9. Back on Ruta 40!

More awesome scenery as we ride out from the village of Futaleufe to the Chile / Argentina border check-point.
Passing back into Argentina here was a double bonus as firstly meant I'd be close the town of Esquel, a place featured on Chris Tarrant's T.V. programme Extreme Railways so I´d be able to see the old train featured in the relevant episode and secondly would be close to the highly recommended Los Lagos Region (Lake Region).

From the border our progress was hampered by the rippio route but we were fortunate enough to find a great place to camp just off the route along with a perfect clear-water brook.
This area of Argentina had quite a few Welsh descendants, see the flag?
A welcomed sight on a rippio route! A Grader, re-levelling sections of the loose stone.
Arriving at the town of Esquel...we were told this was the railway station but was in fact the national coach station...an easy mistake I guess with train on the front lawn. 
With a few more directions we're soon on the right tracks, arriving at the railway station. 
Unfortunately it turns out the train is not actually kept hear and only calls in twice a week on a return trip back to its depot!
To pass through the Los Lagos Region meant back-tracking a few kilometres west to reach the turning (to a several days rippio route of the Los Lagos), something neither of us were now interested in doing, preferring to keep on the main road north and - having not been able to ride big days since before the Carratera Austral due to  it's condition - wanted to crack-out several long-distance days, almost like a chained dog set free, we wanted to run!!

The next big town would be Bariloche (300 kilometres away),  re-joining the infamous Route 40 once again was great! good condition, little traffic and a rare bonus....a tail-wind! The area was barren, dry and rocky with little in the way of greenery. Passing a German cyclist heading our way, after an Argentine to Chile currency exchange he informs us of a couple of small river ahead that would both make ideal camp locations. Choosing to reach the second one 30 kilometres away - almost there within an hour, a great pace with little effort, spotted from a few kilometres away by the abundance of greenery that´s watered from the river. 
The following day we pass this road-side rock-writing, something about Sant Rosa,
....then later, this rather strange plastic bottle lined walk-way leading down to a shrine nestled in the trees. Intrigued by the thousands of water-filled bottles what it was soon a family car pulls up and Fredricka asks them what it was. Around 1840 a lady Denolinda Correa went searching - with here new born baby - for her husband who had been abandoned for becoming sick by the armed civilians he was fighting the civil war for. Trekking across the desert of San Juan Province in search of him she died when her supplies ran out. Days later, cattle driving gauchos found her body and were astonished when they saw the dead woman's baby was still alive, feeding from her miraculously ever-full breast. Consequently she became a Saint with many of these shrines left in her honour, so now passers by leave water-filled bottles to prevent others from such a tragedy.
Without the  small rivers we'd passed by this would have made a great place to camp at!!
Another common sight on the open roads are the waving red flags of another "Folk Saint", Gauchito Gil (Literally "Little Gaucho Gil"). His shrines usually have s small box with a Cross and Christ figurines inside, candles, bottles of (usually empty!!) wine and also water. I had made use of these a few times, although in the heat of the day the water's temperature is similar to that from a warm shower it's relatively safe to drink as it been sterilised by the sun's intense ultraviolet rays.  

Approaching the mountains the passing scenery becomes ever-more green. 
That day we reach the hippy hang-out town of El Boson. The following morning Fred says she was not feeling too well and decides to stay with some fellow countrymen that were in town and suggests it best I press on solo - a shame as we'd previously made a hi-5 agreement to reach (San Carlos de) Bariloche together.
The day's route continued through mountains with rivers and lakes galore and occasional fresh water springs seeping out from cracks along the rock faced sides. 
Toward the day's end I start passing Lago Guttierrez - an 11 kilometre long lake that neighbours Bariloche. With ample parking areas along it all the signs clearly state 'No Camping', to me I merely see this as a challenge as to where I can find somewhere to stealth camp.  Sure enough further along near a crash barrier was a gap in the hedge clearly frequented by others. With a narrow craggy path down a steep embankment to the lake below it lead to a reasonable sized perfect dry rocky patch and with no one else there I claimed it as my turf for the night. With three hikes up and down the bike and bags are soon at the lakeside.

The next morning being only 35 kilometres away I arrive (slightly drizzled from a few showers) bright and early in Bariloche. Searching for a hostel a local informs me his ex wife (of three months) has a room she rents to travellers 8 kilometres away from the centre, not ideal but if the price was good then at least a possibility. Calling her he then gives me directions on how to get there, then re-iterating it's his ex wife, but now of 6 months? From the start I detected a few twists-of-the-truth (a.ka.a bull shit!). The price he stated seemed really high but informs me that Bariloche was an expensive place to stay. Before heading out there I firstly decide to enquire at a few hostels, the second one - literally a stone's throw away - was actually cheaper than his ex wife's (or should that be 'wives'??) place!

Being December 31st a hostel proved a great place to celebrate the new year's arrival with a party held for guests and friends of the owners with each of us bringing some meat from the local supermarket to be cooked on the barbecue.

