Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bariloche, Argentina: A World of Wonder

Home will always be home, and the view atop Cadillac Mountain on a crystal clear day, when the air is so crisp that one can stand on the granite slabs, overlook Frenchman's Bay and the "porcupines" that protect Bar Harbor, and hear, word for word, the radio conversations between lobsterman about a half-mile away, will always be my most heartfelt favorite in the world. But Bariloche, Argentina, with its cavalry of white peaks standing guard over the massive and forever fresh and blue Lago Nahuel Huapi, is the most beautiful place I've ever seen on earth.

The ride from Puerto Varas to Bariloche was about six hours. The first half was in Chile, and it was pretty to look at. There were lush green valleys walled in by 'Gunks-like cliffs and topped by coned, white volcanoes. Long vines hung off the rock walls and grey-trunk firs towered over the winding road. Then there is the border - two stops separated by a few miles of snowy, barren outcrops, and then there is Argentina.

The lake is huge, massive; it sometimes takes days to cross by boat if the weather is bad. And it is blue, sparkling blue with a hundred coves and inlets all protected by long islands and arching peninsulas that make it impossible to see the entire lake at once, even if standing on top of the tallest peak in the area. I took nearly twenty photos through the bus windows the first hour that I saw the lake. It was awe inspiring at its greatest.

Bariloche itself is a small, German and Swiss inspired town complete with chalet architecture, cobblestone streets, steep stone staircases, and Saint Bernard dogs with the rum casks dangling under their furry necks. If I could live here forever then I would, and maybe I will.

I went on a bike ride with Roy (Israel) and Stephanie and Rachel (both UK) on a dramatic loop of views west of Bariloche along the southern edge of the lake. We relaxed on the beaches, chilled on cliff tops, shared travel info, and battled the many hills that eventually wore us out by the end of the day.

We returned to the log cabin Bolsa de Deporte and showered so that we would be clean for our first Argentinean steak, which was good and huge and filling beyond belief.

The next day was a quiet one. Stephanie and Rachel headed north to the vineyards while Roy and I took the chair lift to the top of Cerro Campanario, a hill just outside of town with magnificent views of the surrounding area. In fact, the views here were beyond anything I have ever witnessed. Spectacular is not even a word that can be used in Bariloche because it is too low.

Then it was time to leave. I had a seat on AndesMar on the 2pm bus that would get me to Osorno, Chile at 7pm. Then I had a two-hour wait for my sleeper seat on the overnight Cruz del Sur bus that would leave at 8:45pm for Santiago. And then the AndesMar bus was 90 minutes late arriving in Bariloche, and the man on the bus said we'd arrive by 9pm, and my ticket to Santiago was non-refundable. How did I get myself into this mess? Well, all other buses from Bariloche to Osorno left early in the morning. Because Santiago is a good 12 hours north of Osorno, I wanted to sleep on an overnight bus. Osorno is not much of a town either. I had a heavy rucksack with all my gear, a heavy shoulder bag with my valuables, and an eight-hour wait in a crummy town if I left that early. So I decided to take the only afternoon bus, and because I had a two-hour wait in Osorno for the bus the Santiago, I didn't think for a moment that there would be a problem getting to Osorno, even with customs being a bit of a drag (btw - the bus companies lie about time between Chile and Argentina. Always assume it'll take a couple of hours longer than they advertise).

Thankfully the guy on the AndesMar bus was able to call ahead to Cruz del Sur in Osorno to try to work something out. Cruz del Sur told him they'd try to get me on a later bus, but there was no guarantee. "Great," I thought. "I was going to have to find a hostel late at night, and then spend the next day in Osorno waiting for the next night's fleet of overnight buses to leave." Amused was not the right word to describe my disposition.

I held out hope that we'd actually make it on time. I wanted to believe that customs would be smooth (and it was), but there were other obstacles that I didn't anticipate. For one, we seemed to stop forever in a small town outside Bariloche called Angostura. It's a pretty town that I'd like to visit when I come back through here again, but what seemed as if what should have been a 15-minute wait turned out to be a 30-minute wait. I watched the second hand tick on my watch for a while until I gave up and watched the finish line of the adventure road race that was going on at the same time.

Then we finally took off, and even though we crept through town to avoid the racers and spectators, I was hopeful that this was a planned stop and that traffic ahead would be light. But no sooner did my hopes rise did they plummet back to earth: we had stopped for gas just on the outskirts of town.

I'm a good driver, but when I'm impatient I do a lot of yelling and swearing. It was killing me to sit there in the back of the bus and watch the pump rolling over and over all the while having to keep my mouth shut. Again, after about 20 minutes at the gas station, we were on our way. Customs, which I thought would be the hold up, was good leaving Argentina. But the miles between the Argentine and Chilean borders are hilly and slow, and we had a fucking lame driver behind the wheel who didn't know how to drive. I probably did the suicide-shoot-me-in-the-head with my hands-as-guns motion about a half-dozen times every 15 minutes. I knew I wasn't making the Santiago bus. That's a $35 loss of ticket (because it was non-refundable), $20 at least for a hostel room in Osorno (if the cheapest one was open at that time of night), and another lost day that was supposed to be spent in the northern beach town of La Serena.

FUCK ME!!!!!

It was good that the AndesMar man called Cruz del Sur, because if he hadn't then I would have been in a greater state of anger and frustration. I gave up worrying when we finally left the Chilean border crossing. We were going to be late and all hope depended on Cruz del Sur hooking me up on a later bus. My fingers were crossed.

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