Back in Patagonia

Trip Start Sep 22, 2007
Trip End Nov 10, 2007

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Saturday, October 20, 2007

Bariloche is a tourist town in the northernmost end of Patagonia in what's known as The Lake District. Like most tourist towns there are good reasons why it has flourished. Its natural setting amongst a scattering of pristine lakes and mountains is the the main one. 

The Andesmar bus wends its way past a fat blue river with snowcapped mountains getting ever closer. Strange cloud formations in the sky signal that we are back in Patagonia. Since we woke up this morning, the last few hours of the long bus journey from  Mendoza have been a real pleasure.

We arrive early afternoon in Bariloche to a stiff breeze; a bit like Edinburgh in March. A tout accompanies on the local bus into town and shows us a place on the 4th floor of an ill-conceived giant box in the town centre. Cheap with a nice view but smelly and dirty. We move on in a wild goosechase around town to find a place for the night. Although its theoretically low season here, Bariloche seems to enjoy a bouyant tourist trade. We settle for a place at the Tango Inn Hostel. Everything is faultless except that the minimalist design and painting of each floor in different garish shades gives the place an impersonal and unfriendly feel. Next day I feel a strong compulsion to move on to Hostel 41 Below which has much better Feng Shui.

We eat out the first night: delicious fresh locally farmed trout. For the next three nights Rachel enjoys cooking up some fantastic grub in the hostel. We meet lots of friendly travellers who are all much younger than I am. I am starting to feel like I am getting old.

Next day the weather is not looking too promising but we head out to Llao Llao for a spot of rambling around the peninsula. It starts to get really cold and very wet and the walk becomes a chore. We cheer ourselves up by visiting Hotel Llao Llao for soup and a cup of tea. At reception I spot that the presidential suite is available for USD$2500 per night. Inside the hotel is like a lush royal palace with Swiss chocolate-box views over the surrounding countryside. We are quickly ushered to a quiet cafeteria where we rapidly cheer up as the staff buzz around efficiently and bring us just what we want. We forego spending the night.

Next day we take a trip up to Refugio Neumeyer in the mountains. All the rain from the last few days down in Bariloche has been falling as snow up in the mountains. The landrover transporting us slips and slides all over the place. We get out and admire the setting of the refugio in a quiet forest where heavy snowfall decorates every branch and twig.

Along with a couple of Spaniards and our guide Marco, we don snow shoes (for the first time) and take a hike up the mountain behind the hut. All is well as we pass through the forest, but once we are above the tree line on the barren snow covered slopes of the mountain it becomes hard work. Vicious squals rip down the mountain blowing up snow in our faces. We have to stop and turn our backs to the onslaught regularly as we progress higher. Eventually Marco gives up on us and tells us its time to head back down. We will not make the summit of Cerro Blanco. With resignation I admit it may be better to be safe and not get lost like we did in Mendoza.

On our way back down through the forest we spot a couple of Megallanic woodpeckers. They are quite big birds, the male is easily identified from his bold crested red head. Our camera is not good enough to get a clear shot due to the distance and the low light.

On Thursday we try a spot of horsetrekking from a spot 15km along the lakeshore from Bariloche. Its the first time I get given a īproperī horse. This nag is bigger than a policehorse and prances like a Lipizzaner. Despite his size he walks with the pace of a tortoise and trotting is more painful on my backside than a good kick-up-the-arse. Rachelīs horse doesnīt look quite as cool as mine, but puts in a much better performance. Pedro, who accompanies us, looks like a real gaucho with his black beret and enormous sideburns.

Rather than take the cable car, we climb Cerro Campanerio in the afternoon and get the best view weīve seen of the whole lake-district. It is only marred slightly by the vast throngs of students who seem to have arrived on the cable car; the noisiest bunch are some Israeliīs who seem to be having a competition to see who can talk the loudest. I walk back down with a bit of a headache coming on.

So is Bariloche worth a visit? Definitely. But make sure you donīt spend too much time in the chocolate shops or having your photo taken with St Bernardīs dogs in the main square. Its the lakes and the mountains outside the town that make this place what it is. Judging from the vast number of people milling around the town I suspect most donīt wander too far from their fancy hotels and tour buses.
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