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bus ride across the andes to Chile

Friday, July 24th, 2009


After the wonderful lookout hike, I decided that would be my last day in Bariloche and Argentina, and I’d leave for Chile the next morning.  This is straightforward enough except that in the evening a group of us stayed up until 4:00.  This isn’t usually a problem, but the last bus to Chile leaves around midday because they have to reach the border before it closes later in the afternoon.  My alarm also failed to go off, but I managed to have just enough time to get my stuff together, eat breakfast and get to the bus station in time.  I didn’t really want to leave Bariloche, or the great hostel I was at there but I’d done the majority of stuff I could do there without spending lots of money on ski lessons or something, and hey I was going to another country so that’s always interesting.  I was thinking, when I got on the bus to leave though, that I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to Argentina, there’s so much I haven’t seen here, in the Northern and Southern parts of the country, especially Southern Patagonia, that I have to come back in the summer some time and see that, it’s so amazing in Bariloche and by all accounts it is even more spectacular farther south.

Moving on though, after the mad rush to get the bus it was time to sit back and look out the window for the next 6 hours since most of that time is going straight through the Andes.  Here’s the view near the beginning. Keep in mind that these were all taking from the bus while it was moving so stuff might be more blurry or crooked than normal ;-)

view of Bariloche and Cerro Catedral



In between the border stations you drive through the pass, where there is a lot of snow and a totally different environment.




After you cross into Chile, you drive down out of the mountains, it then becomes a lot greener, almost like rainforest in the hills before flattening out completely to farmland.  With the odd volcano…


My bus ended in Osorno, where I had to wait for 3 hours to catch my next bus to Puerto Varas, slightly farther South.  I was unimpressed with the efficiency of the Chilean bus station, and nearly missed the bus that was 1/2 an hour late because one of the attendants told me it wasn’t my bus!  The bus itself though was nice and comparable to the Argentinean ones I’ve been on.

I arrived in Puerto Varas at 8:30pm, tired and freezing, and the place the bus let us off didn’t look like the place the guidebook said it would so I just jumped in a taxi for my hostel.  Fortunately it wasn’t very far and as soon as I got there I went out looking for dinner, which I found in the form of a delicious Churrasco, a Chilean steak sandwich with avacado, tomato and cheese among other toppings.  After that completion of an extremely long travel day I went to bed and slept for a long time.

Cerro Otto lookout hike, Bariloche

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Next morning the snow clouds had cleared and I woke up to this.

morning view from my bedroom

A couple of us decided to hike up to Cerro Otto, the other major lookout near Bariloche.  The first part of the hike was on tiny trails through the snow coated forest, every now and then catching a glimpse of a view through the trees, really cool.  Then, you reach the top of the first hill and the forest clears off suddenly to give you these views, stunning panorama.

view on the hike to cerro otto

view on the hike to cerro otto

view on the hike to cerro otto

The rest of the hike was on a (snow coated) dirt road so all open, but the kind of forest changed a few times and so did the view.

view on the hike to cerro otto

view on the hike to cerro otto

view on the hike to cerro otto

The few clouds that were there at the start of the day had pretty much vanished by the time we reached the top, where there was a great view of not only the lake and mountains across it, but in the opposite direction as well, including Cerro Catedral, the main ski resort here.

cerro catedral from cerro otto

view from the top of cerro otto

Snow in Bariloche!

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

After another good night at the hostel with the great group of people there, I woke up the next morning, looked out the window and it was snowing. At first I wasn’t surprised since that was the forecast, but while eating breakfast I looked at my watch and thought, hang on a minute, it’s July 21st, and it’s snowing. I guess I’ve been in the Southern hemisphere for so much of the last year that it took a while for me to realize that this weather now is strange for me…
Anyway, with the weather snowing one minute and clearing off the next it wasn’t a day for hiking or any outdoor activities. For most of the day I just chilled with everyone else at the hostel, when the snow got heavy at one point around midday we had some photo moments outside on the patio…

hammock in the snow

Later in the afternoon I ventured out into town, to check out the cathedral and chocolate shops. After taking some pictures of the cathedral and buying a few chocolates I walked up the hill that Bariloche is built on for a view of the mountains behind the town, which are no less impressive than the mountains in the other directions. Everything looks so great after a fresh coating of snow anyway.


snow clouds across the lake

After seeing that I headed back down into town, to the lake shore and when I got there, a large dark cloud was covering the lake at the Eastern edge. It looked pretty wild so I took some photos, then started walking the 10 minute walk back to the hostel. Before I got back there it was snowing, and that cloud had covered half the lake, started to break up and made for awesome cloud formations through the sunset. Looking out the hostel window was like watching tv, every few minutes a different wild view across the lake, awesome stuff.

snow clouds across the lake

snow clouds across the lake

snow clouds across the lake

snow clouds across the lake at sunset

Bariloche, Patagonia; it’s cold now.

