After a week of frustratingly inconsistent internet connection, we can now finally upload the blog that has been sat waiting, plus make those all important phone calls on skype … oh, how we rely on the internet!
But before we start, we’d just like to say a big thank you to all of you who read and comment on our blogs! We love reading what you have to say – it would just get too much to start replying individually, but be assured we do read every one and they all make us smile! So please, do keep commenting! x
So, the blog – having said our goodbyes to Pedro & Maria in Carhue, the hills beckoned. The hills of Argentina that we were headed for are in fact the same height of a munroe in Scotland, but the Argentines call them hills. Compared to the Andes, I suppose the Sierras are of small ‘hill-like’ stature. The particular Sierra / range we were seeking was Sierra de la Ventana, (of the window). The peak stands at 1300m. To put this into perspective, the highest peak in England stands at 1100m (Skafell) and Ben Nevis a mere 1400m. Large for us, small for Argentina.
Having pitched up in a campsite, settled down to a beer and begun readying ourselves to take on the hike the next morning, a large rabble of teenagers and their trodden down teachers descended upon the site.
The walk was put off for another day due to sheer exhaustion following a sleepless night listening to shrieking hormonal boys and girls.
Morning of the second day we rose especially early, (7am), so we could get started while it was still cool, walk up and preferably be on our way down before the midday heat strikes. We arrived at the gated park, ready-made sandwiches in rucksack, only to find that the park doesn’t open until 9am – Doh! The guide book never said a word about opening times! We waited by the bikes, ate cold pizza from the previous night’s dinner and tried to stay out of the amazingly strong wind that was circling the valley.
9am sharp we entered the park. After a little bit of faffing with bikes, clothing, whether we need coats etc, we began our ascent at 9.30am. After a hard slog up the craggy mountainside, 11.30am we are at the top!
We had been chased up by (another) school expedition, following closely at our heels. It was like being chased by the Peloton in the Tour de France, but we broke away and made it to the top with at least 20 minutes to spare before they bore down on us!
After a quick two hours up, it was mildly disappointing that it then took four hours to slowly clamber down after Chloe sustained an injury to the knee. Mildly frustrating.
Frustration over and back at the campsite we were ready to get going. The school group who seemed to be camped inside our tent did not get any quieter so we left promptly the next morning.
Back on the bikes we had decided to aim for the small city of Bahia Blanca. Chloe had it in her head that she wanted to see the “remarkable architecture” [from guide book] of the colonial port city. After a fairly long ride we arrived in Bahia Blanca in the late afternoon. We rode around in the stifling heat and traffic, getting lost in the one way system for approximately an hour before resigning ourselves to the fact that we wouldn’t be able to find anywhere to stay that was a) open, b) had rooms available and c) had somewhere to put the bikes. Fed up, hungry and exasperated we retreated back out of town to the new ‘Travel Lodge’ style motel we had seen on the way in. [no photos – it would damage our reputation!] Not the cheapest, but definitely the biggest bed we had seen yet! We re-confirmed our pact to never ride into a city again.
A couple of Skype calls later, plus a good night’s sleep did the job. Trips back into the city were not discussed. Instead we set our sights on Viedma & Carmen de Patagones – two medium sized towns at the mouth of the River Negro, only 250 miles away or so, heading south, finally!
After a late, two hour detour to a beach that had amazing potential but turned out to hold absolutely nothing, we were back on the main road to Viedma by 6pm after only one sand-bail-out by Chris…
We found ourselves once again tired and mildly grumpy, in search of somewhere to stay, and in desperate need of food and beer! Hostel found, take-away empenadas ordered & beers bought by 7pm.
The next day was mostly a washout, with rain, rain and more rain – why did we bother leaving the UK?! Once the rain stopped, we hit the streets of Viedma.
After aimless wandering through the town, we found a rickety-wooden-boat service that crossed the river to Carmen de Patagones – the original historic township settlement and as such, by far the more attractive of the two towns.
Cathedral, check. Plaza, check. New shoes for Chloe, check. Back across the river and in bed by 9pm, check.
