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Published: February 19th 2016
R : We took the ferry back to Buenos Aires, which was quite late, then a hurried taxi across town to Aeroparque Jorge Newberry which is about 30 minutes drive. We had a bit of a laugh with the taxi driver because my Spanish was good enough to understand phrases such as "should I go through the toll road?", but not good enough to say what I wanted to. He suggested I go to Spanish classes while we are in Argentina! When we were in our booking frenzy we had booked a flight from BA down to Bariloche in the Argentine Lake District, so off we went. I was convinced we couldn't call this Patagonia, but it's clear when you land that they certainly consider it to be Patagonia - it's on every sign throughout the airport. (As you know, our attempts to get to southern Patagonia for the Torres deal Paine and Glacier national parks was thwarted). We got bundled into a minibus by the touts at the front of the airport and soon we were at our next Airbnb - which is incredible.
We are just outside the main town of Bariloche in a block of
flats with a pool and gym. (For the price we paid, it's a bit of a find, to be honest). It's a small apartment with kitchen and a stupendous view over Lake Nahuel Huapi, which sits aside the town. Pablo, our host, speaks little English, but his 12 year old daughter spoke perfect English and helped us through the check in.
The town itself is ok - it's very touristy with numerous chocolate shops and Swiss/alpine style buildings dotted amongst the concrete. However, we were told it was "just like Switzerland" by a Belgian we met in Salta - it is not - it is definitely an Argentine version. In fact, the Belgian who told us about it used the phrase "just like Switzerland" as a negative - she was of the opinion she came from Europe so you could miss this place out, having been to Switzerland, but it is actually something quite different. In the main square, numerous people have St Bernard dogs and are after your cash for a photo. The place is characterised by poor customer service and long lines for everything. Nothing is cheap - 55 Pesos for an ice cream in
the main town - that's nearly £3! Car hire is £65 per day - ouch! (That is like Switzerland).
We decided here to eat in as much as possible, so our first evening was spent in Carrefour, which is a god awful place, but yet we seem strangely attracted to it. We did manage to get some Argentine blood sausages which I am more keen on than Cate - very similar to black pudding, so I am having that with everything. Steak here is disappointingly expensive, but bottles of red wine go for 30 Pesos (£1.50) so it's ok really... We have now found a decent butcher and green grocer so we are trying to "shop local". We also found a nice deli on the block next to us which we could probably spend quite a lot of money in if we tried.
The first day, after getting our bearings, we took the bus to Cerro Otto, a mountain at 1405m above sea level which has great views of Bariloche town and the Lago Nahuel Huapi. It's a gondola up (apparently you shouldn't walk because people rob you on the way up) to a
Space 1999 - style facility on the top, which includes a revolving cafe and toboggan-tyres on a mini slope. The views from the top are fantastic - you can see over to the neighbouring peaks and down onto the lakes below - so blue! The terrain is odd, something we noticed when we landed on the plane is that the terrain is overall pretty brown here in general, with evergreen alpine forests at low levels near the very blue lakes. There's a bit of snow on the top of some of the higher peaks, mainly over towards Chile. Of course at the top of the mountain, there was a St. Bernard you could take a photo with for a price. I made Cate do the short hike over to the neighbouring peak, which gave a slightly different view. We treated ourselves to a Fanta in the revolving cafe and took in the views.
Next day, we headed for the larger Cerro Catredal which is about 20km from Bariloche town and larger at 2388m above sea level. It claims to be South America's premier ski destination, and is covered with gondolas and chair lifts which take you part
way up. We headed up, and had lunch with an incredible view over Cerro Otto and the lake. Little did we know (nothing was in English) what was to come. By chance, we headed out on the "Las Nubes" trail which takes you to a ridge overlooking a particularly jagged set of mountain crests, some of which were beyond the border in Chile. Very impressive. We stopped to take a few pictures and then headed on to what turned out to be a precipice that overlooked the whole of the valley - a very awesome view over northern Patagonia. We just stopped and stared for 20 minutes or so at the beauty of it. Of course I had the camera on standby.
When it was time, we headed back to the one of the gondola stations that had a deck with a view and picked up a Quilmes beer - again, not great and massively over carbonated - why can't the Argentinians do beer*? Then we headed down. We have extended our stay in Bariloche now by another two days so I have a feeling I may be back...
But overall, although our dreams
of glaciers and Torres del Paine didn't work out, this is a pretty decent second best!!
*actually, there are a lot of Artesan Cevezaria here. But I am trying to decided if they are a tourist fad, or whether they are worth stopping at. Maybe by the time we blog again, I will have tried one.
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