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Friday, 30 November 2012
Argentina Part 2: Bariloche and the Lake District
I arrived in Bariloche with a sigh of relief, and quickly took shelter, parking Izzy next to the apartment hotel the folks had rented. It would probably be the last time I could afford nice accommodation, so I planned to take advantage. I was greeted at the door by dad, and quickly followed by mum and Andy Nyman. The Nymans studied medicine with my parents, and they have all been close friends since. Andy and Judy can always be relied on for a fun time, and both families have had some great times travelling together.We had much to catch up on but having been on the road for 5 days, and camping for a few of those, a decent shower and quarantine of my riding clothes was needed first. Once the offending items had been safely contained, it was about time to head out for dinner.
Having lived in Latin America for several months now, I became the designated translator whenever needed - although I had some difficulty with the Argentine accent. As opposed to the rest of Latin America, "ll" is pronounced halfway between the "sh" in shut and "j" in jam (most Latinos pronounce it similar to the "y" in yeah). I helped where needed, although Bariloche is a tourist oriented town, and as a result many people speak English.
San Carlos de Bariloche (many towns have similar names and so often the region or state is needed to differentiate between places) is in an impossibly beautiful location - the snow capped Andes provide a perfect backdrop and crystal clear source of water for the beautiful lakes that dominate the landscape. I had come full circle back to Newfoundland, it seems. During the winter the town is overflowing with Argentina's elite hurling themselves down the impressive ski slopes, but for now the ski shop windows were gathering dust (literally), and the hikers and bikers had control of the town. I say bikers because I now had allies - every corner played host to a parked motorcycle, often a new BMW, complete with Touratech panniers. In fact, there was a charity concert put on by one of Argentina's motorcycle gangs (Las Ratas, or the Rats). AC/DC doesn't really suit Bariloche, despite how I feel about both. It did appear that many of the bikes had come directly from BA on the paved road - there wasn't a speck of dust to be seen. Despite the increased presence of Harley-Davidsons and BMWs, most of the tourists were nature lovers, not throttle twisters.
To that end, I had Izzy properly secured (locked to a post), and headed out with the others to climb up some of these hills and get back to nature. Walking through the verdant forest surrounding the lakes, it was amazing to consider just how quickly nature can provide so much contrast. Over the last few days I had ridden through great plains, deserts and mountains, and now was surrounded in a lush sea of pine trees and snow. And if I ever got sick of this scenery, I would soon be heading further south into the inhospitable wilds of the Argentine Patagonia. I hiked with the folks for a while, but eventually broke free and walked to the end of the trail at a beach on a deserted peninsula. I didn't bring any camping gear and only had a short time there, but I did my best General McArthur and muttered "I will return".
2 days later, I returned. After walking up to a mountain refuge, only to be minutes behind a large group of loud Argentines, I was grateful for the relative peace of the lakeside peninsula. While not deserted anymore, the French family who also decided to camp were quiet & respectful enough to allow me to believe I was alone. Returning to town the next day, I napped on the warm grass outside the cathedral while I waited for the others to return from a bike ride. I reflected on how much this trip has really changed me - I don't particularly care what other people think of me anymore. This was particularly apparent when people started to stare at me. I can see it from their perspective - I don't shave often anymore, I hadn't showered, and I was sleeping on the grass wearing thermal pants, shorts and a tshirt. Oh, and a group of stray dogs (although they looked suspiciously well groomed - better than I was) thought I was onto something and napped next to me. But then, they were missing one of my favourite things- napping in the warm sun on wonderfully soft and warm grass, so it's their loss.
When the others had returned, I showered and attempted to assimilate into society. We had another lovely dinner together, and headed out to watch the latest James Bond reincarnation, Skyfall. Mercifully it was in English with Spanish subtitles. On that note, who actually prefers films to be dubbed over, rather than subtitled? Almost anyone I speak to (regardless of their competence in English) prefer subtitles, and I definitely prefer foreign language films to be subtitled (I've watched Los Diarios Motocicleta alot on this trip). To dub over removes the subtleties of the scriptwriting, as well as transforming an otherwise engaging film into a series of laughable mouth movements and bad accent impersonations (watch MIB3 in French if you doubt me - Will Smith sounds like Pee Wee Herman).
