To come back up north we took the 24hr bus up the fabled route 40 with the Andes peaking out of our left hand window. We had expected to stay in a hostel with a jacuzzi and a lake side view but the hostel was closed for refurbishment so we were stuck in a cheaper alternative with only a bidet. We explored the Swiss chalet town of Bariloche the next day, visited the museum and saw some epic authentic street dancing Randy Jackson would have been proud of. The town is the centre for hiking climbing and all outdoor adventure pursuits.
After moving to a much nicer hostel we went for a days bike ride around the Circuito Chico. 27km in total we got to see some amazing views across Lago Nahuel Huapi. We passed Hotel Llao Llao, one of the most famous in Argentina. Accommodation is about £150 per night and you also get access to the par 70 golf course that circles the hotel and hugs the coast line. It looked like a proper James Bond villains Alpine hideaway.
Along the bike ride we saw hidden turquoise lakes and many an uphill climb. No wonder Lance Armstrong had to take drugs, cycling is hard. What made it easier was a brewery inside the national park at about the 20km mark. "Gilbert's" brewed stout, IPA and pale ale on the premises since 1923. After enjoying the sun in the beer garden deep in the forest atop a mountain and sinking a pint of IPA we took a very welcome steep descent for the last 5km (made more fun by our slightly inebriated state).
Next was one of our biggest challenges to date. A hike up a mountain to stay in a refugio overnight then descend the next day. We took a bus to the foot of Mt Frey in the town of Villa Cathedral. A skiing resort for rich and wealthy Argentinians. Because of the poorly signposted trail and by no means my bad navigational skills we walked along a mountain bike trail in a big circuit for 2 1/2 hours. Just when we thought all was lost we found the start of the Frey trail. It was a slow and steady climb for an hour and a half up the side of a mountain. Then when we reached the river we took a hard right up through a autumnal, green, red and gold forest with a crystal clear river flowing through it. Then at about the 2:45 mark it got tough. A continual steep ascent where the temperature dropped a degree or two and the wind picked up. After a hard 6 hour walk uphill (if you include the dilly dallying) we arrived at the refugio, a stone hut next to a glacial lake at 1700m. Exhausted, we played one game of backgammon then went to bed. Well we tried to sleep but were kept awake by the 3 snoring drunk old farts in the bunks above us.
In the morning full of mountain goat fever, I climbed the last 250 metres scrambling up jagged escarpments to reach the top of the peak overlooking the refugio. A scary but rewarding experience. I understand why Simon loved climbing so much. The descent back to Bariloche town was a walk in the park compared to the gruelling ascent.
We treated ourselves to a steak dinner (when in Rome) at Alto El Fuego. We ordered beef du lomo (what we call rump) with creamy mash and a bottle of wine. I had what can only be described as a foodgasm. Juicy, tasty, delicious, perfection are all words that pale in significance to how good this steak was. After my "When Harry met Sally" moment, we got the dessert menu, "Finale Perfecto" had to be done. I can die happy knowing I've had the best steak of my life, and with the cholesterol in that meal that will probably be sooner than I thought!
Our time in Patagonia and the Lake District was adventurous and energetic followed by great steak and red wine. This time of year is perfect, the colours and the scenery is at its best. I highly recommend to anyone to see this part of the world...and eat the steak!
We are now flying to São Paulo to explore the urban city!
Nick & Laura