How to Explore Patagonia as a Softie – Part 2, Jorge The Terrible and Caves Galore – Argentina & Chile
(Curious what we mean by “softie”? Check out Part 1 of our Patagonia adventures!)
Perito Moreno, Argentina – the town, not the glacier
We stopped here to see Cueva de los Manos (Cave of the Hands)! Not just any hands…really, really old hands! We arrived and got ourselves a practically brand new hotel, had a very nice hostess, and best of all: a big room with private bath and HOT water. After some of the dumps we stayed in over the past couple of weeks, we were in absolute luxury. We could have just stayed in our hotel and been happy. After renewing showers, though, we were excited for whatever lay ahead.
We booked a “tour” to the Cave of the Hands, which really meant we rented a man and his truck. Our driver, who called himself Harry, had a very strange accent. Turns out he was born and raised on a farm in the area (we drove past it), but his grandfather was Scottish so he spoke perfect English with a Scottish/Argentinean accent, not what you expect! Harry was a bit scary at first glance, but couldn’t have been nicer or more informative. He drove us about 1.5hrs to the caves answering questions and telling stories the whole way. It was great!
Once we reached the Cave, a ranger told us all about their history and walked us all around – nicely set up for tourism, especially compared to many of the other sites we’ve visited in Latin American countries. The hands are carbon dated back as far as 9,000+ years! WOW! 9,000 YEARS!
The ancients used ground up minerals to make the different colors – the minerals were likely mixed with water or blood to form a sort of paint. Creative, if a little gross. Anyway, a tribe member would then put their hand (about 99% are left hands for some reason) on the rock and the “painter” then sprayed paint using their own mouths (yes, essentially spitting the paint) or maybe shooting it through a straw. When the hand was removed, voila!, a painted hand was born! There were hands of all sizes including some that were clearly child and baby sized.
On our drive back we saw herds of guanacos, flocks of South American ostrich, and two armadillos. Harry stopped and let us take pictures. He also pointed out the two gold mines along the way while lamenting how the mines are contaminating the local areas with the powerful chemicals used in the mining process. *sigh* It’s never easy, is it? We like gold as much as the next guy (perhaps more with all the gold jewelry Aaron makes!), but hate cyanide.
Harry told us the the nice paved road was pretty new and pointed out at a dirt path to the side…THAT used to be the road. In fact, all over the roads were recently paved, especially in El Chalten. I think that road was just a few years old. The entire town looked brand new with tons of buildings going up. Every one of our dated travel guides told us about the long horrible rides on the dirt roads, but we barely had any! Patagonia is changing right before our eyes.
Here’s a video of Anner talking to Harry about the guanacos…yes, they are llamas.
Super Special Tip: If you are going to Perito Moreno, you have to try the scones at the Mil Dulzuras Panaderia @ San Martin & Rivadavia – they look like biscuits, but oh-so-tasty! The cookies and breads are good, too, but definitely ask for the scones!
Puerto Tranquil, Chile – via Los Antinguos, Argentina and Chile Chico, Chile
Aaron’s Aunt Casey always tells us that adventure happens when you don’t expect it and this was one of those times. We wanted to see the “marble caves” and heard that boat tours head out from Puerto Tranquil. We managed to get ourselves to Chile Chico where we expected to get a collectivo to Puerto Tranquil. Easier said than done! As it turns out the minibus that we took from Los Antiguos to Chile Chico was filled with people with the same idea. Four were Argentinians from a mountaineering club that were going hiking, but first wanted to see the caves. The other two were a couple of German gap year students taking a trip before diving into university. As luck would have it, one of the Argentines was bilingual and just brought us in as part of the group! From the 4 who left Buenos Aires, we brought the total group up to 8! Everyone in the entire group was super friendly and fun even if we didn’t all share a common language.
Dario, the ring leader bilingual guy, took charge. Practically everything in Chile Chico was closed, but he walked up and down the street talking to locals and after an hour he came back and reported out: No way to get to the marble caves on a Sunday afternoon, but there’s a cabin outside of town that we can stay at, so off we went. Dario and the Argentines arranged a group dinner – we were happy to join in! One of the guys in their group, Brian, we dubbed ‘top chef’ as he made us a delicious dinner and we all spent the evening chatting and laughing like old friends. I love that about traveling… fast friends!
