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Trip Report Trip Report: Argentina, Chile, Bolivia & Peru with Tweens

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The last leg of an eight month rtw which started in Japan, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Germany and Austria...details about our other legs are at www.greenleycoffeebreak.com.

Argentina!

We flew from Munich, via London, to Buenos Aires landing at EZE early morning with reciprocity fee paperwork in hand. One luxury we've given ourselves on this trip is a pre-reserved taxi following intl flights, in this case http://www.taxiezeiza.com.ar/ was booked for a cost of US$45 for four passengers & our every growing backpacks. Begrudgingly hit the ATM for cash as our dollars were long gone. My son had left his winter coat, now two sizes too small stuffed under his seat on the plane (we would regret this in Patagonia weeks later), and we walked into the sauna that is Buenos Aires in January. Fortunately a storm would roll in later that day and disperse the humidity for the duration of our stay.

We arrived to a sweet loft apartment on Gorriti in Palermo Viejo booked on Airbnb. My father and stepmother were joining us for two weeks for their first trip abroad and I picked this spacious and stylish abode although we would be back to inexpensive hostels thereafter. Really love Palermo Viejo...tree lined streets, sweet cafes, unique stores, interesting graffiti art. The broken sidewalks and dog droppings required careful stepping but after SE Asia, we were simply happy for sidewalks!

Day 1 after an overnight flight was simply adjustment...settle into the apartment, find the nearest grocery store, begin to understand the quirks of the neighborhood and culture. We staggered to dinner at an embarrassingly early 7PM, having our first of many pizza dinners (twin tweens in tow = much pizzas). Day 2 we set off to pick up funds sent through Xoom. Much has been made, understandably, of the financial situation in Argentina. With no dollars to trade and a rate of 7-8 pesos to $1 at the ATM in addition to an inability to withdraw much at a time, we found this wire option for a fee of $30 at a rate of 10 pesos to $1.

I am a paranoid traveler. I wish it wasn't so but it is. In my youth, I was robbed five times over a six month period in Brazil and it seems to have set an over cautious alarm in me. We taxied to the $ pick up location only to encounter a small mall of sorts of small booths of electronics and money exchange "offices." We found the booth we needed and were told the person providing our payout had not arrived and we needed to wait. Being the only gringos in the place, to boot wearing colorful Patagonia raincoats, I continually scanned the crowd for potential issues. Of course, there were none. (Another theme of the strip...never has my paranoia been proven warranted...I'm ok with that!) After a 20 minute wait, we were led to a tiny back room, ID shown, stacks of pesos provided, money belt tucked under jeans bulging, and we made our way back out into the street. Again, in an effort to be cautious, we walked a few blocks away from the locale and grabbed a taxi home. Whew. (We've used Xoom twice now...happy with the results both times.)

Realizing we had taken longer than expected and would miss our first tourist activity, Jonathan's Free Local Tours http://www.buenosaireslocaltours.com/, we asked the taxi to wait, gathered up the tweens, and sped to Plaza Italia. Fortunately Jonathan and the other tourists had not left and we joined in. The benefit of Jonathan's tour is that he runs through how to use the bus and subway system while you see the city, so you're set up for success for the duration of your stay. Although admittedly, taxis are so cheap and with 4 of us, we did that more often. Jonathan is English with a dry bitter humor and we learned much from him. The tour led us through the Abasto neighborhood, where we learned about the tango cantor Carlos Gardel and the legend of Gauchito Gil. Moving onto the city center we took in Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada and Jonathan shared historical and political notes with us. Long ago I was a Latin American Studies major in college and hearing the details of the Perons, military coup and consequent desaparecidos unearthed details I'd long forgotten. There was more of course, but that gives you a taste of why this is a good way to start your time in BA.

Jonathan makes his money through tips at the end of the tour...we tipped $500K pesos (roughly US$50)...not sure if that was acceptable or not but he didn't throw it back at us.

