San Carlos de Bariloche would treat us to some of the most incredible views and fun adventures of our journey to this point (which is a hefty statement with all that we've done), but first we would have to deal with a few travel annoyances and nuances that we had hoped to leave behind in Puerto Montt.
Up to this point, we hadn’t made prior lodging accommodations before arriving to any of our destinations. Whether it be by luck or by chance, we had always hopped off the bus and simply walked to the hostel that most appealed to us from Lonely Planet’s description. We were never turned away, nor did we get to a hostel and think the positive description in LP was misleading. So, this was the plan for Bariloche…
The first hostel on our list was Hostel 1004, located right in the center of Bariloche. Lonely Planet described it as having 5-star awe-inspiring views from every room. Something seemed a little off about this place from the start. After entering a building simply because it had the right address (no sign), we took a shaky elevator to the tenth floor. When the hostel owner came out
Cerro Otto Revolving Restaurant
In about 5 minutes, our table will be positioned where these are.
of a door that had “1004” poorly spray painted on it and told us she didn’t have room, I think we were both a little relieved. On to the next place – Hostel PuDu.
The moment we got to PuDu the vibe seemed to definitely be more our style, but they could only offer us two bunks in a 6-bed dorm style room. We considered this, but in the end we decided that, being married, we really wanted to stay in a private. On to the next place it was…
After three more hostels told us they didn’t have room for the night, we were finally pointed in the direction of Condor de los Andes. They had the private double we were looking for, and we were tired of lugging our bags around Bariloche, so we agreed to pay the slightly higher price to call this hostel home. As soon as we got to our room, we both wished we had kept trying other places. The sheets were ripped, the pillows had hair on them, and the bathroom… well, let’s just say it looked like taking a shower would only make us dirtier. We quickly agreed that first
View From Cerro Otto
Erin is staking out real estate from just outside the revolving restaurant.
thing in the morning we would be checking out and heading back to Hostel PuDu to take whatever they could give us.
Tired from a day of travelling, all we wanted to do was get out of our overpriced room and find a quality restaurant. LP had some great recommendations, and it certainly hadn’t let us down on food yet, so things were sure to turn around… or so we thought. The first place looked like it had recently been boarded up and the next two mysteriously just were not where the map showed them to be. LP had failed us again and we were to the point where didn’t even care how authentic of a South American restaurant we chose, we just wanted to have some food with a side of a little beer. We went in the next place that looked like it was serving food – “Friends”. Being in Argentina, “Amigos” would have been more appropriate, or even the Swiss (i.e. German, French or Dutch) word for “friends” would have been less awkward with the obvious Swiss influence found all over Bariloche. Regardless, we found food and beer. We couldn’t have cared less where it came
Notice the cool safety vests they made us wear.
from. We continued to tell ourselves, “Tomorrow is a new day!”
The next day, we couldn’t have left Condor de los Andes any faster to head to Hostel PuDu, where not only could they put us in a private double room, but it was the best one they had. After regrouping, we wanted to take a fresh look at the town with a more positive attitude. San Carlos de Bariloche is a very cute, but almost out-of-place looking town. If one didn’t know any better, you might think that you had boarded an overnight bus in Chile and sometime while you were asleep, the bus was transported to Europe. There is an overwhelming Swiss influence everywhere, from the architecture to the chocolate and fondue shops. It was pleasant to walk around, and we even had a cute little dog adopt us for about a half hour. Erin had gone into a little bakery to buy an apple pastry that had been displayed in the window. She came out with not only the apple pastry (which was delicious), but also two small biscuits. I told her, "Thanks, but I really wasn't that hungry." To which she promptly told me she
hadn't bought them for me but instead for a dog she had seen walking about. From that moment, the dog wouldn't leave our sides. He (or she) followed us through the town and would even sit outside any shop we went in waiting for our return. When we would come out, he (or she) would jump up quite excitedly and start giving us the same special looks our dogs do, which made us miss home for a bit. But, in the end, the cute dog wouldn't pack easily into our bags and might give us some trouble at our upcoming international customs check-points, so we had to part ways.
There is really only a small amount of time that either Erin or I can do the touristy shopping thing before we get antsy. It was time to take in the real treasure of Bariloche, the surrounding mountains and lakes. We talked to our friendly hostel host Maya, who recommended a hike to the top of Cerro Otto where we would find a revolving restaurant with 360 degrees of beautiful views. Before heading out on the hike, we wanted to take a look around Bariloche with a fresh perspective. The
Erin's future dream home would look great on this island!
hike took us up what appeared to be some really killer mountain bike trails with steep burm turns and crazy gap drops. It really made me wish I had my bike and was heading downhill, but as we continued to trek up, we were treated with views looking out over a few of the many mountain lakes in the area. We came out to a dirt road and a clearing where we could see our destination, which looked like no more than 20-30 minutes away.
An hour and a half later, we finally made it to a point about 200 meters below the Cerro Otto revolving restaurant, where all of a sudden it appeared we couldn’t walk anymore but instead would have to take an oversized Willy-Wonka style glass elevator. The guy who sold us the tickets for the elevator said that he had to attach the tickets to the lapels of our jackets, which was a very awkward spot because the wind would blow the tickets right into our faces, but he insisted that was where they had to go. Upon reaching the top, we saw the employees of this tourist attraction snickering and laughing when they saw
us. Looking around, we realized none of the other patrons had the tickets placed in the same ridiculous spot where ours were. We were brunt of some tour-on joke (tourist+moron=tour-on). At first it was a little frustrating, but then we thought about all of the Gaper Days we’ve participated in back home, and just laughed along with everyone else.