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

18 hours on the bus to Bariloche isn’t as bad as it sounds, I slept for a large portion of it and the last few hours before arrival you are passing great scenery.  The weather on the other hand was shit, freezing cold and raining, couldn’t see any mountains when I arrived in town, couldn’t hardly see across the lake.  Fortunately I had made a wise decision about the hostel I was out, just about as good as the last one with awesome views across the lake of the mountains (when the clouds cleared), the hostel has a bar, with amazingly good, and cheap, local beer.  That was the rest of the night.

sunset from my hostel window

Next morning, the clouds started clearing, and I took a bus along the lake shore to do some hiking.  When I got off the bus near the start of the trail, this was the view, a good start to the day.

llao llao hotel

The hike was through forest, some of which was bamboo (I didn’t know that was here!) with the occasional lookout over a lake to a mountain or two on the other side.

Lago Moreno

I hiked to Lago Escondido, or the hidden lake and ate lunch to this view before hiking back to catch the bus.

Lago Escondido

Since the weather was so great (cold but sunny) I decided to go up the Cerro Campanario chair lift to see what was apparently one of the top 10 views in the world according to national geographic (or so I was told).  I was impressed anyway.  Mountains, lakes and forests in just about every direction.  Can’t really describe it too well, so here are some photos:

view from Cerro Campanario

view from Cerro Campanario

view from Cerro Campanario

view from Cerro Campanario

view from Cerro Campanario

view from Cerro Campanario

I got back into Bariloche just before sunset, and nearly froze to death taking photos down at the lake shore…

sunset across the lake

sunset across the lake

I like it here.

me @ bariloche

Mendoza, winelands and more swine flu mania

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

My bus from  Córdoba to Mendoza was good, I actually slept well.  Far superior to the semi cama bus.  The seats recline all the way back, are wide and very comfortable.  Sunny skies greeted me in the morning upon arrival in Mendoza, along with a view of mountains.  Something I haven’t seen for a while.

Mendoza is the heart of Argentina’s large wine industry, on the very flat plains near the andes.  The 4th largest city in Argentina, but less than a million people here.  My hostel was one of the best I’ve stayed in on the whole trip, with the best guitar I’ve ever played in a hostel.  They even brought out free wine every evening.  (and it was actually pretty good wine).  One of the best things about the hostel was you are always meeting/talking to everyone else there.  I scarcely did anything on my own all of the four days I was there.  I walked around the major points of the city my first day there, sensing a much more laid back feel and less people rushing around than Buenos Aires or Córdoba immediately.  There’s none of the old buildings here like the last 2 places I’ve been because they have all been destroyed by earthquakes, so the town is not attractive in that sense.  It has lots of plazas and a central pedestrian area that give it some great character though.

plaza independencia

When the owner of the hostel asks you if you want to do a biking winery tour and get your bike for free the next day you don’t hesitate much.  Especially since the winery tour offered by minibus here costs a staggering $80, more than any I’ve done in other countries.  By biking around, paying only the small tasting fees and for lunch I visited 4 wineries (one of them was revisited at the end), biked between them in the great weather, with a view of the snowy Andes not too far away the whole time, spent 8 hours in all and spent less than $25 all day on it.  You get a bike, a map and a briefing on which order to go to the wineries (to make sure you are there for the English tours), there were 8 of us all together, from my hostel and two others.  Great fun, and lots of good wine.  It’s a lot less diverse than some of the wine regions I’ve visited previously, but the Malbecs (trademark wine from here) and Cab-Sav’s were all good.

wine cellar

I walked up through the very large park on the West side of the city to a lookout to see more of the mountians, unobstructed by buildings.  A lot of walking and an anticlimactic view, you can see mountains, but not the snow caps of the Andes, because there are smaller, brown mountains in between at this point.  To the South you can just start to see a line of snowy mountains stretching into the distance.

