We’re in Patagonia! We made it… to the start line, that is. Our eyes are now set on our next adventure: the rugged road south to Ushuaia 🙂
Tren Patagónico had spit us out in San Carlos de Bariloche, home to mountains, lakes, craft beers and excessive amounts of chocolate. A little less tasteful, but Bariloche is also infamously home to runaway Nazis. In 1994, an ABC investigative news team travelled to Argentina and tracked down former Nazi Schutzstaffel commander, Erich Priebke, who had been living in Bariloche since World War II and working as the director of the German School of Bariloche for many years.
Some historians even believe that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun lived in the surroundings of Bariloche for many years after World War II. However, these accounts are disputed by most historians, who generally believe that Hitler and Braun committed suicide as Soviet troops besieged their bunker in Berlin.
It was the day before Christmas, and we headed into town to visit a bike shop — Kale’s transmission had been acting up since our train ride from Viedma. Bariloche has a few bike shops and the online reviews for Evo Sports were excellent. WIthin a few hours, Matias and his team were able to fix Kale’s bike. While there, we got to chatting — Matias studied at University of Wisconsin and is married an American gal (Rebecca) from Wisconsin — and agreed to meet him and his family for dinner/beer sometime after Christmas.
We rode back to our hosteria (Antu Kuyen – owned and operated by the amazing Alejandro and Mariana) and enjoyed the afternoon. Cat read Game of Thrones and Kale wandered the shores of the Nahuel Huapi Lake.
It stays light here till very late. At around 9pm, we realized that we should probably find somewhere to eat. We wandered up the street from the hosteria – bugger! Everything was closed. There were a few restaurants (and a grocery store) down the street from the hosteria – so we headed the other direction… All closed too. Gah!
At the sight of us returning with empty tummies, our wonderful host, Alejandro, drove us into downtown so that we could feast. He dropped us off at a restaurant (owned by a friend of his) and told us to call him for a ride home when we were ready. Amazing!…
We were welcomed into the restaurant and given the price… “Seems reasonable,” we thought as we were seated.
Kale: “Wait, that’s for both of us, right”
Cat: “No, I think that’s per person”
The wine was about to be poured when Cat decided to confirm the price of the meal.
On a budget, we just couldn’t justify spending so much on one meal. So, we apologized and walked out. It was terribly awkward.
The next hour was spent wandering the cold, dark and empty streets of Bariloche, peering through windows into the occasional crowded, warm restaurant. Every place was either closed or fully booked. We were rock bottom.
Finally, at around 11:15pm we found a place that had a few empty tables. The waiter wasn’t too happy for the late-night arrival, but we were seated and a few minutes later, were back in the xmas spirit, laughing at the predicament we’d gotten ourselves into. A few minutes before midnight, the restaurant gave us a complimentary bottle of cider and we popped it as the clock struck twelve.
Alejandro picked us up (did we mention that he is the best!) and we headed back to the hosteria. There, we put back a bottle of champagne, ate some delicious treats, and shared stories with Alejandro and Mariana — all in spanglish, of course.
Our christmas day was quiet. Cat read Game of Thrones; Kale enjoyed a short bike ride up a nearby mountain. For the first time ever, he really felt like he was in “bike shape”— without panniers, full water bottles and a guitar, the bike feels light as a feather!
Originally, we had intended on staying in Bariloche until the 26th. However, with the prospect of a free boat tour of the Nahuel Huapi National Park (Argentina’s oldest national park) scheduled for the 26th,1 we extended our stay one day more day.
It was great to be out on the lake. The open air, the sea breeze, and… the tourists. Okay, so we weren’t the only ones looking for a boxing day adventure. Turns out the tour company has a monopoly on naval excursions on Nahuel Huapi Lake. Given we’ve been enjoying the freedom of the open road for a few months now, rejoining the tourist herd was a little robotic; but it made for good people watching. Luckily, some gulls decided to hitch a ride and draft off the boat as we churned westward.
Once the boat arrived in Puerto Blest we were free to wander. We trekked through the forest, alone — it was surreal: just us, the trail, the interesting sounds of birds2 and the strange verde tones of the nearby river.
The tour concluded and we were dropped off in downtown Bariloche. Since our plan was to hit the road in the morning, we searched the busy streets for some last minute supplies. We were finally able to find white gas (the preferred fuel for our MSR Dragonfly) at a local art supply store. We’d been unable to find any gas blanco in Uruguay, so had been using kerosene — which burns dirty — until now.
