Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lakes lakes lakes – Bariloche

After the icy adventures in El Calafate I got on yet another bus, this time it would be the longest bus ride of my life (so far): 28 hours. We’d leave at 4pm from El Calafate and arrive 8pm the following day to Bariloche. I met some people at my hostel who were taking the same bus so I didn’t feel too lonely on this ride. The bus was a nice “cama” class bus with only three seats in one row, a footrest and plenty of space for a tiny person like myself. This ride also came with some meals.

So what to do in a bus for 28 hours? Eat. Listen to your mp3-player til your ears start to hurt. Watch movies on the bus TV screens (we had some English speaking movies on this one, yay!). Arrange your pictures and write stuff your blog on your laptop. Organise your mp3-player because you get bored of your playlists. Read a guidebook and plan the next couple weeks of your trip. Sleep. And sleep some more. Luckily I have no problems sleeping in moving vehicles at the moment so I think I slept at least 10 hours. The rest of the time went very fast too. We stopped maybe three times on the way to stretch our legs and once to change a bus.

After what felt like 10 hours we arrived to Bariloche, the Argentinian lake district. This was another “ski resort look-alike” kind of town but bigger than El Calafate. And it was next to one the most beautiful blue lake, Lago Nahuel Huapi. The winds tended to be quite strong here but when they calmed down it was rather warm. I was surprised to see 22C in the weather forecast but I admit that’s what it felt like! Locally Bariloche is known for “artesan” chocolate shops (on in every corner), the hills that surround it that offer magnificent hiking, cycling, kayaking.. you name it.. and the ash. There was a volcano eruption close to the city and the ash clouds closed the city airport for quite a while and slowed down the tourism there for this season. The best hostels still tend to get booked up in Jan-Feb so book yours as early as you can. There’s also gorgeous cabanas, house and hotels on the shore of the lake, a bit out of the city, that I would have loved to stay in if I were in town longer!

You can take the local busses to the foots of the hills by the lake. I climbed two peaks – Cerro Campanario (1049m) and Cerro Llao LLao (about 1km). On the first day I had actually thought about doing nothing to recover from the bus ride and an enormous steak I had in the locally famous Parilla Alberto after we arrived. But with a small European team (two Germans, one Dane and one Italian) I left to 17 km west from Bariloche to “take a nice walk” art Cerro Campanario. It turned out to be this 1km hill we would ascend. Ok, I’m game for anything! The hill was pretty steep though, and the ground was covered by sand (or was that ash?) so it was a challenge for sure. So decided I’ll just climb as fast I can so that it’s over and done with. It took about a half an hour to reach the top. And yes, the views were great.

It was very windy so it wasn’t like you wanted to spend the whole day there. But there was a restaurant – which I didn’t go into but they had a great 360 degree view from their roof terrace. So many amazingly blue lakes and bays surrounded by pine-green hills and brown & gray hills and mountains. Stunning! If the wind doesn’t take your breath away the views will :) Gila (the Danish girl) and I decided to spare our knees and nerves and take the ski lift down – yes, there’s a ski lift for all the lazy people! I really liked that bit I have to say, we could admire the views all the way down on the lift (which you couldn’t in the foresty path).

The evening was one of the most relaxing ones in a long while. We got some wine and chips from the supermarket and also some of the handmade chocolates from one of the shops (Turista) – the hostel had some movies so after dinner we sat down on the comfy lounge and saw Madacascar 2 (that was the funniest things I’ve seen in a while!) and Blades of Glory. So nice!

I’d heard about a nice cycling circuit you can do in the lakes next to Bariloche. I was pretty excited about getting to take a bike out since that’s what I love to do back home on nice summer days! So another early morning… I took the bus to 18km west of the city to the bike rental and even though I was a bit sleep deprived I was so happy to be there, the place was quiet and you could smell the forest flowers. I was given a nice 24-speed mountain bike, a map, a bottle of water (I had packed some snacks too) and headed to the 30km circuito chico. They told me there was going to be lots of hills but I envisioned “lots of hills” like the hills we have at home – there’s lots but none of them too high. But these were very high, very loooong. Long & fast descends and excruciatingly long ascends.

