Bariloche is on the, round the world, year off backpackers ‘must do’ list. It is supposed to be a gastronomic delight. It is supposed to be a really fun place. Let me say what we thought.
If you were to start with a clean sheet and travel the world to find the most beautiful location in which to build your town then Lago Nahuel Huapi would surely rate among the best spots. The lake, with its blue water, is enormous. One forgets it is a lake. It is surrounded by, majestic, snow clad mountains. At the cleavage of two of these enormous mountain ranges, on the Andes between modern Chile and Argentina, Bariloche grew up into a town. It was ‘discovered’ in 1552 by an Argentinean looking for Caesars town…. He didn’t find the town but he did find one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Nothing much happened here for another hundred years. Then it began to develop. In 1932 the first hotel was built and things progressed or regressed depending on your point of view. Today it is a higgeldy piggeldy mish mash of development. The lakeshore is bordered by used car dealer establishments, huge car parks and dodgy hotels. You cannot walk along the lakeshore and the main road into town thunders along the lake shore separating the town from its best asset.
The town itself is a busy place with both Winter skiing and Summer visitors. We are in shoulder season so it was not too busy. We arrived at a Hostal that we picked at random, called Hostal Pantuk. We got, using all terms loosely, the ‘penthouse apartment`….. It had a smashing view of the lake at both sunrise and sunset. In quite a bit of the floor area one could not stand up straight. It has a kitchen where the mixer tap went up and down as well as sideways – someone forgot to secure it to the sink. The `bathroom` was a gem. There was a real danger when standing in the shower that the base would give way. This would have landed one or other of us in the men’s loo on the lower floor. The installer of the wash hand basin had dropped it while installing but had decided, after applying some strong glue, to install it anyway. But we were happy in our bird’s nest, above the lake, for two nights.
On day one we decided to visit the Municipal Public Park. A local bus would take us. It was just a matter of buying a `Sube` bus card and loading some money on it. That was when the fun started. A Kiosko would sell the card. We found the Kiosko but madam said she didn`t sell cards anymore because the system had been changed. We needed to go to the Santa Fe bus center. She gestured in a general direction. We set off further up a hill out of town. A lovely man stopped to try to help us but alas he said he never travelled by bus so had no idea where this place was – we were standing outside it!!! In we went, loaded up our card and set off back down to town to catch the number 20 bus.
There was a huge crowd waiting and everyone was getting fractious as there should have been a bus every 20 minutes. Then we heard a loud bang and thought it was gunshot – alas it was a banger, of the firework kind, there are plenty of other bangers in Bariloche. There was a protest march making its way up the main street. All the buses were held up behind. By the time the bus came there was sufficient numbers of passengers for two buses. But the driver squashed us all on. He then was directed by the police off the main road and on to a narrow side road to by pass the march. Then he got back on the road. He put his foot on the accelerator and we went like mad along the lakeshore. At this end of town there was a very different story. Beautiful houses lined the shoreline with lush green gardens. The park is 25kms from town. It is a magnificent place, with dense green forest and well marked paths. We had about a 10km walk and returned without event to Hostal Panatuk.
Sleep was difficult for Barry as the locals obviously party on a Friday night and there was a disco right beside us which went on `till 6am – the time we were due to rise to get our bus to our next destination.