My parents arrived the next day in the wee hours and it was a great grandchildren/grandparent reunion for ten minutes, then we all went back to bed! There's nothing my father enjoys more than a good book, nice cafe and a great glass of red wine so there was much of this over the next two weeks. Beyond that, we:

Did the 7-hr Biking Buenos Aires tour. While we were all tired at the end of the day, it was a great way to see the city and you get to feel smugly superior when arriving to a sight on a bike vs via tour bus. We also got to see some sights not on the beaten path, such as the memorial to desaparecidos under the highway bridge. It was unearthed during construction...a series of underground rooms used for torture. (In every country we've been to, there's a historical period...or many...of great anguish and its been an incredible learning journey for both child and adult.) The tour also goes through San Telmo, La Boca, Recoleta and Puerto Madero, including a swing through the beautiful and vast Reserva Ecologica. We tried our 1st mate and parilla and it was a great way to see the city.

Grandmother and granddaughter participated in Foto Ruta's Street Scape half day photography class while grandfather and my husband did a walking eating tour with Jorge of Buenos Aires Food Tours. Both were in San Telmo and imagine everyone's surprise when both groups ended up at the same restaurant?!

We had churros and coffee at the famous Cafe Tortoni, followed by a tour of the Teatro Colon...such a beautiful theatre and great entertaining historical tidbits provided by the guide.

We hired Jonathan for a private tour of Recoleta Cemetery...$60 for 1-1/2 hrs for six of us. There are simply so many stories in there that its nice to do it with a guide. We took so many pictures...it's just a stunningly interesting place. There's a tasty ice cream shop kitty corner from the Cemetery and we of course partook.

My family of four explored the Japanese and Rose Gardens...nice respites from the city. We enjoyed seeing the amazing dog walkers throughout the parks...the most we counted was 12 dogs with one walker!

I had paypaled my father dollars to bring down for me and we made another covert run to the money exchange, this time Cambio Oro on Scalabrini Ortiz (between Charcas & Guemes). This day we got a healthy 12 pesos per $1. Not being able to find a taxi, I stealthily zigzagged, looking over my shoulder, all the way back to the apartment without incident.

In looking for an estancia to stay at, I was put off by the prices, so we went a different direction...to La Casa de Los Limineros, http://www.lacasadeloslimoneros.com/, in Colonia del Sacramento for an estancia stay without the actual horses and gauchos but just as fun, beautiful and much less expensive! One of the forum posts indicated inexpensive ferry tickets through SeaCat, which leaves from the same terminal as the popular and much more expensive BuqueBus. I had to call to purchase the tickets, a good way to practice my Spanish skills with the help of google translator. This is one of those "it must be too good to be true" travel tips...we paid half price purchasing the tickets from SeaCat but we actually rode BuqueBus! The twist can be that SeaCat uses their our smaller boats if traffic warrants which can be motion sickness inducing, but we lucked out.

An error in judgement happened in getting to the terminal. With six of us plus luggage, we took two taxis who promptly took us to the wrong location...the cruise ship terminal. It was one of those situations where you know in your gut it's wrong but you give the benefit of doubt to the local. We didn't have any other issues with taxi drivers in BA, no overcharging or long detours, so I don't know if this was an innocent mistake or a scam because...when I realized an error had been made, the only taxis available wanted to charge us an exorbitant rate to get us to the right place, which was a few ports down. Feeling indignant, we had a boat to catch so I sucked it up, reminded myself it was a small amount in the grand scheme of things, and we made it to the boat. BuqueBus is huge...we found seats next to the windows and enjoyed the uneventful hour ride.

