Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bariloche - The Most Beautiful Place in the World?

Bariloche is beautiful.  The soaring mountains, crystal clear lakes, and endless yellow, purple and blue wildflowers make it hard to believe such a place is real.  On top of the stunning natural beauty, there are great outdoor activities.  We focused on hiking and biking, taking down (or actually, hiking up): Cerro Otto, Circuito Chico, Cerro Campanario, Refugio Frey, the Seven Lake distict, and, of course, El Boliche de Alberto’s.

The next few posts will detail these outdoor adventures.  Light on text, (I try, I try) but heavy on photos, I hope you enjoy them.

Cerro Otto
The view from (near) the top of Cerro Otto.

605 meters is not too shabby!
On our first day in Bariloche we planned to hike Cerro Otto.  This was our first trek since the Supertrek (excluding the hikes we did in El Bolson), and there certainly was some trepidation on my part as we pulled up to the somewhat imposing mountain and the 605 meter ascent to the top.  I was not sure if I had it in me.  Then, as if my prayers had been answered, we saw this mountain had a gondola going right up to the top!  Sheepishly, we stood in line with all the other elderly people, and paid ten USD for the priveledge of a quick ride up.  Also, gondolas remind me of skiing.  I love skiing.

Why wouldn't there they put a replica
David at the top of Cerro Otto?
Two hundred and one seconds later we arrived at the top - I didn't time it, this was just one of the helpful pieces of information that comes with a ticket purchase.  There we were able to enjoy the ultimate tourist activity – a rotating restaurant!  Forgoing the over-priced food & drink we stood at the window taking in the slow-spinning view.  And, as you would expect, at the top of the mountain there is a small art exhibit with a full size replica of Michelangelo’s David.  Weird.

To save some face, and twenty bucks, we decided to walk down.*  We took in a final sweeping view from the top, fought the blustery wind for some photos, and made our way downwards.

A 'live' David and Jesse at the top of Cerro Otto.

One of the things we enjoyed so much in Argentina was the culture of moving slowly, enjoying life, and sharing with friends (new or old).  Just a few minutes into our hike we passed a Ranger Station and struck up a conversation with the ranger.  He invited us into his (tiny) hut and offered us maté (thankfully with sugar).  Three or four matés, and twenty or thirty minutes later (of conversation fully in Spanish!), we said goodbye to our new friend and pressed onwards.  

Continuing down the mountain the scenery remained impressive.  Passing a beautiful Refugio (a mountain hut) we were sad we couldn't stop for a coffee because it was under construction.

Refugio Berghof
(Closed for renovations)
The roof of Refugio Berghof.
About an hour later, things took an interesting turn.  The trail, which was well-marked, led us to a clearing in the forest.  In the center of the clearing we found a grave.  A person’s grave.  The gravesite was defined by thick branches and covered with pine needles.  A large cross stood at the head of the grave.  We had recalled reading about a young man who had died on the mountain (or a nearby mountain – it was in Spanish after all) despite heroic rescue attempts.  Perhaps we had stumbled upon his grave!  We checked it out, contemplated how it recalled to both of us Bridge to Terabithia (even though neither of us could really remember what the story was about) and  continued ownwards.  With only a few hours of daylight left we did not want to get lost in the forest – and especially not a forest graveyard!

Eeeeek, not what we were expecting as we rounded the corner.
As we followed what appeared to be the trail we reached an abandoned hut in the woods.  And then, the trail stopped.  Impenetrable trees, bushes, and creeks surrounded us.  As we backtracked, looking for other ways, it became clear that we had become terribly lost.  Each small trail from the large graveyard clearing was initially promising, and then, dead end.  The trail, that had been so well-marked, regularly cleared, and painfully obvious was gone.  And for thirty minutes we walked in the circles trying to find our way out, both thinking, but never verbalizing our fear that we would have to spend the night in an abandoned mountain hut, with broken glass windows, and certainly no pillows, blankets, or dreamsacks.  Finally, after retracing out steps way back – like 20 minutes up the trailhead we saw a small turn off, and next to that, on a tree that one would pass when heading down the trail, two sign heads!  One arrow pointed straight, along the large, clear trail that headed to the grave yard.  This was the path we obviously took.  A second arrow pointed left, to a much smaller, far more rockier, and steeper path.  This, of course, was the trail home.

Sneaky, unhelpful signage.  Look at that trail straight-ahead, it looks perfect.
The actual trail down was through a bush to the left.

Thankful that we found our way out – one grave was certainly enough in the clearing – we both expressed great relief and shared our previously withheld fears of spending a night in the forest.  The rest of the walk was nice (made all the more so with our feelings of elation that we had “beat” the forest).  We even ran and danced through the high grass a la The Sound of Music.  The hills were indeed alive:

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Really alive...
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No animals were harmed during the creation of this animated GIF.
They fled when they heard the thundering footsteps...

And no post would be complete without some macro flower photos.  Enjoy - the rest of the album can be found here.

The yellows.

The blues.
The bees at Cerro Otto are HUGE.

The purples

Getting there
Public bus from Bariloche (50 from town, and 51 returning to town) stops at Cerro Otto – right at the gondola base station – ask the driver to stop there for you, but if you are watching the road, you can’t miss it.

Refugio Berhouf at the top of Cerro Otto looked very nice and had a great porch with spectacular views.  Just as good, if not better, than the touristy revolving restaurant.  Its easy to walk to from the top (10-15 minutes walking down) – even if you plan on taking the gondola up and back.

* For our city-bound readers, hiking down is less physically demanding, but in fact is more strenuous on the legs and knees.  This may have been a concern if we were not young.  [JLM note: Thank goodness we did this before Dave turned 30!]

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