Monkey Puzzle Trees!!!

2011/02/03: 84 km by bike and 50km by truck to Frosty Hollow Camp
The morning involved a 50 km ride, mainly on gravel again, to a junction just west of Las Lajas. Here the road turned west, and straight into the teeth of a gale that made progress a painful struggle. After lunch behind a rock with the Belgian cyclist couple we’d just met, we decided riding into the gale was for the birds. First they quickly thumbed  a ride to tiny Pino Hachado, on the height of land just before the Chilean border. A few minutes later, we got a ride, and were even served a welcome glass of apple juice passed round to the back of the pickup truck where we sat.

Our benefactor was Senora Blanca Alvarez, who was returning to Pino Hachado with groceries. Her driver was an indigenous fellow, since her husband can no longer drive. We were invited in for tea and home made bread at the solid farmhouse where she and he husband spend most of their days, going into Las Lajas weekly for mail and groceries.

We had climbed into the cordillera as we rode in the pickup, and our surroundings had changed dramatically from the dry pampas below. There were forests of araucaria trees all around us, and Blanca showed us photos of snow-clad araucarias in winter. She and her husband are among the few who stay in Pino Hachado all year long.

Araucaria araucana is that huge spiky looking conifer of which a few are planted as exotics in Vancouver parks and gardens. After surviving so many occasions of certain offspring yelling “Monkey puzzle tree! Can’t pinch me!” while pounding a seat mate with a fist any time they spied this rarity from a car in Vancouver, it felt strange to see a whole forest of them!

After tea, we piled on clothing and set out into cold rain along the tiny sand and rock road towards Villa Pehuenia. Luckily the rain didn’t last, and we camped in high pasture country halfway between Pino Hachado to Villa Pehuenia.

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The road

2011/02/04: 34 km to Villa Pehuenia
It was a below-freezing night, and we got moving for an hour before stopping to eat a few biscuits for breakfast.

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Morning shot in the land where the monkey puzzle trees grow.
(Note every tree in this shot, including those on the hill in the distance, is a monkey puzzle tree)
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Sharing the road

After a second breakfast at the junction before VP, we continued to arrive in the scenic and very touristy town on Lago Alumine in the early afternoon. We booked into a rather posh hotel, the only accommodation left if not in the mood to camp and addicted to Wi-Fi, and we slept all afternoon.

2011/02/05: 64 km to Alumine

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Inspecting hive and finding honey

We made the best of the most generous hotel breakfast offerings we’ve seen in a long while, and headed south toward Alumine, mostly gravel, again, but slightly downhill along the tumbling river. At a suspension foot bridge, we met a beekeeper couple who had been inspecting the surrounding hillsides to determine what was in flower, we assume as part of planning their hive deployment. The beekeepers were from adjacent Rio Negro province, a fruit producing area, and gave us some excellent red delicious apples.

And on we went to Alumine, where the only hotel room had two saggy cots and wasn’t cheap, but the adjoining restaurant was wonderful.

2011/02/06: 110 km to Junin de Los Andes
We were moving by 08:00, had a riverside siesta in early afternoon, but didn’t arrive in Junin till dark. It was tough going on gravel, and our riding time as per Chris’s bike computer was over 9 hours. We were pretty bloody knackered as we hunted for digs suitable for a much needed rest day or two. We’d ridden 400 km of gravel mountain roads in the past six days, and when I looked in the mirror I could see the dust of passing cars clogging my every pore and orifice.

We were offered a small apartment rather than a room, and happily took it – looking forward to spreading out and cooking for ourselves. Sadly, the town’s water supply was having problems, and we had to crouch under a tap that dripped slowly, just to get a bit of the road crud off.

Morning Note:
Happily, the water problems are only temporary, and we’re settling in for a bit of  much needed downtime.

M

2 responses to “Monkey Puzzle Trees!!!

  1. Can't imagine 400km of gravel in six days. (But then again, can't imagine 4km gravel, so what's an order or two of magnitude once you start 😉

  2. Seems like a rather interesting but thinly settled route. I suppose this partially from a lack of water, though I'd expect some streams off the mountains to the west. Hope you get cooler weather soon.

    Interesting that you would run into the cosmic ray arrays out there!

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