Learning Spanish in the Mountains

Published: December 10th 2007
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Isla VictoriaIsla VictoriaIsla Victoria

Isla Victoria is a large island on Lago Nahuel Huapi.
Bariloche: Lakes, Mountains and Chocolate

Bariloche may well be one of the most tourist oriented places in Argentina but its location, on the shores of beautiful Lago Nahuel Huapi, surrounded by dozens of snow capped mountains, is perfect, and despite the crowds, it's easy to fall under its spell. Our stay in Bariloche was one of the highlights of our trip. We booked a week long Spanish course with "Spanish in the Mountains", and through Maria, who ran the school, we also found fantastic & cheap accommodation in a house in the mountains.

Maria picked us up when we arrived and brought us to our mountain hut, 12km from town, near Lago Gutierrez, which was our home for the next 9 days. Our accommodation was perfect. We had a two-story house, with lovely bedroom, kitchen, living room, cable TV, video, fireplace, barbecue and garden. And all this was cheaper than the hostels in town! We quickly fell into a routine of taking classes in the mornings, hiking in the afternoons, and doing our homework in the evenings. Our classes were very intense as we took individual lessons, which, for us, is the best way to learn the language. Despite
Summit of Cerro CampanarioSummit of Cerro CampanarioSummit of Cerro Campanario

The easiest climb in Bariloche; it takes 30 minutes to get to the top. There's also an Aerosilla for $20 pesos return.
all the homework we did manage to see plenty of the sights in and around Bariloche, as well as finding time for a good amount of hiking.

Most of the high level hiking routes were closed as the snowline was still low, so we stuck to the lower slopes. The first hike we did was to the summit of Cerro Campanario, at 1050 metres altitude. This is one of the most popular peaks in Bariloche and is located at km 17.5 on the road west to Llao Llao. There's a chair lift to the top but if you want to save 20 pesos the hike up is very easy and takes only about 30 minutes. At the top there is a cafe, plus excellent views of Cerro Lopez, and a good number of the lakes. That same day we also hiked in Parque Municipal Llao Llao. The bus left us at Hotel Llao Llao, said to be the most expensive hotel in Argentina. It did look lovely but I think I preferred our mountain hut! We had a quick look at the hotel gardens before walking a few kilometres to the park. The trail we followed that day lead
Otto & RuthOtto & RuthOtto & Ruth

This dog followed us up the path (and helped us find the path occasionally) to Cerro Otto, so we called him after the summit.
to the lake shore after about 30 minutes, giving us an excellent view of the hotel, of Lago Moreno and of snow-capped Cerro Lopez. We returned to the park a few days later to climb Cerro Llao Llao, a 900 m peak, with good views of the western end of Nahuel Huapi lake.

Another afternoon, when we finished our homework early, we hiked to the summit of Cerro Otto. A cable car goes to the top in summer, but hadn't yet started for the season, so we had to hike all the way. At 1405, it's not an easy walk. The easiest path is the ripio road from town, but we followed a short cut suggested by one of our teachers. The path wasn't very clear, but luckily for us, we were followed by a stray dog (we called him Otto), who helped us find our way! (Anyone who has hiked in Argentina will have encountered stray dogs. Most are harmless and some are great for finding the correct routes when the paths become tricky.)

What about Bariloche town? It's a nice enough place, though the main street seems to consist of mostly chocolate shops and outdoor sports
Mountain HutMountain HutMountain Hut

This was our home for 9 days during our Spanish lessons. Much more comfortable than the hostels we've been staying in up to now.
shops. Chocolate is a speciality of Bariloche and though I'm not a huge fan, I could still appreciate the quality. Our favourite of the shops was Abuela Goya, also a cafe, where you can sample the chocolates with a nice coffee or hot chocolate. This became our regular cafe, and we must have visited about 5 or 6 times. Even now as I write about it I miss it! A word of warning to anyone in Bariloche - if you're not careful you will end up paying far more than you should for many things. For example, we wanted to get a DVD burned from 4 memory cards. One guy in Mitre, the main street, quoted us 50 pesos for a DVD. In an Internet cafe on one of the quieter streets, we paid 5!

The Seven-Lakes Drive from Angostura to San Martin de los Andes

After finishing our classes we left Bariloche, hired a car and drove north to Villa la Angostura. Our main reason for hiring the car was to do the famous seven lakes drive, known as one of the most scenic routes in Argentina, linking Villa la Angostura to San Martin de los Andes. The scenery was excellent, but the majority of the route was on ripio (unsurfaced) road, and we had to go very slow in our Fiat Uno. When we did catch a glimpse of the mountains or lakes though, it made it all worthwhile! However, in hindsight, I think we should have skipped the seven lakes drive and spent our time hiking around any of the lakes or mountains near Angostura, as the scenery is equally as good. Had we a better car than a Fiat Uno we could probably have done the journey quicker, but we had to take it very slowly. Work is being done on surfacing the whole route, but it looks like it will take a long time. On the outward journey we passed a place where we saw 8 of the road-surfacers sitting around drinking maté, and no one doing any work. On the return that evening, they were in the same spot and looked like they hadn't moved all day. So I expect the road will be fully surfaced sometime around 2020!

