Andes, Not Andy´s Mountains

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
Trip End May 15, 2011

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Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Thursday, December 23, 2010

We finally arrived in San Carlos Bariloche, after an epic 24 bus ride from Cordoba. The trip was not as bad as you might imagine. We had comfortable seats that reclined almost all the way back for sleeping on a nice double decker bus. It is like a flight, with an attendant who brings snacks and meals periodically, and movies playing for entertainment. Luckily we slept through much of the night making the trip feel a bit shorter. The scenery was pretty dull and unchanging until the last 2 hours, when snow- capped mountains start to rise over the horizon and the terrain
begins to get more undulating. The last hour we were curving through lakes and mountains, and we knew we had arrived in the Lakes District of Argentinian Patagonia. Technically we are now in the Andes Mountains, although nowwhere will you see them referred to by this name. Rather, each smaller range had its own name. My brother, who's name is Andy, always jokes that these are his mountains, so we will still let him lay claim to them.
Bariloche is a much different city then the other places we have seen in South America. It is mainly a ski town, but is also very popular in the summer for outdoor activities, like rafting, hiking, climbing, and biking. It sits on the shores of Lago Nahuel Haupi which is the biggest lake of the
region. Between the mountains, and the style of the buildings it feels more like a Swiss town and less like an Argentinian one. Our hostel was probably the nicest we have stayed in. It is really clean with such professional staff, and a rooftop deck with ridiculous views of the town below and the lake and mountains. Although it was a few dollars more than other dorm rooms we've stayed in, there are perks like free breakfast and dinner, daily room cleaning, and the amazing view, which make it worth it. When we arrived it was pretty overcast, windy and chilly. It was December 23rd so Christmas was about to begin. This meant we spent the first few days just relaxing, which was fine by us. On the night of Christmas Eve, the hostel next door, which is owned by the same company, was hosting a pot luck dinner where everybody was supposed to make a dish native
to their home country for all to share. We made Mac & Cheese, which turned out pretty well and seemed to be popular. It was a really fun night and everybody was really social. By this point we
had become close with our two roommates, one who was from Israel and the other from Brazil. There are tons of Israelis here in Bariloche and even hostels and restaurants with the signs written in Hebrew stating the discount they give to Israelis. On Christmas a few of the many chocolate shops in town were open so we we spent the day tasting, and attempting to find our favorite. Overall, they were pretty good but not better than the ones Mara used to bring home from pastry school.
There are many options for excursions in the area, and the hostel was helpful in giving us prices and helping us choose. We ended up booking a full day rafting trip down the Manso river. The river has some nice big rapids that reach level three and four. The trip was pretty expensive at 390 pesos per person ($100) but included pick up at our hostel, a beautiful drive through the mountains and lakes to get to the base camp, breakfast, guided 2 hour rafting trip, BBQ after the trip, and finally return transportation to our hostel. Our company was Rafting Patagonia, and
they were excellent. We met some cool people and had a really wonderful day. The views while on the river were spectacular, and the water was a beautiful blue green. The freezing cold water comes from the mountain and then runs in the river without ever going through a town all the way west through Chile and into the Pacific Ocean, so it is pure and great to drink. We wore wet suits to help with the cold water, and luckily chose a nice warm day so we were able to jump in the water at a point in the trip when the rapids slowed down. The last rapid actually took us into Chile, and we climbed a little ways up a Chilean mountain side to get back into our van to take us to the
base camp. So technically we have been to Chile, although we will soon be going deeper into the country. Back at the base camp the Asado was waiting for us, with wine and beer. It was delicious and afterward we played a game of soccer on a field with huge snow capped mountains looming just behind. It was such a great day. Sorry no pictures to prove it.
We spent the next couple of days relaxing in Bariloche. The weather had gotten much sunnier, and in fact was actually really hot during the day. The city was feeling pretty crowded because of the dozens of high school groups that ascended on the city for their senior trips. Apparently this is the week they come from all corners of the country to hang out. They were quite loud but we found some quiet places to avoid them. On Tuesday we decided to climb a mountain. To do this, we went to the Nahuel Haupi information office in the town square and got enough info to decide which hike to do. We chose to go to Refugio Frey, a mile up and deep in the mountains. The hike stared from the nearby town of Cerro Catederal which we got to on a local bus. From there we marched for four hours on the 10km trail and rose up 1700 meters in the process. The hike itself had some nice points, like walking along the lake and seeing snow fields as we got towards the top, but overall was not overall impressive. On the lower part of the mountain a recent fire had burnt down many of the trees so we we totally in the sun and felt like we were walking in the desert. It was also extremely strenuous. The last hour was one of the most difficult things either Mara or I had ever done, but we pushed ourselves and arrived, exhausted, at the top of the mountain at Refugio Frey. The Refugio site on a ridge surrounded by jagged snowy granite peaks and on one side has a natural lagoon that is fed from melting snow. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Even Mara's amazing pictures don't do it justice. We grabbed some food from the little kitchen/ restaurant they have, which was delicious. There are about 10 girls who run the place and a few of them work in the kitchen making treats and full meals for the hikers and climbers who are staying there. All of the food and supplies are either carried up on peoples backs or delivered via helicopter at the beginning of the season. We even had a cold beer, which tasted even better a mile up in the mountains. We spent the rest of day relaxing around the lagoon and exploring the area a little bit. That night we ha d nice dinner, prepared by the staff, then looked at the millions of stars that were visible in the sky. Sleeping is done upstairs on a two level room with basically a bunch of mattresses on the ground. The next morning we paid our tab for everything, which was 350 pesos ($85) for the nights stay three meals and some beer. We took a different trail down which was bit further but we didn't feel like backtracking. Many of the other people were continuing on to the next Refugio, an eight hour hike further into the mountains, but it was enough for us and time to head back. It was even hotter on the hike down, and we had to push ourselves even harder than we had the first day in order to make
it back to Bariloche. Or legs will be sore for days but the hike and the ridiculously picturesque views at the top were one of the coolest things we have ever done. Not to mention it was all well within our daily budget of $100 a day for us together. We hiked about 25 kilometers in 2 days including going up and down a few in elevation. We spent one final night in Bariloche to get clean and rested before catching the morning bus to the nearby town of El Bolson, were we will be spending the next few days.

Bariloche was Awesome!!
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