I admittedly would go as far as saying the journey down to Bariloche was enjoyable. I was fairly comfortable in my cama-class, and the last few hours as you approach the stunning surroundings are absorbing. Once I was there and got to know the town, I realised it’s a little backwards. With many buildings like log cabins it’s attempting to be like a mini Swiss town in the Alps, and I felt that stronger when it took ages to locate a supermarket, yet chocolate shops appear on every street corner. I didn’t mind though, with the town looking down on the absolutely massive Nahuel Hapi Lake, and mountains belonging to the foothills of the Southern Andes in the distance. I desperately want to see Patagonia, and while I feel like it’s too much to do on this trip I have convinced myself I will be back, and visiting Bariloche would at least let me sample the spectacular scenery of the region. I think there is some kind of logic in there as to why I took probably the biggest detour I will ever take in my life.
On my first full day I hiked in the mountains. Before I came away and whenever I thought about this trip I would picture what it would be like to be surrounded by the Andes, and while this was the day I finally got to feel that for real, it was tainted probably by my own stupidity. I took a cable car up a mountain, followed by a chair lift to the very top, and the plan was to then follow a trek to eventually bring me down to the bottom. Sounds straight forward, but I managed to get lost for three hours while I struggled halfway down a mountainside. I wasn’t too concerned, and the scenery was amazing, Tolkeinesque surroundings. Though once I realised I was far from getting any phone signal, and potentially moments from some form of injury, I did begin to worry, and thought it best to turn around and return from where I came. What a horrible realisation that was as I looked at what just seemed like a great wall of mountain. I really did feel like Frodo and Sam climbing Mount Doom at this stage.
Hours wasted and I’d got nowhere, a reflection of many of my days at university perhaps. I walked in the opposite direction back at the top of this bastard mountain, and lo and behold I found the trail I was meant to take in the first place. It boiled down to going right instead of left. From there navigation was a breeze, but dropping down through the valley drained me physically. I had to remind myself I wanted to do this in first place to keep me going until the end, for what became probably the most intense exercise I’ve done in four years. Over eight hours of hiking for a few cool views I experienced in the first hour. Was it all worth it? I carried on trying to decide.
I took more hikes during my time in Bariloche, all with just much less effort required than day one’s antics. Of course I got lost on more occasions, but there was actually one time where I achieved what I set out to do. I took a bus to nearby Llao Llao, hiked up through forest for an hour or so and came out at the top of the trees to witness quite possibly the best view I’ve ever seen. I’m unsure my words are going to do justice to it, but I looked down on the forest I’d just made it through, and then I could see for miles on end this intensely blue lake splitting the mountains on either side as the sun beamed down on it all. I sat on a rock at the top, and alone, listened to Porcelain by Moby, because why wouldn’t you. I decided over a year ago I wanted to come to South America, and I’d pictured myself in a moment like this. A long time to wait, and as I was sat there I realised I’d probably been waiting a lot longer than a year for this, total tranquillity.
That moment of calm is one of the best things I can take away from this trip so far, and made the Bariloche detour totally worth it. That said, I now faced a 17-hour bus back north to Mendoza. I was aware of what I was getting myself into in Mendoza, the region that produces 70% of Argentina’s wine, so I sunk a few ales on my last night in Bariloche as an emotional goodbye to the stuff. As soon as I reached Mendoza, wine. And a lot of it.
Mendoza brought me to my American friend who went by his initials, BJ. I did spend time debating whether to ask, why B, and then why J, but I bottled it. Later when a rather confident Irish fella did ask why BJ, BJ declined to answer. A mysterious man, BJ. Having just come from Bariloche my trekking experiences were fresh in the memory, and from just a few moments talking about BJ’s time in Patagonia, I was able to decide my mountain escapades were all worth it. He got it. Of course he may not remember this conversation, by chance we found ourselves in Mendoza during the city’s biggest wine festival of the year. A festival that seemed to become a free wine giveaway the longer the night went on.
The day after this I encountered the most pretentious day of my life. A day of wineries and vineyards, along the way tasting wines, olive oils and liquors. I know. The biggest moment of the day however was the conquering of one of life’s great fears, the bike. Anyone who knows me well enough knows I hate bikes. Years ago when I was young following a monumental bike crash with my friend James at Center Parcs I vowed never to return to the bike again. That was until at university following a few ales I was persuaded onto the back of one by my friend Jamie. The first time I flung over the handle bars and landed in some bins. The second time I flung over the handle bars and broke my wrist. On both occasions I turned around to see the other lying beneath a bike somehow less injured than I. On both occasions my life flashed before me. Ok maybe a little dramatic, but bikes have been a no go, until this day in Mendoza, the most pretentious of my life. I apologise to anyone reading this expecting my precious insight on the wines I tasted in Mendoza. Some were red, some were white. That’s the best I can do.
Argentina was fun, and I had plenty of good company along the way. But now it was time for a new country as I prepared to cross the Andes into Chile.