiago (i.e. from the east to west side of the continent) we are not exploring that area now.
We arrived at El Bolson in the mid-afternoon and it looked to be a nice, busy place with plenty of restaurants, many with outside seating which surprisingly we haven’t seen much of so far. After briefly stopping to buy some provisions in the town, we arrived at the farm which is situated in a beautiful valley surrounded by steep hills, with the snow-capped mountains in the distance.  The owners, Klaus and Claudia, were very friendly and offered us a jug of tea and a chat in their house before we pitched our tent in a shady spot by their river. They are both motorcyclists and spent 16 years travelling the world from 1981-1997 on a pair of Yamaha XT500 trail bikes, which made for interesting conversation.  They wrote a bestselling book (in Germany) about their travels but are almost unheard of in UK since no English translation has yet been published.
We cooked our supper very quickly using our Jetboil stove, which is extremely efficient, and had a more enjoyable meal than most we have had in restaurants. The majority of the time we do our own cooking and consequently try to stay in hostels with a shared kitchen, or small apartments and Cabanas which always have a small kitchen area, so we can self-cater in order to save money and provide tasty and healthy food – most of the restaurants in both Chile and Argentina so far seem to sell fast food, pasta or pizzas! The locals seem to go for something called Milanesa – fried chicken in breadcrumbs, usually with chips and a fried egg on top…..possibly quite tasty for some but really not for us!
There’s a young French couple camping here as well as us, Lucie and Thomas, who are travelling the world over 2 years on a fairly tight budget – most if not all of their accommodation so far has been wild camping. It was very interesting to hear of their travels and get some ideas of meals to cook on one ring!

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The valley in which the farm is located

 

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Our shady camping spot, next to the river

Days 47 – 52 (10th – 15th Jan.) Staying on Klaus’s farm

Day 47 (10th Jan.)
We decided to go into town to search out a new tyre as we’d noticed a couple of motorbike shops yesterday when on our way through El Bolson.  Amazingly, they had one tyre of the correct size (140/80×17), a Metzeler Sahara which we snapped up albeit much more expensive than at home. There are apparently very high taxes on all imported motor parts in Argentina and, as a result, many people travel across the border to Chile to buy such parts…. both Klaus and the shop assistant had suggested this to us. We did consider it, but we’ve already travelled through Chile and want to continue northwards along Ruta 40 in Argentina.
We took a walk through the farm to see the work which Klaus has suggested we could help with – he’s is putting in a drainage system to irrigate the land in part of the valley to enable grass to grow and sheep to graze. He’s currently in the process of diverting spring water from the surrounding hills into a series of pipes which have a sprinkler system fitted to them.
We spent the evening sitting at a huge barbeque communal table near our tent with the French couple, Lucie and Thomas, and learned that they have visited Canterbury and much of Southern England on a previous trip, and also that they come from Tours in the Loire Valley where we have been camping in the past!
Day 48 (11th Jan.)
We woke up to another warm, sunny morning and decided to have a lazy day reading our books, sunbathing and up-dating our blog. There’s no internet on the farm so we have no means of communication with anyone for the first time since we have been in South America. Having said that, the Wi-Fi has generally been better here than at home in Worth. More travellers arrived on the farm over the course of the day in a variety of 4×4 campervans and trucks, some of whom have been travelling for many years, all over the world. Our 6 months break now feels far too short a time!
Day 49 (12th Jan.)
We woke up to another lovely day and before it got too hot we sought wi-fi at the YPF service station in El Bolson, after filling up our bike with fuel. It was good to catch up with family and friends and it always amazes us how quick and easy it is to communicate, even when so far away from home. I’m still carrying around postcards from Chile as couldn’t find a post box there!

Day 50 (13th Jan.)  
The highlight of the day must have been the communal BBQ we had at the fire pit near to our tent. Some of us collected and cut wood and got a large fire going in the firepit in the early afternoon. All of us – Klaus, his family, and all of us visitors – cooked a variety of meats (ours being some lamb from the farm), and the fire was still burning at 10.30pm. We learnt from Klaus how to manage the fire and keep it going for so long. The trick is to move the coals from the fire to the grill area and keep the fire going at the back of the fire pit in order to have a continuous supply of red-hot coals.

