Finally Seeing the Fuss
29.11.2012 - 03.12.2012 20 °C
Overnight Stays: Somewhere between El Calafate and Bariloche; Bariloche (3 nights)
DW - The first leg of the dreaded 28 hour trip to Bariloche (from El Calafate back to Rio Gallegos) was a piece of piss, and the bus was generous on legroom, my biggest bugbear for some of the buses, usually a couple of inches too short. Sadly we had to change and the final leg, the last 24 hours had to be taken in a slightly shittier bus with not just enough legroom, just enough so I can't fully stretch my pins, oh well precious, suck it up, it's half the price of flying. The time did kind of scoot by and we arrived in Bariloche, the following afternoon, right on schedule, and were welcomed by Agustina, ready to take us 'home'.
Years ago my brother in law Marcus made friends with an Argentinian chap named Martin, when he was working in the ski-fields of Colorado. Years later him and Kiz (my sis) visited Martin in his hometown of Bariloche, and raved about it as one (1) of their highlights of South America. I got in contact with Martin a few months ago and mentioned we'd be around, to which he very kindly invited us to stay with him, an offer difficult to refuse. So, Agustina, Martin's sister, with Martin at a beer-brewing course, happily picked up us two (2) smelly Aussies from the bus-stop and took us back to Martin's, time for a bathe. Soon Martin arrived and made us feel very much at home, giving us his bed and opting for the sofa, legend. We then, realizing it was somewhere between 9-10pm, headed out for a bit of pizza and a few delicious boutique beers with Martin, Agustina, and her friend Sasha. Bariloche is an epicentre for microbreweries, and just like England, you get different beers with every pub you enter, none of which stay the same, bloody tremendous.
The weather had been allegedly amazing the week before we arrived, but typical of our South American leg, the rain followed us, and Bariloche was going to be no exception. Despite the miserable vengence Mother Nature was taking on our near-perfect summer, Martin, Agustina, and us started on a drive around the seven (7) lakes in the area the next morning, towards San Martin. For the entire drive we didn't know where to look, everything was simply beautiful, and in the heart of spring, the colours were unimaginable, a photographer's dream. The tiny towns between the lakes were just as cute, ski-villages as you'd expect them to look, wooden cabins looking toasty warm and inviting. We could picture what these places would look like in winter with snow on the ground, just perfect, right out of the textbook.
It seemed that no photo was good enough and we stopped what felt like every hundred metres, taking a different angle, seeing something different, of these beautiful lakes and surrounds. The weather didn't matter, nothing was going to take away from the beauty. And just when we thought we'd seen it all, Martin pulled the truck over just short of a bridge. Flowing under the bridge was the greenest, clearest, freshest water imaginable, flowing ever so calmly to somewhere that didn't matter, your eyes couldn't go any further, it didn't matter. Beside the bridge you could see the remnants of the bridge that once
was, only adding to the perfect picture (besides the pinks, yellows and purples in full bloom around the edge), now a lonely ancient wooden structure. If I'd thought about bringing my swimmers I would've had a field day jumping off the bridge, no need to check the water below, you can see all the way to the bottom without a strain. What better place for lunch? There we unpacked Martin's trusty BBQ from the truck and searched more of the area while he cooked up a feast of beef, chicken, and pork in the best place we've eaten lunch, this is the place of dreams, seriously. And the food, wow, this man can cook!
Back on the road and the rain always seemed to stop whenever we did which was handy. In the distance we could see the snow capped Andes behind the clear and calm lakes, my mind went straight to Lake Tahoe (USA), the Scottish Highlands, and basically anywhere in Switzerland; this place is magical, a true wonder of the world.
Sometime late in the arvo we arrived at San Martin, another cute ski-town, and sat for a coffee before continuing our journey, around the other side of the lakes back to Bariloche. Here the landscape was completely different: dry rocky mountains, long green pastures, and more livestock than you could throw a stick at.
El Voliche is a meat restaurant in Bariloche that Marcus has raved about since their visit a few years ago; him and Kiz went there three (3) times on their three (3) night visit, so it wasn't somewhere we were going to miss; we had to see what the fuss was all about. How can you seriously go wrong with sausages, pork, and steak, fresh and salty, some of the best in the world, for just $20 each?! You simply can't, the food was just amazing, now we understand what all the fuss is. We also met Martin's other sister, Julia, that evening, who is just and lovely and welcoming as the rest of the Bouchert family.
We'd planned for a 24km hike the next day, but (much to our relief to be honest) the weather was again against us, so we decided to stay local. Martin took us through the street of Bariloche, a town chocked with sport shops and chocolate stores, mmm. As well as delicious beer, they also make amazing chocolate in this magical part of the world, anything you could imagine, they've got it made, and amazingly (both of flavour and presentation). We sat at Mamuskas for coffees (the best chocolate store in town) and I just couldn't resist the chocolate brownie, holy cow it was good. We also tried the crossaints that Martin claimed to be top-shelf; at first bite Loz made the claim of the 'best crossaints in the world', obviously a huge call given that French crossaints are made in heaven. Not sure if she still stands by the claim, but they were very very very nice, I'll give her that, definitely in the top ten (10) crossaints in the world, maybe even top five (5) (the other four are in France).
When I write about Bariloche now, I realise it's the Switzerland of South America; lakes, snow, chocolate, and fondue, oh yeah. For whatever reason, Loz and I had never tried cheese fondue before, and somehow we mentioned it to Martin. When we arrived at his mother's place for the Bouchert Sunday family lunch (where we felt very special as guests of honour), we discovered that Martin had let slip our food inexperience to his mum, who had whipped up the tastiest, creamiest, and cheesiest fondue; so so good, why did it have to end?! Wash it down with some fresh Argentinian Torrentes and wow, life is just chops, cutlets, the best cut. Watching the rain pelt down outside, looking out the window of this beautiful old house onto the lake, scraping the last skerricks of cheese from the bowl, we really did feel special, and very lucky to experience this amazing place with such lovely and hospitable people.
Totally shagged and knowing we'd be sweating cheese for the next fortnight, Martin and Agustina pushed through the urge to nap, and continued our blissful stay, driving us out to Llao Llao Golf Club & Spa, voted as one (1) of the most idealistically placed hotels in the world. The view is spectacular, and the club itself is something else altogether, as rustic as a car in Newcastle after the floods, and posh, well above our means. We sat for a coffee anyhow, no doubt embarrassing Martin and Agustina with our rugged travel clothes, by the biggest fireplace I reckon in history, and felt like royalty, just for a while.
Back at 'home', despite not hiking 24km, actually probably not walking more than a kilometer for the entire day, we collapsed on the couches; eating, drinking and enjoying can be tiring work. We chilled out to movie and some of Martin's homemade pizzas; egg pizza, who would've thought it could be so damn good?!
Monday, and any normal person was going to work, Martin and Agustina included. We, now sadly counting down the amount of hassle-free Monday's we'll have, strolled around town for the morning and ate far too much chocolate. On our way home we scored a couple of awesome steak sangas from a fella with a crowd, cooking in the park, so so good, before packing up and saying our sad goodbyes to the Bochert's.
So we finally got to see what all the fuss is about Bariloche, and it truly is a wonderful part of the world. One (1) thing we know for sure, is that there's no way it would've been the same if we didn't stay, live, and breathe with Martin and his wonderful family. It was an absolute highlight of our trip, and we hope one (1) day we can return the favour.