On Monday I got the 11am bus to San Rafael about 4 hours down the road. Getting off at the brand new terminal I soon discovered that perhaps the local taxi drivers didn't know where it was yet. It was only about a miles walk into the centre of town but by the time I turned the corner onto the main drag my right knee was ceasing to function, despite the fact that I was wearing my new and improved “fuck you” knee support. Luckily an “old time” hotel was nearby with creaking worn out floor boards, a huge bed and a bucket load of charm.
This town is like Mendoza only smaller and the nearby Canyon de Atul is a tourist attraction. Sadly it's the low season and as I am by myself the cost of a tour wasn't worth the expense.
Tuesday was spent mostly lying on the bed with my right knee covered in the local brand of heat cream. “Fuck you” was giving me real cause for concern but at least “You bastard” wasn't acting up in sympathy...well not yet anyway!
Wednesday was the day to leave. I was heading to the town of Bariloche. The bus left at 1am and arrived 14 hours later.....Like I’m getting on that bus! Instead I got the bus to Neuquen, 9.5 hours down the road. I had two options, catch the 1am bus or the 1pm bus, regardless I got the fat-boy downstairs.
The bus pulled into the terminal of Neuquen about 4kms from the centre of town at 10:30pm.
Never wanting to hang out in a palindromic city I spied a hotel across the road whilst having the usual. Before I checked in and checked out I thought it would make sense to what times the buses were to Bariloche.
Turns out the next bus was a t midnight, only 80 minutes away. Its a 6 hour drive to Bariloche...
Arriving at the small bus station of Bariloche at 6am I regretted not calling tails when I tossed the coin in Neuquen. Damn it was cold, I felt like shit and dawn was still over two hours away. Not having booked a room I got a coffee in the station café, then I got another one. By the time I had finished my 3rd plus smoked several fags it was 07:30.
I put on my jacket (1st time since Bolivia) and got a taxi the 2 kilometres into the centre of town.
The 1st two hostels were dark, the 3rd had lights on and someone on reception. Asking if they had a room, the answer was yes...however at 250 pesos...hell no!!! I carried on till I found another hostel (with lights on). The price was 230 pesos but by now all I wanted to was lie down and use a bathroom! So I said “what the hell” and as it turns out they had a special offer on, stay two nights but only pay for one. Looks like I’m here for the weekend.
Bariloche, on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huani is the (self proclaimed) gateway to Patagonia, its near one of the best ski mountains in Argentina and quite a few lakes, well it is lake district after all!
But I didn't see any of this till the afternoon. Crawling sloth like off the bed (the small radiator was right by my head so it was touch and go for a while) I wandered around the town. It was cold, the wind coming off the lake was super chilled, the sky overcast and trying successfully to rain. The town itself was full of outdoor shops selling all your year round requirements like clothes, boots, skis, bikes etc...plus way to many shops selling high quality artesian chocolates of seemingly infinite varieties but no mint cake!!!
The only shop I needed was one selling black coffee, they’re called cafés and I was spoilt for choice.
Come the evening I was back in my room by 9pm, disappointed with the weather. By 11pm I was fast asleep.
The next morning I woke up at 09:30, such a good sleep. Walking into the dinning room on the hunt for fresh coffee I looked out of the window...Blue Skies!!! Happy days....still bloody cold mind you.
Last night I had thought of buggering off to Chile and heading north to somewhere warm and sunny. Now I had sun (I have warm clothes and a woolly hat) I pondered about heading further south.
This town caters to the outdoor pursuits, so lots of tour companies offer
hiking: “you bastard” and “fuck you” say no!
Mountain biking: see above
paragliding: see above
rafting an kayaking: way to cold
skiing: to early
sitting on the lake shore admiring the view: 5 minutes max, it's cold
so that leaves....a boat tour around the lake. Sounds nice but it costs 280 pesos and you have to make your own way to the harbour which is 25kms away. Does make me wonder why there is a harbour in town?
what I am doing tomorrow.
The morning came around and I reluctantly pulled myself out of bed. The minibus was typically 30 minutes late so I had time for more than one coffee.
The destination of the day's “day trip” was Cerro Tronador or Thunder Mountain. I was looking forward to seeing my 1st ever glacier. The minibus climbed out of town and then travelled along Ruta 40, which I think has become my favourite road in the whole wide world...it rocks! After passing a couple of gorgeous lakes we turned off the tarmac and onto a dirt road which lead into Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. After paying the very cheap 50 peso entrance fee we travelled along for a few miles before getting out to photograph and admire the view of a lake drenched in the bright morning sun.
