Published: December 31st 2007December 7th 2007
Well, this is certainly a Lake District to rival the British one. Saying that, I realise I have not explored the British one and must when I return. We stayed in three separate towns in the Lake District of Argentina, the first (and most well known) is Bariloche. This is a town completely geared to tourists with virtually every shop selling either souvenirs, town-named t-shirts or chocolate. Yes, chocolate. It seems to be famous for it. There were loads of large shops selling nothing else and in every possible flavour, shape and size. Of course, coming from England, one was quite discerning when it came to sampling the fare in foreign climes, but it did compare well, and my cholate chauvenism, if one can call it that, quickly melted.
In Bariloche our hostal was right on the shore of the lake and the large picture window in the dining room gave an awesome view of the snow-capped mountains on the other side. It was really breathtaking. We had the pleasure of attending a carol concert one evening at the town cathedral, given by three separate choirs, each of a very high standard. The proceeds went to a local charity. Here was our first hint of Christmas and it made us feel very much at home.
From Bariloche we took a bus that skirted the lakes and took us to a small town called Villa la Angostura. Most of the time, I have been booking our accommodation on the internet and being led by either the advertising, including pictures of the place and perhaps the review in the Lonely Planet guide. Quite often there have been few other guests because the high season hasn´t really started here yet. February is when things really take off. Our hostel in Villa la Angostura was quite a way out of town. Its location was lovely, though, surrounded by trees and with a short walk to the nearest lake. We enjoyed the many shops of local crafts - in fact looking at local crafts (artesania in Spanish) has been quite a focus from the beginning. There is so much really good craftwork to marvel at here, from jewellery to woodwork, ceramics etc. If we were not on such a long journey with already heavy backpacks, we would have bought quite a bit more. At the moment, both Jane and I can boast quite a nice collection of earrings.
While at Villa, we took a boat tour to a peninsula where a unique forest of trees is found - trees that grow only in Patagonia. Their Spanish name is Arrayanes. The bark is a terracotta colour and the trunks are cold to the touch. It was a really beautiful place.
From Villa la Angostura we took the bus on the route called "Seven Lakes" to San Martin de los Andes. Much of this route is unpaved but the bumps were worth experiencing for the marvellous views of mountains, lakes, forests and flowering plants along the way. In San Martin we had not booked ahead but landed on our feet when, within 100 yards of the bus terminal, we found what is called here an "Apart Hotel" - ie it is made up of several small apartments. Ours was more like a small house. It was on two floors and we each had a bedroom with beautiful views, two bathrooms, a kitchen and living room with cable tv. It was just what we needed and Jane ended up staying 6 nights and I 4. We very much enjoyed San Martin. It was quietly unpretentious and not overly touristy. There was an unprecedented choice of excellent restaurants but we could also buy fruit and other breakfast food from greengrocers or supermarkets.
I left San Martin two days before Jane to visit friends in Neuquen, often known as the Garden of Patagonia for the many fruits that are grown there.