We took a Scarytaxi to the domestic airport, screeching down the 9-lane (each direction) Avenida 9 de Julio bisecting downtown BA. Seatbelts? Where we're going, we don´t need seatbelts!
What first struck us as we stepped on to the tarmac of Bariloche airport was the tuning-fork clarity of the air. Roughly 6.5 degrees South of Buenos Aires, in the Argentinian Lake District on the Eastern edge of the Andes, Bariloche is like Queenstown, New Zealand but when the backpacker boom was just starting.
Overlooking Lago Nahual Huapi and surrounded by spectacular mountains (Tronador, Cerro Lopez and Cerro Catedral), this timber and stone alpine-style town is bedecked with red and white roses. Bariloche is rapidly expanding with adventure tour operators, chalets, hostels and outdoor gear merchants, all clamouring for the attentions of not only foreign travellers but also the bright young Argentinian things who have made this a hot-spot destination for celebrating their high-school graduations. In winter, it also acts as a magnet for ski-ing and boarding enthusiasts. Land is cheap as chips at the moment - maybe a good place to start a business!
While a much more easy-going atmosphere distinguishes the town from frenetic BA, people are still making extra cash from drivers stopped at traffic lights, but where they sell tawdry good luck charms in BA, in Bariloche young women juggle flags - no doubt a much more profitable enterprise.
Making our own contribution to the backpacker economy, we signed up for a canopy ride in the coihue forest just outside Bariloche. Zipping through the treetops, 50 feet from the groundcanopy ride, for one morning we were Tarzan and Jane (albeit with safety harnesses instead of loincloths).
For dinner, we eschewed the usual side of a cow, opting instead for Mexican. Amid the "Day of the Dead" paraphernalia lining the walls of Dias de Zapata, we took our lives in our hands ordering the "special" beer glasses. Your normal measure of ale is served in a chilled glass (so far, so nice) with the rim lined with plenty of salt (so far, so meh) and flakes of chillies grown on the slopes of the devil´s own volcano, and harvested by the Reaper´s scythe (so far, so aaaaargh).
Having had our age driven home to us when we failed to get any sleep because of the selfsame bright young Argentinian things partying below our bedroom in the hostel (bloodystooodents!), we quickly arranged more suitable lodging at El Cielo apartments for 4 nights...and what a lucky choice that was! Our lovely hosts, Cristina and Horacio, had filled the place with treaty treats, including a box of chocolates, a basket of toast, jam, fresh fruit, coffee, tea, juice, beer and slices of homemade raspberry tart. Each day, when we came home from our day-trips we would find a fresh plate of something home-made and treatalicious - Mini-muffins, sugared raspberries or savoury empanadas. To top it off, Horacio drove us to the airport in his big red shiny jeep. Big thanks to them both, and their daughter Cielo.
But it´s not all cake-eating and scenery-admiring, you know. We've still got some energy and will-power left and so we hired mountain bikes (from a man in a full leg cast!) and headed off along the lakeside, past lavender fields, to Colonia Suiza. The village is made of seemingly freshly-cut and varnished trees beneath a snow-capped alpine mountain. What more could you want? Oh yes, a cold drink comes gratis with the bike hire on its return. These nice unexpected little touches are starting to become a feature of the trip.
While in Bariloche we met up with Lucy (hi, Lucy!) a friend of Peter and Dawn for lunch at Playa Bonita overlooking the lake - a lunch that, after a couple of bottles of mighty-fine white wine between us, turned into an afternoon lazing in the sun on the lakeshore, refreshed occasionally by dips into the chilly, clear and reflective lake - swimming in the scenery.
Our last day allowed us our best views yet as we took the chairlift to one of the many viewpoints above the lakes, from where we could see Chile in the distance. A very enjoyable dinner at a gorgeous little Italian restaurant, white-washed and surrounded by roses, low-ceilinged and chandeliered, the tablecloths were scattered with cerise rose petals. A dessert of figs and goats cheese was accompanied by incapacitatingly generous measures of liqueurs. On top of the fine wine (again, well selected by Lucy), we staggered to catch one of the late nigh buses back to the centre. Great to meet you, Lucy - Good travelling and be lucky!