Patagonia weather is notoriously fickle. It is said one can experience four seasons in one day. While this phenomenon is more pronounced in the south, we did feel three seasons during our first two weeks in northern Argentinian Lake District. Cold rain, cold wind, and balmy summer like days all mixed in. For the most part though we had been lucky so maybe it was about time for a minor setback?
Some of the well-known fishing rivers are near the town of Junín de Los Andes. First, north of the town we stopped at Rio Malleo, a famous dry fly river with a beautiful backdrop of Volcan Lanin. Unlike the Aluminé or the other rivers we visited further north where long sections of rivers were open without barbed wires, public access to this river is more restricted as many estancias have been enterprised in exclusive agreements for fisherman tourists with deep pockets. The rivers are supposed to be free for all but one needs to find a way to cross the cattle pastures. Deep pockets we didn’t have but Franck the Swiss told us of an access spot that was also suitable for camping. Unfortunately when we got there, the wind really picked up and the camping area was very exposed. Ty also came down with a bug and started to heat up. It was kind of a mess and we stayed for two hours in the parking area deciding what to do and finally left to find comforts from a wind sheltered campground. After this episode we stayed two days in Junin for Ty to get better and then we continued west towards Lago Huechulafquen. But Rio Malleo, we will be back.
At Lago Huechulafquen, the plan was for Simon to fish the famous Rio Chimehuin which originates from the lake while I would hike to the south base of Volcan Lanín, the centerpiece of the Lanín national park. But again, the day we arrived it started raining. Volcan Lanín was completely hidden behind low clouds and replaced by growing wind and rain. We found a free park/camp area right at the mouth of the river, and despite the weather Simon braved the cold and fished. This river is considered one of the very best in Patagonia and the boca (mouth) is where record trouts have been caught. Simon caught a nice rainbow the first afternoon while spotting lots of what he calls monsters in the crystal clear water. That night the wind howled and for the second time on this trip we had to lower the top in the middle of the night and slept as foursome on the bottom bed. The next morning Simon fished in the rain in the same spot under the bridge and caught another rainbow. The fishing was good and actually further downstream away from the boca was supposed to be very nice too. But none of us wanted to go through another sleepless night. This place, as well as Rio Malleo that we missed are on our list to revisit when we return north.
After Rio Chimehuin we felt pretty burned out from the weather, our moods turned from being on top of the world on Rio Alumine to super annoyed after cold windy Chimehuin. We will need to toughen up for southern Patagonia but now was the time to get fed at a restaurant and resupply. Luckily not far from Chimehuin is the town of San Martín de Los Andes. While Junín felt local like a real town despite tourism traffic, San Martín felt more like a fancy ski village, with lots of ski shops, restaurants and chocolatiers lining the main street that deadended at Lago Lacar. It was more upscale than Junín in every way but still very charming as the main drag was only a few square blocks. Camping was again FREE. No facilities but right on Lago Lacar in centro. Yes, Argentina is amazing that way.
Back to the wild. After visiting the same chocolate shop two days in a row, we left San Martin and continued south on what is commonly known as the Ruta de Los Siete Lagos (route of the seven lakes). We passed Lago Hermoso, Villarino, Falkner and Escondido, all beautiful and stunning and the toughest thing about driving in this region was not being able to stop the car all the time to take pictures. One really could spend the entire season exploring just the lake region. We were on a mission to find a break from the wind, an east-facing spot among trees as storms usually come from the western Andes. Finally, we found everything we needed at a campground called Pichi Traful on the western bank of Lago Traful. It was not free at US$15 but there were no winds and look at the views. And, the sun eventually came out. Just an amazing spot on Lago Traful that soothed our souls.
The fish came as well! The campground was situated at the mouth of a small river flowing into an arm of the voluminous Lago Traful. Simon was getting better and better luck with fishing these Patagonia waters. One, two…Simon kept catching them. He said he didn’t know lake fishing could be so much fun. One night he went out at 9pm and caught four in a row. The next morning an Argentinian family was asking him for fishing tips! Lago Traful was just so beautiful. It is within the Nahuel Huapi National Park with very little development around the lake. Birds were everywhere. Sheep and horses came around grazing the fields. It just didn’t get old. And for Simon to be able to fish right in front of us, feet away from our camper, and got fish all the time (!), it was just amazing. Hard to believe but Patagonia was getting better and better.