Journal 18 - January 26, 2003

Patagonia I: Bariloche » Go Back

Journal 18
Heaven, or something like it. After a week in Bariloche it's difficult to describe it any other way. Everything I love in abundance. My first few days were spent relaxing, eating chocolate and ice cream, emailing, reading, and organizing. It's as if the founders of Bariloche stopped and asked themselves how they could make a great town better. Already it sits on the shores of the beautiful lake Nahuel Huapi, a magnificently huge cobalt blue lake surrounded by towering snow capped peaks and tall rock spires. Charming Swiss style architecture, log cabins, log buildings, and amazing restaurants. Apparently the founders decided the way to make the great town better was to put a chocolate shop on every corner, sometimes one right next to another. You can't throw a chocolate brick without hitting a chocolate shop here, and of course the chocolate is delicious and cheap. There are also seemingly dozens of ice cream shops, often next to, or inside the chocolate stores, which makes for some fattening fun. Handmade, amazingly fresh and delicious ice cream, with great mountain berry flavors, including blackberry, blueberry, and strawberries with cream, all astounding.

After three days of gluttony my Israeli friends and I rented a car to explore some of the famous scenery surrounding Bariloche. Off we drove along the famous Seven Lakes route to San Martin de Los Andes. First we drove along the coast of Nahuel Huapi, an enormous lake with beautiful islands, peninsulas, and incredible shoreline. Eventually we arrived in La Angostura, another tourist town about an hour from Bariloche. Angostura has more chocolate shops, more ice cream, and more wonderful restaurants. As the girls like to say, "it's tough down here in South America." Rain prevented us from enjoying lunch on the shores of the lake, so we saved our sack lunches and headed for the warm confines of a tremendous Parrilla, or grill. Here I was treated to one of the best meals of my trip so far, and each of my friend's dishes were equally impressive. I had Wild Boar with bittersweet fruit sauce. The boar was roasted, very well done, but moist and tender. The fruit complimented the meat perfectly, with cream potatoes on the side. It was absolutely amazing. Each of us agreed the meal was one of our best yet, and we were very happy to have postponed the sack lunches for another time.

After lunch the rain subsided and we began our drive to San Martin de Los Andes. The Seven Lakes route winds its way along a dirt road through the mountains of northern Patagonia, past seven lakes filled with crystal clear mountain water. It was like driving past seven Lake Tahoes, but unlike the popular California vacation spot, there were very few people. Each lake impressed beyond the last with sapphire blue waters, white capped waves, and endless mountain peaks stretching out of the water towards the sky. The mountain scenery reminded me of a combination of British Columbia, Wyoming, and the Sierra Nevada's stunning array of mountains, lakes and rivers. Day one was a bit cloudy and rainy, so some of the lakes were more silver than blue, but beautiful nonetheless. Stone spires and towers reached high out of the tops of the mountains, as if we were making our own trip to Mordor.

The end of the road brought us to San Martin de Los Andes, a little town on the shore of Lake Lacar, another Tahoe-like behemoth of a lake. Here we found a cabana for the night, made dinner, and crashed early by Argentinean standards, around 1:00 a.m. The next day we got back in the car to finish the circuit and head back to Bariloche. More Lord of the Rings scenery, lakes, mountains, rock spires, trees and forests, very beautiful. We took ten hours to drive 200 kilometers, lots of stopping, resting, pictures, a game of billiards by a lake, a cup of coffee, several rainbows, it was wonderful. Ten hours later we arrived back in La Angostura for dinner, another $5 filet mignon, it is rough here. After dinner we drove the last 50 kilometers while fighting off the imminent food coma that ensues after any great meal. A double espresso helped get me home while the girls began their steak induced slumbers.

Back in Bariloche meant more chocolate, more ice cream, internet, laundry, and preparations for our trip down south. Wednesday night we were again astounded by a fantastic meal. The owners of JauJa restaurant and ice cream seem to have a monopoly on all things good in town. They have the best ice cream shop by far, with sixty-some-odd flavors from blueberry to banana split, to lemon pie. Even better for me was their restaurant, so good we ate there two nights in a row, despite the relatively hefty $10 price tag. Here we were treated to our second amazing meal in three days. My friend Lilah had filet mignon with raspberry sauce, the others had unbelievable pasta and trout, and I had a tremendous venison filet. The quality of the food was superb, one of the best restaurants I've eaten in, with professional staff, an impressive menu, and delicious regional cuisine.

Thursday I got a much-needed reminder of some other aspects of life I love most. Exercise, adrenaline, and endorphins. Two local tread-heads agreed to take me on a five-hour mountain bike trip along some of Bariloche's best trails. Four months of travel hasn't exactly kept me in the best shape. My atrophied muscles were burning like I haven't felt in years as I climbed the switch-backing mountain road. Trying to keep up with the locals hurt, pain like I haven't felt in a long time, good pain though, it was great to feel the burn again after so many months. The true challenge began at the top though. Never-mind trying to climb with the locals, descending with them on their turf was the one of the most challenging and exhilarating adventures of my trip. Fortunately the guide gave me his bike, which was much better than the rental bike I was originally given, a true downhill machine with over six inches of front and rear travel, good breaks, a bike unlike anything I had ever ridden. A totally different animal from my bike at home. Like a true downhiller I had to push it to the top of the mountain before beginning the descent. The ride was epic, and trying to keep up with the guide on his turf was extremely challenging. He flew down the trail. It took everything I had to keep up, and even that wasn't enough. I was taking lines at speeds I would never dream of on my bike, it was a blast. After years of scoffing at the downhill mountain bikers, and looking down my long nose at them, I now have an appreciation for what they're doing.

Three and a half hours later we were back in town, thankfully an hour and a half short of the projected five hours. My legs were fried, and so were my lungs. Afterwards we hung out in the shop drinking mate and eating pastries while I spoke broken Spanish and bragged about the riding in California. A great time, and a great reminder of what truly makes me happy in life. I was so high on a natural endorphin rush for hours after the ride my friends could hardly believe it. Something I definitely need to do more of during my trip.

The next day we left, off to El Bolson, a great hippie town two hours south of Bariloche. Here we hiked to Cabeza del Indio, a rock formation that resembles the profile of a man's face, and strangely enough almost matches my angular profile, (pictures to come later). The walk along Rio Azul was nice, and even the cloudy skies weren't enough to spoil the turquoise waters of the river that snakes its way down the valley. In Bolson we also visited a great display of wood sculptures. High in the mountains, a thirty-minute drive followed by another half an hour of walking took us to a grove of trees interspersed with stumps that have been carved by artists from Bolson and surrounding communities. Almost two-dozen statues mix with the trees to create a natural art gallery. Bolson reminded me a bit of home, with loads of tie-dye shirts, dread-locks, people on the streets, kids playing hacky-sack, it reminded me of Santa Cruz. The only thing missing was the petuli oil and banana slugs, and maybe the Pacific Cookie Company.

From Bolson we went south, a couple more travel days will take us to some marble caves in Chile, and a beautiful glacier in Argentina.

chao chicos,

Justin