The Gateway to Patagonia, Neuquen, Argentina.

Neuquen, top centre of the main southern leg of the continent lies between the Altantic to the East and the Andes to the West. The area benefits from the employment provided by petrol mining companies and associated construction spin off and so forth.

In the glacial planes of the Andes the area is completely flat but for the deep grooves cut by the Rio Neuquen, the Rio Limay and their confulential Rio Negro, the sum of their parts that join at Neuquen and its sister city Cipoletti.

I am at the Punto Patagonico Hostel, the finest in town according to the 'Lonely Planet' (I carry the candle still), and it is indeed a clean well kept establishment, principally patronised by early rising men here for work as far as I can tell. We were told last night that one man had been here for 10 months as he worked in Neuquen - they are sad to see him go they say, as he is like a part of the family. It definately lives up to it's name, it is a really great place to hang out, relax and plan the next trip. Free WiFi, very clean, exceptional staff. Karin at the front desk makes everyone feel extremely welcome, and would talk the bottom off a pot, as is the way with these well meaning kind latinos. The establishment propieters, the nightwatchman, the cleaners, the gardener, are all exceptional people, and contribute to the lovely warm family feeling created by their hard work, and generosity. What a great spot.

The house dog Pia is a source of great enjoyment, as she does her 'Messi' trick of running the ball around her neck, before jumping into the air to catch the next one.

In the meantime, I have shared a room with a chap from Buenos Aires who is holiday making solo in this region, on his way to the lake district in the mountains, near San Martin de los Andes. He has recommended going to see Villa Traful; he tells me that his fellow city dwellers in B.A. are not so talkative, and he prefers the people of the countryside who are more spirited.

Neuquen and the Patagonian region seem to be experienceing rapid turnover of commercial establishments, a plot of land footprint measuring roughly 500m2 of in the town centre is now worth $1 million, I am told. Small low rise plots are being demolished and replaced by high reise office and apartment buildings of medium material and high workmanship construction quality.

Having arrived here in Neuquen first and having seen Puerto Madryn, there are signs that this region is exploding with economic progress. I am told that commercial units have never looked better maintained, and the cars on the street, are all new models. There does remain however some beautiful old examples of the previous decades of slower economic stasis, and deep recession.

Prices are very high, three stamps to Ireland cost €9 (!), food and drink are exactly as the prices at home in Ireland, and are in some cases higher - Clothing and housewares are more highly priced, I am reminded of the advancing tide of the Celtic Tiger of a number of years ago - all the signs are here, new bank buildings, petrol companies building their headquarters, property increasing in value... Wine however produced locally is to be bought at very good prices, €5 for a sublime blend of Cabernet and Malbec. Accommodation of course is also very reasonably priced, having said all that.
So today I say goodbye to Neuquen for a while, and some nice people with whom I have had the honour of making acquaintance - here's me with Karin from Plottier (our camera-shy hostel receptionist), she's some craic I tell you. :)