Chocolate, snowfights and Pudu.

17 10 2008

Arriving in Bariloche, the first thing I did was locate a DHL and get my passport info sent off! Now with nothing left to do but wait (the consular said it would take around 2 weeks…) we set about seeing what Bariloche had to offer. The hostel we decided to stay in was called Pudu. It’s a very small hostel (around 20 people max) but it has a definite home from home feel. In fact, over the next week that we stayed there I have never felt more home in a hostel anywhere in the world. A large number of people when travelling around South America decide to stay in the large Marco Polo HI chain hostels. Whilst I can see the benefits – lots of people to socialise with, normally a large bar, in my experience these places usually lack any sort of atmosphere. The one in Baricloche for example is a tall imposing red concrete structure, it has a large bar and a multitude of bedrooms, and looks out across… the equally large bulding opposite it. Pudu however is small, impossible to find due to having no sign outside apart from a large chalk board, and looks out across the impressive Lago Nahuel Huapi, complete with mountain backdrop. Dumping our bags in a small dorm room, complete with private bathroom, we headed out into the small garden. Sitting in the hammocks looking out across the lake with the sun shining down on us we decided that this would definitely not be a bad place to chill out and wait for the Embassy to do their work! We had seen most of what Argentina had to offer and time was ticking. The plan was to see Bariloche and then Mendoza before heading across into Chile over the Andes to the capital, Santiago.

That night we sat in the bar in the hostel, supping the homebrew, with Milla the dog curled up at our feet. John and Emma, the owners, are absolutely lovely people and make everyone feel incredibly welcome. Originally from Ireland, they spent their honeymoon travelling around India, before heading to Buenos Aires and then down to Bariloche. Here they fell in love with the place and decided to open a hostel.Eventually finding the right place, they set about cleaning it up before opening it to the public. It is still work in progress (there is no skirting board, and the bottom section of the garden is over run…) but the wonderful thing is that the guests don´t mind chipping in. Whilst we were there, we witnessed Brodie from New Zealand (a former carpenter) doing the floor and skirting board and Stephen (something in Finance) offered to paint some amazing murals on the wall of the bar. Last I heard, they finally had a sign outside to replace the chalk board and work was still commencing slowly but surely inside. Don´t get me wrong, the place isnt a building sight, it simply lacks some of the finishing touches. This adds to the charm of the place. They also have an amazing DVD collection, and we spent many an evening sitting together arguing over which film to put on next. However, saving the best to last, the icing on the cake was the breakfast. Every morning we would head downstairs to the smell and taste of fresh, warm, homemade scones! Life in Pudu was pretty damn great!

We stayed in Pudu for just over a week. We didn’t do an incredible amount, it was simply nice relaxing in the hostel or wandering around the town itself. There is a definite Swiss feel to the town. The area´s main attraction is the nearby Ski Resort of Cerro Catedral, one of the country´s largest. The main square in the town is home to a number of St Bernards, complete with Keg Collars; their owners charging for photos with them. The buildings in the main sqaure are all glad in pine, further adding to the feel. The town largest attraction for me though, was the chocolate. The street is lined with large chocolate shops. Each selling their own home made brand. The best by far was ´Rapa Nui´! Here you could buy fresh raspberries, dipped in three different types of chocolate. Divine! Sadly though, a backpacker budget could only afford me two at a time. Better than none at all at least. If you still had room, which lets face it, you would; Bariloche was also home to the best sandwich shop. Morfy´s was located down a small street, and like Pudu was equally unimposing. Similar to Subway in that you choose your filling, then your salad and dressing: the difference is that they don’t hold back on stuffing your sandwich with so much ingredients that you could easily live on one sandwich a day! Especially good after a night in Pudu bar, the sandwiches were a culinary delight, and cheap too!

We did leave the town itself a few times. Emma had put together a book, with tips on where to eat, where to drink and what to do, including a large list of free things. Feeling an urge to burn off some of the Morfys bulge that was beginning to develop, we decided to walk up the nearby Cerro Otto. It was a two hour walk up the top, with the lure of a revolving restaurant at the top. On the way up, you are treated to wonderful views of the lakes and mountains, that seem to stretch on for miles and miles. As we approached the top, the weather took a turn for the worse and the fog set in, taking with it the view. With only 50 metres to go, we came across what appeared to be the end of the path, and a large furnicular railway in its place. Not wanting to pay the ridiculous price to ride the rest of the way up, we enquired where the remainder of the path was, to be told that it we wanted a hot chocolate at the top, we would have to fork out for the ridiculous railway. Having walked for 2 hours, I was not impressed to have to pay exactly the same as those that catch the cable car to the top (another option, for the lazy!). Still, we all wanted a drink, so we begrudgingly paid the man and made it the top. Heading into the restaurant, the fog had set in so thickly, that all we had on offer was a 360 degree view of cloud! Still the hot chocolate was ok and we headed back down the hill.

