Patagonia Pt. 1: Junin & San Martin De Los Andes

We’ve had some amazing experiences over the past several (!) months, but I can say without hesitation that our three weeks in Argentinian Patagonia have been some of the most memorable thus far. We also had two very special people traveling with us: first, my stepdad Clint, followed by Katie, Jeff’s friend from UVM. If our adventures in Patagonia weren’t spectacular enough (Hiking! Fly fishing! Ice trekking! Beer-ing!), those two made it especially awesome.

I should preface by saying that my hopes for Patagonia were pretty high to begin with. I have learned that harboring great expectations — or really any expectations — while traveling can be a trap. In other words, if reality doesn’t line up with expectation, you risk being disappointed. But I couldn’t help it! Prior to visiting, I knew that Patagonia was supposed to be a hiker’s paradise, replete with jaw-dropping scenery and cozy, chalet-esque lodging. Plus, we were visiting in autumn (Patagonia’s autumn, anyway) which is the best season anywhere, as far as I’m concerned.

Needless to say, I was all kinds of giddy as we disembarked in San Carlos Bariloche (more on Bariloche to come) to head to our first destination, Junin De Los Andes. Jeff, Clint and I rented a car at the airport (“Camino Jenkins Dos”) and set off on the world-famous “Route of the Seven Lakes” drive between Bariloche and Junin. 

seven lakes
Route of the Seven Lakes 

I/we have never experienced anything quite like it: over the course of 3ish hours, the landscape changes from dramatic mountain ranges and rock faces, to rolling hills covered in coniferous trees, to rocky, dry, high-desert scenes. It’s like driving through the best parts of Lake Tahoe, Montana, and Vermont in the space of a few hours. Plus the lakes! So many gorgeous bodies of water along the way. Did I mention in was autumn? So the fall colors were also on full display.

We arrived at Cabanas Malleo, the cabin that Clint’s fishing guide had recommended in Junin. The accomodation itself was pretty ideal for the three of us; a basic kitchen, table and chairs, and two cozy upstairs bedrooms. Our host, Abe, could not have been more kind and accommodating: every day we rolled in from hiking/fishing/grocery shopping, he was out greeting us and asking about our day. Abe also gave us great restaurant recommendations for the little town, most notably Ruca Hueney, where we introduced Clint to some authentic empanadas, among other things.

Dining out at Ruca Hueney

Since we had a kitchen, we took the opportunity to cook a few meals over the course of our five days in Junin (again, cooking is a welcome privilege after so much dining out). I believe I made a marginally unsuccessful stir fry — still sorry about that — as well as a more appetizing taco night spread and a pesto pasta thing with eggplant. Jeff and Clint sampled many regional beers during our evenings in Junin, ultimately deciding that Patagonia Amber and/or Patagonia IPA was reasonably acceptable, especially when compared to the far less sophisticated (but local!) Quilmes. Mission accomplished.

Happy hour with Clint and Jeff at Cabanas Malleo

During our time in Junin, Clint had arranged to go on all-day excursions with a fly-fishing guide, so Jeff and I set off to find some good hiking trails. Luckily, there are dozens of great trails between Junin and San Martin De Los Andes (about a 20-minute drive south).

Exploring the trails of San Martin 

One of the highlights of our hiking expeditions was tackling the Cerro Mallo trail, a 15 km and 3,500 feet climb outside of San Martin. The photos (below) convey more than I am capable of writing, but the BEST thing about this particular hike is that we did not see another person on the 8(ish) hour trek. It was extraordinarily special to be on such a long and visually spectacular hike without encountering a single other soul! 

On our final day in Junin, we accepted Clint’s generous offer to take us fly fishing along with his guide, Gustavo. By 10am, we were cruising down a beautiful river outside of Junin, trying to learn the (oft frustrating) art of fly casting. Clint and Gustavo were excellent and very patient teachers; by the end of the day, Jeff and I both felt like we had the general hang of it.

Plus, we each caught some fish! I should also call attention to the fact that Gustavo was incredibly kind and accommodating; not only did he bring hot coffee for our excursion (a major plus in my book), he actually CARRIED Jeff and me through shallow water as we had not come prepared with waders. Jeff in particular enjoyed the “princess” treatment.

Beautiful morning for fly fishing outside Junin
Look at that big fish!
Quick stop for lunch. As you can see, the weather turned quite cold and blustery…

In sum, we couldn’t have had a better time in Junin & San Martin. Besides getting some great hiking mileage in, Jeff and I were delighted to share in the fly fishing excursion with Clint and Gustavo. Next up…Bariloche!

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