Dario talked to someone who talked to someone else who arranged for a driver to pick us up at 7:00am for our ride to Puerto Tranquil. Aaron woke up at 6:45 worried we all over-slept. I didn’t think it could be that late because the sun wasn’t up and the Germans thought there was a time change we had missed, so everyone snuggled back to sleep until Aaron was awakened by the beep beep beep of the minivan. Aaron stood in the doorway in his PJ’s optimistically shouting, “Un momento!” as if we were all just grabbing our bags. He flipped the lights on, woke the Argentines and we all hussled to get packed and out the door. HA!
The drive was beautiful. When we arrived it was cloudy and rainy and we had no set plan, but once again Dario was able to talk to the driver who talked to someone who talked to someone and like magic we found ourselves in another shared cabana for the night! Plus we had a boat captain who would pick us up shortly to take us to the marble caves. Things were working out perfectly.
Enter Jorge the Terrible. Okay, he introduced himself as simply Jorge, but we assure you he was terrible. The trip began with us all walking down to the lake and hopping in the 10ish person motor boat along with another pair of travelers. It was rather blustery – waves on the lake, clouds rushing across the sky. Jorge started very carefully managing the waves and, with a little bouncing and a bit of spray, we headed out to the Capillas de Marmol – the Marble Caves – which you can only explore by boat or kayak. The caves were really interesting. I am sure the geology fans out there will love the photos.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the caves, smiling, joking, taking photos… then it was time to head back. That’s when Jorge turned Terrible! He cranked up the speed and tore towards home going who knows how fast. The wind had picked up and the lake had whitecaps, but waves be damned, Jorge just went for it! With each wave we all became airborne, falling everywhere and slamming back down to the benches. I screamed “NO LIKE! NO BIEN! MAL! MAL!” All to no avail. I latched arms with Aaron on one side and the tiny Argentinian swimming instructor on my other side and just hoped we could all keep ourselves in the boat. The rain was coming down and we were cold and soaked and really taking a pounding as we’d bounce up as much as 3 feet before slamming ourselves back onto the hard benches! Not fun on our butts or spines! Finally, Dario took his life in his hands and stood up in the front and started screaming at Jorge. The boat didn’t slow down one bit. Dario sat down and the boat continued to slam before Dario had had enough. He turned around and waved that international of signs – the middle finger – and yelled something. Just like that the boat screeched to a third the speed. Thaaank goodness!! It was now apparent we would all make it back to shore. We arrived back in one piece, but a couple of people had butt and backaches and most all of the laughter from before was gone. Thankfully Aaron and I were just fine. Stiff, but fine. Holy Moly! We practically forget about the caves by the time we got back. Safely back on land, a few of us went for lunch. It being a tiny town, guess who else walked into the cafe?? None of us made eye contact. That was that. Terrible, eh?
Aside from the boat trip, Puerto Tranquil was a delightful, err…tranquil, lake town.
* If any of my HDR friends are reading this, we nicknamed Dario “Rongatina” – as in, he was Ron’s long, lost Argentine brother…Dario looks a bit like Ron, but he walks, talks, and acts exactly like him. I kept doing double-takes… I guess it’s best there is only one Ron per continent.
After days and days of go-go-Pata-go-nia, we were ready for a break and took one in Coyhaique. So nice to just relax, catch up on some internet and recover without worrying about “seeing something new”. Truly our highlight was getting to know two travellers that we had crossed paths with repeatedly throughout the south, Yvonne from Austria and Dimphy from Holland, two ladies who each decided to go on some long-term solo travel before running into each other in South America. Love that! This could be an entire blog on it’s own. We crossed paths with them repeatedly through Patagonia. I saw them early on when we arrived in the south and hoped to strike up a conversation when we rode the same bus, but the opportunity didn’t present itself. We crossed paths again on a trail in El Chalten and they told us the lake was just head. We ended up in hotel rooms next to each other in Perito Moreno and Aaron had a short conversation with them. When we rolled into Puerto Tranquil our van parked as I watched them pull away. It was uncanny to say the least – they say travel makes this a small world, but this was getting a bit crazy! Then in Coyhaique we walked into the kitchen of the random hospedaje we had chosen (literally random – walked down a street and said “Let’s try this one”) and who was sitting there? Yes, Yvonne and Dimphy! With that, we decided to really get to know each other and went to a lovely dinner together. We ran into Dimphy again a week later in Santiago – at the top of a hill, no less. So yes, we had dinner again, and when she told us she was heading to Valparaso we decided, “why not” and changed our plans and followed her to the exact same hostel. It’s amazing indeed how small a world it can be for travellers out exploring!
Coming up in part 3: our ferry journey through the fjords from Puerto Chacabuco to Puerto Montt!