Damaraland
Damaraland

On the third day we decided that we had had enough walking and decided to rent a car.  In all honesty, we had seen most of the sights that are within walking distance of Hanga Roa.  The island’s other treasures are most easily seen by car.  After a quick car shopping trip along Hanga Roa’s main drag we scored ourselves a hansome 1976 Suzuki Samurai for a mere 20,000 pesos (approx. $40 US).  We actually picked up the car at 6PM on the second day, just in time to head out to some moai for sunset.  Ahu Akivi, our walking destination on day 1, was reached in a mere 20 minutes by car.

Sunset at Ahu Akivi
Sunset at Ahu Akivi

At 7am the next morning we woke up and loaded in the Samurai to catch the sun rising behind Ahu Tongariki, Rapa Nui’s largest restored ahu with 15 moais.  The drive from Hanga Roa was quite easy and we were able to find our way in the dark without any problem.

Sunrise over Ahu Tongariki
Sunrise over Ahu Tongariki
Morning twilight at Ahu Tongariki
Morning twilight at Ahu Tongariki

After sunrise we drove over to the nearby Rano Raraku which is the quarry where most of the moai were carved.  We rolled up at 9AM and found a locked gate.  After waiting for 15-20 minutes, one of the park rangers sauntered up in his truck.  The park opened at exactly 9AM, island time.

Amy with some pukao (moai hats), in the background Rano Raraku
Amy with some pukao (moai hats), in the background Rano Raraku

Being the first ones to arrive we had the added responsibility of dealing with all the cows that gravitate towards the lush grass at the visitor center.  One or two cows is not something that usually bothers me but dealing with an entire herd (complete with calves and their mommies) is a bit unnerving.  Amy was doubly-cautious as she selected her neon orange t-shirt for the day.  Cows love neon orange, I’m sure.

Once we navigated the bovine circus, we could enjoy the spectacle that is Rano Raraku.  A lush green mountainside absolutely littered with moai of all sizes.  Some upright, some face flat on the ground, others half-buried and many still attached to the rock face from which they were carved.  Add some soft amber lighting thanks to the rising sun and it was absolutely incredible.

Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy's favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)
Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy’s favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)

Towards midday we headed over to Anakena beach at the east end of the island.  It is the only large sandy beach on Rapa Nui and is absolutely stunning.  It is flanked on one side by an ahu with a few moai and at the other side with some coconut palms.  We grabbed a picnic table and dug into some tasty pasta salad with island-grown avocado and tomato.  Delicious!

Anakena Beach
Anakena Beach

An hour of lounging on the beach and swimming followed our late lunch and then we started to head towards Hanga Roa.  We dropped by Ahu Tongariki (where we watched the sunrise that morning) and snapped a few pictures in the afternoon light.  The remaining couple of hours of our rental car time were spent driving up the coast and enjoying the vistas.  All in all, a great 24 hours on Rapa Nui!

Our wheels.  1976 Suzuki Samurai
Our wheels. 1976 Suzuki Samurai


Easter Island – Day 3 (Ahu Tongariki, Rano Raraku)
Sunset at Ahu Akivi
Sunset at Ahu Akivi
Morning twilight at Ahu Tongariki
Morning twilight at Ahu Tongariki
Sunrise over Ahu Tongariki
Sunrise over Ahu Tongariki
Wild horses are all over the island
Wild horses are all over the island
Amy with some pukao (moai hats), in the background Rano Raraku
Amy with some pukao (moai hats), in the background Rano Raraku
Rano Raraku, also known as “the nursery”
Rano Raraku, also known as “the nursery”
A large unfinished moai still attached to the mountain
A large unfinished moai still attached to the mountain
It is hard to make him out but I am standing in front of a huge 60+ ft moai that is partially complete.
It is hard to make him out but I am standing in front of a huge 60+ ft moai that is partially complete.
Anakena Beach
Anakena Beach
Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy's favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)
Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy’s favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)
Pink sand at Anakena
Pink sand at Anakena
Lots of wild horses means that there are also lots of wild horse skulls
Lots of wild horses means that there are also lots of wild horse skulls
Horse attack!
Horse attack!
Sooty tern
Sooty tern
One more (daytime) visit to Ahu Tongariki
One more (daytime) visit to Ahu Tongariki
All lined up
All lined up
Our wheels.  1976 Suzuki Samurai
Our wheels. 1976 Suzuki Samurai
Taking a break
Taking a break
Precise stone fitting at Vinapu
Precise stone fitting at Vinapu


