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November 14 - 22, 1998

photos by Steve Brown

posted December 14, 1998

I don't know why I picked Argentina.  I had a week of vacation to burn, and no choice left of when to take it.  It had to be now.  Having not traveled much in South America, I started surfing the net to find information.  I discovered that there may be some steam locomotives operating in the Patagonia region of Argentina.  I tried to find out more via the net.........there wasn't a lot out there!  At least, not in English.  So I sent inquiries over some news groups.  Thanks to a few informative replies (Special thanks to Chris Skow of Trains Unlimited Tours who is an expert on South American railroads.), I found that the train commonly referred to as The Old Patagonia Express was still in some sort of limited operation.  Known now as Ferrocarril del Chubut or  "La Trochita", the railroad survives for tourists and a very few locals who live along the way.

I found a good deal on a rental car in San Carlos de Bariloche, a resort town several hours away from the railroads current northern terminus; El Maiten.  I flew into Bariloche via Buenos Aires, where I had to transfer via bus from Ezeiza International Airport to the domestic Aeroparque Airport.  From the front seat of the El Maiten Shopsbus, I got my first look at Buenos Aires and Argentina.  The bus took me through Buenos Aires's central area.  As we neared Aeroparque, the bus went under several railroad viaducts.  Just as we we going under, a passenger train flew by and I received an unexpected surprise! Click here to see more wildlife photos! The trains power was obviously a big six axle, high hood complete with notched number boards, ALCO!  I had a mission for when I passed through Buenos Aires on the way home.

The flight to Bariloche, aboard an Aerolineas Argentinas MD80, took about two hours.  On arrival, I rented a car and drove to El Maiten, hoping to find out if the train would actually operate the following Wednesday.  The information I had said the train runs south from El Maiten to Esquel on Wednesday and return on Thursday.  After spending the night in El Maiten and verifying my information,  I started Sunday by scouting the route to Esquel.  I found that the line was photograph-able by car only for the first 25 miles. Beyond Leleque, the railroad was virtually inaccessible.  A road on the map, that came in contact with the tracks along the remainder of the route, was gated and locked at both ends.  It was Sunday morning and I had several days to satisfy other interests.  I drove that afternoon across Patagonia to Puerto Madryn, and then spent two days at Peninsula Valdes in search of Penguins.  Click here or on the penguin picture to see more wildlife photos.

I was back in El Maiten in time for the train's 2 pm departure on Wednesday, November 18.  1922 Baldwin 2-8-2 number 16 was steamed up and ready.  The old mikado looked like it had seen better days.  I followed and photographed the train until it reached its first stop at Leleque, where I parked the car and boarded the train for Esquel.  Aboard, I had a sandwich in the bar car, and then enjoyed the four and one half hour trip on one of the open platforms.  The train travels through the Andes foothills, winding its way past fantastic scenery.

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The following day, the train was getting ready to leave Esquel.  Tourists took each others pictures in front of the small mikado.  I was watching the crew service the locomotive.  Something was handed up to the guy on the running board and he set it in the steam dome.  It was one of the ever popular Argentinean STEAK!  It was followed by several more.  At our first water stop, part of the locomotive's servicing was turning the steaks!  Steak remnants were seen later that day in the bar car.

I drove back to San Carlos de Bariloche that evening.

 Click here to continue..................

© Steven J. Brown 1998