That night we were in for treat! Since being at Pudu we had already been treated to an amazing asado complete with coleslaw and potatoe salad, but the night the boat was pushed out even further! We had our first roast dinner since leaving home! It was amazing (Disclaimer – I hasten to add – No way near as good as my Mothers!) There was ample of amounts of roast chicken, carrots, two types of potatoe, stuffing and thick gravey. Plus there was copious amounts of good red wine to wash it down with. There was silence in the room as everyone tucked in, savouring each mouthful. That night we stayed up for most of the night, drinking more wine, beer and shots off the notorious snowboard! Numerous irish folk songs were played, and there was much dancing on the tables and people attempting to play the spoons or anything that was near to hand. It was a good night indeed!

With three other people from the hostel, we decided to hire a car and head to Nahuel Huapi National Park. I decided to put name forward and drive the car; a brave decision considering I had never driven on the wrong side of the road before. I didn’t confess this until the morning when I was safely tucked behind the wheel. Heading out of town, I decided to pass the buck to John to get us out of town in one piece. I decided I would drive in the national park when there was little chance of coming across other cars, or pedestrians! The park itself is home to Cerro Tronador, and also the Manso River Glacier, better known as “Ventisquero Negro” (Black Snowfield) as it is covered in earth, sands and stones. The drive was long and bumpy, but there was plenty to see. However, as with our trip to Cerro Otto, the weather was again against us, and the higher we drove, the murkier it got. To top it off, it also began to rain: very heavily! We ate our lunch in true british style; huddled together inside the car, staring out at the bleak view outside. Not wanting to head back though, we carried on to the Manso River Glacier. We had seen photos from other people in the hostel, and hoped to see equally amazing views of sliding masses of black ice, and towering peaks, however it was not to be. We contented ourselves with a quick photo in front of some small black icebergs, before trudging back to the car. The last stop was the base of Cerro Tronador. Parking in the car park, we headed out into the elements, determined to walk up to the base of the Mountain. The path was covered in snow, which was particularly unpleasant for John as he only had his sandles, not the best choice of footwear in artic conditions! As we approached the foot of the mountain, the rain finally eased off and we decided to have a snow fight! Again, it was a world away from home; with the Cerro towering up above us, and nothing but snow around us, it was certainly worth the drive. Heading back down towards Bariloche, with myself now behind the wheel, the car smelling like wet dog, we were all treated to a few pieces of Bariloche´s finest (the cocoa variety). You´ll be pleased to know that the journey back passed without incident!

Before we knew, it was time to head up to Mendoza, where hopefully my new identity would be posted too! On our last day we decided to head up one more mountain, Cerro Campanario. At one point National Geographic named Cerro Campanerio one of the “Top 10 Views of the World.” We were definitely not going to miss out on this one. The best time to visit is for sunset. Catching the bus out of town, we remembered to bring our torches as we had been advised. Arriving at the base, we headed up to the Aerosilla Cerro Campanario…aka chairlift to discover it deserted. The only way up then was through a faint path through the woods. We had not prepared for this, and had both donned flip flops before heading out of the door. The climb was steep to put it mildly and followed the ski lift up the hill. After around 45 minutes though of tough trekking, we reached the summit. There was nobody around, and true to form, a strong wind was begininng to pick up. We chose our spot though and sat down to enjoy what we had heard to be a legendary sunset. The panoramic view itself was amazing enough. Fom the top you can see out across the huge waters of Nahuel Huapi and Perito Moreno down below. You can see for miles in any direction until your line of sight is stopped by another one of Mother Nature’s beautiful mountain peaks: Cerro Otto, Cerro Lopez, Cerro Goye, Cerro Catedral, and Cerro Capilla to name a few. Unfortunately, the weather was again not on our side, and the sunset was marred by thick cloud. As soon as the sunset we headed down, realising why we had been instructed to bring torches; the moment the sun disappeared it got dark really quick, especially in the dense forest. We managed to make it to the bottom in one piece and caught our bus back to Pudu for one last night.

The next morning, we sadly said our goodbyes to Pudu and everyone there, and boarded the bus to our last stop in Argentina; Mendoza.

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