A Travellerspoint blog


San Carlos de Bariloche

35 °C

I spent a few days in Bariloche with not a huge amount planned. After my journey from hell to get there, all I wanted was a beer, something to eat and then to curl up in my bunk in the hostel. I did all three, but I have to say the dinner was the worst I've had all trip. It was in a place billing itself as a deli which had a very nice sounding chicken dish on the blackboard. That had sold out, so I took their lamb steak instead - big mistake. Everything about the meal was dry, the table was rickety and the meat was tough so every time I tried to cut it, the table would shake all over the place and my wine sloshed out onto the table. I didn't manage to finish, but the woman who served me was so nice, I waited till she was in the back somewhere before I paid and slunk out. I spent the evening having a quiet beer in the hostel and reading.

Bariloche is quite a special place, what with the Nahuel Huapi Lake and the alpine feel to the town (from about 1935, there has been an attempt to create a homogeneous look to the town, using wood and stone, although there have been numerous lapses)


but I got so relaxed that my daily activities dwindled to zero, which is never good when you're on your travels. The hostel in particular was hard to leave each day - friendly and a very homely common area, with couches and a big balcony to watch the lake. On my first day, the only three things I managed to do were track down a charger so I could get my spare camera operating, get a memory card for the camera and have a huge lunch of barbecue chicken. Getting the charger was a bit of an adventure: the hostel gave me a card for a place they thought might help and wrote down what I wanted in Spanish. That place didn't have anything, but suggested another place. This happened several times before I finally struck gold, quite a way up the hill above town, in a shop which sells electronic gimmickry. As for my memory card purchase, this was a bit different, as the fellow insisted on making sure the card worked before I left the shop. My second day wasn't much better - I wanted to see a particular hotel, and took the bus out the lake to where I thought it was. After walking for several kilometres, I gave up. Back in town, the centre is pretty but dominated by shops selling chocolate. This is normally a good thing but the place was so hot, the last thing I could face was chocolate.

On my third day, I caught the bus back out the lake, determined to find this hotel. It turns out that it wasn't hard, as it is at the very end of the bus route. This hotel was built by a famous Argentinian architect, Bustillo (poor fellow - he built the thing in wood and it burnt down within months, so he did it again in stone). The hotel looks a bit haphazard from the outside, I suspect it has been tinkered with,


but I went in (after the challenge from the gateman who didn't seem to think I was 5 star hotel material) and it was amazing, one of the most authenticaly posh experiences I've had.


I was a wee (sorry about the pun) bit confused by this fellow:


Since it is$US250 + to stay there, I just had a beer and some lunch - sat in the conservatory overlooking the lake and just enjoyed the experience.


There is a church built to reflect the style of the hotel, at least as it was originally:


On my last night, I decided to splurge a bit, and dine in a nice restaurant on one of the local specialities - wild boar or trout. I picked a flash looking restaurant called Juaja (described as "a consistently pleasing place"). I had the trout and a decidedly queasy night.

Posted by NZBarry 04:31 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

On the Road Again: El Calafate to San Carlos de Bariloche

sunny 25 °C

In Argentina, one of the cool trips is to take the fairly arduous bus ride up the Ruta 40 from El Calafate to San Carlos de Bariloche: it is mile after mile of mesmerising nothingness, but somewhere near the Andes. I had the vague idea that it would be quicker and more interesting to cut across to the East Coast, go up to Puerto Madryn and then head west again to Bariloche. I also had vague ideas of catching a weekly train from Viedma to Bariloche but, alas, that was not to be.

So, after a long, lingering breakfast with my room-mates, my first hop was south-west to Rio Gallegos, less than 50 km from where I was a week ago (300 km, making it 1800 km traveled of the 3000 total). There's a fairly heavy Police presence on the roads in Argentina - we had to stop frequently to check in with them: I have no idea what the object of the exercise is. We even had the Police come and tick us off the manifest a couple of times. Finally, in El Calafate, a Policeman did something: he told a bloke in the seat next to me to put his shoes on, 'cos there's a sign saying "Do Not Remove Shoes". The reasons for that in a crowded bus are obvious, but is that proper use of the Police? I think not.


