Argentina’s Lake District: Beautiful Lake Nahuel Huapi

21 12 2011

Waking up feels unpleasant. I make my way down to the “breakfast” area, where, once again, we are only served croissants, toast, canned fruit, orange aid and coffee. Instead of the usual buffet this hostel has set out specific table servings. I wash down what’s at my seat and in my half-life state it’s not enough and I break the cardinal rule of grabbing extras from the empty place next to me. I am immediately admonished by the hostel’s maternal proprietor! She was right.

Today we are taking a boat out on the lake and then hike a beautiful water trail up to a higher altitude lake. It should be really pretty, with lots of mountains and snow everywhere cascading into the lake.

As we gather outside, someone walks raggedly down the sidewalk. It’s Mat from last night! He has not gone home yet! He is in need of getting to a bed, and it turns out he is staying in our hostel! We make quick re-acquaintances but he is in no shape to hang around. We hope run into each other sometime in the next couple of weeks.

A lengthy drive along the lake shore, past lakeside resorts and estates, leads to a port, Llao Llao, where ferries disembark for various destinations. Just behind the port lies a picturesque resort.

We wait a very long time for our ferry. It must be over an hour. We can see the ash cloud in the distance. The weather on our side of the lake is perfect, of course!

One thing worthwhile during the wait is coffee! They have this ‘electronic barista’ which makes darn good espresso! Heck we could use these in Portland!

Lake Nahuel Huapi is like a Lake Tahoe even bigger, with mountains all around, cascading into the lake. Like Tahoe, it’s over 1,400 feet deep.

Unlike Tahoe, this lake has many arms and peninsulas. So one can’t see it all from any shore. But as you can see from this map, it extends almost into Chile.

Finally we load up and depart. The ferry is a catamaran, with what looks like a space ship suspended above the two pontoons. It’s pretty fast!

Along the shore we see the lovely properties with views. Some have a sailboat moored, and docks.

The ferry picks up steam and really cruises. Although I opt to stay outside, it’s quite nice in the cabin. There are windows in the ceiling so you can see the mountains all around. And for those who want to imbibe there is a bar.

You can walk all around the perimeter of the boat, or even go up on the roof. So, it’s very nicely designed for those who want to see everything.

As we head out, we can see peaks everywhere. On our side of the lake it’s a perfect day. Very little wind, calm water, beautiful sky. Still, we can see the ash cloud and we wonder about what’s going on over on the Chilean side.

It’s so pretty, and none of my friends know about this place. None of them talk about going to Argentina! It’s kind of amazing because it’s absolutely stunning!

Our ferry comes to a small bay surrounded by snowy peaks. We stop at a dock to disembark, have lunch and then do a four hour hike up one of the cascading rivers. It’s going to be fantastic. It’s such a lovely temperature!

Once the ferry leaves we take time to have our picnic on the dock.

We’re told to meet the boat at another dock on the opposite side of the bay later on…

The trail winds amongst bamboo, some alerces trees, and the Patagonian beech trees, just gigantic, dominate everything.

It climbs away from the lake and follows a cascading river. On the climb, the trail is actually built on platforms. I get the idea that this must be really busy in the summer! We’re continually reminded that our timing is 100% perfect. Early November we experience no bugs, and few crowds. Up and up the trail winds. The sounds of the cascading river are everywhere, and there are trail extensions to view it. It’s magnificent.

We witness a duck who seems to thrive here. It’s amazing how it can dart in and out of the whitewater looking for food. It’s called a torrent duck of course!

It is simply amazing. It isn’t here by chance. This guy wants to be here, this is his favorite hunting ground! I’ve never seen anything like it.

We keep climbing, and reach a lake high above! It’s surrounded by high peaks.

I cannot help but re reminded of its resemblance to Yosemite National Park in California.

There are some other tourists there, some Swiss girls. They are really funny, they keep practicing swear words in English!

