February 23, 2004

Argentina flagWe slept well on the hard ground, despite waking up a couple of times to the sound of loud crashes from the glacier. When we finally decided to get up about 9:30 am, our clothes were still wet from the previous day. Not from rain, but from sweat.

We decided to eat the rest of our crackers for breakfast and hope there was some kind of snack stand at Puerto Frías when we arrived there. We didn’t have to get there until 5 pm, so we sat by the river for a while and admired the groves of bamboo, pampas grass, and fuchsia bushes. At one point a very large chunk fell off the glacier, thundering down the almost vertical slope. But we finally decided we should be on our way.

The trail climbed for a while to avoid the swampy area, then somewhat levelled out. We still had to negotiate numerous muddy areas and clamber over fallen trees, but on the whole the walk wasn’t too bad. After a couple of hours the valley got wider and the trail became tamer, so we made good time, arriving in Puerto Frías three hours after we left the campground.

Lago Frías is a beautiful green colour and is in a very narrow, steep, valley. No wonder there is no trail between here and Puerto Blest! From here you could also walk 27 km along the road to Peulla in Chile if you wanted to, then catch the boat in Vicente Perez Rosales park. Because of the road to Chile, Argentina has a Gendarmeria office at Puerto Frías to deal with customs and immigration for travellers on that road.

The immigration office was empty when we arrived, and it was air-conditioned, so we sat in it for a while to keep cool. Other people from the campsite trickled in until there were about a dozen people around the boat dock. Then the kiosk opened and we went over there and bought pop and potato chips for lunch. Many of the younger Argentinian backpackers went swimming by the boat dock, and while they were doing that a brilliant meteor flashed over the lake. Its fiery tail burned red, yellow, blue, and green before it vanished over the horizon, but within seconds nothing of it was visible but a puff of smoke.

The latest information we had was that the boat would arrive at 5 pm, so we were quite surprised to see one appear at 4 pm. Unfortunately it was a tour boat and it only stopped for an instant to drop off a couple of customs officials. Finally around 5 pm a truck came rumbling down the road, then after a few minutes some buses arrived unloading some very clean and well-dressed tourists. These people were on the “Cruise the Andes” boat-bus excursion that starts in Puerto Montt in Chile and ends in Bariloche, with trips across three lakes, for US $140 and up. We were paying 39 pesos, or about US $15, for two of their three boat trips.

Finally about 6 pm we saw the boat coming down the lake again, and this time it docked and started taking the tourists’ luggage aboard. But one of the tour buses had broken down, and all of the tourists had to clear customs and immigration when they finally arrived, so we didn’t leave Puerto Frías until almost 7:15 pm. When we were finally underway, it was a lovely short run down the narrow lake. We could briefly see Tronador as we left the dock.

At the other end of Lago Frías we boarded buses that took us along the 3 km road to Puerto Blest, which is on Lago Nahuel Huapi. This was the place we had to turn in our trekking permit to the park rangers. Paul found a shed next to their office, and inside it was a desk with two permits already on it, so he added ours to the pile. There is no road along the lake to Bariloche, so we had to board another boat to take us there, a trip of 1 hour and 20 minutes. This was a much larger launch, with a snack bar serving out ham and cheese sandwiches and beer. The evening was lovely but twilight fell and soon it was dark.

Arriving at our destination, Puerto Pañuelo, Mark had to make a phone call to apologize for missing his dinner appointment. We had thought of getting a taxi for four people to go into town, but there didn’t seem to be any available, so we went off to catch the city bus. As we were leaving the dock, we saw it speeding down the hill. We sprinted towards the bus stop in boots and packs but fortunately several of the other backpackers were already waiting there.

We paid the 2 pesos each and the bus shot along the winding road towards Bariloche like a rocket. We said our goodbyes to Mark and Julian, and then climbed the hill back to our hostel. By this time it was after 10 pm, so it was fortunate that Juan had our schedule correct and had saved us two beds, even though they were still in a dormitory room. We cooked our pasta for dinner and went to bed without even a shower.

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