Sally Dodge: As a tour leader I am often left when tours finish at a loose end for a week or two. I usually try to find a mountain to climb, a route to cycle or something culturally exciting; with the Andes as my playground I am always spoilt for choice!
At the end of February this year as I was seeing off the last of my group in a wet, grey and muggy Buenos Aires, I knew that I didn’t want to spend my next two weeks dodging floods and torrential rain (even if it was hot rain). I looked at the weather forecast for the whole of Argentina and before I knew it I was on a 20 hour bus heading south to Bariloche, located in the heart of the Lake District in Northern Patagonia. In the back of my mind, I remembered reading about a group of men who had cycled the Route of the Seven Lakes, a 150km cycle, and to me this sounded like a fantastic way to spend some time off.
On arrival in Bariloche, I found a bike to hire, panniers, tent etc and a detailed map. I then realised that although I don’t really ever remember not being able to ride a bike, I would not have the first clue how to change a tyre or mend a chain – this was when I decided that I would try and recruit a team member. Along came Kieran, a cheery Irish traveler who thought it sounded fun. To be honest, I don’t think his bike knowledge was any better than mine but we figured that two heads were better than one. We would soon find out…
We took three days to cycle 153kms up and over mountains on the Route of the Seven Lakes – which incidentally passes about ten lakes and includes 50kms of horrible gravel. The scenery was truly magnificent. We began, after a slight set-back of missing the ferry to cross Lago Nahuel Huapi, by cycling through a forested peninsula to reach the small lakeside village of Villa La Angostura, followed by some steep ascents to pass Lago Correntoso and Lago Espejo before finally arriving at Lago Espejo Chico where we made camp the first night. This was an idyllic camping area right on the shores of a small turquoise lake with the snow capped distant mountains reflecting perfectly in the water. The last part of the day´s cycle had been on the start of the gravel section of the road which made cycling slow, dusty and hard work – to be honest I wasn’t particularly looking forward to spending the majority of the next day on this surface.
The second day of cycling made the ascents of the previous day look flat and given the added assistance of rough rocky roads it was tough going. However, the effort was definitely worth it for the stunning scenery and the lovely hour long siesta we afforded ourselves at lunchtime on the shores of Lago Traful. Late in the afternoon we completed our last gravel uphill and on reaching the top we were not only presented with a lovely tarmac road stretching out in front but also the beautiful Lago Villarino. Back on the tarmac, 10kms flew past and we soon arrived at Lago Falkner where we set up camp for the night, accompanied by the calls of a nearby Magallanic woodpecker. We jumped in for a swim in the icy cold waters just as the sky turned pink and the sun set.
With aching muscles, our final day of cycling began after a refreshing morning swim. It took us through, up and over some fabulous mountain valleys, past Lago Hermoso and Lago Machonico, with an exhilarating final 18kms decent into the lakeside resort of San Martin de los Andes; a fantastic way to end a tough yet incredible three days.
During our cycle we were fortunate enough to meet some lovely Argentineans – Mario and friends, also on bikes, who shared some wine over a camp fire; Claudio and Ida, a very sweet couple from Buenos Aires, who helped out when we realised that two heads were still useless with no bike maintenance knowledge and limited tools; and the kind farmer who gave us some tortilla (a kind of fried bread popular in the area) - it is funny how even the strangest things can taste amazing when sustenance is needed. One of the best parts for me was that at the camping areas there was always somebody available to sell you a cold beer, definitely deserved after a hot and sweaty day of physical exertion.
All in all, the cycle was fabulous, the scenery breathtaking, the company tuneful and the sense of achievement - priceless.