It seems like an eternity since the last post, although we’ve been busy rafting, hiking and visiting the beautiful Argentine lake district. Bariloche, situated on Lago Nahuel Huapi, is surrounded by mountains and lakes which made some great adventures for us. We rafted on the Manso river, rented mountain bikes, hiked around mountain refugios and drove the 7 lakes route between Villa la Angostura and San Martin de los Andes with two new friends. We spent 5 1/2 weeks in Bariloche split between the Green House hostel, a rented house at km5.7 and a condo in downtown. We were rarely without things to do and the weather was fantastic for all but a few days. I suffered through 4 weeks of Spanish school, I mean, I totally enjoyed the 4 weeks. My Spanish teacher, Agustina, from Spanish in the Mountains was an awesome instructor and we had a blast for 2 hours a day. And did I say we ate a lot of red meat! We’ve been to fabulous restaurants serving excellent local trout and every part of a cow imaginable.
Our Argentine adventure was getting better every day due to the “Blue Dollar” exchange rate going through the roof! A while back in Iguazu we were getting 6.8 pesos to the dollar and our last exchange in Bariloche gained us 8.8. The official exchange rate for ATM withdrawals and credit card transactions is just over 5 pesos so it was always in our interests to have hard US dollars. This sounds easy, but we were burning through dollars and only had a few days supply left when we arrived in Bariloche forcing me to plan a day trip to Chile to max out our bank and credit cards. After paying $80 for the bus trip to Osorno and the fees for credit card withdrawals, the $1600 we managed to get gave us a very good living. The worst part of having to go to Chile was wasting a page in my passport due to all the stamps! The good part was that we now had access to all these pesos and that I could rent a mountain bike for a month, do Spanish classes and eat at the best restaurants. We were paying around $30 total for a good Ojo de Bife or Lomo steak dinner for the two of us including wine!
Bariloche also seems be the chocolate capital of Patagonia with entire supermarkets full of every kind of chocolate imaginable. Not forgetting ice-cream by the bucket load and steak by the cow load! La Salamandra, El Patacon, Alto el Fuego, and El Boliche de Alberto to name but a few of the mouth watering parilla’s around town. Our favorite, La Salamandra, had 8 items on the menu and we managed to order all except one when visiting with another couple, totally over-indulging.
Rafting Day Trip
There were various operators in town but we used Rafting Adventure as the price when paying directly in cash seemed better than the others, and also due to the fact that they were definitely running a trip on the Saturday over Easter. Easter in Bariloche is like a zoo, with so many people on vacation making the roads chaotic and all the local activities fully booked. The tour was well run and we were very pleased with their service. The only complaint was the lunch (which we paid extra for) was horrible – we would have been better off bringing our own cheese and crackers instead of eating the pasta and sauce that I’m sure was microwaved straight from the freezer. The rafting down the river lasted about 2 hours on the refreshing Manso River about an hour outside of Bariloche. Our guide spoke English, but everyone else in the raft was Spanish speaking so we were sometimes paddling forwards when we should have been going backwards – luckily no issues! The river is classed with 3-4 rapids, but this time of year there is not much rainfall and most of the river is a 2-3. That was okay with us since neither of us had been rafting in about 10 years. There were a few places where the guides let us float down the rapids so we could get a good feel of the chilly water. Andrea was reluctant at first, but finally bit the bullet and dove in. We were glad we decided to do this trip because not only was it a brilliant day, but it also provided us with breathtaking scenery! Problem is we no longer have our waterproof camera, only the GoPro which doesn’t take such good photos!
Bariloche is a hikers paradise where you can pick and choose so many routes with varying levels of difficulty. There are plenty of multiday hikes that allow you to traverse very steep rocky faces to beautiful valleys with crystal clear rivers running through them. Club Andino, with an office in the center of Bariloche, was a great resource providing us with refugio closing dates, pass closures, route difficulty and trail maps of the surrounding areas. The most common 4 refugio hike started at El Catedral ski resort, with overnight stays at Frey, Jakob, Negra and Lopez, exiting the trails close to Colonia Suiza – due to Andrea’s work schedule we tended to do single day hikes to these refugios which always included fairly long hikes from 10-18km in each direction. Another great recommended resource we used for hiking in Bariloche was a website created by an English guy, Trek Bariloche.