The wonderful Mario of Casa de Los Limoneros picked us up at the ferry, drove us on a quick tour of town and then to the most wonderful estancia. Staying for three nights, our discounted rate was $100 per room per night...well worth it for this beautiful property. Mario called it the Tuscany of Uruguay and while a stretch, it was really lovely...the tall cypress trees lining each side of the long drive, hundreds of lemon trees, ponds with resident ducks, an enormous albeit shallow Tiffany blue pool, just gorgeous. The rooms are both light and colorful with attached private sunrooms. Mario is gracious and wise and looks like the Argentinian version of my father (Mario is from BA, not Uruguay), so imagine our small world moment when they learned they were connected through the college my father works for (Mario runs the college's abroad program in Argentina). Equally delightful was Mario's partner, Sergio, who cracked us up daily with his "ay dios mio" as he made his way around the property in short shorts and bare chested. Sergio is an architect and behind the building of this property...it looks like a historical building, you'd never know it was only a decade or so old. Really lovely people. My kids were thrilled at the resident dogs. We were blessed with great weather and spent much of our time not in the town of Colonia but at the property by the pool, sipping wine, reading and chatting...three generations!

Colonia itself was lovely and easy to see in an afternoon. So picturesque and full of history...it definitely left us wanting to see more of Uruguay. Another trip!

Back in BA, we moved to apartments in Palermo Hollywood. The idea was to see a different part of the city and reduce nightly costs but I wish I could do it over. This part of Palermo, with its high rises and lacking interesting shops, didn't appeal. While the parks were close, we preferred the quirk over the conventional.

Our favorite restaurants! Olaya in Palermo is a Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant...we went on an adults only evening out and it was amazing food in a cool environment at a reasonable price. Our steak evening out was at Don Julio's...delicious. We had hoped to try La Cabrera but it was always full or I didn't try hard enough. For cheaper eats, we enjoyed La Fabrica del Taco on Gorriti and for my tween son, Burger Joint (although admittedly we all loved this meal...something about a really good burger when you've been on the road for a spell). The Coco Cafe in Palermo Hollywood became our haunt...great coffee, baked goods and wifi...what else do you need? Lastly, we had grown up beverages and empanadas one evening at Peron...a funky bar all about...you guessed it...Peronistas. It's FB page indicated a 6PM opening, we arrived close to 7PM and it was still closed. When I mentioned nicely that it said they were open online, the gentleman at the door said, "well sure then, come in in." We were happy to have the Argentinian laissez-faire attitude work in our favor.

After seeing my parents off to the airport, we spent our last night in packing mode in preparation for our first overnight bus trip and the infamous Retiro bus station.

When we awoke in the morning, the rain was unceasing. I tried a run in the park and was quickly soaked from head to toe. In calling for a taxi to the bus station, I came to realize that parts of the city had flooded and it was going to take more time than anticipated to secure a taxi and get to Retiro. (We have had a special relationship with water during our rtw...two typhoons...one stranding us at an airport at 2AM...what was a little flood?).

Once we made it to Retiro...the fun really began. First off, everyone warns you about Retiro. There is an immense shanty town behind the bus station...really overwhelming poverty. Opportunistic crimes at the bus station happen. So there I am, family in tow, backpacks in place, paperwork on my phone (can't print anything out) and I find our ticket office (which I celebrate because sometimes figuring the little things can be a huge success), wait FOREVER for what is I am sure an extremely nice elderly lady who has many questions and I'm sure I'd love her on any other day but today I just am praying in my head that she gets on with it already. Anyway, finally get to the counter. No, they cannot print our tickets. I have to go downstairs to print them out. I am speaking in Spanish which means I am communicating with 50% less understanding, and search the downstairs for printing kiosks before I realize "OH! I have to go into the phone and computer office and pay to print off my tickets." So I queue up, get to the computer, figure out how to access my email account, success! Except, hey, where's the email from Andesmar? I look at my email on my phone...it's here...why is not on my email in the computer? Ack. Give up. Back up to the bus counter, look like crazy sweaty stressed mother about to lose it. They print off my tickets...charge me...but I have them. Lesson, PRINT out your tickets.

Additional lesson, don't assume your bus will say what it's supposed to say. We've been told our bus to Puerto Madryn will say Rio Gallegos and will arrive at slip 42. An hour late, an Andesmar bus saying Mendoza arrives to slip 43. Thank goodness Kyle urges me to ask because sure enough it's our bus!! We pass over our backpacks to the porter (being sure to tip $2 pesos per pack...an English couple we will meet in Puerto Madryn refused to tip and didn't make it there with all their belongings!). We are in the executive seats upstairs, not the sweet full reclining downstairs but fine. We settle with relief, not knowing that two horrendous movies including a Kirk Cameron religious flik will play at full sound into the wee hours.

