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Patagonia is divided into Argentinean Patagonia and Chilean Patagonia.
This review is about Argentinean Patagonia.
I could have said this without repeating the word Patagonia so much, but you have no idea how sweet this name sounds on my tongue and my mind.
Patagonia! Patagonia Patagonia Patagonia.
The origin of the name Patagonia is not very clear. Some say it was derived from the Tehuelches (natives of the region) moccasins size. The Tehuelches were (they have now been eradicated) very tall and it is said that the shoes (moccasins) they wore made their feet appear even larger, hence, some assume, Magellans crew derived the word Patagonia from the Spanish word pata, meaning foot (although the Spanish word for human feet is pie, whilst the word for animal feet or paws is pata, but colloquially, pata is used for feet in general!).
Others say that Magellan was inspired by the name of a fictional monster from a Spanish romance of that period. The monster was called Patagón and Magellan may have applied the term to the Tehuelches and from there, to their land!
Argentinean Patagonia covers the following southern regions of the beautiful land that is Argentina: part of the Río Negro, Chubut and Santa Cruz, all the way down to the Strait of Magellan.
Protected from Pacific storms by the Chilean Andes, it is usually referred to as arid to semi-arid. Although this is true, it makes it sound like a desert and that, it certainly is not! There are many green spaces and amazing landscapes to be found. Difficult to describe as they are quite varied: from flat stretches (and very stretchy indeed) to warm coloured dunes surrounded by land carpeted with little flowers, forests, mountains, caves, lakes and rivers
It is often very windy, but the climate is generally temperate, except during the winter, when temperatures do drop to well below zero.
Patagonia is immense, and although I have travelled through it for almost 2 months (in 2 years), there are still many places I have yet to know, and the ones I already know, to revisit!
Our first entry into the land of my dreams was through the Chubut area, we crossed from Coyhaique in Chile, by car, and my first impression was extreme boredom. For almost 3 hours, we were driving down a straight line with nothing in sight but flat brownish green grass!
I dont remember anything wonderful before we reached Comodoro Rivadavia, except numerous wind-energy farms, oil pipelines and drilling dogs. Not very impressive, but for some reason my heart was so joyful!
There is nothing exceptional about Comodoro Rivadavia, but this is where my love for Argentina grew its first root.
We needed to get a tyre replaced urgently and were looking for a specific place to do this. We got lost while searching for it and, asking for directions, a gentleman who was just opening his store, came near us and proceeded to help. The next thing we knew, he shut down his store again, got into his truck and told us to follow him; he would drive us there.
We thought it must be 5 minutes away, but it took 20 minutes to get there. The man literally drove us right up to the place we were looking for and then left! We could hardly believe so much kindness! Thankfully, we had stocked up on wine before leaving Chile and could at least give him a little thank you present!
We were to experience many more similar acts of kindness from the Argentines we met on our long trip.
Having found the tyre we were looking for, we went towards the town centre of Comodoro Rivadavia. Colourful and very inviting, we strolled for a long time before walking into a café/ restaurant where the choice of food was such that it was almost torture to make a decision.
When we left, it was night and the streets were lively. The weather was fine (it was December, summer there). We walked for many hours and enjoyed looking at the streets, the shops, the buildings and the people. There was definitely positive energy to be felt!
The next morning, we had breakfast and discovered more city streets bustling with life and as I sat drinking my coffee and watching the people go by, I could not help but notice how Beautiful people were in this part of Argentina. I was to find out that this was the case in the rest of the country as well. Argentineans are decidedly a beautiful nation!
We got back into the car and headed south again, we crossed many little towns and stopped several times either to admire a specific setting, to rest or eat. The towns we crossed I will not dwell on, as we only really stayed very little in most, however they seemed quite deserted.
Fitzroy, Puerto Deseado, Puerto San Julián and we reached Río Gallegos, near the strait of Magellan, where again, we did not stay very long, as we were heading for Tierra del Fuego (I have written a separate review about Tierra del Fuego).
