to the Old Patagonia Express
| In early November 2004, we booked a
trip to Patagonia, Argentina. The railroad that we wanted to visit
there is known as The Old Patagonia Express. It is located in the area
Unlimited Tours organizes
trips for railfans in Latin America. They use mostly chartered trains,
which allows to stop trains at interesting locations, and photograph
For the second part of out Argentina trip we wanted to drive on the
Ruta 40 fom El Calafate in the south near the Parque Glaciares north
alon the Andes to Comodoro Rivadavia on the Atlantic coast.
The picture shows one Baldwin and one Henschel engines taking
water at Nahuel Pan station, which is 12 miles uphill from Esquel..
Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, we use
the Tenda Leon shuttle service
to get to our dowtown hotel, from where we start
exploring the Retiro area and it's railroad stations.
companies operate the three station,
two with broad gauge (the one to the right is all diesel, the line to
the left (looking out from the station building to the line) is
electric), and one is narrow gauge (the Belgrano Norte, meter
All tracks go in a wide curve
towards the neighbourhood of
Palermo, around Palermos vast park areas and then splitting up on a
bridges into three different directions. I liked this area with the
blooming Jacaranda trees and parrakeets,
it is a beautiful neighborhood.
showing the bridges where the lines split. A train of the
Metropolitano line passes the bridge.
nice area to visit is the old port
area that is now completely renovated, with the old dock
into appartments and top end restaurants.
We enjoyed a fine dinner in the
Cabana Las Lilas - said to be the best steakhouse in th world. We had
invited Lisa and Javier, whom we got to know in a travel forum and who
had given us valuable information for the Patagonia part of our trip,
and spent a truly wonderful evening with them. We do hope we can repeat
this - maybe even in some other corner of the world.
The Boca neighbourhood is one
very nice part of the city to visit. We just had not enough time to
explore it fully, but what we have seen was quite impressive. It
somehow felt like beeing in a town in France - we just liked to walk
29.10.2005. Lacroze Station,
subway line D, is where commuter trains towards Lynch
At Lynch, the Ferroclub Argentino
their standard gauge repair
The club has a 2-4-0 fired up for us and switching, along with a
proud collection of passenger cars.
Eva Perons private car is also there, and is what railfans dream of.
We get a generous lunch served in
a diner car.
Round trip on the "Chessie
Train", built in 1947 as a
luxury passenger train
for the "Chesapeake and Ohio" railway in the United States.
The train never was operated in the States, but bought by Argentina for
Buenos Aires and the ocean resort of Mar del Plata.
Ferroclub Argentina had taken their Baldwin "Sharknose" diesel to pull
this train today.
The club even had a car and a light plane to chase the train with video
the afternoon, the wheater cleared
as we visited the Tramway
museum at the Metrovias repair
many beautifully restored tramway vehicles, were shown in operation,
running around a 2 km loop.
The club seems to have a contract with the local area to actually run a
historic tram as transportation on what are the remaining tracks of
Buenos Aires" once very large streetcar system.
is another repair works area where the Ferroclub Argentino keeps
a vast collection of broad gauge rolling stock.
We can see two steam engines in action, a small OK 0-6-0 and a big
Escalada is also the home of the Baldwin Sharknose, as well as of a
Alsthom Diesel Switcher.
The highlight however, is a beautifully restored working steam crane.
A 10 inch gauge park railway is designed as a real raileay system with
A steam locomobile tape machine was also in operation, as well as a
early diesel tractor as can be found on farms.
Something very special was a track measurement equipment car with a
mechanical computer for recording various physical parameters unto
paper tapes while running over the tracks,
Train trip from BA Constitution Station south
State owned Tren Patagonico
send one of their trains
from their Viedma base to BA to accommodate the group in a charter
train headed towards
Ing. Jacobacchi in northern Patagonia.
The first leg is on the main line from BA south to Bahia Blanca.
Way past the commuter train area, our train moves slower and slower,
finally the engine stops at a cattle water pond.
The train crew gets water buckets out and starts to refill one of the
systems that leaked and that had been switched off at high temperature.
As we get going again, the leak gets bigger, and the train eventually
pulls into a siding
at the village of Vilela somewhere in the middle of the Wet Pampa. We
for a rescue engine, which arrives some three hours later.
