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November 18, 2004

Another Rush Job. And, the Lakes Crossing.

I'm in Patagonia! I got to Bariloche, Argentina, at 10 pm last night, exhausted, of course. I checked into my hostel, locked everything up in my locker (I'm in another dorm room), and headed out for dinner. I seriously considered just dropping into bed instead, but I'd been looking forward to a hot dinner all day (I packed my lunch for the lakes trip), and besides, South Americans always go out for dinner at 10 pm! I ran into two Austrian girls from the lakes trip at the nearby pasta place, and it was nice to have someone to eat with (and share a bottle of wine with). I got back at midnight and crashed hard--although the heat was cranked up so damn high in my room I had trouble sleeping through the night.

The tour I wanted to take isn't happening because there aren't enough people signed up, so first order of business this morning was figuring out how I'm going to get out of here--always a difficult way to start off in a new town! I found another company doing a fairly similar tour, but the departures are only tomorrow and next Tuesday. I went and ate an early lunch to mull things over, and decided to leave tomorrow. There are things I wanted to do around here, but since I'm worried about time, I think I'll go crazy "sitting around" until Tuesday before I head south. And this'll buy me a tiny bit more time down there instead.

The tour heads south down an infamously difficult, desolate, dusty stretch of road called Ruta 40. No public buses go the whole way to the town of El Calafate, my next stop, so you need to have your own car, take a tour, or fly. We'll spend the first night in the town of Perito Moreno, named after the guy who founded the first national park in Argentina. We stop off at Cuevas de las Manos in the morning to see caves full of hands painted on the walls a long time ago--no kidding--then continue south to El Calafate. The next day we'll tour the Moreno Glacier (named after the same guy, obviously, and a really huge glacier). Since this tour is a day shorter than the other one I was going to take, I might take a day to go a nearby estancia (ranch) that sounds cool, and maybe even stay overnight there--I'm still looking for a place to splurge!After that, I'll figure out how to get back to Chile to go to Torres del Paine, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Chile and apparently a stunning national park. I'm planning a five-day trek there, so need to make sure I have time for it!

Bariloche seems like a nice place, although very touristy. It's often said to be a little bit like Switzerland, especially since it's on a lake, many of the buildings are wood and stone and quaint, and they have famously good chocolate here. Even though Bariloche is a touristy town, Argentina does seem cheaper than Chile, which is also a welcome change. I do wish I could spend more time here, as there are several nice national parks and such nearby, but it's just one of many trade-offs I've had to make... With the time I do have, I'm going to climb to the top of nearby Cerro Otto to see the view (a Spanish-speaker pointed out to me that a "cerro" is bigger than a hill and smaller than a mountain, and that there isn't a similar word in English. I said it's all relative--mountains in California would be merely hills in Switzerland!). I'm also going to eat some chocolate, and get some good Argentine beef for dinner.

Anyway, the Cruce de Lagos trip I took yesterday was stunning. It was cloudy when I woke up, and I was worried about the weather, but by 10 am or so the clouds were almost completely gone, and we headed out on the first lake, Todos Los Santos, with a clear blue sky and a great view of Volcan Osorno (the same one you can see from Puerto Varas and Lago Llanquihue). This was not the small, 30-person trip I thought it would be, however! There were 4 busloads of people, and on the way to the first lake, we stopped to see some falls on the Rio Petrohue, and I almost stayed on the bus I was so turned off by the crowds. But, I wanted to see the falls, so I paid my $2 to get in like everyone else, and followed the masses down a short path to the falls, where we jockeyed for position to see the falls, and took turns taking pictures in the best spot. This was, in a nutshell, my version of travel hell. When we got to the first lake, we all herded onto the boat, and as people jockeyed for position again and seemed a little huffy about getting a good spot with a view, I was concerned about how the day would pan out. But thankfully, people got settled and mellowed out, and really, when out on a beautiful lake, heading into the Andes and surrounded by volcanoes, how could I possibly stay vexed?

Getting on and off all the buses and boats was not my favorite part of the trip, but the scenery was incredible--deep greenish-blue lakes, high snow-covered peaks, blue skies... We stopped for lunch in the town of Peulla, and everyone headed for the restaurant and cafeteria inside the hotel, but I headed straight for the most secluded spot I could find, with a view, and had a tasty lunch of pasta salad I'd made the night before. I'd used all my random leftover food to put it together--pasta, olives, sliced pork, cucumbers, and avocado--and even bought a tupperware for it...then discovered I had no utensils to eat it with! Luckily I realized this at night, not in the morning, and was very ingenious, going to a gas station with a snack bar--called, believe it or not, am/pm, just like in California!--and asking for a plastic fork.

After lunch, they assigned us to particular buses leaving at 15-minute intervals so we wouldn't get all bunched up at the border crossing. I was the only gringo on my bus, traveling with Columbians, Ecuadorians, Brazilians, and I don't know who else. No one else was traveling alone, and when a guy from Ecuador said to me, "You're traveling all alone? Isn't that lonely?" I emphatically replied that it was not, but frankly, yesterday was probably the most lonely day I've had. It seemed everyone else was traveling with other people and it was hard to find people to talk to. On the last boat I did see a group of backpackers that had kind of come together but I was too shy to talk to them until the very end. But I did talk to a bunch of nice older people, all on tours--a couple from Belgium and a few couples from Ohio and New York--and they were great. They've been all over the world, and keep going new places, and thought what I was doing was great too. One woman from Ohio, probably in her 70s, said "It's like dope for me. I just keep going new places and I want to see even more." How cool is that!? I ran into her and her husband this morning, too, and they said they told all their friends about me last night. They told them, "That little girl sure knows what she's doing!"

So, for inspiring views and inspiring talks with people old enough to be my grandparents, I rate the trip a 10. For navigating crowds of people and feeling alone, the score would be much lower, but that's okay. It was an expensive day, but as the wise woman from Ohio also said, "How can you say whether it's 'worth' the money? You can't put a price on these experiences."

Posted by Amy on November 18, 2004 08:52 AM
Category: Patagonia

I love meeting wise travelers. Cool, Amy. By the way, we used the hands cave paintings on the cover of Moon Handbooks Argentina. It's one of my favorite covers.

Posted by: amber p on November 18, 2004 10:42 AM

Hi Amy

I too want to go to Bariloche and was looking for information on how far is it to get there from Pucon?
Is it worth the trip? are there tour buses?
I also be visiting Chiloe, should I go there first? I have time, I'll be there from dec 25 till feb 8th
regards, Paul

Posted by: paul on November 23, 2004 09:09 PM

Paul, thanks for checking out the site! Email me at amy at and I'll get back to you next week.

Posted by: amy on November 25, 2004 12:21 PM
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