Bariloche and Mountains
After the waterfalls in the north it was time to go to the mountains – San Carlos de Bariloche. The town was a complete surprise to me. I felt like I found myself somewhere in the Alps. Even some street names sounded and looked German. A weary notion. It turned out my hotel was about 20km outside of town, not ideal but definitely idyllic. The resort (Hotel Casa del Lago) was on a side of a hill and a beautiful lake (Lago Gutiérrez) was on the other side of the road. So many places to wonder, so peaceful and quiet.
So, what is there to do, in Bariloche, when the skiing season is over? I’ll describe here only the things I have done, but I’m sure there is plenty more. First, something I like doing when I’m out in the countryside. Horseback riding. Don’t get me wrong, I have no idea how to properly ride a horse, I always do the tourist version. I found a company, family run, that does few outdoorsy things and I booked with them kayaking and horseback riding. They pick you up from your hotel and there is a little snack when you get to their place at Lago Mascardi. That’s where you kayak. The was almost no wind so the water stayed still and we could enjoy the relaxing side to this sport. I forgot how much I liked it, last time I was kayaking was probably when I was 18.
After lunch we were led to the stables and the horses were selected for us. Mine was weirdly stubborn. Not only was it stopping every time it saw something to eat, but it was also completely ignoring my instructions. At some point I gave up and let it do whatever it wanted. We rode in the valleys next to the lake for about 3 hours. I like this kind of sightseeing as it allows me to get to places I normally wouldn’t see, a little bit off the beaten track. And if you want to admire the nature in the mountains it’s better to do it from a horseback rather than on a loud quad – don’t get me wrong, nothing against quads, but there is time and place.
Another way to enjoy the area of Bariloche is to rent a car and drive around. I happened to come upon a couple from Buenos Aires that was vacationing at the resort as well. After an eventful bus trip we took together to El Bolsón I asked them if they wanted to join me on the road trip. We just agreed on sharing the gas money as I would have rented the car anyway. The first trip we took was to Parque Nacional de Arrayanes. For that we drove all the way to the other side of the Lago Nahuel Huapi to Puerto Angostura. From there we took a boat to the far end of the peninsula and hiked back to the car. It was about 12km and it took us little over 5h, including a break for a snack and obligatory mate. The forest there is beautiful, pretty much untouched, with great lookout points into the bay.
The next day we took the car to Lago Traful, little bit further up north. And to be fair when you’re driving around in this area you just want to stop every 5 minutes to take a picture because what you see takes your breath away.
Around the town of Bariloche itself there are few things worth mentioning. Because I wasn’t prepared for mountain hiking I used chairlifts to get to some of the peaks. Two of them etched in my memory: Cerro Otto and Cerro Catedral. The first one has an amazing rotating restaurant where you can enjoy a churro while sitting inside and admiring the changing view. There are also few paths that you can take for some shorter walks. Cerro Catedral is much higher and, on the top, you feel alpine again because you find yourself looking at a very swiss-like mountain lodge – Refugio Lynch, where even the food looks suspiciously European. What makes sure you don’t forget where you are is a gigantic Argentinian flag outside. The mountain itself is said to be the biggest ski center in the southern hemisphere – 120km of ski runs!
There was one more organised trip that I booked in Barliloche, however due to very shitty weather I don’t have pictures worth uploading here. We got in a mini bus and drove around the mountain range, we saw some beautiful lakes, even though the peaks were hiding in clouds and the drizzle prevented any nice exploration walks. Lago Hess, Lago Roca, Cascada Los Alerces and the most eerie Ventisquero Negro – a black glacier. It is famous for its colour, black, which is caused by volcanic ashes deposited over centuries. Sadly because of the warming climate it doesn’t get anywhere close to the visitor outlook points as it used to, but you can still see it clearly in a distance.
I cannot not mention here a quite random trip we decided to take, that was the day after I met Silvia and Ivan at Casa del Lago. They wanted to travel on a bus to a town called El Bolsón and from there take a short walk to see a waterfall and to have a picknick at a lake nearby: Lago Puelo. Needless to say, nothing went how it was supposed to on this day adventure.
First the bus got stopped by some kind of road patrol. And they asked me to step out. Just imagine an empty road in the woods, you’re on a bus with people you just met and two guys in some sort of uniforms ask you to get off, without telling you what it was about. They told me to stay outside and wait until they checked everyone else. Only then they bothered to explain, and by that time I was almost pissing myself out of stress. Problem was, that I only had a copy of my passport cos I didn’t want to risk losing it. I got a lecture on carrying the original with me at all times when I’m in Argentina.
After arriving into town we started looking for that supposedly amazing waterfall. Every person we asked gave us a different amount of time we needed to get there, ranging from 20 minutes to just over an hour. It took us over two hours. And the waterfall turned out to be this little trickle coming down the rocky side of the mountain. We had to rush back into town if we wanted to see the lake as well but walking would take too much time. So we cut through people’s fields and backyards to get back on the panamericana highway we took to get to Bolsón in the morning. No bus in sight, no marked bus stops either. So we tried hitchhiking. And it worked. We got a ride with a guy and a young boy. Ten minutes into the conversation it turned out that the boy was hitchhiking as well, coming home back from school. And the guy was a Chilean business man who would pick up people on the way just to have someone to talk to for a while – roads in that part of the continent can be very desolate.
We got to Bolsón just in time to get on another bus that would take us to the lake, where we would have about 20 minutes before the last bus was going back into town so we could catch one taking us back towards Bariloche. Although we didn’t get to picknick or see a great waterfall, our feet were in a terrible state and we learned a valuable lesson of not asking for directions in this neck of the woods again, we did have a great time together. It’s been about seven years since that day and I still remember the three of us having a great plan and then having to change it every half hour. It was also the first time I got to drink mate like a real “che”. Che boludo!!!