On our way back from Tierra del Fuego, we headed towards Calafate, in the extreme south of Patagonia, a picturesque little town, the gateway towards the magnificent Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (The Glaciers, so this gives you an idea..) where you will find the Glacier Perito Moreno, the largest in Argentina and one of the few advancing glacier on earth. It is 1600-sq-km and about 60m high (I am planning to write a separate op in this as well) and to stand in front of it is truly a humbling experience.
Leaving Calafate, on the 29th of December, we drove back north and did the same thing we had done on the way south: stopped in many places to breathe in the fresh air, marvel at the landscapes that extended before us like magic oil paintings whose hues metamorphosed along with the light, and sometimes just to chat with the very friendly locals.
We were in a hurry, we were meant to be back in Chile by the 31st for New Years Eve at my mother in laws. The problem was that, we simply could not rush too much, we were aware that this journey was unique, for many reasons; I was travelling with my very young son and his father, from whom I was already separated, and this was perhaps the last trip we would make as a family (in fact it was not). Besides, this was an out of the blue adventure, we were not even supposed to have gone this far, and the impulse that drove us to do so and continue doing so was much more powerful than the desire to be in a family reunion for the New Year.
So pretending to be in a hurry, we continued stopping as much as we could, until we reached Bariloche (again, separate op. to come out soon on this), in the glorious Lake District, the very beginning of Argentinean Patagonia. A very touristic but absolutely charming town, with the fabulous Nahuel Huapi Lake as its extensive mirror.
It was 7pm, the border with Chile could not be crossed after 9pm, but we HAD to visit Bariloche, if only briefly. So we did. Bariloche is a ski resort during the winter and looks very much like an Austrian resort with its gracious wooden houses and balconies full of flowers We did not want to leave, but reluctantly, we did. Only to get to the border with Chile and be told we were too late. It was 9.30pm. We did not even insist, instead, headed back towards Bariloche with a huge smile on our face and barely any regrets.
We passed streets full of groups of people (mainly teenagers) preparing to celebrate the New Year, smiling, dancing, happy we parked out car in a vast space, right in front of the Nahuel Huapi, our son already fast asleep in a cosy specially made bed in the car, opened a bottle of wine (no champagne) and waited! It was 11.52pm.
It was peaceful, the lake glistened under a moon that was not full and many stars winking at us like hopes waiting to be fulfilled. We could hear happy voices in the background, already celebrating the year that was on the threshold; only a few minutes to a New Year. As I have mentioned, we were already no longer a couple, and were actually both silent. I do not know what was on my ex-husbands mind, but I remember clearly the feeling that overwhelmed me: peacefulness. My gaze was one with the lake in front of me, and the mountains that delicately traced it. I was happy to be in Argentina, in Patagonia, for the beginning of a new year and something seemed to whisper to me that this had not been a coincidence. My love for this land had grown by the day, by the minute, and at this very moment, it was about to explode, in time with the fireworks that soon stole some of my peace, but only to replace it with intensely felt ecstasy!
The New Year had finally made its entrance. We embraced, I went inside the car to kiss my son; we drank some wine, and smiled at each other. Then we stayed up for another 2 hours, talking a little, but mainly in silence. I was absorbing the last drops of intensity and purity in which this land, Patagonia, had soaked me in. A smile was forever etched on my face for having crossed it, and two more days in Bariloche (well yes, the New Year was already here, so what the hell? Chile can wait ) only served to make me fall even more in love with the place.
And that is where I shall end my personal story.
If what you want is to really "get away from it all, and experience another world, then Patagonia should definitely be on your priority list of places to go.
The diversity of the landscape is quite surprising, from the jewel like waters and lush forests of the lake district (Bariloche, El Bolsón, San Martín de Los Andes ) to the breathtaking beauty of the glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park, you can hardly stop feeling amazed by everything you see in between as well.
The vast expanses of untouched wilderness where you really can feel, be it for only a few hours or days, that you are alone in the world and that the earth has never been abused, are in themselves worth travelling all the way there for.
