We left Pucon in the early morning and were lucky that the bus stop was only 3 blocks away so it was a short walk there. Once on the bus we found that 80% of the passengers were Israelis.
We had to change buses in Osorno & had a 2hr stop there to wait. The bus station isn’t really a station at all, but some seats in front of a row counters for bus companies, a convenience store & a couple men breaking their back to carry around huge containers of hot water with cups stacked on the side and sachets of instant coffee. There is no way that they will be able to stand upright after a few more years at that job. Kind of sad, but I guess they need to make a living now.
The bus ride to Osorno had been cold & there were a few people I noticed travelling with fleece blankets. I thought that seemed like a great idea, so since there wasn’t anywhere to buy blankets at the station Dan went out to look in the town, which was only a couple blocks away, while I read a large chunk of the Lonely Planet book. No luck though – Dan wasn’t able to find anything. Luckily on the ride to Bariloche the air conditioning wasn’t on quite as much! This bus was mostly the same people we had travelled to Osorno with. We went thru Argentinean customs again & this border crossing seemed to be moving quicker than the one in the mountains we crossed thru to get to Mendoza – yeah!
Arriving into Bariloche we had to drive down thru the mountains & around lake Nahuel Huapi which provided amazing views. It’s quite a big lake & a long drive around, but I don’t think it’s possible to get tired of the scenery.
We arrived with slight apprehension & high expectations. We had been told by many different people how great Bariloche and the surrounding area was & that it was better than Pucon... ...we both loved Pucon, so the bar was set high. The bus stop was outside of town so we took a taxi into town and our hostel. We weren’t overly impressed with what we were seeing. This was a city – not a town like Pucon was, and it was a little more rundown than Pucon was. We were staying at a place called La Justina, which was uphill from the downtown area and also a little more rundown than we expected. Pucon had spoiled us!
We spent the first day and night exploring the city and trying to figure out what our options were for activities in the surrounding mountains. Bariloche is actually located in a National Park – Nahuel Huapi & there seemed to be lots of different companies offering the same excursions with the same outfitters. The prices were much higher than those we had seen in Pucon, so we decided we would pass or organized tours. Walking around this city we passed chocolate shop after chocolate shop – this is why the town is referred to as the Swiss Alps of Argentina. There were also tons of tourists. Everywhere! Apparently lots of people come from around Argentina & internationally to enjoy Bariloche & surrounding area. Hilly streets, tourists & chocolate shops – but still not quite Switzerland!
The following day we went to a town called Colonia Suiza, which was a small ‘colony’ and the first Swiss settlement in Patagonia. The town turned out to be a dirt road with 2 restaurants, a heladeria (ice cream shop), some campgrounds & a couple tourist shops. Not really what we expected. It also was really windy with lots of dirt blowing around & then it was spitting rain.....we ate pizza & drank beer in the biggest restaurant and then moved onto the smaller restaurant and had coffee & cake and caught the first bus back.
The following day we went for a walk on one of the smaller surrounding mountains. It was a short steep climb and worth it for the great views of Lake Gutierez below. A little dustier than we would have preferred, but still a nice break from the city.
Our dinners were probably the highlight of our visit. The first night we found a great Italian restaurant (it is said that Italians comprise the largest ethnic heritage in Argentina’s history) and had some fantastic ravioli & lasagne. The following night we ate at a place called Tony’s, Nathalie recommended (Thanks Natash!!!). Dan has some fantastic steak and I had pasta again... and of course great wine. Amazing wine everywhere in Argentina & for cheap... so cheap! We also ate twice at a vegetarian restaurant which had a set meal – 5 different courses all at once in small portions, but all fantastic.
As great as the food was & the fantastic scenery, we were eager to see more of the surrounding area and then get heading south – to the real Patagonia. So, we decided that we would rent a car for 2-3 days & explore areas around the town while staying in campgrounds and make use of the carefully picked tent & sleeping bags. We will then come back to the La Justina (our hostel) and Bariloche for 1 night before heading off on a 2 day bus trip down Routa 40 (spending the night in a hostel in Perito Moreno) to El Chalten.
We’re both looking forward to driving around & going at our own pace, stopping when we want & exploring some of the other lakes and national parks in the area. First stop – El Bolson for the much talked about markets!