Here is a video of the mountains and lake area

Descending to the lake, we wend our way to all sorts of different flora, one of which was bamboo. There are tunnels of bamboo. It is native to this part of South America…

A towering Patagonian beech tree

On our return, the ash cloud has drifted closer to our side. It is covering one of the islands only three miles away. It still doesn’t affect us.

We’ve got one evening left in Bariloche. I’m not up for another one like last night! But Elwin is going back to that pub to try and see if Carolina shows up.

Tomorrow we will make our way over the Andes, past the Puyehue volcano and to Puerto Montt, Chile!

The Accidental Wingman: A Night In Bariloche

19 12 2011

Upon arrival in Bariloche, Argentina, we settle in to our hostel, the “La Pastorella,” and its proprietors take complete control of the situation. That is to say, if you like an Italian-esque Mama to control everything. She was quite “maternal,” to say the least! Well, they are “cute,” so to speak, but once again, nobody speaks any English, and it was quite evident that we better not do anything contrary to the rules!

The Swiss-styled chalet has outdoors-facing shutters, which come in handy as daybreak is about 5:30 a.m. Anyway we quickly settle in. Saskia gives us orders to shop and grab food for a picnic lunch. That’s because tomorrow we are to head out on to Lake Nahuel Huapi for a boat ride and then a hike! We won’t have much chance to get a restaurant lunch. Here I go again. I keep finding ham and cheese sandwiches and nothing but dry  bread to go with! On this trip, I have never seen so many ham and cheese sandwiches. These are actually served on the national airline! They are one slice ham, one slice cheese, plain, in between two dry crackly pieces of bread. I try to improve by buying my own bread and cheese and some salami…and a banana.

Elwin and I and Ivo head back to the hostel to drop of our supplies and then head down to the waterfront. Bariloche claims 100,000+ residents. It’s supposed to be kind of sort of Swiss or Austrian-looking, and indeed some of the architecture attempts the motif. But it’s not carried through to enough of the buildings – in fact there is a gaudy casino smack in the middle of the main drag. There are lots of restaurants, ice cream parlours and chocolate shops.

We arrive at the waterfront. We’ve been wondering why, after all these BLUE days, the sky to the west is cloudy? The Andes on the opposite side of the lake, some 15 miles away, were obscured. We were to find out why. What we were witnessing were not clouds. It was ash from the Puyehue volcano, awakening again as it has all summer 2011!  Will it be a problem for our trip? We are to cross the border into Chile soon!

What is that?

Tonight we are to find our own meals and entertainment. With our trip back and forth to the hostel, we lose track of Eray, Angelique and Christof. This was to be the start of an eventful evening! Right now, we are in a hunt for a good meal, and being that it’s around 8 p.m., the restaurants are deserted – nobody eats until past nine!

We strike gold at a restaurant attached to a “Swiss” hotel. Our waitress speaks decent English and is very attentive. We order a bottle of Malbec. The food is terrific! I have a roasted chicken breast which is plump and cooked to perfection.  It has a mushroom cream sauce. Still, we miss our companions Angelique, Eray and Christof – they’d enjoy this place. Ivo has a dish of deer with another type of mushroom sauce and is in heaven. He offers me a bite, which I accept, and my oh my – this warm, sweet mellow flavor, almost like a hint of wine, caresses my tongue – Wow! The waitress says the sauce is just from the mushrooms, and I think they are chantrelles. The explosion of flavor is amazing! We order another bottle of Malbec…

There is only one other table seated, and we hear language hard to understand. Elwin is fascinated. Is it German, or Swiss German, or? Elwin is infatuated, and it is irresistable…he wanders over and talks with these guests, and it turns out three are Swiss, and one of them moved to Bariloche from Switzerland 65 years ago! So we have encountered a first generation European Argentine! Truly living history.