The first night in the sleepers, old cars from the spanish RENFE,
passes quite quickly.
Missing washing facility onboard makes everybody look a bit worn (we
had actually expected
these cars to be of current standards).
The dining car crew tries to comfort us with very good meals.
There is no regular service between Viedma and Bahia Blanca, but at
least there stilla are tracks.
They are in poor condition, so that maximm speed is very low at times.
The trip across the Patagonian plain is of course a bit boring, but
finally we approach Jacobacchi
in early mornig hours of November 2, 2005. We arrive here at 6:30 am,
only two hours late (we expected to arrive a lot later, considering the
many delay we'd seen).
The narrow gauge
steam train is already waiting for us,
for the first
leg across the hill country southwest to el Maiten.
We will have to
climb from 876 meters at
Jacobacchi to 1214 meters shortly after the station at Ojo de Agua,
then after Cerro Mesa to 1208 meters again, before we arrive in El
Maiten at 700 meters altitude.
The steam train
around nine o'cock, after letting the Tren Patagonico depart first.
The two trains use a three rail track for the first some 10 kilometers,
then the narrow gauge line to El Maiten branches off south while the
line to Bariloche continues northwest.
The rails out of
Jacobacchi have not been used for several years.
they are rusty and wet as it rains and snows today.
Our two Baldwin
engines have considerable difficultyy pulling the
their wheels slip very often on the light grade.
The train stalls very often and looses time to get back to speed.
This in spite of the railroaders efforts to sand the rails
manually with a shovel, using earth material from just next to the
For us photographers, it means that you can get off the train, walk a
make some pics, walk back to the train - all of this while the train is
rolling. This is the first time that i can really to do
this - i mean, walk off a rolling train, pick some flowers and then get
back on again.
On the first
steeper grade it becomes obvious that the
train is too heavy. The crew decides to 'double the hill' - means that
half of the train is pulled up to the station at the top -
de Agua - then the engines return to get the rest of the cars.
begins to show on one engine, first
repairs are made at Ojo de Agua, finally we can continue our trip.
run into a
wonderful sunset with equally wonderful Patagonia cloudshapes. But
soon speed is reduced
it gets dark slowly and we are still somewhere in the middle of
Around 9pm we
station of Cerro Mesa, where the engines are taken to the local repair
shop. The crew and local staff start to work on the engines.
Some local ladies take the business opportunity and start to sell very
delicious empanadas and torta frita. Delicious indeed. Repair
work seem to be not too trivial, it lasts and lasts. We get to know
the stars of the Southern Sky very close, one of
the group members happens to be an amateur astronomer. But we do not
hear a triumphant whistle from where the repair shops are.
Midnight passes ...
wait for a long time. We are very happy to find enough wood to heat
stoves in each car, as it gets dark it gets cold, we are reminded that
we are in a mountain area. The railroaders had - knowingly - stocked up
The group leaders
try to call our buses to
this remote place, which seems to be difficult because of the road
condition to up here.
But finally the buses get here by about 1:30am.
On the way to El
Maiten and then on to our hotel in Esquel, one of the buses has a
problem with the radiator,
he stops every some kilometers, the drivers of the other buses help him
refill fresh water.
We finally arrive at the Tehuelche hotel one night late, at 07:30 am,
just right for
We have been up for more than 30 hour, with not much sleep in
the past three days,
everbody was pretty tired
and eager to get under a shower.
But after a good breakfast we don't go to sleep, we go the train again
immediately ... of course ...
noticed was that the railroad does not use the airbrakes on their cars.
The air hoses remain uncoupled, the engineer brakes the train by
applying the reverser
and open the steam throttle. This method appears dangerous and can be
We tried to stop the train for photos at a certain spot, but ran past
for one full kilometer.
And because the engines have only one sand dome with a tube down to the
first driving wheel,
they have no sand when going backward.
So the train could not back up to the photo spot, and we had to look
for another one.
The picture to the left shows one of the Baldwin engine
beeing serviced after a trip at the El Maiten shops. The
rails in the shop are elevate about one meter for easy inspection of
the running gear.
