Off to the Andes, Golf in Patagonia
Amazingly the flight to San Martin was only 20 minutes late! It was a clear day as we took off over the River Plate and some of the photos on my website show the sprawl of the city and the development along the river. Then it was a 2-hour flight to the South West over the green of the Pampas and then the arid areas in the shadow of the Andes where the only cultivated zones were alongside the rivers. Much like the Orange River in South Africa. Then the white peaks came into view and we landed at San Martin de los Andes. I was met by Sebastian and Nico who had driven the 15 hours from Buenos Aires to be in the area for a week for some business meetings. We went straight to Chapelco Golf Resort a new development in the most stunning scenery.
The Chapelco Golf Course is the first Nicklaus design in South America and it has his trademarks with big bunkers either side of the drive and very subtle greens. It is in excellent condition and could be made into a real challenge if they cut the greens tighter and placed the pins in some challenging positions. Even if one was not playing one’s best golf you would only need to look around at the scenery to realise you were in a very special place and it will get even better.
We left the club at about 10pm and I was assured that there would be plenty of places to eat in San Martin up until 1am. Not quite the case! The city boys assumed that the Patagonian towns would be like Buenos Aires! We did find somewhere and actually ate some great Milanese with of course some fine red wine. Then the inevitable local ‘sticky’. Fernet is quite disgusting on it’s own – no wonder they drink it with coke. The 7 lakes to Bariloche.
The morning dawned bright but it was cool (7 C) and as we set off on the 7 lakes trip there were flurries of snow in the air. There is a big storm going through and it is ouring in Buenos Aires – even the football is affected and the South Argentine golf championships 4th round is called off. The trip to Angostura was about 140 kms and mainly on unmade roads but easy to drive down although a couple of detours we took to see two of the lakes were pretty slow going. The scenery was amazing and each of the lakes had their own character. Two were black with the reflection of the mountains. Pichi Traful had a sandy beach with fishermen on it. I talked to a local – Henri – who turned out to be an ex Swiss Air pilot and had lived in Crans Montana in Switzerland where we used to go skiingas a family. He was very pleased to have just caught a 4 kg rainbow trout.
Half way we had to stop for lunch in Villa La Angostura… Can Nico and Seb eat!!! A starterof ‘empanada’ was followed by a local chorizo and then the main course of two butterfly steaks between three of us. We had more than enough. How on earth could anyone eat one by themselves I don’t know. Maybe Doug Worley or Mike Balcomb?? Only one bottle of red wine as we had to drive on so the bill was a very modest £ 7.50 per head!!
‘Nahuel Huapi’ is the third largest lake in South America – after Lake Titicaca and both Bariloche and Villa La Angostura are set on the shores. It is also the centre for the biggest skiing area in Argentina with the Cerro Catedral ski slopes overlooking the town and the lake. Suffice it to say we had another excellent meal and the boys were only one hour late this time!! It is called Argentinean time! Beverly (my girlfriend) has told me not to gloat and talk about food all the time so I will not detail the menu but….We broke all records – the meal was £12 per head! Oh No! Early night – 2 am!
The storm that hit the town and the rest of Argentina on Sunday has passed and I woke to a beautiful but cold clear day. The temperature was about 10 C and the reflections of the snow-covered mountains could be seen on the lake. The boys are staying for 4 days to sort out some up-coming trips and were staying in an apartment a few miles away. They did eventually pick me up and we drove some 20 kms alongside the lake to Llao Lla0 Golf Resort & Spa, distinguished as one of ‘The Leading Hotels of the World’ set between the lake ‘Nahuel Huapi’ and lake ‘Moreno’. The golf course skirts the lake and although it is not the greatest track in the world and the greens were only moderate it was the most wonderful place to play – not dissimilar to Crans sur Sierre in the Swiss Alps. The photos tell the story!
The par 3 18th at Llao LLao, requires 170 yards of carry over the lake, a total of 210 yards are neede to get the center of the green and the wind may require hitting a driver from the tee. One of the reasons why is the “signature holes” is for being ranked among the best 500 par 3 in the world. One amazing fact about ‘Nahuel Huapi’, which is at 800 metres above sea level, is that the lake has depths of over 900 metres – i.e. over 100 metres below sea level. Nobody has ever found the bottom in three places! Where does it go? What lives in the depths?
I was upgraded to business coming back to Buenos Aires because as a journalist I needed to take photos from the air of Bariloche. I got away with it!!! Good story for future use!!