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Holidays...Patagonia style

ARGENTINA | Saturday, 1 January 2011 | Views [1585] | Comments [1]

The drive from Mendoza to Bariloche is a long one…as are most of our drives these days.  We came prepared, computer charged up for movie watching time and a bottle of vino in the backpack.

Bariloche is in the lake district of Argentina. The lake district, like many other areas down here is shared by Chile and Argentina. Having beautiful huge bodies of water all around certainly sets the landscapes here apart from anywhere else we have been. Much of the drive was pretty flat but as we neared the large snow covered peaks I knew we must be getting close. See, Bariloche is also home to the largest ski resort in South America, El Catedral.  The town is nestled right up against a lake with water super clear…I could see down at least 20ft.  This lake gives this town a look and feel a lot like South Lake Tahoe, if you’ve been there. Since it’s a ski town as well, they are quite similar. Probably about equal in its tourist draw as well.

We hopped off the bus and right into some serious wind. At this point we had been hanging with 2 other couples, an English couple and an Aussie couple…so we all cruised to the tourist office in the bus station and found a campground just outside of town. We hoped on the city bus, huge backpacks and all and headed that way. The campground was up on a hill which made for a steep walk in, but once we got there the wind was blocking all the wind and it was really quite nice.

Next morning Sophia and I were on the hunt for mountain bikes and we really scored…we rented 2 Zenith bikes (made in Argentina) and the guy at the shop helped us map out 2 nice routes, one for that day and one for the next. The riding here was great, first day we climbed our way up to the El Catedral (ski resort) on the pavement and then turned off onto a rocky dirt path for some amazing downhill. For those of you who don’t know, Sophia may be scared of jumping off bridges, but not of downhill mountain biking…it’s like she forgets the bike has brakes!  The only thing slowing us down on this ride was the view of the valley and lake we were coming into to. It was lake Gutierrez, home to really nice campground, fishing a nice waterfall just a little way back.

Next day was pretty full of riding…about 60km (36miles ish) around the chico circuit…where we cruised on and off road around 5 or 6 different lakes. Tough to describe, so you’ll just have to see the pictures. Only bummer on either of these rides was being on the main road, where there is no shoulder and there are a ridiculous number of tour buses flying up and down all day. At one point I stuck my hand out a bit to wave the bus past me and he literally hit my hand! That was a bit too close for comfort!

Speaking of biking, at our campground we met a guy who is riding his bike, south to north all the way through south America…the South definitely provides the most challenging part…the stories he told were amazing. Like fighting wind so hard that some days he could only cover 10miles! He went all the way up the Carreteral Austral…this is a road(ish) that runs north to south through southern Chile connecting all the broken up land and islands, check the map, pretty amazing. 

Last day in Bariloche had a bit of excitement, we decided to rent a motor scooter to do some more sight seeing. Only one we could find was a 110cc semi-automatic , meaning you have to shift gears yourself, but you don’t have to use a clutch. Sophia who had also been wanting to learn to ride a motorcycle could start out on this one. So, were leaving the shop and we notice the gas gauge doesn’t work. The guy tells us we have about 125km of fuel in there. We plan out a route and off we go. 14km later…yup, out of gas. We call the guy to come help us and he starts yelling at Sophia about how we should have gotten gas for it!? Regardless, he comes to help, I tell him were not paying for time we just spent on the side of the road and he agrees. Rest of the day goes great we cruised all over, revisited some places we went on the bikes and went to some new ones. Including a 30minute hike up a mountain to visit one of National Geographic’s top 10 rated views in the world…Cerro Campanario…we made a video from the top (check it out here) On our final stretch back into town, Sophia took over control of the bike for the second time that day and was doing great, right around the time we hit full speed, 40mph, the back tire blows and bike is fish tailing like crazy, I thought we were going down for sure, she didn’t know what was going on and I was trying to tell her how to stop the bike all in a split second…to my amazement, we safely stopped on the side of the road. So, luckily I’m thinking, I remember that the guy at the rental shop had given us a can of fix-a-flat…so, I busted it out and filled the tire back up and what to know, stuff worked, tire was inflated, no air was leaking…I thought we might actually make it. Sophia hops on the back and off we go, 1 mile later, bam, tire is flat again…now I’ve got to flag down a car and use their cell phone to call the shop. I get a hold of the guy and he going off about how I’m such a bad renter and that he doesn’t have a vehicle to use to come and help me, I made it quite clear that if he didn’t come and help us I would just leave his bike in the ditch. So, 30minutes later he was there with a new tire. Unfortunately, Patagonia moto rent is the only motorcycle rental in Bariloche, but I certainly would not suggest using them. So, after all that excitement…it was time to hop back on the bus and head down the famous Ruta 40…all the way through Patagonia and into El Chalten…trekking capital of Argentina!