A truly wonderful day awaits us for the run from Esquel towards El
For some reason we cannot have the formerly promised freight train,
but have the two Baldwins and the Henschel for a triple header out of
Esqquel up to Nahuel Pan.
Four box cars are added to make a mixed consist.
In Nahuel Pan the Henschel is taken off the train and returns to Esquel
with the box cars to service the local train. We stop for an hour at
to water the engines, to havae lunch an make some photos of a track
gang and their speeder.
We leisurely continue towards Lepa station, and make some photo stops
here and there.
The cirrus cloud cover that gave us grief on the past days does not
show up today,
a deep blue ssky with many small cumulus clouds sets the background
today, its spring.
Lepa we make the last photos of our train for today. a beautiful
reflection in a creek
and some green trees at the station house make a very nice scenery for
We take the opportunity to return early by bus from Lepa. and let the
its trip to El Maiten without us.
6.9.2004, Maiten to
Another beautiful day for our run from El Maiten to Lepa where we
expect to have a barbecue picnic,
an asado. Today we hve only one engine and 4 coaches.
The other engine goes to the shops to be in optimal shape for the run
Jaccobcchi tomorrow. At Lepa station, picnic tables are set up by local
people and railroaders..
Pork, lamb and beef are grilled on a big fire, salad and wine accompany
railroad has three engines in operable condition. and a fourth one
is currently being rebuilt at the El Maiten shops.
This seems just not enough for the planned operations for this railroad
(the full length of the line is 420 km).
It doesn't even seem enough for our planned trips , one
engine is assigned to the
daily tourist train between Esquel and Nahuel Pan - the first station
the way to El Maiten - and
therefore stays in Esquel most of the time.
7.9.2004 Esquel -
El Bolson - Bariloche.
Late morning start on the bus towards Bariloche. Part of the group
the narrow gauge train
back to Jaccobachi and the broad gauge tren Patagonico from there to
With the experience of the first day we decide we do not go with them
but take a direct bus to Bariloche.
On the way, we have time to visit the town of El Bolson, kown for it's
old-time hippie community and market.
We were not very impressed ...
8.11.2004 - Walking on the Circuito Chico.
Bariloche is the tourist central of northern Patagonia. has
lots of chocolate shops to offer, and a lot of fine
the town itself has little to offer. The scenery however
is fantastic, so if you can, reserve enought time
to explore the area. We decide to fly back to BA instead of using the
tain, this gives us two extra days here.
We try to make a boat trip but are to late with our decision, all boats
are sold out.
We take a taxi to the Puerto Panuelo 25 km away, but cannot get a ride
on a boat
We decide to go for a leisurely lunch at the splendid Llao Llao hotel
(that is one place for your stay, for sure),
and then start to walk back as far as we get,
along the main road, and finally end up taking a Number 20 bus to
We join our travel group for a farewell dinner at a local "parilla".
The food is very good, but the wine that the restaurant owner
recommends is truly fantastic,
(a Lagarde Malbec 2000, see www.lagarde.com.ar).
more or less concludes the first
part of our argentina
where we could rely on our tour guides. From now on we travel on own. A
last very charming sight were
the baby St. Bernhard dogs that some locals show to tourists on
plaza - for money, but still charming.
The second part of
our trip is a private tour, without
This may not sound too important, but for us it means that for
the first time in our lives we will have to get around in a very large
and very sparsely inhabitated country where the only language spoken is
Spanish. And we do not speak too much Spanish ... And that might be a
i have spent a lot of time during the the last four months learning
some Spanish, but our experiece
was that this is just not enough. I mean we finally got around
everywhere we wanted, we spent our nights in private homes and had
wonderful conversation in whatever collection of languages that were
suitable, and finally got back home. But I still recommend starting to
learn the language well ahead of time (and i will continue my Spanish
Boat trip on Lake Nahuel
Today we are more lucky, we manage to reserve a full day boat trip to
the Chilean border with the help of a local travel agency.
The catamaran type boat leaves Puerto Panuelo in Llao Llao at 10:45 for
one hour trip to
Puerto Blest at the end of the western arm of the lake Nahuel Huapi.
We can do the trip in beautiful sunlight, seagulls follow the boat,
people feed them of course as the do everywhere.
