Bariloche: Does this chocolate make me look FAT?

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Alrighty after about a months break in writing blogs we are back into it.  Don't worry we didn't come down with scurvy or small pox or the plague or any other sort of communicable disease and/or STD and to my recollection we don't have leprosy yet.  (Knock on wood) We have been busy with our parents visiting for the last 3 weeks but that story will be told a little later down the road.
So we arrived in the little town of San Carlos de Bariloche (or just Bariloche), looked for a place to stay for about 1 hr and then unpacked our shit.  The town is so blazing hot and dry I am not sure how the locals handle it.  The sun is really intense here and getting burnt is not a problem. 
So this hostel that we found is run by this 89 year old grandmother that is Slovakian and was pretty cool (Senora Arko).  She would still clean the bathrooms and the kitchen and then climb these ridiculous steep set of stairs to clean the upstairs bedrooms.  At this hostel she also had a parilla (pa-ri-ya) which was really fun to use every night.  These argentine grills are a bit more difficult than the standard N.A. bbq.  Generally you have to use wood or charcoal as fuel but the meat afterwards tastes incredible.  This grill is attached to a chain and a pulley and lever which you crank to get the meat closer or further away from the coals.  We ate meat every night for all the nights we were there, about 6 in total.
Day one was the hardest day, we collected info on what to do in Bariloche and in the surrounding areas and then ate chocolate and ice cream the rest of the day.  This day was especially demanding because we had to pace ourselves to last the entire day sampling delicious rama chocolate (shaved chocolate rolled into a cylinder) and dulce de leche ice cream (D.d.L is like a caramel spread) as we went along.  Bariloche had a chocolate street which consists of 6 or 7 different chocolate factory shops and also has an ice cream street which has about a dozen ice cream shops down it.  After buying a good supply of chocolate for hikes and such we started some of our activities.  That afternoon we took in a game of bowling at the local shopping mall.  Pretty good times, Sarah kicked my ass and after 1 game we decided to pack it in.  So much hard work we decided to go to an Argentine parilla restaurant.  This is basically a grill house but about 1000 times better.  The farmers in Argentina must feed their beef cocaine leaves because the beef is sooooooooo gooooood and addictive.  We ordered something called a ´Bife de Chorizo´, which is a sirloin strip steak done to perfection (500g) and then we had a mini bottle of wine, salad and mashed potatoes.  Total bill came to 70 argentine pesos (about 22 dollars Canadian).  I don't want to diss on Canadian or Alberta Beef, but man this Argentine beef is good and big.  We should take lessons from these farmers and chef's because they raise sooo much beef and lamb and other meat products and then grill them perfectly.    
On the first day we climbed the local ski hill, Cerro Otto, and now an outlook to the city and the country side.  We went up by horse back which took about 1.5 hrs and then had a nice view from the top then descended the hill.  I got this horse that liked to fart a lot which was really entertaining and also I could blame the horse if I wanted to slip some by.  Sarah really liked her horse it would listen and was really reliable.  The decent was incredibly dusty, it was the finest powder that I had ever seen and managed to get everywhere (every wrinkle, crack and large quantities up our noses).  The view from the top was pretty neat, as you can see the photo attached, Sarah and I in our best helmet attire.  When we got back to town we headed to the ice cream shop, which was the norm after every daily excursion.
The following day we decided to rent bikes and do what the locals call the Circuito Chico.  This loop is not too long about 25km on the peninsula Llau-llau.  We got off a city bus about 20km from town and rented bikes, then started the circuit.  It was a really beautiful circuit, but, it is a shame that there are so many private residences strewn all over the peninsula, since it is a local park.  The circuit took us to a little hill called Cerro Llau-llau, it overlooked the lakes that surrounded the area.  Pretty easy 30min hike to the summit.  We left the hill and then rode on a bit with our bikes stopping periodically to admire the view or complain how sore our asses were because of the bike seats.  Our final outlook gave us a view of Villa Llau-llau which is this 5 star resort over looking the lakes that does not cater to dirty backpackers and riffraff.  I guess Bill Clinton stayed here a few years back and that is one of their claims to fame, plus of course the view.  Peddled back on our bikes to the rental place and were pleasantly greeted by more fattening foods.  Such delicious foods Argentina has.  This one they gave us was called an Alfajor and it is a cookie/biscuit like caramel sandwich.  The size of a cookie, made of shortbread or softer cake like substance, in the middle is dulce de leche (caramel spread) and then it is usually covered with chocolate or icing sugar.  Rode from the peninsula back to town on the bus straight to ice cream shop for another sample.   
