Thursday 6th March - 10th March 2008
Hola y Buenos dias de San Carlos de Bariloche
We landed in picturesque San Carlos de Bariloche (its full title)to discover a place quite reminiscent of a number of other places. Bariloche is situated on the shores of the large Lago Nahuel Huapi, within the vast national park of the same name, one could easily be forgiven for thinking you were in Queenstown NZ, Lake Garda Italy, or in the Swiss Alps (although we haven't visited the last two!!)
We quickly settled into our first hostel for the first night (as we had to stay in two different hostels over the 4 nights in Bariloche owing to our last minute booking), before heading out to explore the town. We headed through the charming Centro Civico which comprised a group of Swiss style, well kept, public buildings built of log and stone, en route to the lake shore to capture yet another impressive but late (almost 10pm)sunset.
One of our friends from back home, Lee (a deluded Man City fan !!) had previously visited Bariloche some 12 months earlier and had advised we try to climb/trek up a local mountain called 'Catedral'.
After switching hostels to the nicer 'TangoInn Hostel' on the second day, we headed up to the Tourist Information office to obtain details on how we could do the walk. The lady at the Tourist Office provided us with a bus timetable and a vague description of where to catch the 'bus with no number', but told us we had to visit the 'Intendicia del Parques Nacionales' to obtain information on trekking to 'Catedral'.
We visited the second office who provided us with yet another really useful map of the huge national park (with a scale of around 1-500km), and told us we would need to visit Club Andino (the local mountain climbers club), to obtain a trekking map for Catedral.
After queuing for a third time, the busy chap at the Club Antonio told us we wouldn't need a map and the walk was easy! All three offices described getting to Catedral and doing the walk as 'easy' but it proved less than 'easy' obtaining an ounce of useful info from any of them !! The third guy told us we could catch the 'bus with no number' from somewhere on the main street, then catch the chair lift from Villa Catedral (45 mins away) to the mountain top and then walk via the 'Frey shelter' back to Villa Catedral. He also informed us that the chair lifts started running at 10am and the trek in total would take us about 8hrs!!
Feeling somewhat exhausted and thinking it would have been easier to lie in the middle of the road waiting for a kindly passing carrier pigeon to land on our heads with all the information we required, we decided to catch bus 'number 20' to 'Cerro Campanario' (although we didn't know where to get off!) to spend the remainder of the day checking out some stunning scenery.
Cerro Campanario comprises a huge chairlift which takes you to the top of the Campanario mountain whereby you have breath taking panoramic views of some of the surrounding National Park. It provided us with a little taster of Patagonia and what is yet to come and made us hungry for more!!!
In the evening we stumbled across a very cool watering hole called 'The Map Room' which was run by a very cool and helpful American called Steve and his Argentinean wife. Steve proved to be our 'Saviour of Bariloche' and in just 5 mins of chatting provided us with all the information 3 supposed 'information officers' had failed to do. He also advised us that to get from the Frey shelter to the summit of Catedral or vice versa could be tricky, as Steve also pointed out that the trek was defined by 'red markers' scattered every 30-50metres or so which again seemed to have been forgotten as important information to pass onto us by the 3 officers, even when we had asked "is the path clearly marked??"
Steve also pointed out that the track comprised 'scrambling over vertical rocks' and over ridges with 1300m sheer drops and passing a sign which stated 'We are not responsible if you pass this point'!!! So it was good to hear for a fourth time that the walk was easy!!!
We started early the next day and having been spoilt with clear blue skies and baking sun the previous two day we foolishly packed accordingly.
On arriving at Villa Catedral, we noticed that the chair lift hadn't yet opened so decided to follow another small group along the 8km trek to 'The Frey' shelter some 1700m up Cerro Catedral. Our plan was to have lunch at the shelter then continue on to the summit and take the chair lift back to the centre and bus stop.
Catedral is supposedly one of the biggest ski resorts in South America but as it is now Summer, the town was extremely quiet and felt somewhat deserted.
About one hour away from reaching the Frey shelter the 'Gallery clouds' descended upon us once more and the surrounding jagged mountains and ridges were soon awash with familiar mist and rain. We eventually arrived at the small timber shelter to find a small group of mixed nationalities sheltering from the elements. We enjoyed our light lunch and hoped the bad weather would pass over (which it didn't) so on the back of Steve's detailed information, we decided not to risk scrambling to the summit and chair lift and to return back down the track from whence we came.
In short (which this blog isn't) our maiden South American trek consisted of a 16km hike (plus 2km where we took a 20min wrong turn....down hill!!!!), which certainly stretched our long limbs. It was also the maiden voyage for our recently purchased 'Camel-backs' which we're sure Jo's dad will know all about (being the Pro walker he is!), which are water carrying devices which fit snuggly in your back-packs. Having not tested these before-hand we ended up 'lugging' 1.5 lites of water each (which tasted like a combination of melted plastic and TCP), the full 18km, to eventually return to our hostel room and empty the full contents into the bath!!! Nevertheless, it added to our much needed work or walk-out!!
We have decided that if we can't get rid of the TCP taste, we're going to fill our Camel-backs with some nice, ice cold beer!!!
Oh and yes, by the time we returned to Villa Catedral at 17:00hrs, we noticed that the chair lifts were still not open becuase they were CLOSED!!! We were thankful that the bad weather had forced us to turn back because otherwise we'd have been stuck in a stickier situation than when Sticky the stick insect got stuck on a sticky bun!!!
It was yet another priceless piece of information that the three "it's going to be easy" brigade of tourist, mountain expert officers had once again failed to deliver!!!
We ended the day in the comfort of Steve's bar drinking his excellant dark Porto ale (Ian) and magnifico Mohito/Long Island Tea cocktails (Jo) whilst at the same time obtaining some top-tastic tips from Steve for our forthcoming trip to El Calafate and Torres Del Paine.
Steve also enlightened us to the reason why we were so muggled by the time zone in Argentina. The reason was that just a couple of months ago the Argentinean Government in their child-like wisdom to save energy amidst an energy crisis, imposed that the entire country put the clocks forward 2 hours which gives Argentina a GMT time equivalent to being located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!!!
Finally we rounded off our final evening visiting the famous Alberto restaurant which is a vegetarian's worst nightmare, as this place serves meat like only Desperate Dan could dream of. We had been recommended by both Lee and our friendly bar man Steve to dine here but fortunately Steve also forewarned us of the size of the portions!!!
After seeing one of the griddle chefs waving a huge slab of meat (roughly half a large cow) around, it is safe to say that it is the first time on our trip that we were both slightly nervous and...yes... 'bricking it' at the thought of what was going to be served on our somewhat tiny (in comparison) plates.
Thankfully the portions weren't too crazy and we managed to polish most of the food off without feeling too overfaced and thoroughly enjoyed our last meal in San Carlos de Bariloche.