el parque

el parque

One last thing before I cook some food and then catch my 18 hour bus to Bariloche, swine flu mania is growing to obscene levels.  Apparently there have now been over 120 deaths here, making it 2nd only behind the USA.  In a country with 40 million people.  How many people die from malaria or any given number of other diseases every day that never make the news?
Anyway, today they enacted more emergency measures.  Only a small number of people are allowed in public places (banks, supermakets etc) at once.  I just waited in a line to get into a supermarket, a large one, that maybe had 30 people inside the whole place.  They are also banning anyone who is under 18 from entering such places at all!  Signs warning people not to stand to close to others are everywhere.  The upside of this is the last place I am heading here, Bariloche is in a major ski resort area and this is normally the peak ski season and travel season for the winter holidays.  However, due to the swine flu, buses and accommodation that wold normally be booked out, does not need to be booked in advance at all.  Less people around, no advanced planning required, awesome!  I’m thinking the mountains themselves are unaffected by swine flu…


Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

My overnight 11 hour bus ride to Córdoba was not as luxurious as I was expecting, I elected to go with the semi-cama class instead of the full cama class due to the price so I wasn’t expecting a near horizontal recline but based on what I’d read and heard I thought this class would be nicer. The seats weren’t particularly comfortable, no more so than buses I’ve taken other places before. The seat did recline farther than any night bus I’ve taken before though, I managed to get some sleep. Unfortunately the state of my budget means I wont be upgrading to cama class on this trip with the price for that going up 50% over semi-cama.

That’s enough on the bus though. I arrived in Córdoba at 8AM and was met by my couchsurfing host soon after at the station. This was the first place in South America that I had gotten a positive response on couchsurfing, though I’d been trying for everywhere I’ve been the last 2 weeks.
We walked around central Córdoba in the afternoon, but since it was Sunday almost everything was closed so it wasn’t particularly interesting. In the evening we went to a nearby art street market, on a road lined with small shops, bars and cafes, people everywhere and a band playing in the road.

Monday I headed into town, to see what it was like when it didn’t resemble a ghost town. Much better. The city is full of churches, all of which are old and spanning several different building styles. There’s some other grand buildings in the centre as well, though not nearly as many as Buenos Aires.

central cordoba

the cathedral

That night we had a asado at my hosts place, a variety of great meat. Delicious, and the prices of the meat at the supermarket are unbelievably low. My last day there (which was the coldest day of the year so far here, -2C overnight) we went North by bus to the nearby town of Jesus Maria, where my host was from. It’s a pleasant small town, home to a good sized Italian colony. You can also see some hills on the edge of town, the first sort of geography I’ve seen down here, though that will change dramatically when I wake up from my next night bus, to Mendoza, in the centre of wine country and on the edge of the Andes.


Buenos Aires; Palermo, swine flu and on to Uruguay

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

I changed hostels for the weekend, moving out of the centre and into Palermo to be close to the happening stuff at night.  Unfortunately the hostel I moved to, while a fine hostel, was not a good one for meeting people at.  That partially ruined moving over there, also places are being closed and stuff canceled due to swine flu. :insertangerhere:  Places that would normally be very busy (or so I was told) were almost empty.
I made the most of it by going to parillas and the local casa de empanadas, my favourites there being the dulce carne and the verduras con salsa blanca.  Found a bar with lots of Argentinean micro brewed beers, and all the ones I tried were good! I also spent a lot of time figuring out where I want to go the next couple weeks and beyond.  I was going to take the ferry to Colonia, Uruguay on Monday but I woke up to a thunderstorm so I postponed that a day and did some more planning.  Found a great Argentinean restaurant (non parilla for a change) for dinner, with various local specialties.  The stew, wine and flan con dulce de leche were are excellent and great value.  When I ordered the latter I expected a piece of flan with a drizzle of dulce or something, what I got, was a piece of flan, and a lump of dulce almost as big as the flan, but hey, my mother always told me to eat all the food on the plate…

Tuesday the weather had improved so I caught the ferry to Uruguay.  Cut it a bit close on departure since the bus took longer than expected (at 30c fares though it shouldn’t be that surprising), had to run the last bit up to the terminal and rush through immigration and check in.  The ferry left exactly on time, was very nice, complete with a restaurant and duty free shop.  Even though the trip was only 1 hour.

