Bariloche: Beautiful Views, Delicious Brews
Barren wilderness save for some sparse vegetation line the perpetually straight road. Over 200km with barely a few turns. But as the bus reaches the final 2 hour stretch of the 22 hour long journey, all of that begins to change. Lakes of deep blue contrast with the azure sky, buffered by majestic mountains covered with trees turning red with the changing autumn season. The straight road diverges into a series of banks and curves, carving its way through the Patagonian landscape. Snow caps the peaks of the highest of mountains, a welcome sight that I haven’t witnessed firsthand in well over a year. Everything is crisp and pure, as if my sight has been photo shopped beyond reality. I am not the only one stricken by this ancient beauty as my fellow bus riders press their faces and cameras against windows for a better vantage point.
The ride from Buenos Aires to Bariloche is very straightforward; you are literally on the straightest of roads for the majority of the journey. I embarked with the company Via Bariloche in one of their cama seats. These seats have plenty of room and recline deeply, making it relatively easy to fall asleep in the middle of the night. Three meals a day are served by the attendant and recent releases play on the television screens. My favorite movie was The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, definitely inspiring to actually go out and live your life instead of working to live. It’s a good thing the service is quality because you wouldn’t expect anything less for the steep ticket price of nearly $140. But that’s a small price to pay to witness the rustic beauty of Patagonia firsthand.
As the bus pulled into Bariloche, the sight of the mountains surrounding Lake Nahuel Huapi caused me to stop and simply stare for a few minutes. I had heard that Patagonia is one of the most beautiful natural areas on earth, but superlatives are often thrown around carelessly. These aren’t. If possible, they are an understatement. I headed to the Patanuk hostel along the waterfront, where even the view from the bathroom window is worthy of a painting. I arrived just in time to catch the sunset, displaying a range of orange and red hues on the now dark blue backdrop, enjoy a beer and meet some other travelers.
The next day I joined Alejandro, from Buenos Aires, in trekking to el Cerro Campanario. We had heard that the view from the mirador is one of the most popular in all of Patagonia. After a short 45 minute hike, we reached the viewpoint and I was stunned. If we were playing poker then Mother Nature just laid down a full house. Mountains, valleys, lakes, forests, all connected seamlessly for 360°. Birds perched on treetops, surveying their habitat below. Unadulterated beauty everywhere I looked.
And then Mother Nature upgraded her hand to a royal flush. A light rain began to drift down from the clouds, creating a rainbow below us. Below us. I had never been higher than the apex of a rainbow until that moment. It is amazing that rain and sunlight, often considered opposites, combine to create something so magnificent. Rainbows are always present in the light spectrum all around us, but it takes special circumstances to bring them out. The perfect circumstances in the perfect location, I couldn’t help but marvel at my luck.
The next day I met up with my friend Anabella (from my thai massage class, who has put me up for a few days) who lives 12km outside of the city center, and indulged in two of Bariloche’s specialties, chocolate and beer. There is a major Swiss influence in Bariloche, hence the massive chocolate shops throughout the city. I entered the most famous, Mamushka, and had to order the chocolate and dulce de leche mousse. Oh yeah, the combination was almost as good as the sun and rain from the day before. The world’s largest chocolate Easter egg was being constructed in one of the plazas. On Easter it will be a focal point of the town parade and broken into pieces for all to share.
Bariloche is also home to numerous craft breweries. Being a home brewer myself, I had to stop by a few cervecerias. My favorite is Blest brewery. Their bock and stout were on point. After drinking only light lagers in Asia (all that is available), the taste of actual hops without any preservatives or filtration was like my taste buds being welcomed to the promised land. And it just so happened to be happy hour, buy one get one free chopps (the equivalent of a normal bottle). I sat by myself, eating peanuts and reading the local newspaper, savoring every last drop of the award winning brews. Nature during the day, good beer at night, there’s a lot to like about Bariloche.
Mountain biking el Circuito Chico is definitely one more thing to like. I rented a bike for around $15 for the day to explore a huge loop through along the lakes and through the park. A series of steep hills and long winding declines keep the route challenging and interesting. Bridges lead to views of mountains seemingly protruding from the water.
El Punto Panoramico provides another spectacular view. From here you can separate from the paved roads and bike to el Colonio Suizo, an old school community at the base of the mountains. I sampled a lager from the Berlina brewery to rehydrate and read a little bit. Many handcrafts and artisanal works are sold in the colony (as well as throughout Bariloche), and there is a very simple, peaceful vibe to the place. In fact all of Bariloche has that feel to it: simple, peaceful, and awe inspiring.