5 April – 10 April, 2018
Another travel day, another bus ride, the best way to be transported from one beautiful landscape to another in Patagonia. Once again we would find ourselves crossing from Chile to Argentina, adding another stamp to our well-used passports.
As we crossed the Andes, the weather changed from brilliant blue skies to a wintry wonderland but as we dropped back down towards Argentina the blue skies returned. Upon arriving at the border control point, we found ourselves sitting in a closed bus, with no explanation about why we weren’t heading into the immigration office. After a lengthy time we learned that the power was off in the office. Our choices: (a) wait for an oil tanker to fill their empty generator or (b) determine the protocol for clearing people through immigration manually. Since no oil tanker appeared to be coming, someone decided after a two-hour wait that we didn’t look like hardened criminals transporting drugs. They ignored our bags, stamped our passports, and we were on our way.
As we got closer to our destination, the sun came out and big billowy clouds hung low over the deep azure lakes we passed, an inviting scene. But when we stepped off the bus in Bariloche, it felt like winter had arrived, as temps had dipped into the 30’s…brrrr! Cooler temps would be in the forecast our entire visit, although we did have many sunny days.
Our taxi driver deposited us at Hotel Milan, where Pablo, an engaging staff member, directed me to a pharmacy, as I realized I wasn’t going to shake this sinus ‘thing’ on my own. I gave my symptoms to the pharmacist (no doctor visit required) and was given throat lozenges and antibiotics, the latter which I abhor, but I reluctantly admitted I needed in order to kick this thing.
Since it was late in the day we decided to settle into our room and relax. I was now beginning to sound like the barking sea lions I had photographed on Isla Marta earlier in our trip and Terry worried that my refusal to lay low would result in my first-hand knowledge of a Bariloche medical clinic. He said it was either that or he might have to go searching for a priest who could perform an exorcism, as he had never heard, in all our years together, anything like the sound coming out of me. 🤪
It’s hard to keep a good woman down (haha), so the next day I was ready to learn why so many tourists were drawn to this lakeside city. I had read that Bariloche is known for its decadent chocolates and its microbreweries and I intended to take full advantage of both, certain I would need both to heal. 😉
San Carlos de Bariloche, better known as Bariloche, lies in the foothills of the Andes, on the southeastern shore of Nahuel Huapi Lake, located within the park of the same name, Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina’s first. Bariloche, in the indigenous Mapuche language, means “people from behind the mountain”.
During much of the 19th-century, this area had a stronger connection to Chile than Argentina. It was the work of Francisco Moreno, aka Perito Moreno, a prominent explorer and academic, along with the military campaign “Conquest of the Desert”, to claim Bariloche for Argentina. This campaign’s intent was to show Argentine dominance over Patagonia, which was then inhabited by indigenous peoples. In the 1881 border treaty between Chile and Argentina, the indigenous Nahuel Huapi decided to be recognized as an Argentine province.
If Patagonia were to ever become independent, San Carlos de Bariloche could be its logical capital, as it is the Lake District’s largest city, and the gateway city to Nahuel Huapi National Park, the Mapuche name meaning “tiger island”.
Alpine-styled Bariloche has grown from a cattle-trading center to an international tourist destination, with skiing in the winter and sun-bathing in the summer, which has boosted its population considerably, to 122,700 present-day.
In the 1990’s Bariloche made a name for itself when international headlines broadcast that this thriving tourist city was a “haven for Nazi war criminals, such as the former protection squadron SS Hauptsturmführer Erich Priebke and SS Officer Reinhard Kopps, known in Argentina as Juan Maler.” Priebke had been the director of the German School of Bariloche for many years. Fortunately for Bariloche, these headlines have not seemed to diminish their tourist trade.
For us, the only way to see the Nahuel Huapi and Lanín National Parks was by rental car, which we did during a day trek. We had read about the Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Route of the Seven Lakes) so decided this would be a good way to experience the parks and see some of the lovely towns along the way.
Both Nahuel Huapi and Lanin National Parks encompass arid steppe, alpine forests, and volcanic summits, with deep-blue finger lakes dotting the landscape. Nahuel Huapi connects Chile and Argentina via a series of scenic roads and waterways and Monte Tronador, a gigantic dormant volcano, straddles both nations.
Villa La Angostura, a small town lying on the north shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi, begins the route, a lovely setting with many restaurants and upscale boutique shops. San Martín de Los Andes, 260 km from Bariloche, was our final destination. Barely a century old, it has become one of the Lake District’s most fashionable resorts.
Taking the local bus to the edge of the city is a wonderful way to see Cerro Companario and hike in the Llao Llao Municipal Park, provided you have the patience to get the Sube bus card. You can ask and you will be told where to purchase said card, but don’t expect to find it the first few places you are told to go, and then you have to find out which store will load money onto your card, which of course is not the same place you purchased it, silly you. But persevere, (and don’t tell any of the locals where they can go) and you will be rewarded with some beautiful scenery.
We have always felt that, along with the scenery, the locals you meet during your travels leave the greatest impression, and Bariloche was no exception. The person who stood out for us was Pablo, the man behind the desk at Hotel Milan, who also works as a private English-speaking tutor for Bariloche professionals.
Not only was he warm and welcoming, he provided me direction to the pharmacy I needed, and gave us our daily Spanish lesson, including some of the local slang. We looked forward to seeing his smiling face daily, and he kept us on our toes. Since I believe he will be reading this blog post, to Pablo we say: “Comó te va? Muchas gracias por su amabilidad. No serás olvidado.”
International travel would not be complete without experiencing local food and drink, and that meant chocolates and microbreweries. Although we didn’t try more than one chocolate shop, RapaNui rose to the top of our list after popping into a few stores. Not only is their chocolate list extensive, they also have an amazing ice cream shop, a café, and an ice-skating rink under their roof. As for the breweries, our choice was based somewhat on hours of operation, but after we had gone to Manush and Bachmann, we went no further, their beer and food was that good. La Familia Weiss, a local restaurant recommendation, was also a stand-out for us.
Bariloche was on our travel radar before we started our Patagonian adventure, thanks to our friend Josh from Yellowstone National Park. We would not have wanted to miss this magical city.
Next Up: Toasting Mendoza and her fine wineries