Rio Gallegos is at the mouth of the river of the same name (although largely the town ignores its riverine location - no hotels built on the river front, and just one restaurant). It is just a typical Argentinian provincial capital, no more a tourist destination than Invercargill or Palmerston North - most people are there to change buses. I actually found it quietly appealing - I stayed in a decent hotel and found a couple of good cafes (Cafe Monaco and Cafe Central) and the main plaza to sit and people watch, along with several heladerias (ice cream parlours - I love that the spanish language has specific names for various shops - you also buy bits of chicken at a polloteria). In Cafe Monaco, I tried to catch up with the local TV news in Spanish - there were images for the Day of the Virgin celebration (which was major league party time, like the opening of the Rugby World Cup, with bands, light shows, fireworks...). So when I saw another item about the ascunsion of Cristina, I thought it had to do with the recognition of a new saint: hardly - Cristina is the President who has been re-elected (it is a bit of a scandal - she is the wife of the former President, who had served his maximum two terms but has brought her in as his puppet (shades of Putin)). Another was about the local body elections and another was about various murders. But with all this going on, the thing they devoted by far most time to in the hour I watched was someone being voted off the local version of dancing with the stars.

Then it was time to head north, up a coastline I barely saw. This bus was a bit of an experience: 18 hours and something like 1200 km to Puerto Madryn (making it 3000/3000 km and I'm a long way from Buenos Aires). I went for the full first class experience, with a big leather reclining armchair (not quite as comfy as my Lazyboy chairs at home, but close). I have to say the dinner was very nice - just your basic roast beef and potatoes, but cooked as I might cook them at home. I expected something special in terms of service, as I had executive class, but didn't get anything more than the other passengers. A competing company serves champagne in their buses: buses here are GOOD!

One reason for coming to Puerto Madryn is that it is in the centre of an area settled by Welsh people, but I didn't see many signs of that. Another reason for coming here is to go whale and penguin watching, but I can do that at home. The third reason? Dinosaurs! All round here was dinosaur land and there's a very good museum (Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio) devoted to them in a nearby town, Trelew. I was in awe, looking at some actual dinosaurs. I read about them in Chatwin's In Patagonia but I never thought I'd see any. It has the skeletons of several dinosaurs and has painted up big murals to give an idea of their habitat: fantastic.


I actually went to Trelew for a Welsh nosh up, because this was the heart of the Welsh settlement, but never found anything looking remotely Welsh. Instead, I had a pretty good burger in a local competitor to McDonalds (not that there are any of them around) and a beer at the Hotel Touring Club - built 1898 and hardly touched since. It had some famous visitors a bit before my arrival - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Apparently there is even a wee museum on site but I had no idea at the time. The cafe was pretty old school, but seemed like a comfy place to read and drink beer, so I did.


I wished I'd stayed here rather than in the hostel in Puerto Madryn - the town was a bit average and the hostel was infested with Frenchmen shouting at 2:00 a.m. When they finally shut up, the nightclub started up and was still pounding away when my room-mates got up at 8:00. This and the lack of sheets or any ladder to help me off my upstairs bunk and the fact that the bed actually broke as I tried to leap off it led to me cancelling my second night and high-tailing it out of town, bound for Bariloche.

