The time came for our longest haul of the trip, driving from El Bolsón to El Chaltén. We initially planned to do the entire drive in two days (Wednesday and Thursday) but decided instead to leave El Bolsón on Tuesday and drive a few hours south to the Parque Nacional Los Alerces, where we stayed on Tuesday night. This gave us an opportunity to see the park and feel like we had a slight jumpstart on the mileage ahead of us when we set off Wednesday morning.
The entire road through the park is gravel and, in certain sections, riddled with washboards. While there were a few great views of a glacier and of lakes, we were surprised at the lack of any grand vistas or pull-outs along the road to “ooh” and “ahh” at the scenery. Maybe we’re just spoiled with our national parks back home.
On Wednesday morning we left the park and spent about 12.5 hours making our way south on Ruta 40. Most of the time we were surrounded by nothing but miles upon miles of expansive plains and massive skies, with frequent sightings of the local wildlife (Alastair swears he saw an armadillo but I saw no such thing and we have yet to see another). We also took some time to practice our singing skills and tried out a few new duets.
We made it to the Las Horquetas area and had our first experience with “wild camping,” which simply means we parked the campervan down by the river (enter Chris Farley) in a small lot away from the main highway. There were no amenities and no protection from the wind, but it was a really fun way to spend the night and provided amazing 360-degree views of the sunrise on Thursday morning. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where I could see so far in all directions yet feel so secluded from everything and everyone (except Alastair, of course). And, it was free! Win-win!
The long hours on Wednesday felt well worth it on Thursday when we rolled in to El Chaltén by early afternoon. This section of driving included many more miles of unpaved highway and tested our skills at staying on our side of the road during massive gusts of Patagonian winds. Alastair was such a trooper and did almost all of the driving (and has been doing so since we got the van) while I played DJ and enjoyed watching the clouds form and reform into all sorts of shapes and sizes.
Shortly after arriving in El Chaltén it began to rain. It was mildly refreshing considering the heat and dust we’ve been subject to recently, and we’ve been lucky to avoid any rain up until this point. We spent most of the rest of the day in the van and in a communal building at our campground plotting our strategy for the upcoming days and crossing our fingers for drier weather ahead.