The prettiest town in Argentina

We have not visited all of the towns in Argentina, but San Martín de los Andes is the prettiest one we’ve visited so far. It is situated at the east end of Lago Lácar and at the edge of Parque Nacional Lanín.


San Martín is a ski town in the winter; in the summer it’s a tranquil base for kayaking, sailing, swimming, hiking, and taking excursions to other lake locations and the national park. It is the one town we’ve seen where a building code seems to have actually been enforced—attractive low-rise buildings made of local rock and wood.


Jay has dubbed it the “Aspen of Argentina”—and we imagine the cost of living is consistent with this designation!


Like Bariloche, San Martín is a big chocolate town. We have speculated about the quantity of chocolate in town at any one time but can only say—it’s a lot! Bariloche and San Martín both take advantage of comparisons with the Alps (fondue restaurants, hotel called Chamonix!) but San Martín has actually retained the charm of those mountain towns.


Speaking of food—like every town in Argentina, this one is filled with restaurants called parrillas. A parrillada is a meal of meat that can consist of a single meat type—e.g., lamb, deer, beef, chicken—or a mixture of many meat types. The mixture typically includes items such as blood sausage, kidneys, sweetbreads, and other body parts not commonly consumed in the U.S. This parilla has a cow on its sign—appropriate for a country known for the high quality of its beef.


Another cultural item we’ve noticed is the quantity of U.S.-manufactured cars and trucks from the 60s and 70s—mostly Fords! We’ve talked with people about this; the vehicles from that era are very basic and keep on trucking. When living in remote places, with large distances between ranches and towns, you don’t want a vehicle that must be taken to the dealer every time something goes wrong. Here’s one in San Martín that still has a body in pretty good shape. [Note for my family: we’ve seen a lot of Ford Falcons like the one we used to go to the Rocky Mountains for a week in the late 60s—nine people with kids bouncing all over and no seat belts!]


Parque Nacional Lanín is named for the Lanín volcano that is equally shared by Chile and Argentina (the country border is at the top of the peak). I’ve not yet figured out why, but this volcano is at the top of the cordillera, farther east than the other active stratovolcanoes that are located wholly in Chile. Because of the clouds, we were not able to see the volcano while in San Martín. This photo (from the Internet—sorry about the poor quality) is how it did look though, when we saw it 6 years ago, while crossing over from Chile (view is toward the south from Tomen pass) in May after the volcano had just received a fresh coating of snow. (Remember that May is like our November.)


The trees in the foreground are the Araucaria trees that are emblematic of the region, which is sometimes referred to as Araucana. In English they are called “monkey-puzzle trees”, probably because the leaves are sharp and spikey, which would present challenges to any critter trying to ascend it. Here is a close up of the branches and the brown cones it bears. [Note: I’ve seen one of these in San Francisco but I can’t remember where!]


The scenic route between San Martín and Bariloche is La Ruta de Siete Lagos (seven lakes route). On our trip along this route yesterday, we saw lots more ash from the June 2011 eruption of Puyehue volcano in Chile. We also saw an unusual geologic phenomenon—a beach made completely of pumice fragments that were also floating on the water because they are so light. Pumice is a frothy rock that is like those candies made of baked whipped egg whites. Here is the beach of Lago Espejo (mirror lake) with its pumice beach. Most of the pieces are about 1 centimeter in diameter. It’s cool to walk on a beach made of 9-month-old rocks!


Yes, after 6-plus weeks of travel, we’ve gotten a few days of rain. It’s hard to complain, especially because people throughout Patagonia have referred of problems associated with a current drought. Tonight we’ll head back to Buenos Aires (20-hour overnight bus!) and warmer temperatures. I’ll end this posting with a typical Patagonian meal—lamb stew, fried potatoes, bread and Patagonian red wine from Neuquen, the province where Bariloche and San Martín are located. The town of Neuquen is famous both as a new wine region (they are currently experimenting with different varieties to see which work best) and also for paleontology. For example, one winery was named “Saurus” because they found dinosaur bones when excavating to build their wine storage facility! We will need to explore this area on a future trip.


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