Carretera Day 6: Puerto Río Tranquilo to Los Ñadis

After a mellow night we wake up early, make breakfast, and are sitting with the door open when a little girl appears asking if we have “monea.” She belongs to a family in a red truck that seem unworried about her talking to foreign strangers in a van. At first we play dumb tourists and explain to her that we only speak some Spanish and don’t know that word. She clarifies: “dinero.”

“Porque tu necesitas dinero?” we ask.
(why do you need money?)

She looks at us for a minute, as if she’d never thought this through.

“Galletas y, uh, otras cosas . . .” she trails off.
(cookies and, uh, other things . . .)

We tell her that we also love cookies and ask if she has any money. We’d love to buy some too.

By this point two other little girls have joined her. One spots an orange and asks if she can have it. We say yes but only if she shares and if they eat outside. They gladly oblige and disappear as we start to clean the van and get ready to leave.

Two minutes later the three return with chairs, ready to board the van. What starts out as a few cute kids asking us standard questions (Where are we from? Do we live in this van? Are we married? Where are our children?) quickly turns into a ruckus of children jumping on things that inspires us to pack up the van faster than ever before, physically return the girls to the outside world, and speed out of Puerto Río Tranquilo in a hurry.

Back on the road all is calm again. We drive for a few more hours, departing from the lake, and head south towards Cochrane. Once there we stop for a few supplies and are once again impressed by the infrastructure and calm vibes of another town so separated from everything.

About five minutes past town we see two young backpackers, a couple hitchhiking, so we stop to pick them up. Martin and Kathrine, also headed down the Carretera, are from Slovakia and are taking the year off from university to travel.  They are enthusiastic about the beauty of Patagonia and share in telling stories of its wonders as we drive. After half an hour we come to a bridge crossing Río del Salto (river of the waterfall). We see the rushing water under the bridge and decide to search for the river’s namesake.

Following the river down hill we come to a 20-meter waterfall, complete with rainbows in the mist. We delight in another one of Patagonia’s hidden wonders for a while and then get back on the road.

As the daylight starts to fade we start looking for camping. An hour or so out of Cochrane we see signs for camping in a valley a few kilometers off the main road. We ask our hitchhikers if they want to join us and then ride the rest of the way to Tortel in the morning but they decline, saying that they have at least two more hours of twilight available to keep walking, looking for another ride, before calling it a day. We tell them we’ll see them in the morning, doubting many other cars will pass.

We turn right into a valley and 3km later come to one of the most magical places on earth.

The campground is on a tranquil river bank in a valley surrounded by towering snow covered peaks with glaciers nestled in the high valleys. As the colors of twilight fill the sky we see rabbits hop along the riverbank and a variety of birds fly past. The camping is in a field enclosed with a wooden fence. The tables and stools are made out of fallen trees, artfully carved and constructed, the fireplaces made from river stones. The grounds are kept with love and care. Across the street sits a farmhouse surrounded by gardens and animals. The entire place radiates peace and the setting looks so perfect, so tranquil and picturesque, it almost seems orchestrated. Amanda names this place “magic camping”.

When we go to look for the owners a friendly dog greets us at the gate and geese and chickens waddle by. No one is home so we enjoy the land on our own that night and leave money under the door in the morning before we depart then next day. We feel both curious to know who lives here, who manicured this magic valley into the hospitable campground, while also being extremely grateful to have enjoyed this special place in solitude. This is a place worth returning to.

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