I would advise any travellers to rent a car and travel at their own pace, this is how I travelled there with my very young son and his father and it certainly makes a difference. Although buses there are very comfortable and not expensive, nothing equals being able to stop when and where you want, and the landscape is so beautiful that you really feel the urge to stop every few minutes just to bask in the wonder of it all and to take lots of pictures.
We travelled from the Lake district all the way down to Calafate and down to Los Glaciares National Park and even made it to Tierra del Fuego, and everywhere we stopped (we really did stop a lot) the locals were extremely kind, friendly and sincerely helpful, two of them literally leaving their job for up to half an hour to lead us to a place we were looking for.
Although some of them do speak English, it is definitely advisable to learn some basic Spanish before going there.
Accommodation ranges from camping sites to luxurious cabañas (purpose built houses that vary from a studio like room to a 3 or more fully furnished bedroom house) and is still very cheap. All the places we stayed in were clean and well kept. Prices can start at $10 (I believe there are even cheaper hostels) and climb to three figure sums for a 4 o 5 star hotel or one of those delightful cabañas. Discounts are often given for longer stays, usually from a week onwards, but some will give you a special price for a 5 night stay.
If you go there during the summer (December to March), it would be best to book a little in advance, as the best (and cheapest) places go fast.
Patagonia is still relatively cheap, due to the devastating economic crisis that hit Argentina a couple of years ago and from which it has still not fully recovered, and a generous meal for 2 in a good restaurant with "bife chorizo" (the most delicious steak that you are ever likely to try in your life) salad, chips and wine will cost you less than £10 (unless you go for a really expensive wine).
Although Argentinean "asados" (barbecues) and their meat in general is seriously mouth-watering, vegetarians will find that it is very easy to find delicious salads, pizzas, pastas, fruit etc at excellent prices.
The wine is exquisite and competes head high with its Chilean, French, Aussie, Italian and Spanish counterparts, and is surprisingly cheap.
You can practice all sorts of sports there, depending on the location and the season, but it is a trekker's paradise.
As far as flora and fauna is concerned, the variety is not negligible at all, marine life (seals, many kinds of penguins..) many birds (woodpeckers, hawks, eagles, black necked swans, parrots, ducks, cormorants, seagulls ) and mammals (wild cats, pumas, foxes, deer, rodents, rabbits, castors ) and well, I will not go into the flora, as I only know the names in Spanish!
I could go on forever, but I believe that I have managed to get my point across.
The funny thing is that I ended up in Argentinean Patagonia by mistake; we were advised to take the Argentinean motorway to get to the extreme south of Chile, as we were told it was better than its Chilean equivalent (I would say less bad), but the kindness of the people in Argentina and the astounding panoramas that surrounded us all the time, mingled with delicious food and wine, meant that we ended up touring all of Argentinean Patagonia for over a month, left it heartbroken, but went back the year after the best mistake I have ever made!
Patagonia is a vast region of desert It is the portion of South America mainly in Argentina and partly of Chile made up of the Andes mountains to the west and south and plateaus and low plains to the east. The name Patagonia comes from the Spanish word Patagon (Bigfoot) used by sailors in Magellan's voyage to describe native people they thought to be giants. Most people now believe the Patagons were actually Tehuelches and Aonikenk with an average height of 1.80m compared to the 1.55 average for Spaniard by the time. To the east of the Andes, it lies south of the Neuquén River and Colorado rivers, and, to the west of the Andes, south of (39°S), excluding the Chiloé Archipelago. East of the Andes the Argentine portion of Patagonia includes the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz, and Tierra del Fuego, as well as the southern tips of the provinces of Buenos Aires, Mendoza and La Pampa. The Chilean portion embraces the southern part of the region of Los Lagos, and the regions of Aysen and Magallanes. It excludes those portions of Antarctica claimed by both countries. The Andes Mountains in Patagonia are characterized by these soaring granite pillars in Torres del Paine National Park in nearby Chile.