In Patagonia: Lakes, More Lakes and Welsh Tea Shops


I didn’t think I’d make it this far. Patagonia was a mirage shimmering so far in the distance that I assumed I’d give up or die of thirst before I reached it. At the beginning of my trip I was unsure if I even wanted to go this far. What if I had crippling back pain, got really lonely or my bike exploded? When people asked about my destintion I’d always say Montevideo with an added “maybe via Patagonia…but we’ll see”.

Accordingly I didn’t do much research about the ruggedly beautiful region that draws so many people to this part of the world, nor did I spend hours poring over earthporn photos of the Torres del Paine or the Carretera Austral, preferring to leave an air of mystery around it. Or maybe I was just lazy. Either way, when I emerged from the bus in Pucon it was clear that I was entering a whole other world – one of log cabins, crystalline lakes and the kind of raw, uncaring wild that Jack London wrote about.

Rainy Pucon, while technically not in Patagonia, gave me my first taste of what was to come.
The town was exactly what I’d expected – rammed with expensive shops selling outdoor gear and advertising all sorts off extreme sports.
Staying in Lacustre Hostel – which I was kinda hoping would be bad so I could add a couple of extra letters to the name – I took a day off to relax and do some shopping. I found this in a second hand clothes shop and couldn’t not buy it.
I also bought the cheapest pairs of boots I could find as I doubted my Converse knock-offs would last through the oncoming rain and mud. I stupidly didn’t take into account how much the massive heel would affect my bike fit and almost instantly got back and knee pain the following day. Hopefully they come in useful down the line, otherwise I spent £40 on a glorified pair of slippers that I only wear when I need a piss in the middle of the night.
I headed off for the hills through the rain. When I got an early puncture I very nearly turned around and headed back to watch the Spurs game in a cosy bar, but I opted to charge ahead.

The odds weren’t good but I thought that just maybe I’d find a small bar or cafe showing the game. I even considered asking to rent a cabin for a couple of hours. A few hours of passing empty resorts later and I’d all but given up. There were no bars, no cafes and barely a hint of life. With 15 mins until kick off I approached one final campsite and upon seeing the “closed” sign turned to walk away when I heard a voice.

“Can I help you?”
“Uh…there’s a football match I really want to watch. I don’t suppose you have it on TV here?”
“Sure! Come on in.”

Lorenzo welcomed me in to his house and we proceeded to watch the game together. He gave me an apple and we discussed English football hooligans and the River/Boca rivalry.  Then after a very enjoyable match, to spare me camping in the pissing rain he offered me a free night in one of his riverside cabanas. It was one of those strange occasions when the exact perfect scenario slowly unfolds before you and you can scarcely believe it’s real.

My personal 6 bed cabin.
I sat watching the river roar past feeling equally snug and smug.
The next morning I was back into the breach, climbing a steep stretch through the drizzle up to a snow covered plateau.
Some very considerate signs from the Chileans.
Snowcapped volcanoes peered ominously through the thick mists.
The most spectacular of them making an appearance right by the border.
And then after a quick and painless border crossing I was back in Argentina and officially in Patagonia, which stretches a few hundred km further north on the Argentinian side.
The landscape instantly changed. Gone were the thick, lush forests, replaced by monkey puzzles , sparse plains and creepy looking rows of dead trees.
The weather changed too. Blue skies appeared and the rain almost immediately ceased, in its place a lashing wind that for once was at my back
10km of terrible ripio later and I was cruising on the asphalt.
And soon I was reacquainted with my old companion La Cuarenta, 1000km further south of our last meeting.
I wondered when the shoulder would reappear then I remembered I was in Argentina where they don’t really do shoulders.
The friendly campsite owner in Junin de Los Andes let me sneak in and camp for free despite the site being closed.
Friendly Brazilian hitchhiker.
As I approached San Martin golf courses and luxury resorts started popping up.
You know you’re somewhere well off when there are joggers everywhere.
The town was all boutiques, artisanal chocolate shops and 5 star hotels.
I headed onwards into the region of 7 lakes.
Which lived up to the name.
I’ve had lunch in worse places.
There were all sorts of amazing birds, none of which I could identify. Here’s one eating another one.
I think the giant dog I saw in Cauca has been on tour.
A bit further south I camped on the beach, the lakeside city of Bariloche looming in the distance.
The high life.
Not a bad place to live.
Bariloche is the main tourist hub of the region and doesn’t have too much to offer 2 wheeled travellers.
Street art.
The Bariloche municipal building could do with a more welcoming acronym.
The highlight was watching Spurs win 4-1 over Liverpool in a petrol station cafe. Maybe I should just rename this blog “where I watched Spurs matches in South America”.
On the road to the hippyish town of El Bolson I felt like I was approaching Mordor.
I found a great campsite filled with blossoms and friendly dogs and took a day off to recharge my energy and devices.
And try some of the craft beer that the town is known for.
On the border of the Los Alerces national park I bumped into a French couple. Alison and Baptiste were only a few days into their trip and we spent the day cycling together.
The quiet dirt roads were a welcome change from La Cuarenta.
And like pretty much everything in this region, the national park was like cycling through a slideshow of postcards.
Next thing I knew I was deep in Welsh Patagonia. In the 19th century Welsh settlers in the USA got fed up of being pressed to speak English decided to head south in search of a new promise land with suitably terrible weather.
The result: the Welsh speaking region of Patagonia where the signs come in both Spanish and Welsh.
In Trevelin there are Welsh tea shops.
“What is Welsh tea?”
And the Welsh flag waves alongside the Argentinian.
Of course rugby is the choice of sport round these parts.
Done with flashbacks to my Welsh university days, I made for the mountains.
And am currently lazing at perhaps the best campsite I’ve ever stayed at 30km from the Chilean border.
Bracing myself for that sweet Chilean rain.

Tunes: The Smiths – The Smiths, Hatful of Hollow, Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism, St Vincent – MASSEDUCTION, Morrissey – You Are The Quarry, Blondie – Plastic Letters

Reads: Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith, Watership Down – Richard Adams, The Road to Wigan Pier – George Orwell

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