It takes us all day to fly from Salta to Bariloche via Buenos Aries so there’s only time for a pre-dinner beer at one of several excellent micro-brewery bars before going on to the now-familiar steak dinner. Bariloche, settled in mid-Patagonia near the Chilean border is described as the Queenstown (NZ) of South America. For those not familiar with this New Zealand tourist destination – and I’ve not been there for at least 20 years – this means fabulous lakes and mountains, skiing in the winter and hikes in summer.
It isn’t until the next morning when I wake up to a view of the lake (Lago Nahuel Hupi) from my bedroom window back-dropped by snow clad mountains, that this comparison is confirmed. It’s the tail end of the skiing season here and reasonably cool even though the sun is shining. Unfortunately the foreground reveals an unattractive melange of buildings which make up the town, clinging to the steep side of the lake. I’m sure that Queenstown suffers the same fate.
There’s been a mini revolt in the group. We are Richard’s guinea pigs on this tour and he’s been very brave taking on a group of his friends and acquaintances. There’s a definite no to the proposal for a bus tour around the lakes and we suggest a boat trip by way of a change. It’s a ‘free’ day so I take the opportunity to catch up with my blog and edit photos in the morning. Rob has decided to become ‘Action Man’ and is off on his own boat trip and adventures. Some of the others are doing a bus ride to take the gondola up a nearby mountain for lunch at a café and Richard, newly briefed is off to book excursions and transport. I take a break and walk down towards the lake and along to a short ski-lift ride. I run into Stephen who as an architect is off to investigate the Civic Centre, supposed to be a great example of Swiss architecture.
The tourist information centre will not give us a map each – only one per group. I think there is a shortage and anyway they are only in Spanish. It’s a nice ride up the ski lift to a Swiss-style café – I’m the only one there – and get a fabulous view whilst drinking coffee and eating a rolled waffle, filled with dolche-leche and dipped in chocolate. There’s an optional luge-type slide halfway down which returns me promptly to the bottom with only occasional and semi-adrenalin moments – probably not up to Rob’s standards. I reflect that it is also five years since I became a temporary ‘action man’ in Chaing mai, Thailand – so I’m feeling just a little older and more cautious.
My walk back passes numerous Swiss-designed houses and hotels and I discover the Centro Civico, which also suffers from the same stylistic condition. I venture my opinion that there is not a single building of any architectural merit in this town. There’s a statue of General Roca on a horse. Both are covered with protest graffiti and a handy sign in English (rare here) explains that said General was responsible for the colonisation of Patagonia 1879-1885 – so the locals here have long memories. This is also the place where you can be photographed with a smelly St Bernard dog – fitted out with brandy bottle. There’s a strong possibility that the Swiss emigrated here, it’s the only explanation and the preponderance of chocolate shops confirms it.
I later find that Stephen, who carries a sketch book everywhere, has not done any drawings of the Centro Civico. Dr Mike is in charge of sourcing the restaurant tonight, we walk seemingly miles into the suburbs for an Italian. Great choice and good after-dinner exercise walking back.
We’ve come for the lakes and mountains so while Rob’s got himself sorted with a kayak adventure, we are off up the lake on a boat. A bus (oh no!) takes us up to Pueto Panuelo where we can stock up with chocolate – having already purchased filled rolls, in town. I’m looking at the forest-clad mountains rising out of the lake and I’m thinking Fiordland in Southern New Zealand. I don’t see any evidence of hanging valleys – the result of glaciations so it’s not quite the same. This is where my woolly jumper comes to the fore as it’s still cold – the end of the ski season. This is all a national park and as the boat passes the grave of the man responsible, it slows down and toots. There are seagulls here following the boat and people hold out crackers and bread for the birds to take. They wheel and swoop, judging the speed of the boat and presumably wind conditions to get a few calories. A successful gull is then chased by the others, while patient tourists continue to hold out more rubbish food. This sort of gull is a scavenger, so I guess they are adapted to rubbish.