Villa la Angostura

Villa la Angostura is equally as touristy as Bariloche, but the tourists here were older and there were
Summit of Cerro BayoSummit of Cerro BayoSummit of Cerro Bayo

A very easy climb to the summit, as 3 chairlifts took us most of the way. At the top, looking north, is a long chain of mountain peaks as far as the eye can see.
more Argentines than foreigners, giving it a more relaxed atmosphere. The town is an excellent base for hiking and exploring more of the Lake District scenery. In one very busy day we climbed Cerro Bayo, which overlooks the town, at approximately 1750m, then took a boat trip to the magical Arrayanes Wood, before finally hiking 13km back to town. We earned our steak and wine that day.

Climbed is the wrong word for Cerro Bayo as we took 3 chairlifts to 1500 metres and then walked only the last steep section to the summit. There were fantastic views in all directions, and it was nice to see Nahual Huapi lake from a different side. We could even see some of the seven lakes we had driven past the previous day.

Hiking in Disney Wood

The Arrayanes National Park was beautiful. It's a park inside a park as it's officially in Nahual Huapi Park, and it contains the rare Arrayanes trees, which grows in many places in the Lake District, but in huge numbers in this particular area. We took a boat trip across the lake to the head of the peninsula, where the greatest concentration of trees is found. We had seen the occasional arrayan tree before, but the view of them here, where hundreds are gathered together was magical. Arrayanes, strictly speaking, are bushes not trees, though I don't understand reasons why. They have a beautiful and distinctive cinnamon colour trunk or stem, making them easy to identify. Apparently the sight of this wood so mesmerised Walt Disney, that he designed the forest in "Bambi" based on the wood in Arrayanes Park. Now I've never seen Bambi, and even if I had i probably wouldn't admit it here, but for anyone who has, perhaps they'll recognise the forest from the pictures here. After seeing the wood we decided to walk all the way back to town, a 13km trek through the forest, saving us the return boat fare. It was a good hike, passing a couple of lagunas, and offering occasional views of the big lake.

We could only stay 3 days in Villa la Angostura as we had booked a Ruta 40 journey for the following Saturday, and as it left Bariloche at 6.30 am, we had to go return to town in good time. I hope this Ruta 40 is as good as
Rock Climbing in BarilocheRock Climbing in BarilocheRock Climbing in Bariloche

A great experience.
expected, as it involves over 30 hours in a bus in two days!

Climbing God's Finger

Before I finish I have to mention our first rock climbing experience. Maria put us in touch with Sergio, a local guide, with whom we arranged a day involving kayaking and an introduction to rock climbing. He brought his daughter along too and the four of us spent the day at El Dedo de Dios (God's Finger), about 80 km north of Bariloche, overlooking the stunning Rio Limay.

As we've never climbed before I didn't think we'd do anything too exciting but Sergio had other ideas. He set up the climb on a 20 metre wall, harnessed us up and said "off you go". Well, it's a good way to learn! It was fairly tough going at first, and I got the shudders every time I looked down on the first climb. It was quite a feeling when I made it to the top and after abseiling down, I couldn't wait to go again. In the afternoon we did a second climb, more exposed and a little trickier, with a tough section near the start. We made it to the top here too, though with a bit of help from Sergio. When he heard I was Irish he tried to motivate me by saying he'd give me a beer if I made it to the top! Maybe that explains how I got there!

Sergio didn't speak too much English so it was almost like an extra Spanish lesson. He's originally from Asturias in Spain but has been living in Argentina for a number of years. It's easy to understand why someone might give up the economic attraction of living in Europe for the attractions of Bariloche, with its stunning lakes and mountains. Not for the first time in our trip did we feel like we've found somewhere where we could easily imagine living for a while.

I like the way Che Guevara puts it in The Motorcycle Diaries

There are moments when I think with profound longing of those wonderful areas in our south. Perhaps one day, tired of circling the world, I'll return to Argentina and settle in Andean lakes, if not indefinitely then at least for a pause while I shift from one understanding of the world to another.

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


Lago Nahuel HuapiLago Nahuel Huapi
Lago Nahuel Huapi

We had a picnic area at this spot, with fantastic views of Nahual Huapi lake and the mountains, on the drive to Villa la Angostura
Rio LimayRio Limay
Rio Limay

This was the great view from our second rock climb.

Sampling the local Hot Chocolate

10th December 2007

sylvester stallone-cliffhanger!!
15th December 2007

Late - but hello back! Great to see you on the road - and yes :) We met on VT :) Enjoy - I soooo want to go back!

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