On our second day on Chiloé we woke up to a thick fog and piled on a heavy breakfast at the hostel.  The rain had stopped and it looked like the sun was trying burn through the fog.  We jumped in our trusty Chevy and headed east to find the coastal road that stretches from the port of Chacao (where our ferry from Puerto Montt landed) to Castro which is about half way down the island.

The dirt road took us through a hilly green countryside that was covered in small farms.  We passed through numerous seaside villages and stopped to see some of the wooden churches and seaweed-covered beaches.  It appeared that many of the homes were involved in the seaweed industry as they had piles of the stuff drying nearby.

Quemchi, Chile
Quemchi, Chile

We made it to Quemchi, about halfway to Castro, by the early afternoon and realized that our progress down the coast was much slower than expected.  We made a quick visit to the mirador in Quemchi to get a bird’s eye view of the village and the fish (shellfish?) farming rigs out in the bay and then hopped on Ruta 5 for Castro.

Castro, the pricipal city on Chiloé (population 40,000), was quite lively when we arrived.  We pulled into a parking spot right along the main square and only had to walk a few steps to the tourist office.  We have been very impressed with the tourist offices both here in Chiloé and in the Lakes District of Argentina; they know how important tourism is and the materials they provide are very good.

The first item on the to-do list in Castro was lunch.  We had heard that there were some nice waterfront restaurants down by the market so we headed in that direction.  Within minutes we were sitting at a nice table right by the water-facing window of a stilthouse.  After spying on the food on the surrounding tables I decided to give curanto a go.

Curanto: a big bowl of mussels, clams, chorizo, chicken, pork and some sort of bread patty.  Served with broth.
Curanto: a big bowl of mussels, clams, chorizo, chicken, pork and some sort of bread patty. Served with broth.

Curanto is a hodgepodge of shellfish, meat and potatoes.  Traditionally, it is cooked in a hole in the ground but I suspect that what I had for lunch was prepared in a stew pot.  The enormous bowl included a very generous serving of mussels, clams, chorizo, pork, chicken and milcaos.  The mussels were absolutely massive, definitely the biggest I’ve seen and were exceptionally tender.  Certainly not the chewy sand-filled things I often get around Boston.  In the end, I wasn’t able to finish the entire bowl but I guess that isn’t too surprising seeing that the three ladies sitting next to us split one bowl between the three of them.  The meal was an exceptional value at 8 USD.

After lunch we visited the massive chuch of San Francisco which is the largest of the wooden churches on Chiloé.  Next, we headed to another section of waterfront to check out the colorful palofitos which are traditional stilt-house.  

Before we knew it our time with our rental car was up and we had to return it to Ancud.  I was happy that I didn’t have to wash it!

Before...
Before…
...and after!
…and after!

Castro, Chiloé Island, Chile
The Andes as seen from Chiloé
The Andes as seen from Chiloé
Boat in the mist
Boat in the mist
The church in the village of Lliuco
The church in the village of Lliuco
Seaweed drying in the sun
Seaweed drying in the sun
Drying seaweed
Drying seaweed
Quemchi, Chile
Quemchi, Chile
Curanto: a big bowl of mussels, clams, chorizo, chicken, pork and some sort of bread patty.  Served with broth.
Curanto: a big bowl of mussels, clams, chorizo, chicken, pork and some sort of bread patty. Served with broth.
The palafitos (“stilt houses”) in Castro
The palafitos (“stilt houses”) in Castro
Before...
Before…
...and after!
…and after!

Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile
Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile

Ancud and Chiloé Island are absolutely verdant so it is no surprise that they get about 300 rainy days each year. Our first full day in Ancud was just that. Somewhere between a drizzle and a mist. The good news is that it was light enough to be tolerable for some sightseeing around town.

Wooden models of the UNESCO churches
Wooden models of the UNESCO churches

One of the priciple attractions on Chiloé are the UNESCO listed wooden churches that dot the island. There is a nice little museum in Ancud that discusses the very clever carpentry techniques that were devised to build these impressive structures. Another draw of the island is the scenic coastline that is dotted with colorful houses.


Since we only had two full days on Chiloé, we once again opted to rent a car to see some of the surrounding countryside. Seeing the island using public transportation is certainly doable but it takes a bit more time. We picked up another Chevy Corsa (the budget car of choice in S. America I am learning) from a local rental argency for about 50USD for 24-hours which included a generous 450km. Our little hatchback included my newly-appreciated feature: power steering!

Pink fog as the sun sets
Pink fog as the sun sets

Despite the setting sun, we decided to make a dash for the Faro Corona (lighthouse) at the end of the Lacuy Peninsula west of town. We made it there about 30 minutes after sunset and found ourselves in front of a closed gate at a dead end in the road. A guy in a naval uniform came out and told us that the visitor center had closed a few hours earlier and that we should come back the next day. Bummer, we thought.

Just as we were about the jump in the car for the hour drive back to town, his commander leaned out the window of one of the buildings and shouted something along the lines of “oh, just let them in!” A short while later one of the officers was giving us a private tour of the facility. It was foggy and drizzly but that made the lighthouse even more spectacular.

We learned that the lighthouses are staffed by naval officers who are on a four month rotation. The man showed us photos of some extremely remote lighthouses where he had been stationed in the past. One of them was perched on a jagged rocky island somewhere in the middle of nowhere, only accessible by boat then helicopter. What a crazy place to live! In addition to maintaining the lighthouse and fog horns, the officers are also responsible for tracking ships once they depart for the open ocean. If they don’t come back on schedule then help will be sent.

Ancud, Chiloé Island, Chile
Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile
Colorful boats in Ancud, Chile
Penguina by the sea
Penguina by the sea
The sun sets on our first day in Ancud
The sun sets on our first day in Ancud
Amy enjoying the view from the sunroom at the hostel.
Amy enjoying the view from the sunroom at the hostel.
Wooden models of the UNESCO churches
Wooden models of the UNESCO churches
Some crazy carpentry
Some crazy carpentry
A kingfisher
A kingfisher
Man gathering seaweed.  He said it was for use on your hair or scalp.
Man gathering seaweed. He said it was for use on your hair or scalp.
Steamer ducks and gulls
Steamer ducks and gulls
Lawn mowers
Lawn mowers
Pile of sleepy dogs
Pile of sleepy dogs
On the way to Lacuy Peninsula
On the way to Lacuy Peninsula
Pink fog as the sun sets
Pink fog as the sun sets
Xenon lightbulb for the lighthouse
Xenon lightbulb for the lighthouse

San Martín de los Andes proved to be a smaller and quieter version of Bariloche.  Like Bariloche, it is situated on the bank of a nice blue lake and is completely surrounded by pine-covered mountains.  I guess it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the surrounding forests and parks are the main attraction.

A photo of me taking a photo.
A photo of me taking a photo.

On our first morning we climbed the Mirador Bandurrias for a view of the town and the far eastern end of Lake Lácar.  It is an easy 45 minute hike from the edge of town once you find the trailhead.  There are a couple houses near the top and an old lady that charges you a couple of pesos to enter (private property?) but it is certainly worth it.  The views were spectacular and the old ladies’ goats were also fun to watch.  I gave one a crab apple that I found on the trail and he seemed very pleased with it.

Volcán Lanín - 3776m
Volcán Lanín – 3776m

Later that day we hopped in the car and drove north to Lago Huechulafquen to get a peek at the Lanín volcano.  It was late in the day so we opted to not enter the park (around $12 per person) but were still able to see it from the windy shore of the lake.

