Too cold, when can I put my shorts back on?

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
Trip End Jul 24, 2011

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, March 4, 2011

Having successfully completed the W trek, and celebrated with a big pizza with as many toppings as we wanted (no expense spared that night!), it was time to start our journey northwards, with a stupid number of kilometres and bus hours to come over the next couple of weeks.

From Puerto Natales we headed back the way we came up to El Calafate,with enough time for lunch and a trip to the cash machine before we caught the bus onto El ChaltÚn, 3 hours away. This is a tiny town of 1500 odd people, established in 1985, set smack bang in the national park and has a charming frontier feel to it. The road from El Calafate has only just been tarmacked and so it feels like this place is going to change a lot over the coming years given it is now much easier for the tourist hoards to visit, demonstrated by the new hotels shooting up. Hopefully it won't get to the sleek Calafate level of tourism, but Anna and I felt lucky to experience it in its current down-to-earth form.

Following on from the W trek I had promised that we wouldn't do anything too strenuous, but luckily due its position ChaltÚn is perfect for day hikes straight from the hostel. We did a couple of nice walks up to Cerro Torre, apparently a mecca for climbing but was unfortunately shrouded in cloud that day, and Cerro Fitz Roy which we got to see in all its glory, although in true Patagonian style was covered in rainclouds 30 mins later. The evenings were spent indulging in yet more Argentine beef and sampling the locally brewed beers – is there nothing this country doesn’t offer?! Other than relinquishing its claim to the Isla Malvinas of course!

Three days later we were truly trekked out (and getting a bit bored of glaciers - how did we become so blasÚ?) and it was time to start our two day trip north to Bariloche along the famous un-tarmacked Ruta 40 (that runs all the way up South America). The guidebook sells this as a legendary trip to do, through stunning scenery and up a route that few get to see. The reality is that having spent 30 mins staring out at the (admittedly immense) arid landscape it starts to get boring and you wish the bus had a) air-conditioning, b) better suspension, c) any videos at all, even some of Ricardo Montaner (cf the Iguaz˙ blogpost). Still we had some good books and a pack of cards so managed to while away the hours. The trip takes two days, and stops overnight in a town called Perito Moreno that is summarised in the short equation below:

A one-horse-town (or rather no-horse-town given that horse sandwich was on the menu of the only restaurant),

+ Roaming gangs of 'uncouth’ youths,

+ A hotel room with door and window that don’t lock,

= Glad we were staying less than 12 hours.

(and unlucky to the couple that missed their alarm and therefore the bus – the next one wasn’t passing through for another 2 days! Epic fail)

The second day was somewhat better although this may have been mostly due to our delight at seeing Perito Moreno disappearing behind us.We were on a better bus, the road was flat and eventually we left Patagonia and entered Argentina’s Lake District. The landscape became much more interesting with mountains, lakes and most importantly lush greenery! Our final destination of Bariloche is on the shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi and as a major Argentine destination, attracts people throughout the year. It is far less windy and much warmer than Patagonia so the trousers and base-layers were packed away and shorts, dresses and sun cream pulled from the recesses of the backpacks.

We had lucked out with the hostel; it had a laidback feel and was set a little bit up in the town so we had amaaaazing views of the sparkling lake from our room. In contrast to the hardcore hikers we had been staying with previously everyone else there seemed really nice, and we got lots of tips for later in our trip (although I would have guessed you can’t ride the giant tortoises in the Galapagos). Bariloche is a quaint town thanks to an influx of Swiss immigrants somewhere along the line, bringing an alpine style to many off the buildings, and rather weirdly shops selling Milka chocolate and people offering photos with their St Bernard dogs.

However the main sights lie outside of the town. National Geographic have deemed one of the local hills, Cerro Campanario, as one of the top 10 views in the world so it felt rude not to get on a bus to check it out. Following our Patagonian trekking efforts we didn’t feel too guilty hopping on the chairlift to avoiding the hour long climb up, so arrived at the incredible 360░ panorama with plenty of energy. National Geographic obviously know what they’re talking about as it was incredible with the reflective lakes and jagged mountains – as usual the photos don’t do it justice. The next day we opted to see more of the sights and still in a lazy mood decided that a horse could do the hard work this time. We took a half day trip up Cerro Otto and, perhaps realising that I had never been on a horse before, the instructor gave me  one called Queenie. I was certainly the only person in the group issued with a stick to encourage her along. The trip was up some steep or precarious paths at points so in all honesty I was glad that it was done slowly. However Anna’s horse was a bit more enthusiastic and tested her long dormant riding skills with a rather dicey gallop on the way home. She lived to tell the tale but has the scars to prove it!

Unfortunately our time in Bariloche was limited as we were on a schedule to continue our trip north so it was time to put on the backpacks and head to the bus station. For the first time in our trip I was actually quite sad to leave as it was an incredibly pretty place with a great vibe and we had discovered a chilled hostel filled with like-minded travellers. Still it’s hard to complain when we had Mendoza and its famous wine a short (17 hour!) bus ride away…
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Ciara on

Stunning photos! It looks like you guys are having a ball, enjoy every minute!

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