Majestic Araucaria Trees & Magnificent Rivers
Rio Aluminé finally reaches its source in Lago Aluminé and we followed it all the way – 40Km from the town Aluminé and almost 100Km in total – from our camping spot on its bank. The river and the Araucarias made the last section a pleasure. Lago Aluminé is a lovely lake and a tourist destination. Being February, there were plenty around enjoying the views, beaches and water sports. The lakeside is also made more beautiful with the presence of many Araucarias. Once again we parked by water to sleep – this time next to the lake, and enjoyed an impressive sunset over it.
[Please click any square thumbnail on this page to open the corresponding large photo.]
In the national park in Chile we walked through forests of Araucaria trees. Here we would see them in more isolated numbers, often just one or two appearing to grow out of the top of a rocky outcrop. One day Juergen said, “they look like bonsai in big”, and while this may sound like a contradiction in terms, it is actually quite apt. There were little rocky peninsulas jutting out into the lake, and also a few islands dotted around, and on all of them a few Araucarias, ‘bonsai in big’!
Leaving Lago Aluminé, we believed we were also leaving the Araucarias behind. The first part of the road was bounded on both sides with nothing but pine plantations. But a little further along and they popped into view again. The road was ripio and the landscape quite barren except for the impressive Araucaria trees. We love them, but today we loved something else that appeared in all of our photos – the most amazing cloud formations that were constantly changing in the very blue sky. It is not the first time we have been awed by the clouds in Argentinian skies. Some people online use the hashtag #cloudporn for their photos, and I’m beginning to understand the expression. When there are stunning cloud formations about, you just want to keep taking pictures…
After another 40Km of ripio we met the main highway going from Las Lajas to another border crossing into Chile – Paso Pino Hachado. But we still have more time in Argentina and turned toward Las Lajas, on a comfortable newly-paved road. It always feels wonderful after a few days of ripio and dust! But we also lost the Araucarias again and that was disappointing. We had planned to turn off this road before Las Lajas and follow Rio Agrio north, but internet and fresh bread tempted us, along with the safeguard of filling with diesel and water before we really needed it.
We drove directly to the YPF service station – always the best bet for internet in Argentina – and arrived directly behind a motor accident. In fact, one of the vehicles involved had overtaken us only minutes before. It was impressive to watch the efficiency of the emergency services dealing with injured people trapped in a car so badly damaged that it made us doubt their survival chances. For a small town like Las Lajas, we were also surprised that ambulance and emergency rescue services were available locally at all.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent on the internet in a restaurant, which looked like a bit of a dive, but the coffee was ok and we made it last a couple of hours! Then we drove out of town and parked by a tributary of Rio Agrio for the night. The clouds had turned to grey but the sun still shone through and provided us with an amazing evening light – check out the photo of this…
The next morning we headed back into town to pick up the supplies we needed. At the YPF we noticed an overlander vehicle and met ‘Paws on Tour’ . We spent some time chatting with them and picking up info, since they had just come from the way we were going. They suggested a nice camping place at Lago Agrio, so we decided to veer off the route we had planned to take and drive on to the waterfall we wanted to see from the lake. This turned out to be a great tip, as is often the case when meeting fellow overlanders, and we are grateful.
Rio Agrio, Lago Agrio, and Cascada del Agrio
The road north following Rio Agrio (RN21) is also paved, and the beautiful clouds were out again – at one point I swear I saw one that resembled the Starship Enterprise!!! North of Loncopué we left the 21 to drive towards Caviahue and Lago Agrio (on RP26), leaving the river behind. About 25km from Loncopué, we drove off the road after seeing some strange rock formations and a sign ‘Riscos Bayos’. These are eroded ‘tears’ of volcanoes and it seems they are rare. According to this article [Spanish] there are only 2 other places in the world with the same geological formations – Turkey and Mexico. (more detail here [Spanish] ) We drove down the track until it became too narrow for Berta and Juergen decided it was time to turn around , but we got a great view of the formations. There seems to always be something interesting around the next corner!
Back on the road, and only a kilometre or so along it, we came to a stop again. Here the rocks were close to the road and there were many shrines built amongst them. We don’t fully understand the significance of these roadside shrines but we find them fascinating. Wandering around looking at them also gave us a chance to walk amongst similar rocks to those we had just viewed from a distance. Shortly after we left that place the scenery changed again; we were driving through an amazing valley, with green grass and all sorts of animals – goats, sheep, cattle, and horses – grazing together. It is the valley of Arroyo Hualcupén, which is a tributary of Rio Agrio.
Ten minutes later, Lago Agrio appeared with the village of Caviahue on its shore. As soon as we drove into Caviahue the pavement ended and we were back on ripio. The town appeared to be geared toward the winter ski season rather than summer tourists, and felt almost like a ghost town. We drove through and easily found the place by the lake that had been suggested. Once again we found ourselves amidst Araucaria trees and parked amongst them and near the lake for the night. We also had an excellent view of the Volcan Copahue, which is active and was belching smoke. We liked the spot so much that we thought to stay another day, but when we got up in the morning it was so cold and windy that by lunchtime we decided to drive on.
It wasn’t far to Cascada del Agrio, but on the way we stopped at La Fontaine – it’s marked on our map as a village, but there was only a collection of buildings painted in bright colours next to a bridge over the river. We crossed the bridge and stopped on the other side in order to look at a small cascade in the river. The bridge had felt a bit wonky, and when we got out we noticed a sign for vehicles approaching the bridge in the opposite direction which said, maximum weight 3T – we are around 9! Neither of us had seen a sign before the bridge, so I walked back across and found 2. The one on the passenger side of the road was almost illegible – the one on the driver’s side was totally unreadable unless you knew what it said! Luckily the bridge held. We had read of an overlander Unimog that had fallen through a bridge into a ravine below. This is really a worst nightmare scenario.
When we reached the waterfall, the wind was even worse than it had been at the lake, so we were in a bit of a hurry! It is not overly impressive as waterfalls go, but the bright orange/red colours of the riverbed and rocks, and the green water are really incredible, and the canyon is also quite spectacular. After the waterfall the road followed the edge of Rio Agrio’s canyon and the views down to the river were amazing. The vivid orange was still present and the water was a strong blue – the landscape really looks as if it is painted!
This short trip including the river, lake and waterfall brought an amazing number of interesting sights in a short distance. We left the river behind, and the Araucarias, but also the ripio and headed back to the pavement (so we thought) of Ruta 40. This will be the topic of our next post…
During the first part of this report we followed Ruta Nacional 23 through the mountains. Particularly after Lago Aluminé, the landscape is very interesting and varied, and you can find countless free, very scenic, camping locations along the banks of the river. Take enough supplies and you could spend days here…
Most of the land along RN21 and RP26 was again fenced, until we reached Lago Agrio. Along the shores of this lake and further on you will also find many options for ‘bush camping’.
Though rough in parts, all ‘ripio’ roads (gravel roads) are passable with normal vehicles; we met plenty of little Peugeots and VWs, although the majority of traffic was small pick-up trucks (or ‘utes’, in Australian).