We transfer to three buses for the short trip to Puerto Alegre on the
shore of Lago Frias.
The short trip across this little lake takes only 15 minutes.
We arrive at a little port, where a small kiosque sells hot chocolate
as their specialty,
enriched with a shot of cognac.
Here we are very close to the Chilean border, and are not allowed to
walk out of the port area.
On the way back we stop at the Puerto Blest Hotel for a quick lunch,
before we start for a short walk uphill to Lago Cantaros.
All of a sudden, we get strong gusts of wind, followed by light rain.
It is amazing to see how fast the weather changes here. 16:45 we go
and end this beautiful day with the usual glass of Sauvignon blanc at
- Flight Bariloche to Buenos Aires
We manage to get a flight out of Bariloche for the 10th instead of
returning by train.
This gives us one day more in Bariloche and one day more in Bueno
All direct flights to El Calafate are full, so the detour via BA
cannot be avoided.
But at least the 48 hour train trip with no washing facilities can be
Our tour guides are not particularly happy about this decision, but at
least a dozen
people take the same shortcut back to BA.
11.11.2004 - Buenos
A visit to the BA Railroad museum, some more walking in town, in the
Boca neighbourhood and in Puerto
12.11.2004 - Flight from B.A. to El
A smooth flight,
followed by a transfer to the the Estancia
20 km out of town. This estancia runs a farm type hotel at their former
workshop - called El Galpon. I take a long walk around the Laguna de
see some of the
birds and sheep that live on the lake. Its a cloudy afternoon, and it
starts to rain soon.
I am proud to be able to share this picture of a Ibis flying into a
rainy sky with you - i personally have never ever seen one before.
A very impressive
shearing demonstration and and a fine parilla dinner top this
We are very
impressed by the cordial reception by just
everybody in this
estancia. If you have a choice - plan to stay at this estancia.
Calafate, Perito Moreno Glacier
We drive the 80 km up to the Glacier, in partly rainy weather.
Good photos are not possible in these light conditions. I still take a
few, but with not much hope.
impressive, and the sight of dandelion flowers and a glacier is not too
least i don't know this from here in Switzerland.
We have to change
hotels today - El Calafate really seems to be fully booked - our new
hotel is out of town on the Laguna Nimez. This place is all
new, and is in an absolutely wonderful nature park area.
El Calafate, Uppsala Glacier Cruise
Another partly rainy day for our drive to Puerto Banderas. But even for
the early season the boats are full.
We cruise to the spectacular Spegazzini
then on to Onelli landing for a fine lunch at the remote restaurant
there. There is enough time for a leisurely walk throug the untouched
wood up to a lake where another glacier ends, and sends it's icebergs
into the water. The trees in this wood are most impressive, the
virtually make us feel the rough conditions out here.
The cruise continues along icebergs of unreal tones of blue to the
majestic Uppsala glacier.
Calafate to El Chalten
The car is equipped with two spare tires, and two jerrycans of 15
liters each, full of gas. Our first experience driving the Ruta
Quarenta begins where the road from El Calafate to Rio Gallegos meets
the RN40. RN40 is unpaved, and it's a bumpy ride north, with speeds no
higher than about 80 km/h (on some stretches even that seems real
dangerous). We can drive in spectacular weather and spectacular scenery
lake Viedma to El Chalten.
We are welcomed by an absolutely breathtaking sight of the mountains of
the Fitzroy range. Our little charming hotel is about 15 km past El
Chalten, to the north of the Mt. Fitz Roy (which is pictured here from
the hotel garden).
Our hiking day here. We try the easy standard trail to the Laguna
Torre, 6 hours
to walk out and back. And we truly regret that we have not reserved
more time for this magnificent landscape.
On the way we
encounter a local gaucho, who transports supplies to the base camp near
the Laguna Torre.
Drive from El
Chalten to the Perito Moreno National Park
A planned distance
of 600 km over unpaved road. We estimate 15 hours to cover the
We decide to leave El Chalten at 5 am. On the way somewhere, i want to
and pull the car into a side road - BIG mistake, the ground is very
soft and we
get stuck with the car. We try to get out of the muddy mess, but with
success. Two hours later we see the first car approach on the Ruta 40,
we wave, the car
and two men help us get our car back on the road. This is Ruta 40
code - you help. We are very thankful indeed. Our new friends also
us that the direct road to Gobernador Gregores is closed due to a
washed out bridge. This means 150 km detour for us. Luckily, we've got
enough gas for this.
