10th-12th.February, Esquel – Cueva de las Manos
In front of us was an even longer drive, practically all unmetalled roads, less in the mountains and more in the Patagonian semi-desert. The weather forecast was still good and it would be wonderful if it lasted until we reached the real mountains, although that was very unlikely. We drove the long distance from Esquel to the Estancia Cueva de los Manos, but had another extended lunch barbeque by a river on the way. The weather was very hot along the whole route and continued to be so. Occasionally guanachos or nandus (ostrich type birds) with the odd fox or hare can be seen. The estancia is absolutely in the middle of nowhere, the front drive starts 70km down the dirt road from the last hamlet and is itself 7km long.
The total area of the estancia is 460 square kilometers. We spent two days driving in jeeps up and down and along canyons and viewing the cave paintings which date from about 9,000 years ago. They consist mostly paint sprayed round hands, hence the name Cueva de los Manos, and do not compare with the French ones like Lascaux for artistic merit. The caves are in fact really huge overhangs but the canyons are very impressive with reddish rock and lots of cliffs and towers, giving a real wild-west atmosphere. Above the canyons it is very dry with thorny bushes like parts of say Crete, but in the canyons there are rivers with willow trees, rushes and grass, which enables them to be used for cattle ranching.