Next morning, some 100miles later, on ripio roads [ripio = unpaved, usually gravel mixed in with sand & dirt], we had taken in two sea lion colonies, (although the first one was missing the sea lions), several beaches and a tumble or two.
Bahia Creek seemed the perfect resting place so we went on the lookout for a suitable camping spot. Accidentally driving down someone’s driveway, we found ourselves in the midst of a friendly gathering, rudely interrupted by two cumbersome motorbikes! While Chris desperately tried to turn around discreetly in a space the size of a shoe box, our ‘hosts’ acknowledged that our presence had not gone unnoticed….. ermmm, hola….!
It took a few kisses and some bad Spanish banter to ascertain we were welcome to gatecrash…! Martin and Viviana, the first on the scene, were far too excited about the bikes, instantly brushing off the apologies we made.
Maria and Raul, owners of the tiny enclave we had found ourselves in, greeted us with open arms and asked if would like to stay in their cabin rather than camp….?
They are just finishing off their new house next door, so the old cabin is now redundant. It’s cold & empty, without electricity, but has running water and we were welcome to use it if we liked….?? Si, si, si, muy bien, perfecto, muchas gracias….!! (Trying not to bite their hand off too eagerly). The small party – Maria, Raul, Martin, Viviana plus three children – left that evening, back home to Viedma. We were left the key to there (older, not new) cabin. A-ma-zing!
We stayed two nights, just so we could be absolutely sure it was real. Plus, Chris needed a haircut which took up the most of the first morning.
The hairdresser refused to perform until we she had had her breakfast – a culinary dish of scrambled eggs on toast prepared on a camping stove. Yes, it can be done!
After a full afternoon of cleaning down the bikes, routine maintenance and some good old fashioned reading, we set to making dinner.
Our second culinary dish of the day – spaghetti in tomato sauce with chorizo, strongly spiced with Fairy liquid after someone(!) poured a generous helping of washing-up liquid into the pan instead of olive oil. Culinary dish no.2, binned.
Third culinary dish of the day – more pasta, ravioli this time, delicately laced with pesto flavoured covering. No olive oil, or indeed Fairy liquid. Gorged immediately due to imminent starvation, plus we needed to hibernate before the storm swept us away.
Packed up and ready to go, we dropped the key off at the local ‘corner shop’ the next morning and set our sights on Puerto San Antonia Este for lunch, following advice that the fish was not to be missed. A little bit too eager to get going, Chloe fishtailed through some deep sand, a bit too quickly…. Only 5 minutes into the ride and she was down! After a swift brushing off and confirmation that she had indeed bent her brake pedal beyond recognition, we continued. The rest of the sandy and gravel tracks were conquered without much further ado, albeit with a slightly shaken female contingent.
Lunch was perfect – clams in Roquefort sauce to start. Scallops, again in Roquefort sauce for seconds, and then haddock in Roquefort sauce for main! Well, we do like cheese and you can never get too much of a good thing like that!
Feeling rather gluttonous we waddled back to the bikes and continued our journey to the popular seaside resort of Las Grutas, although now out of season so it was pleasantly quiet.
We only stopped the night in Las Grutas as a perfunctory means to an end, the end being sleep, because the next day would finally bring us to Peninsula Valdes!
The UNESCO World Heritage Site whose quiet bay has a microclimate of it’s own and is home to whales, penguins, seals, sea lions and orcas, as well as many other protected mammals and birds. After visiting the Visitors Centre, which was in fact very informative and interesting, we plodded up and down the only street before settling on a hostel to stay in that had a view of the bay – what more could one ask for? Knowing that the accommodation on the peninsula would be over our budget, and having heard not-so-positive things about camping, we accepted our penance – no food for the following week – and opted for the sea view…
Sea lions seen – Thousands!
Buttocks (of shorts) stained with creosote – Chloe 0 v 1 Chris
Items of clothes abandoned – Chloe 4 v 2 Chris
Watches nearly stolen – Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Tantrums at roadside – Chloe 1 v 1 Chris
Adobe buildings seen – 1 (running total – 2)