Buenos Aires; Recoleta, La Boca and more steak

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

I slept well after my excellent steak, just making sure to get up before 11 to get the free breakfast.  Left the hostel around noon for the barrio of Recoleta, an upper class neighborhood that is home to the famous cemetery where Eva Peron and many other famous Argentineans are buried.

Evitas tomb

On my way there I had lunch, and stumbled into a microbrewery, tried their beer (average) and walked around a bit, slightly disappointed at the buildings there, much newer overall and much of it just looked like a well off area of any Western city.  A few old gems still exist there though.

The cemetery is another story entirely.  The massive tombs/shrine, some of which have glass windows so you can look inside at the coffins are a range of different architectural styles, some are very impressive.  Walking around there is morbid and cool at the same time, strange feeling.  Went back to my hostel after that and had some good pizza for dinner from the building next door, but cemented my opinion that the centre is not good for nightlife.  I booked a hostel in Palermo, home to much more, for the weekend.

tombs in the cemetary

tombs in the cemetary

On Friday, I walked to San Telmo, during the day this time and found it much busier with all sorts of restaurants and shops that were long closed when I’d been there at night.  I walked into a pizza place on a side street that advertised “empanadas llevar”, which were delicious but when I saw the pizzas they were bringing out to people I made a mental note to go back there for one at night one day.

plaza dorego

plaza dorego

From San Telmo I walked to the barrio of La Boca, where the first European settlement here was.  This area is not the most affluent area, and you aren’t recommended to walk around on much more than the few touristed streets.  I walked through Barracas on the way, the streets around here aren’t as modern and “polished” as the other parts of the city I’ve been in.

barracas barrio

The part of La Boca I saw, near the Boca Jr football stadium, is full of colourful houses and cobbled streets.  Lots of street art as well, corner cafes and lots of tourist shops.  Nice to look at but annoying to deal with all the people trying to sell you things, they even had a Diego Maradona look alike you could pose with.  On the longish walk back to my hostel I found some helado de dulce de leche, muy delicioso.  Then stopped at the bar I previously mentioned and like in San Telmo and tried another one of their great beers.  A good day out, about 10km of walking all together.

barrio La Boca

barrio La Boca

barrio La Boca

At night, I went out with a group from the hostel to the best renowned parilla in BA.  La Cabrera Norte.  This place costs more than most, my steak, the highest priced on the menu was about $15.  I paid about $25 in total for melt in your mouth good steak, wine, water, service and sides.  The cuts of meat were huge, everyone was sampling everybody else’s steaks as well, none were less than great.  The size of the single portion of rump steak, was around 1kg, probably the largest piece of meat I’ve seen served ever.  A couple people split one and still couldn’t finish it.  Mine was large but the right amount.  This was probably the latest meal I’ve ever eaten in my life, since the reservation we had for 10:00 was forgotten and we had to wait an hour and a half to get in.  Started eating at 12:30, left the restaurant at 2:00.  This is slightly after the peak dining hour here but certainly not uncommon as there were many people in the restaurant and the queue to get in was going until 1:00.

steak at La Cabrera Norte

Buenos Aires; San Telmo, Parillas y Palermo

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I got to my hostel in BA around midday, this is the building it’s in.  Really nice hostel.

my hostel

Then after a long awaited shower I went straight out to find some lunch.  I got 3 “meals” on the plane, but they aren’t very big and I was on it for 16 hours, I was famished.  A small cafe serving empanadas was the solution.  I managed to order and pay etc without using any English or pointing at anything, very happy with that.

I walked around the immediate area near my hostel, which is on the main road in the centre, Av de Mayo.  Lots of wonderful buildings with cool architecture.  I didn’t have the energy to do anything in the form of sightseeing, so after relaxing at the hostel for while I went out looking for some steaks with the guy I met on the flight over.  We got a recommendation for a Parilla (barbecue restaurant), but when we got there, around 6:30, we discovered it wasn’t open for another hour.  It seems most restaurants open around 8pm, but locals don’t really show up until closer to 10.  While waiting for it to open we walked around the area, full of shops that had closed for the day, and restaurants and bars that either hadn’t opened yet or were very dead.  We did find one really nice cafe/bar, that actually had a few people in it.  I ordered what appeared to be the house beer, and received a quite good pale ale.  I didn’t expect good beer in Argentina, so this was a nice surprise.  Walking around this San Telmo district reminded me a lot of Italy.

