Petrified Forest? - Never Heard of it!

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Hotel Robert

Flag of Argentina  , Santa Cruz,
Thursday, December 9, 2010

The quest to see Argentina's Petrified Forest began with one of our daughter’s giving us a Lonely Planet Coffee table type book last Christmas (thank you Shashana!) with 1,000 "must do" adventures of a unique type. Avan thought he would like to try and get to see the forest but after researching it we found it was on the East Coast, when we had planned to travel up the west side of Argentina and go into Chile from there.

While we were in Ushuaia, we discussed with a lady in a ticketing office our onward plans of heading up Ruta 40 (a notoriously bad road, 600kms of it dirt, with corrugations) and then heading into Chile, but she suggested a much better plan would be to back track to Rio Gallegos and travel up the East Coast, then across to Bariloche, our next planned destination. She explained the buses and roads would be better quality and we could travel through the night. It would be a 28 hour bus journey in an executive style bus. We saw in her office a beautiful picture of a petrified log and realized if we were to take her plan and travel up the East Coast we would pass close. We asked, and were told no, it was not possible to get off the bus and there was no way to get out to the Petrified Forest anyway.

In El Calafate we again tried to find out how we could get to the site. Mostly answered with shoulder shrugs, we just could not get any information even when we tried the car hire companies. We considered this option but it would be 1,000 km with 300 being gravel from El Calafate. We did more research on the internet sites of Travelpod and Lonely Planet and found everyone, except a couple with a campervan, had written it was too hard to find the Forest.

In resignation, we went to book our bus through to Bariloche but with one last try, we were told we could break the journey in a town called Caleta Olivia, an oil mining town, not on the tourist map. “But why would you want to? Nobody does” was the interpretation we got. We did. We booked the bus only as far as Caleta Olivia and then another bus the next day to take us on the Bariloche, effectively breaking our proposed 28 hour journey into two parts and giving us 24 hours to find the Petrified Forest. We tried all the usual internet sites to find accommodation and nothing at all showed up for Caleta Olivia. In desperation one final search on an Argentina travel site (in Spanish) came up with a list of four hotels.

We were seriously doubting our sanity when we got off the bus at 6.00 am. after 14 hours of travel. A young German backpacker got off the bus just to grab a coffee and said “You’re staying HERE?? You must be crazy!” The bus station had police patrolling and was full of oil worker men waiting for buses. A lovely policewomen showed great concern for us as we sat drinking a coffee and waiting for the time to pass to a later hour. She tried to talk to us in Spanish; our guess was she was telling us not to hang around the station. Heather showed her the list of hotels and she pointed to one and indicated we should go there and was quite vehement that the others should not even be considered. Heather asked by means of writing Spanish words in a notebook, if there were any hire car companies and she said no. Heather asked the station taxi office (notebook again – Spanish words) if they would quote on taking us to the Petrified Forest, but they wrote down a heart stopping fare. OK, feeling a bit defeated we caught a cab to the hotel the police lady approved of “Hotel Robert”.

By means of sign language and our notebook again, we managed to secure a room for the night but queries as to how we could get to the Petrified Forest were not answered. We gleaned that there were no hire cars in the city or tours at all.  Time to give up. We went in search of breakfast instead, and right near to a huge central sculpture of an 11 metre high oil worker, we found a fuel service station with a café and had a wonderful breakfast. We started taking photographs of the statue and Avan spotted a newish looking building just opening the doors for the day across the road and it said “Officinal De Informes Tusisticos”!!    

Immediately everything improved! Travel is like that. We were greeted by the lovely Alejandra who confessed she practices her English to sound more Australian than American as she likes the sound of Australian accents. She advised us that tourism in the area was just really getting it together but that there were tours to the Petrified Forest, if you booked ahead. She got on the phone and did her best to get a tour for us, but nobody wanted to go on short notice with just two people. Tours usually left early in the morning and by now it was 9.30am. But Alejandra was determined to get us to the Petrified Forest, so she then rang taxi companies and eventually secured a taxi and driver for us for $1,000 pesos ($250) and within half an hour we were on our way. It took us three hours to get the 220 km there. Most of the journey was back the way we had come on the bus just previously, but the last hour was on a bone shaking rough road.

On arrival we were surprised to be greeted by some very pleasant English speaking rangers… and 80 to 90 km gusting winds! The rangers showed us through a small museum then showed us the walking trail and confirmed that this was all free – not even an honour box.

We set off on the trail with our taxi driver. Although he spoke no English and us no Spanish, we gathered this was also his first visit and he enjoyed it as much as we did. 150 million years ago, the area had huge forests, then came a period of gigantic winds and volcanic activity and the forests became buried in ash. Eventually erosion (we can attest it is a VERY windy place!) uncovered the trees and the amazingly intact trees, petrified into stone became visible.  We truly had to battle the wind just to stand up and even the photos do not do justice to just how windy it was!

On the way home, rattling and rolling on the rough road, we truly thought our taxi was going to rupture a petrol tank or drop the exhaust. Our driver stopped for flora and fauna pics at our request and then we did our best to catch a bit of a snooze on the long trip back to the Robert Hotel. Mission accomplished – and worthwhile!

Any travellers considering a visit to the Petrified Forest Natural Monument we strongly suggest organising ahead by contacting the tourism office in Caleta Olivia Tel/Fax (0297)4850988 or email no fees or tips required. 
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