Alas, goodbye Buenos Aires! Hello Puerto Madryn!

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    Thank you, Manisha! Continuing in, here is Puerto Madryn:


    The bus ride to Puerto Madryn was a good adventure. I'd heard so many positives about long distance bus travel that I think my expectations were a bit out of whack. I was thrilled to get a glass of Malbec, albeit in a styrofoam cup, with dinner and the seats were quite comfortable. The downside was wee hour movies at full volume, barely passable food and noisy stops. With earplugs and eye shades, I slept fine nevertheless, waking up in time for sunrise in seemingly a desert...just stunning. As we neared Puerto Madryn, I liked what I saw and we happily disembarked only an hour late after 18 hours on the bus.

    The guidebooks seem to dismiss Puerto Madryn as simply the jumping off point for Peninsula Valdez but we really like the small city. We saw the charm in the small casitas set against the desert and the long crescent beach boardwalk. We were back to hostel living, staying at Hi Patagonia, which was $60 for a small family suite. While we are glad we stayed at the hostel, this one definitely had the young backpacker smoking set and we enjoyed swapping stories but got tired of batting the cigarette smoke out of our eyes. The owner, Gaston, is hooked up with all of the tours and we booked through him, which was convenient. I realize that hostel owners sometimes charge more to take a cut and that may have happened here but the prices quoted were similar if not the same as what my research showed so I wasn't concerned.

    Day 1, we simply explored the town, enjoyed a long walk along the beach and a seafood lunch at the popular Nautica. We were excited for delicious seafood. Perhaps we didn't know what to order but were unimpressed with the seafood we got...where was the spice? That evening, the kids caught up on math homework (fun!) while Kyle and I sat in the courtyard getting tips from other travelers...another huge benefit of hostel life.

    Day 2, we gathered with other guests to head out on our tour of Punto Tombo...penguin central! This is a full day and popular outing in a minivan with driver and guide. We had both native English and Spanish speakers in our group and our intrepid guide got to say everything twice without losing his voice. 1st stop was a boat trip to see the Commerson dolphins...beautiful small black and white dolphins that swim up to play along with the boat. This is an optional add in for $380 pesos p/p...half the people on our bus participated and half walked around the port while they waited for us (the other portion of the tour was $420 pesos p/p). I almost didn't do this due to budget (oh that pesky budget) but I'm glad we did. The boat was filled to the brim with tourists but it was a beautiful blue sky day and seeing the sea lions, birds new to us, and of course the playful dolphins made it so much fun. Stop #2 was at Punto Tombo, where the largest populations of Magellanic penguins in South America spend part of their year. It's almost indescribable how much fun this is. Penguins are everywhere. They are amazing. Sometimes they are stark still, it's as if they aren't real. Dads and moms feeding their babies. Groups huddling together against the wind. The waddle, oh my oddness, the waddle...I could watch it forever. Anyway, this is a must if you go to Puerto Madryn. The guanacos and rhea meandering across the arid landscape are a bonus. Photos here: http://greenleycoffeebreak.com/2014/03/02/penguin-love-in-puerto-madryn/

    A note about these tours...no food is provided and in our case, our driver asked us not to eat on the van, so you have maybe two total ten minute bathroom breaks to stuff a quick bite down to keep going. The last stop is in the Welsh town of Gaiman. It's traditional to visit a Welsh cafe for tea here (maybe this is why you are given little opportunity to eat so that you'll munch on tea biscuits). No one else is our group wanted high tea and we didn't want to hold them up, so after a brisk walk around the town, we piled back into the van and headed back to Puerto Madryn. Our guide shared Mate with us on the drive back...I LOVE this Argentinian tradition, the sharing, the social time, it is very cool.