This didn't go well. At about 4 in the morning, we were pulling out of this random bus station and the driver stalled the bus. He could not get it going - around 8 or 9, the mechanic they dragged out of his bed got it running, but there was still some sort of problem (no-one at all was speaking English, and my Spanish doesn't extend to the finer details of bus mechanincs, a sad and curious omission, I know). So around noon (when I should have already been in Bariloche), a replacement bus turned up. Have a good look


This bus took me as far as El Bolsón, which is near where Butch Cassidy & Co holed up, but since I was the only passenger continuing from there to Bariloche, they decided not to bother with me and dumped me outside their (closed) ticket office. When it finally opened, the very nice lady there got me a ticket for a different bus company. It is in this process that I had a tragedy: I was tired and confused and had no real idea what the bus driver was trying to tell me. All I got was that I had to get off - which I did, but unfortunately my camera remained behind. Hence, no pictures for the last few days. I was very hungry, so much so that I managed to stumble in to a closed sandwich shop - the guys were sitting around drinking wine, eating and having a good time, but they were kind enough to cook me up something.

So, I arrived 7 hours late, the hostel had decided I was not coming but luckily had another space for me - which just so happens to be with my English lady friends from a week back: Emma and Laura (you couldn't get much more English than that). The hostel guy rang Bus Jacobson for me to try to track down my camera: their first response was to deny their bus was involved. I never did get it back. But my hostel was fantastic - it is on the 10th floor of a regular city office building, but gives great views of the lake.


Total travel so far: 4000 km of 3000.

Posted by NZBarry 02:34 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Perito Moreno & El Calafate

sunny 23 °C

When I write all day for the day job, it is hard to come home and write more, but I'm getting there. Last post, I was sitting in the main Plaza in Puerto Natales, reading Chatwin's In Patagonia and admiring an interesting building which, as far as my limited Spanish could tell me, was the new town hall - it was certainly quite avant garde for a public building, all glass and odd protrusions and shapes. After a not bad coffee in the vegetarian cafe, it was time to catch the bus for my last border crossing, back in to Argentina and on to El Calafate. Although the total distance between Ushuaia and Buenos Aires is 3000 km, I have already travelled half that and only moved around 200 km, as the crow flies, from where I started. Its a good thing buses are of a very high quality here. The trip itself was uneventful and featureless till right near the end, when we came over the lip of a hill, and there was a huge flat plain below us, stretching out for miles in every direction.

El Calafate is very much a tourist trap, with a main street lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. Luckily, it was a lot less tacky than it could have been, and I ended up spending quite a while in the souvenir shops, buying Christmas presents and just seeing what was what. It also had very good restaurants - I had an average sort of asado and it was my worst meal in town. The other two nights, I branched out a wee bit and struck gold. One was a very traditional looking restaurant, with what seemed to be a single, middle-aged, black-aproned waiter attempting to do the impossible and keep everyone in his busy restaurant happy (there was a waitress serving the rear part of the restaurant and two guys lounging behind the bar). He did a pretty good job, and was very friendly as well - definitely a place I'd recommend if only I could remember its name. So I had an extremely filling mountain vegetable soup with a mountain of bread and then faced down my main course (a local specialty): cazuela de cordero or, less exotically, lamb stew. It was really good, washed down with a couple of pints of artisanal beer: me very happy. In my efforts to find the lake by walking to it (I never did, despite the fact that Lake Argentino is the largest in the country, 20 miles long), I'd noticed a much more modern looking place which looked good, El Cucharon, so I checked that out on my final night. It was very busy, so I had to wait a while before I could get a table, but it was worth it. Here, I had the lomo ahumado, which is a kind of smoked loin steak. I had other things, some veges even, but this is what sticks in my mind. In between meals, I paid a couple of visits to the Don Luis Panaderia (bakery) to pig out on their croissants and various pastries, use the free internet and drink decent coffee (although having so many flies for company was a bit disturbing).

The thing that brings people here is not the big lake, hell you can't even see that from the town, but the big glacier, Perito Moreno. I went on a tour organised by my hostel. First stop was an estancia touristica (tourist farm) where they had the most darling arrangement of goats. One of my room mates got so carried away with a baby goat, she nearly missed the bus. A couple of younger billy goats started playing with each other - it looked like quite a formal game, as they would strike their front hooves on the ground, then head but each other. I was sitting on a log watching them - much to everyone's amusement, the goats got up beside me, and were getting me involved in their game. There was a cafe which one of the local animals, a guanaco, seemed to take great pleasure in bowling into as if it owned the place. My photos of this part of the trip are lost, but I've found a blogger who did the same trip who took quite a few photos, including one of a guanaco.

