Patagonia - part II

1 January 2017 – 18 January 2017

Our big trip to Patagonia – Part II

In this installment of the series of posts on our trip to Patagonia we travel to Peninsula Valdes to see sea lions and more penguins, visit Bariloche and surroundings and dive back into Chile to continue our trip down the Carratera Austral.

It’s the second in this series and the first documented our trip to Buenos Aires, the island of Chiloé and the first part of the Carratera Austral.

We left you in Futaleufú, or Futa for short, where we celebrated New Year’s Eve with friends. By then we had already decided we would skip into Argentina to evade the rain. Our little van, or ‘Schuddel Buddel’ did not have a lot of inside space to spend any significant amount of time, and so with two kids we decided the amount rainy days were better kept to a minimum.

(Part I is available as well and so is Part III and Part IV)

Los Gauchos

On January 1st we crossed the border into Argentina and in the city of Esquel, we ran into this beautiful horse. We just had to stop and snap a few pictures.

After that was done we continued to Parco Nacional Los Alerces. It was a beautiful area; the rain didn’t stop however.

"How far was it again...

to Pensinsula Valdes?”, I asked Lin after a semi-serious suggestion to head to the other side of the continent get away from the rain. “Err…, well, about 600km”, she said. “Okay, let’s go then”, I concluded our short deliberation.

Originally we had not planned to go there but the weather
continued to get worse and one thing was sure: on the Atlantic coast the weather would be great!

And so at 3pm we set off and pretty much didn’t stop driving until about 4am the next morning when we reached Playa Union close to Rawson on the Atlantic Coast.

The next day we woke up on the beach and continued our trip to Puerto Piramides, on Peninsula Valdes. 600km turned out to be 800km, but that didn’t spoil the fun!

Elephant Seals

Peninsula Valdes is home to a large array of marine wildlife. Ranging from Elephant Seals…

Sea Lions

… to sea lions…

Penguins

…and penguins.

Whales

are frequenting Peninsula Valdes a lot, but unfortunately we were too late to see any of them. There’s a lot else to see though; we came across this owl for example.

Beach life

On our way back from Peninsula Valdes we stopped by at Puerto Madryn. Beach life is pretty good there and for just one second we considered staying here for 6 more weeks ;-).

But no...

we longed back to rainy, windy and cold Patagonia. And so the next day we crossed the pampa once again to head back to the Andes.

Lago Epuyén and Bariloche

Being flexible in these two and a half months proved out to be really valuable. In this case for example, we came back to the west of Argentina with yet another few days of rain forecast for Chile. We really wanted to get back to Chile but before we did so, we opted to go slightly north to the Lago Epuyén area and Bariloche.

Before we did that, we spent one night near Tecka, where the Ruta 25 meets the infamous Ruta 40. We had used Ruta 25 to go west to east and back. Ruta 40 is the highway running north to south through entire Argentina.

Near Tecka we decided to take our chances again at camping at a farmer and we were lucky. Taking two lefts of the main road we ran into Eduardo’s farm and hopped onto his property. We had a great time talking about how his ancestors arrived in the region and how farming was like here. Indi and Jona liked it a lot with several horses and lots of sheep to play with.

Dos Que Van

was the name of the little restaurant we had lunch at near Lago Epuyén. The name refers to the two rivers coming together near the village and lake.

Play time

The food was great and so were the people. They just loved children.

With a very playful outdoor area we sat watching Indi and Jona play nicely together for a long time (that was a first) as we enjoyed our lunch.

Bariloche

We didnt’ stay in the Lago Epuyén region very long and traveled to Bariloche. A major tourist hub, this city lies at the Southern coast of Lago Nahuel Huapi and offers great scenery.

Cerro Llao Llao

We hiked up to the Llao Llao summit, although it’s more of a hill. Other than that the Circuito Chico was nice as a drive and the Swiss Colony (we didnt’ see many Swiss left there) is a nice place to hang out and have some food.

Villa la Angostura

Coming in at a much smaller scale, Villa la Angostura is a lot less touristy and we prefer it over Bariloche any time. It lies at the northern shore of the same lake and we had a great time there all around.

Especially the area close by the lake has some nice terraces and restaurants with good food.

Unfortunately we didn’t make it all the way up to San Martin de los Andes. Many suggested this is the beautiful (and again, much smaller) version of Bariloche, but it was too far out of our way for us.

El Buho Blanco

Situated in a beautiful spot along Ruta 40 between Bariloche and El Bolson, this quirky bar is completely constructed by hand by an Italian-speaking Argentinan rock-a-billy.

I don’t have lots of pictures, but please have a look at their Facebook page or better yet, pass by! Highly recommended.

A leaking radiator and

one flat tyre aside, our little Schuddel Buddel proved to be quite a trustworthy companion. The Wicked guys were generally very helpful the occasional time we needed them and I would always recommend them over any other camper (or even car) rental agency for a trip like this.

This slight inconvenience that in the end didn’t cost us a lot of time anyway marked the end of our side-trip in Argentina.
Back to Chile!!

Originally planning to stay in Futa again for a few days, slightly earlier we had learnt that Nico, Indi’s friend there had become seriously ill and was hospitalized in Santiago. His parents were of course with him.

Quite sad about this, we only briefly stopped by in Futa to drop off a present for his little brother and left again to make our way back to the Carretera Austral.

Raul Marín Balmaceda

Long before our trip started Lin had somehow managed to find one spot she absolutely had to visit. Everybody we met she asked about it, every time she had the opportunity to mention it, she did.

It would be teaming with sea lions, it would very remote, very undeveloped and overall a magical place, that would beat all expectations, she said.

