In which we hike the national park, wake up to lake views and partake of some famous Bariloche chocolate (and no one gets lost)
20.02.2013 - 24.02.2013 28 °C
Hola from beautiful Bariloche! We arrived here after our 18 hour bus ride, not exactly refreshed, but the journey wasn't too bad. We paid a bit extra for cama seats, which meant we got a big, comfy, leather reclining chair and three meals served on trays during the journey. If plane journeys were that comfy you'd be pleased.
Having said that, the film choices leave a bit to be desired... on our first overnight bus we were treated to a delightful All Pacino film called 'You Don't Know Jack' which is all about euthanasia, and on our latest we had a whole series of Spanish dubbed Michael Douglas films. Perfect, especially for the kids on board. But the best thing about Argentinian bus travel is definitely the game of bingo (bottle of wine for the winner). Fun and a chance to practise Spanish numbers.
Enough about buses though. The journey into Bariloche had already given us a taste of the stunning lake district, and Bariloche hasn't been a disappointment. Situated along Lago Nahuel Huapi and surrounded by beautiful peaks, the setting couldn't be better. We chose to stay in the Green House Hostel which is a couple of miles out of town but on the road towards the national park, which is really where all the good stuff is, and with lake views.
The hostel could possibly take our award for best hostel yet. Brian, one of the owners, picked us up from the bus station, and on arrival we were shown to the best room in the house, right in the peak of the A frame with our own little balcony and view of the lake. Perfect!
We headed straight into Bariloche to check out the small town centre. Its more like a Swiss ski resort than an Argentine town, filled with wooden A frame houses and chalets, bars advertising German beer and hundreds of chocolate shops.
After teasing ourselves with some window shopping and checking out the cathedral, we got the bus back to the hostel to enjoy a bottle of 'Marcus' wine we found in the supermarket.
On advice from Brian and Santiago at the hostel, the next day we did a one day walk to Refugio Frey on the side of mountain Cerro Catedral. This was a brilliant tip, 24km through grassland, forest and ending in a rocky climb to the refugio at the top. It's been interesting seeing the different ways that trails are rated. In New Zealand we felt the walks were sometimes overrated as more difficult than they were. In Patagonia they seem to take the opposite approach - a 24km walk through sometimes steep and rocky terrain is firmly graded as an 'easy' trail.
For almost the whole trek we were treated to buena vistas, and when we got to the top found we were close to some great peaks, not surprising when you learn that the refugio is mainly used by climbers and is one of Argentina's best climbing destinations. We managed the ascent in three hours which was faster than we expected, so we even had time to sun ourselves while watching the climbers at the top and enjoying the view.
The next day, with slightly sore legs, we decided to do a much shorter climb up Cerro Campanario. Both Brian and Santiago recommended it, and you can even get a ski lift to the top if you don't want to walk. Of course, we weren't going to pay money to get to the top when we could walk for free, so we hiked up the very steep but thankfully very short trail (about 25 minutes) to the top. It was well worth the climb... because this is the view we found at the top.
And just to prove we were there...
Marcus is now claiming for the second time this trip that he's seen the best view ever. Looks like New Zealand has some competition from Patagonia!
After all that excitement, we got the bus back into town to enjoy Bariloche's other famous thing - sweet stuff. The Argentines LOVE sweet food. Even the bread here is sweet, and they have dulche de leche with everything (seriously, its served with toast for breakfast, on ice cream, on its own... and has at least four shelves dedicated to it in every supermarket) And as Bariloche is famous for chocolate, we blew the budget on a bag of goodies from one of the town's oldest chocolate shops, Mamuschka.
That night the hostel did an asado for everyone, which included some really amazing steak and, what a relief, some real salad too. We met a really nice couple from Bristol, Dan and Rhian, and spent the night chatting to them over steak and wine. There were a few weird coincidences, including that we'd both stayed in the same hostel in Mendoza in exactly the same room (which we determined because it was the only room crammed with four beds and a crazy industrial sized fan).
Yesterday was our last full day in Bariloche. Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and we woke up to drizzle, and both of us with sore throats. So our planned ten hour hike was abandoned and instead we got a bus to Llao Llao in the national park and did a short forest walk along the side of Lago Moreno Oeste. The walk was nice, but it also gave us the opportunity to drive the Circuito Chico which is a famous driving route through the national park with some beautiful views. We then rushed back to the hostel to watch England beat France in the rugby. We had to stream it over the net, which meant we missed most of it in freeze frame, but we could hear most of the commentary!
Today we're saying goodbye to Bariloche and taking a flight to El Calafate, which is in southern Patagonia (and would take at least two days on the bus... we just couldn't face that). Down jackets and rain coats at the ready, El Calafate is glacier country...