On day 2 in San Martín we headed west on a dirt road that hugs the north shore of Lago Lácar.  The road goes all the way to Chile but we only wanted to go as far as Yuco Park to check out the lake shore.  We rolled into the park in our tiny Chevy Corsa and discovered a couple dozen other vehicles in the parking area: all of them were SUVs.  At first I thought that perhaps I had misjudged the quality of the road on the way in (it was dry and mostly downhill).

Arrayanes trees
Arrayanes trees

It wasn’t until a few minutes later, when we came across a group of 40 or so American/Canadian tourists, that I put two and two together.  Their guides were packing up their fancy catered lunch and they were all piling back into their SUVs.  The way I had it figured, they were each traveling two to a vehicle.  That’s an environmentally conscious way to tour a national park.  Either way, after the group left we had the place more or less to ourselves.  It was gorgeous.

San Martín de los Andes
The town as viewed from the mirador.  A short 45 minute walk from the center.
The town as viewed from the mirador. A short 45 minute walk from the center.
...and the view in the other direction down Lake Lácar.
…and the view in the other direction down Lake Lácar.
A photo of me taking a photo.
A photo of me taking a photo.
San Martín has a nice selection of dogs.  Here is a particularly furry model.
San Martín has a nice selection of dogs. Here is a particularly furry model.
The central plaza (either Sarmiento or San Martín, I can't remember which.)
The central plaza (either Sarmiento or San Martín, I can’t remember which.)
They have strange pine trees in these parts.
They have strange pine trees in these parts.
Volcán Lanín - 3776m
Volcán Lanín – 3776m
La costa de Lago Huechulafquen
La costa de Lago Huechulafquen
The next day back on Lago Lácar
The next day back on Lago Lácar
Arrayanes trees
Arrayanes trees
More arrayanes trees
More arrayanes trees
Our own private beach
Our own private beach
A hummingbird!  Check out what happens when he turns his head...
A hummingbird! Check out what happens when he turns his head…
Yep, it is red when viewed from the front.  Same bird.
Yep, it is red when viewed from the front. Same bird.
The view from our room at Siete Flores Hosteria.  Got this place for $40/night thanks to a groupon deal in BsAs.
The view from our room at Siete Flores Hosteria. Got this place for $40/night thanks to a groupon deal in BsAs.
Killer breakfast with all sorts of locally made jams.
Killer breakfast with all sorts of locally made jams.


After a brief one-night stay in Bariloche to get our bearings we rented a newish base-model Chevy Corsa.  When I say base-model, I mean it.  No aire acondicionado, no power locks, no power windows and, best of all, no power steering.  Good times!  On the plus side, it did have a Sony radio that could receive AM, FM and shortwave.  Renting cars in Argentina is pretty easy with a US drivers license though you do have to be cautious of the prices.  They may be higher  than advertised (~10%) if you aren’t paying cash.

Setting out from Bariloche we followed the famous Siete Lagos drive to San Martín de los Andes.  The drive is less than 200km but it took us a good six hours.  Part of this was due to the fact that you have to stop every 5-10 minutes to enjoy the views.  Another reason was the condition of the dirt road which comprises about one third of the route.  We had to be cautious with our vehicle’s generous 8 inches of ground clearance through areas where there was construction.  The great thing is that there were very few other cars out that day.  Based on the number of companies hocking tours of the route, I gather that the road is packed with tour buses in high-season.

Along the way we quickly lost track of the number of lakes we had seen or their names so I’m not even going to try to reconstruct that for you.  I think the photos below will give you the general idea though.

In the next few days I will be posting more about our time in San Martín de los Andes including my special birthday dinner. We are back in Bariloche now but will be saying goodbye to Argentina tomorrow as we plan to take a morning bus across the Andes to Puerto Montt in Chile.  After a hopefully brief connection we will be off to the town of Ancud on Isla Chiloé.

Siete Lagos Drive
Ruta 231 heading north out of Bariloche
Ruta 231 heading north out of Bariloche
Our base model Chevy.  Stick shift with no power steering.
Our base model Chevy. Stick shift with no power steering.
A lizard!
A lizard!

 

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