Hello from Argentina, and happy Columbus Day! The 12th of October is a designated bank holiday in Argentina in honour of the explorer responsible for much of the colonization of the Americas, but this isn´t exactly good news for me. Like Sunday yesterday, it pretty much means that most of Argentina is closed. Bariloche is a pretty touristic town so there are some shops open, but the busses are running a very reduced schedule so we are pretty much stuck in town today.
The journey from Puerto Varas to Bariloche was pretty scenic, passing a few nice lakes, waterfalls and cloud covered forests. We got through Chilean exit immigration without problem and I spent the last of my Chilean Pesos on a load of snacks for the bus. The border control was unusually located half an hour away from the actual border, with the Argentinian immigration half an hour away on the other side. The reason for this soon became clear as we drove high into the snow covered mountains and through some really inhospitable terrain. The official border was located right at the top of the pass. The snow ploughs had been out to clear the road of what was very deep snow, and I felt all Christmassy as we passed hordes of snow covered pine trees. On arrival into Bariloche at about 8.15pm we stepped out into a barrage of freezing wind and sleet. I thought I was done with the cold following the salt flats crossing in Bolivia, but apparently not.
The next day, although the sleet and rain had cleared up to leave bright sunshine, it was still perishingly cold and very very windy. Patagonia is renowned for being cold and wet much of the year, but I wasn´t expecting it to be this bad. Bariloche is South America´s premier ski resort, but ski season officially ends today and most of the snow at this level has already melted. There are lots of outdoor activities to be done when the weather is warmer (January to March) but at this time of year, almost inbetween seasons, most things are not operating. I had a wander through the Bavarian style town square, which was awash with St Bernard dogs who the locals were charging to take photos of, and went down to the lake side. Given the wind, the lake was very choppy, and a large number of locals had parked their cars up by the lake wall so as to get a free car wash which was a surreal sight. You certainly wouldn´t do that by a sea wall.
In time for lunch a few of us got on a local bus bound for the resort village of Llou Llou (pronounced jow jow - Argentinians pronounce double L as a J strangely). It was about a 30 minute drive away passed the 2 cable cars I had hoped to go up which were closed because of the wind. There wasn´t a lot to see in the village other than a massive and posh hotel perched on the hill. The alpine scenery around was stunning, however it was simply too cold to stay outside for an extended period, so after lunch and short walk round we headed back to Bariloche. We had a BBQ last night at the hostel, which was my first taste of world famous Argentinian steak. It was very good and I shouldn´t think it´ll be my last one before I leave.
Today has probably been the most boring day of my entire trip. The weather has actually got worse with the sun having disappeared, and as aforementioned there is simply nothing to do in this town out of season and on a bank holiday. I had a wander round a few of the many chocolate shops (Bariloche is renown for its chocolate) and had a brief look in the uninspiring cathedral. It is now 3pm and I am pretty lost for stuff to keep me occupied until we leave at 2pm tomorrow. Next is the dreaded 20-22 hour night bus to Buenos Aires, but in BA we get some new people on our tour group and the weather will be much warmer (about 20C), so I can´t wait to get there.