For my final week or so I travelled to Northwest Argentina in the Salta region. Not a lot of time to write, but there is another hitch-hiker story coming.]]>
As my trip into Chile came to an end, I headed over the border back into Argentina and to the north.
My cough was getting worse, so pulled over a small town and found what turned out to be a very nice fishing lodge. The owner was 51 and just retired from Air France. He had been out driving, found this lodge, and 10 months ago took it over.
It’s around 15 kilometers south of where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out. I could understand why they chose the location because it feels extremely remote. But even while feeling remote, I had my laptop out was using the owner’s WiFi, so things have changed since those days.
Here’s a picture of the owner’s two horse that wander in the backyard. After I got down with my walk, one of them ambled by window.
After visiting the volacano in Chile, I made my way south and spent the night in a small, mostly wood, hotel in Hornopiren before taking a nine-hour ferry south.
I didn’t find the people in Hornopiren especially friendly, at first. Hostile stares, no answer when I would say “Hola”, and a general unfriendliness. Very different from the rest of Chile, but this is a remote area and there is a lot of tension because of a new park.
The evening became dramtically better after I got a restaurant suggestion from the Internet cafe. The Central Plaza Restaurant didn’t look like much on the outside, but inside it was decorated by someone with obvious natural talent.
Upbeat jazz music was playing, tableclothes with yellow sunflowers, warm and tasteful lighting - it was all put together nicely. And the local salmon! Best salmon I’ve ever had. Sauteed in butter with various herbs, it was absolutely delicious.
They even had WiFi, so after eating I walked back with my laptop and spent the rest of the evening there watching a Shania Twain concert on the big screen television with some tourists and locals. A nice evening, and a reminder not to be too quick to judge a town.]]>
So after the good luck with my first hitchhiker, I decided to try it again.
I was in the small town of Conaripe, Chile and wanted to visit some hotsprings. The town had zero information, but the map showed three to the north, so I got into my car and headed north on a rough gravel road.
A couple kilometers into it a woman had her thumb out and, from what I could guess, looked at least partially from the indigenous Mapuche culture. “No hablo espanol,” I said, but told her I was going to the thermal baths.
She got in for about 10 kilometers until we reached a church were she wanted out. As she left I pointed to the hot springs and asked “el mejor?”.
“Geometricas, si si, Geometricas,” she said.
It’s not much of name, and the signs to it were nothing special. It was two kilometers out of the way to visit, and I thought about turning back based on how unpromising the road looked, but I was an hour into the trip by now and decided to take a chance.
I am so glad I went up that road. These were incredible hot springs, unlike anything I’ve ever been to.
Here is the best I can describe. They were located in a long mountain valley which started with a waterfall. A stream then went through the 30-meter wide valley and waist-high wading pools had been incorpated into the boulders and cliff walls. Some of the pools were cold, but others tapped into the hot sulphur water, so there was an entire range of temperatures and locations.
A red wooden boardwalk let you walk up and down the entire facility and find a place to soak. I spent several relaxing hours there, so much that I head to delay my journey to Pucon and and spend the night back in Conaripe.
More great advice from a hitchhiker.]]>
I get asked a lot what city I’m from, but most people haven’t been familiar with St. Louis (or “San Luis” as I’ll sometimes say).
I usually add something like “en el centro”, or that it is next to “el rio Mississippi”, which many people know about. If it’s still not helping, and they want to know more, I’ll settle for saying Chicago, which always works.
In Chile when I mentioned the Mississippi, several people nodded their heads and said Tom Sawyer. The book is required reading in some of the schools.
On my last day in Bariloche, I got my biggest surprise yet regarding international awareness of St. Louis. I had spent the afternoon taking a ski lift up the side of a mountain, where as you can see I enjoyed an espresso while admiring the view.
I also used the local bus which is good for this type of short excursion outside the city, but is dusty and hot, so I figured I could use some wine from a sidewalk cafe. The waiter asked what city I was from, and I told him St. Louis.
“Ruta Sesenta y Seis,” he said.
I didn’t think I heard right, so he said it in english: “Route Sixty Six”.
He had never been to the United States, so I asked him how he knew about Route 66. “I read”. Then he sort of shrugged his shoulders and walked back to the kitchen like it was no big deal.