The glacier was huge (and is still only third biggest in the region): bigger than Buenos Aires city, but very accessible - we could take a boat right up to its southern flank and they've set up a system of balconies and walkways on the north. The thing that got me was its colour - it was a very delicate shade of blue but at the same time very intense.


Here's a picture of a boat something like the one I was on:


Every so often a chunk would fall off: a room mate from my hostel was on a much smaller boat and they'd get a fair old buffeting when that happened. Another thing which got me about the glacier was the huge power it wields - I could see the deep gouges in the cliff face it had made and then twisted. The guide told a story about how the local farmers wanted the government to stop the advance of the glacier; they bombed the crap out of it but it made no difference. I was just imagining what it would do if it started advancing towards the balconies - they would be toast. Sitting on them, I could see the glacier top running back to the horizon. I could hear the occasional crack of some ice falling off - every ten years or so, there's a significant collapse, and there has been one since I was there. Someone thought to take a video:

My last morning in El Calafate was very pleasant, my three room mates (two British women and another from Belgium, all in their 30's) had been friendly, so when they invited me to breakfast, I couldn't say no. It is funny that I spent a couple of nights sharing a room with them, had breakfast for an extended period, even had my photo taken and it never mattered that we didn't know each other's names.

Posted by NZBarry 04:24 Archived in Argentina Comments (1)

Torres del Paine

sunny 21 °C

Alrighty, I'm getting into seriously touristic stuff now. From Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales is a fairly short bus ride of three hours. Puerto Natales is a small, pleasant town on the Last Hope Fjord - it is called that because of Magellan's efforts to find a sea passage. Southern Chile has lots of glaciers and mountains, which have left many long stretches of water but few actual channels that pass all the way out to the sea. So the Last Hope was his last chance before giving up - of course, he then went on and found the Magellan channel anyway.

Once again I struck gold with my lodgings. The Casa Cecilia is an upmarket guesthouse within a couple of minutes from the centre of town, with a very useful (ie it had cold beer) hole in the wall convenience store across the road. The fellow running it seemed to be a mine of information about the area, so I pumped him for information about trips to Torres del Paine. I took a walk around town - it didn't take long, because it only has a couple of main streets and a very nice waterfront.


I was only here for one reason: to see something of Torres del Paine, and my man in the guesthouse had told me there are two main ways of seeing it - by bus, which will get you pretty close, or there's a boat trip which won't get you quite so close, but will be much more of an adventure than a scummy old bus. So that's what I did, which involved a fairly early start, down at the pier. First we went 54 miles up the Last Hope in a catamaran, where we saw lots and lots of mountains and several glaciers, waterfalls and the like. Very beautiful - like parts of New Zealand, but on a bigger scale. I did have photos, but they've gone (the photos on this and the next post are a little bit, um, borrowed). One surprising thing about this part of the trip was the awful food - pre-packaged, processed junk.


At the end of the catamaran trip, we had a bit of a hike to see a particular glacier, I think it might have been the Grey Glacier


then I dressed up like a bloody astronaut (it was a full body flotation suit), clambered into a zodiac and went up the fjord for another couple of hours, so that we could get a good look at Torres del Paine - these giant granite mountains. The flotation suits seemed a bit of an overkill, as there was never even the remotest bit of roughness in the water. At one stage, there was a bit of a waterfall, which we couldn't go up in the zodiac (obviously) so we had to abandon ship and trudge up and over a small hill. This wouldn't normally be a problem, but I was still dressed like an astronaut at the time, so it was less than pleasant.


