We are hiring a car to drive through the country. Of course I had planned the journey with my usual military precision but, unfortunately, this collapsed at the first sign of trouble: the hire car company had rented out the car they reserved for us until the following day so that we had to choose something else. In addition, aided by Lauren’s Spanish and the occasional intervention of the girl selling ferry tickets, I had a running battle with the agent who seemed determined to rob me of every penny I had. The ‘game’ lasted for nearly two hours and ended in a score draw after I had been forced to part with a huge sum of dosh but not as much as he demanded.
So we have a Renault Megane that has seen better days and worse drivers that just about holds the luggage of all 3 of us but will not have enough room for Daniel and his clobber when he arrives later in the month. Someone will have to cling to the roof and, as I paid for it, it won’t be me.
The timetable having slipped, we did not get to our first overnight stop (Bahia Blanca) until 7.00pm but, at least, the heap of metal we have hired performed adequately.
We depart on 14th December to make a long drive of over 1,000km to get across the country to San Martin in the Andes again. The roads are long and straight and flat giving a mirage to the surface making it difficult to see vehicles coming in the opposite direction. It is the law here that all vehicles must have headlights on all the time otherwise it would be impossible to see oncoming traffic as it emerges out of the ‘water’. The mirage makes it challenging to judge how far away and how fast the oncoming traffic leading to one or two hastily abandoned overtaking manoeuvres.
The ranches (estancias) along the way farm mostly beef using Aberdeen Angus and Hereford cattle that were originally imported from the UK. I do not understand how it is that the Argentines manage to produce beef that is so much better than ours using the same ingredients. The sheep that litter the foothills of the Andes were also originally imported from the UK although Patagonian lamb is not noticeably superior to that of ours or New Zealand. Argentine food is very much meat based, most usually beef, and left to their own devices, the men would eat steak on its own without any vegetables. Certainly, it is not a culinary paradise for Debbie who, more often than not, has to eat pasta, pizza, trout or salmon (though the latter are often indistinguishable). However, she struggles by girlfully without complaint and without getting larger!
San Martin de los Andes is a colourful and upmarket tourist town set in a wonderful picturesque setting surrounded by snow capped mountains and bordered to the south by Lago Lacar. It has a chocolate box, Swiss alpine feel with wooden buildings, chalet-style homes, tea and chocolate shops and ski lifts up to the top of Cerro Chapelco.
The whole of the area that we will be in for the next few days borders Chile. There is an old agreement between Chile and Argentina that the border between them is defined by which way the water flows off the Andes. If the river flows to the Atlantic, the mountain is Argentina’s and if it flows to the Pacific it belongs to Chile. This gives the border a zig zag haphazard appearance and has led to a war or two because all the exceptions seem to benefit Argentina. San Martin being one such case as the lake flows into the Pacific causing Chile to lay claim to it leading to hostilities when Argentina refused to hand it over.
Being late spring, the snow has been chased up to the crown of the mountains and the ski lifts have been shut which is a shame because it means we have to walk up the slopes instead of riding in comfort. We trekked up to the top of Cerro Colorado, a not-too-particularly-high old volcano that ‘only’ took two and a half hours to yomp to the summit. From there we had spectacular 360 degree views covering the town, the lake and the Andean range for a distance of about 100km. The highest peak in the area, Volcan Lanin (3,776 metres), stood proud, snow covered and beautiful to the north of us. To Debbie’s regret, we did not have enough time to climb it requiring two full days including one night on the mountain and a 2.00am start for the summit. What a wonderful feeling it must be to stand on its summit at 10 in the morning of a crisp clear day. Another excursion for next time!