I figured if he wanted to give me attitude about knowing St. Louis and Route 66, he probably earned it. I got a little more out of him later, which is that he read it in a tourism book.
It was a very impressive detail about St. Louis. If he ever does visit the United States, maybe I’ll take him to trivia night.]]>
While on the top of the volcano overlooking Pucon, Chile, I walked to the other side to watch an Australian guy throw rocks into it - you can see one falling in this picture. Not too sure what the desired outcome of this experiment was, but it was interesting that we didn’t hear them hit bottom
After a while, we saw the guide on the other side yelling and waiving at us. We couldn’t make out the words, but assumed he wanted us back.
When we got back he was able to explain. They felt the sulfur fumes coming up from the volcano were getting too strong and it was no longer safe to be over there. They were probably right, it was starting to get really smelly.
A couple of signs seen along the back roads.
Road sign in Patagonia region of Argentina. Exactly what kind of car is that?
The Fanta-Chopp guys needed to get back to work fixing things up for the upcoming tourist season, so I spent a nice hour by the lake waiting for the ferry. The one-and-a-half-hour trip went through a long, blue lake in the midst of a national park and I spent most of it chatting with a Chilean government official.
As we pulled into port I had my new directions written on a notebook. I was waiting for the ferry to finish landing when an old man rapped his finger on my window.
I couldn’t understand his Spanish but guessed he was saying the name of the city I was heading for that night. I showed him the notebook and he confirmed. Then he pointed at himself and then at my passenger-side empty seat.
I paused, and he said “no, ok” and started to leave. A flood of thoughts went through my head: these roads are rough and a local guide will help; if the car breaks down I’ll need someone to show me where to go for assistance; if he has a gun he could rob me.
“Si, si,” I said and pointed to the empty seat.
It was a quiet trip through a bumpy gravel road with deep potholes, steep hills and sharp curves. At one point I stepped outside to release some of the Fanta-Chopp and the stars were as bright as I had ever seen. Very little civilization here, and no light sources from cities.
We reached the town at around 11:30 p.m. It’s always hard finding a hotel in the dark in a small town and the man asked me if I had a place to stay. I said no and said something like “economia?”.
I think he was asking if I wanted a cheap one, and I said yes, and he directed me through some streets until we pulled up in front of a small hostel.
“Muchas gracias,” he said, shook my hand, and walked away.
After sitting there a minute to get my bearings I rang the hostel door and asked for a room. The woman said sure and within five minutes I had my car parked in a secure lot and was in a spotless, cozy room.
The day didn’t start off well at all, but things really came together to help me get safely into Chile.]]>
Border crossings make me nervous and someone in Argentina hold told me the Chileans could be difficult.
It turned out to be fine. There are two stations about 1 kilometer apart - one for Argentina and the other for Chile and you need to stop at each. At the Chile outpost I was the only one there, but still had to visit each of the three stations in the building: one to show my passport, another to declare I only had personal belongings, and a third in which the man checked my trunk and car for vegetables and meat (no food is allowed to be brought into Chile).
It was about 3:30 p.m. and after 15 kilometers into Chile, there was no more road: I would need to take a ferry. The Chilean customs agent said the next one didn’t come until 8 p.m.
What was I to do for four hours? It was nice out, so sitting by the lake wasn’t a bad thing. Then I saw a sign for a “canopy” tour and went to check it out.
The canopy tour itself was fun, though just before I started the owner said “you’re our first customer this year and there are some things to fix”. They had cables strung up between the trees and you held on to a device and rolled from station to station. I got to talking to the two guys who ran it and they wanted me to try a local favorite: Fanta-Chopp.
This is beer mixed with Orange Fanta. For beer purists who shudder at the thought, let me say that I tried the beer plain and the Fanta was an improvement.
We sat in the wooden restaurant with skins of local animals hanging on the walls and talked about my route. What I intended was all wrong.
The ferry would drop us off after sundown at 9:30 p.m. and the road I wanted to go on would be extremely difficult for my tiny Volkswagen Gol, especially at night. They drew out a route that would let me get to a town within a couple of hours on a slightly better road.
It was a really good thing I ran into them.
But that wasn’t the end of my border crossing story. In part 3, read about what happened when I picked up my first hitchhiker.]]>