We came to pick up the car at 9am and after a short wait got the keys and went to the nearby parking lot. The rent guy brought out our brand new VW Gol (not to be confused with Golf :)). Has to be noted that the rent company we got the car from, A-rent, were quite rude and unhelpful, the price of rental was extortionate, and the whole rental process was annoying – especially the ‘all money ahead, in cash’ policy... Anyways, we got in the car and set off.
I was the driver and Jenn was my trustworthy co-pilot and navigator. The road went SSW through Bariloche and the surrounding hills, curved around Lake Gutierrez that we visited the other day, and continued straight south. The drive was uneventful. We stopped for a short break on a river bank to eat our brunch, and kept going.
It’s about 160km from Bariloche to El Bolson, the town with nice hippy markets. Our plan was to spend one or two nights camping there, depending how we like it, and then catch our bus from Bariloche to El Calafate – way down south by mount Fitzroy. When we got to El Bolson it was a bit of mayhem there, Sunday is the busiest day. We tried to pull onto the main street, but there were too many cars stuck by the bus station, and we were not sure were the best camping is – we needed a map. So we parked the car on the corner of the road going thru the town and one of the side streets a block away from the main street, threw the food bag in the trunk where our luggage was, locked the car and head out to find the tourist info office.
The tourist office was right on the corner of the park where the markets are – convenient. We got the map, consulted our lonely planet book and picked a camp ground not far from the center. Before heading to the camp ground we decided to see the markets.
The central park is circular and the markets are setup around the grassy part. There are two rows of stalls and you walk between them. Those are probably the best markets I’ve ever seen - lots of handy work, nice jewellery, knives, leather, wood, accessories. And stall owners are cool too, nice hippy people, wearing handmade cloths, rastas, playing music, working on new trinkets. We looked around, had some fresh berry juice and a slice of homemade pie and headed back to the car.
We were very happy with El Bolson when we got to the car. Before heading to the camp ground we popped the trunk open to get something and discovered to our surprise, as the car was still locked, that both our backpacks are GONE!!!
Yep, life decided that we are having too much fun and threw us a curve-ball. At first, Jenn and I looked at each other trying to decide if this is a practical joke, but the understanding of what just happened had sank immediately and Jenn went into short hyperventilation phase while I looked around to see if there are any cops nearby. After a quick “shut-up and get a grip of yourself” (or something along those lines) Jenn came back to her senses a bit, and we went after the first police officer we could see. Interesting that around the corner where we parked there were at least 4-5 cops present because one block down the street a restaurant burned down that morning, but none of the cops have seen anything – so they told us to go to the police station and submit an official report. I sent Jenn to the police station and drove around the town for 10 min in hope of catching a glimpse of our stuff on someone’s back. After that fruitless attempt I got to the police station and found Jenn in tears trying to explain to the girl at the reception what happened. We gave her description of our bags and the stuff inside to the best of our ability and were told to wait for the officer.
Sunday is a market day and all the cops are out in the town keeping the peace and preventing crime... No one is in the station and real officers in charge are resting at home for the weekend, so the officer we were waiting for turned out to be an assistant of some sort and was not helpful at all. She tried to explain something to us, which wasn’t working out with our limited Spanish, so she sent us to the tourist info office to ask someone that can speak English to call the police station and talk to her. After some back and forth with the tourist office and police station, a few phone calls, and some angry talk about tourist office not being responsible for police not hiring English speaking officers, we were told that we can’t get the statement taken today and we’ll have to come back the next day in the morning.
So we headed to the tourist office and asked them to help us find a place to stay, because we had nothing booked. First we asked for a cheap place, but after seeing it we came back and asked for one of the better places in town. We ended up in a small b&b just outside the town. We decided that since we are stuck in El Bolson we should try and make the best out of it, so we headed in town for a dinner in one of the better restaurants. They had a waiting list because it was the weekend and while we waited for our table we popped into an internet cafe and put together a list of all our lost items and translated it into Spanish, in prep for next day’s visit to the police station. The dinner was very nice and made that day slightly better.
The next day we woke up not feeling too sad to our surprise and I left Jenn to put her make up on (NOT!) and went to the police station to get the statement sorted. The officer in charge was there this time around and after some confusion about what I want from him and a lot of broken Spanish, we were able to reach an understanding. He pulled out his laptop (the only computer in the station), opened Google Translate site and between that and my broken Spanish we were able to put together the statement.
After getting the statement we figured that since we still have the car we should drive around El Bolson and check the surrounding area before heading back to Bariloche to sort out our next step. We checked the map and drove south towards Lake Puelo. Unfortunately, it turned out to be part of a national park and the guards at the entrance wanted $15 for the entrance, so we skipped the lake drove a bit around and checked out the village of Puelo – a very nice spot, nicer than El Bolson, and headed back to Bariloche. We picked up two Argentinean girls that were hitch-hiking on the highway, they turned out to be students from Buenos Aires, but both originally from northern provinces. They were camping and partying in El Bolson area, very popular thing in Argentina – backpacking in the south of the country. We told them about our misfortune and they told us about the annoying Israeli backpackers that are a bit too aggressive coming up to local girls :).
After dropping them off in Bariloche centre we went to La Justina to check if they have rooms for that night, because we had only the next one booked with them at the moment. They had none, so we went to Arko hostel which we read about in a few reviews , and checked into a four bed dorm room. At the reception we met a couple of Israeli ladies, in their 60s, who were backpacking down south to Patagonia. They were very happy to chat with me in Hebrew and wanted to know everything about our travels so far, and how come Jenn is Canadian, and how we met... Lovely ladies, it was awesome to see such an adventurous couple of friends.
Once accommodation was good we made our way to the tour agency we booked the bus to El Chalten with and cancelled our ticket. They were nice and understanding and gave us all the money back. Next was the Aerolineas Argentinas office. We had a flight booked for two weeks from now, from El Calafate to Buenos Aires. We changed that flight to the first possible flight from Bariloche to Buenos, and went to walk around the main street to look for some underwear and maybe a t-shirt or two.
The problem with losing your whole luggage in South America is that you can replace everything, but not with the items you know. Local brands are not the same as what you like and North American brands are very expensive. For example, North Face pack that costs $160 in Canada can cost between $400 to $600 in Argentina. Finding good thermal clothing is hard. It’s also the end of summer season so the choice of summer cloths is very poor. After seeing that and running a quick calculation of how much money we need to spend on restocking in Canada VS restocking in Argentina, we decided that the best option for us will be to fly back to Canada, restock, and come back.
Same night we booked ourselves on a flight from Buenos to Toronto, leaving 3 nights to spend in Buenos. Meanwhile, we had 4 nights in Bariloche until our flight to Buenos. We spent those days in a most lazy and static routine possible. We slept in late, watched TV, hung out in the hostel. It was probably the worst part of the trip. We felt pretty run down and were hoping that Buenos will lift our moods a bit.
When the day of our flight finally came we were sooooo eager to leave :). We took a taxi to the airport and checked onto the flight. It was very weird travelling with only carry-on luggage, but at the same time very liberating. Nothing to worry about, just a little pack on your shoulder...
We boarded the flight and took off. The views of the Andes were amazing! We must come back to Patagonia and finish what we started. Torres del Paine will have to wait a little longer.