The Pearl of Northern Patagonia
Not surprisingly, we slept very well and got out of bed early in the morning only because we were so excited about everything that awaited us in Bariloche - besides, we had caught a week with pure sun. So it was time to get out of bed! San Carlos de Bariloche is located directly on Lake Nahuel Huapi and in the middle of the national park of the same name, at the foot of the Andes Cordillera at an altitude of about 900 meters. With its 130.000 inhabitants it is the biggest city in Northern Patagonia and at the same time the touristic center, the base for any outdoor activities in the region and a place of longing for many Argentines - like ours =) Next to the city center, to the west, along the lake towards the mountains, extend the so-called "kilometers", where the residential areas have expanded more and more in recent years, where the legendary breweries are located and where you can find beautiful beaches, remote forests and at the very end the legendary hotel "Llao Llao". We set off for the center, where the Swiss-German influence is immediately apparent: Alpine architecture, beer gardens, fondue restaurants and, of course, the many delicious chocolate factories. This influence can be traced back to 1840, when Carlos Wiederhold, a Chilean with German roots, bought a lot of land in the area and sold it to Swiss emigrants. These founded a colony that still exists today just outside Bariloche and is well worth a visit. On our first day in town, we were first on our way to trace Marina's past, as she had lived in Bariloche for some time a few years ago. As we found out, things had changed in the meantime and the city had developed rapidly. The hostel from back then no longer existed, even the hotel where she worked now has a different name and some bars, with which many memories and stories were associated, have adapted to the passage of time. We spent the rest of the day running errands, organizing and planning the rest of our trip. The border opening to Chile busy us very much, they had initially announced that the borders open, but then decided to give only a few border crossings free. In the end, however, a solution emerged for us to be able to continue our journey as planned to Ushuaia by the end of the year. Hungry, we stopped on the way back to our apartment two kilometers outside of town at a burger stand directly on the lake and ended the day at the "Cervezería Blest" - one of the numerous regional breweries. The next day we finally went up the mountain for the first time. There are no less than seven mountain huts (refugios), surrounded by numerous 2000-meter peaks, in the immediate vicinity of the city, inviting visitors to hikes lasting one or more days. The "local mountain" is Cerro Otto with its small but outstandingly located "Refugio Berghof" - both named after Otto Meiling. You guessed it: a German emigrant who left his Bavarian homeland in the 1920s and brought his enthusiasm for mountaineering to Bariloche. It was he who first climbed many of the peaks in the region and who brought the Bavarian mountaineering tradition to Patagonia. Thus, he is considered a pioneer of mountaineering and hiking tourism in Argentina, leading numerous expeditions in the summer and pursuing his great passion for skiing in the winter. Even today, his hut at the Refugio Berghof can be admired with all its furniture and equipment as a small mountain museum. We didn't choose the tourist route, but parked the Gaucha two kilometers from the bottom station of the chairlift and then we climbed steeply for almost two hours until we reached the Refugio. What a view! We could now understand very well why Otto had chosen to settle here. At the Refugio, the innkeeper welcomed us with his two dogs and a cuddly cat and offered us a cool APA (American Pale Ale) from the Wesley Brewery - what a treat! Add to that our food we brought with us, including bretzels we snagged at a bakery, and our lunchtime bliss was perfect. We would have been ready for a second APA round, but it still meant: up to the summit! After about an hour we were at the top and the view was even better than the one from the Refugio: The intense colors of the turquoise-blue lake, the green forests, the brown-grey mountains with their white peaks under the azure sky - fabulous! Since the chairlift was unfortunately not running, we went just as steeply downhill as uphill and after a hot shower, to the pasta dinner to "Alberto", who is known for delicious pasta in large portions at reasonable prices - exactly to our taste and the perfect end to our first exciting day in Bariloche =)
The weather was also very sunny on the next day and so it was actually planned to complete the "Circuito Chico" with rented bicycles - a nearly 30 km long circuit on the kilometers west of the city. Unfortunately, however, the guys from the bike rental told us that some parts of the route were closed today, so we spontaneously rescheduled: Instead of getting on the bikes, it was off to the next refugio! We parked the Gaucha at the foot of the Cerro Lopez and went without further ado on the way to the "Refugio Lopez", which promised another outstanding view. We had enough provisions with us anyway and there was plenty of fresh drinking water in the many rivers on the way up. For three and a half hours we went up on great hiking trails, through the forest, over rivers, whose crossings became more and more exciting with increasing altitude, until we finally arrived at the top. The view was really as breathtaking as advertised and at the summit we received a surprising video call from Marc and his son-man from home - what technology makes possible! We enjoyed the obligatory summit beer, as always, before starting the long way back down and greeting our first "hitchhikers" in the Gaucha on the way home. Due to the poor bus connections on the kilometers outside the city, hitchhiking is commonplace here. And since we had left all our stuff from the Gaucha in the apartment, there was plenty of room. A couple from Buenos Aires got on and immediately gave us some tips for our next destinations. We stopped at the "Cervezería Berlina" and hungrily ordered a delicious dinner in the beautiful garden of the brewery until the sun went down and we retired to our warm, heated cabin at Catarina’s place.