    A long, tiring but fun day...we tried an early Mexican food dinner. I don't know why. We try this is every country and are always disappointed but when one craves nachos, one craves nachos.

    Day 3, we rented bikes and tried to beat the wind but managed an hour before giving up. We always try a few museum visits as part of the kids "road schooling," but the recommended EcoCentro kept odd hours so we ended up at the Museo Provincial del Hombre y el Mar. There's a sweet view from its tour and the kids were delighted by a giant squid. In the afternoon, the boys went kayaking to the Punta Loma sea lion reserve. We followed them a few hours later to go snorkeling with the sea lions. The boys had a great time, ours was a bust. At $950 pesos p/p, this was expensive and I knew there is no guarantee the sea lions will interact with you...but those sea lions sure weren't feeling it that day! While the boys had much interaction a few hours earlier, Julia and I did a generous amount of kicking back and forth drawing little curiosity in the end. Nevertheless, the tour company, Lobo Larsen, was honest that sometimes it's great and sometimes not so much. Darn those expectations!

    Day 4, we could have joined in on a full day tour of Peninsula Valdez but we decided not to...we had an overnight bus to catch that evening and didn't want too much vehicle time. Had it been whale season (Jun-Dec), we might have made it happen. Instead we left our bags at Hi Patagonia and spent the day in a beach cabana, reading books and exploring the beach. We ate lunch this day at La Sandwicheria, which I recommend for a simple, inexpensive yummy meal. The restaurant looked closed at noon and I poked my head in and asked if they were open. I was asked if it was a take away order but of course I didn't understand and it wasn't until we had our meals and had taken over a table that I realized my error and apologized to the server. He was forgiving and would not let us vacate...just another example of kindness on the road.

    That night, we made our way to the bus station, where we a day before had shopped between bus companies, to catch a Don Otto bus to Bariloche in the lakes district. I had booked the kids the front seats on top and was envious of their view and in fear of their safety. The service and product was an improvement from our Andesmar experience...except now the late night entertainment was the A-Team movie. (A funny result of this is that my son loved the movie and proceeded to watch the ancient TV show episodes in Bariloche.) We were awoken at 6AM by a national guard soldier standing beside me with a gun yelling for everyone to get out their documents. In similar Rachel paranoid fashion, I had wrapped my backpack straps around my legs so it could not be taken while I slept and now struggled, half asleep and startled to find our passports. All well though and we continued as we watched another stunning sunrise. Kyle and I grinned at each as the mountains grew bigger, the trees grew greener and lakes appeared...coming from Seattle this felt like home. We were headed to Bariloche for a week, we would end up staying a month.

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    Great report Greens. I really liked Puerto Madryn and we hung out there for a few days. Shame you missed the whales as they really do come so close to the beaches out side of town you feel yup could almost touch them.

    Loving the detail, keep it coming

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    Thanks cindyjo and crellston, finally have some wifi again so will add more soon. First have to reread your report, crellston, to keep planning our Salta into Bolivia journey!

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    Great report, Greens43!

    LOVED your "We were headed to Bariloche for a week, we would end up staying a month."!!!!

    About your:

    "a national guard soldier standing beside me with a gun yelling for everyone to get out their documents".

    What do you mean by "with a gun"? He did NOT have it out of its holster, did he?

    Was he rude??? Or did he just say "documentos, por favor" and it felt rude, because you were sleeping?

    Keep up the great work, Greens43!

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    Hi avrooster, thank you...a lot of our trip was planned in reading your posts about Argentina. The national guard was, ahem, female and her gun was in her holster thank goodness. We didn't feel threatened just 100% startled as one does when woken up by yelling military personnel...but her job was to wake up a bus of people so she probably didn't have a choice. Better her than non military packing! :)

    Now onto beautiful Bariloche, which will come in a few parts:

    Our arrival in Bariloche started off with a hitch.

