Now this is a beautiful area. Who would have thought, that just beneath snow covered mountains would be the most amazing lakes around. And, good chocolate too!
From El Calafate I buzzed off to Bariloche. Again, taking the rich-man’s option and flying. A last minute decision, having booked my ticket at midnight the night before the flight. The plane was better this time – a boeing, but flying over the Andes is still quite a hair-raising experience.
Baricloche seemed like nothing from the airport, because it was like 20-30 minutes from the city. But, upon arrival in the city, what a pleasant surprise. On the side of the mountain is a city that looks like it could be somewhere in the Swiss Alps. From the mountain views of lake Nahuel Huapi are spectacular and it’s hard to conceive what a massive body of water this is. If there weren’t snow-covered Andean peaks within 2 kilometres of it’s shores, one would think you’re in Thailand. Heavily forested islands find themselves slap-bang in the middle of the lake, and it’s quite a sight.
Bariloche is a great city. Again very touristy, but this time aimed more at Argentinian tourists than gringos. Huge groups of school kids in matching tracksuits roam the streets. And, like I said, there is lots of chocolate too. Bariloche regards itself as the chocolate capital of Argentina, and rightly so. The chocolate is good, but by Argentinian standards, pretty expensive. Millions of different flavours, and quite different to chocolate elsewhere in the world.
The city is very Alpine looking and most buildings and houses have log-cabin-type facades and the Centro Civico is quite impressive. In the main square Saint Bernards and their owners wait to make some money from taking a photo with you. As usual, the food is good, and the trout is a reccommendation which I didn’t manage to take up unfortunately. I stayed at Hostel 1004. It’s a great hostel with a very homely feel. Located in the tallest building in Bariloche, which looks more like it should be on Sea Point main road, it’s rather large and has probably the best views you’ll find, and, it’s cheap as well.
I was there for one night alone, but the second day met the coolest girls from Colombia. Carolina and Carolina (serious) from Bogota. My first day of sightseeing after waiting out some seriously bad weather was spent on a cruise to Isla Victoria and Bosque de Arrayanes (Arrayane Forest). It was amazing and of course, there are photos. The cruise was a bit slow and took close on five hours, but was worthwhile nonetheless.
The next day, the girls and I and two of their friends from Argentina, Eber and Cristian, headed off to Cerro Catedral. It is the premier ski resort in South America and luckily there was still some snow, but unfortunately not enough to ski or snowboard! We took three ski-lifts (man, I hate those things!) to the top and the view was again, perfect. Distant islands and snow-capped mountains as far as the eye could see! Really impressive, and luckily we made it down before the whole of Argentina’s youth ascended for a day in the snow! One tip – use sun-tan lotion. Yes, I forgot, but now I have a tan! 🙂
The next day was a spontaneous decision on my part to join the Carolinas and Eber and Cris to go on a bit of a road trip around the seven-lakes area. We first headed to the quaintest little town ever, Villa la Angostura (1h:15m from Bariloche)! More chocolate and more wood, with an amazing atmosphere. Spent a night there in a cosy hostel called Italian Hostel. Pedro and his wife run it and it has a lot of character. The weather that day was shocking – loads of rain, but one can’t really expect more in the heart of probably one of the wettest parts of the world.
The next day we hired a car and were off to San Martin de los Andes. A long ride over mostly gravel roads, but although it was still pouring, the sights were something not to be missed. I’m sure we saw all seven lakes, but to be honest, they are so big, I don’t really know.
San Martin is is another breathtaking location and is only 30km from Chile, so we attempted to make a run for it across the border. Unfortunately the girls needed their passports and only had their ID, so we were turned back by the friendliest border-gaurd. We spent two nights there at the Puma hostel. It was ok, but being part of the Hostelling International group has so many rules and regulations. On several occasions we were told to be quiet for making a noise after 11pm. That’s when you really miss BA. Also, the shower was a nightmare, and for the first time in my life, there was more pressure from the hot water than the cold. Cris reckons this is to save water – good point! We had a good last night, taking in much Vodka and Speed unlimited (like red-bull, but cheaper) and then off to the casino, where i took in a few games of roulette and blackjack. Was good fun, but no success.
Then we left the next day and after a dodgy 6 hour ride on a rickety old bus we arrived in Neuqen. It was a connection for onward travels. It was a fond goodbye to the girls who go back to BA and then to Bogota and I made my way to Mendoza. I’m here now and more to come soon…