Somehow, it’s already been almost a week since we’ve left Buenos Aires! I suppose this is how it will be from now on, too busy/tired to write, too many more interesting things to do than upload pictures, and extremely spotty internet connections (and we’re not even to ‘the desolate’ part yet). Thusly this blog will probably take on a format more like a travel journal than…whatever it was before. Warning, this is a LONG entry!
Our first stop from Buenos Aires was San Carlos de Bariloche, a beautiful town built on the shores of Lake Huapi, in Argentina’s Lake District. Pictures from this part of our trip can be seen HERE. Bariloche reminded me a little bit of Lake Tahoe, combined with Leavenworth, sort of. It’s a cute town; most of the buildings are this sort of creative mix of Swiss architecture with a Patagonian wood twist. It’s also full of chocolate shops, and laid-back restaurants that serve local trout, and, at long last, microbrews. We’re finally to the part of Argentina that has delicious beer – hooray! It’s also not crowded; it’s clean, the air is fresh, and it’s not hot (in fact, it’s quite cold). It’s a bit touristy, but still a breath of fresh air (literally) compared to Buenos Aires. We stayed at the Marco Polo Inn Hostel,which had pretty good rooms and included breakfast and a hot dinner. But, their wifi was basically broken the entire time we were there (4 days) which was pretty irritating, as I’m now left with a mountain of photos to upload, emails to check and reply too, etc.
Our first day in Bariloche we basically wandered the town for hours waiting for our room to be ready and gathering information to plan what we wanted to do there. Not so much fun, but necessary. And, a stop at the chocolate stop made it all worth it. The next day we went on a nice hike to Cerro Lopez and had amazing views of the surrounding countryside. It was also nice to get our heart-rate up after the long bus ride!
Our third day we decided to take it easy and ride the public buses around Circuito Chico, which is basically a nice little loop that has pretty views of several lakes and charming towns. Pictures can be seen HERE. We wanted to take it easy because we planned on doing a long hike the next day (20k) and wanted to rest after our last hike (16k). Well, that didn’t really work out…we took the bus first to Llao Llao, a tiny “town” that basically has the famous Hotel Llao Llao, a church, a ferry station for boats to Chile, and about 5 stores/restaurants. Oh, and a golf course. But, it’s absolutely beautiful there, what I imagine Germany or Austria to look like (not sure why I think that) – surrounded by mountains and lakes. Supposedly there was a bus that would take us to the next stop on the circuit, but all the locals told us that said bus (thanks again for the bad info Lonely Planet) didn’t exist. So, we decided to walk for a bit…just a bit and hopefully flag down a bus or hitchhike to the next stopping point. So, we walk along the road, and see a sign for a trail that goes alongside the road. A trail seemed better than walking on a windy mountain road with no shoulder, so we took it. 4k later we’re at the base of a really pretty lake, and we’re also the only non-Argentine tourists there. Pretty cool. Then we get back to the road, and see another trail that leads to a lake, Lago Escondido. Since we have all day to walk, we decide to take that trail. From there were two options – one to a “roman bridge” and one to the lake; both were short. So, we did them both. Add a few more kilometers. Then we continue walking on the road and eventually read Bahia Blanco (I think) – another little resort town built around another beautiful lake. Here we meet an English-speaking couple on the bridge, strongly hint for them to please give us a ride around the bend so we can catch the other bus to complete the circuit, but the hinting was lost on them. So, we continue the long walk, stopping to gaze at mountains and trees and lakes as we go. We finally reach the creek that signals the starting point of the hike we did the previous day, so we know we’re close to where we can catch the bus to Colonia Suiza, our last stop on the circuit before home. Due to time constraints, we decide to start the dusty walk to Colonia and flag down the bus if we see it. That actually works here, the flagging down of buses on the road…if the bus actually passes you. This bus never passed us (good thing we didn’t wait for it!) so, add 3 more kilometers to our tab. We finally reach the town, which is a cute little town founded by Swiss people a hundred or so years ago that the city of Bariloche declared a historical site and thus funds it keep its cuteness. Basically, after all that walking, it was a bit of a let-down, but the beer and strudel awaiting us made up for it, well, part of it at least. It was a pretty town, but in my opinion not worth the effort to get to. From there we finally caught the bus we’d been trying to find all day, and made it back to Bariloche via a scenic route which included yet more lakes and more amazing views, which I practically fell over trying to take pictures of on the bus. We had finally complete the Circuito Chico, and our “easy day” of walking ended up being what we think was cerca 20k. LOL.