Today we finally got on the saddle and after a short briefing about the bikes and the route, we were well equipped and ready to go for a day trip on two wheels. The entire route was on the only road that leads out of town and at the farthest point in a small circle through the national park, before coming back into town. It's a constant up and down with small climbs, followed by winding descents. After just a few kilometers, we put the bikes down to enjoy the fabulous scenery. On a day without clouds, the play of colors in the sun seems even more intensive and does not let you go. So followed numerous smaller and larger photo stops and when we passed the famous Patagonia brewery and it happened to open its doors at 12 o'clock, we did not miss the opportunity to enjoy this moment and toast to our journey, knowing full well that another 25 kilometers with some elevation gain awaited us. The location of the brewery is really unique and in its beer garden with a view of the lake you can easily spend the whole day. But we were drawn further, deeper and deeper into the National Park. When we saw the Bahia Lopez, it was time to get off the bikes again, onto the beach and out onto the jetty, where the strong wind almost blew us into the water. A wonderful spectacle of the forces of nature! More climbs followed in the dense forest until we finally arrived at the legendary exclusive hotel "Llao Llao". Its exquisite location, the historic building and its special flair captivated us, so we looked for a picnic spot with a view of the huge property. Fascinated and already a bit tired, we started the last kilometers until we reached the parked Gaucha and started our journey home with two other hitchhikers from Spain and Ushuaia. We would definitely feel this tour in our legs for the next few days, but it was all worth it. At the end of the day we enjoyed the sunset again in the Cervezería Patagonia - unique!
Even as it should be a bit cloudier the next day, there was no reason to stay at home. Even if it gets very crowded on the weekends already in the pre-season, we did not miss a side trip to the Swiss colony. Here the first Swiss settlers settled down and when you are there, you immediately understand why: The nature, the landscape and everything is very close to Switzerland - even if the dimensions, the distances and the vastness are certainly much larger here. Today, the "Colonia Suiza" is a mixture of preserved Swiss tradition, arts and crafts market, food mile and an alternative dropout paradise, away from the city. Unsurprisingly, the names of the wooden huts, almost all of which offer food from the grill, music, lots of antiques and plenty of specialties, are strongly Swiss. We stopped at the "Zürich" and the "Valais" and treated ourselves to an original Swiss apple strudel at the end - sensational! After all the hustle and bustle and the delicious food, we headed off for the rest of the day into the forest in the national park, where you can take beautiful, mile-long hikes. Accompanied by great views of the water, after just a few minutes you lose yourself in the middle of the huge trees, the chirping of the birds and the singing of the trees blowing in the wind high above you. A walk turned into 10 kilometers and in the end we were glad when we arrived back at the parked Gaucha. Then it was quickly home, shower and change, then in the evening we were invited to Marina's friend and former colleague Jordi. Jordi came to Bariloche many years ago from near Barcelona, first worked as a ski instructor and then in the hostel, where Marina also worked and is now happily married with two children. Another friend from Andorra was visiting and so we had a great international evening with asado, vino and cerveza until the early hours - Salud!
