Andes Lakes and Fjords: Los Alerces National Park

15 12 2011

Into the Andes

I awake early to try and catch a sunrise picture of the Andes before breakfast! Guess what? It’s clear again! Wow! I walk all over Esquel, but can’t get a worthy shot. There are always trees or a building in the way! Where I have a good view of a mountain, it is only partly sunlit as it’s so early. Not photo worthy. Defeated, I head back to the hotel for breakfast. We’re going to Los Alerces National Park today. Everyone’s excited to see lakes, fjords, snow capped mountains and to get out and hike!

Off we go. The road winds and climbs through spectacular valleys with ranches, surrounded with white peaks. Along a bend in the road, we pass a gaucho with his sheep dogs. Some views remind me of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

A gaucho, but without a herd...

When we get to the park entrance, it turns out to be closed for winter – we are here early. It opens in a couple of weeks. Although facilities are not open yet we can still enjoy the park’s trails and lake shores. Los Alerces National Park was established to protect a tree of national significance, the Alerces tree, a giant of the cypress family. It can grow to 220 feet high and live 2,500 years. The slow-growing trees were prized for building materials, and thus most were logged. This national park protects one of the last stands.

We had the park to ourselves. It covers 500,000 acres, and there are several fjord-like lakes that seem to stretch forever. It’s beautiful!

Wow.

We stop at several beaches to take in the spectacular scenery! Popular with fishermen, for its rainbow and brown trout, the area is also a magnet for backpackers, mountain bikers and swimmers.

Other flora includes the Patagonian Beech and bamboo. The Patagonian Beech towers over everything in the forest!

Most of the park is untouched, because there are only roads in the east. The ecosystem is best described as a temperate rainforest.

The beaches have lifeguard towers, which are now empty but signal that the area must be popular in summer.

The highlight of the day is a hike! After so much road time, I’m happy the trip is going to include a lot of hiking from now on. I love to be out on the trail!

So, we hit the trail, and it’s not long before we reach a suspension bridge over a river which connects two of these big lakes.

It’s so picturesque! And looking down I can see 20 trout.

I have never been to New Zealand, but I continue to wonder if this looks like parts of New Zealand’s South Island? I’ll just have to go there to find out.

Well, I didn’t know the name of the exact spot in this video, but it was on the trail in the park! Very pretty.

The clarity of the water and its blue green color was incredible!

Just another gorgeous day!

Our walk winds up and down, along the rivers – it’s a big circuit taking a couple of hours.

We’ll have lunch on the lake, and then it’ll be on to our end-of-day destination, Bariloche, capital of Argentina’s Lake District.

We continue on to El Bolson, where we stop for a break. I mail some post cards, and we also get some of that yummy Argentine ice cream.

The empty road crests at the outskirts of Bariloche, and we can look above to see the ski area – the Lake District is happening in winter with several ski areas around, plus it sits on the mega huge Lago Nahuel Huapi. When we can see from this crest, a distinct change in the weather is obvious! We can see a haze in the distance. Is it changing weather? Nope. In fact it is a cloud of volcanic ash! I had heard there was a volcano in Chile that was erupting since June, and we have arrived in its domain. This is the infamous Puyehue Volcano, which has cancelled flights all summer! We’ll be directly dealing with this pesky villain in the next couple of days!





From the Atlantic to the Andes, and Esquel (via Arizona)

11 12 2011

The adventure turns west. We leave the Atlantic behind, and will continue to make our way over the Andes mountains, to the Pacific. Of course, we’ll not be doing this in a day! We’ll be stopping in Esquel, a small ski town, then Bariloche, Argentina’s ski mecca, and then stop in Puerto Montt, Chile, which sits at the top of Chile’s vast fjord system.

Let's not have a breakdown out here!

Today we have a lot of territory to cover. Leaving Puerto Madryn, we’ll spend hours crossing the Argentinian steppe, a vast flat area said to be the 7th largest desert in the world, with flora like Central Oregon. Crossing this region, you sometimes imagine hills, when there are none. And it’s empty – which is normal in Patagonia!

At long last we do see hills.

Arizona? Nope. Argentina!

The road takes us into a region completely overlooked by Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. It has areas resembling Arizona, or the John Day River!

Where's Clint Eastwood?

Or Oregon’s Painted Hills! Only more of them.

It takes us a couple of hours to pass through this fascinating area.

I was really surprised it isn’t mention, and it’s totally unpopulated.

Activate your zoom to find the guanaco to the right of the summit!

We pass through a valley and we can see painted hills everywhere.

I’m thinking they are like the ones in Oregon – they are ash deposits from distant volcanoes – in this case they are Andes volcanoes.

I am very excited to witness the Andes for real! I wonder if they will look anything like the Himalayas.

After spending so much time in the steppe, all of us are looking forward to seeing mountains all around.

And then we round a bend, and there they are!

Lonely highway with Andes! We are there at last!

It’s not long before snowy, craggy peaks stretch from south to north horizon to horizon – and we are quite far away. I must be looking 70 miles in each direction. And then, what’s this? Something not supposed to be here. But there it (they) are! Pink flamingos all hanging out in this pond way up here?

Flamingos out of nowhere!

It doesn’t take long for me to get used to seeing mountains all around. As they loom closer, I can see lots of snow up above. We are told it will melt and by summer, except for the glaciers, it will all be gone. The mountains look like they must be above 10,000 feet, yet Saskia says they are no more than 6,000.

Toward 5 p.m. we arrive in Esquel, a small ski town, with the La Hoya resort sitting above. It’s late spring, so it’s pretty quiet. But everywhere there are signs of alpine tourism. Esquel is the gateway to Los Alerces National Park.

There are chocolate shops, ski shops, rental shops and tour guides.

There are lots and lots of restaurants, and we are HUNGRY!

But we are in Argentina. We must remember that restaurants won’t be open until 8:00 at the earliest!

So we bide our time, talking in the hotel lobby and then walking around.

This young lady walks into the hotel looking very tired, and a bit sad. She sits down on the couch, across the coffee table from me. I ask what has she seen today? She turns out to be from Spain, and was part of a Spanish version of the reality show “Survivor!” She just got voted off! They had spent three weeks being shuttled around blind in the back of a truck from one “survivor venue” to another. They had practically nothing to eat. She had gotten very close to her teammates! She was pretty bummed, and was going home shortly. But she was glad for the experience.

Well, it was getting near “dinner time,” so we wended our way through Esquel’s streets in search of a meal. We dug up one spot with a likely menu – one that actually had fresh salads! We poked our heads inside, and nobody spoke English. Christof, our universal translator, stepped in and somehow worked everything out. They were not open yet but they took us. Then we got some beer while they got the table ready. And when it came time to read the un-readable menu Christof was there to help out and order, and make diplomatic amends with our server, who turned out to be super cute.

This was one memorable meal full of giggles and laughs, the conversation degenerated on both the female and male sides to less-than formal, more like stories of early life encounters with the opposite sex, and preferences, and such! Soon another bottle of wine was on the table, and we began to wonder what the other people in the restaurant thought of us.

And that was only the beginning. Afterward we ran into Yap and Patricia and all of us went on a pub crawl, winding up at this totally cool old style bar with all kinds of Patagonian mementos hanging from the walls. We succeeded in persuading the proprietors to play dance music and went on from there!

On the way home I saw the Southern Cross for the first time! Or so I thought. What I saw was what turns out to be a “false” Southern Cross!” No matter. I would continue to search for it!

Looking forward to hiking in Los Alerces National Park tomorrow!