Roll Over Beethoven

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Thursday, December 29, 2011

Heading south ....

The next place to visit was Bariloche in the Argentine Lake District. To get from Mendoza to Bariloche takes 20 hours on a bus, and even if it's the poshest bus in the world that it still a long time. So we decided to fly. Unfortunately there is no direct flight so we had to first of all fly to Buenos Aires and then onto Bariloche – well this was the plan anyway – except mother nature decided to step in. When we got to Mendoza airport to check-in we discovered that Bariloche airport was closed due to ash from the Puyehue volcano in Chile. I guess it was about time that the two geography teachers got caught up in an ash cloud saga as neither of us were stranded by the Icelandic one.

Anyway had to look this one up so here is a bit of information on the eruption. Puyehue Volcano is located near to near Osorno in southern Chile (870 km south of Santiago). Puyehue volcano erupted for the first time in half a century on June 4, 2011, prompting evacuations as it sent up a cloud of ash that circled the globe and closed many airports in Chile, Argentina and even Melbourne. I found a few photos of the eruption and have put them on here as well – obviously I didn’t take these one. Anyway there is still a pretty large amount of ash up there and every now and again it seems that ash can close Bariloche airport – as it did on Boxing Day. So LAN (yes Sam they are really lovely) re-routed us through Neuquen which is a 6 hr bus journey north-east of Bariloche. We thought we were going to have a nightmare when we got to Neuquen, but  the very lovely people at LAN had put on a bus for everyone and gave us extra food boxes and water. So we travelled for 6 hours through the desert (on horses with no names), irritating the other passengers as we were watching Miranda on itunes (with headphones), but she is a little bit too much like me and Helen and we were laughing just a little too loudly. We finally arrived at 1am in the morning (beating the bus from Mendoza by about an hour).

So San Carlos de Bariloche, usually known as Bariloche, is a city  situated in the foothills of the Andes on the southern shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake in a very stunning location. It also looks a bit like Switzerland because the  modern settlement of Bariloche developed from a shop established by Carlos Wiederhold, a German immigrant that had settled in the area A small settlement developed around the shop, and by 1895 the settlement was primarily settled by Austrians, Germans, Slovenes, and Italians. In the winter it turns into a very popular ski resort and then in the summer into a hiking destination. Now on paper Bariloche should be my top place in the world to be – it has moutains, lakes, it’s Argentina’s chocolate capital, it has wine, there’s a North Face Shop and it has St Bernards !!!

Now to be honest I wasn’t all that excited about the wine and the chocolate. First of all Argentinian chocolate is not British chocolate and it certainly isn’t Swiss chocolate – everytime you have it you end up all disappointed. As for the wine – after being in Mendoza I was a bit over it all and starting to seriously worry about the state of the liver. So I decided I was going to go off hiking. (Princess Helen stayed in the cafe with a beer). Above the town is a mountain called Cerro Otto (1405m), which you can drive up to or get a cable car, but I decided to walk up! This seemed like a great idea except it was 35C and you had to trudge up this dusty track with little shade. I finally made it to the top thinking that I could get the cable car down. Something that would be quite feasible in Switzerland. But oh no – this is Argentina – because I hadn’t come up on it, I couldn’t buy a ticket to get down (even though I looked like one of those people who had just completed the 48 mile section of the marathon des sables in the Sahara desert). You couldn't even see much from the top because the ash cloud was making it hazy.  So in total I walked about 15 miles and needless to say couldn’t walk properly for the next 2 days.

So the next day – thinking that I might have it in me to do a bit of cycling, I headed off nice and early to get the bus to the place where you can hire bikes, and then do a lovely 60km cycle round the Circuito Chico. More than feasible in Switzerland, but not in Argentina as you can’t buy a ticket on the bus and the ticket office to buy the tickets in doesn’t open until 9.30am. So I wondered around for a bit, got out some cash, realised I couldn’t actually walk, and then also realised I had left my cashpoint card in the cashpoint 3 hours earlier. So I went to see the bank and no joy there. However, at this stage I must acknowlege my Mum and Bill and their amazing efforts with 'Opertation Debit Card’. In a couple of weeks I am doing a hiking trip around Patagonia with a company called KE Adventure. First Direct have got a new card to my Mum, she has got in touch with KE, they have got in touch with my fellow travellers and it looks like the lovely Jim and Alison from Middlesborough are bringing it out for me. So at this point I conceded defeat, huffed and puffed a bit – sang a few lines of ‘It sucks to be me’ and then spent the rest of the day watching cheesy TV.

So another early start as we were catching the 7.30am bus from Bariloche across the border to into Chile and onto Puerto Montt where were going to catch the ferry for a four day trip through the Patagonian fjords. We had a stunning one hour journey through mountains interpsersed with twinkiling blue lakes to get the Argentinian border post. Along the side of the road it looked like there was snow piled up and they had cleared the road with a snow plough. However it was tonnes and tonnes of ash. In many places the trees were brown and not growing because of the impact of the ash. Then we crossed into Chile where the volcano is located and bizarrely there was hardly any ash on their side of the mountains. We then reached the Chilean Border Control They piled us off the bus and then proceeded to take off every single bag from the bus. Bearing in mind this was a huge double decker.  They lined it all up and then sent down the line three labradors (Bouncer I, Bouncer II and Bouncer III) who were trying to sniff out food products (drugs were fine). There was a bit of concern for a few minutes as Helen’s chocolate orange was in her bag but somehow the Bouncers did not find it. Then we had a three hour journey to get to Puerto Montt.

Puerto Montt is a port in southern Chile, the gateway to the Chilean fjords and it is surrounded by volcanoes. Oh and it's a complete dive, with more banks that Switzerland. The only reason to be here was that it was the departure point for the Navimag - the ship that was to take us through the fjords and down to Patagonia.  
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