Leaving Mendoza, we faced a daunting 16 hour drive to the South. We’d decided to drive and camp, instead of bus and backpack to save money. The price of gas ended up being cheaper than colectivo tickets when we crunched the numbers. Although we had good planning intentions pre-departure, our whole week was a spontaneous, go where the wind blows kind of scenario. When you know you can’t spend a lot it’s very difficult to plan from the Internet. You have to get creative.
Our first night on the road was rough. We quickly realized that the phone GPS was not our friend. Everything took longer than expected and we kept having to stop in gas stations to charge the battery. It was dark, we’d been driving all day, and we needed someone where to sleep. The map had told us we would be in a big city, but that was clearly not the case. “Look for signs,” Mario told me. We kept our eyes peeled.
We spotted a handmade sign with the words “camping la familia” painted on it. Perfect. We screeched to a stop and pulled into the driveway. It was thoroughly dark so I couldn’t really see the place, but it looked like someone’s house, not a campsite. A man greeted us at the car, accompanied by a slew of tail-wagging dogs. When he told us the price was only 100 pesos (about $6.50) and there was a place to charge the phones, we were sold. We pitched our newly purchased (used) tent by the light of our headlamp. Advertised by the online seller as a two person tent, I knew it was a one person tent as soon as I say it put together. It was to be a week of very tight living quarters for sure. Poor Mario. His 6’1″ frame barely fit.
When we woke up in the morning we realized we were in fact sleeping in someone’s backyard. The owner’s three dogs and cat kept us company as we ate our instant oatmeal and packed up our things. After a good laugh, we headed out. Another long day on the road to come.
We arrived at our destination, Bariloche, at night. Bad planning on our part, but what was done was done. Apparently budget travelers don’t come to Bariloche, because even the hostels and camp sites are over priced. After a stressful, late night search for a place to stay, and locals looking at us like we were stupid when we asked them for cheap camping recommendations, we found a campsite. It was a rather strange place, but at least we could sleep in safety. According to local businesses and residents, we learned that many assaults occur in and around Bariloche. They warned us to be wary with the car and take precautions if camping. Yikes.
We made it through the night unscarred but chilled. Daytime temperatures were in the 70’s and 80’s (farenheight) but the nights were frigid in this region. We were in the Patagonian Lake District. Close to Chile and at the most northern part of Patagonia, the zone features countless lakes all within 30 minutes of each other. The largest and most tourist visited city is centrally located Bariloche. It was a beautiful city with stunning, German style buildings. The only positive aspect of the Nazis fleeing to Argentina during the war was their architectural influence. The city is situated on the giant lake Lago Nahuel Huapi and you can see the brilliant blue of the water shining in between the buildings of the city.
I am now a world record holder. Not individually, but Mario and I contributed to one. The city was buzzing when we were sight seeing. A huge crowd gathered around the main street so we headed over to see what all the excitement was about. A whole block was fenced off with a long table set up in the street. Music was blaring, everyone was eagerly waiting for something, and lots of people dressed in chef hats and aprons were arranging things on the never ending table. I read the signs and listened carefully to the loudspeaker. It turns out we were witnessing the creation of the longest chocolate bar in the world. Such a fun serendipity! When the chocolate was complete they handed out pieces to the crowd. I can proudly say I ate a piece of the record holding bar. Mario and I’s claim to fame.
Bariloche is ringed with high hills and distant mountains. In the afternoon we took a teleferico (cable car) up the side of one called Cerro Otto. The views of the city and many lakes was fantastic. At the top there was a restaurant and lookout point. The seating area of the restaurant had an unusual feature- it rotated. You could sit and have a coffee while slowly spinning and enjoying every angle of the vista.