¡Hola a todos!
After a few halcyon days in Bariloche my friends and I decided to head south to El Bolson, two hours' drive from the lake-side city. I actually decided to travel very much at the last minute; I have found it a difficult yet exhilarating process to change my plans completely on a whim. I tend to be quite stubborn once I have decided upon a course of action and do not take kindly to changes, which often seem to bring only disruption and confusion. Of course, on this trip there is very little that needs to be set in stone and on this occasion I was especially glad that I did decide to break with normal habit. So it was that I found myself travelling south with Monica, Kelsey and Sebastiaan.
El Bolson is a small town set in a luscious valley, which allows it to enjoy a micro-climate with the temperature noticably warmer than in Bariloche, where the city is open to blusters from the lake and down off the surrounding peaks. This weekend was set to be one of consummate relaxation; it certainly did not disappoint. We arrived in town mid-morning on Saturday and I immediately headed off alone to find an internet café and access to Skype, so that I could phone home and talk to my sister, who was enjoying her 21st birthday a few days early, surrounded by our wonderful family and friends. The opportunity promised to be my best chance to see and speak to many welcome, loving faces on my trip; alas, it was not to be. After an hour trawling the sun-baked, semi-deserted streets, visiting all four of the place's internet cafes, I was finally forced to admit that this small, charming, quaint, deadly dull, backward, back-water town remains completely without the joys of modern technology. I wandered back to the main square whispering bitter, dark thoughts and thinking desperate thoughts over potential conspiracy theories surrounding the cafes and their tacit agreement to bar Skype, thus forcing their customers to use the hideously expensive pay-phones instead. I was horribly disappointed not to be able to wish my sister a Happy Birthday vocally – so that she could hear at least – and felt rather down. Lucky for me that I had chosen to travel south with such wonderful people – I rendezvoused with the other three in the famous local market and was laughing and joking again within minutes. It was a shame not to be able to Skype but, I did at least catch up with my loved ones later in the week and I know that Beth did not mind – she perhaps breathed a sign of relief that her brother was not able to cramp her style!
The market was, frankly, something of a let-down: I have seen bigger, more interesting examples elsewhere in Argentina and, indeed, back home in dear 'ole Blighty. The location did have me idly musing over the possibility of seeing a South American equivalent of Barnaby stalking among the stalls but, alas, if he was present, I remained unable to recognize him. We did at least meet some welcoming, affable stall-holders who were more than willing to allow Monica and I to practise our fledgling Spanish upon them. We rounded off our tour of the market with a trip to Jauja, home to possibly the best ice-cream I have ever tasted (it is the same store that I was raving about in my previous blog about Bariloche).
We returned to our rustic, rural hostel just outside town to discover that we had arrived in town in time for the annual party to celebrate the end of Easter, coinciding with the end of the summer high season for holidaying. Cue an evening of revelry and complete over-indulgence as we attended a traditional Argentinian 'asado' (BBQ) complete with wine, beer and copious amounts of greens (yes!). The barbeque was lit sometime around 3pm, amounting to an open bonfire, and the meat roasted on spits until roughly 10pm. The meat here is some of the tenderest I have ever tasted and the whole process is something of a social, cultural institution. We lounged about in hammocks, awaiting the appointed time. At 8pm, we gathered in a converted barn for a brilliant, well-organized wine-tasting of four local wines, complete with a talk – in Spanish only, of course – by a sommelier from one of the wineries itself. I thoroughly enjoyed myself; some of the wines were very tasty and I even understood the odd sentence! The meal commenced at 10pm: by 11 I had devoured roughly my current body-weight in red meat and was feeling a tenderness akin to that of the beef I had so recently ingested. Once again my friends came to my rescue, with Kelsey and Sebastiaan providing appropriate levels of sympathy and sarcasm to help me through a rather uncomfortable hour in front of the fire, which had now assumed the appearance of a true bonfire, with revellers circling the edge and a middle-aged Argentine with a surprisingly strong voice strummering a guitar in the background. With the night drawing on and the temperature falling, we re-convened in the converted barn of wine-tasting fame for a tiny, impromptu disco and copious full-blooded battles on the Fusbol table. I was characteristically dire and soon excused myself with the self-demotion to the position of vociferous spectator. The evening came to a clean, calm end for me at 4am, when I gladly dragged myself to my bed. A fantastic event.
The remainder of our time in El Bolson passed without much of note. On Monday morning, our motty crew broke up: Monica had decided that the time was ripe for her to continue journying north, on up to Mendoza. Kelsey and Sebastiaan had hit upon a three-/four-day hike within the surrounding hills of El Bolson, while I had come to the conclusion that it was time to return to Bariloche, complete whatever else I could by way of experiences within the city and then also head north to Mendoza. I confess, the parting was surprisingly tough: my friends and I, especially Kelsey and Sebastiaan, had grown close in a very short period of time and waving them off in the morning was difficult. I departed some time later, with my heart a little heavy and El Bolson slightly dimmer than the day before.
On my return to Bariloche and to the wonderful Hostel 1004, I met up with Nick and Laylian, friends from during my time in Buenos Aires and their friend Nikki from Australia, whom I met briefly in El Chalten. We four decided to hire a car and spent a blissful day touring the Seven Lakes Route north out of Bariloche, up to San Martin de los Andes, a smaller, sleepier version of Bariloche, though clearly in danger of falling prey to an ever-increasing number of time-share apartments and over-commercialization. The lakes themselves were spectacular and the route itself entertaining – every pit-stop was greeted by my body with creaks and groans after the punishing rattling down some by-ways that can only purport to be “roads”. I have been told that the “roads” in Bolivia and Peru are much worse; heaven help me. We lunched in a delightful, secluded spot by one of the lakes, our only company being the birds in the trees, some inquisitive wasps and a few fly-fishermen, out on the lake itslef in hilariously-styled rubber dingies, which they sat in, their legs dangling into the water, bouyed by their quaint inflatables. The only slightly sour note to our trip was a rather woeful underestimation of the time required to see our route: the final four hours passed by in a blur, as we hurried home via a superior route from north of San Martin, out of Junin de los Andes. Our trip amounted to a total distance of 400km (250 miles) and took a full day. We arrived back in Bariloche with darkness fallen, at roughly 8.15pm. I shall not tire of typing this; another brilliant day out and yet more wonderful memories made.
¡Saludos a todos!