After motoring past mountainous majesty, we tie up and disembark for a walk to see the Cascada Los Cántaros and onwards to Lago Los Cántaros. I’m suddenly very excited as I’ve been dying to look at the vegetation up-close. The lake-side forest we’ve passed looks suspiciously like the Southern Beech of New Zealand and I’ve known that this genus is also found in South America. At last – proof before my eyes – a connection between us – evidence of Pangea.
Nothofagus Dombeyi is much taller that it’s four New Zealand relatives, towering above a mixed forest of broad leaf species. There’s foliage which looks suspiciously like our Podocarps – Totora, Matai and Kahikatea. Looking at the waterfall and the surrounding vegetation, first glance might suggest a New Zealand forest. I’ve taken off on my own, camera at the ready to avoid boring the rest of the group too much with botanical delight. At the end of the walk is Lago Cántaros, so I retrace and rather than re-embark, take a walk around the lake to Pueto Blest where we get on another bus (oh no!) for a short journey to the Lago Frias, a small lake near the Chilean border. It’s beautiful and we collect a group of tourists and their luggage who have crossed the border and are heading for Bariloche. It’s been a fantastic day of sunshine and Rob reports that his kayaking has been likewise. Somehow Richard manages to get us a table-for-six at the most crowded bar/restaurant in town – more meat.
Rob has found a zip-wire adventure and several of the gang are off to try, in spite of the weather forecast. There’s been an emotional struggle for some who fancied afternoon tea at the allegedly palatial Llao Llao Hotel (pronounced Zao Zao). In the end it’s just me and Richard C for a walk in the woods – the others are just not trampers. We’re playing it by ear because of the weather and start by taking the bus out to where we caught the ferry only to find that the bus goes right up to the Hotel Llao Llao.
We feel obliged to explore, if only to report back, with photographic evidence. This expensive hotel is yet another Swiss fantasy, featuring yellow logs inside and out. The décor is fussy Edwardian and it’s immediately obvious that morning or afternoon tea is more than we want to pay. We settle for coffee.
The clouds lift and we set off on a walking circuit of Lago P Moreno Oest. We pass though more forest of even larger Southern Beech and walk on the lake shore. This area is the municipal park of Llau Llao and after a walk along the road, we link up with another circuit overlooking Lago Nahuel Huapi. We stop to admire a woodpecker with a bright red head and at one stage a young blond youth comes rushing up the hill towards us to ask ‘Do you speak English?’ He and his party think they are lost. By the time we get back to the ferry terminal, we are starving and devour several empanadas with coffee before running to catch the bus back to town. We’ve had a great walk and discover that the weather held out for the Zip wire group. Robbie has found us the best steak restaurant, preceded by a pretty cool beer place adjacent. Don’t go to Bariloche for architecture, its beer and steak in great bars and restaurants in the evenings.
Our last day is to be a long one as afternoon flights allow time to buy up local chocolate and take a walk along the lake front. There’s a large English style church imposing itself but I don’t cross the road to look – Richard I later tells me it has fine stained glass. The sunshine is out on the lake and the strange looking wooden ‘Guardians’ are still alert and anxiously clutching their genitals.
Back at the Civic Centre the buildings have been partially hidden by a complex of white marquees which host an exciting food festival. Olive oil, wine, nuts, beer, are all on display, reminding me of Waiheke Island.
I don’t see any empanadas but have spotted a place near the hotel. The Empanadas are fine but the waiter is hopeless and keeps forgetting my order.
It’s a three flight journey for me on Latam Air to Buenos Aries, Santiago and Auckland. The others have a direct Air NZ flight from BA and are feverishly plotting their upgrades and priorities. Richard C stays on to welcome another tour group. I hope we’ve helped him iron out the few challenges and that Outside the Square Adventures in Argentina will continue to delight travellers.