Biking the Seven Lakes (Siete Lagos) District in Patagonia

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Even though we are taking a break in Bariloche, Argentina for a month, we are not staying still. One of my dreams for years has to been to ride my bike through the incredibly beautiful Patagonian Seven Lakes, or Siete Lagos district. This past weekend, this dream came through. The plan was take a bus to San Martin de Lost Andes and pedal back along the way we had come to La Angostura along a road that was paved for half paved and half dirt.

We loaded our bikes on a bus departing at 7:00 pm from Bariloche and got to San Martin de los Andes 11:00. We had no trouble loading our two bikes into the back compartment of the bus as they fit perfectly standing up and we didn't even have to take off the wheels. Not all bus service in Argentina will take bikes but after a few phone calls we found out that Albus would take two bikes on each trip. The bus company Aribus was great all the ways: courteous, efficient, clean new buses, safe and best of all, they took our bikes with no fuss. Being able to put our bikes on a bus and travel short or long distances has been one of the nicest parts of traveling in Latin America. No boxes, no fussing, just load and go.

Randy on Siete Lagos Road
Randy on Siete Lagos Road (View on flickr)

The bus route was exactly the road we'd return on, so we got a sneak preview. From the seat on the bus, it appeared I had underestimated the difficulty of this ride. The road had endless amounts of short ups and downs and it was under serious construction. It was daunting. I watched for hours memorizing the route we would soon be exploring. Meanwhile Randy slept soundly next to me. He only awoke when I would nudge him to get him to mark a point on the GPS and then he fell back into a deep sleep. The last time I remember this type of road and the short steep grades was while riding the Cassiar highway up in Canada. It was nightfall about halfway through the trip and the steep grades were exaggerated by the bright lights emitted from the huge bus. A few cows and deer where also caught by the highs of the bus lights, freezing in place as we came around the blind curves. The driver stopped the bus, lowered head lights from bright to low and waited until the handful of cows lumbered their way across the gravel road and out of harm's way. The headlights of the bus cut a path through the pitch darkness and illuminated the climbs and thick loose gravel. Like looking at things underwater, everything appeared bigger and harder. I told myself over and over, this was my idea, this was my dream, tomorrow I will just shut-up and pedal and enjoy the ride. This was a no whining zone...

We got to San Martin around 11:00 pm and rode to the only campground in town. Even though it was almost midnight the restaurants were in full swing, as this was the standard time many Argentinians eat dinner. The campground was on the edge of town and was not open yet for the season. But after ringing the bell and waking up the manager, he let us in for the night as long as we promised to leave early the next morning. He also told us that there was no bathrooms With this he went and locked the bathroom doors and went away. The next morning the ground workers opened up the ladies room to do some maintenance in which we took it as an invite to take a warm shower and to use the bathroom which of course we were told did not exist. We did leave early for Argentina time, before 9:00. After stopping at the only open grocery store and buying 30 dollars worth of groceries we were provisioned for the our three day adventure.

Faulkner lake on siete Lagos road
Faulkner lake on siete Lagos road (View on flickr)

The first 40 miles were on paved road along countless pristine lakes. Rising out of the glacier waterways were the photographic Andes which reflected back onto the mirror lakes. We traveled from one National Park to another. Capturing great photos was so easy. It had all the elements which make for stunning images. Bright clear sunlight, rich blue sky, snow covered mountains, tree covered foothills, glacier-fed lakes and meadows of spring flowers. Take enough photos and one or two have to come up right. I find riding a bike a great way to explore an area and shot photography because we can stop anytime and spend as long as we want.

We passed a beautiful campground at Lake Falkner which called to us but we continued on and made more miles. We wanted finish the pavement and to get some of the riding on the dirt road out of the way so we would not have to ride some many miles on dirt the next day. Just as we got on to the dirt road, it started to rain. We got our rain gear out for the first time since northern Peru. It usual happens that as soon as we get our rain gear on it stops. This was the case. The rain stopped after 10 minutes of light rain. Late in the afternoon we made it to the campground Pichi Traful, a glorious spot along the lake and along a crystal clear river. We camped down the river a bit away from most of the campers, in order to enjoy the solitude of nature. We met a Dutch cycling couple, Clara and Rolf, and shared some tea and stories of the road.

