My Patagonian Adventure (Part Four: A Slice of Switzerland)

With El Calafate, Chile and El Chaltén down, there remained one more city on my travel itinerary: Bariloche. I had an early afternoon flight from El Calafate in order to arrive at a decent hour, because in my experience, getting into a city during the graveyard hours is no fun. For my entire Patagonia trip, I traveled by plane for a number of reasons:

  1. The price difference between plane and bus was negligible.
  2. The time I would save was certainly worth the extra 20 dollars or so. (We’re talking a 4 hour flight versus a 25 hour bus ride…yeah, definitely worth it.)
  3. With just 10 days to see as much as I could of the south, every second, minute and hour counted.

So I arrived in Bariloche around 6:30pm, which gave me just the right amount of time to find the hostel, settle in and plan out the next few days.

To get from the airport, you have two options:

  1. Pay 220-250 pesos ($18-23 USD) for a taxi
  2. Pay 10 pesos ($1 USD) for bus

I´ll give you one guess as to which one I chose.

Here´s the catch. If you take the bus from the airport to the town´s center, you NEED a SUBE card. This is where tourists are at a disadvantage. We obviously don´t have one yet because we just. freaking. arrived. And of course they don’t sell them in the airport…I mean why would they want to take away from the taxi business anyway? So to bypass this little obstacle and save yourself 20 bucks, here´s what you do. Go stand by the bus pick-up area and ask around to find out who the locals are (¿Sos de acá?). Ask if they can swipe you and you pay them in cash. (¿Me podés pasar y te pago?) Usually they´ll say yes. Even though it costs like 6 or 7 pesos, give them 10 because they were kind enough to help you out. Plus, that ten is still way less than you would have paid a taxi driver anyway.

On the bus ride into town, I met this adorable Spanish couple and broke out my rusty vosotros conjugations and ceseo to talk to them. As it turns out, they were on their honeymoon! The woman excitedly showed me a picture of her in her dress and we chatted about what they were planning to do here. I asked her if they cut their wedding cake with a sword, as that is the Spanish tradition, and she laughed and said that yes, they did. I also noticed the ring was on her right hand, another Spanish custom.

My first impressions of Bariloche contradicted my prior thoughts on the city. I originally thought it was going to be this tiny ski village in the middle of nowhere, when it was actually a decently sized city. Not a big city by any means, but a cute little town with a population of about 110,000 people in 2010, 3x larger than the city where I grew up. So that is the one thing that surprised me.

I can see why the population is booming here. Bariloche offers a diverse countryside with countless outdoor activities like skiing, kayaking, hiking, cycling, horseback riding, camping, rafting, diving, fishing, sailing, snowmobiling…and the list goes on and on. Outdoor lovers will not be bored here, no matter the season; that is a guarantee!

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El Lago Nahuel Huapi

For a break from these activities, there are a number of tours you can take where you are able to lay low and enjoy the landscapes from a shuttle bus with an informative guide to teach you about the histories, flora and fauna that surround you. If you´re feeling particularly fancy and have money to blow you can treat yoself to a spa retreat. There are plenty of spas in Bariloche so take your pick! Another more leisurely activity to do is walk around the quaint and serene city´s center while indulging in artisanal chocolates from the wide assortment of chocolaterías tantalizing your senses at each street corner.

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The hostel I stayed at was really cute and budget friendly, located at kilometer 4.7 of the main road, Avenida Bustillo (review found here!).

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One thing you learn very quickly is that this road is the main street in the outskirts of town, with Bus 20 making its rounds every 20 minutes or so. To arrive at or refer to any destinations along this road, you speak in kilometers rather than address numbers. So upon embarking the bus, tell the driver the kilometer you are getting off at so he can adjust the price accordingly and to avoid a long line of frustrated riders as you stammer out the address.

Day One

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The following day I decided to brave the Circuito Chico, a 27 kilometer (16.7 mile) bike circuit which overlooks the famous Nahuel Hupai Lake and ducks into the woods for some scenic overlooks and a good dose of forest scenery, smells and sounds. At kilometer 18, there are two bike rental places, and this is also where the path begins. I rented from the place on the left, if you´re facing the fork in the road. I recommend that you arrive as soon as it opens so that you´ll have plenty of time to squeeze out of your bike rental, given that it´s a daily rate and the place closes at 6pm. The owner was super cool, really nice and informative and more than willing to help me out in any way he could. Heck, he even had current weather conditions livestreamed to his computer. I signed the necessary agreements and got my equipment and hit the pavement.