So…turns out the wind in Bariloche was nothing compared to El Chalten…we got off the bus and were getting blown all over the place…I suppose the huge 70lb pack on my back wasn’t helping. We had gotten a suggestion for a cool camping hostel so we headed straight there…the town is super small…I believe 200 full time residents…typically there are more tourists (climbers & hikers) in town than residents, the town was only founded in 1985. We got to the hostel and it was tent city…probably 30 tents all packed together in the grassy areas surrounding the hostel…considering it was Christmas Eve…we didn’t really want to go look all over town for a place to say, so we set up camp. By the time the tent was up it was probably 9pm (remember, the sun here is up until almost 11pm)   and we headed out for a nice Christmas dinner and drinks…but everything was closed, I mean everything, we were on the verge of having cereal for dinner when we wandered into the shared kitchen area for the campers…here we were greeted by 2 big tables of people from Argentina, France & England who had come together to cook a huge Christmas feast…they immediately invited us to join them which brought a big smile to our somewhat disparaged faces.  We spent the next few hours speaking broken versions of Spanish & English over wine and food…very cool.

Christmas morning we awoke in the tent and exchanged the gifts we had picked up in Bariloche…I got a mini-tripod for the camera and a headlamp…while Sophia received new headphones and a wind/face/head bandana sort of thing. We then grabbed the day pack and hit the trail for Laguna las Torres…you see, El Chalten is famous for 2 massive granite peaks, Torres & Fitz Roy…both have glaciers on the bottom so Laguna Torres is the lake formed by the glacier at the bottom of the peak…it was beautiful. We then returned to hostel for another night of camping. This hostel was packed full of climbers, rock and ice climbers. These guys come from all over the world to climb these 2 famous peaks. I must say that my conversations with these guys has ignited somewhat of an interest in more technical climbing, something I hadn’t really thought much about before. I met 1 American guy (who randomly went to HS in Windsor, Co) who comes to Patagonia 2 or 3 months every year just to climb. I suppose this is just another example of things not really being real for me until they stare me in the face, just like the people sailing around the world or the guys scuba diving everyday in Utila.

Next day, was really exciting because we were to head out for our first overnight trek (here, they call hiking, trekking) so we pulled all the unnecessary stuff from our bags and prepared to leave…as usual we were getting a late start and by 2pm we were ready…we started walking towards the trail head just as the sky was getting really dark, then a bit rain and I started thinking, we may want to wait a minute and see what happens here…4 hrs later with no improvement we were checking into a hostel to wait out the storm. Next morning, we hit the trail, a 3hr walk later and we had arrived to Poincenot campamento. Along the way, we hooked up with a nice couple, James from New Zealand and Amber from Australia (Quick note on these guys, they had just completed working at a hostel in Chile for 5 months during the winter, James’ job was to guide backcountry snowboarding trips on a Volcano and bartending the once a week bbq’s in the hostel, they worked 4 days a week and were given free room and board, commissions on all tours they sold and they could go along on all the activities for free, like rafting, climbing, boarding, etc. so in 5 months they saved up enough money to travel for another 6 months or so) So, we all set up camp and then got back on the trail to head to Fitz Roy…another amazing view. But this time the Glacier lake inspired me to take a swim (see the video). Back at camp that night we ran into 3 Spaniards we had met previously and had started their trek the day of the storm…apparently they arrived to camp in pouring rain, set up the tent and had to sit in there for 14hrs before it stopped! I guess slacking worked out for us that day. The next morning we did another short hike to Glacier Piedra Blanca…a beautiful hanging Glacier (hanging off the mountain instead of being on the ground) with waterfalls pouring into the laguna…wind was worse that day and we had a bus to catch that afternoon, so we didn’t stay too long.

Sophia will pick up from here…with many exciting things to come. But all and all, these 2 spots were incredible and are going a long, long way to making this part of our trip one of the biggest highlights for me. All the time we’ve spent in Patagonia has been great and I understand now why it has earned the reputation it has. I would love to return to Bariloche in the winter for some riding, there are so many great resorts in the area…just give me 2 weeks and a 4X4 truck!

Tags: bariloche, biking, el chalten, patagonia, patagonia moto rent, trekking

Comments

1

Again, each adventure has it's own wonder...the beauty is unsurpassed. You've gone from the Carribean to glaciers, stingrays to penguins....words do no justice! Stay safe and can't wait to hug you both! Love mom

  Mom Isis Jan 8, 2011 7:24 AM

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