From El Bolson we headed south to Parque Nacional Las Alerces set in the low Andes. The park is full of lakes, mountains and a glacier. It is criss crossed by crystal clear rivers which sparkled in the wonderful sun we were having. The park was created to protect the Alerce tree which is one of the longest living trees and grows like California’s giant sequoia. Unfortunately most of them have been cut down years ago and only young trees can be seen near the parks trails. Those thousands of years old are located deep in the park.
The park is very well set up and as we arrived during the week there was no charge to enter. There is a choice of free, or paid campsites with more facilities. Although the park was pretty busy we found a lovely quiet camping spot by the lake where we spent a wonderful couple of days filling our time with nice walks and a bit of fishing.
Luck with the fishing continued as I managed to catch two Rainbow Trout. They are getting bigger too.
We decided we would spend an extra day in the park but thought we would move on to a different spot for a change of view. On the way we stopped to do a lovely walk along a river to a viewpoint to the glacier.
Again we were fortunate to be able to camp right on the lake shore with great views. While the girls did some painting with Alisha’s new water colours I tried my hand at fishing again.
Success all round. The girls paintings are really coming on and I caught two even bigger Rainbow Trout.
We reluctantly left the Park for the long drive across the country back towards the Atlantic. Fortunately at this Southern point in Argentina it is only about 700kms to get back across the country. The drive across Chubut province was flat and the lush green mountains were soon left behind replaced by dusty gravelly desert punctuated by sandstone gorges. We could also feel for the first time the strong Patagonian wind blowing. There is very little out here and once we left the town of Esquel the next town of more than 10,000 people was over 500kms away with just small villages in between.
We were coming to the end of our long days drive when the vibration from the front wheels started to increase. It built up to quite a juddering so we pulled over in the middle of nowhere to check. What we found was that one of the tyres we had bought in Santiago had a big problem. A big part of the tread was coming away from the tyre. It had not punctured the tyre but the tyre was finished. We had two options, change the wheel ourselves or limp back to the tyre shop Gilly had seen in the last village 30kms away. As the wind was blowing a gale we decided to limp back. It was Saturday evening and the tyre shop was open although it was clear the guy did not really want to do any work. So in the end Gilly and I did half the work but with the weight of our wheels it was useful to have an extra pair of hands around.
As the front tyres are a different make from the rear and spare ones it meant we had to change both the front wheels so as not to have different makes and treads on the same axle. This means that effectively the other front tyre is useless except as an emergency spare. The problem we now have is that one of our original front tyres is near the end of its useful life so we desperately need to buy two new tyres.
As it was 9pm when we finished changing the wheels we were relieved to see the village had a free campsite so we pulled in there for the night.
After a shorter drive the next day we arrived in the Welsh (yes Welsh town) of Gaiman. Welsh settlers had populated parts of Patagonia in the late nineteenth century and there are a number of Welsh towns dotted around Patagonia. The street names all reflect Welsh names such as Jones and some of the people still speak Welsh although it is in decline. Some of the houses looked as though they were straight from Wales although the desert landscape behind the town looked very different from Wales.
What the town’s were famous for now was their Welsh cream teas. So that afternoon we set off in search of one.
Once inside the lady brought over a big pot of tea with a woollen tea cosy on that your grandmother would be proud of. It was all lace curtains inside and on the table. Then out came the cakes, some scones and jam, cream pies, lemon meringue and chocolate cake.
We did a pretty good job finishing it off but clearly we would not be cooking tea that night. However instead we had an evening chatting with some nice Welsh overlanders driving a Land Rover who were enjoying a taste of home.
The next day was our jobs day but first we went to see if we could find some tyres. After visiting 6 tyre places it became clear that finding tyres of our size is going to be very difficult. The problem is we have 20 inch wheels and trucks in Argentina and South America all seem to have 22.5 inch wheels. This could be a problem and where we are heading the town’s are not really getting much bigger.
We spent the night in Puerto Madryn a port town that was also a seaside town in summer with lots of people enjoying the beach. However we would not be staying there for long as we are heading out to the Valdez peninsular in search of Patagonian wildlife before resuming the tyre hunt.