Although school has officially begun (finally) here in Argentina, the few months of classes are riddled with various Argentine holidays. I took advantage of what turned out to be a 5 day weekend (really more like a mini spring break to be honest) to travel with two IFSA friends to Bariloche, a city of lakes and mountains in the northwestern part of Patagonia.
We stayed at a small hostel called Green House about 5 km outside of the city center and, out of shear luck, spent the first two nights in a private room with a small balcony and a lake view. When we moved rooms for the last few nights of our trip, we were put into a 4-person room with another girl who we quickly discovered participated in our same IFSA Buenos Aires study abroad program 8 years ago. Sometimes it really amazes me how small the world can be.
Our first full day, we hiked up the Centario Compeanario to experience the most iconic view of Bariloche (and the site where every tourists takes about 500 pictures to prove that they were lucky enough to visit Bariloche…kind of like taking a picture in front of Eiffel Tower). Although the hike to the top was a bit treacherous, not to mention 100% uphill and in many places very steep, it was definitely worth it for the 360 degree view of the surrounding lakes and mountains. Growing up in Wisconsin, I consider myself a girl of lakes and forests. Although the imposing mountains that dominated the landscape reminded me that I was not, in fact, in my home sweet home state, there was enough similarity in the pure, crisp air and vegetation to inspire a small feeling of wistfulness. Staring at the landscape memories of days lounging in the sun and waterskiing at my best friend’s cabin up north, horseback riding through the woods at Camp Anokijig, and jet skiing and roasting marshmallows during family camping trips came flooding in. While I have discovered that I love the mountains, there is something about living near a lake that will always feel like home. My hometown of Kenosha borders Lake Michigan and Lakes Mendota and Monona have been a constant presence in my time at UW-Madison. With the perfect combination of both lakes and mountains….let’s just say I wouldn’t mind making Bariloche home someday.
On day number two we hopped a bus to the small town of El Bolson, which is famous for its large feria (outdoor market). We spent the afternoon exploring the tents of handmade artesanías: mate mugs, leather bags (Argentina is famous for its leather), jewelry, wood clocks, and delicious food. I feasted on traditional empanadas, a waffle with whipped cream and homemade raspberry sauce, and a basket of the most delicious blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries that I have ever tasted.
Early in the morning on day number 3, we hired one of the hostel workers to be our guide/driver to take us on the famous Camino de los siete lagos. This 107 km trip takes you through the beautiful Patagonian landscape. We saw mountains, forests, steppe terrain, ate lunch by a beautiful river, and enjoyed the sight of 5 of the most impossibly blue lakes I have ever seen. Although we got attacked by a swarm of wasps during lunch (luckily no one got stung), the rest of the trip was worth spending a large part of the day in the car. We even made it to the small town of San Martín de los Andes in time to cheer on some runners finishing a marathon. Running a marathon is on my bucket list, and I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to do it.
Day number 4, our last fully day in Bariloche, was perhaps the most interesting and eventful. On this particular day, we decided that (given that we were going to be on a 24 hour long bus ride the following day to return to Buenos Aires) we wanted to tackle the 3 hour long hike to the top of the Cerro Catedral- one of the highest points in Bariloche and a ski haven during the winter months of July and August. We asked our hosts for directions on the best way to get to there, and we were told to take a bus that would drop us off by a lake. From the lake, we could take a hiking trial and walk for about 30 minutes to get to the bottom of the Cerro Catedral. Piece of cake.
We found the bus and got off at the correct stop on the shores of Lago Gutiérrez….then the problems began. The “hiking trail” that we were supposed to take was not marked by any sign, and when we tried to ask for directions we ended up hiking uphill for about 45 minutes before we realized that we were clearly going in the wrong direction. An hour and a half later, we were back where we started and we still couldn’t find this supposed trail to get to the Cerro. To make a long story short, we ended up trying another trail that took us through a small village (with very few people out and about) nestled in the shadow of the mountain. According to the directions we received from one of the residents of this village, we were about 5 kilometers from our destination, but we started to get worried because we couldn’t see the ski lifts that ran up the side of the mountain, and my friend insisted that we walk back to the lake and take the bus. So, now about 3 hours of walking later, we found ourselves once again back at the bus stop at Lago Gutiérrez.
The bus driver dropped us off at a roundabout, where he said we could wait for a special bus that would take us to the town at the bottom of the Cerro Catedral. However, the buses in Bariloche come very infrequently this time of year, especially this particular bus which is the only bus that services the area we needed to get to. This was further complicated by the fact that we didn’t see a bus stop anywhere. According to the road sign, our destination was 9 kilometers down the road. At this point we were dead tired and wanted to take the cable car to the top of the mountain, but we need to get up and back down within the next 2.5 hours because the cable service stops running after 6pm. After everything we had been through, I was determined that we were going to make it to this mountain, and I started walking down the road shouting back to my friends that we could hail the bus if it came. After a complicated series of events that involved more walking, an argument, and a very helpful Argentine, we finally made it to the bottom of the Cerro Catedral and bought our tickets in time to ride the cable car to the top. The views from the top were spectacular (see pictures below) and worth the harrowing journey to get there. I found myself wishing that I knew how to snow ski because skiing down this mountain in the winter would be incredible!
After lounging in some chairs to rest and enjoy the view, we descended the Cerro Catedral and managed to take the aforementioned elusive bus in the other direction into town to visit one of Bariloche’s famous specialty chocolate shops where we bought an assortment of delicacies to take back to the hostel and enjoy with a bottle of red wine and celebrate the end of a great trip and a VERY tiring day.
This outdoor enthusiastic would love to go back someday.