That night it was hot so we kept the front of the tent wide open and slept well. My handlebar bag which was at the entrance of the tent when I went to sleep was gone in the morning. It was missing! My new camera, prescription sunglasses, a copy of my passport, a change purse with a few pesos, and my beloved rear-view mirror were missing. I was so confused and distraught. We unpacked everything. and searched through our gear. I searched the whole campground and surrounding area thinking I left it somewhere or perhaps someone stole it and discarded it. I was heartbroken because my new camera was gone. I reported the missing bag to the caretaker of the campground who in return called the park ranger who in return called the police on the radio. After an hour or two of waiting for the police, I was told they were busy with a competition and could not drive the 50 kilometers to investigate the problem.

I felt helpless and wanted to do something about this situation. I wanted to find my bag and its contents. Randy told me it was impossible and that I would never get it back. I went and talked a group of young men nearest to our campground. They had been partying hard the night before and I suspected they had something to do with the missing bag. They talked about a young man who had been partying with them but they really did not know well but they new his name was Saul and he wore a bandanna. Saul had left their campsite about one o'clock in the morning very drunk and headed past our campsite oh his way home or wherever he slept. I reported this information to the campground manager, he and a posse of 4 other workers headed out in search of Saul. They knew Saul was trouble. A short period later, the group of 5 returned with my bag and all of it's contents. It was an amazing sight to see, all my stuff had been recovered. It turned out the drunk thief passed our tent on his way back home and grabbed my bag. He was so drunk he passed out with my big bag lying right next to him and they found him senseless on the ground with my bag and some other goodies from other campsites. I still am amazed at the stupidity of this young ma. Luckily for me, he was a complete failure at being a crook. He should take up some other occupation. I am very thankful for the guys who run the park that they took my report seriously and searched out the robber. In the end the campground will continue to have trouble with the nitwit because no legal charges can be made against him because the items were recovered.

lago espejo panorama from 3132
lago espejo panorama from 3132 (View on flickr)

We finally left the campground after noon and pedaled the stretch I had concerns about. To make matters worse there was giant horseflies that bit us every time we stopped or slowed down. The buggers even bit us through our bike gloves. I killed as many as I could with great satisfaction. The ride was physically challenging but was not as bad as my imagination had made it. Yes it was hilly, dusty and the road had loose gravel but it was beautiful. Stunning! It was just like I had dreamed the views would be. No, even richer and more beautiful. We camped at the lake called Espejo Chico (small mirror) and set up our tent overlooking the lake which indeed is like a mirror. After buying a liter of Quilmes beer from the small camp store, we sat on the beach and watched the sunset dip behind the glacier-carved mountains. With the fading light, day became night. In the still water, I still seethe reflection of day merging into night. The daylight has come and gone and in its place is only the memory of the day. The night embraces the day and holds it safe. It lives on forever in the memory of time.

To me, that evening sunset symbolized a closing of our grand adventure. It is time to wrap things up and head back home. What better place to finish our trip but a Lago Espejo Chico. We have a few more miles to ride but essential it is time to transition away from a life traveling my bicycle.

Flowers by Lake Nahuel Huapi
Flowers by Lake Nahuel Huapi (View on flickr)

The next day we continued on our route and cycled to La Angostura where we would take a bus back to Bariloche, avoiding the busy highway around Lake Nahuel Huapi. During the day we met a cycling couple from Argentina and rode with them for the second half of the ride. Chris and Maria live 6 hours north of the Lakes district but was touring the area for the long weekend. The new friends made the day fly and distracted us from our tired muscles. We stopped and cooked lunch along the shore of Lago Espejo Grande. We learned from them about living in Argentina, working, taxes, benefits and health care and retirement. The dirt road turned to pavement and we continued around Lake Nahuel Huapi for a few kilometers, stopping to take some stunning panoramic photos. After reaching town, all four of us washed up at the local gas station and changed into clean clothes. We then did what most bicycle tourists do when arriving to civilization, and went in search for food. We found the best ice cream in the Americas and ordered 3 scoops each. I am talking about a huge bowl of rich cold, full flavored delights: Lemon, Berry and chocolate bites in caramel ice cream called Dulce de Leche. I will be dreaming of that bowl of ice cream for a long time.

All four of us headed to the bus station and said our goodbyes as Randy and I loaded ourselves and our bikes onto the bus for the hour-long trip to Barliloche. As we road back in the luxury of a huge comfortable bus, I reflected on the 3 day trip. The reality was as great as my drea. I can check-o ff that dream from my long list of things I want to do before I leave this big apple.

Towers from Siete Lagos road
Towers from Siete Lagos road (View on flickr)

With new friends Cristian and Maria
With new friends Cristian and Maria (View on flickr)

Old bridge
Old bridge (View on flickr)

Espejo Chico lake in the morning
Espejo Chico lake in the morning (View on flickr)

Lago Correntoso
Lago Correntoso (View on flickr)