Then it was time again: Today we had to pack our suitcases, load everything back into the Gaucha and leave Catarina's Cabanas after five great days. However, it should not go too far, namely exactly to the Swiss colony of the previous day. There we looked for a safe place for the Gaucha to stay overnight and found a friendly campground owner who promised to take good care of her overnight. With fully packed backpacks we went on tour again: up to the legendary "Laguna Negra". In the mountain hut at the top of the lagoon, the "Refugio Italia", we had booked ourselves for the night and therefore we had sleeping bags, towels and washing things with us. The first two kilometers we went through dense fir forest steadily uphill until we reached the riverbed. Here the path became narrower and narrower and meandered upward for several hours in a constant up and down along the river. We met some hikers from above, but with us only three others marched up - a good sign that the hut should probably not be too crowded overnight. After about 10 kilometers of relaxed hiking, it was time to get serious. Already from a distance we could hear the waterfall coming closer and closer and after a little refreshment we then saw the rest of the day's program: first a small path up to the waterfall and then in never-ending serpentines to the summit. Fortunately, we had all the time in the world and took it very easy - knowing that we will start the return journey tomorrow. The landscape here topped the previous hikes again and the mountains surrounding us looked more and more like a giant theater. Soon we had left the tree line and the way became more and more barren. Crossing a few mountain rivers, only the isolated shrubs gave us some shade in the hot sun. Then suddenly the first snow field piled up in front of us and with each altitude meter there were more white surfaces. Of course, after a short time already the first snowballs flew, until we finally reached the ridge, where the strong wind blew us almost down again. But what a view! Out of nowhere appeared the huge lagoon and at its end the tiny red mountain hut, our destination for today was near. Once there, the hut host, as always here in Patagonia, greeted us warmly and organized the obligatory summit beer, which we enjoyed overlooking the lagoon until sunset. As soon as the sun was gone, it suddenly became frosty, so we quickly moved into the hut, secured our places in the mattress camp and waited for dinner with hot tea. Besides us, there was another couple and a group of four friends up there - nothing more. Once again we were lucky and had the refugio almost to ourselves. When it was dark, we were served a delicious pumpkin soup, spaghetti with tomato sauce and some dulce de leche for dessert, plus a good bottle of red wine - what a luxury high up in the mountains. Full of anticipation we went out shortly before midnight and dived into an indescribable starry sky with shooting stars - wonderful! This indescribable night in the mountains then held one or two other surprises =)
The next morning Marina was the first one awake and slipped out of her sleeping bag to warm herself in the morning sun. This rose behind the hut and when Christian was also awake, we made ourselves comfortable on a bench wrapped in a blanket and enjoyed the rising sun until the other guests were slowly awake. Then there was already hot coffee and a small delicious breakfast with homemade bread from the oven. The Argentine couple who had also spent the night knew the mountains very well and gave us the tip to go around the lagoon and continue climbing at the other end, where a view into the other valleys should be waiting. Not hearing ourselves say no, we left our backpacks behind and trudged through the snow that surrounded almost the entire lagoon - what fun in the morning. Afterwards we went for an hour again steeply uphill, for which we should be princely rewarded: a super view of the Cerro Tronador, the highest mountain in the area - Wow! On the way back steeply downhill gliding through the snow, light skiing feelings came up, before we were already back at the Refugio, grabbed our backpacks and descended for almost four hours. Today it was much hotter with much less wind, which was clearly evident to all the climbers coming towards us. We made a few more stops before we found the, fortunately, well-preserved Gaucha and rode it, thirsty and tired, directly to nearby Lake Moreno and, after a cool beer and an ice-cold swim in the lake, took a siesta at the beach. With the sunset, we then passed a last time through Bariloche, where we felt so well in the past week that we already have a second stay in planning. But first we went on the "Ruta of the 7 Lakes", north of Bariloche. First destination was Villa La Angostura, 100 km away. The Ruta 40 winds here along Lake Nahuel Huapi, through forests, over hills - the whole into the night: A dream route! In the dark we arrived at our hut for the next three days and were eager to see what would await us the next morning. A hot shower, a quickly prepared risotto with vegetables (yes, we had not forgotten how to cook) and off to bed =)