Patagonia : Pampa Linda

Río Manso near its source

A few days ago we went on an overnight adventure in the loftier regions of Park Nahuel Huapi. Heading southwest from Bariloche, we drove past Lago Gutierrez and Lago Mascardi, and then turned onto a gravel road, which we followed for a couple hours of driving slowly and cautiously on dusty roads climbing up and up the precipitous slopes. We finally arrived in Pampa Linda about 4 pm.

Pampa Linda in 1927

Río Manso on the drive up

The history of Pampa Linda dates to 1907 when a Belgian doctor from Canada arrived in Bariloche.

the good doctor

He was Don José Emanuel Vereertbrugghen, the first doctor to settle in the entire Río Negro province. Don José’s only son Benito grew up and moved a few miles away from Bariloche, to the valley that lies beneath the shadow of Mount Tronador. The “thundering mountain” was so named on account of the frequent crashing noises heard when masses of ice and snow slide down off the mountaintop.

El Tronador has 7 glaciers

Benito was a born rancher. His life was all about horses and cattle, but he and his wife Clara were also very sociable and loved to entertain visitors. In 1929 they built an inn next to their modest home, calling it the Hotel Tronador. Benito and Clara’s guests were explorers, adventurers, sportsmen and fishermen who came by boat, and then on foot or by horse. Back then there were no roads in the area, and the National Parks would not exist until 1934. But after his first visit to the glaciers, Ezekiel Bustillo, National Parks director, pushed for the opening of a road into the Tronador Valley, completed in 1940.  The original Pampa Linda lodge, now the snack bar (the gettin’ place for burgers, beers and fries), was built in 1947. We stayed in the new lodge next door, built in 1993.

Hostería Pampa Linda

The dining room’s big enough to feed an army of hungry ridge crawlers, and the cozy lounge with big open fireplace is reminiscent of the Ahwahnee but not as grand. A very nice spot to kick back after a long day trekking in the wilds of Nahuel Huapi.

Benito and Clara’s granddaughter, Patricia, who is married and has a very busy 5-year-old boy, currently manages the lodge. The Tronador Valley has lovely, meandering meadows for grazing livestock, a few acres of which are open for camping, with showers, laundry, snack bar, etc. They grow fresh vegetables in season for the dining room, and have their own dairy cows for homemade cheese and flan. Lots and lots of trails are mapped out on the website with full descriptions and drop-down maps. [www.hosteríapampalinda.com.ar.]  There are a few Refugios in the high country, which are high-sierra cabins offering, literally, shelter from the storm, right up there amidst the glaciers.

another shot of El Tronador

The peak of Mt. Tronador [11,500 ft.] is the dividing line between Argentina and Chile. They say it is a dormant volcano. Is that anything like a sleeping dragon? Scientists believe it is not likely to explode in our lifetimes, but, heck, the volcano next door in Chile (Puyehue) sure blew her top a few months ago. I don’t think I’ll invest in any property within a hundred miles… would you?

Some pretty sights on the way there:

loose horse at Lago Mascardi

a wild guanaco, cousin to the llama

We drove in from LlaoLlao, a 5-hour drive, and rewarded ourselves with (of course!) burgers and fries at the snack bar. We checked into our room, which had an awesome and inspiring view of the mountain. We climbed back into the car just before the sun went down, and drove a few km up to see the Black Glacier.  Not exactly hard-core trekkers, are we?

Black Glacier

The sun was getting ready to go down and when it finally slipped behind the crest we were able to get a few pictures of the glacier and the lake with floating dark icebergs, full of ground up rocks and dirt that gives it its color, and name.

old cabins at Pampa Linda

Later that same evening we had dinner in the lodge. We had a table next to the window. The moon rose over Mt. Tronador, casting its bright light upon the mountain, and reflecting that beautiful glow down upon us. Later we sat on a couch in the lounge, next to the fire, and chatted with a couple who live in Puerto Madryn, farther south, on the Atlantic. They rode horses up to the Castaño Overo glacier, and then hiked on foot another 2 hours to the Otto Meiling Refuge. We did the same ride the next morning, but we went down the way we’d come up: on horseback! and took lots of pictures!

crossing Río Manso

We tied the horses in a little grove not far from the glacier, and walked to the lookout. We ate apples washed down with black coffee. The Río Manso, which emerges from the glacier, has strikingly milky green waters, due to its particular blend of glacial sediment. It is very cold and swift moving as it heads on down to the valley, and later flows past the continental divide into Chile, and eventually to the Pacific.

an awesome view!

Our guide on the ride up was a Chilean named Miguel who works at Pampa Linda, and his dog Tronador (same as the mountain):

Miguel & Tronador

We learned that the caña verde that grows along the trails in the mountains is a kind of grass that looks like bamboo. It’s as if you’re riding through a drive-by feed store. Ranchers feed it to their horses in winter, dried and stored. How cool is that? My horse tried to snag a few bites as we rode along, but I whispered to him, “sorry darlin’, snack bar’s closed today.”

free for the grazing

Other fascinating sights in the high country include this old flatbed. I guess it still runs, the key was in it. Nothing a little duct tape and baling wire can’t fix!

the dog is about as old as the truck

an International?

Riding back down to the lodge we followed an old trail through the meadows and creekbed. We came across some loose horses and mules belonging to the Pampa Linda stables. They do pack trips up into the mountains for 3-day and 5-day rides. The horses work one day on, one day off during summer, unless they’re out on a long ride.

she looks pregnant to me... ya think?

Patagonian wild ducks

Ben has been enjoying the thrills of fly-fishing: waiting for trout (brown, rainbow, and brook) to swim up and nibble the hook (special non-damaging hooks) from colorful little hand-tied flies. Perhaps we could start a new trend in earrings when the current feather craze is over, with cute fuzzy flies and other insect earring and hair ornaments, realistic enough to scare off the real flies and mosquitos! Body piercers would be in avant-goth heaven! The downside of fly-fishing is, I hear, losing your flies, snagging the line, and having to throw the fish back in!

fish like them!

There are only a few spots in Nahuel Huapi where you can actually keep a full-grown fish. That should make all of you animal protectors happy. And there are fish hatcheries all over the place. The little spawnlings are released into the lakes and rivers to keep all the tourist fishermen and fisherwomen happy. I can attest that fresh grilled trout is amazingly delicious!

I have learned 5 new species of trees: the huge, straight and tall ñire with shaggy bark; the straight and tall coíhue with beautiful oak-like branches way up high in the sky (it has a smoother bark); the arrayán, a cinnamon-colored cousin of the peely-bark madrone; the lenga, tall and slender, reminiscent of birch but not so white, beloved of elves; and the jacaranda, its lilac-violet blossoms seen all over Buenos Aires.

Yes, we are having one heck of a fabulous time here in Patagonia! This is the kind of place that makes you want to saddle up and ride the Andean version of the Pacific Crest Trail. If someone organizes it, I’ll sign up! I’m not kidding, either! but we’d have to ride into town to tango.

Next blog up: I spend a day horseback on the Estancia San Ramón.

Ciao from Patagonia!

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