Bariloche

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, January 21, 2011

Horrors!  Patti woke up this morning with itchy bites on her stomach.  We don't know whether or not they were bed bugs, but at the very least there were bugs of some sort in the bed.  We looked online for other places to sleep tonight, but everything was full.  That's a lake town in the summer season for you. 

When we informed the girls at the front desk of the problem, they assured us that the hostel was fumigated every month, but that they would send someone up to fumigate the room anyway.  Patti stayed downstairs to check email while I went upstairs to grab my bag.  I was in the room when the "exterminator" arrived... He was a maintenance man with a can of Raid.  As he stepped into the room, he launched into a 10-second sentence, totally in Spanish.  I said, "Sorry?" with an accent, which is understood here.  He repeated what he'd said, or maybe said something else, who knows?  Taking charge, I started to play a game of charades that involved Patti going to sleep, then waking up in the morning.  I pointed to my stomach, where her bites were, while pretending to bite something with vigor.  He must've gotten it, because he started pulling her sheets off the bed and even lifted up the mattress.  I didn't see any bed bugs running for cover, so that's a good sign (if not a perfect guarantee) that they weren't there.

           

  
As we walked into town, Bariloche definitely seemed larger and more cosmopolitan than Puerto Varas.  There was lots of busy traffic and crowds of tourists, but the lake view in between the buildings reminded me where we were.  Here and there, old timber buildings with peaked roofs and flower boxes remained from the Bariloche of decades ago.  

On the plaza in front of the Civic Center, men with St. Bernard dogs were charging tourists to take photos with them.  I have no idea whether St. Bernards were ever used in this region or whether they're just trying to capitalize on the Swiss feel of the town.

There were also memorial signs painted on the pavement in honor of the "Desaparecido," people who mysteriously vanished under the military dictatorship of 1976-1983.  The organization in charge basically wanted to convey the message that justice had never been served; the "disappeared ones" had never been found, and that those responsible for this were never prosecuted.  Read some good information on this in an easily digestible format here.
 
    

              
 

 
 
 
For lunch, we picked a place called La Lola, which specialized in homemade pasta.  Our bread came with mayonnaise flecked with red pepper.  They really love their mayo down here!  Patti and I once bought salads in the grocery store and the small cup of "dressing" inside turned out to be mayo!  Anyhoo, it's good that we had bread, because the service was exceptionally slow.  In fact, the menu said outright, "He who knows to eat, knows to wait."  At least they "weren't frontin'," as my students in Boston would say. 

When the food finally came, it was well worth the wait.  Patti enjoyed homemade gnocchi in mushroom sauce, and I had a crepe filled with the famous local salmon, topped with a pink cream sauce.  We split a side dish of grilled eggplant, zucchini, onions, tomatoes and orange peppers.  So delicious! 



Bariloche is famous for its chocolate, and we made it our personal mission to find the best chocolate in town.  Dozens of shops lined Mitre Street, but we went into three of them that had received the best reviews in our guidebooks.  We started at Abuela Goye, which was decorated with a peaked, timber beam roof and a four-foot-tall statue of an elderly lady standing in the window.  Why not?  Inside, everything looked good and smelled even better, so I went with the Argentinean version my old standby: dark chocolate filled with caramel (which here ended up being semi-sweet chocolate filled with dulche du leche).  It was fabulous, although I cannot call it perfect.  True perfection would've been that chocolate topped with a few grains of sea salt.


 
Further down the street, we reached del Turista.  Typically, I'd avoid somewhere with a name like this based on principal alone, but we saw more shoppers carrying the bright yellow del Turista bags than all of the other shops combined, so we went inside.  I guess this lemming-like mentality could explain the popularity of Walmart. 

Anyway, del Turista was huge!  To the right was a cafe, which really looked more like a food court due to the style and decor.  There, you could order just about any kind of pastry/cake/pie your heart could desire.  Heading to the left, we entered an enormous shop selling mostly chocolate, both freshly-made and packaged, but also jelly, wine, meat etc. 

In the end, we didn't buy anything here.  Instead, we decided to return later, when we had room for the insanely creamy looking gelato heaped inside a few glass cases.

On a corner further down the street, we found Mamuschka, a bright red shop decorated with Russian nesting dolls that has the very best chocolate in town, according to our Footprint guidebook.  There, I ordered a chocolate-covered brownie filled with dulche du leche and some sort of layered hazelnut and cream-filled chocolate.  Both divine.

 
 
After our marathon chocolate taste testing, I had to admit that while everything I'd eaten was very very good, it was nonetheless on the same level as other "famous" and high-quality chocolates I'd had in the past, like real Belgian Godiva and Teuscher.  So, while I won't tell you to hop on the next plane to Bariloche for the chocolate alone, I'd definitely advise you to indulge in some chocolate if you're in the area. 

In front of the beautiful stone and timber Civic Center complex, a sunny hillside provided the perfect place for us to join the locals and relax in front of the beautiful lake views.  We even managed to fit in our daily nap, which is unintentionally becoming something of a tradition.  In Santiago, we'd inevitably fall asleep mid-afternoon, whether we were on a bus or sitting on the couch in Nico and Lore's living room.  Now, when we make plans, we joke that it could be be a problem if they're scheduled during our nap times. 

 
 
Back at the hostel, we enjoyed our free dinner (included in the price of the room) of pasta in a watery but strangely flavorful alfredo sauce, and then spent some time finding places to stay in Puerto Madryn and Comodoro Rivadavia, the first two towns we'll pass through as we make our way into Patagonia.  These rooms proved to be more difficult to book than we'd imagined.  Since most tourists take Route 40 down south, and we are not, there are fewer places to stay in these towns.  Furthermore, most of the hostels lack websites.  This could be interesting.

     
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