Back in the van the road rose and fell, twisting its way through the trees before we stopped at a lookout point for panoramic views of another lake...classy! Then we drove to a small café, crossing a trout filled river of crystal clear waters. After a 20 minute stop it was uphill towards the mountain, which is in fact an inactive volcano.
Glimpses of the glacier covered mountain were seen through the trees. We stopped on a bend in the road for a quick panoramic fix before continuing on to a restaurant with stunning views. Some people went inside to eat lunch??? Me, I went for a bimble...so glad I did!
Once lunch was over we proceeded to the base of the mountain. There are several glaciers on the mountain, the largest one higher up feeds the “Black Glacier” lower down. It does this by falling several hundred metres and when it does (which it did whilst I was there) the sound made by several tonnes of falling ice and snow impacting sounds like thunder...so now you know how the mountain got its name.
The black glacier gets its name because...well its black!
In the evening (it was a Saturday night) I went out and sampled several of the locally brewed beers.
On Sunday morning I watched the Spanish GP and then watched City win the league (so glad I am not a city fan...I don't think I could of handled that much agony and despair for 92 minutes) and of course Joey Barton going “scouser”.
Monday morning came around I was on the 11:30 to Esquel. The bus was quite posh, on the top deck there were only 3 seats across and I was in seat number 3, a single seat right at the front for 5 hours of fantastic views straight ahead. Or so I thought......
For some reason the bus company decided to put some advertising on the front windscreen and my view forwards was completely blocked by a multicoloured sticker two foot in diameter...why bus company why??
Three hours down the road the one thing I’ve always wanted to witness finally happened. The road was traversing a wide and grassy plain and I was looking aimlessly out of the window (and I’m not making this up, my mp3 player was playing Constant Surprises by Little Dragon) as the bus slowed right down to cover a worn out stretch of road. It was then I saw a vulture walking along, no more than 20 metres away. “That's a big vulture” I said to myself....O.M.G, its a Condor, a wild Condor!!!!!!
The view of that Condor walking along nonchalantly was only 20 seconds long but it will last me a lifetime.
A few hours later the bus pulled into the town of Esquel and it was a short 6 block walk into town. I did the usual thing of walking around the centre to find a place to stay. After 15 minutes I didn't see a single hotel, I was shocked! It was then I choked back the tears of despair and headed towards the tourist information office. I got to within 100 yards when I walked past a hotel...sweet! It ain't great but it will do.
An hour later I was in a nearby tour company booking a ticket for a ride on La Trochita for the next day. The tour company had several tours on offer, I really was interested in a day trip to the “tunnels of ice” but its the low season....bugger :( In the evening I ended up in El Bodegon Bar, it was completely unexpected. I mean a blues/rock bar in this little town. Nice one universe, shame about the not being able to smoke inside mind you.
The next morning it was time to ride La Trochita or the little trout. It's a narrow gauge (75cm) train that used to travel for miles and miles. These days it goes 22km and back again but its a steam train and that's enough!
The train left at 10am and I was at the station 30 minutes before that, well I wanted to see it warm up 1st.
The hour's ride to the next station went past way to fast but the sun was out and the window was open. Because it's a small train it can't handle big gradients, so even after travelling 22kms by rail I was only about 6 or 7 miles from Esquel by road. The train loitered at the station for about 45 minutes before retracing its tracks back to Esquel.
Back in my hotel room in the afternoon it was time for thinking...where to go next???
Tierra del Fuego
Its at the bottom of South America. By the time I get there it will be the middle of winter and the Max temperature is 5oc. That's not a problem I have a woolly hat. The problem is once there you only have about 4 hours of daylight every 24 hours. So I wont have enough time to see much at all. The only reason to go there now is so that I can say I’ve been there and that is never a good reason to go anywhere.
Go to Chile
Cross the Andes into the Chilean lake district, that sounds more fun, then I can head north afterwards.
So it's settled then....tomorrow I’m going to Wales!
Trevelin is, along with several other villages in Patagonia, a small enclave of welsh descendants who's ancestors left the UK after Westminster passed “The Sheep Welfare Act” of 1862. The village is surrounded by snow dusted mountain peaks and in the village are several “Welsh Tea Shops” that are a very poor imitation of your traditional “English Tea Shop”. The reason they ain't all that is that they don’t open till 3pm. Any teashop worth going to is open no later than 10:55....just in time for elevenses.
I hanged out for a few hours before enjoying the views from the bus window on the way back to Esquel, 25kms away.
Today is Thursday 17th of May and tomorrow I’ll be on the 8am bus to the Chilean border. Which means I’ll have been in Argentina for two months but it does feel like I have been here longer. The next time I come here I’ll be bringing my own transport and travelling along the entire length of Ruta 40!