Being stationary and very comfortable for a week at Lorraine’s place made us a bit itchy for the road, and we headed straight south without spending much time in Valparaiso or Santiago. At this part of the continent, there are a dozen or so large lakes distributed across both sides of the Andean mountains. Chile and Argentina share them equally, like well behaved sisters. To get a good sense of the area, one needs to go back and forth between the two countries once or twice. So that’s what we did…
Halfway down the road, we stopped at the Laja falls to get an idea of what a “vertical lake” would look like. We attempted to hike close to the area where the water actually falls, but Tara, being the sensible one of the family, rejected to proceed.
We continued on into the mountains… Volcan Villarica hovers above this peaceful looking lake hidden behind a thick cloud cover. Supposedly, one can see the color of the lava at night, but we could’t even see the peak properly. Nevertheless we enjoyed our prime lakefront campsite.
Home is a feeling, not a place or a commodity. We have been traveling in a truck for over a year, stopping in a different place almost every night. As soon as the night sets and our dog goes to bed, I get the warm feeling of having arrived at home.
A Black Faced Ibis is walking across the somewhat busy streets of Villarica.
We wanted to stay a few days near a lake away from everyone else, and found what we were looking for on the shores of Caburgua. It felt like the entire lake was ours. Temperatures were warm enough to get in the water and cold enough to get immediately back out. Tara overtook her fear of water here on this lake. She’s now confidently going in neck deep waters.
The last stop in Chile was an idyllic farm. We camped under the trees and read books to each other, while baking bread on a stick over the fire. This was a successful experiment that Sarah hadn’t tried since elementary school. We wrapped some aluminum foil around the stick and lightly oiled it before wrapping a simple bread dough around it. Turned out perfect!
We crossed into Argentina through a forest of Monkey Puzzle trees growing at the foothills of a large volcano. This curious looking endangered species is sometimes called a “living fossil”. We had never seen this ancient plant before. It seems to be unique to Patagonia.
The Ruta de los Siete Lagos in Argentina led us from San Martin de los Andes to Bariloche. One incredibly beautiful lake after another, coupled with perfect weather, made this a really exciting stretch of road. These days of wild camping in the most stunning locations, gave us a first impression of Patagonian beauty.
Tara usually confuses firewood collecting with a big-stick game, and excitedly follows us around in anticipation of entertainment.
The lake region is of course also crisscrossed with rivers. There are so many rivers feeding all these lakes, that it may as well have been called the river region. During the days we had perfect temperatures and views. At night it’s still a bit cold but luckily there is plenty of driftwood to make fire. We’ve never had as many fires on the trip so far. Almost every night in Patagonia has been crowned with a beautiful campfire.
Sarah and Tara are having a siesta at the back of the truck. Summer days are long down here. So long that life stops in the middle of the day for long siestas. The whole country seems to be sleeping all afternoon. Most shops are closed for hours and people go back to their homes to rest. These breaks are really extensive in Argentina and fairly short in Chile.
Gauchos are more than cowboys. They roam the land with their herds and dogs, stirring up traditions, cultures and even politics of the region. They blur national borders and influence culture in the entire region. They still seem to be a vivid part of daily life. It is very common to see a Gaucho trotting on his horse on the side of the highway with his dog in pursuit.
Occasionally, the wind stops completely and the lakes become still. With reflections, beauty of nature doubles…
Could these possibly be the giant footed creatures that gave Patagonia it’s name?
We found this riverside spot hidden inside a thick forest and stayed there two days enjoying the warm sandy patch surrounded by a clear river, tall ancient trees, and mountain peaks. It was just us, and nature. These are the moments when life on the road is most rewarding.
In the past year and a half, we used our recovery gear many times. But always to help other travellers on the road. It’s a great tool to make friends. This Argentinian couple had lost control of their truck and went off the road. Luckily no one was hurt.
Magical places are plentiful in this region.
We saw this charming river bend shortly before arriving at Bariloche. The locals call it amphitheater. Most likely because of the rock formation overlooking the river. But it’s also easy to watch all the elements of nature in action in this big green bowl.
Bariloche is a nice, medium-sized, touristic city on the shores of a big lake. It looked fun and interesting but we felt like going back into nature as soon as we took care of our urban needs. The only thing we photographed was this yarn-bombed tree.
The lake by Bariloche is beautiful during day and night. We feel fortunate to be able to see the stars at night and refresh our faces in a cold lake in the morning.
Tara gets bored sometimes. All she wants to do is play, and she has lots of energy to do so. She is used to explore new environments almost everyday and likes this sort of entertainment. This is her look, when we don’t throw sticks and if there are no other dogs to play with, or smelly things to explore. Sometimes she indicates that she wants to hop into the car and move on. All she knows in her young life is travel.
These beautiful yellow bushes can be found around most of the lakes and roads in this region. There’s nothing better than waking up with a view like this.
After several days on the Ruta de los Siete Lagos, we crossed back over to the Chilean side. The border crossings between the two countries are easy and effortless. The only thing to watch out for is to eat up all fruits, vegetables, seeds, meat etc, because the Chileans in particular are very picky and do thorough vehicle checks.
Driving down south in zig-zag, it is interesting to experience the huge cultural difference between Chile and Argentina. Chile is an extremely developed, clean, organised place, with lots of rules, private land, fences, national parks, trimmed lawns, and perfect highways. There are a lot of traces of German ancestry. In the lake region, one can lodge in places with names like “Villa Gretchen, Hostal Tante Amelda, or Haus Waldesruh” and eat “Kuchen” in the “Wirtshaus am See” or buy “Sauerkraut” at the local super market. Chile stands out amongst the other Central and South American countries we’ve traveled through, and has quite different characteristics than its neighbours.
On the other hand, the parts of Argentina we’ve seen so far, feel more relaxed and are somehow fitting in more easily with the general down-to-earth spirit of this continent.
Nevertheless, both countries are beautiful and have their own charm.
Back in Chile, we continued on to Puerto Octay at lago Llanquihue. This one is particularly appealing because of the volcanoes towering over it in the distance. Our camera sensor needs some serious cleaning…
This small town had a noticeably German character, with inscriptions and names in the local cemetery proofing its ancestral influences.
Many houses as well as churches are covered in wood shingles.
The lakes in Chile as well as Argentina were spectacular and we highly recommend this tour around the Andes! It may be one of the most condensed, beauty-filled areas to travel through, and a good candidate even for short term vacation travel. There aren’t too many other places on this gigantic continent that offer so much, on only a few hundred kilometers.
In the small town of Puerto Octay (our last stop in the lake region), we met an elegantly dressed German traveler called Wolfgang, in his Mercedes G-Wagen. We decided to team up and head south. Within one day, we also met a young Austrian couple on a Mitsubishi Montero. It looks like we found ourselves new travel partners for the Carretera Austral.