Welcome to Argentina´s National Parks in the Patagonian Andes. Just like Oregon, don´t you think?
After our overnight busride back to the Andes we landed in Esquel, a cool basecamp town of 14,000 with lots of potential for hiking, fishing, and camping in the surrounding National Alerces Park. We camped in town for a couple nights before a 5-day journey through the Park by bike along Route 71. There is a great camp spot in Esquel called Backpacker camping where we met some great people. Full kitchen, showers, which made it a great recoup spot. We even had WiFi. Just don´t check out later than 11am or the owners will breath down your neck and glare at you angrily.
Now the reasons we decided to start in Esquel and head North through the Andes instead of our previously determined route were two-fold. First while biking starting at the Argentina border and heading South, the headwinds were strong, so we decided to head in the opposite direction. After some more research we found out that the winds are all over the place but primarly from the West down in the Patagonian Andes, so it didn´t really much matter what direction we headed. Second, the seasons are such that we will be in the cooler regions in Patagonia in the summer, and as we head North through desert, shrub-steppe regions of Mendoza and Tucuman, it will be autumn an hopefully less hot during the day.
As for riding this stretch of the Andes, there were two options for us to head North. Route 40 is the main Panamerican route through the Argentine Andes. This section was paved, but when we looked at Google Earth, it did not look very interesting. Or there is Route 71, all gravel roads through the Park and beyond, for about 120 km, but the route passes by numerous breathtaking mountain lakes, and lots of hiking and camping options are available. We checked in with numerous people and most importantly with owners of a local bikeshop since really, bikers are usually the only people you can really trust to give you a semi-accurate description for our bikey needs, and the roads sounded bikeable on our medium-tread touring bikes. So we decided to the gravel roads would be worth it. And although at times, it was pretty rough, it was still worth it. One word of advice, bring a mountain bike our fatty touring tires for this section of Route 71
The first part of the route leading to Route 71 was 40km to the park entrance and great asphalt with a lot of climb. It was then that we realized we were almost the exact same microclimate as the Oregon Cascades near Portland. I immediately felt at home and at ease. No more getting up at 6am to avoid riding through the desert sun and heat. Lush forests and more moisture in the air. Lots of water to filter if we needed some so we don´t have to lug 10 liters we us at all times. Relief.
Once we arrived at the park, we biked in 10 km more on gravel. It was great packed gravel and dirt so we had no issues. Perfect. There were many free camping options along this route so we set up camp at one and had a nice piece of lake to ourselves. We strolled the lakefront and discovered these beautiful madrone-like, purple-orange-barked trees everywhere along the shore and instantly took a liking them. Ryan also took a liking to this tree as it had endured a chopping attempt many years ago and kept going strong. Fuerte! Good day today.