Argentina: Parks, rivers, lakes and a sudden u-turn

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Crossing Paso Cordoba (National Parks Argentina)

We were about to ride across a stunningly beautiful area, among National Parks, ancient forests, fast flowing rivers and transparent lakes...

We were still under the influence of our previous – unbelievable – day when we packed our stuff and started to ride towards the RN40. Someone on the border had given us a priceless piece of information regarding which route to take. Apparently, the obvious one was in bad condition and it was way better to turn on the RP6 and ride towards a village called Andacollo. From there, the road (RP43) was all paved. (*NOTE - to the person who gave us this tip: if you're reading this piece, we owe you a beer!)

The “smooth” ride lasted only a few miles, until we left the RN40 and turned on the RP27 towards two small but interesting villages: Caviahue and Copahue. However, before arriving at the villages, we made another turn just to see a waterfall (Salto del Agrio) that, according to what we had been told: it was worth visiting. When we saw the waterfall we realized that “worth visiting” was an understatement. It was springtime and nature was at its best. The snow-capped peaks were in stark contrast to the green grass carpet that stretched across the plain, with orange and yellow patches of flowers scattered on its surface. The sound of the waterfall was like a thunder in the distance and as we were getting closer it became louder and louder. When we rode to the end of the narrow dirt road the view was amazing! We didn't care about the strong freezing wind anymore. We just spent the night in our tent next to the waterfall and when we woke up the next morning we were rewarded with a rainbow emerging from the water.

We were riding towards Copahue (the most secluded of the two villages) and the area was gradually turning into a weird otherworldly scenery: black volcanic rocks, wavy turquoise lakes, lazy geysers letting out little clouds of steam and the smell of sulfur around. When we took the last turn to the village, the scooter's brakes screeched. We had to stop for a moment and take our time to realize where we were. The spring had completely forgotten this place. Huge rocks of frozen snow that had fallen from the sloping roofs, were blocking most of the houses' entrances and only few signs of life (mostly smoke coming from two or three chimneys) were apparent. The most weird sight though, were the two pools – one with steaming water coming from the hot springs and the other filled with clay mud – in the middle of the village. The whole place owes its existence to the thermal waters of the area, but it was too early and everything was still closed. The visitors would start coming in two months, when the cold wouldn't be that unbearable (high season starts late December – early January). There wasn't any place to stay and with that cold, the tent wasn't an option, so after a short walk in the village we hopped on the scooter and headed towards the other village.

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Caviahue was beautiful, but with a more conventional kind of beauty. So, we continued to the next destination, Las Lajas. We avoided the RN40 because we had been told that that part was painfully dull, so we rode on the RP21 and we went directly to the municipal campsite of the town. Not long after we had set up our tent, we saw Joe and Susie, the two British cyclists we had met some days ago coming towards us. Our pace is more in line with that of a cyclist than that of a motorcyclist. We spent 2-3 more days together doing barbecues, drinking local wine, sharing our stories from the road and laughing – a lot!

One option was to continue on the RN40, but – guess what – we didn't. We took a turn and went to see another beautiful village: Villa Pehuenia. When we got there, it wasn't the place itself that made our jaws drop, but the stunning nature around it. So, instead of heading directly back to the main road and continue south, we got deeper into the ancient forest of araucarias (araucaria araucana), found a secluded spot next to a transparent (and icy cold) stream, set up our tent and spent another magic night in the absolute peace of the forest.

We would happily agree to erase the following day from our memory, if this was possible! Starting a few miles from where we were and all the way to Junin de los Andes, the road was an endless construction site. Our trip had became a nightmare of trucks, dust, traffic jam and all kinds of heavy machinery. And the icing on this disgusting cake was that we arrived late at an overpriced campsite where we had to stay for two days in order to wait for the shops to open and buy a new battery for Kitsos.

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Fortunately, the RN40 was not dull anymore. We headed towards San Martin de los Andes, a tourist town by the lake Lacar. This is where the famous Road of the Seven Lakes (Camino de los 7 Lagos) begins. As its name implies, it is a scenic road – part of the RN40 – that crosses among 7 main lakes, some rivers, lagoons and various streams. The end of this route is the town Villa la Angostura, but there are a lot of options for other, shorter routes along the main one. It was one of those routes we chose: the RP63 towards Paso Cordoba, a mountain pass in an almost untouched natural landscape and from there (after one night in our tent, at the confluence of the Limay and Traful rivers) back to the RN40 via RP65.

The next part of our trip had a completely predictable course, which resulted in a unpredictable decision – which was not that unpredictable though, but we didn't know that back then. It seems a bit confusing but I'll try to make things more clear: the places we had seen all the previous days were stunningly beautiful, but our trip at some point started repeating itself. Each day was the same as the previous one. We needed to check on our maps to be sure whether we were next to the right lake and refer to our calendars all the time in order to see what day it was. Our cameras were full of nice pictures, but our journals were empty of stories and soon, we realized why. We were traveling across one of Argentina's most touristic areas. Seeing travelers from all over the world was not interesting for the locals anymore. They were all polite, but our conversations were short and the subjects the same: How much does it cost to camp here? What's on the menu? This side of Patagonia may be ideal for holidays, for an escape from the everyday life of the cities, but after a short while it could contribute very little to our kind of travel.

We didn't even enter the famous city of Bariloche, Argentina's Switzerland as some tourist guides call it. Kitsos carried on covering as many miles per day as possible, with us traveling in silence, lost in our thoughts. Another night in our tent under the starry sky, next to a river with crystal water (river Villegas) and from there, directly to the small town of Trevelin. Our crossing through the National Park Los Alerces was a really fast one – camping there for one night would cost us the total budget of a whole day. Fortunately, it was still low season, so the park rangers just let us cross it without paying the entrance fee (under the condition that we would exit the park on the same day).

Our initial plan was to continue on the RN40 until Los Antiguos and from there, cross into Chile (Chile Chico). In 2015, we had done the same but following the opposite direction. This time we were thinking of riding across the southern part of Carretera Austral until Villa O'Higgins – the end of the road. However, the days we spent at the peaceful campsite in Trevelin helped us relax, clear our heads, talk and finally make up our minds. We were now sure that we didn't need more lakes, more rivers and forests. What we needed was more people, more stories to remember, more unpredictable situations. So, four days later, when we packed our stuff and started Kitsos' engine, we knew what we had to do.

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To be continued...

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We (Stergios & Alexandra) are traveling around the world 2-up on a Vespa scooter. For 4 years we've been traveling in Africa & South America and we're still rolling. Our book "Rice and Dirt: Across Africa on a Vespa" is now available.

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