Bariloche: Argentina’s Lake district

My next destination was Bariloche, a city in the Northern edge of Patagonia, an arid region of Southern Argentina & Chile. Its very popular with local tourists in the Summer (for Water sports) & the Winter (for ski slopes). But I hoped to explore the lake district in Autumn which was considered the lull-period.

It took a pretty long domestic flight to get to Bariloche from the tropical forest of Iguazu Falls.

The points of interest in this area were mostly natural and would involve a lot of hiking. I hoped these solo hikes would allow me time to gain fresh perceptions, away from the buzz of city life. This is something I’d not be able to experience in a densely populated island like Singapore. And with a dry temperate climate, I’d be able to do so without sweating buckets!

The view from the plane reminded me more of the arid desert plains of Nevada rather than a forested Lake district.

The snow-capped mountain-range reminded me that this was a popular ski destination in the Winter. This was April, the start of Autumn and the temperatures were already tipping in this region:

Clipped from: HolidayWeather

The view from the Airport arrivals confirmed the contrasting desert shrub-land plains surrounded by the Andean mountain-range in the distance.

Patagonian shrub desert

The drive into town offered a closer view of the shrub-land that dominated so much of this Southern region of Argentina.

Contrast the above scenery with what I would see closer to Bariloche (below).

I was to later learn from a guide that this difference in flora was due to the strong winds which sweep over the plains that cover much of Patagonia. This limits the native forests to lakes closest to the Andean mountain-range, while the rest of Patagonia is arid and quite desolate to the untrained eye.

This difference in climate as explained by another guide in El Calafete, was also the reason why Patagonian sheep farms are much larger than those of the Northern Pampas. The scrubland is less fertile and thus less productive per square hectare compared to the lush grasslands further North.

A Little piece of Germany in South America

A walkabout Bariloche’s Plaza de Armas (central square) gives the impression that you’re in the middle of a quaint German town. The style of architecture in this part of Argentina was based on Central European designs owing to the high levels of immigration from Germany in the late 19th century. The early German immigrants probably found this area of Patagonia very much like home, with snow-capped mountains (part of the Andes), a huge network of lakes, alpine-like forests and very frosty winters. Such was the influence that even a nearby mountain had a Germanic name: Cerro Otto.

(above) a German restaurant “La Alpine” where I dined on the 1st night

Language hurdles

I had a reservation at a small bed & breakfast south of the Bariloche town centre. My language difficulties started as I arrived at the Bariloche airport: as I tried to figure out the price to town centre by cab (a nearby travel guide who spoke some English and use of google-translate helped).

Check-in at the hotel was complicated by the fact that the old lady running the front desk neither spoke English or had anyone about to help translate. I would use google-translate ask a question but she wasn’t tech-savvy enough to enter in the answer.

Finally she broke the deadlock by walking upstairs and repeated:

Vamos! Areiba Areiba!

and from that I gathered she didn’t need any advanced payment for the room. It was a clean & simple room with an attached toilet which included something I’d not seen in years: a bidet.

Gathering plans for the next 3 days.

The local tourist & national park offices were kind enough to provide me with free maps and advice in English, on the trails available and the expected difficulty.

It’s with these guides I proceeded to plan to hiking trails for the 3 days I had in Bariloche.

After a quick walkout in the town centre in the last hour of the setting sun I walked over to a tour operator to book a boat ride to Isla Victoria for the following day. I was thankful that they accepted credit cards given I was running low on cash and the OCBC ATM card still gave errors on local terminals. I was going to be very cautious on the use of physical currency till the ATM issue was resolved following night.

Fixing my boots on the move

The sole of my hiking boots was coming loose during my Iguazu trip, and as I was expecting longer (and more rugged) walks in Bariloche, I decided a quick fix was required. I walked into a small street-corner shop and attempted to communicate my need using a mixture of google translate and miming. I got a locally-made epoxy resin which I applied on my boot soles before turning in for the night. I had a lot of walking ahead of me and would need the rest.