view from Cerro Lopez outside Bariloche
The next day we set off for San Martín de los Andes, a picturesque town further up in the mountains; pictures from this part of our trip can be seen HERE. We thought that a specific bus service would literally take the scenic route, but it didn’t (seriously, LP, I hope the new Argentina guide corrected all this). Either way, the 4 hour or so drive was pretty and I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the countryside and listening to music. We arrived at San Martín with no reservations to stay anywhere; a man approached us at the bus terminal trying to convince us to stay at someplace. I brushed him off as trying to rip us off, but Tyler took the map and said maybe we’d look at it later. The man scribbled something on the map, and we commenced asking hostels if they had room for us. After at least three or four failed attempts, and with full bladders and feetsies in serious pain, we decided to look for the place on the map from the man at the bus station. Luckily, thanks to my internship I am excellent at reading scribbled handwriting in Spanish, and figured out that the place was called “Familia Muñoz.” We found the street, but had to ask a man on the street if he’d heard of the place. He walked us straight to the building, where we were greeted by one of the most friendly people I have ever met, and, the best part, she was a cat lady. We were given a private room, with a bathroom and full kitchen, at a lower rate than anything we saw in Bariloche (which wouldn’t have included a kitchen). And, it included breakfast. Fantastic. And there were kittens, even a baby kitten, that I named Little Blackles. And a wonderful heater, and cozy blankets, a hilarious little TV/radio, and seriously, the nicest lady ever. So, we were happy, finally alone and out of the hostel dorms with annoying roommates for a bit, and in a beautiful little town that has more Argentine and Chilean tourists (mostly families on summer vacation) than anything else. I love it here. If it weren’t for the freezing weather and harsh winter, I could live here. Everyone is super nice, all the buildings are adorable, and the food is amazing.
Our first stop was to the tourist info center to get the bus schedules to go to Parque Nacional de Volcán Lanín. Even though it was 10 minutes past closing, they waved us in, gave us a great map, and exact bus schedules, and even helped us figure out how to make the connecting transfers, all while being super friendly, patient with our Spanish, and didn’t make us feel rushed at all. Then, we went to restaurant recommended in the LP that had local specialties (trout, deer, boar, etc.). While it was a bit expensive by Argentine standards, it was AMAZING. I had risotto with wild forest mushrooms and deer, and Tyler had boar goulash. And we had yet another local beer that yet again actually had tasty hops, body, and interesting flavors. A great start.
The second day we got up painfully early at 7 a.m. (I know, it’s not that early, but keep in mind we got up at like 9 or 10 on our “busy” days in B.A.) to catch our bus to Junín de los Andes, a town about an hour away. The sad part of this day is that we got back really late the night before, and had to leave so early, that I didn’t tell the Mrs. Muñoz that we didn’t need breakfast so early because I was afraid to bother her at the odd hours, but she didn’t know and made us breakfast anyway, waited for us, and then was worried about us because we left so early and were gone all day! Oops! Luckily I explained everything later. From Junín we made a quick connection to a bus that would take us to the national park, about 2 hours away, on semi-paved roads. This is where it gets hilarious. The bus, which was really more of a 4-wheel drive van, finally arrived at the Ranger Station at Tromen, where we were set to do some short day hikes, and also from where people set off to climb Volcán Lanín. The weather was clear when we left San Martín, but was windy, freezing, cloudy, and raining when we pulled up. Literally everyone on the bus just looked at each other when the bus stopped with the same expression: “but…I don’t want to get off the bus anymore, it looks horrible outside!” LOL. So, making the most of it, we got out, got some maps and info from the very awkward folks at the ranger station, and set off to walk to the base of the volcano, hoping to actually be able to see it from there (as you couldn’t see it AT ALL from the ranger station). It was freezing, literally, the rain was freezing sleet, and we were bundled up in everything we had, but determined. It was ridiculous. But, like true Pacific Northwesterners, we pushed through, walking about 45 minutes to the “the base” of the volcano, seeing only clouds, took refuge behind some rocks, and ate lunch (deer salami and cheese sandwiches, and these cookies I’m addicted to). I took some pictures of the clouds and fog, and of what I believed to be the volcano, and we went back, thoroughly amused at what a terrible day it was. The best part was that Tyler managed to break his third thermos in Bariloche, so we didn’t even have hot water for mate. We got back to the station, and, seeing as we had bought tickets for the last bus back, hoping to spend a good 6 hours enjoying the park, thought we might as well do another hike to