We decided do another ride in the country by horseback, I guess we got horse crazy (yee-haw) over the first ride we did.  Took a shuttle out to a ranch where they do trail rides and then serve you some more chicken.....I mean beef - big Argentine beef.  The trail ride was pretty fun, large group, so it wasn't as fun as the first ride up Otto, but, towards the end of the first ride we really lot to get the horses go.  The ride ended in a clearing and then you could let your horse go as fast as you wanted.  I really gave her, giving the horse little kicks and using a reed to hit the flanks of the horse.  Sarah unfortunately got a crazy horse that would kick other horses as they walked behind her horse.  She had to apologize for her horse about 5 times, the last time it kicked this horse with a little girl on it and the girls horse took off.  It seem that the horses really had a pecking order that they had, even my horse liked and disliked other horses.  Mine would occasionally bite other horses or give them really good stares if they tried to pass them.  Got into the country house for another parilla, and then after lunch headed on another ride.  Good day in all 
The last day we had in Bariloche we started late and were worried because we were going to do a 6 hr. hike in the national park there (Nahuel Haupi) to a backcountry site called Frey.  We started the loop by talking a chairlift up Cerro Cathedral (I know it`s cheating, but, who cares).  This is the main hill in Bariloche were the locals ski, there is something like 20 lifts or something.  It's a huge area to ski.  We headed up on the lift to the beginning to the ridge hike, which is really barren and has some wild scenery; we also say condors gliding over head.  The trail is a ridge hike that was marked by these red and yellow circles, the locals said the trail is not well marked, but, we both thought the trail was excellent and the markers made the hike go by even faster.  It was sort of a game, find red dot, go to red dot and then find other red dot.  When we got to the pass that connected the other valley we descended on a lake and then to another river valley.  Really amazing scenery, the pictures just do not do it credit.  We ended up at the backcountry site, to be surprised by a shanty town like camping village of climbers.  This area is where Brazilians and Argentine climbers spend their summers the area is really dry and the peaks are plentiful and challenging.  Nice area, plus it is absolutely free to camp here all summer no wonder they are so many climbers here.  Walked down the hill to the base of Cerro Cathedral and then hit up the local ice cream shop, we have to keep a tradition going. 
Next day we were sad to leave Bariloche, because we had such a blast there.  As a going away gift the Slovakian woman who owned the hostel gave us a bunch of seeds of a flower common to the area.  She called then the love flower, but, they are called the Alstroemeria (Peruvian Lilly) and I will try to plant them in Canada.  Hopefully they won't disturb the ecosystem like the beavers we introduced into Argentina did in the fifties.


Nik and I sadly took leave of Bariloche which included our amazing hostel, our personal parilla, delicious chocolate, and ice-cream that blew our minds.  But, Pucon was rumoured to be equally amazing and so we hopped a bus to find out for ourselves.  We quickly discovered that Argentina`s lax border crossings were not the norm as every individual bag on our bus was x-rayed as we passed through the Chilean border, but once inside Chile, all was chill once again.  We passed through Osorno en route and took the best bus ride of our trip from Osorno to Pucon.  We had an incredible bus attendant, plush seats, and arrived to Pucon in no time. 
Upon arriving to the small town of Pucon set amid amazing scenery with small, old bungalows, and a busy main tourist street, we were immediately reminded of Banff.  The resemblance was actually quite stunning and apparently a lot of people have mentioned that before.  The first thing you notice is amazing Volcan Villarrica, a snowcapped volcano rising to 2847m.  It is still active (last eruption in 2007) and is one of the only volcanoes in the World to have a lava lake inside it`s crater.  The Mapuche people of Chile refer to it as Rucapillan, and they believe the Devil lives inside.