Once inside, the first thing I was struck with was the sight of a full-sized reproduction of Michelangelo’s “The David”. It turned out there was a whole room full of Michelangelo reproductions. It was quite interesting, but seeing how we were in a Swiss-influenced Argentine town looking at reproductions of Italian art, it did seem like an odd place to find anything like this. From there, we moved into the revolving restaurant. It took a few minutes to get used to the sensation of sitting at a table that was moving in a circle slightly slower than a merry-go-round, but looking out and taking in all the views certainly was worth it. From the top of Cerro Otto, you can overlook Bariloche on the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi in one direction, and see some of Argentina’s most well-known ski
Circuito Chico Pit Stop
We rode about 1.5km off the main road to this windy, scenic beach.
areas and snow-capped peaks that feed the areas many other lakes in the other directions. It really was an incredible place to enjoy a beer, but after two revolutions, it was time for us to head back down the mountain.
We had heard many high regards for a local's restaurant called La Fonda del Tio. Staying true to the Argentine culture that works hard as long as there is daylight and enjoys themselves late into the night, the restaurant didn't open for dinner until 8:30. We were told that if we wanted any chance to get a seat to get there as they opened the doors because as it got closer to the Argentine dinner time (10pm), the wait would increase to almost two hours. The restaurant is known for huge portions at inexpensive prices, and it did not dissapoint. After our last overfilling bite of their house dessert, a fresh fruit whip cream mixture that was by far the highlight of the meal, it was a little after 10pm and we decided to call it a night. Leaving the restaurant, we had to wade through a sea of locals, including families with small children, eagerly awaiting a table
Top of Cerro Campanario
One of the Top Ten Views In The World according to National Geographic
to open up. Having been raised in a culture where an 8 year old's bedtime is no later than 8pm, it's still a little shocking to see families with children of all ages not even sitting down to eat dinner until 10pm and taking their last bites of dessert after midnight.
The next day was Thanksgiving, so we wanted to do something special and fun to help take our minds off of how much we missed our families, our dogs and the ski season that was starting back home. We took the bus 18km outside of Bariloche to a place where we could rent bikes and ride the Circuito Chico. The ride was a 26km loop taking us up to some incredible vistas and hugging the shores of a few beautiful mountain lakes. Along the route, we stopped by Colonia Suiza, a place that used to be a small Swiss colony hidden in the mountain forests, but it is now solely a tourist attraction. We also came to a point where Erin looked out to an uninhabited island in the middle of a huge lake and she decided that we should move there some day. We stopped to eat
Cerro Campanario Chairlift
We figured our friends back home were skiing, so we might as well take a Thanksgiving Day chairlift ride too!
lunch at Bahia Lopez, a small public beach on yet another mountain lake. The view was incredible, but the food was even better! We happened upon a Comida Natural Para Llevar shop (Natural Food To Go) that made the most incredible sandwiches with organic vegitables and home-made multi-grain bread. All said, the entire circuit took us about four hours.
Just one kilometer from where we concluded the bike circuit was Cerro Campanario, the top of which has been claimed by National Geographic as one of the top ten views in the world. We could have taken the chair lift to the top, but after hearing there was a trail that was only a kilometer up, we figured we could walk it. It turns out a kilometer straight up is a lot longer than you would think. The hike was a sweat-inducing calf-burner, but just in the same way that we try to earn our turns at the end of every ski season, we wanted to earn our view. There are times when some things are said to be the “top this” or the “best that”, but then they turn out to be an overrated disappointment. This was not one
of those cases. The views were truly spectacular with some of our favorite things: lakes, snow-capped mountains, islands, ski areas and so much more. We only had about ten minutes at the top, where we also enjoyed a tasty Patagonia Weiss cerveza, before choosing to take the ski lift down.
Much to our delight, we came back to the hostel to a full Thanksgiving dinner. It turned out that one of the guys who worked for the hostel was a transplanted American. While he seemed like he had lived in Bariloche so long that he had forgotten much of the English language, he still made an incredible spread of turkey, stuffing, mashers, gravy, veggies and an amazing squash pie for dessert (it turns out pumpkins, whether real or in a Libby’s can, are tough to come by in Argentina). While it wasn’t nearly the same as it would have been back home, being able to share Thanksgiving dinner with a hodge-podge of American, European, Argentine and Australian travelers (and subsequently trying to explain why Americans have a holiday with the premise seemingly being overeating) certainly helped put the proper end to a special day.
After a tryptophan induced
sleep, we wanted to make the most of our last morning in Bariloche before boarding a 17 hour-long bus to wine country. A canopy tour was the ticket. We went back to the same area where we had ridden our bikes through Circuito Chico and harnessed up to learn how to fly through the forest. Overall, we screamed down a series of ten different cables, the longest of which was over 200 meters long. It was a thrilling way to see the forest and the lakes from a new perspective, and a great way to release as much energy as possible prior to our long bus ride. The only thing left to do was to head back to get two more sandwiches, an empanada, and an eggplant bruschetta from our new favorite spot - Comida Natural Para Llevar (we never did learn its proper name).
After a rocky start, Bariloche turned out to be an absolute highlight of our trip thus far. The town is almost out-of-place with its European influences, but somehow it fits perfectly into its surroundings. The area is stunningly beautiful and is a place that we can only hope to visit again in the future (maybe for a ski trip next time… or if Erin has her way, to purchase a little real estate).
It’s off to Mendoza and wine country for us - with reservations made in advance of course. Ciao for now!
e squared everywhere (written by Eli)
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