The last of our time in Patagonia was in Bariloche…
What an amazing city! Chase and I both expected it to be smaller than it was, so it was quite a surprise arriving to a bustling town full of people. There was only one difference: of all the people, we couldn’t find any tourists! Our first night, we arrived around 10 PM, so we went straight to our hostel (pre-booked) to settle in and get to sleep. We were the only people there! This happened at the next hostel on the following 2 nights as well. Luckily, the third time is the charm! We got a recommendation for another hostel in town and it was fantastic! We met a group of 5-6 other people that we instantly bonded with. We all did the hike to Cerro Catedral together, among other things. Having fellow travelers around to compare and get/give advice is one of the best parts of travelling.
Our stay in Bariloche was quite long compared to the prior cities that we have visited. There was a TON to do! We were right on Lake Nahuel Huapi, with a quaint, beautiful city surrounded by a hikers paradise. While some of the extra time there was due to illness, the rest was due to the sheer amount of exploring, biking, and hiking we got the chance to do.
The first night was quite eventful. The bus stop is 2 miles out of town, and since we arrived so late, the office to buy local bus cards at was closed. This left us with a 2 mile walk or a taxi that conveniently waited around at this time of night, knowing the arriving tourists were in for a surprise… Usually Chase and I are up for the walking. I mean, after 60 miles backpacking all of our gear AND camping gear up and down mountains, 2 miles isn’t that bad. After 28 long hours on a bus in a city we aren’t familiar with at 10:30 pm? That’s an entirely different story! I ran to that taxi cab so fast, you never would have guessed that I was exhausted and stiff from a bus! When we arrived at our first hostel, it was a ghost town. It was one of the worse hostels we have been to, and when the toilet broke, flooded the bathroom, and we were stuck for the night in a closet sized room with our only source of water as a walk across the property, we thought a change might be in order for the next morning. As soon as we woke up, we switched hostels right away in hopes to find fellow travellers and bathrooms that worked. The hostel we decided on was homely and cozy, with a great environment. We booked an 8 person dorm room with hopeful hearts and set out to explore the town for the day. By the time we came home, surely there would be more people in our room… right? Wrong, to our dismay. That turned out to be for the best though. I hadn’t been feeling well in the 2 weeks prior, so I was going through phases of sick, rest, climb mountains, sick, rest, climb mountains… etc… I finally succumbed to the sick and slept and rested for 2 straight days inside our empty hostel. This helped, but as soon as I felt the slightest bit better, I was back out on the town with Chase. While traveling, it feels almost like a waste to sleep through a day, sick or not. In addition, I never really get sick, so I naturally don’t relax and rest on the couch. It just isn’t how I’m built. Nevertheless, I was off and running again.
Day three, Chase and I walked around the town and the beach, truly immersing ourselves in the city. Much of the architecture is a mixture of logs and stone. If there ever was a stone/log castle, it would be here! The city square is rustic and beautiful, sitting next to the lake with giant cobblestone streets around a statue of a man on a horse. It also happened to be during an art festival that was in town. Parades of giant puppets marched down the street and all gathered in the square for live music and dancing. As the parade went down the streets, the locals walked with it, and that the end of the road (the square) it was a party. There were street vendors with crafts, cotton candy, and popcorn everywhere. Between the lake and the square, a large, makeshift stage was set up as a band prepared to start the shenanigans that went in to the evening. Even as I walked in to our hostel up the hill, I could hear the music and people.
The next day, we hopped on the local bus out to a local bike rental shop. We rode the 20 kilometer Circuto Chico around the many lakes south of Bariloche. I don’t bike often, so it was more difficult for me than it was for Chase, and the fact that we were on mountain bikes added to the labor. The entire route is either uphill or downhill. There are no flats at all. At first I thought, “No problem, this will be fun! I love riding downhill, and the uphill can’t be that bad!”
IT WAS. Some of the grades got up towards 7-9%, which is a piece of cake for bike riders. For me, however, it was the spin class that would never end! For the first 2 hours, I was dying a slow death. It was terrible, and Chase was barely breaking a sweat! He didn’t understand at all why I was tired, and I was pissed because he was so much better at biking than I was! My competitive side came out, and I simply kept pedalling to keep up and not be left behind at that point. Thank goodness for our competitive streaks, right? They push us through even when we don’t believe our legs can keep going. About 2 hours in, however, I got in to the groove and very much enjoyed the remaining 2 hours of the bike ride, even the hills… 😉 The views were absolutely stunning! From about 5 minutes in to our ride all the way to the very end, it was gorgeous! The lakes were turquoise, and still, the sun was out with clouds dotting the sky, and there was no wind for the first time in days. The fall colors were still in full bloom and the birds were singing. It was absolutely perfect. In total, the bike ride took about 4 hours with all of the stops for pictures and our lakeside lunch. We turned our bikes in and walked down the highway until we arrived at Cerro Campanario. Chase’s brother had mentioned to us that this was one of the prettiest photos he had taken on his entire trip through Bariloche, and that seemed like an understatement when we reached the peak. WOW. In every direction, there were sparkling lakes. North, we could see Bariloche running along the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, surrounded by pine trees and more lakes. East, south, and west we could see at least 6-7 more lakes with the fall colors surrounding them. Many of the lakes were still and the reflections of the trees and buildings made them appear to be a painting. The beauty of everything we have seen on this trip still wows me. It’s something I will still be dreaming of 50 years from now.
We still had more to see the next day! Cerro Catedral is Argentina’s largest ski resort, and also great for hiking in the summer and fall. Since Chase and I are considering settling in there for ski season, we decided to check out the area and hike to the summit. It was a relatively short hike. about 2300 vertical feet across 6 miles, and we made it to the summit fairly quickly. There is a refugio at the top, Refugio Frey, next to a mountaintop lake that feeds the river we hiked next to on the hike up. It was a very pretty hike, and the man who lived at the top gave us hot tea and ham sandwiches. It was a delight! We stayed up drinking tea at the top for quite a while, so when we arrived back at the base of the mountain, there was only one bus left at the end of the day. We caught it with 40 minutes to spare, and consider ourselves very lucky. There are no cab rides back to town after that, just hitchhiking or borrowing a phone to call a ride.
Cerro Catedral rounded out our hiking and exploring in Bariloche. We got a few postcards, some delicious empanadas, and took a day off to plan our next step. We bought bus tickets to Puerto Varas once we heard the bus lines were open again after the explosion of the volcano, and eagerly hopped on for the ride. Bariloche was incredible, and I can’t wait to revisit the city during ski season when the tourists are back and the snow is plentiful. Until then, Chase and I are headed back to Chile through the end of May before we come back to Argentina again!
Nest stop, Puerto Varas, Chile.