After scoping the town and picking our tours for the next day, we took off to Playa Negra to see the black sand beach, a result of nearby Villarrica.  Right next to Playa Negra was Playa Blanca and the contrast in sand was interesting to see.  The beaches are packed down here and everyone makes a living doing what they can at the beach, setting up your umbrella or digging holes for people´s umbrellas
Nik set out the next morning at the ungodly hour of 4am to climb Villaricca and have some firm snow to do it on.  I, on the otherhand, enjoyed many more hours of sleep and enjoyed a leisurely day of galloping a horse to a nearby waterfall which absolutely blew my mind. It was entirely hidden within the forest, over 50m high, and just stunning - words cannot describe it and I have no photos to describe it either (Nik had the camera!).  It was very surreal as well to be the only one there to enjoy it, along with my guide of course, a really sweet local man. 

So on the day Sarah went horse riding, I started the day pretty early about 4am in the morning.  I got picked up from the hostel and then was all suited up with the appropriate gear like jacket, backpack, crampons, pants, helmet, headlamp and ice pick.  We took a 30min van ride to the base of Volcan Villarica.  From there we hiked up about 1.5 hrs to the end of the final chair lift.  While hiking we saw another volcano in the distance erupt, it was about 40-50km away and the amount of lava coming out was a lot for the distance away.  After another 30min climb we put on our crampons and then headed another 2.5hrs through the snow pack to the summit.  Along the way I have never meet such a bunch of whiners, the volcano was challenging but a lot of the people on the hike where huffing and puffing, complaining they couldn't breath and how difficult the hike was and yada yada yada.  The volcano was not as demanding as some people were commenting, but, that is the way some hikes go.  We got the top of the volcano walked around the crater looked in and then got the occasional strong whiff of a noxious sulphur smell.  We had a nice lunch and then headed back down.  So how do we get down you say, well my friend we are going to strap a piece of plasticized cloth to our asses and then use these giant ice chutes to slide down the snow pack, should only take about 1.5 hrs or so.  Really fun trip the volcano has about 8 or so ice chutes to slide down with the greatest of ease.  As for the huffer and puffers on the trail they were the loudest screamers going down the chutes and I am pretty sure they didn't have that much speed.  Good day in all and I got back had a beer with the guides and other people and then went back to the hostel around 3pm.         &a mp;a mp;n bsp;  
The next day we went to a Mapuche reserve where we learned a little more about their culture and traditions.  Mapuche people constitute nearly 10% of Chilean`s population (100,000 people) and there are another 300,000 Mapuche people in Argentina.  This is the only indigenous population that was not conquered by the Spanish and, as such, is one of the last surviving populations today.  Up until the latest Chilean president, however, the Mapuche people were not recognized as distinct - the statement made was that there are no indigenous people in Chile, only Chileans.  They were, however, recognized to be at the bottom of the social structure.  Now, the current government (Michelle Bachelet) has passed the Indigenous Act which recognizes the Mapuches and grants them complete ownership of the land they are currently on.  So, we did another horseback excursion to the summit of the Mapuche lands where our guide and his girlfriend showed us all sorts of edible berries, medicinal leaves, the Mapuche `cross`, their sacred lands, described their religious rituals and so on. Then they brought us to their community for lunch and then we went off with them to explore the nearby saltas and ojos de agua (waterfalls).  They were a really sweet and genuine couple, we really enjoyed our day with them and learned a lot too.  The community reminded us a lot of Central America with delicious and basic foods and music everywhere.
We enjoyed Pucon a lot, though it didn`t quite measure up to how incredible Bariloche was and we were also very excited to keep moving ahead since our next stop was Santiago to meet with our parents!!  But, in short, Pucon was cool.  A very nice stopover en route to Santiago. 
Lots of love, Niko y Sarita.
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