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About 5 minutes in, I was gleefully shouting to myself: “I feel so alive! This is great!” But about 10 minutes in with the introduction of some challenging inclines, I was thinking, “Why do I do these things?” Normally, these wouldn´t have been a big deal; with the 6 hour hiking days and riding a bike around El Calafate the day before, my thighs and bum weren´t very happy with my life decisions. Regardless, I peddled onward and upward into the beautiful mountains, taking breaks here and there to enjoy the overlooks. After all, I had plenty of time and what good is cycling the trail if you don’t stop and smell the flowers?

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The ride reminded me a lot of the landscapes back at home, of Allegheny and Letchworth State Parks. Winding roads bordered by fragrant pines filled with chirping birds enclosed in on me for the majority of the circuit. At one point, I was hit with a serious case of the feels when I whizzed by a freshly-cut pine tree, causing vivid holiday nostalgia to bombard my mind. I was suddenly very excited for my return home just in time to enjoy the Christmas season with loved ones.

Ooey-gooey emotional stuff aside, I will say that the circuito chico was a very pleasant experience but not for the faint of heart. I went on an early morning and it was quite foggy and chilly, which to me was all the better. I packed a lunch to enjoy in the woods, overjoyed to find a non-sugar-ladden, natural, local yogurt at the supermarket that morning. I literally ate lunch surrounded by birds like Snow White.

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This circuit also reminded me why I do squats at the gym. Holy burning thighs!

A word of caution, however: if busses, semis, and cars whirring by you at 40-60 M.P.H. freaks you out, I would take this activity into deeper consideration. There isn´t exactly a path for bikers, unless you count the shoulder of the road as a path. Sure, there are signs telling motorists to watch out for cyclists, but they are far and few between.

Originally slated for after cycling the route was a climb up the Cerro Centenario, but my legs were so tired, I was like “lol nah.” Instead, I decided to wander around the city a bit. While bordering the Lago Nahuel Huapi, I stumbled across the Centro Cívico, the town’s main square.

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Proceeding a few more blocks down I saw the stunningly symmetrical, high-rising Catedral, the city’s cathedral. Its architecture was impressively simple and eye-catching. I went inside and admired the austere stonework of this humble structure.

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Looping back around through the city, I *accidentally* passed by Mamuschka, arguably the most famous chocolate store in Bariloche.

I mean, I guess I’d might as well check it out…while I’m here and all…*nervous cough* The store itself is reminiscent of the holidays, in my opinion. Exaggerated shapes, bright colors, dazzling lights, and curved architecture all made me feel like I might as well have been in a chocolate store in Whoville.

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I tried one of the chocolate hazelnut truffles for sample andddd…walked out with a pretty box of assorted chocolates that I hand-picked 10 minutes later.

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I couldn’t remember exactly how much the chocolates cost, all I remember is throwing my money at them and not really caring. Luckily, I take pictures of everything and managed to capture the cost per kilogram. On average, it was 500 pesos per kilo, which is about 50 USD per kilo, aka $25 USD per pound (I’ve become somewhat of a pro at metric-US conversions). I ended up getting a quarter of that amount to 1) save money 2) be able to buy chocolates at other places too, and 3) not feel extremely guilty about my excessive chocolate consumption.

After returning to the hostel, I met my roommate, a girl from Buenos Aires. We chatted for a while before bed and I found out that she is a die-hard fan of Matisyahu. In fact, she flew from Argentina to the States just to see him in concert, and it was her first time ever coming to the U.S. She completely winged it and all the while met some new friends. A spur-of-the-moment trip like that sure takes guts!

DAY 2

The following day I went with group to see El Tronador, an extinct volcano which overlooks the Glaciar Negro, the Black Glacier. In layman’s terms, it’s a dirty glacier—it’s filled with sediment so it’s melting at a much quicker rate than ice is being re-deposited. In fact, just 40 years ago, where I was standing would have been covered with ice. This thing is going fast, folks. I felt lucky to be able to see it, because in another 30 years or so, it’s going to be gone. Sayonara, glacier.

On the way up to El Tronador, we made some stops in order to observe the wildlife.

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And for a quick spot of tea.

