Monday 21st March 2016 –
The drive to Pampa Linda, like everywhere we had been in the area, featured some amazing scenery. Weird rock formations, serene lakes, craggy mountain tops and more. The drive wasn’t what we’d come this far into the national park for though. It was our forthcoming two day trek.
My dad and I had circumvented our previous ruling about multiday treks with one of the nice things about Parque National Nahuel Huapi – refugios seem to abound. It meant we didn’t have to carry a tent, or a shed load of food. Only a sleeping bag and lunches were required. I didn’t even need to take my main rucksack, niftily strapping the sleeping bag to my daypack. At Pampa Linda there was even a fancy restaurant cabin, but we wouldn’t be staying there. We had trekking to do.
Our footsteps took us north through the valley, and that’s where we would head all journey, skirting the base of Cerro Tronador, a giant peak which forms the border with Chile. As we set off, we noticed what would probably be the most odd thing of the trip – the whole area is full of bamboo. It’s just something we expected to see in the area. Also, whether it was due to the season or the location, we saw absolutely nobody. Zilch (of the Bobby variety, of course). Nada. This was a real change after the relative crowds of Torres del Paine and El Chalten.
The wildlife around seemed to be that much more vibrant, birds squeaking and squawking and lizards sunbathing as we weaved along the valley floor. Awkward paths, hidden waterfalls and makeshift bridges were all present, and this, combined with the solitude of it made it more of an adventure than the other treks we’d done.
We arrived at the refugio after a steeper climb out of the valley than expected, where it was perched on top of the pass. It was almost empty. Despite this, four people were running it, presumably coming to the end of the summer season. In the centre of the main room a table tennis table had been fashioned out of regular dinner tables – my dad’s eyes lit up. The next morning he would challenge the four of them to games, and subsequently lose all four. Then I would offer him an easier game, and he would lose yet again. He would do his best to keep his disappointment in check.
Aside from this, the refugio was great. Jaw dropping views extended all the way into the next valley to Lago Frias, where we would head the next day, and waterfalls cascaded like slinkies from the glacier beside us. Inside, the place just had an overall really nice atmosphere and home made pasta, soup and cake made for a surprisingly special dinner.
A bit of quizzing one of the guys revealed we were actually stood in a pretty interesting place. The river valley we had just walked through, and the glacier above, led to the Rio Manso, eventually crossing the Andes and travelling to the Pacific. The river valley we would walk the next day, and the glacier above us, led to Lago Nahuel Huapi, and the Atlantic.
We climbed down the other side of the pass the next morning, seeing the other side of the glacier as we got to the bottom. Weirdly, we quickly climbed up the side of the valley again, which is where a wasp decided to sting me out of nowhere. It was right by my knee, and although it was fine for the day it locked up after I stopped moving so much, making it painful to walk on. We pressed on though, through a really strange landscape.
This side of the valley really was like a rainforest – it was damp and humid, flies buzzed around everywhere, and obstacles blocked our path at every turn. Uncleared fallen trees had to be climbed over and under, bogs had to be traversed, muddy slopes slid down, and more bamboo cleared out of the way. Like the previous day, unexpected, but great fun. Aside from one stop by the river near the end, (where we finally got to eat lunch) the whole of the rest of the trail was like this.
Almost straight after being questioned by a (rather obviously) armed gendarme, we reached Puerto Frias. My dad and I had talked about this – we would swim, maybe see if we could afford a beer or an ice cream (we were shortsightedly low on cash), but there was nothing. A closed shop, the Policia Federal, a border control point, and a sign stating ‘Peligroso!’ No swimming. The water looked so inviting, as well.
It was three o’clock, the boat wasn’t due to arrive till 4:30, and counting for lateness, more like six. So we waited. I lounged on the pier in this serene landscape, all by myself. Peace…
By the time 4:45 rolled round, my dad was panicking. Where was the boat? Would I ask? Never mind the fact that we’d seen it at 6PM from the refugio the day before. I was about to nonetheless when a bus arrived, carrying tourists from Chile. The boat came across soon after, having obviously waited for the bus, and we were off across Lago Frias, on a bus to Puerto Blest, and then after another hour or so, on another, bigger boat. Hilariously, after our relaxing wait, those tourists who had taken the boat both ways got given all of three minutes to take photos at Puerto Frias.
The sun was setting by this point, and as we crossed Lago Nahuel Huapi to Puerto Panuelos, a multitude of colours spread themselves over the horizon. Sat on the top deck, I ended up speaking to one of those gendarmes, a friendly guy I identified as Gabriel Eugenio, thanks to his name tag. Between us both helping out people take pictures (including one girl who was holding out crackers for birds), I asked him about the bamboo – whether it was native – amongst other questions. Apparently it is, though he told me it was much thicker, such that people build houses with it, in Misiones, where he is from.
There was one last trip when we returned to Bariloche. Kayaking on Lago Gutierrez. We went in the afternoon, after judging it was definitely not windy, and had probably the easiest time kayaking ever. Being a lake, there was obviously no current, and the water was silky smooth, meaning we had to keep stopping for everyone else. The highlight was actually when we stopped on one of the beaches. Drinking maté with our guides, and finding an Argentine willing to talk about their hopes and worries for Argentina, was priceless.
We ate steak that night, at Alto el Fuego, which has to be one of the nicest places I have ever eaten. The biggest, fattest, juiciest, steaks you will ever see in a restaurant, of all different types, cooked to perfection. It was a great meal to end on. All too soon though, these adventures were over. My dad did eventually have to go home, and I had to leave Bariloche. Travelling with someone for a month is totally different, and changes the way you do things. Now, I would have to get used to travelling alone again.