    I had booked a small apartment for a week on Airbnb. I found a pay phone at the bus station and called the rental agent, who sounded genuinely confused to hear from me. We quickly realized we were expecting each other on different dates and, darn it, he was correct. Don't you hate that?

    As I scrambled on the phone, I thought of my tired, cranky family waiting for me with the backpacks and how I was going to tell them we actually didn't have a place to sleep after an overnight bus ride. Whoops!

    Ashley though is a property manager extraordinaire and he told me to take a taxi to the Holly Cafe, get breakfast for the family, log into the free wifi and wait for his recommendations of hotels with availability. Many travelers simply arrive without reservations and walk from location to location seeking the best room for the best price. This is not my family. Maybe Kyle and I could work up the courage for more serendipitous moments on our own but with two kids in tow, I like knowing where we will rest our heads.

    Holly Cafe is at the waterfront south edge of the town center and we enjoyed a rare excellent cup of coffee while taking in the incredible views. Light blue sunny skies reflecting down on smooth darker blue water surrounded by mountains which evolve from grey slate to tree covered green as your eye scans from north to south. Stunning.

    We spent the night at Alun apartment-hotel, definitely out of our budget but it was walking distance from our next abode, both about 6kms along the main drag Bustillo. In retrospect, we should have gone for a cheap abode in the center so we could visit the tourist information center and the holy grail of all trekking info, Andino. Oh well.

    The next day we checked into our apartment for the next week...it was a tiny affair with a marvelous view conveniently located above a restaurant, vegetable/fruit store, meat store and general store. What else do you need?

    Bariloche has a downtown that travel guides refer to as the "Switzerland of the Andes." It's nothing of the sort. There are amazing views, an abundance of chocolate shops, and yes, 1-2 St. Barnard dogs in the town square ready for photo ops, but that's it. It's a hodge podge of tourist shops, kioskos, ridiculously expensive outdoor wear shops and stores for people who actually live there. BUT, when you get out of the center....when you situate yourself close to the Llao Llao peninsula, that's when you see the beauty of Bariloche...it's in the seemingly endless mountains, lakes and islands.

    Our intention had been to head north to San Martin de Los Andes to hunker down for a few weeks. Perhaps it was that we were backpack weary or that our first hike sucked us in, but we decided to hunker down for an addt'l three weeks and enjoy the outdoor recreation that Bariloche offers. At the end of high season, we found two homes at reasonable prices from which to choose...it felt a bit like an episode of International House Hunters, do we choose "gloomy but well located" or "bright but remote?" We went with the latter, a good 15kms from the Centro but very close to Llao Llao peninsula. While this choice would work well for us over the next three weeks...with no vehicle we spent an inordinate amount of time waiting for buses. But the kids caught up with schoolwork and even made neighborhood friends. The highlights of the time in Bariloche:

    1) Treking, Treking & more Treking (more details to come)

    2) Sunny Afternoons at Berlina & Blest Cervecerias

    3) Chairlift to Cerro Catedral

    4) Chocolate Discoveries at Mamuschka and Abuela Goye

    5) Exploring the Forests and Lakes of Llao Llao

    Favorite Restaurants: Kyle tried his hand at asada many a night since we had a rental home and grill. Beyond that...Berlina and Blest breweries, Aashi (fresh delicious vegetarian food) along the Circuito Chico, La Cruz, Alberto's (worth the hype)

    Didn't love:
    1) We did a day trip to El Bolson and I think it just was too little time to do it justice. It's a small town in a beautiful valley with a river running through it and mountains on either side. The hike we did (to Indian Head and then the waterfall and Lago Puelo) did not compare with Bariloche hiking. I reckon we didn't give it a fair shake.
    2) Road trip to Puerto Varas, Chile. In all honesty this was a money run to the Xoom AFEX office for dough. That said, we were curious to see more of the lakes district on the Chilean side. It's not that it wasn't gorgeous...it just didn't compare to the dramatic Argentine lakes district. We enjoyed stops in Frutilla and Puerto Varas, actually had probably two of the best meals of our trip here (one, steak dinner at Las Juntas Hotel along Lago Puyuehue....the best steak thus far! Two, in Puerto Varas at Donde el Gordito where after moaning over a salmon and shrimp dish, I noticed a picture of Anthony Bourdain on the wall...clearly we were on the right path!).
    3) Villa La Angostura: Funny, it's got perfect tree lined streets and perfect sidewalks compared to Bariloche but its missing character...it looked to me like the Aspen of Argentina.

