I’ve been putting off writing about my trip to Bariloche for quite some time now. In fact, it has been almost a month since the trip and I have yet to sit down and collect my thoughts. Partially because even when I’m not writing posts I’m thinking about all the things I want to write about. In fact, I even have a running list of topics to write about in the future when my life isn’t so interesting. Even though I am just now sitting down to tell the tale I have to give myself props for actually getting the pictures on Flickr in a reasonable amount of time because usually that takes me even longer!
I guess we’ll start off with the ‘getting there’ bit since I have to rave about the airline that we took from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. My program arranges two trips outside of the city during the semester during which our travel and room fees are paid and thank G-d for that because a bus to Bariloche takes around 20 hours which I will be doing anyway soon enough. Our flight was roughly two hours and the airline supplied us with the most delectable snacks I have ever been provided on an airline. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the goodies, but I’ll try to paint the picture: it was a simple box and inside was a little packet of crackers by a pretty popular brand here in Argentina (whose name is failing me now), a packet of galletitos from Havanna (these are basically little chocolate covered cookies from a chain café in Buenos Aires renowned for its alfajores or sweets), and an alfajor also from Havanna in the shape of a cone with a little cookie at the bottom, topped with dulce de leche and covered in chocolate–basically, a little piece of heaven. In addition, we were provided with the option of beer (Quilmes, no doubt, but do U.S airlines offer this to economy travelers? I wouldn’t know.), soda, coffee, agua con gas (sparkling water), and agua sin gas (“normal” water for people like myself who can’t deal with fizzy drinks). They also had this rather hilarious comedy show from either Canada or the U.K. on the televisions for us to watch. I didn’t hear anyone else on the plane laughing as hard as I was so maybe I was the only one who enjoyed it, but it was basically silly pranks pulled on unsuspecting people in public places. That right there topped the list for why everyone should take LAN when traveling around Argentina.
Bariloche, like Córdoba, is somewhere that I’m hesitant to even try to describe because words won’t do it justice. Hell, even photos won’t do Bariloche justice (or at least not the ones I took). Bariloche is the door to Patagonia for most travelers and also a pretty famous ski resort area, though, unfortunately, it was going into Spring when we went and I missed the ski season. The town is small and geared towards tourists with one main street lined with store after store of clothing, traveling gear, and artesanias. I really wasn’t impressed with the town because I’m of the belief that once you’ve seen one city in Argentina, you’ve seen them all. I’m told this is true for pretty much all of South America, but I can’t vouch for that just yet. However, it is situated on the edge of a lake that is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and so that alone pretty much qualifies it for somewhere to visit. It is a spectacular sight and a mere glimpse of the awe-inspiring beauty contained in the rest of the region.
On our first two days nothing really incredible happened. We took several hikes through a couple of the many national parks in the area, saw a waterfall, spent many hours on the bus, and–my favorite part–took an acensor to the top of a mountain that provided views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. We probably stayed up there for an hour and it was freezing. The wind blows a lot harder and colder on the top of a mountain! Since I was in a group of about 50 or 60 other people from my study abroad program a lot of people spent the time talking and being loud and obnoxious. I kept trying to find places on the decks and look out points where no one was, but sure enough, as soon as one person found something everyone else migrated. Eventually people dispersed a little bit and I was able to block out the remainder of the chatter and hear my thoughts, or rather, the silence of not having any thoughts because there were no words that are sufficient to describe what I was seeing.