Having satiated ourselves with food, we want to find a pub where local people gather. But of course we don’t know the first thing about the city. We remember a pub we passed on the way down here, so we walk back that way. Looking inside, it looks pretty dead. We pass it up, and walk toward our hostel. But not a half block away I stare into a window of what kind of looks like a dive bar, and something says to me, “This has the makings of the right kind of place – casual, taps, dimly lit, and the people look like they are fun.” So I say let’s give it a try?

We go in, and while ordering our drinks run into Neil, a friendly guy who is a trail groomer at the local ski area! He talks all about grooming, the snow cat, etc. I inquire about the ski season and the conditions. He says it wasn’t a lot of dry snow this year, and believe it or not, the ash from the Puyehue sometimes made the snow grayish! We tell him about Los Alerces National Park and the whales we saw on the coast.

More and more people arrive, and Neil tells me this is a magnet for people working in the tourist or hospitality industry. Then this beautiful woman sits down at the bar. She’s got very light brown hair, parted on the side, and lovely eyes and dangley earrings. She’s so lovely I am having a hard time looking away from her. I’m just enamored, and I point her out to Elwin, and then so is he. She is very involved in conversation with a guy, who seems older than she. Another beer please…and Ivo manages to get an 18-year-old Scotch whiskey and they charge him for a regular one!

It’s not long before it is shoulder to shoulder in here! And somehow we run into two very memorable people. They are British blokes who’ve walked all the way from Buenos Aires to Bariloche (read their blog). It took them three months. Names are Mat and Rob, and Elwin calls Rob “the giant.” We talk all about where we’ve been, where we’re going and learn what it’s like to walk and sleep by the road! Ivo says a lot about his obsession with Scotch Whiskey. I keep my eye on that lovely girl. Mat and Rob bought rounds, we talk about Star Trek and Battlestar Gallactica…what it’s like to be a ski area trail groomer…then I order a round…and I look at the bar and Elwin is somehow talking face to face with the lovely woman at the bar! I marvel how this happened and remark to Mat and Rob how I completely missed it! In fact we are all so impressed, but Elwin and she are having a spirited conversation, and I am beside myself.

I don’t remember exactly how, but somehow I walked over and introduced myself, and her name is Carolina. She’s incredibly friendly, not at all put off by us. I had expected her to be totally defensive. It turns out the guy she was talking to earlier in the evening was her boss! And, he is very enamored with her, and she is not sure what to do about it. I say yes, that is a truly difficult situation. Apparently he is the jealous type.

At this point Elwin heads to the WC. Carolina tells me she thinks he is really great and hopes he will come back! We talk about Bariloche and it turns out she grew up around here. I am still taken aback how so many Argentines are European looking, and she is a fine example.

Well, Elwin returns, and I move on to allow the two of them enjoy each others company.

Elwin is by now, like me, getting pretty hammered. My “good side” wants to go home, but because he is occupied, I become the wingman. Elwin says he will need some guidance to get back. So I make it my duty to stay until the bitter end.

This turns out to almost be my undoing. I go round after round with Rob and Mat. My gut is so full of beer and my head is beginning to spin! At least the pub is so crowded I can lean on others to keep me up. Carolina walks to the other end of the room and sits with some friends. I go over there, and this fat guy tells me to “FLY”!!! I surmise the situation is that he is some kind of “protector” for Carolina, and he doesn’t know she and I are acquainted. Rather than cause a commotion, I just let things flow, though I am tempted to ask Carolina to tell him to go take a “flying leap.”

I guess one beer later Elwin decides it’s time to head home, so we bid our good-byes and I get contact information from Rob and Mat. Outside, we encounter folks lined up to get inside. I don’t know how or why, but we get into this conversation with this punk who is trying to score some pot. He thinks he has smoked the best pot in the world. Elwin has something to tell him…for God’s sakes, in Holland, they have the world’s global pot/hash capital in Amsterdam! This guy needs to go there to find out the real “holy grail” of pot!

Uggh. We make it back to the hotel, and I’m thoroughly awash in beer…ugly…tomorrow’s going to be a challenge!