First you cycle about 7km to a narrow bay where there was a lovely church, a gorgeous Hotel Llao Llao, a port Pañuelo and a nice golf course. Then a couple kms further you get off from the main road to the “Villa Tacul”. It’s another steep road, a gravel road, but once you arrive to the end you’ll find a series a stunning small rocky beaches with clear turquoise water. There was only a couple people, one small group on each beach, and one guy fishing as well! I picked a spot on a small hill between a couple beaches and had a lunch break. I put on some sun block (not very liberally as I would find out at the end of the day) and made a bed from my jacket, jumper and bag – I think I must have fallen asleep! When I got back to my senses about an hour & half had passed and it was time to move on.

By the Llao Llao hotel, nice place
Amazing clear blue water and quiet beaches!

I knew that I was faced with a climb to the top of the Cerro Llao Llao. It was a 40 min ascend on foot and already after 5 minutes I was getting tired (and bored). The path was winding through a beautiful forest, first very steep but after that quite moderate and I was getting the feeling that I’m going to get lost – and there wasn’t another soul on sight! Then I encountered a sign leading to the top and got some more energy. The path started to zig zag towards the top, the ground was getting whiter (from the ash?) and trees smaller. I reached one of the first viewpoints and was in awe.

Yesss, I made it!

I was curious if there was more to see and followed a path leading to the other side of the hill. Another 5-10 minutes of ascending and there it was, a sign of “end of the path” :D Very handy, I knew I didn’t have to look further. And it was amazing. You could see a gorgeous fjord on the left and lakes & islands on the right. I sat on the cliff all by myself, the wind had stopped and could hear the birds chirping in the woods. The cliff fell tens or hundreds of meters straight down (didn’t dare to go see for how deep it went). The moments there were almost religious, after the muscle-aching climb up you were there in the middle of one the prettiest natural miradors, far from roads and people.

After another snack break in the most beautiful settings I continued my nature adventure day. I remembered the path I took to get up, found my bike where I left it and headed on, back to the main road. Another 5km and I would be at the “hidden lake” Lago Escondido. The lake was pretty normal, pretty but nothing amazing. The path leading there was interesting though, 20 minute walk in the woods with most of it though an arch of these tall bamboo/grass branches. What made them grow like that?

After the hidden lake there was more stunning vistas of pine & birch covered hills, mountains, clear blue bays, brigdes. And muscle-wrenching hills… I decided not to give up on the hills and with determination rode all the way up, each of them. And whizzed down! And another climb – and another ascend. I’m happy the bike was in good condition. At the last part of the ride was some more road-side viewpoints and restaurants. I stopped at a local microbrewery for some nice ale with an Australian couple. Perfect break!

Last viewpoint - you could see the Hotel Llao Llao!
In the end, after 8,5 hours of cycling, photos, rest and snack breaks I arrived back to the bike rental. I had peeled all but my top and my sports pants (which I had rolled up as make-shift shorts). My legs felt sore – my butt even more so – and my bag was 4 sandwiches, 2 apples, 2 chocolate bars, one juice box and 1 l of water lighter. And I was deliriously happy!

Bariloche is really a nature lovers’ mecca. Fishing, rafting, kayaking, cycling, trekking just outside the city and nice shops in town, delightful accommodation, good wine and the best Argentinian steaks – and who doesn’t like handmade chocolates? The outdoor activities seemed a bit cheaper than in Patagonia, at least you won’t need to pay the high “national park entry fees”. You’ll come for a couple days and end up extending easily! I had my next week all planed out so I was jumping on another effing bus – but happy to get even more north, to a warmer city in the wine region! Mendoza!

Leaving Bariloche - the ash covered scenery

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