Our only multi-day hike was from El Catedral to Frey on Day 1, Frey to Jakob on Day 2 and Jakob to km10.5 on Day 3. We knew we wanted to camp instead of staying and eating at the expensive refugios (learned our lesson on the “W” in Chile). It was going to be cold and possible rainy that weekend, but we headed out anyway. The trails in this area are beautiful and wonderfully maintained and marked so there is no chance of getting lost. The first day to Frey was gorgeous weather with a beautiful blue sky. We were in the forest for much of the hike so we didn’t notice the near gale force winds that were building around us…did I mention it was going to be cold! Putting up the tent was an adventure and at few moments during the night I thought we were literally going to be blown away! We had met a couple at a restaurant a few days prior and they mentioned also going to Frey on the same Friday night. We were joyous to see them and we shared a bottle of wine as we talked about our travelling adventures. They had spent some time in Bolivia and we wanted as much information as we could about internet access and where they stayed.
The 2nd day we headed out to Refugio Jakob. I had heard from previous hikers at the Green House hostel that this can be a pretty hairy hike with some extremely steep downhills. My knees aren’t holding up so well in my 40 years so that downhill is always dreaded! Boy…it didn’t disappoint with loose steep rock. It was like we were skiing down the slopes as we dug in our heels and slid one step at a time. Wayne can travel much faster than me (as if no one knew that already), but he does wait every now and again with the camera in hopes that I will fall and he can get a good action shot! I make sure I’m extra careful when I see the camera being pulled out! As we walked into Jakob, it just started to rain, and luckily we put up the tent before the downfall came. We started the trek early before any of the other hikers and they were all stuck in the cold rain! Not us – we were in the dry and warm refugio preparing for a nice, well-deserved drink!
We did our best to plan a few meals with cold food because we didn’t bring a camping stove with us and didn’t want to pay in the refugio. It didn’t work out so well with my rice and chicken – a 3 day old cold meal stuffed in a backpack is not that appetizing, but it sufficed! Our new friends, Barbara and David, did share some of their refugio food with us and it was very much appreciated!!
The second night in the tent at Jakob it poured all night! It was going to be a sloppy mess packing up and hiking our way out on Sunday. Again, we started early so we could be home at a decent hour and we also knew it was a 20k hike to the road and then another 5-10k hike to the bus. After the first hour, the sun was out and we enjoyed a near perfect day (I also can’t complain because it was ALL flat!).
We had an awesome adventure and we were also very thankful that the owner of our rental house loaned us 2 sleeping mats so we wouldn’t freeze all weekend! Hooray!
Below is the full list or our hikes in Bariloche. Wayne was able to do much more hiking than me and he was also able to do 2 of the hikes with our new friend, David.
- Hike 1: El Catedral – Refugio Lynch – Refugio Frey – El Catedral (1 day loop)
- Hike 2: Colonia Suiza – Refugio Laguna Negra – Colonia Suiza (1 day out and back)
- Hike 3: Arroyo Lopez – Refugio Lopez – Refugio Laguna Negra – Colonia Suiza (1 day multi refugio)
- Hike 4: El Catedral – Refugio Frey – Refugio Jakob – Bustillo km10.5 (3 day multi refugio and described above)
- Hike 5: Bustillo km10.5 – Refugio Jakob – Refugio Frey – El Catedral (1 day multi refugio)
- Hike 6: Colonia Suiza – Refugio Laguna Negra – Cerro Negra – Colonia Suiza loop (1 day loop)
The refugios in this area are not as big or fancy as the refugios on the “W” in Torres del Paine, but they are really nice and have a lot more character. Don’t expect hot water or even a shower, but you will find great food, drinks and new friends.
It was my mission whilst here to at least start getting back to some level of fitness, and being in Bariloche was perfect for this. Having a bike and being able to ride around the Circuito Chico, a popular circuit passing through the pretty village of LLao Llao with a 5 star golf resort by the same name, enabled me to push through a good 60km of easy hills. I didn’t do this as often as I planned but it was a good start! Also made me realize how much I’m going to get my ass kicked when I do La Ruta again this year – wink, wink, Andrea. Whenever I hiked I pushed a good pace, and made sure I got my HR outside of its comfort zone, which incidentally isn’t so high nowadays! I set myself up for bagging multiple peaks and refugios in a single day, even though Bariloche’s Club Andino seemed to frown upon it. One early evening I decided to see if I could hike straight up the route taken by the cable car to the summit of Cerro Otto, and succeeding in under an hour even impressed me (and a few of the people on top that took the cable car). It felt really good to be outside and to push myself, something that I don’t get to do too much whilst travelling.
We thought 5 1/2 weeks might be too long to stay in one place after Jaco, Costa Rica and Granada, Nicaragua, but Bariloche did not disappoint in any way! It had everything we love about travelling – new friends, plenty of outdoor activities and fantastic food!
March 26th – April 25th 2013