Wednesday 1 January 2014

Happy new Year - Neuquen - San Martin - Bariloche - Puerto Montt

First of January 2014, sitting in the (only) open café in Town of Puerto Montt and eating Schwarzwälder Kirsch! The start to the new year could have been worse!

From Mendoza, we went to Neuquen for several reasons. One was, that the bus ride directly to Bariloche or San Martin de Los Andes would have taken about 18 hours, which we didn't want to do; so stopping after about 12 hours seems to be a good idea. Secondly, in this area dinosaurs were found and excaved and last but not least, some quite nice wineries have their bodegas there. So we started with a relaxed trip by car (including driver) to the Bodegas: Familia Schroeder, Fin del Mundo and NQN. Unfortunately, since it was close before Christmas, the Bodega Schroeder did not open, so we went straight to Fin del Mundo. A nice guiding through the huge bodega (8 Million litres of wine per year) followed by a tasty tasting: and all for free! The second bodega NQN was smaller (only 2 Million litres of wine a year) had a surprisingly good red.
The day after, we took the public bus to a little place where a dinosaur museum exists (since they found the biggest carnivore in this region). The stop in the museum did not take too long (although it was a nice one) so we had time to relax on the shore of the lake and enjoy the sunshine, before we had to get back to the bus stop.

Dinosaur in Neuquen
Dinosaur found in Neuquen
Next day, we left Neuquen for San Martin de los Andes to spend Christmas there. San Martin is a layed back town over Christmas: Sunshine, wind, lake, a bit of hiking, trees.... nice and relaxing. In San Martin, we also had the chance to use our kitchen gear the first time (knife + anti-stick-pan) since our hostal had a kitchen that could be used! So we cooked our own Christmas dinner on the 25th of December (anyway: most of the restaurants are closed on that day as well!).

San Martin de Los Andes
But we actually wanted to do something else there: from Aconcagua, we had some gear we are not using anymore, so we packed a parcel with things and wanted to send it back home... well, before Christmas, all people want to pay there bills in the post office, so we waited 30 minutes in line for our parcel. Usually, this was never an issue, but they've changed rules: we were told, that all parcels need to go through "Aduana" (custom) first. But there is one just down the street, and after, you come back. Although this Aduana office has opening hours, it did not open the week we were there! So once we went to the bus stop for changing to Bariloche, we had a nice packet to carry extra!
As we arrived, we asked the cab driver to stop at the Aduana office first to check whether they are open or not... well, they were not open although the schedule suggested it. Luckily, the owner of the hostel we stayed knew, that there is another Aduana office in the post office, so we checked it: Opening Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 09.00 - 11.30... So we had no choice than going there again next morning. As we arrived shortly after 9, the office was actually open and there was already a queue waiting to pick up parcels. But finally, our gear was checked (note: 45 minutes waiting for a 1 minute check) and we were able to send out our stuff (5 kg less in our backpacks).
Once this was done, we took the bus to a bycicle rental store to do the "Cirquito Chico" by bike. This is a 30 km ride around the lakes in this area, perfect for taking pictures of the surroundings. Furthermore, we went for a tipical dish in Bariloche: Cheese fondue! Quite tasty!

View at Cirquito Chico
View at Cirquito Chico

View at Cirquito Chico
Besides the lake, there is also some mountains you can climb next to Bariloche, so we took the public bus again and hiked the Cerro Turista. The guy from the Club Andina (SAC of Argentina) told us: 4 hours to the refugio and 1 hour up to the top; It took us a bit more than 2 hours to the refugio but almost as long to the summit, so the guy had no clue how it looks like there. Climbing the summit really included climbing up some pretty steep sections, waling through snow fields and creeks and we were happy to have our big boots on; Other people (Argentinians) did the same tour with sneekers, converse shoes and we saw at least one person wearing sandals! But it was worth the effort, the view was great from the top!

Laguna on the way to the summit
Panoramic view
Summit seat
Our initial plan was, that we wanted to travel south to Esquel to visit the national park there, but there are some issues with a plant and the hanta virus and nobody was reacting on our emails, so we changed the plan to head west to Puerto Montt to start the trip on the Carretera Austral. On the way to Chile, we had to pass the border (which is always a fun thing to do!): Firstly, the Argentinians could not find my entrance to Argentina in the system any more but this was solved quickly, since I was leaving the country anyway. But on the Chilean side, the fun begins. Firstly, we waited about 45 minutes in the bus to approach the border / vegetable control post. Then, they unload all the luggage and check it with two dogs (looking for drugs and plants). After this, you bring your hand-luggage for such a control as well and then you queue up for an hour to get the entrance stamp. There were about 8 people in charge of checking the luggage but only one person for the border control :-) and all other vehicles at the border had to wait until our bus was done... what a waist of time! But finally, we reached Chile... but to make things a bit more interesting, in Osorno, we had to change the bus. Reason: None. Information: none. So, our luggage was unloaded and put into the other bus, and you can guess it: there was not enough space in this bus for all of us! So the bus driver was checking with some other companies and finally, we unloaded our luggage again and changed to a second bus. Welcome to South America! :-) But finally, we arrived in Puerto Montt 2 hours late, but we arrived. And in the evening, we found a very nice restaurant just around the corner for some delicious sea food and meat (Doña Julia).

Puerto Montt has not too many sights to see, but the fish market and the fish restaurants are definitely worth a visit. You can see the catches of the day and you can watch the fisher slicing the fish for the customers. Upstairs, you have about 30 restaurants (small ones with about 10 seats each) where you can enjoy freshly cooked sea food (home made style).

Broken boat in Puerto Montt
Fish market
Fish market
In the evening, we joined the hostel crew's new years dinner and party. They invited their neighbours / families for food, sparkling wine, there was a firework at midnight and a karaoke contest after, including the right amount of wine for a long night! Very good fun, so we are glad that we went there.

Starting into 2014
And now, we are planning the Carretera Austral, a gravel road to the remote places in the south of chile. The idea is, to travel down to Villa O'Higgins (the end of the Carretera) and cross the border there back to Argentina. We'll see how it goes, especially tomorrow (2nd) will be special since we have a bus to Chaiten, a city that was destroyed 2008 by a volcano and it seems to be rebuild partially.

Carretera Austral - here it starts