AR­GENTINA’S LAKE DIS­TRICT

Bicycling WOW Rides - - Wow Rides -

out of the 16 000km i rode from Ore­gon, US to Patag­o­nia in 2013 and 2014, my favourite stretch was the 480km from San Martín de los An­des to Esquel, on Ar­gentina’s fa­mous High­way 40. The route through north­ern Patag­o­nia is al­most all paved, with some climb­ing and long de­scents, but noth­ing too stren­u­ous. You start in the north­ern­most lake town of San Martín de los An­des, which sits on Lago Lá­car, and bike from lake to moun­tain pass to lake. Each town along the way re­sem­bles a post­card: Moun­tains and rocky cliffs tower over aqua­ma­rine fin­ger lakes. You’ll find Ger­manin­spired ar­chi­tec­ture, and log cab­ins, as well as pubs and ho­tels and shops sell­ing out­door gear. The towns are de­vel­oped, but still feel wild – sur­rounded by pine forests and green mead­ows and An­dean con­dors.

When you reach the town of Villa La An­gos­tura about 110km from San Martín de los An­des, you’ll find dough­nuts and cream-filled pas­tries and cozy cafés. Wild camp­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties abound, or you can stay at a camp­ground right on the shore. One night I slept inches from a glass-still lake, and woke up to find the sun ris­ing over a snow-cov­ered moun­tain and the wind rip­pling the clear­est wa­ter I’d ever seen.

In another 75 or so kays is the city of Bar­iloche, the brew­ery cap­i­tal of Patag­o­nia (15 mi­cro­brew­eries and count­ing). With a pop­u­la­tion of more than 100 000, it’s the largest town on the lakes. On its out­skirts, where civil­i­sa­tion ends at the foot of the An­des, you can visit the Llao Llao Ho­tel, lo­cated on the edge of a penin­sula on Lago Nahuel Huapi. Its red roof and sprawl­ing wings and hun­dreds of rooms re­minded me of The Shin­ing.

From Bar­iloche, the road winds through val­leys where horses greet you from be­hind fences as you ap­proach El Bol­són. The town sits at the base of a mas­sive moun­tain, Cerro Pil­triq­ui­tron: a wall of sharp stones, like spears, stacked tight to­gether. Con­tinue south and you’ll hit Esquel, the fi­nal stop on the Old Patag­o­nia Ex­press route. You won’t be the only rider on the road, as High­way 40 has be­come pop­u­lar with ad­ven­ture seek­ers; but I can prom­ise you it won’t be crowded, and you’ll be warmly re­ceived in each town by the lo­cals – a mix of re­tired city folks, farm work­ers, indige­nous peo­ple, and ex­pats. Dif­fi­culty 6

je­didiah jenk­ins is the founder and the ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of wilder­ness mag­a­zine.

Lago Nahuel Huapi, Bar­iloche, Ar­gentina.

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