 

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Klaus farms a number of sheep here and there are many skins hanging up around his barns, drying in the sun. He was concerned since there’s been a problem with either wild dogs or a puma, which has killed a number of their lambs. Luckily, we have seen neither whilst we have been here, but I did see a skunk, and also several lizards sunbathing on a tree trunk.
Day 51 (14th Jan.)
Last night we decided that we would move on today, but this morning we changed our minds and will stay a bit longer! It’s so peaceful, the weather is superb, and the people here in their overland 4×4 (and one 6×6) campers are interesting and most friendly. Fortunately, they (being mostly German and some Israeli) all speak good English.
We went to El Bolson in the afternoon and wandered around a number of craft market stalls, ending up in an Ice Cream Parlour which is said to have the best ice cream in Argentina (at least according to our Lonely Planet Guide).
The day ended as yesterday – very pleasantly with another communal barbeque around the firepit.
Day 52 (15th Jan.)
We decided to have one final day at Klaus’s farm. The others all left in the morning and things were consequently very quiet which was quite nice after a busy and sociable few days. We did no more than relax, read and walk in the continuing warm sunshine.
Day 53 (16th Jan.) – To San Carlos de Bariloche
With some regret we moved on from Klaus’s farm. We probably could have stayed on for another week or longer, peacefully relaxing in the warm sunshine, nipping into El Bolson for supplies and the internet, and chatting with visiting overland types who would be passing through at Klaus’s invitation.

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We were sad to leave the farm after a relaxing week
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On our way to Bariloche, through Argentina’s beautiful lake district

After a relatively short ride, we arrived at Bariloche in the warm mid-afternoon. The ride itself was through beautiful, mountainous landscapes (reminiscent of the Alps which we’ve visited on several occasions), with numerous bends and many ascents and descents, along with two enormous lakes towards the end part of the journey – we were now entering the Argentinian lake district of which Bariloche is the principal town.
We hadn’t pre-booked anywhere to stay, which was a slight concern since the town and surrounding area is a very popular destination for holidaying Argentines in the high season months of January and February. However, after a short while we chanced upon a nice hotel half a mile or so from the town centre, complete with secure underground parking. Our room has distant views of the large lake (Nahuel Huapi) next to the town, and is very comfortable after a week of camping!

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After a week of camping, our new home for two nights in Bariloche
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Bariloche, by the lake
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View over the lake

Day 54 (17th Jan) – In Bariloche
We had an early buffet breakfast on the top floor of the hotel, with spectacular views over Lake Nahuel Huapi and the surrounding mountains. Whilst it was a bit cloudy, the views were by no means spoilt, and by midday the sun had broken through to yet another hot and sunny day. We spent an enjoyable time walking down to Nahuel Huapi and then around the town, which has many chocolate shops, places selling traditional artisan products, cafes and restaurants. There were also numerous craft market stalls and street musicians, and in contrast to all other towns we’ve visited it was very noticeable that there were very few stray dogs lying about in the sunshine. This was by far the most touristy town we’ve stayed in and have read that it’s the most popular area for Argentinians to spend their holidays. In the winter it is a ski resort and so is very similar to any alpine town, with chalet buildings and many sports and hiking shops.
We relaxed with a beer sitting outside a cafe in the sunshine, and just people-watched for an hour before wandering off again. We decided to send some postcards we had written but when we asked for 3 stamps (for the UK) at the Post Office, the cost was £12!…. so we’ll post them in Chile – where we’re next heading – over the next few days.
After eight weeks of travelling, we’ve had a serious think about our route and have decided that quality time in each place we visit is far preferable to rushing from one place to another in trying to visit as many countries as possible in our 5 months. The relaxing week spent on the farm, and talking to other travellers, has made us re-assess what we want to get out of this trip – we’ve both agreed it’s to get a true feel of each place we visit and to make good memories without feeling pressurised to move on quickly. Therefore, we are going to continue north along Ruta 40 for a short while, explore the beautiful ‘seven lakes’ region and then cross back to Chile, over the Andes, and head for the town of Pucon where we can carry out some bike maintenance at a ‘motocamp’ which has been recommended to us. Also, there is an inactive volcano next to Pucon where one can walk up to the lava crater, and also soak in nearby hot springs, both of which we would like to sample. We’ll then head back to Ruta 40 in Argentina and then possibly head over towards the east of the country where the Iguazu Falls (a series of massive waterfalls) are located. One reason for this change of direction, rather than heading north to Columbia as originally planned, is that we have to think about arranging the transportation back to the UK from a sea port (as this is cheaper than air freighting) and there are options of getting a cargo boat from either Buenos Aires or Montevideo. This is a loose plan and as far as plans go, most of ours have changed so we will be flexible!

2 thoughts on “21: Gobernador Costa, Esquel, El Bolson & San Carlos de Bariloche

  1. We bought a map of South America yesterday and spent some time today plotting your route. I have also read through your blog again as I have read most of it in the mornings whilst getting ready to go to work. rally interesting, I have also been Googling some of the places that you have visited absolutely amazing. Why do i get the feeling that you may be going back?

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  2. Hello Mark and Debbie, just to let you know we have been following your blog ,after stumbling across it, and it’s great . The photos are brilliant too. Love to you both, Pam and Terry x

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