Sunday, March 15, 2009

Go big or go home: Argentina

Well, Buenos Aires was nice. It´s urban, and fun, and has good food... and after 5 days there, I was ready to get back to the outdoors. So, off on another 20 hour bus ride to Bariloche, a town deep in the Andes, near the Argentina - Chile border, in the Lakes district, at the Northern edge of Patagonia.

There´s not much to the town itself... does have this nice little Cathedral, built about 60 years ago

Bariloche sits on the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi

And the outdoors in Bariloche certainly doesn´t disappoint. It´s a big ski resort in the winter, while in the summer, you can hike all around, coming up to specatacular views of the mountains, glaciers, and lakes all around.

So, after a brief visit to the local park information office, I hopped onto a bus to the mountains and set off on a brief hike up to Refugio Frey.

A bit of a balancing act on the way up

The Refugio Frey mountain hut sits in a picturesque little valley, surrounded by mountains and flanked by a clear blue lake. To get back from Frey to the bus stop, you can either take the same route back as you took up, or scale the nearby mountains, cut across to the nearby top of the chair lifts and follow them back down to town.

The view from Refugio Frey

Since coming back down the same way is so obiously boring, I was inclined to go over the mountains and along the chairlift (go big or go home...). The hut warden lady (who appeared to be fluent in Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, German, and probably some others) assured me that the whole trek would take about two hours to the top of the chair lifts and another hour down, so I was leaving around 5, getting back down to town by 8 shouldn´t be a problem, and since it doesn´t get dark until after 8 here, and the last bus back to Bariloche was at 9:15, obviousoly I was off!

Passing by an even higher alpine lake on the way up

Unfortunately, as I soon discovered, making the pass in 3 hours likely involves knowing the proper path to take (it´s not particularly well marked) as opposed to the approach I was left with: go straight up, then aim for the top of the chairlift.

There was good news about reaching the top of the lift around 8 o´clock:

The moon coming up over the mountains was a pretty site from the top of the ridge

Sadly, there was also bad news: it was getting dark, I didn´t really know the best way down the mountain, and I now had about an hour to make my bus. Turns out it´s a fairly tall mountain, and the way down is in no way obvious, so when I came trotting out of the woods towards the bus station at 9:18, I was glad to know that the buses here don´t run quite as on schedule as in, say, Japan... Five minutes later, the bus showed up, and I was exchanging stories of the trek down with some other hikers catching the last bus. My highlights included galloping down the mountain side trying to dodge the bigger pieces of the underbrush and gathering as many of my belongings as I could in the dark after my backpack came open half way down (this cost me a pair of sunglasses...). By about 10:15, I was back at my hostel, enjoying the free dinner they provided.

No rest for the weary, so next day, I was up bright and early once more, catching another bus out of Bariloche, on my way to rent a bike and spend a day pedaling around Circuito Chico catching glimpses of the many lake vists out here (they don´t call it the Lake District for nothing). The bike ride was nice, but the circuit wasn´t really all that spectacular, and as you are simply pedaling down a paved road, was rather touristy, with plenty of cars and tour buses coming along for the ride.

Punto Panoramico did offer an impressive view of the lakes and the mountains though

And the next day, I decided it was time to visit the big mountain in the neighborhood: 3478m Mt. Tronador. Another 2 hour bus ride deposited a bunch of us in the tiny outpost of Pampa Linda, from which I set off on the hike up the mountain.

Passing by a spectacular waterfall coming out from under a glacier at the top of the mountain

And that evening, I was up close and personal with Mt. Tronador:

Usually a bit obscured by clouds

And a commanding view of the surrounding mountains from the peak, featuring a brilliant sunset here

The fun didn´t have to end there, as the next day five of us (plus a guide) were off to explore the nearby glacier:

featuring some very large crevasses

then learning how to climb straight up the wall of ice

And finally, yesterday I had a choice: do another hike across the glacier, descending to a camp site on the other side, camping there, then hiking up to Puerto Blest and catching a boat across the lake from there back to Bariloche (go big), or hiking back down to Pampa Linda, relaxing for a couple hours in the sun there, then catching the boring ´ol bus back to Bariloche, just in time to have dinner at the only Mexican restaurant in town (go home). Normally, I´d be all for going big in this case, but a few things were bothering me: cost of boring ´ol bus back to Bariloche: 35 pesos; the hike/boat: 270 pesos for the hike guide + 150 more for the boat. (Incidentally, the net difference of 385 pesos is approximately the price of a Bolivian visa). Furthermore, it was supposed to rain today (lies!) and not knowing that this was a lie, I wasn´t excited about hiking in the rain, and finally, the tent, I had rented specifically for that campsite (I camped at the refugio at the base of Tronador, but did also have a choice of just sleeping in the hut), was rather heavy, so not being overly excited about carrying it along for two more days, I headed straight back down to Pampa Linda and my Mexican food back in Bariloche... And, of course, back in Bariloche, I ran into Alfred, who was one of the passengers on the Antarctica cruise a month ago:

Alfred was making friends too...

South America has been surprsingly good about constantly running into people I either know from back home or had met earlier in the trip.

And after a relaxing (and not rainy!) Sunday here in Bariloche, tomorrow I´m off to do another couple of days of hiking at the nearby town of El Bason.

PS. Oh, and just one more thing here in Bariloche (just for you, Lott). Today was the ACC title game, and even though quite sadly it´s not on TV down here, I did get to find out that Duke beat Maryland in the semi-finals yesterday to advance to the championship game this afternoon, where they went on to defeat Florida State for the title - Go Duke!


dlott said...

For the record Maryland beat Dook in the Women's title game last weekend...

Anonymous said...

Great new pictures. Hey Alex, did you make some friends too - biju