Thursday, February 7, 2013

Guanacos, ñandús, flamingos and dutchies

We had heard about a free campsite on the way to the Chilean/Argentine border from Cochrane, so decided to check it out.  The area was purchased by Conservacion Patagonia, founded by Tompkins, the former CEO of Patagonia clothing company.  She and her husband, the founder of North Face, live in Chile and have purchased over 2 million acres of land in Chile in Argentina.  They have turned most of this area into National Parks, and are currently turning the area between Cochrane and Paso Roballos into a national park called Parque Patagonia.  The park in in construction right now, which is why the campsites are still free.  They are also developing and mapping the trails, with the help of several international volunteers.  We were surprised at how nice the buildings in the park are.  Quite upscale actually.  We spent two enjoyable nights at the West Winds campground and ended up meeting a really nice couple, Clara and Santi, from Buenos Aires, who we hiked with for the day.  The hike was a bit longer than we expected, as we thought it would take about 3 hours, but ended up taking all day, to the confluence of the Baker and Cochrane rivers.  It was worth the walk, and we were even able to hitchhike most of the way back.

On the way to Conservacion Patagonia
(The ride to Parque Patagonia was really nice.)

Guanacos trying to avoid us on the way to Conservacion Patagonia
(Guanacos were everywhere...)

Guanacos were a common sight at Los West Winds campground.
(...including in the campsite.)

Our campsite at Los West Winds at the future Parque Patagonia.
(Los West Winds campsite is free for now, and worth a visit.)

Clara, Santi and Jill hiking in Parque Patagonia.
(Hiking with Clara and Santi)

The confluencia of the Baker and Cochrane Rivers.
(Our final destination - la confluencia.)

Inside the guest lodge at Parque Patagonia.
(This is inside the new guest lodge. Accomodations are plush.)

From the campsite, the border is about 60kms.

Flamingo Lake on the way to Paso Roballo
(This is Flamingo Lake, where flamingos are reported to live. We didn't see any.)

Mike at Paso Roballo on the Chilean side.
(The Chilean border took about 5 minutes to get through. Not much traffic here, so that means no lines.)

A rhea near Paso Roballo
(We also had several ñandú (or "Rhea" if you prefer English) sightings. Rheas are a lot like ostriches, but a little smaller and only found in South America.)

Mike changing the tire at Paso Roballo on the Argentine side.
(The Argentine border took a little longer. Not because of the customs process, but because we got a flat that Mike had to fix. Luckily we were right at the Argentine customs building when it happened, so we could multi-task for some of the time.)

From the border, we went to Lago Posadas in hopes of finding gas and some food, as we hadn't eaten all day. Come to find out this town completely shuts down from 12-5 for siesta. Luckily for us, we arrived after 4. We found a cafe that was just opening. We admit that the milanesa was delicious (anything would have been at that point, as we are not accustomed to missing meals), but the very friendly owner charged us 100 pesos (about $15) each. That is ridiculous! Everytime we forget to ask the price in advance this is what happens. Mike was able to talk her down, but we still paid more than we should have. At this point we discovered that southern Argentina was going to be a bit more expensive than northern Argentina was, and we already knew that all of Chile was expensive. Oh well, we got some gas and continued on, making it to Baja Caracoles to spend the night.

The town is very sleepy, but has a lot of people stopping in, as it has a gas station and is located on Highway 40. It was a hub for gaucho travel in the '40's as well. We got our old tube repaired by a really nice guy who recommended that we camp at the police station. Jill asked the policeman if there was camping in town. He said no, but then told us we could camp next to the station. Perfect. We got all set up and then went to the hotel/grocery store/bar/gas station for a beer (we were even able to sneak a shower in the morning).  A VW van pulled up with a Dutch couple, Janna and Erwin, and we ended up having a good evening hanging out with them to celebrate Janna's birthday.  They backpacked through Central America and bought the bus in Chile, then traveled with it through Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina and back to Chile. They are now headed to Santiago to sell the van.

Camping at Bajo Caracoles with our new friends.

Janna, Jill, Erwin and Mike in Bajo Caracoles.
(Janna, Jill, Erwin and Mike with the bus)

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