Farther on the
manage to shoot some close-ups of an armadillo.
In the town of Gobernador Gregores, we change
money at the (only) local bank, learn that none of
the gasolineras has
super fuel in stock, finally fill up with 'normal' and leave as fast as
The road quality is somewhat lower in PN Perito Moreno, it says in my
itinerary. What we find there is the perfect playground for an offoad
Very, VERY difficult road conditions. We get stuck again in a deep
stretch of way,
and can free ourselves only with the help from Edoardo of the
who (luckily, without our knowledge) came to meet us with his 4x4
Finally, we were just on time for an
excellent dinner at the estancia.
Thank you, Edoardo,
and 'What a day' ...
We stay for two
nights at the estancia and spend a
wonderful time driving and walking
around the park area, looking for Guanakos, foxes, rabbits, flamingos,
condores, other birds and other
wild animals. The park really is a lonely area, we did not meet or see
anybody else in the whole park.
The condors however
spend their time somewhere else, although we obbserve their nesting
cliff - condorera - very closely, we can't see any - but we have very
windy conditions, maybe that has chased them away.
has a museum type collection of
historic machines and tools, fom water pump to radio transmitters
to wagons and this vintage bus here - El
Drive from PN
Perito Moreno to Lago Posadas
With Edoardos help
we pour the
contents of our two bidones into the tank and leave very early.
No road problems this time, we carefully avoid all mud holes
We're lucky to meet this little fellow here along the road, a curious
Short stop in Bajo
Caracoles to fuel up on gas,
then we east to visit the Cueva de las Manos. After havinf driven the
distance listed in our guide, there is no hint to the existence of
caves here. We are on the wrong road, but the scenery is spectacular.
We decide to visit
the Cuevas later on our way north, and go back west towards the Lago
Posadas and Lago Pueyderron.
Estancia Lagos del Lagos del Furioso (Lago Pueyderron). The
Furioso river gives the estancia it's name. We are welcomed by Dona Ana
on the finest estancia on our trip, and enjoyed all of our days
there.The estancia cultivates a very fine cuisine, and has an excellent
wine cellar. We got to know some of the best Argentina wines right
here. This truly was our favourite place in whole Patagonia.
The estancia is
located on the southern end of a narrow
isthmus betweeh the two lakes, whose distinctedly different colour
really amaze - from whatever direction you look, one lake is deep blue,
We spend the time
driving and walking up a valley
towards where we've just come from - the Perito Moreno national park.
It was a long drive, but a hike would only last two days from PN Perito
Moreno to Lake Puederron. This would be a wonderful rout fro trekking.
The road ends somewhere up in the valley, and we finally cannot
conntinue with our car, so we hike around for some hours and then
return to the estancia - we
absolutelly do not want to miss the dinner here. Thanks again Dona
Posadas to Los Antiguos
The shortcut road to Los Antiguos seems to be closed due
to the heavy rain during the past days.
With the road experience of the PN Perito Moreno we
believe that we might get ourselves in trouble if we tried to cross the
mountain there on a road nobody ever uses ... and opt for the detour
route east to the Ruta 40 then north to Perito Moreno and finally west
again along the Lago Buenos Aires to the village of Los Antiguos.
The beauty here in this little town clearly is the lake.
We do endless walks along the lake shore and just enjoy the
scenery. Our hotel wa initially built by the state for sports training
camps, and seems to be the only 'real' hotel in town. Magnificent
scenery here, but otherwise not much to see or do ...
Antiguos to Comodoro Rivadavia
A smooth drive on the paved highway out to the Atlantic
coast, along many oil drilling facilities, and we finally arrive early
in Comodoro Rivadavia. We explore the former railroad station and steam
engine display, and then enjoy a fine farewell dinner. Tomorrow will be
two days of flying home and mediocre quality airline food.
But it was a truly fantastic trip to argentina. We wish we could afford
to do this again ...