av de mayo

av de mayo

After that, we headed back to the restaurant which was now open and had a few customers inside.  However the experience was not as good as I was expecting.  The names of steaks on the menu were mostly different than the ones I had heard were good, most of the people in the place were tourists, and the menu had English translations on it.  The steak was pretty good beef, but was almost well done and were not asked how we wanted it cooked!  The wine was very good, and went perfectly with the meat.  Argentinean Malbec.  The best thing was the price, a steak at a nice place with side, 2 glasses of wine and the service charge included cost me about $9usd.  More to come.  After that, I went back to my hostel and slept, something I hadn’t done much of the last 3 nights.

My second day in BA, (it’s July already??) I ventured farther out of the city, into palermo, one of the barrios outside of the centro district.  Walked through the botanical gardens and Japanese gardens first…

botanic gardens

Japanese gardens

Then I just wandered through the area, on a few of the main avenues and looked for lunch.  Tried the Italian aspect this time, a pizza and pasta place with nice tablecloths and fancy decor, the sort of place I would never walk into in most countries due to the cost.  I had a large portion of delicious handmade fresh pasta, with an equally good assortment of freshly baked bread, a drink and the price came to just under $8usd!  After that I continued walking around the large barrio of Palermo, past loads of cafes and an assortment of shops.  The odd square lined with both too.



After taking the metro back to the centre, I walked around Plaza Mayo, at the start of Av de Mayo this is the main square in the city.  Then back down Av de Mayo to my hostel, crossing one of the widest roads in the world, 9 lanes in total going in each direction, divided into 4 roads.  All along Av de Mayo are lovely old buildings, and indeed all over the city.  Me gusta estar aqui.

Casa Rosada


That night, we went out again searching for another steakhouse. (after 9pm this time)  After wandering around for a while, we found one that looked better than the night before.  It was.  No other tourists around, excellent service, similar prices and we were asked how we wanted the steaks cooked.  This steak lived up to the reputation.  Bife de chorizo es muy delicioso.

the Parilla

bife de chorizo y malbec vino

After dinner, we went to the same bar as the previous night, had a couple drinks as the place slowly emptied out and and at 1:30 we were handed the bill as they were closing.  This in the “city that never sleeps”!

awesome bar

flight to Buenos Aires

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Apparently, there is a heat wave in the UK.  That is what the bbc news report I saw at the airport said.  It got to 30 degrees in London (the hottest of anywhere in the country), while I was there, I thought it was a bit warm, similar to the weather in Paris the day before, but ‘heatwave’?  They were issuing a health advisory as well!  The forecast is for 31 tomorrow, and possibly the mind blowing 32 degrees later in the week.  Some British people seem worried, Australians everywhere are laughing hysterically at this now I’m sure.  I wish I was staying there to ‘suffer through’ it, (though not riding the tube during it) temperatures like that are nowhere near Buenos Aires this time of year.

Anyway, I flew out of Terminal 5 at Heathrow, 1st time I’ve done that since it was built, everything worked seamlessly I was very impressed.  No queues at check in, they have virtually everyone using self check in machines (naturally my ticket wasn’t valid for that but I’m used to that by now).  I also got through security and passport controls with essentially no waiting!  The departure lounge is large and full of shops, bars and restaurants, one of the nicest I’ve been in.  My only complaints were that the wifi wasn’t free (not too surprising) and, here’s the big one, that Andy Murrays 4th round game at Wimbledon was not being shown on any of the tvs!  I could scarcely believe it.  I was in London, during Wimbledon with the British No 1 playing and it wasn’t on tv.  Truly shameful.

Moving on from that, to Argentina.  Longest flight of my life, and the last of my long haul flights on this trip.  Over 16 hours all together including the 2 hour stop in Sao Paulo.  Can’t complain about anything on it really though, more legroom that usual in economy it seemed.  I sat next to another backpacker going to the same countries as me for the next few months, first time I’ve sat next to anyone interesting on a flight!   Now I’m in Buenos Aires, at an awesome hostel, I now have no concept of time after that flight and will complete the day by visiting one of the world renowned steak restaurants here.