In this last phase, in the zodiacs, there were only 16 of us - three groups (British, Icelandic and Japanese) plus two of us flying solo. Oddly enough, I felt most akin to the Japanese group - they were a bit older then me (apart from one weird guy who never spoke), but took such an active interest in everything and seemed like such nice people that I grew very fond of them (no English spoken, of course). I found it charming that they all got a bit freaked when the boat driver started doing wheelies, so gave them a big smile and they laughed. Their tour leader helped with my fondness - in the catamaran, I had been sitting a couple of tables away from her, and got a bit captivated by her evident character and humour. Then when she got into guide mode, she got quite peremptory - bossed me a couple of times. We finished the tour with a late lunch (roast mutton and potatoes - very kiwi) and a dusty minvan ride for 150 km back to town.

I'd had enough of the Chilean diet, so for dinner thought I'd try the African restaurant in town - turns out that there was very little African to it at all, so I had yet another dinner of salmon (this time with a nice rice curry dish). It was very good, but the thing that put me off my meal was my neighbour - he was one of those very dark, very angry Irishmen you sometimes come across, who had a litany of bitter complaint for his companion, and was pretty much rude to everything she said. Not cool.

I had half a day to kill the next day before my bus and Puerto Natales is a small place, so I had little to do but sit in the sun in the central plaza, reading Chatwin's In Patagonia. I didn't get much of a sense of the place, but of its people and their stories.

Posted by NZBarry 01:46 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)


sunny 20 °C

The big gastronomic treats I had promised myself in Argentina were red wine and beef, specifically beef cooked on the parilla, the grill used to have an asado (barbecue). Unfortunately, one thing I hadn't figured on was just how late this meant I would have to eat - after a fairly long day and grazing on various bits and pieces, I wasn't really ready to hang about until after 9:00 for dinner. So my first dinner turned out to be a hamburger (they charmingly translate this so authentically here that hamburgers are actually made with ham) and a tasty local artisanal beer at a local institution, Tante Sara - the place was absolutely packed, which is always a good sign.

I did end up having a parilla the next day, after watching my food cook very slowly:


The place I picked had an enormous salad bar, but no sign of any meat at all - turns out I had to get that from the man tending the parilla - I took as much as I dared, then piled up various things from the salad bar. Of course, I had way too much for one man to eat in one meal, but did my best. I'm not quite sure how it happened, because I was aware that this wasn't the healthiest option for eating, but I managed to line up a couple of days later for another lunch-time asado. I picked a busy looking place, thinking that would mean it was good, but most of the people were on some sort of bus trip, eating there against their will.

Another big tourist thing to do in Ushuaia is to walk about 7 km out of town up the hills that encircle it, then take the chair-lift to catch the views back over the Beagle Channel. I certainly enjoyed the views:


What I absolutely hated was the chair-lift:


Intuitively, I knew that it must be fairly safe, but my right amygdalae were working overtime in producing fear and anxiety - I was glued to the seat and wouldn't even move my head. Then the whole chair-lift apparatus would pause for a bit, which didn't help. So I walked back down and vowed never to get in one of these contraptions again, even if the life of the love of my life depended upon it (luckily, I can't imagine how those circumstances might arise).

I knew this was going to be bad for me, so had deliberately dawdled in the tea shop, had a big breakfast (of lemon meringue pie)


admired the shop


and the view from the window


My other touristy thing was to explore the old prison


This was first mooted in 1873, with two objectives - the first was to operate it on the relatively liberal, reformist, principles which underpinned the prison in Port Arthur, Tasmania (backed up by the reality that the terrain was so hostile, it would kill anyone who escaped). The second was political: President Roca wanted to establish some sort of official foothold in the area - it means that Ushuaia started its life as a penal colony (there were aboriginal inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, but they hadn't really established a settlement here). The prison opened in 1897 and had to be closed in 1947, as there was too much uncontrollable abuse. It is now the Museo Maritimo de Ushuaia, and includes an art gallery along with a substantial number of cells in their original condition.


I really liked this image of a man coming out of the wall


and this painting that was in the art gallery wing


Less appealing:


Posted by NZBarry 00:57 Archived in Argentina Comments (2)

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