    Tip: Kyle had acquired a bus card for Bariloche from a friendly backpacker in Puerto Madryn and we quickly learned it was our lifeline. The buses in Bariloche do not accept cash and the magic green card gets you from point A to point B. If you do not have one, ask your hotel/property manager to provide one or you need to go to the centro bus office. It only takes one time of the bus barreling right by you after you've been waiting for thirty minutes plus to realize that you need to put your arm out to hail the bus. Then you pop on, hold out your card and declare number of tickets and what kilometer you are traveling to. It is also common to get on the bus and ask to use someone's card in exchange for cash. Additionally we saw LOTS of people (backpacker & local) hitch hiking.

    More to follow on hiking in Bariloche.

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    Trekking in Bariloche

    Our first trek was to the top of Cerro CampAnario...a dusty steep path underneath a chairlift that takes less limber travelers swiftly to the top. The kids tend to both complain that they have to climb their way up while others are being transported and then bluster incredulously at the top, "why are those people getting a treat? They didn't climb up!" Oh, the early creation of hiking snobs...

    CampAnario was fun but easy and too much in the tourist path (perhaps it was the multitude of tour buses at the entrance?) but it gave us a taste of the beautiful views to be had...islands, lakes, mountains...just perfectly stunning. So next, we decided to try our hand at Cerro Lopez, a 12km trek, the goal of which was the Refugio Lopez. Refugios are as they sound...refuge from the elements. The Lakes Region has a wonderful network of refugios so that you can hike from locale to locale without camping equipment and end your hike with a glass of Malbec...so civilized.

    One thing Bariloche has in spades is dust...each day we come home, whether hiking or not, it covers our shoes, socks and shins. The trail to Lopez provided dust by the fistful, billowing out with each step to greet the person next in line. The trail is not well marked and we were fortunate to have Sean's keen directional sense to lead us correctly up. When we at last reached the refugio, we were rewarded with stunning views and sweeping condors. At one point, Kyle and I sat taking in the view and two condors flew right in front of us...my mouth was agape...my camera in hand but no ability to respond, I was so astounded by their size.

    After Lopez, we were ready for a multi day trek and consulted Andino for an itinerary. And thus we found ourselves one early morning taking the Andino bus to Pampa Linda to commence our three day trek. Pampa Linda sits at the base of Mount Tronador two hours south of Bariloche. A popular hike is up to the Otto Meiling refugio, which sits dramatically in the edge of the Castaño Overa glacier, cross the glacier to the Roca refugio, then hike into a valley to Lago Frias, where you can ferry and bus it back to Bariloche.

    We were hitting Otto Meiling in reverse, a 14km hike to Paso de Las Nubes to stay at the Roca refugio, then crossing the glacier with a guide to the Otto Meiling refugio, and down along the Otto hike the last day. The hike up follows a river and Patagonian trees, bamboo and rocks surround the path. A warm pine aroma and the sun shining down accompanied every step. This was the first hike in a long time with full packs and the last push was brutal...both amazed at what my body is capable of and shaming myself to be stronger. At the top we were rewarded with the view of a lush valley, 15+ waterfalls cascading down the rock around us, and condors playing above the cliffs. The hostel itself is new and spacious with an inviting common area. The hostel was quiet and we were lucky to have a room of bunk beds to ourselves.

    It was during this lovely contemplative place that I realized we were peso-poor. Here's the thing about pesos...the common bill is $100 (roughly equivalent to US$12), so US$200 feels like an enormous amount of money when converted to pesos. But all things in Argentina are expensive and the money quickly goes. I meekly returned the sleeping bags we rented to the hostel manager...we couldn't afford them if we were to eat after our long hike! No Malbec that night!

