We’re on the bus again. Behind us are the beautiful lakes and landscapes of Bariloche, and ahead are the vineyards of Mendoza – albeit in about 20 hours time. With us is our good friend Karoline from Austria, who we met in our Spanish class in Buenos Aires and is joining us for some of the journey northwards.
We’ve just spent a fantastic week here in the mountains. The place has a distinctly alpine feel to it; we even had cheese fondue last night! For a few months from late June the town becomes a ski resort and the log cabins, beautiful peaks and shimmering blue lakes are a walkers’ paradise the rest of the year. And this is just the tip of the provence – further south are the delights of Patagonia with glaciers and trekking that we sadly have to leave for another day.
When we first arrived here we were greeted by an icy cold wind, a real taste of how the winter is finally coming for us after postponing it for a year by travelling. After some shopping – jeans for Laura, a jacket for me – we were better prepared to venture out and do battle with the elements. In the case of Bariloche, that means mountains – but of chocolate! We think it might have originated in the Swiss colony established here many years ago – the area is famous in Argentina for its chocolate delights and so it’s a pretty ideal place to spend Easter!
While we were here they were holding a chocolate festival in a bid to revive tourism following a volcanic ash cloud blotting out much of their income during the summer season. Best of all, it meant the chocolatiers of the town had constructed the World’s Largest Easter Egg, a monster weighing in at 7.5 tons and about 10m high. There was a build up for days in advance as we saw the egg take shape and the smell of molten chocolate drifted over the square.
The great unveiling itself however was a bit of a calamity due to the surprisingly good weather. The scaffolding surrounding the egg was taken down in the early hours of the morning, after which the sun started to take effect. We were in our hostel overlooking the square when we realised something was going on – it was still an hour to go before the great cracking, and a crowd had already gathered, and stewards were running around frantically pulling out plastic sheeting to catch the chocolate. It turned out that the side facing the sun had melted and part of it collapsed – so we all raced down for the inevitable distribution of the booty. The egg itself was looking a little the worse for wear with a quarter of it missing, and fantastically, a stream of molten chocolate was running over the white letters advertising Bariloche and the sponsors. Fortunately it was a great recovery – the slightly embarrassed officials on the stage declared it a ‘chocolate glacier’ apparently affected by climate change, a pickaxe was symbolically plunged into the remnants of the shell, coloured balloons were released into the bright blue sky, and after a very long wait we got our share of the somewhat molten and manhandled chocolate – in my case a kilo of fine milky goodness. And writing this a few days later, I still have a huge chunk of it in my bag!
There is of course life beyond the chocolate. The national park around Bariloche is simply beautiful, with the town sitting on the shore of a beautiful lake nestled between arid mountains. We stayed in ‘Penthouse 1004’, an incredible hostel on the top floor of a block of flats with stunning views, and most importantly a real sense of home about it with wonderfully friendly staff and some fun other guests.
We’ve been on various day trips to explore the surroundings – hiring a car to see the famous seven lakes (we lost count along the way), and a couple of days walking to viewpoints and hidden beaches on the lakeside. I also spent a day cycling the ‘circuito chico’, a fun but exhausting 25km route up and down hills, but brilliantly finishing at a microbrewery. In the meantime Laura and Karoline went horseriding.
Everywhere you look the scenery is in stunning colours, with the ground a mix of dusky, dusty yellows, broken up by the translucent blue of hidden lakes with white-crested waters whipped up by the wind. Between it all are forests of christmas tree pines waving, with the occasional brilliant streak of bright yellow trees among them. Right now there’s not much snow visible on the peaks, but I can imagine it really perfects the image in winter.
I spent a long time dithering about whether to continue northwards as planned or to perhaps go further south and adventure a little more and see some glaciers. Sadly time and money have got the better of us and so it’s onwards in the direction of Chile and Bolivia – but I will definitely be back in Bariloche before too long – the summer skiing seems very tempting right now!
(Some photos by Karoline Kuehnelt)