February 20, 2004

Argentina flagBack to Bariloche today! It looks like the weather is set to be clear for the next few days, although you never know in Patagonia. We were up at 8 am to pack up and catch the 9:30 am bus to Lago Puelo. That isn’t on the main road, but we know from our bus schedules that it is possible to catch a bus to Bariloche from there.

The bus actually arrived early, but it left on time. It headed north through the park, following the shores of Lago Futalaufquen, Lago Verde, and Lago Rivadavia, picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. This was the slow and scenic way; however the fast way doesn’t leave the park until late in the afternoon, so the slowness doesn’t matter. It was definitely scenic, too, as the bus crawled along the narrow dirt road above the big mountain lakes.

After a couple of hours of that, we went down, out of the park, into the hot grasslands. We stopped at Cholila, which is supposed to be where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid went to hide out. There were no tourist signs saying “This way to Sundance’s Hideout”, though.

The bus pulled into its terminus at Lago Puelo a bit before 2 pm. Actually it didn’t really have a terminus; it just dumped its last few passengers at the edge of town, next to a partially constructed tourist information building. We knew there was supposed to be a bus to Bariloche, but where was it? We saw buses go towards the town centre and then vanish, so we walked down that way. We asked in a store where the bus went from, and were told that it was a couple of blocks back the way we had come from.

Just then a Via Bariloche bus came around a corner towards us, so we flagged it down. It was only going to El Bolsón, but then we finally realized that the obvious thing to do was to just take any old bus to El Bolsón and then catch one of the 15 daily buses from there to Bariloche. So we got on and paid the ridiculously low fare of 1.50 pesos to go to El Bolsón.

Twenty minutes later in El Bolsón, we bought tickets for the next bus to Bariloche. We had a couple of hours to wait for it, so we went for a walk around the town. It was even hotter than 30 degrees, so we were glad we hadn’t decided to stop here. Not to mention that there was a festival going on, the annual Festival del Lúpulo (Hops Festival). We had seen a posting on the Internet recommending an ice cream place called Jauja, so we went hunting for that. Paul had seen it from the bus but it took us a long time to find it. Its ice creams were indeed delicious.

After finishing our cones we went to an Internet shop and e-mailed our travel agent to ask if she could reconfirm our flights for us. Caroline was also online so we chatted with her for a bit. Then we went back to the bus terminal, where our packs were stashed.

The bus ride back to Bariloche was the reverse of the one we had taken a few days ago, past all those scenic forested lakes. This time we weren’t in one of those spiffy double-decker buses, but the view was just as good. When we arrived back in Bariloche we should have paid attention to the driver’s announcement of the last stop before the terminal, but we didn’t realize its significance (we were close to the centre of town there) and so had to make our way back to town from the terminal.

This time we had information about several hostels, so we didn’t have to search randomly like we did the last time. We checked out Periko’s first, but it was full, so they suggested the one across the street (Hostel Patagonia Adventure), which turned out to have a couple of dormitory rooms available. We didn’t mind this, as we were both tired. The hostel manager, Juan, spoke good English and was very helpful. He said it would be no problem to leave some bags there while we hiked the Paso de los Nubes trail, and offered to book us the bus trip to the trailhead tomorrow.

Then we went out to get dinner. We went to Fenoglio, where we knew we could get good salads. By the time we finished dinner it was after 10 pm, so we visited the ATM and then went back to the hostel to organize our packs. We had decided to stay in the refugios, so we didn’t need the tent or the cooking equipment. We did take our own food, though.

The hostel was rather noisy, with people in the kitchen (next to our dorm room) at all hours. But silence fell suddenly at 12:30 am, when the kitchen closed, and we managed to go to sleep. Except for the guy in the next bunk who talked in his sleep and had to get up a couple of times in the middle of the night.

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