Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bariloche- March 2008

From El Bolson I continued north to Bariloche, where I managed to spend about almost three weeks in total (almost three weeks in the same place! Wow!). I had been there in '92, when I was 8 years old, with my family. So the first order of business was walking around the city, trying to see if I remember anything from the that trip. While the hotel we stayed in back then, with the pedestrian bridge over the main road did look familiar, all the rest didn't really bring up anything. The city itself is a very tourist-heavy town, and at least in the central areas you can't avoid it: almost every house is a hotel/hostel, a restaurant, an internet cafe or a souvenir shop. It's built on the Nahuel Huapi lake, and is mostly built up by low and alpine-style houses- lots of wood and stone. Also, it's built on the side of a mountain that slopes into the lake, so the streets going up from the lake and the main street are very steep. All around the scenery is beautiful, and there are plenty of houses, hotels and cabañas and little towns all around, for the city-haters.
The city is actually more of a ski-town than a summer town, but it has been growing it's year-round identity these last few years. Anyway, it seems as if it's a city that is very in touch with nature, whether by business or by choice and love of it...
Hmmm... I'm feeling sort of travel-bookish. To get back to the subject: after two days of relative nothingness, I went out for a 5-day trek that became a 3-day trek plus two nights at a very nice lake called Perito Moreno. The mountains in the area of the town are very impressive, with huge evergreen forests and jagged, broken and pointed rock tips and cliffs. I also celebrated my birthday during the trek, and made myself a nice, festive meal (lentil "stew" with meat and onions and a box of wine). My intention was to do the entire trek by myself, something I hadn't done before, but by the second day I had already made a companion- Pablo from Buenos Aires. He was very laid back, to the point that it might become dangerous, at least while trekking. While I had my 200$ Gregory pack and all my carefully planned (and grown to be loved) camping gear, he came with an old school bag to which he tied two nylon bags on each side. He ended up eating my food, and I think also sharing my tent, and we became pretty good friends. Later I would hang out with him in Buenos Aires, in his natural habitat.
The 5-to-3 day change came partly because of him, along with a knee that hurt and various warnings about how hard the pass on the third day of the trek is supposed to be. I don't regret it at all, though- I ended up camping, by myself, on a small and secluded lake. I didn't see a living soul besides the daily 10-minute visit by "Jorge's" jeep trips. It's funny how quick I developed a superiority feeling over those who took the trip- they came, took pictures, and went away to 10 different spots like this, not enjoying it at all, while I was savoring the place, I thought to myself. And what did I do with my time? Read and cooked, maybe even wrote a bit, but mostly just walked around and swam in the lake. It somehow seems important to me to add that I was naked most of the time.
When I came back to the city, my sister Ruti, who was also traveling through Patagonia at that time, was already in town and in my hostel. We spent about a week in Bariloche together. We walked around the city, ate 4 (!) times in restaurants, went up to the Cerro Campanario - which has a truly amazing 360 view of the lakes and the mountains around it. We also went on a half day trip down memory lane, to Isla Victoria and Bosque De Arrayanes. That's a trip that we had made with the family 16 years before that. Isla Victoria is a big island in the Nahuel Huapi lake, where we saw some quite unimpressive native drawings on stone, some nice bays and beaches, and an exotic tree-garden that houses some enormous and very non-local trees, built by some enthusiastic North American or European guy in the beginning of the century. [sidenote: Apparently it was customary of very rich people to bring in foreign plants and animal species, for different reasons (mostly boredom, I guess), and the area is paying for some it to this day- like with the red deer, that was brought in specifically to be hunted, and is still wreaking havoc in the ecosystem and is considered one of several "plagas" in the area.] Bosque de Arrayanes is a forest where there are cinnamon coloured trees, which are unique to this area. We were both sort of underwhelmed at first, but the more you go into the forest the prettier it gets.
After that, we rented a car with two of Ruti's friends and the boyfriend of one of them (I know, it sounds awkward, but I can't find a more elegant way to put it), and went through the Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes) road, sleeping in a camping area next to San Martin De Los Andes, and came back through the mountains around the Paso De Cordoba, with many cliffs and desert-looking views, a road which was, to me, a lot more impressive than the lakes. The whole road is very much a scenic route, and is very popular amongst visitors to the area.
The day after that Ruti left towards Buenos Aires and Montevideo, and I stayed a couple more days. In that time, I did a 3-day trek to see the Black Glacier (basically a dirty glacier, but it looks kinda cool) and Cerro Tronador. I went to the former with Tamar, a friend from back home, and to the latter with Ruti's friends, and it was a beautiful experience. Two of the highlights were sleeping at a refugio that was perched between two big glaciers high up in the mountains, and actually touching one of them (after seeing about 40 glaciers of different shapes and sizes in the last month, this was the first one that I'd gotten close enough to to touch); and an amazing group of condors, 4 of them I think, that got to within 5-7 meters of us, soaring over us. Even though I had wanted to see a condor for the whole trip, I was still surprised by how impressive they were, flying so close to us. Alas, technology and the urge to document everything half got in the way: I gave myself about a minute to take it in, but then, fearful that they might fly away soon, I took out my camera and took some shots.
That's it for what I did in Bariloche and the area. From there I crossed back into Chile, where I was planning to do the Puyehue trek. I was alone again, having said goodbye to the various people I met during my time in Bariloche. Looking over my notes from Bariloche today, I'm surprised to see that by that time I had a pretty good idea of what the rest of my trip would look like, and I managed to go to all the places I had on my "to go" list except one.

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