Chillin out in the Lake District
19.10.2008 -17 °C
We left Peurto Madryn that evening on a 18hr journey bound for Bariloche, a ski resort town set in the Lake Distict area of Argentina.Due to booking our tickets a little late we couldn´t go direct, so our route took us a bit further north than necessary, passing through the province capital of Neuquen.This added a few hours onto our bus ride, but by this stage we had become accustomed to these long journeys and weren`t really too bothered.We spent a quiet nite on the bus, reading whatever was to hand and watching two Shrek movies back to back.We arrived in Neuquen at about 6.30 in the morning and had just enough time to wolf down a cafe con leche y medialunas (white coffee with croissants) before we transferred onto the next bus bound for Bariloche.This journey was only supposed to be 4 or 5 hours, but it promised to be much more visually interesting as it passed through many of the areas`numerous lakes and mountain passes.And so it was.Beneath an unchanging blue sky we wound down hilly highways and passed stunning lake after lake, all practically undeveloped and unspoilt.Mountains the colour of sun baked rust framed our window view from the coach as we took in the stunning beauty of it all.
I for one was very keen on spending a lot of time in this town, whose full name is San Carlos de Bariloche, for many reasons.It`s the Lake Districts main tourist trap and everyone who travels through Argentina for a length of time ends up here at one stage or another.It`s settled on the shores of Lago Naheul Huapi, a 100km long glacial lake that is surrounded by lofty snow capped mountain peaks and is only a few hours from the border with Chile.Its`proximity to the national park that bears the same name means that Bariloche is the ultimate mecca for the outdoors enthusiast.Hiking, fishing, ski ing, rafting, horseback riding - its all here, and more.We had heard numerous reports from fellow backpackers on what a great place it was, and nearly everyone we`d talked to had spent double the amount of time here that they`d planned.To me it sounded a bit like Queenstown in New Zealand, albeit without the bungee jumps.I was sure I`d love it!
We arrived mid afternoon, an hour late, into the bustling grounds of the main bus terminal.We stepped off into quite a chilled air though the sun was still out in force.To our right lay the magnificent Lago Nahuel Huapi, so long its end shores cannot both be seen at once (perhaps from air?), its icy chilled waters throwing up white tipped waves.More of an inland sea than a lake.Beyond it lay the mountains.We took a cab into town and quickly found our hostel, a small but cozy place called Pudu that was owned by an Irish couple who had come here a year or so ago and had decided to stay.Apparently Pudu is the name of the local, rarely seen deer that is almost pygmy in size.They loved the place so much they`d gotten a 6 year lease on the premises and hit the slopes to board and ski every they had off.They had only opened the hostel a few months before, and still had a lot of work to do.But it was clean, and it was warm.And they had draught beer on tap!We had booked it solely on the fact that our room had a fantastic view of the lake, high as the hostel was in one of the hillier parts of town.
Once shown around and settled in we headed into town for lunch.We did some quick sightseeing of the plaza and the two main thoroughfares, Avenida Bartolome Mitre and San Martin/Perito Moreno which run parellel to each other.Both are chock full of stores built of wooden logs and stone, the kind you see in every ski resort.In fact, Bariloche IS a ski resort, though its main slopes are 20km away on Cerro Catedral.The centre boasts more than 50 runs and 40 lifts, one of the biggest in South America, though we`d heard if you were used to skiing on European slopes you may be a little let down by the quality of the runs.I was all for a day on the slopes, though we had unfortunately arrived just at the tail end of the season, and was persuaded otherwise.
The downtown area really is very pretty though, and could have been mistaked for any number of European ski spots, apart from the lack of visible snow.Though the cold chill certanly reminded you where you were.Hordes of rich Argentinian schookids bounded around, clad in their expensive ski gear, chattering away noisily in Spanish and blocking up the footpaths.The locals however, kept low key, strolling around in the crisp air with the ever present thermos under their arm and their mate tea and gourd no doubt near to hand.We strolled around and soaked it all up, and felt in no need to do anything physical whatsoever.
And so it remained.With a quick check of our finances revealing that we had (not surprisingly) been overspending our budget, we came to the very difficult decision to do no tours or expensive trips, and just entertain ourselves with the free trails and treks that were in and around the town.I was very keen to do horseback riding, as I`d never been on a horse before and seeing as Argentina`s the home of the gaucho and all......but it was not to be.However we contented ourselves with three days of seriously prefessional lounging around, reading in cafes whilst drinking hot chocolate and snacking on the gourmet chocolate that Bariloche is (also) famous for.And man is it good!I had to tear Janelle away!We also explored the greater area of the town and did a few (free) treks that were recommended to us.One of these took us up Cerro Campanario, a steep but short climb up a dusty trail that can be reached by ski lift but we decided we needed the exercise and tackled it head on.It ends in one of the most spectacular views ever, and I`m really not just exaggerating here.National Geographic declared it one of the top ten views worldwide.Ever!We`d heard this claim beforehand and were dubious but it really is something.A permanent cafe on the summit allow for gorgeous views all around of the surrounding lakes, mountains, rivers, islands, valleys, gorges and just about every scenic geographical feature you can think of.We, again, had the place practically to ourselves, and spent a good two hours sippng cafe con leche and staring dreamily out the window.I`m not sure about its title but it IS very probably the most amazing view I`ve ever seen, and that`s saying something I guess.
Another day we busied ourselves with an easy 3 hour trek through some dense forest and (strangely) a plethora of bamboo groves to a `Secret Lake`that we had, again, all to oursleves.We picniced at its shore and took numerous
photos of the area before we headed back to town.We pretty much did everything we could that was free, and to be honest we didn`t mind it too much.It was nice to just relax and kick back after so many days on the move, and I think that we certainly needed to, whether it was deserved or not.
In fact, the only real money we spent in Bariloche was on food.To be honest, the two of us are pretty bad once we get hungry and its nigh on impossible to not eat out.But we consoled oursleves with the fact that we deserved it seeing as we`d spent nought on trips and such.So our first night we feasted on Chinese, after coming across our first Asian restaurant in a month of travelling.Our second was leftover Chinese (from Janelle) and tasty baked empanadas from a great cafe across from the hostel.And our third nght, which was to be our last in Bariloche aswell as Argentina, we decided to try the parilla, an Argentinian favourite of spit roasted meats.For this we headed to Tarquino, a kooky restaurant built of wooden logs that has a full size tree growing in the centre of its floor that reaches right up and through the roof.Its entrance is a heavy wooden door that is circular in size and resembles the doorway to Bibo Baggins house. Truly original.The food inside was delicious and I washed down my meal of roasted pork lamb and steak with a draught of Argentina`s finest, Quilmes,while Janelle had chicken skewers and juice.It was a fitting meal to the end of our jaunt through this fine, wild country.We`d tangoed in Buenos Aires and been soaked by the waterfalls of Iguazu.We`d hiked beneath awesome mountain ranges.We`d stood before the true giant of ice that is the Perito Moreno glaciar and marvelled at the desolate beauty of the Patagonian steppe.We`d seen whales and penguins, elephant seals and guanacos, condors and foxes.We`d travelled the length of Argentina and seen it as a vast wild,desolate country, from city to port, from resort town to isolated village.We`d tasted it`s local treats, the tasty empanadas, the thick grass fed steaks, the Italian influenced pizzas and pastas, the continental breakfasts and the superior chocolates.We drank its teas, coffees, beers wines and mate.We experienced as much as one can in such a time and enjoyed every priviliged moment.We left the next day, heading west to Santiago Chile, safe in the knowledge that new horizons lay ahead of us and that with them were more experiences to savour.We left happy and tired.