    The next morning we met our guide for our first glacier crossing. We started with a two hour hike up to the glacier with our refugio getting smaller and smaller in the distance. Just as we were about to gear up, we noticed a juvenile condor perched just 10 feet away!

    The glacier crossing seemed to be a beginners trek...hard to know what deep crevasses we missed by an inch but from a novice's view point, it seemed an easy trek. The views were beautiful and I tried to capture photos while also ensuring I didn't step in a crevasse.

    We crossed quickly and removed the crampons, ropes, etc to finish the hike to Otto Meiling. The popular refugio owes to its setting...dramatically sitting at the glacier edge with layers of mountain peaks in all other directions. If the wind wasn't blowing so hard, you'd sit on a rock peak admiring the views. But the cold quickly forces you inside the refugio, a small, cozy place. Sleeping quarters are simply one big room...you grab a mattress, find a space and hope that there aren't too many snorers is the place that night (there were!).

    The refugio graciously let us settle with them post hike so we were able to end our day with a bottle of Malbec and filet mignon with sautéed mushrooms...heaven.

    Despite the sleeping arrangement, we were lucky to only share the space with eight other hikers. The capacity is for 40 and I've heard they'll pack in more...that's a lot of post-hiking-stinky bodies in a small space.

    The hike down the next morning was uneventful...not as gorgeous as the path we took up. We were thrilled to reach the bottom and lay in the grass of Pampa Linda awaiting the bus back to Bariloche.

    I highly recommend this hike...it makes my list of top ten experiences on this trip.

    Lastly, an easy day trip is Cerro Catedral. You take a gondola and then chairlift up and then hike the last 30-45 minutes to a spectacular lookout. On one side you see Bariloche and the lakes, on the other peaks that look like they'd be on Mars and an enticing mountain valley. From here you can hike to another refugio. For us, this was an easy day trip, one benefit of which was that my Movistar 3G finally kicked in on my iPhone! It'd been stubbornly absent since purchase despite multiple visits to Movistar stores...perhaps all I needed was to get a little bit closer to a satellite that day to nudge it on. Treks AND technology. Sweet!

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    SO glad you had such a great time! Not too long ago, I was a participant in Mario's exchange program in Buenos Aires and Casa de los Limoneros truly is a gem. I spent a lovely 6 months total in Argentina (also traveling throughout Uruguay and Peru) and loved every moment of it!

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    Keep it coming, really enjoying it!

    Did your guide take you just across the glacier or guide you the whole trek? Was this arranged through Andino? If so, did they reserve the refugio for you? Did you have to rent hiking boots and poles or did you bring them?

    Appreciate your comparisons of the areas including Chile/Argentina.

    Can't wait for the next installment....

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    Louisa, how cool that you know Mario! I wish we'd had more time in Uruguay...it gave us a good vibe. Will look to see if you have TRs on Peru...hobbling together details for that fast approaching leg.

    CindyJo, the guide was only for the glacier trek. The refugio trails were well marked and a guide not necessary. Yes, we booked through Andino...very helpful. You cannot reserve the hostels but registering your plans with Andino and the natl park when you arrive in Pampa Linda helps them know how many people to expect. In terms of gear, one of our biggest regrets is not being prepared for this portion of our trip. As we spent so much time in SE Asia, we packed for sun...no hiking boots & clothes that are not warm enough. Our kids ave hiking boots but we've been hiking in tennis shoes and simply layering up in the cold. You can rent boots here but I think that's always a bad idea as it doesn't give you time to get used to the fit. With your retirement trip plan, I'd plan to bring boots you've already worn in. I imagine you can rent poles too...we don't use poles but simply picked up bamboo sticks on the side of the trail when we needed a little balance. You can rent and buy everything here but it's expensive and hard to find just what you want, in my humble opinion. There is a used store, Raid, where we purchased a used coat for my son (which he them promptly lost), but even that ugly stained but functional item was US$30!

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