En route to Ushuaia we’ll be encountering many stretches of unpaved road. So far, our tires (which are great on asphalt) have struggled on unpaved roads, especially going uphill. Thus, we were also on the hunt for some thicker, girthier tires. Matias (at Evo Sports) had two tires our size, in stock3 — so we checked out the other bike stores in town, on the chance they had two more. No luck.
Back at Matias’ shop we picked up our tires. While hanging out, we met an American couple, Jon and Torie. Like us, they’d quit their jobs (and with no cycling experience) were biking South America. We immediately felt a connection — and they agreed to join us and Matias’ family for dinner later that evening.
In addition to being priding itself on it’s chocolate, Bariloche is the artesenal cerveza (craft beer) capital of Argentina. After a quick stop at the ATM (we’d be needing cash in the coming weeks), we met Jon and Torie at “the best brewery in town” — Manush Cerveceria. The line for a table at Manush was ridiculous, so we decided to enjoy the two-for-one happy hour at the unnamed cervezaria down the street. Jackpot.
Having lived in San Diego, we have pretty high standards when it comes to beer — we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the beer.
After Matias had closed up the shop, he and his wife, Rebecca (along with their one-year-old daughter) joined us and we headed to Manush. Meats, cheeses, a few beers (Black IPA ftw) and a delicious trucha pizza later, we moved the party back to the shop and chatted until the wee hours of the morning.
Matias arranged us a ride home and we said goodbye (for now :)). Upon arriving back at the hosteria, we realized that, since we had added a night to our reservation and were switching rooms, we didn’t have a key to get in. So we buzzed. A few seconds later, a very flustered and worried Alejandro appeared at the door. When we hadn’t made it home, he’d assumed the worst and thought either: (A) our boat had sunk; or (B) we’d been consumed by the mean streets of Bariloche. Oops.
Hangover City, Population: 2
The next day was brutal. In a daze, we ate some breakfast and assessed the situation. In this state, we could barely make it back to the room, let alone make any sort of progress on the road. It was unanimous and we extended our stay (once again) another night.
The one productive thing we did accomplish: we tuned up the bikes and gave them a nice lube job, using new lubricant purchased from Matias the day prior.
San Carlos de Bariloche to El Foyel
We said goodbye to our wonderful hosts and set our eyes southbound.
On the road again. This time, different terrain. We exited Bariloche and biked alongside a beautiful lake at the foot of some gigantic mountains. Then another, then another.
We were fresh and the morning session felt great. Towering mountains, dense forests and glistening lakes. Spectacular.
We pushed for a few hours, stopping here and there to admire the view or to fill up our bottles from small waterfall-like streams4 — quite an amazing feeling getting water directly from a natural source.
It seems that everything in Patagonia is super-sized. The trees, the mountains… the bugs. Yep, horse flies seem to love the taste of sweaty tour bikers. And these little fuckers are agile and fast, easily keeping up with a moving bike, especially on the uphills. After lunch we hit our first long uphill. With horse flies swarming, we pushed forward, swatting when we could and just hoping for a downhill.5
Our wishes were soon granted — an EPIC downhill that lasted about 30 minutes. Yew!* *video to come, once we get stronger wifi.
Pumped by the amazingness of the downhill, we pushed on. After a tough 11km uphill, we reached the teeny, tiny town of El Foyel. We’d seen signs for a campsite, which we followed; yet, when we arrived the site seemed closed. A man emerged and told us that since there was no functioning shower, we could camp for free. Score.
Cerveza. Pasta. Bed.
El Foyel to El Bolsón
Despite the prior day being quite hot, the night was chilly — thus, we finally made use of our super cozy sleeping bags.
The ride to El Bolsón was more of the same. A few brutal uphills, but mostly stunning downhills. We bumped into another touring couple, from London, who had left Ushuaia six weeks ago and were headed north. They told us that they’d had rain basically the whole time and that the winds were brutal. They explained that, more often than not, the wind had been against them and favorable to the southbound biker. Good news for us 🙂 We wished them well and enjoyed another pleasant hour of downhill riding into El Bolsón, arriving at around 2pm.
The British couple had recommended a campsite on the edge of town, La Chacra. So that’s where we’re currently camped — it’s beautiful, green, filled with birds and with great tree coverage.
As I finish up this post, we’re eating a dinner of rice, canned veggies and lentils and enjoying our second beer of the evening. Cat just finished making dinner and is now buried back in her kindle (#GoT).