Bariloche to Calafate
Both of us had really been looking forward to Argentina, and the promise of amazing steaks, delicious wine, and friendly folk, and now we were here. It wasnít the first time in Argentina, but this time we were here to stay, at least for a while.
There was often a section of no manís land between most South American countries, and that area here on the Chile / Argentina frontier was simply gorgeous.
As we rode through the National park, shared by the two countries, as we climbed to the top of some of the hills, we looked down on lakes set between snow-capped volcanoes, twisted our way through forests, along more lakeshores, until we emerged on the outskirts of Bariloche.
Bariloche was another famous ski resort and centre for outdoor adventures. I had been thinking of trying to work there for a ski season, but arriving at the beginning of summer as we were, there was no snow apart from on top of some distant mountains. The town however was still bustling. January and February is the summer holiday period for Argentina, and as a result, Argentina was awash with holidaymakers. Our bible, the ever faithful Lonely Planet, had warned us that in January and February bookings were essential in Argentina, but we had not paid much heed. It was our downfall. We hunted and searched in Bariloche for a room or pair of dorm beds, but we were out of luck. The crowded town was full. We were sat on the bike outside the Tourist Information office when a burly red-faced gent approached and asked us if we were looking for a room. When we responded in the affirmative, he pulled out a flyer form his pocket, told us there were still rooms available, and gave us directions. We rode up the hill and, on our second pass, found the hotel. It was small, expensive, run down and pokey, but we were tired and wanted to get out of our bike gear and explore the town on foot before the last of the dayís light disappeared.
We werenít that impressed with Bariloche, and decided to continue on to our next destination, El Bolson, a less touristy, more chilled, Hippie town, where we had planned to meet up again with Toni and Carlos.
We enjoyed yet another spectacular ride on the Routa 40, Cheís highway, through the Argentine Lake district to El Bolson, and after one wrong turn, we found the hostel that we had booked from Bariloche.
We checked in and took our stuff up to our dorm. We couldnít help but notice how unfriendly and unwelcoming the people had been in Argentina so far. Since the border, where the friendly Argentine Police had greeted us enthusiastically, we had come across a string of moody, insular, inimical Argentines. The staff at the hostel were grouchy, and the other guests-mostly Argentine- just seemed really unsociable compared to what we had been used to. We both missed the company of Toni and Carlo, and just as I was about to vocalise this to Jacquie we heard a familiar engine sound, and a few seconds after that, Carlo rode into the driveway of the hostel. We ran over to greet them, and explained that we hadnít been overwhelmed by Argentine hospitality and friendliness, and were really glad to have our mates back.
That night, we went out together in El Bolson, and found a small local restaurant, where the owner, the chef and the barman gave us our first real experience of how genuinely affable Argentineans could be.
We ate a great BBQ and sampled some of the regionís locally micro brewed beer, before heading back to the hostel.
We decided over dinner that we would all leave together the next day for Trevellin, a village founded by Welsh settlers escaping Anglicisation and poverty in the late 1800ís.The road was packed gravel,and once again we had to lean into the wind and push our way down the compacted gravel road to our destination.
We reached Trevellin to find there were still a handful of Welsh coffee shops, now serving the tourists more than the descendants of the original settlers. We had booked a hostel on the outskirts of the town, and were delighted with our choice. There were all kinds of animals running amok in the grounds, chickens, goats and dogs among them, and the Israeli owner was friendly and welcoming. He showed us around and told us of his plans to improve the property in the coming years. He had a few other guests staying with him, mainly Israeli travellers who had just finished their military service, the most common type of tourist in South America. The Israeliís normally move around in large packs, dominating every hostel or town they visit. Isolated, I found the Israeliís charming, kind and funny, but in a pack, they were a force to be reckoned with, inconsiderate, impolite, and cliquey. Fortunately, these guys were cool, and we all hung out together at the hostel in harmony.
We spent a couple of days at the hostel, enjoying the slightly warmer temperature of the Trevellin microclimate.
Our next stop was Saramiento, and once again, we decided to split, Carlo was wanting more dirt road adventures, while Jacquie and I were content with the tarmac. The final approach to Trevellin had seen the windís strength increase, and we were told to expect more the further south we travelled, but I was totally unprepared for what nature had in store for us.
From El Bolson, there wasnít an awful lot to see in Argentina until we reached Western Patagonia and the glaciers of Calafate and El Chalten. The road distances were huge, and the there was nothing to break the monotony of the boring blacktop.
Saramiento looked as good as any a place to stop for an overnighter, nestled as it was between two lakes. As we neared the town, the wind coming across the lake blew with a force that threatened to blow us, and the bike, right off the road. I battled the winds, Jacquie clinging on behind me, until finally, exhausted, we arrived in Saramiento.
Saramiento reminded me in many ways of some of the towns we had ridden through in Peru. Brick buildings constructed with no flair whatsoever. The town was soulless, characterless, and hostel-less. We found a hotel, again costing far too much for what it was, and Jacquie and I both agreed that we always seemed to end up paying more for the hotels and hostels that were in places that we didnít even want to be. We headed out for a meal, and after realising that there was absolutely nothing at all of interest in the place, we returned to our hotel and watched some TV. In Spanish.
From here on in, we were in the land of the bastard winds. For the next two days we were constantly hammered by the winds, Garth moving forwards in a straight line but leaning at a 30-degree angle. It was tiring and unrewarding. The road was dull, straight and flat, with nothing to distract the eye except for the occasional oil drill diligently pumping away, standing solitarily on the brown plains.
This dull road continued on for three full days, the wind constantly attacking us from our right. As we finally drew close to Calafate, the blue sky clouded over, and became blacker and blacker by the minute.
We knew what was coming next, and sure enough, with out much delay, the heavens opened. We rode through the storm and were out the other side of it after an hour of riding through fist-sized raindrops. In my mirrors I could see the threatening black sky behind us, and I opened up the throttle to get us to our destination as quickly as possible.
Here comes the rain...
Posted by Dan Shell at April 28, 2010 08:48 PM GMT
And out the other side