San Carlos de Bariloche (or just Bariloche) is a city in the lakes region of Argentina tucked behind the Andes mountain range. It is famous in Argentina for two things; skiing and being a former Nazi hideout. I was not aware of the latter before making my way here.
The blog has been great for a number of reasons but one of my favorites is the little research we do when preparing the entry. We'll search around on wikipedia and travel sites to find out a few facts about the city we are in and enjoy sharing our new knowledge with the 5 or 6 people that read this blog. For Bariloche, I was surprised to find out that the most prominent internet search resulted in pages about Eric Priebke and his unabashed and unhidden lifestyle in Bariloche. Being a former high ranking Nazi official this was something of a surprise to me ... so I did a little more research.
Throughout World War II, the US regarded Argentina as the regional headquarters for Nazi espionage.
While not much evidence could be gathered to prove the alliance with Nazi Germany (Argentina remained neutral during the war) it was well known that president Juan Peron (Evita's hubby) was a sympathizer to the regime. Not until 1998 with the release of the book "The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Peron's Argentina " and following the investigation by then president Carlos Menem, did the full story of Argentina's involvement with the Nazi's come to life. The part that concerns present day Argentina is the falsification of passport documents at the Argentine consulate in Barcelona, Spain, at the end of World War II which permitted thousands of Nazi's to escape to Argentina. So that means during our trip to Bariloche we could at any one time be conversing with a high ranking ex-Nazi official ... pretty scary.
Luckily, nothing like that actually happened. Even with its checkered past and potential unfavorable residents, Bariloche has become an enormous tourist draw. The city is this beautiful wintry looking town in the heart of the Lake region of South America. It looks absolutely nothing like the rest of South America and if you hadn’t just come from Chile or other parts of Argentina by bus then you would swear you were in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Dutch cottage and swiss style houses line the streets. At every corner you can stop in at a specialty chocolate shop and try the famous Bariloche sweets. Clothing stores are packed with skiing and winter gear.
St. Bernard rescue dogs are brought out to the main square for pictures with tourists. I'm not exaggerating; it is Switzerland in the middle of Argentina.
We decided on Bariloche based on a recommendation from a friend for the nearby ski slopes of Cerro Catedral. One of the largest ski resorts in all of Latin America, it is only 40 minutes outside of the city and reached by public bus. Since Argentina is relatively new to the ski scene, you can pretty much rent everything you could possibly need at a number of stores on and off the mountain. After missing last year’s ski season we were pretty pumped to be hitting the slopes early this year.
The mountain itself is nothing incredible. It’s about as large as an averaged size mountain on the east coast. The lifts are pretty old and really slow. The management of lift lines is non-existent and when in South America with no line management system it only means that you will have people practically hugging you to get on to the lift (the lack of personal space is a very difficult thing to get used to - there is no consideration for equipment, people are literally stacked on top of each other and if you give even 3 inches of space in front of you someone will swoop in and grab it ... i pushed down a 5 year old kid for cutting me off, im not proud of it). But ... the incredible part is that the mountain actually reaches above the tree line and looks over a major part of the lake region in Argentina.
You are awarded with absolutely amazing views of Argentina, Chile and the Andes mountain range.
We hit the mountain for three days while in Bariloche. Being the tail end of the ski season, we weren’t expecting anything special for conditions but somehow lucked out and arrived right after a major storm which brought in the best snow of the year. With our shady rental gear and a patchwork assortment of rental clothes we hit the slopes.
The first two days were incredible. Conditions weren’t perfect but they were powder & still good enough to get some amazing runs. The top of the mountain is above the tree line and every time the view is just absolutely breathtaking. The third day however, would not prove to be as pleasant.
After talking about her rental equipment feeling really strange, Lindsey and I head down the first run of the day. In front of me is nothing but steep freshly groomed trails and blue lakes. Lindsey isn’t riding very comfortably and all of a sudden she flips backwards ... hard. Comes down directly on her back and then nailed her head and flipped what looked like three times. Easily top three worst hits I have seen in my life. When I reach her she is screaming like I've never heard her before. Noises that I had no idea her body could actually make. I figure it must be a break somewhere but through the screams she says she can’t breathe or move. I immediately take off her snowboard and put it in front trying to get some attention. Ski medical help was on the scene in what seemed like seconds.
Lindsey’s screams subsided and she started to get her breath back, but her movement was either slow and labored or none at all. Ski patrol was asking a series of questions, calling the medical sled onto the scene, and preparing for the worst. It was like Lindsey heard the idea of being shipped down on the medical sled and immediately pushed through the pain to tell them no. Movement was coming back slowly and after a while she was able to get onto her knees and talk normally. Her back was in terrible pain but the idea of going down on a medical sled was too much and we agreed to take the lifts down to the medical station.
That was a bad idea. A bad back, slow movements and chairlifts are not a good mix. After 2 hours of navigating our way down we make it to the medical station to meet the tall, handsome, funny Argentinean male model who would be Lindsey’s doctor.
Had I not been so concerned about Lindsey's health, I would not have allowed my girlfriend to be in a room alone with this person. He is every boyfriend’s worst nightmare ... a more attractive, smarter, funnier me with an Argentinean accent. Lindsey however seemed to be cured instantly when introduced to the doctor. Well at least we have that.
After an hour or so of waiting, a few back x-rays and a lot more body inspection than I thought was necessary (I think Lindsey started making up injuries just to spend more time with this guy) the doctor said the magic words "no breaks, the spine is in good shape." He prescribed some extremely heavy duty pain killers, said that over today and tomorrow the back will feel worse before it starts feeling better and told me that I now have to carry all of our things for at least the next week.
With Lindsey still in extreme pain, we head back to our hostel, dope her up on pain killers and buy random things to pass the time while she puts in some serious rest time. Note to self - self applied facials are not a good idea when you have facial hair or would like to keep any of your skin. We spent the next three days in or around the hostel enjoying the city of Bariloche.
We took several trips to see the St Bernards in the main square, animals have an ability to make Lindsey feel better, we had a plenty of awkward moments with the owners of the hostels family (the family seemed to live there in some strange "Godfather" scene and we just felt uncomfortable by the end, plus Lindsey has a tendency to make any situation more awkward than it needs to be when exposed to people for too long), and I even got Lindsey to venture out to the local brewery with me to try some Argentine artisanal beers.
And with that, and a bit of a stronger back for Lindsey we decided to head out to Mendoza for the last of our Argentine adventure. Lindsey's back was obviously still too banged up to carry her bags so I had the pleasure of lugging around everything we owned for the past year ... I looked like her personal assistant ... and we were off to wine country!!!