February 16, 2004

Argentina flagFinally, a morning when we didn’t have to get up early. Croissants and tea or coffee was the hotel’s free breakfast, then we decided to walk to the bus station to check out buses to El Bolsón and Esquel, towns to the south of Bariloche which we had already put on our list of places we might go to. The skies were partly cloudy and it was very windy.

Our first stop of the day was the laundry, to drop off two weeks of dirty clothes to be washed for us. There was one not far from the town centre. That done, we continued on to the Museo de Patagonia, which was located right next to the town centre. It is named after Francisco “Perito” Moreno. In fact many things in western Argentina are named after him, since he was the explorer-scientist who came to the Andes in the early 20th century and went on to represent Argentina as its expert (“Perito” in Spanish) on national boundary issues. He proposed that the border with Chile should follow the line of the highest peaks, rather than the line dividing the Pacific from the Atlantic watershed. The boundary commission accepted this idea, giving Argentina a whole whack of extra land and making him a national hero.

The museum started with the standard room full of stuffed animals, but then went on with some more modern displays about Moreno and about the various aboriginal peoples of Patagonia, including an interesting display of pottery styles. After leaving the museum we walked along the waterfront, almost being blown along because the wind down the lake was so strong. At the bus station we checked out schedules and picked up a couple of timetables. There are about 15 buses daily to El Bolsón, and 5 daily to Esquel. We walked back along another street that wasn’t nearly as windy, looking into various shops on the way.

We also stopped at the Club Andino de Bariloche headquarters to ask for information about hiking. We were interested in the Paso de los Nubes trek, and the information they gave us was far better than what we had gathered so far. The man at the desk suggested that while doing that trek, we should make a side-trip to the Otto Meiling Refugio, stay there, and then we could get a guide to take us down a shortcut over the glacier (with crampons and ice axes) back to the Paso de los Nubes trail. He also told us that there was a new tent refugio on that trail; this was something we didn’t know, and it meant we could do the trek without carrying our own tent. However the short-term weather forecast was for more wind and rain, so we decided to head south to Esquel for a while, hoping the weather would improve.

We had lunch at a chocolate shop named Fenoglio. All of their sandwiches involved ham and cheese (we have decided that Argentina’s national dish is the ham-and-cheese sandwich) so we had salads instead, which were excellent. Rosemary’s had chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, and hard-boiled egg and Paul’s had tuna, rice, carrots, tomatoes, and hard-boiled egg. Both of us had very good hot chocolate, and the total price of the meal was 15 pesos.

We didn’t want to spend the entire day in administration, so we decided to go up Cerro Otto. This is the hill at whose foot Bariloche is located. We took the #50 city bus out to the base of the gondola, for which we paid 1 peso each. We had to wait about 20 minutes for it to show up, and when we got on it was already full. But Rosemary got a seat anyway; machismo is not dead in Argentina.

The trip up Cerro Otto is in 4-person gondola cars, and it takes about 12 minutes. It cost us 25 pesos each for the round trip. There are houses built more than halfway up the mountain, but the higher parts are still too steep and rocky. The views were quite good despite the clouds, and gave us a much better perspective as to the layout of the area. The building at the summit has a rotating snack bar (the only one in Argentina, they said) and an “art gallery” containing replicas of all of Michelangelo’s best stuff. Yes, including David.

At the top we were greeted and given a brief talk about what was what. The rain seemed to be holding off in the mountains to the west, so we opted to go on what we thought was the 30-minute Mirador walk but which turned out to be the 90-minute walk to another lookout. Before we had gone far, both sides of the trail were totally carpeted with thousands of blooming lilies, of a type that is called “amancay”. Then later we came across a family of Magellanic Woodpeckers intent on chiselling the large old trees into little pieces. We watched them and listened to their strange calls for quite a while. We also tried to photograph them, but who knows whether any of the pictures will work.

We took the city bus back to town and collected our now clean and folded clothes. We hadn’t done e-mail for several days, so we found an Internet shop and caught up on that. There was an e-mail from Caroline telling us that the car had been rear-ended, although with very little damage. She had had the benefit of using the car while the parents were away, now she had to deal with the downside. But she had done everything right; she got the other driver’s details and filed the insurance claim. She and Matthew were both signed on to MSN Messenger so we chatted with them for a while.

For dinner we decided to look for a place that was busy, on the theory that it would be a good place. A restaurant adjacent to the town centre was almost full so we went in there. However its menu and prices were pretty much the same as everybody else’s, so perhaps it was just its location that made it popular. The tenderloin sandwiches we ordered were enormous and the meat in them was good, but the bill was still only 32 pesos. By the time we were finished it was 10:15 pm; we are getting better at dining on Argentinian schedules. Back at the hotel we repacked our packs in preparation for tomorrow’s bus trip, wherever it may lead. Where we go will depend on what buses are available.

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