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Part 3: San Martin de los Andes to Chiloe

Tuesday morning, at 8:00 am we were on the road to San Martin de los Andes.  We decided to drive the more indirect but better roads way, so we headed to Neuquen, then to Zapala, through Junin de los Andes and finally to San Martin.  It was a long day in the van with very few stops.  We got out for gas or to pee a few times but we really tried to make the best time we could.  About half way to Neuquen, the wind really picked up and it was blowing non-stop until past Zapala, at least eight hours of it.  It was really hard driving, especially in the van because it sits so high up and it catches the gusts.  Poor Der!  He had to drive much slower than normal because of this.  As we entered the region of Neuquen, we entered a part of the Patagonia and they made us throw away all fruit, vegetables, meat and honey because the region is free of a certain fruit fly and another thing that I have no idea what it is.  That was a bummer because we’d just picked up some fresh fruit for the trip.  We also had to get the van sprayed with some kind of chemical, maybe insecticide?, to make sure we weren’t carrying anything in.

That was the most barren stretch of land that I’ve ever driven, except for the desert.  All we saw for hundreds of kilometers was arid land, pampas grass and some goats.  There was very little variation in the countryside until we reached Zapala.  Once we started going south, there were more hills and greener vegetation.  At Junin de los Andes, we headed west towards the mountains and it was just beautiful.  There were pastures with horses and cows in the foothills of the Andes; it made me think of Montana.  We got to our cabins at 9:30 that night – 13 hours of traveling that day.  And the kids did fantastic!  They were so good and hardly complained the whole time.  It really was amazing.  The guy who owned the cabins was less than happy with us and was not friendly at all.  We wish that we could have spent our planned 4 nights in San Martin but there was nothing we could do.  He was ticked off that he had lost all that money and was downright rude to us.  The cabin was great – all wood beams, cozy fireplace, big – 2 bathrooms, 2 bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen.  We just got settled quickly and went to sleep so we could get going early the next morning.

Wednesday morning we got away by 9:00.  We had to leave Argentina that day because of the car insurance so we decided to drive from San Martin to Villa La Angostura following the “Seven Lakes Route”, which is one of Argentina’s most scenic routes.  San Martin is on Lago Lacar and though we didn’t stay long in the town, it was a cute place, much less touristy than Bariloche.  We got a great look at Lacar Lake from Pil Pil Mirador, up above.

Some beautiful wild flowers:




The next lake we saw was Machonico and then out of Lanin National Park and into the Nahuel Huapi National Park.  Just before we got to Lago Falkner we saw the Cascada Vullinanco, a beautiful 20-metre waterfall.  Falkner is a big lake, which is also gorgeous, and Mount Falkner lies behind it, which makes for a pretty scene.  It’s famous for its fishing as is its smaller neighbour, Lago Villarino.  Further along the road, we came to Lago Escondido (“Hidden Lake”) and like our guide book said, it was the most beautiful of the lakes.  It has emerald green water, which was very still, and it is hidden in the forest. 

The next lake was Lago Espejo (“Mirror Lake”), which is the warmest of all of them so it’s a popular beach spot.  The last lake on the tour is Nahuel Huapi, which is the largest of them all.  We stopped at Villa La Angostura, a town on the north side of the lake, and last year, we spent a few days in Bariloche, which is on the south side of the lake.  It was a gorgeous drive and I’m glad we took the whole morning to stop and see the scenery.  It’s a shame we didn’t have more time to explore the area and go on some hikes in these two parks.

We had lunch in Villa la Angostura, which calls itself the Garden of the Patagonia.  It’s a pretty little town and, in our opinion, a better place to stay than Bariloche.  It’s not as touristy, yet has plenty of services.  We ate at a great place and Nana claimed she ate the best fries she’s had in a long time there.  :)

We left Villa la Angostura around 2:00 and enjoyed the drive through the mountain pass Cardinal Samore.  It really is beautiful scenery – the forests, the lakes, the high mountain peaks.  We spent 2 hours at customs, which is what Der and I had guessed.  It just isn’t a fast process, no matter how you do it.  When we came onto the Chilean side, I loved seeing the pastureland with grazing horses and cows and the Andes as the backdrop – gorgeous.

Since we had left Argentina later in the day, we needed to get a move on through Chile to get to Chiloe before dark.  We got to the Panamericana highway and went directly to the ferry.  We were lucky and got onto the ferry within minutes of arriving.  Unfortunately, it was too windy and cold for us to get out and watch.  We drove through Ancud, towards Punihuil, where our cabins were.  I was getting very nervous because it was getting dark and our cabins were not in town, but out on the ocean in the middle of nowhere.  We made it to the cabins just at sunset – phew!
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