The next day it was time to say goodbye to the Nymans and the folks, as they headed for the local airport on a flight bound for El Calfate in Southern Patagonia. I was sad to see them go as I was unlikely to see them until I got home in Australia - El Calafate is not far from Ushuaia, and I wasn't exactly keen to go south so quickly during the spring. I tried to get Izzy started, but after a week she just wouldn't turn over. I waved everyone goodbye, and then it hit me - Despite having met up several times, my parents have never seen Izzy moving, which is sad.
She was suffering the same problem as in Brazil/Bolivia, which I couldn't fix on the side of the road in Bariloche. I decided against looking for a mechanic - I had time, so I would fix this one myself. The hostel I found was about 6km away, but the road was fairly flat and I had all day. I set out walking Izzy to the hostel. It may have looked ridiculous, but it was actually easier than carrying the bags myself (many thanks to whoever invented the wheel & wheelbearing!). However, someone quickly took pity on me, and a pickup truck pulled up alongside me offering a ride. Izzy and I went up onto the tray of the truck for a quick joyride. It's surprisingly difficult to balance a bike that's riding on top of a truck - similar to riding along a road during an earthquake, I imagine.
After getting dropped of at the hostel, I set about relaxing a bit and searching the web for possible options on what was wrong. I had booked in for 3 nights max, and there was only 2 others in the hostel (both in my dorm). Over the next 3 days I fell into a pattern of setting up a list of things to be done that day, then getting through about half of that by mid afternoon and giving in to the beautiful weather, great views or cheap beer and beef. After 3 days I had pretty much done everything I could, and eventually found the underlying problem - the sidestand switch was broken. A quick cut an join of some wires, and we were ready to go. Only problem was, I didn't want to leave.
I've been to some great hostels in my time - places where the party never stops, places that could be sold as 5 star resorts, but very few that felt truly like a home. Alaska hostel in Bariloche, Argentina truly succeeded there - the owners Naty & Javier were great, all the guests became friends, and one of the hostel dogs, Ramon became a close substitute for my own dog Carter. Ramon actually walked the 7.5km into town with me one day, waiting outside the parts shops and restaurant while I got what I needed. I started to make excuses for why I couldn't leave just yet, and it wasn't hard to make an impressive list - I HATE riding in snow, there was so much left to see in Bariloche, etc. I ended up staying for 10 days - the longest I had been in one place since Hemmingford, Canada.
Over the last week I did more repairs on Izzy (I got through my wishlist, rather than just things that NEEDED to be done) and explored the lake district. The area surrounding Bariloche is without a doubt the most beautiful area of Argentina I've seen so far, and one of the most beautiful in the world. Bariloche is actually located within a National Park, which is both promising, and disheartening - the park is huge, but development is uninhibited. The ride along the Seven Lakes rd is one of the prettiest and most fun I have had in some time.
I also climbed the nearby ski mountain, Cerro Cathedral. Walking straight up a ski slope is both pretty difficult and boring, but the view from the top was nothing short of spectacular - rugged snow capped mountains dominated the landscape as the rare Andean Condor soared overhead. On that note- in the 10 minutes that I watched the Condors, they flapped their wings once. I continued on the 'trail' (a series of red dots painted on rocks far apart), and things got pretty hairy - alternating between climbing over large boulders, tramping through snow, and scrambling across fields of loose stones, trying not to set off a rockslide. It wasn't exactly the easiest of hikes, but it was worth it to be on the trail by myself - I spent most of the day completely on my own.
I had found a local parts dealer who could actually supply the parts that I needed. When I queried how he could be so sure that the clutch cable he showed me would fit, he pointed out the back, to the KLR250 that happened to be his own. From Belize to Bariloche I had been living in a vacuum of unavailable parts and blank looks. I now had an ally, and I took full advantage - brakes, clutch cable, cooling hose, front fork seals... you name it, I probably had it replaced by Barimotos. The main dealership in BA was unable to get the cooling hose, so the look on my face must have been priceless when he looked at the duct tape on my old hose and asked if I wanted a new one. I asked how long it would take to arrive (thinking 2-3 weeks) - he shrugged and said "2 hours, maybe 3". If you want parts, screw BA - head to Bariloche.
The next day I finally set off for Esquel, 280km south. I pretty quickly crossed the 42nd parallel, meaning the beginning of subsidised fuel and one of the wildest places on Earth, Patagonia.