So after coming back to the Carretera Austral and making one overnight stop in La Junta (dinner at Mi casita da Té was fairly okay, slightly overrated in the only guide we used), we set off on the X-12, a gravel road straddling the Rio Palena moving west. X means ‘seriously bad road’ and the fact that they were in the process of grading and sealing the road while we were driving on it made it even worse. It was one of only times I wished the Wicked campers were 4x4s. We made it there nonetheless without any scratches.

Raul Marín Balmaceda was only connected to the Carretera Austral in 2009, before that time only accesible by boat and I have to say, Lin was absolutely right about the place. The village, technical an island (you have to cross the Palena river with a short 5-minute ferry ride) is small and has the Pacific ocean on one side and a deserted yet beautiful fjord on the other.

The village is also home to Fundo los Leones and this is where we headed first. Arriving like guests, we left like family. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of our entire trip.

Mery and Maurico

were our wonderful hosts at the Fundo and welcomed us as part of their family right from the start. Originally bought by Doug Tompkins some time 20 years ago, Mery and Mauro have been the caretakers ever since.

Leaving us totally surprised

half an hour after our arrival M&M offered us to watch our kids while we went on a kayak trip. We quickly took them up on their offer and had the most wonderful natuture experience ever.

Dolphins and penguins

popped up out of nowhere just meters away from our kayaks and apart from our paddles touching the water, the only other sound was the barking of the sea lions. 

"Picture, picture!",

shouted Lin, when just two meters away from my kayak a huge male sea lions curiously stuck his head out of the water. I could almost touch it with my paddle.

I opted to move out of the way. 8-degree water and and hour away from the lodge without any other sign of human in sight, I didn’t want to end up dipping my toes (or more). 

Indi and Jona

in the meantime had been taken great care of and that evening we helped cooking. With a very nice homemade tomato sauce by chef (and son of Mery and Mauro) Filippe, Alef made gnocchi. We all had a blast. 

Boat trip

The next day we decided we didn’t want to keep all that animal beauty away from Indi and Jona and went on a boat trip. Just 15 minutes into the trip, Jona fell asleep and although Indi did get to see the sea lions and a few penguins, she too was snoring in our arms when the dolphins were circling the boat. Oh well 😉

Chicks

literally just miniutes out of their egg though proved to be a replacement more than good enough for them, as these pictures more than adequately show.

Really, Mauricio and Mery went out of their way to make our stay a great one. Highly recommended!

Relax on the beach...

Back to shore

Two days after we had arrived we hopped back on the ferry and went back to shore. Passing by La Junta once more we got back on the Carratera Austral and continued our journey down south.

A Hopperdietzel in Puyuhuapi

About 90 minutes south of La Junta lies the beautiful town of Puyuhuapi. Situated at the end of the fjord by the same name it was founded some 80 years ago by a group of Sudeten-German settlers.

The history of the settlers in Patagonia is fascinating and it defines the region’s people and culture. The story about the founding of Puyuhuapi and its history is one of the better documented ones around and it’s fascinating!

Otto Übel and Karl Ludwig, after being inspired by explorer Hans Steffen, set off to Chile in 1933, escaping Europe in the light of war looming. They were joined in 1935 by Ernesto Ludwig and Walter Hopperdietzel and together they founded Puyuhuapi.

Their first houses flooded or burnt. They didn’t know a great deal about agriculture, nor did they have any prior experience with building a village in the middle of nowhere (but then again, who has). They grew fond of their first pigs making their butchering a dramatic event. All in all it doesn’t sound like it was very successful.

Some 80 years laters though, Puyuhuapi is one of the nicer villages along the entire Carratera Austral and it has managed to retain the settler vibe, while increasing services for tourists.

Hopperdietzel beers

are some of the best Patagonia has on offer and are even better when thinking about the hardships Walter and his friends have gone through founding  village. Lin clearly didn’t like the fact that she was still breastfeeding Jona…

Lost and found

Plenty of stuff was forgotten or lost on this trip. Three pairs of shoes, hats, clothes, it seems as if traveling with kids makes it impossible to keep all our stuff together.

In Raul Marín Balmaceda we managed to leave our passports behind. We were fortunate enough that Mery and Mauro were able to get them to La Junta, shortening the drive to pick them up to about 2 hours instead of 5.

Lin stayed behind while I got the passports and as you can see, Puyuhuapi has plenty of entertainment for the kids too. 

 

Parque Nacional Queulat

The day before retrieving our passports we went to Parque Nacional Queulat, a short drive south of Puyuhuapi.

The park is home to a beautiful hanging glacier. We hiked to the lake that offers a great viewpoint of the glacier, but when making this report, we thought you’d much rather see a picture of a happy Jona in a swing instead. So here goes ;-).

Restaurants

Frankly speaking, our trip wasn’t one with many culinary highlights. We had some good food occasionally, but generally speaking there are few restaurants worth mentioning in the smaller villages along the Carratera.

Puyuhuapi is a notable exception to this rule with two or three very good restaurants. The guide books don’t mention Mi Sur, although it was our favorite and El Muelle offer great fish in local ‘a la pobre’ style.

And with that, we left Puyuhuapi, amazed by its history and that of its founders a.k.a. settlers that first arrived there 80 years ago.

End of part II

And with that, part II comes to an end. After having left Puyuhuapi we continued our way south again. The Carretera Austral immediately south of Puyuhuapi is under construction at this point and is definitely one of the roughest parts of the whole road.

Our next goal was Puerto Aysén, previously capital of the Aysén region. We made one stop along the way, at another farmer and apart from a lot of rain, our stay there was rather uneventful.

In the Part III we travel to Puerto Aysén, hike up to Cerro Castillo, go to Coyhaique and finish the last bits of the Carratera Austral.