This place is great.
There are two peak seasons in Bariloche – the hot summer and the cold winter ski season. We arrive at the beginning of Autumn and although it should already be cold and raining the sun is still shining and it’s hot. The road into town from Mendoza starts as a bleak ride through featureless shrub land before transforming into lush valleys, with vein like networks of crystal clear rivers. Farms spawn from the river banks with tall deciduous trees guarding the settlements from the wind; the colours are incredible. White tipped grey mountains give way to green moss and scrub, descending into river valleys carpeted with trees turning green to brown to red to yellow. Leah and I have been saying for a few weeks now that it would be nice to leave behind the cities and see a bit of green. We plan to spend four days here at the Northern edge of Patagonia in the heart of the Argentinian Lake District.
7km out of town, Hostel Alaska sits a few blocks away from the main road that runs from central Bariloche 20km or so further into the lakes. Directions to most destinations along this road (bus route 20) are given by their distance from town. The hostel is a wooden chalet-type set-up run by a nice young couple who are just celebrating the arrival of their first child. The hostel was recommended to us in Mendoza and we will be recommending it to anyone else we meet on our travels. Our bunk room was a little pokey but warm, the kitchen is huge and the common areas are packed with sofas and a big TV.
Javi, the hostel owner, tells us that the weather is weird and that we should make the most of it, so we drop our bags, skip the shower (not had a shower and been in the same clothes for 48 hours) and head to the beach. It appears the locals are also making the most of the last sunshine, and there are bikinis and speedos everywhere, even though the water is glacial. We settle into a nice spot overlooking the lake and mountains, grab a bite to eat and drink and take it all in. It’s another great moment when we look at each other and just smile. Things might be uphill for a while when we return from travelling, but it’s moments like this that make it more than worth it.
We decide it’s time to get busy again, it’s officially low season and a little shop a few stops on the bus is offering two-for-one mountain bike rentals. Neither of us are into cycling, we’re not the type that sprays on a multi-coloured outfit and accessorises with half a Halfords just to cycle 20 minutes to work everyday. Not only is it just not us, we are not fit enough for it to be us (yet – big plans for our two month stay in Buenos Aires ). However, strangely, we decide without a glimmer of self doubt that we should cycle the Circuit Chico around Bariloche. It’s a popular 27km circular route around the lakes, with evil hills but promises of great scenic rewards.
We complete the route in a little under four hours, stopping for some incredible scenery on the way and venturing into the surrounding forests, although I admit we did push the bikes up some of the chunkier accents. Before heading home we get a chairlift up Campanario. We are told it’s in the National Geographic’s top ten views in the world, but as it’s only a 10 minute trip we’re slightly sceptical. But we were certainly not disappointed – it was one of the most breathtaking vistas I have ever seen – a truly awesome 360 panorama. It would be impossible to capture in a picture how incredible the view was, it’s a shame some people come here without heading up.
That evening I cook Leah a spaghetti bolognese (again), and spend the rest of the night chatting to a nice couple from Denmark. It’s hit or miss in hostels – you either end up with people you like and get on with or you don’t.
Nursing our newly discovered muscles we decide to have a quiet day around the town and hostel. We head into the centre for some lunch – looking around you feel like you could be in the Alps. There’s not much to see except ski shops and chocolatiers but we grab some pizza and hot chocolate before heading back to the hostel. It’s still busy but with the weather set to turn any day now, the blue skies giving way to rain and snow, the tourist machine will soon go silent before starting up again when the snow hits in June. Back at the hostel and the Danish couple have moved out and some irritating hiking fanatics move in. Oh well.
On our last full day in Bariloche we catch the 50 bus out to Gutierrez Lago, a lake on the outskirts of town, asking the driver to drop us in the middle of nowhere where we take a slow walk back along the shore before heading into the local village in search of food. It’s deserted, so after grabbing dinner in the local supermarket, we make our way back.
Unfortunately, we forgot to do any washing whilst in Bariloche, which means we will be wearing dirty clothes (really dirty) until we get to Rio Gallegos in two and a half days. We have a daunting travel schedule ahead of us as we make a mad dash down to the end of the world in Ushuaia, spitting distance from Antarctica. Thick socks and thermals at the ready.