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This tea is rosa mosqueta, a variety of flower part of the rose family that grows in the Andes. In English, it’s referred to as rosehip. It has a light floral essence, and doesn’t necessitate sugar to be enjoyed. A little milk would have been delightful, however. It is commonly used in cosmetics as well, due to its hydrating qualities.

While on this excursion, I met a variety of people too. A guy named Diego from Entre Rios here on a break from work, a son and father from Israel, and a solo traveler from Buenos Aires are just a few. We all talked about our travel experiences and aspirations over lunch.

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El Tronador

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The Black Glacier (“Glaciar Negro”) AKA a dirty chunk of ice.

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El Tronador and the glacier

DAY 3

The next day, my hostel roommate and I decided to visit the Colonia Suiza, a tiny settlement about 20km away. It was Sunday, and as you know, everything is closed on Sunday here in Argentina. Naturally, the bus only stopped by every hour or so. After a while of waiting, my friend said, “Hey, wanna hitchhike?” Immediately, I snippets of the movie Taken buzzed through my mind. I was super hesitant, and I would not condone the decision I made…but yes. I may have accepted a ride from a stranger.

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Hitchhiking is actually very common here, and locals do it a lot. They are likewise open to helping a brother out and picking them up. Bariloche is possibly the safest city in Argentina. No, that does not excuse my actions.

**For legal reasons, I must point out that you should not hitchhike, much less in a foreign country. So don’t do it just because I did!**

Anyway, we arrived safely and after a brief walk through the woods, we had arrived.

So the Colonia Suiza is a quaint little spot open on Wednesdays and Sundays, so don’t go any other day of the week or everything will be closed. It’s a great place to by handmade, unique crafts and gifts. I bought a beautiful, hand-bound journal, a knit hat, a wooden honey stirrer, and handcrafted chocolates from a guy who looks like Santa Claus. *Hint hint, he’s not stingy on the free samples!*

We planned on trying the famous dish, curanto, a meat dish with is prepared underground. They heat up a pit and fill a vessel with vegetables, apples, potatoes and meat, which is buried by fronds and dirt (don’t worry, the vessel is sealed first!) and then slowly cooks all the way through for about 2-3 hours. We hadn’t anticipated this, and had originally planned to leave at 2pm, when they were just about to serve it. So I was unfortunately unable to try this delicacy.

Instead, I got a burger and a deer empanada (yes, you read that correctly.). I was also resisting these German and Swiss-inspired desserts.

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It was a drizzly day, but it was still a relaxing time and it was nice talking to the locals about their handiwork. Next time, I’m coming back for you, curanto!

I was lucky enough, however, to try the world-famous, cordero patagónico. Putting the thought out of my mind of the poor little lambs that are cooked up, I ordered it from the restaurant, Fondo del Tío, an eatery recommended to me by a local (which means is MUST be good!). I waited until I went to Bariloche to order this because the further south you go, the pricier this delicacy becomes. In El Calafate, it was about 220-250 pesos ($20-25 USD) for the dish without sides or anything—just the cordero. In Bariloche it averaged about 150-180 pesos. This is obviously a more expensive food but I was still getting a better deal here.

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The guy who prepared my dinner was dressed in traditional gaucho garb, and I chatted with him and the waiter while I waited for it to cook.

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I went all out and ordered a glass of Malbec to accompany the meal, which ended up complimenting the flavors splendidly. (Guide to wine here) The lamb came out to me sizzling on a mini grill serving platter, cooked to perfection and with a crispy layer of fat on the outside which was delightfully seasoned. The meat was tender and delicious, and with the rosemary-infused sauce and a squeeze of lemon, the flavors were even more amplified. I was very pleased with my restaurant choice and the portions weren’t skimpy at all. In fact, I had to take half of it home. Even the salad was a good size—something which rarely happens here! The service was also exceptional; if you’re able to stop by Fonda del Tío while in Bariloche, you will be glad you did!

In the end, Bariloche bumped over Mendoza on my mental list of the cities where I would live if I decided to move to Argentina. The safety, remoteness, amount of outdoor activities and size all won me over and gave me yearnings to return one day to enjoy more of the exciting activities it has to offer.

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2 thoughts on “My Patagonian Adventure (Part Four: A Slice of Switzerland)

  1. Another winner blog posting, Erika! Majestic pictures as well (I’ve added Bariloche to my bucket list). Just a little note from me, who cares much for you: DO NOT HITCHHIKE!
    Abrazos.

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