The centre of San Carlos de Bariloche - renowned for it's Swiss alpine-style architecture and fine chocolates.
From Bariloche I planned to follow The Seven lakes route, said by many-a blogs to be beautiful scenery comprising of, well, seven lakes! I guess from the perspective of a touring cyclist - providing good routes are plotted - 'beautiful scenery' is a relative statement. Cycling through the lakes-route in my opinion was not that spectacular, being peak summer holiday season (southern hemisphere!) maybe the mass of tourists and associated coaches along the route quashed any appreciation for it, many of the lake's view-points had so many people hovering around that it clashed against the very serene and tranquil view of what they had come [en-masse] to see. The over-cast sky and occasional shower maybe didn't help, along with the ludicrous price the campsite wanted in the first main town (Villa La Angostura) being dearer than the hostel in Bariloche, yes, I was well and truly in tourist-ville!

Pressing on a bit further an hour or so later I see signs for a farm campsite, offering the very basics with fair prices. Soon talking to my neighbouring campers,  farther and daughter Juan and Martina. Juan was quite a survival expert had ran several 100 kilometre endurance marathons, basically stopping to briefly sleep when/where ever then carrying on! His fire lighting skills were second to none, regardless of the damp twigs and logs he soon had a rip-roaring fire underway along with some fresh steak brought from the farmers shop, a pasta-free night!!
Bringing all their food with them from home meant bringing a big trailer, with the roller-coaster type hills around here I'm glad I wasn't towing that! although their daily distance was typically around 25 kilometres.

The following day I reach San Martin de Los Andes, the first town from the northern end of the lakes route, as a consequence it was another tourist-trap with everything well over-priced. I used my camera just once that day, feeling like I was merely going-with-the-flow I was glad to crack on the next day away from the lakes.

Continuing on the Ruta 40 the next few days led away from the greenery to the barren, dry scrub-lands, the sun beating down and tarmac twisting around, up and over the hilly terrain. One section was like edging 180 degrees around a giant crater, the road climbing upwards for many kilometres, in the centre of 'the crater' was a farm, surrounded by the tall slender trees used typically as wind-breakers. Note the road tapering down from the left-hand side.
Camping that night at just off the road at what appeared to be a a municipal building along with a school next door. All day I'd passed only one other building so I was intrigued as to where anyone would come from to use this place, most strange! A young security lad was in a small brick building within the boundary along with a couple of dogs, one chained to a tree that would have certainly bit, whilst the other was not so aggressive... asking if I could camp there I was left to my own.
"Me? aggressive?.. ah go on then, rub ma' belly"
Nearing the town of Zapala I noticed quite a rarity, a cycle lane! Although there had been little traffic on the road it always feels nicer to have cycle route, especially when it's in such good condition. Zapala itself was typical, being 4 pm the town had that Sunday feel to it as most were taking their afternoon siesta!! Fortunately there was a municipal campsite at the edge of the town, cheap and cheerful, now that's my style!
Concrete cows?...feels like home!
The next morning 35 kilometres on in the town of Las Lajas I meet Safia and Tania. French Safia had rode down from Alaska, joined by her Portuguese friend while in Peru. It's always great to meet fellow tourers but even better when they're also riding the same route! Another great chance to swap details of what lays ahead as far as the route goes. Safia was glad she's rode it but looking forward to the end, in Ushuaia - informing them they only had ~ 3000 kilometres remaining.
Being informed there's little ahead for a looong way I was almost tempted into the town's campsite, but who was I kidding?! It was only mid-day and with the wind on my tail, no way! After stocking up on a few essentials it's pedals away! Soon out on the open road I was cruising along at 40 kilometres per hour! By late afternoon I reach the river that Safia and Tania mentioned, although relatively shallow it proved enough to fill my two roll-up water bladders, prior to filtering later on. Passing little all day in the way of protection from the wind I pass over a familiar site....familiar so far as China goes!
These make an excellent place to camp! No loud music turned on after sun-set, no symphony of barking dogs at 2 am, no 4:30 am cockerels, just the sound of silence, and an awesome night-time sky revealing the band of light of our star-filled galaxy, the Milky Way. Buenos Noches!!

The following day the goal was Chos Malal. The endless miles kilometres of desert scrub land appearing even greater in expanse as I could make out several distant wind turbines that never appeared to get any closer, but inevitably they did and I could soon make out trees and some buildings. Presumably a village I call in for a few foody bits..okay, biscuits! 
By the afternoon the wind had picked up making it necessary to pedal on a descent! With Chos Malal just several kilometres away at the pace I was riding would take over an hour so, on this tour, feeling no guilt on thumbing a lift I gladly hitch a ride on a small passing truck, the driver only too glad to help out knowing how strong the wind was!  I sat there in the passenger seat amazed at just how easy it was in a vehicle, isolated from the ferocity of the weather'most evil element.

Chos Malal proved to be a surprisingly pleasant town. Founded in 1887 it developed as a control point for policing the movement of cattle with a view to suppressing cattle raiding. Located between the Neuquen and Curi rivers in the Cordillera del Viento, it is surrounded by conifer forests, mostly of the Araucaria trees.

At the campsite I meet a Belgium cyclist heading south so again swapping details over what lays ahead for us both. With quite a charm to the town I decided to take the next day off, wash a few clothes and look around.
- - - 
In the next post, is that another lift I take??