Our last day in Bariloche, I definitely woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Unlike the previous morning where I had gone to bed around 21.00 and woke up feeling refreshed–but freezing–because the room had been a sweltering sauna box the night before and Charlotte and I felt it would be a good idea to fall asleep the the window wide open. When we both woke up it was almost a game of truth or dare and lots of bribing to see who would get out from under the warm covers to close the window. I don’t remember how, but I won the game and Charlotte climbed out of bed and shut the window, but not before we actually looked out the window to see a string of mountains and a lake planted at the bottom. There was a morning mist over the tops so you could only vaguely make out their altitude, but the sight alone was enough to drag anyone out of bed and down to a free “breakfast.” I put breakfast in quotations because if there is one thing I’m doing when I get home it is going straight to the local Cracker Barrel (you think I’m kidding?) and ordering the largest helping of scrambled eggs with cheese, cheese grits, buttered biscuits, and hashbrowns with lots of ketchup. And maybe some pecan and blueberry pancakes and french toast too. Argentines don’t believe in breakfast. They believe in coffee and maybe some medialunas at around 11 in the morning. Maybe toast if you’re lucky, but even then it’s not the same. I’ve gotten used to it and just grab a banana on my way out the door because it’s not like I ate breakfast every morning back in the States–I mean, I’m in college! Late nights studying or working and 9:30 classes don’t mix well together. But the longer I’ve been here, the more I miss having the option of getting a nice stack of fluffy pancakes topped with fresh fruit. And then there’s the fresh fruit thing. It is impossible to find frambueses or raspberries here. They won’t be in season until December and since there isn’t really such thing as bags of frozen fruit in the freezer section here (come to think of it, I haven’t even seen a freezer section here!) I’ve been moaning and trying to find a substitute for them. Wow, that was quite the the tangent. So, on our last day I woke up (or more like fell out of bed after Charlotte woke me up several times) a little bit hung over and maybe still drunk from the night before, I don’t really know which. All I know is that I couldn’t do anything other than throw everything in my bag, get dressed, and run out the door for breakfast, while also forgetting my copy of Walden and a large shopping bag with a box of chocolates inside as I would come to find out several hours later.
At breakfast that morning I could barely eat anything other than a bowl of fruit and just insisted on drinking all the water I could find and nursing my throbbing headache. We left the hotel shortly after to spend the morning hiking, except they really should’ve warned us that this hiking? It was more like dragging your poor, clearly out of shape, hungover body straight up the second tallest mountain in Bariloche. In short, it was very unpleasant. I ended up hanging out at the back of the group as we trekked, and trekked, and then trekked some more. Every now and then we would stop so everyone could drink some water, but I would purposefully stop to put more distance between them and myself so I could enjoy the peacefulness of where I was and listen to the birds talk to each other and take in the vistas whenever there was a clearing so that I could see whether or not all this trekking was worth it. And it was.
We finally reached the “halfway” point and were asked if anyone wanted to turn back. Olivia and I considered it, but when Liz pointed out to me this little house with a big red flag that was surrounded and covered in snow far off in the distance on what seemed like another mountain and told me that that was what we were hiking to, I decided to push forward. The hiking went on for at least another hour and a half (but time sure does seem longer when your legs just want to fall off your body) and I was joined at the back of the group by one of our guides. When we finally reached the top of the uphill climb we walked alone many paces behind everyone else and talked. Towards the top of the uphill trek we started seeing snow and piles of ice here and there, and the ground was getting soggier and more slick. We finally started encountering snow on the ground and it got progressively deeper and more difficult to walk through. I, however, was paying no mind to the fact that every other step I was losing ground and sinking at least a foot into the snow if not falling over outright. No, I was scooping up handfuls of this pristine powder and admiring it and occasionally eating it since I had long run out of water to drink. The guide kept laughing at me and asking me if I had ever seen snow in my life. I tried to explain that I’m from Alabama–the number of times I have seen snow can ben counted on one hand, and even that snow doesn’t really qualify because it was never anything like what I was witnessing right then.
When we finally reached our destination–which turned out to not be that little house that we had seen far off in the distance due to the fact that the snow had just fallen the night before and it was becoming far too difficult to hike in, in addition to the fact that the guides were worried we would cause on avalanche trying to pursue the basically straight up climb it would require to get there–everyone else was shivering and freezing, red faces, and lots of complaining about how cold it was. I, on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered with the temperature, and didn’t even notice it until we were hiking back down the mountain and my hands felt like they were going to fall off since I had insisted on taking a gazillion pictures.
The view from the top was incredible. I’d like to say that was inspired to climb more mountains like that one, and I was, but I think being a little bit more acclimated to climbing and higher altitudes would make the experience more enjoyable than it was prior to reaching the top. Maybe also not being hung over next time. However, the entire time I was climbing up the mountain, and for a little while back down I kept recalling lyrics from a song by Rachael Lampa called “Blessed.”
“I may never climb a mountain
So I can see the world from there
I may never ride the waves
And taste the salty ocean air
Or build a bridge
That will last a hundred years
But no matter where the road leads
One thing is always clear…”
The walk back down the mountain consisted more of slidding and trying not to fall down. My knees and thighs were not appreciating the beating they were getting and by the time we reached the bottom the muscles in my thighs were quivering. We ate lunch, went back to town for a bit, and shortly after boarded a plane back home to Buenos Aires. Oh, and after much panicking and calling the hotel, one of our program advisors had picked up my book and bag of chocolates before we even left the hotel that morning and I–hopefully–learned my lesson about being careless.