After our outing in Chiloe, Chile; we hustled back to Puerto Montt and checked into a nice business hotel so Les would have dependable internet connectivity for a scheduled job interview over Skype, it was also nice for all of us to have a night in a nice hotel with unlimited hot water, big fluffy white towels, and fresh clean comfortable beds. And the sun-set and moon-rise from the 12th floor was beautiful.
The next afternoon we were off to cross the Andes to visit Bariloche, Argentina. Bariloche, officially San Carlos de Bariloche, is a ski resort town on the shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi in the foothills of the Andes. We chose to take the 6 hour bus ride and enjoyed a comfortable ride, beautiful scenery, and an easy border-crossing. The road crossed a national park where volcanoes had deposited large amounts of ash across the landscape.
I normally have accommodations arranged well in advance, but this time we arrived without any reservations because I couldn’t find any reasonably priced places on the internet. I figured it was not high-season, so we should be able to find a place when we arrived. The man at the tourists desk at the bus station directed us to the tourists office in the city center. Twenty minutes later the taxi dropped us off in the middle of a giant festival! Yikes, no wonder I was not able to find a place to stay on the internet. In the central plaza were thousands of people, bands playing, vendors everywhere. We soon learned that Baraloche’s big holiday is Easter, or “La Semana Santa”; and sure enough, it was Easter weekend. In addition, this year the Easter Holiday coincided with a Memorial Day holiday for the veterans of the Malvinas (Falkland war). So, we happened to arrive on one of the most busy weekends of the year for this little tourist town – and without a place to stay! So, with a sinking feeling my stomach, we hauled our luggage through the crowd and found the tourist information center. I had visions of the family spending the night sleeping on a park bench in the town square. Luckily the tourist information center helped us to find a hotel. It appeared to be one of the only places with vacancies. We hauled our gear four blocks up a steep hill and were relieved to find that no one else from the tourist office beat us there. From the outside our Hosteria appeared to be a quaint little inn resembling a Swiss chalet. The inside was not quite so quaint, the rooms left a little to be desired. The plumbing, furniture, fixtures, bedding, etc were all quite outdated, say about 50 years. Even with the town full of tourists, the friendly inn keeper gave us a big discount if we agreed to stay four nights instead of two. We weren’t sure if we would find another available place and since it was clean, albeit old, we took the offer.
Bariloche has a strong Swiss, German and Austrian influence and is famous for its chocolate. The architecture is alpine in style and there are a couple of St. Bernards that hang out in the main square.
Many, many chocolate shops fill the main street of town, and we decided we would indulge in a fondue lunch before we left town. Fondue brought back fond memories of sharing a pot of bubbling cheese with Ann Marie in the Swiss Alps. Easter week is when Baraloche hosts the “Festival of Chocolate”. We were surprised to see a 30 foot chocolate Easter egg in the center of the main plaza. Over 20 local shops contribute to build this mammoth chocolate confection. On Easter morning around 10 AM a big crowd surrounded the giant chocolate egg as 4 or 5 guys busted it to little pieces. The chocolate was gathered up and fed to the multitudes. We decided not to queue up for a bite of free chocolate that had been exposed to the elements (and local birds) for a week.
We spent a few lazy days exploring the shops and restaurants in the town, watching the festivities, visiting the church, and walking along the lake. We even had a visit from the Easter Bunny on Sunday Morning.
I also took some time to nail down our travel plans for the following week, and I spent a fair amount of time on the internet researching ways to get to Buenos Aires and finding an apartment. Getting from Bariloche to Buenos Aires proved to be more difficult and expensive than we thought . Train travel is almost non-existent in Argentina. However, there is one train that goes from Bariloche half way to Buenos Aires, one day a week, seasonally.
For unknown reasons, we were unable to get a ticket. I think it was cancelled due to the holiday. The man just told me, “not possible”. The bus was another option, it however was sill not cheap and would be a 22 hour ride. Not an appealing option, especially with 2 kids. So, flying it was. There are only a few airlines operating in Argentina, so without competition the prices are very high. We bit-the-bullet and bought air tickets. The new travel plans gave us a few more days in Bariloche, so with holiday week finished, we were able to find a beautiful cabin on the lake for a few days. We enjoyed hiking around and taking in the natural beauty of the area. Before, leaving Bariloche we treated ourselves to a fondue lunch, one of the specialties here in Bariloche and then walked to chocolate shop and had a sweet treat! Yum!