Cycling the Lakes District
San Carlos De Bariloche, Bariloche, Argentina
Vern: After a 28 hour bus journey (the worst part of which was 'Killers' - an awful Ashton Kutcher movie - which one has to watch because the volume is set for everyone's enjoyment) we set foot in beautiful San Carlos de Bariloche. The town is set on a massive lake and is the largest in the Argentinian lakes district.
Bariloche inherits a lot from Switzerland, having apparently been forged by Swiss-German immigrants. Stone and wood buildings adorn the slopes, there are at least two chocolaliers on every block and fondue is readily available. It's so familiar to the Swiss in fact, that we came across two sets of Swiss tourists that cut their time in Bariloche short because it was just like being at home.
We chose two excursions from the exhaustive list of nature-stuff on offer: cycling the Circuito Chico - a 30km bike ride and hiking up Cerro Campanario to a famed viewpoint.
The mountain-bike ride was challenging for us amateurs but rewarding. It took me all of 5 minutes after leaving the cycle-hire shop to get the chain stuck good-and-tight in between gears - I had to wheel it back to the bike-rental place where the mechanic winced, and then wheeled my wreck into the workshop before giving me a new bike. The circuit comprised a series of panoramic vistas, lakeside coves, blissful downhills and wretched uphills. Christmas trees lined the roadside and the smell of pine reminded me of holidays playing Robin Hood in the pine forest on my paternal grandparent's ranch in France. A dirt track lead us down to an unconvincing 'Swiss Village' where a very convincing chocolatier (dressed in full traditional wear, like Heidie's dad) let us sample his wares. Another dirt track later in the circuit took us down to a run-of-the-mill picnic spot, and we wondered if the bike shop were over-selling these optional off-road detours only to increase the likelihood of punctures and up-sell their 'roadside rescue service'. We were shattered when we returned the bikes, acutely aware of muscles we hadn't previously known existed and with bruises on our unmentionables (bike seats suck!) and our egos ("There's no shame in pushing the bike up the odd hill," we convinced ourselves).
The following day we made our way up a steep and dusty trail to the Cerro Campanario viewpoint in flip-flops ('sandals'). We originally planned to take the chair-lift but when we had lots of time to kill, we chose the manual option despite our sub-optimal footwear. The panoramic view, one of National Geographic's Top Ten Views in the World, certainly met expectations. Three-hundred and sixty degrees of blue mountains, green forest, fisherman lodgings and pretty hotels, all mirrored in immense lakes. It was tough to get a handle of perspective: in a 100km long lake, kayaks look like ducks. Our photo set is going to require some vigilant editing.
As we waited at the bus station this morning for our bus out of town, we chuckled as a large pack of dogs chased cars down the main road. It's not clear how they decided which cars appeared edible and which didn't, but once they found a target, they'd all leap up and and give chase; barking and jumping and nipping the tires. Only to give up after a while and console each other, "We'll get the next one" (but in Spanish").