Diversion through the Lake District of Argentina

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Monday, February 7, 2005

With memories of the Peruvian government's inflexibility regarding our van permit extension still vivid in our minds, we were very aware of the approaching three month deadline on our Chilean permit. To avoid the possible frustration and hassle of an in-country renewal, we decided to make a slight detour to Argentina. Re-entry into Chile would then provide an automatic additional three months.

Sixty-nine km after leaving Pucón behind, we experienced the quickest and most civilized border crossing since leaving Canada just over a year ago. In complete contrast to the considerable time and money spent at each border crossing in Central America, the Chile-Argentina customs and immigration formalities at Paso Mamuil Malal left us feeling totally relaxed. Perhaps the customs officials were somewhat humbled by snow-capped Volcán Lanín, rising majestically beyond their handsome and recently constructed wood and stone offices.

Minutes later, having entered the Parque Nacional de Lanín, we were straining our necks to catch better glimpses of the volcano, and marvelling at the immense stands of the convoluted monkey puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana). Fairly unique to this area of the world, they are currently fully laden with attractive pine-like cones that from a distance resembled large, colourful blooms.

Had we been fly-fishing fanatics, we might have spent weeks near Junín de los Andes - an area famous for its trout, to the extent that a pictorial depiction of the fish appears on all street signs. As neither fishing nor trout are on our top ten list (sorry, Geoff!) we opted instead to spend several hours marvelling at the work of architect and sculptor, Alejandro Santana in a local park. His inspiration, passion and hard work resulted in the construction of a remarkable "Vía Cristi", with sixteen stations of the cross. Here, one can not help but be moved by the impressive, graphic sculptures and mosaics that parallel the crucifixion of Christ with that of the genocide of the indigenous Mapuche people. An estimated eight million native people were exterminated by the Argentinian authorities during the "Conquest of the Desert" campaign in the late 19th century.

Our first day in Argentina reinforced one of the common stereotypical images of the country - dry, mostly barren hills, covered in places with tufts of pampa grass, and accommodating large herds of healthy looking Argentinian beef cattle........and yes, we did see a few of the legendary gaucho (local cowboys). Driving through San Martín de los Andes and along the spectacular Seven Lakes Route to Villa La Angostura, that image was soon replaced by cool and clear, pristine glacial lakes; architecturally designed, alpine homes and cabins; several different types of native forests; and numerous sparkling waterfalls. Of course, being the middle of "summer holidays" in Argentina meant that we were sharing the campsites, parks and vistas with hordes of other travellers. Never mind, the sheer beauty of the area was enough for everyone.

The tranquil and attractive tourist town of Villa La Angostura was definitely our favourite stop. About the size of Almonte, La Villa was named after a narrow isthmus that joins the Quetrihué peninsula to the mainland. Crossing Lake Nahuel Huapi in a catamaran to the tip of the peninsula, we then hiked the 12 km back to town through the Parque Nacional Los Arrayanes (myrtle trees). Although myrtles don't dominate the entire peninsula, the southern tip has an enormous, protected stand of this enchanting, cinnamon-barked beauty. Along the hike, pleasant thoughts of the Herb Garden came to mind as we passed areas of wild foxglove, honeysuckle, St. John's Wort, mullein, healall and lilies. A delicious candle-lit dinner in a quaint log cabin that evening convinced us that a few more days in Argentina were definitely in order. Apart from needing to reach the tip of South America before winter sets in, who's counting the days??

This poem was sent to us by Rica Gerhardt in Ashton - a friend, and Herbfest vendor:

To Those I Love and Those Who Loved Me

When I am gone, release me, let me go....
I have so many things to see and do.
You must not tie yourself to me with tears;
Be happy we had so many years.
I gave to you my love, you can only guess
How much you gave to me in happiness.
I thank you for the love you each have shown,
But now it's time I travel on alone.
So grieve a while for me, for grieve you must,
Then let your grief be comforted by trust.
It's only for a while that we must part.
So bless the memories within your heart.
I won't be far away, for life goes on;
So if you need me, call and I will come.
Though you can't see me or touch me, I'll be near,
And if you listen with your heart, you'll hear,
All of my love around you soft and clear.
And then, when you must come this way alone,
I'll greet you with a smile and say, "welcome home".

Author Unknown
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