Kind of like coming home

Not exactly back to the roots, but at least back to Pucón it is for us. Kilometre after kilometre we drive northwards, sometimes a bit driven by the tourist crowds, but read for yourself.


After the big names of southern Patagonia comes the big pampas, the "nothing", so to speak. Maybe not exactly nothing, but there is very little to see on this stretch. The treeless steppe stretches for kilometres, now and then a Cuanaco or Nandú crosses our path, but that's the most exciting part. Our Javier bravely survives the washboard roads and rolls steadily on the asphalt sections. The only change on the way is the "Cueva de los manos". A cave, or rather a section of a canyon, where ancient cave paintings have been discovered, which have been designated a World Heritage Site by the UNECSO. The paintings date from 7000 to 1000 BC and the main motif is hand negatives in different colours. Hunting scenes and various guanacos are also visible. An entertaining guided tour provides an interesting insight and is a welcome change on the boring route.

After many more seemingly never-ending hours of driving with little excitement, we reach Esquel. And when we reach this town, the steppe ends for the time being. Esquel lies at the foot of the Andes, with forests, rivers and lakes. At the entrance to the town we have to show our driver's licence for the very first time. Although we have passed countless police checkpoints (they are very common in Argentina), we have never been checked. The friendly man doesn't know what to do with our international driver's licence, but lets us pass, but not without getting us a map of the town. Such a control could definitely be worse. Above the city, only a few kilometres from the outskirts, we immerse ourselves in the summer holiday feeling. A small lake surrounded by mountains forms an idyllic backdrop, so we camp on its shore for two days and enjoy the summer temperatures. As the Argentines are also on holiday now, there are many people bathing during the day, but in the evening peace returns and we share our pretty spot only with a few cows and horses.

After these relaxing days, we get behind the wheel again, but this time only for about two hours. We reach El Bolsón, which has the reputation of being a "hippy village". Everything is produced here from fresh ingredients, life is cosy and peaceful. Still spared the big tourist crowds, it is mainly local visitors who come here. They flock to the famous market in the centre, where these handmade things are presented. In fact, the market offers different things than the standard markets where everyone sells the same cheap goods. In this village we are again very lucky with wild camping. On the banks of a beautiful river we end up camping for four days, that's how comfortable we feel. The hot temperatures, in the meantime we are close to 30 degrees, invite us to take a bath in the river. Here we also meet a Swiss couple, with whom we spend a friendly evening and listen to their stories, as they have been travelling with their truck for many years. The temperatures are also the reason why we don't do any major hikes, despite the many options. Actually, the quiet days are just good for us to rest a bit after the many hours of driving. One evening, however, Javier is allowed to flex his muscles, because a car has got stuck and so we are grateful to be able to help someone out for once.

San Carlos de Bariloche, what can you say. The tourist crowds are overwhelming and the city may inspire little. In earlier years, the city was built according to the European model, but the boom prevented controlled growth, so that the city has become wild towards the outside. Here, for example, one finds St. Bernards as photo subjects, endless chocolate shops and fondue is also on the menu... A small settlement next to Bariloche is even called "Colonia Suiza", the founders came from Valais. The whole thing feels a bit strange, and mass tourism doesn't help to make it any more charming. Bariloche is actually in a beautiful setting with endless lakes, forests and mountains, but somehow we lose our desire to explore. We spend the night outside, do a little sightseeing round by car the next day, take a chairlift from the last millennium to a panoramic mountain and then quickly say goodbye to the chaos in and around Bariloche. It would be an exciting place, especially the surrounding area has many hikes to offer, but not in high season.

But now we are back on the routes worth seeing. Up to "San Martin de los Andes" we pass 7 lakes, at least that's what the name of the route says. If we count carefully, we come up with more lakes, but what the heck. It's always beautiful and calls for a little challenge. Take a dip in each lake. We manage the first three on the first day and consistently take a short swim in each one. The lakes are beautifully situated and riding is finally really fun again. In the evening we sleep on an official wild camping site where there are already many campers. But there is room for everyone and it is still much less cramped than camping in Switzerland. Speaking of Switzerland, we meet our Swiss friends again and enjoy another evening with good company and a glass of wine, unaware that the next day will be less pleasant.

Once again, Sara's gastrointestinal tract is on strike, so our lake bathing tour comes to an abrupt end and we more or less drive straight on to reach our next stage destination as soon as possible.

Pucón, our destination. Right, exactly where we have already spent more than six weeks. There are three things we want to do. Say hello to our old friends, get the car in shape and celebrate Sara's birthday. The latter falls through a bit, as Sara needs a few days until she is well again and can actually digest her birthday dinner properly. What was supposed to be a two- to three-day stop turned into 10 days in the end. The organisation of the spare parts is slow and so we are incredibly grateful that we are allowed to stay with the hostel's family and enjoy the hostel's garden. It really feels like coming home, as we know the place very well. But it has changed a lot. Now we are in the middle of the high season and the village is completely overcrowded. Suddenly there are restaurants, shops, stalls on every corner. There are jet skis for rent on the lake and you have to fight for a place on the beach, it is so crowded. We are not too bothered by this. We visit the places we like, we already know the rest, so we enjoy a few quiet days in the hostel garden and offer our help.

After 10 days, we finally drive to the mechanic to have the new parts installed. These are signs of wear and tear, which are very common after a correspondingly large number of kilometres on sometimes very bad roads. Of course, it doesn't work right away this time either. Despite asking several times, a replacement part was not organised, we don't quite understand why not. Nevertheless, we drive off, we have no more patience and the workshop did not leave the best impression. We will have the last repair done on the way. So we leave Pucón for good, camping only a few kilometres later at the lake with a view of the village. A last sunset with a view of the place, which almost triggers a little feeling of home.

Before we leave Chile, we pay a visit to the mechanic in Temuco to replace this missing part. Temuco is not a particularly beautiful spot on earth, but it is a busy city and accordingly you can find all kinds of spare parts here, which makes it attractive for us. The job is done more or less quickly, so after two nights in the city we set off towards the border. Not only because of the unattractive city are we glad to leave the region, the air is also bad. This has nothing to do with smog, but with the huge forest fires raging a little further north. In some places, a thick smoke hangs over the city and our roof tent stinks accordingly the next day. We can only hope that the fires will soon be brought under control...

Goodbye Chile! Now we are leaving the country for quite a while. We spent an unbelievable amount of time here, about 6 months, which is about half of the second part of our trip. The country and its people are very charming. The landscape is incredibly beautiful, the people always friendly and helpful without being pushy. The only thing we won't miss is Chilean cuisine. Lots of white bread, unlimited mayonnaise everywhere, few real specialities, which didn't necessarily cause us to rejoice. But you can't have everything. See you soon, we will return to the narrow country on the Pacific.