Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Seven Lakes of Argentina

In my the last report about our trip to Argentian I left you in San Martin, the final town on the seven lakes tour in the Andes.  The evening before we departed we stopped in the town square to watch a couple performers and their amazing tricks on a big hoop and a slack tight rope (is that an oxymoron?). Here is a short movie clip of the show.  

Lenin volcano from route 40
Then it was further north to visit the Lanin Volcano Even from the roadside thirty kilometres short the snow-cap was spectacular. Then came a turn on to a rough dirt road. We skirted lake Huechulafquen and then crept slowly through a maze of hairpin bends until we reached the end and stopped on the shore of the north western arm of the lake. Now the mountain was in full view, Spectacular!
The majestic volcano

 We were in for a surprise. Three mounted gauchos rode their horses straight into the lake at its narrow junction with the main body of water. At no time did the horses go deeper than their hocks. The shallow water was no doubt well known to locals. The posse was leading, sometimes dragging, a reluctant Hereford heifer.

The gauchos cross the lake
A reluctant Hereford heifer being brought home
Every now and again the heifer simply sat and refused to move. It had to be ‘persuaded’ The men stopped right by me and so I was able take a few photos of the drama. The animal had escaped from its herd mates and was being returned to base.

Over a picnic lunch of empanadas and ham and cheese sandwiches, purchased at a panaderia (bakery) in San Martin we could see the volcano framed by numerous monkey puzzle trees that are native to the area.   .    

There is a traditional Argentinian folk story about the volcano. It involves a hunt, an angry god that causes the mountain to shoot flames and smoke into the sky, and the sacrifice of a young girl to appease the god. Since the sacrifice the mountain has remained quiet and has never lost its snowy peak. The story is recounted on several websites that vary a tad from one another. 

Our next stop was in Villa Traful. To get to this little resort we had to leave the excellent paved route 40 and go down a gravel road with hairpin bends and plenty of rock. It was here that we learned more about the history and biology of the tree.  There are males and females, each bearing cones that differ in shape and colour. The taxonomic name of the ones that are native to the southern and central parts of Chile and Argentina is Araucaria araucana. It is the national tree of the former and is long-lived (up to a thousand years according to some).

female blossoms
Male pine cones
There is a related tree in the genus, native to Australia, known as the False Monkey Puzzle, or Bunya tree Araucaria bidwillii. It has been suggested that both trees, members of the Araucariaceae family, flourished during the Jurassic and into the Cretaceous from two hundred million to sixty-five million years ago. At the start of those long-ago times the super continent of Pangaea began to drift apart so it is possible that the original ‘living fossil’ has evolved into the two species in Australia and South America.

Human beings have always been interested in trans-locating plants and animals to a never-ending list of foreign countries (think New Zealand, think Australia). There are monkey-puzzle trees in Canada, the UK and many others. In UK the most famous spot is  Kew Gardens. My own memory of the tree comes from the front garden of the house at 79 Salisbury Road in the city of Salisbury, Wiltshire, where our family lived when I was nine years old. 
Unclimable bark
There was a huge one there and one thing was for sure, I was not going to try and climb it. The spiky trunk made sure of that. No wonder it is called the monkey puzzle.

            Another piece of useful information is that both species of the tree produce edible nuts

            Then it was back to Bariloche for a night before heading across to the east coast. On the way we stopped for lunch at a beach with a splendid view of mountain peaks with lake Nahuel Huapi in the foreground.
A shore-line view of lake Nahuel Huapi

Harldy big enough to damage a car, Just means TAKE CARE
 On the road back through the seven lakes began we passed a road sign that warned of tiny pudu. Because I worked with deer for most of my university career it was a creature I would love to see for real.

A souhern pudu
As I noted in the last post they are the smallest of all deer species, standing at a maximum 45 centimetres. There are two subspecies, the northern and southern.  Once hunted as a food source they are now threatened by habitat conversion and dog predation. 

Bariloche town square. Just jamming for the fun of it.

In Bariloche we headed out for a bite to eat and watched a bunch of musicians jamming in the town square. They had no interest in any cash rewards. They were just having a good time. So were the crowd.

Next day we boarded a couple of the fine buses that carry folks all over the country.  In the afternoon we went south to Esquel. After supper in a pub there we headed back to the bus station and at eleven at night we left for Puerto Madryn. 

Our overnight bus
This overnight bus had seats that turned into reclining beds and offered both supper and breakfast during our seven-hour trip out of the Andes, across the pampas to the east coast. 

More of that next time. 

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