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Wildlife at National Road and Las Manos Cave
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We were on-the-way again. It was a long way. We made it today about 600 km by bus via National Road 40. What is Road 40? Why, it is in a list of main touristic attractions of Argentina in our Lonely Planet Guidebook. It was very interesting for us. This reason was enough to buy bus tickets to the north and test it ourselves.

The morning was overcast, but without rain. We left our room #13 at the hotel and changed it for a bus with a big red number 13 on the door.

We didn't want to pass through whole Ruta 40. It would be an very long way - this road is a longest in the world. Our goal was to reach the city of San Carlo de Bariloche on the north side of Patagonia, and it should take two days. Today we were running through open space of south Patagonia. From the West side we saw silhouettes of big mountains, and from the other, Atlantic side - infinite hills and steppes - pampa. Vegetation was poor, mostly grass and rarely a few trees.

The ground here is a mix of pebbles with sand. The first researchers of Patagonia had already said that it was an ocean bottom not so long ago. It is easy to find old cockleshells here.

Inside Santa Cruz province Ruta 40 is covered by pebbles. Many parts of the road are under construction, and we needed to detour them. The road was heavy, and we were moving slowly. It was empty - for a full day we met not more than ten cars. The landscape was the same during a day, and only once we saw a lake and had to crossed a big river. No people, no villages, no services. If something were happen here, there would be no hope for quick help. For the first day of travel we had two stops - at noon at the only gas station we saw, and at a small food shop in late afternoon.

The most interesting thing here are animals, which are often seen near the road. The large herds of sheep are grazed here. It was ridiculously to see, how the clever senior ram drove the herd off the road, having seen our bus. We saw also groups of guanacos. They are nice animals with reddish wool. Guanacos didn't run from us, but stopped in one's path and stood on the lookout with their beautiful eyes. We met also herds of horses, probably, wild, and many ostriches. We saw a lot of others birds here, especially on the water. It was the beginning of summer, and they were busy training the baby birds. We met usually full families of them.

At last stop we had the opportunity to join an excursion to a known Las Manos Cave. A small bus brought us to a picturesque canyon at the Pinturas River. Here we had given helmets and on wooden planked footway we descended into the canyon. Our guide Valeria had pointed to a bus standing at the other side of the huge canyon and told us we were going to this car that was waiting for us. It was a good joke, and all laughed amicably.

The planked footway led us to a large cave, but its entry was closed. No matter for all the interesting rocks covered by prints of human hands were on the outside. It looked as if someone put one hand on a stone and sprayed paint from a tube. There are hundreds, if not thousands of such prints, and some pictures of animals - mostly guanacos, but also trees, circles, prints of ostrich's paws and even a white moon. According Valeria's explanations, the oldest pictures there were animals and hunt scenes, about ten thousand years old and hand prints about two thousand years old. It is very strange, but no human remains were found here. The picture rocks are fenced off from the track by a metal grid to prevent new paintings.

We had been looking at these miracles for about an hour. After that we had reached the end of footway, and one man collected our helmets and brought them back to entry, but Valeria didn't follow. At that moment I became afraid that Valeria's talk about the car was not a joke.

Valeria told us to follow her and went over the handrail. We followed her and went straight down a slope. The canyon had about two hundred meters depth, and small cows peered up at us surprised from its bottom. A not so small river was waiting us there.

Gradually all had gone down and were stopped by river. Then Valeria showed us what we should do. She had taken off her shoes, rolled up trousers and entered into water. We followed and the river was shallow and warm, the water pure and transparent. When we came to the other bank, we walked about a hundred meters barefoot and climbed up a hill of volcanic ash. The ash was warm and soft and it was pleasant for our bare feet.

After putting our shoes on, we had only to rise two hundred meters up towards our goal. The rock before us was almost vertical, but we knew with Valeria we could overcome anything. She led us via imperceptible paths and we went out of canyon in the sunset, an unbelievable and magnificent sunset. I had never seen anything like it. The clouds were as a flame - red and yellow, and the entire heavens were enveloped in flames.

It was very beautiful, but alas we got tired. Our main desire now was to reach the hotel and lie down to sleep. However, this desire was executed only at midnight that night.

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