Thursday 17th March 2016 –
Two days of recovery marked our entry to Bariloche. Recovery from days of hiking, and recovery from the bus. This involved, let’s say, a fair amount of cake.
Actually, that’s only partially true. The cake eating was spread out, and I probably only ate one piece in those first days. Bariloche is essentially chocolate town, but finding a nice, cozy cake eatery is difficult. Cake’s in short supply. We ended up at a slightly impersonal place, but beggars can’t be choosers. The cake was good though.
The town itself is nice. Bariloche is set on the southern shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi, in Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, in what is appropriately known as the lakes district. The centre is vibrant and busy, without feeling congested, and it was nice to be in a bigger sort of place again, after the small town feels of El Chalten, El Calafate and Puerto Natales.
Despite the firm intent to do nothing on these days though, we did plenty. I wrote some, we figured out what we wanted to do, and I got a haircut. Yes, finally, after four months of dragging out the inevitable, I pulled the pin, dove into the water and ripped off the plaster. All at once. I’d made the decision before if I’m honest, and had just been waiting to reach a bigger town, but here I was. I’d asked where to go at the hostel, and now I stood outside the pelequeria.
Bad music blasted out of what looked distinctly like a women’s hair dresser, with two blokes working there. When I’d left home, I’d envisaged getting my hair cut at a barber at the side of the road, not this street-side salon. Having said that, it would be a lie to say it was much different to the place I get my hair cut at home. Masculine, as ever.
I stepped in, after standing outside for a minute. Worse Spanish than usual stumbled from my tongue, expressing a vague desire to cut my hair, before one of the guys checked the appointment book – I could have it done then. This was good – no chance to back out – so I sat down and tried to explain, with the rudimentary help of a picture of me before I left, what I wanted.
Surprisingly carefully, he extracted strands of hair from my head as I worried about the outcome. While in Paraguay I’d been warned to expect a number two all over. In fact, that’s why I grew a beard in the first place – so I wouldn’t look like a twelve year old once done. As bad as I expected it to be though, the hair turned out ok, a result of the Argentine hairdresser’s care and attention, if a little short. Months of worrying, and now it was done. Now only to get rid of the beard…
After the giant businesslike hostel in El Chalten, it was nicer to be in a smaller one in Bariloche, where people would talk to each other. It turned out we didn’t want to talk to everyone though. One of our first acquaintances was a guy who would become known as ‘San Francisco’, an Argentine who had loved his life in the US, and recently moved back to Bariloche.
‘San Francisco’ was, by all accounts, an oddball. Or, to be more forthright, a blatant liar. He hated technology, yet was part of an exclusive group that was given a prototype iPhone. He ‘legally’ bought movies for thousands of pounds in China, so he could host them on his website, and remarkably broke even, despite changing the web address when the server got too busy. He was going to take a paragliding course, and then set up his own company in Bariloche. He was a surgeon, and would go to poor areas and operate on the street for free.
‘San Francisco’ was also very argumentative. The iPhone’s new web call feature would definitely ruin WhatsApp. The US made up the bulk of the world’s technology using population, obviously. Every one of the world’s apples possessed a sticker telling you the conditions in which it was grown, and apple in porridge did not count as being sweet. At least he provided everyone with something to chuckle about though.
It set a lot of things in motion, really. Laughing about the apples got us talking to a couple of Swiss girls who’d lost almost all of their belongings when their rental car had been broken into. My dad gave them his puffa jacket since he didn’t need it anymore. After this, a Dutch girl who couldn’t decided where she wanted to travel to next, a Swiss guy with a hilarious story about a train journey spent explaining how sex works to three Indian blokes, and Richard and Nicola, a recently married Kiwi couple who played card based monopoly religiously (with the slogan that everybody stays friends in the end) and embarked on far more adventurous treks than ourselves. We’ll get to those in a bit though – first we went rafting.
Somehow, we squirmed ourselves onto a neat 2for1 deal, handily halving the rather hefty original layout, and we headed out for my first rafting in over 10 years. After being picked up in the morning alongside both an Argentine and a German couple, we drove a couple of hours through the stunning Lakes District scenery before arriving at a little farm, wetsuiting up, and moving on to the river.
Bauer, our guide for the day, was enthusiastic about everything. From the rapids and the (rather dodgy – purile humour reigns here too) names for them, to the canyon formations and even places that he would recommend to go in Chile! Puerto Varas, he said, is great in almost every way. There’s only one problem – there’s too many Chileans! An obvious joke, but the best ones never get old. Still, high praise indeed considering I’d yet to hear an Argentine be complimentary about Chile.
Rafting after the dry summer season meant that the canyon walls to our sides loomed about 10 metres above us, where the water reaches during the spring melt. It also meant that we only had one route we could take around the rocks that we continually hit, but our insane skills steered us from too much trouble. In fact, if there was one complaint I did have, it would be that there was too little trouble, but I guess I shouldn’t push things too far – I’ve already hit my head once this trip.
We waited a day again afterward, due to a back injury sustained by my dad. To be fair to him, be wanted to go still, but I felt it wouldn’t be very good for anyone for him to spend the day cycling with a bad back. It’s hardly likely to be an enjoyable day. Nevertheless, we were off again after that to cycle the Circuit Chico, a 25km route along the coast of Lago Nahuel Huapi, and past several other lakes. Naturally, we arrived at the rental place slightly late. About 12:30. On the subject of the route, my dad suggested he’d heard it was easy. “Hmmm”, was the response. Maybe not then.
Setting off on the road based route, it was immediately hilly. Hilly enough to be a considerable effort, and I was almost regretting my decision to come. Power on I did though, and we made quicker time than I had predicted. Soon enough we had passed Llao-llao, a big fancy hotel with panoramic views of the area (which we missed originally and had to go back to) and were going up the hill on the other side. It was the steepest yet, and I (finally having learnt to use bike gears) quickly changed down to the easiest gear, cycling at walking pace. To my amazement, my dad got off his bike and started pushing. “It’s easier.”, he replied in repost to my mean comments.
He continued with this tactic, which resulted in a pace no slower than my cycling, for the rest of the ride. Up the stony path from Playa Tacul, after stopping at the serene Lago Escondido (hidden lake) and up the punishingly long hill to the bar we’d been recommended, and the final mirador, an amazing view of the lakes and islands around. I, on the other hand, stuck to it. Through pain and grit, I struggled on, and despite all expectations made it to the end without pushing. I think I was more impressed than anyone else though.
It took us quite a while, all in all, only arriving back about 15 minutes before our 7 o’clock deadline. Recovery was out of the question though. The next morning, we would be up early for our bus to Pampa Linda, near Cerro Tronador and the Chilean border, for a two day hike. We expected soreness.