see Lago Tromen. We started to take the long route, but I didn’t really like walking through the muddy, wet, field, so we ended up taking the short one. We got to the lake, where it was even windier and colder back at the station; I felt like we were off the coast of Maine or something in some terrible storm. We ran into some Argentines trying to pull a little boat full of water out of the lake so it didn’t get lost, and had a fun chat about the great weather for a walk. Then we walked back to the lake, and tried to take refuge in the little general store that has supplies for campers. There weren’t any seats actually inside the building, but there were some stools under a roof, and they did have hot tea for sale. We spent a long time there, huddling, trying to make the hot tea last as long as possible, hoping someone would take pity on us and either let us stand by the oven inside, invite us inside their car/tent/whatever, or give us some pan dulce. After at least an hour, none of these things had happened, although one employee did comment that I looked like I was freezing. As we still had hours to kill, we decided to go on yet another hike up this giant hill to a viewpoint. Of course, once we were in the forest of the hill, the clouds cleared up and you could actually see the volcano, if you weren’t in the forest like we were. Also, the viewpoint was more for the lake than the volcano, and we couldn’t even make it to the top because we were paranoid about missing our bus back. But, it did thoroughly warm us up to walk up the giant hill, and I did eventually get some decent pictures of the volcano before we left. But man, what a ridiculous day, and of course, today it’s sunny and warm!
After our looong day at the volcán, we decided to get some pizza to go from a place we’d noticed the night before. That was pretty much a great decision, especially since we had some wine we’d been saving from Mendoza that Tyler was already tired of carrying around. It made for a great night, and we decided to take it easy the next day (today) and relax. We slept in, had breakfast around 9:30, and chatted with Mrs. Muñoz for at least an hour. Two of her three kids are in college in Córdoba, and she really misses them, and I think that’s why she’s so nice to the two of us; she needs someone to mother. And, we don’t mind. She made us a great breakfast, with jamón crudo (yum), cheese, some special jam from Patagonia, palmiers, bread, cream cheese, etc. And, she made me this crazy café batido which is basically instant coffee mixed with sugar and…some other stuff, so that it looks like brownie batter, that you put into a mug, our hot milk over, and stir. It tasted like the vanilla cappuccino you get out of those machines at Pilot or 7-Eleven, but better. After our long chat about life, travelling, learning Spanish, etc., we went outside and played with the kittens for awhile, which will probably be the highlight of my day. She found kittens living under her car one day and tries to take care of them and find homes for them, so she has seven right now, I think. But, she actually washes them and lets them in her house, so they’re well taken care of, and, adorable.
Today we’ve done nothing else but book our bus tickets back to Bariloche, this time via the scenic route of the Siete Lagos, which should be both beautiful and interesting, as it’s an unpaved windy road through the mountains. And, I’ve spent a good chunk of hours uploading photos and writing this blog, much to Tyler’s dismay, who has had to keep himself busy buying a new thermos, and things for dinner, among other errands. Everyone here is so nice; we dropped off our laundry and ended up having a conversation with a lady that works there about languages, drinking mate, and where to buy the best, and cheapest, thermoses in town. And now we’re in a lovely corner café that gave me a little dish of chocolates with my tea and has, from what I hear from Tyler, great sandwiches. Today we continue to laze about; maybe we’ll walk to the lake at the end of town; maybe we’ll play with the kittens instead, but it sounds like Tyler has bought ingredients for a great pasta dinner with fresh veggies, and that it’s his turn to use the internet and put his thoughts on the blog.
Our next stop is going to be El Chaltén, in southern Patagonia. Apparently it’s the hardest place on earth to get to, which is why we have to go back to Bariloche first in hopes of better bus connections. We’re facing either three transfers our taking a trip on the historic (and also, unpaved) Ruta 40 down through a tourist agency. Either way, it should be interesting, and totally worth it, as El Chaltén is supposed to have amazing views of the Fitz Roy mountain range, and we’ll get to see, and walk on, the Perito Moreno glacier. Also, southern Patagonia inspired a lot of the images in The Little Prince, which Tyler is currently reading in Spanish, so I can’t wait! Let’s just hope that all the complicated bus connections/accommodation reserving (or lack thereof) work out, as we’re in the height of the busy summer season here!
Sorry to ramble so long about our travels, but I’ve put it off for far too long, and want to get our stories down so we can remember them and share them with our friends and family. Hope everyone is doing well. I’m off for now…
Read Full Post »