How Not To See Dinosaurs In Neuquén, Argentina

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“This week, a very special guest blog from my dinosaur obsessed girlfriend. Enjoy! – James”

We’d been travelling for 50 days and the maxim ‘see less and experience more’ had started to ring true. When we arrived in the town of Neuquén, Argentina, that maxim became redundant.

We had only one day in a town in the middle of nowhere famous for being the best place to see dinosaur fossils in North West Patagonia and we had already bought our next day’s bus tickets to a destination 450km away. Time was of the essence.

Longing For Dinosaurs

Let me be clear – I LOVE dinosaurs. I don’t know much about dinosaurs – I just LOVE them. I always have. For my 11th birthday my parents said I could go on a day trip to London anywhere I liked – I chose the Natural History Museum to see dinosaurs (I also chose Rock Circus to see Jason Donovan’s waxwork but that was shut). When I was 16, I chose the opening sequence of Jurassic Park as the subject of my GCSE Media Studies exam. Some 15 years later, my boyfriend and I went on our second date to see Victorian dinosaur statues in Crystal Palace.

Everyone in my family loves dinosaurs – my sister once spent many hours photoshopping pictures of herself on to dinosaur scenes for a screensaver. My mum once found my (at the time) teenage brother’s porn stash in amongst his dinosaur magazines. We all LOVE dinosaurs.

I also like to be a bit organised, so, with dinosaurs at stake, I obviously knew exactly where we needed to go in Neuquén to see the best sites. I had even booked a tour in advance. Turning up at 7am after a 17 hour bus journey meant we couldn’t fuck about. Arriving at the hostel, tired but excited about seeing dinosaur bones, eggs and fossils; the hostel staff appeared to have other ideas.

Not only was there no tour organised or even available in English (our Spanish isn’t that good yet) the guy on reception seemed to think it was a bad idea to visit all of the sites. He cited distance, cost and the fact they weren’t very good as his main reasons. Why on earth did he think we were in this one-dinosaur town anyway? Other than drill for oil, there is literally nothing else to do within a 90 kilometre radius of Neuquén. Brilliant start.

Roadside Dinosaur

So, no tour and no help from the hostel, we plodded back to the bus station to investigate buses to the different sites – and maybe also to a winery with dinosaur fossils lining its cellar. Wine and dinosaurs? I was not to be defeated. This would be an epic day trip to end all day trips.

After discovering my grand plan required three separate buses with return trips to the main city each time, and discovering that each journey would take approximately an hour and a half each way, the dream of visiting all the sites had started to fade. There are only three buses a day, the next bus was at 12.30pm and it was only 10am. Small town Argentina and its lack of tourism infrastructure was starting to mess with my scheduling.

The boyfriend had the brainwave of hiring a car – little bit of a hit on the budget but then this was about dinosaurs; once in a lifetime stuff. There were five car rental places at the airport so we trekked for three kilometres to hire a car. For some reason on a nondescript Friday in a nondescript town, all five car hire companies were out of cars. Defeat started to set in.

By now it was 11.30am. We had arrived at 7am! Our best laid plans were going awry and action needed to be taken. We jumped in a cab and headed 90 kilometres to the first site in El Chocon. The Pampas of Argentina opened up and we sped through the arid landscape; it started to look like dinosaur territory. Giant signs pronounced that we were nearing the home of the Giganotosaurus.

Good times.

This way to see dinosaurs

El Museo Paleontelogico Ernesto Bachmann houses the largest fossil ever found of the largest carnivore ever found – ‘Giganotosaurus’. It’s 80% intact and laid out as it was found in the museum.

Giganotosaurus

As someone used to seeing her dinosaurs upright and named Dippy, I had mixed feelings about this one at first. Luckily, the next room had some recreations of what they think the dinosaurs would have looked like: this was more like it!

Standing Giganotosaurus

An enjoyable eeked out hour or so later, we had exhausted the (only) four small rooms of the small museum and started to make our way towards the dinosaur footprints that could apparently be seen by the edge of the lake. Except that ‘we’ couldn’t. According to our taxi driver the tide was in and the footprints were submerged. Right.

By now it was too late and too expensive to drive to any of the other dinosaur sites. It seemed like no-one in Neuquén province wanted to share their dinosaurs with us, the taxi driver took us to see the local hydroelectric dam instead. Woo. For some reason, this is the second hydroelectric dam we have visited since we started backpacking. Hydroelectric dam is our new byword for ‘nothing else to do’.

Neuqéun's hydroelectric dam

Feeling a little disappointed that our dinosaur day didn’t live up to expectations, we splashed out on an awesome parilla and red wine for dinner.

Dinosaur wineIf these dinosaurs were in the UK or the USA they would have tours swarming all over them. I’m not sure I would have liked that any better. The quality of the fossils on offer in this corner of the globe have world famous appeal, but we literally saw less than 10 cars the whole time we were in El Chocon and most of those appeared to be filled with Argentinean families with kids.

Neuquén might be the province’s capital, but it is more geared up for its oil and gas industry than it is for tourists like us. I’m sure this won’t be the last time small town South America proves too tricky to navigate. We are still pretty pleased that we’ve seen one of only a handful of original Giganotosaurus fossils. As we witnessed first hand, not many people can say that.

We are certainly learning that when travelling, you can’t have it all. There is never enough money or time or Spanish vocab to get exactly what you want. But we’ve learnt our lesson for next time.

Apparently, there are some great dinosaur sites in Bolivia…

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