Wednesday, 21 January 2015

0182 Lago Nahuel Huapi to Colonia Suiza

17th Jan  

As usual I woke up at about 6 am, and no one else in the whole campsite was stirring.  I went for a walk around the campsite, and down on the beach, and the early morning views over the lake were just superb.  And down on the beach I found another one of those ground-walking eagles fossicking in the sand – He found something as I caught him with it in his beak as he waddled away !!  I think the bird might be a Chimango, and these was also confirmed by someone I spoke to, even thought it doesn’t quite look the same !  It will do for now, anyway !

These Argentinians sure aren’t early risers ! But that was good because it allows me to get a shower etc before anyone else is around – And when there are only a couple of showers and toilets for the whole camp site, that is kind of helpful !  In this case, the showers turned out to be only hot for a couple of hours in the evening,  so it was more a question of an APC in freezing water than a full shower !  Brrrrr.  Even though it is summer, the weather here is hot in the day if you are in the sun and out of the wind, so you can wear shorts and a T shirt, but if the sun goes in you can get cold quite quickly.  Then at about 7 pm when the sun goes down, it gets positively cold and long trousers, socks and a jacket are needed, and a warm sleeping bag is needed at night !  Anyway, even though I cooked some eggs and toast for breakfast (normally I just have cereal and a banana),  I was ready to go by 9 am, and my neighbours were just stirring,  so I took over a couple little clip-on koala toys we carry for the kids, which they loved, and then hit the road.

I drove along the very beautiful shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi, heading towards San Carlos de Bariloche, now more commonly just called Bariloche, although I think the full name is more fun and more Argentinian.  As I approached Dina Huapi at the end of the lake, I could see the town of Bariloche nestling under the snowcapped mountains on the other side of the lake – They say the town is in a beautiful setting, and they are not wrong.  Out of interest, lots of fine purple Scottish thistles alongside the road – Never know
what you are going to find !!  Dina Huapi is very small but has a little tourist office where I stopped and asked about local scenic routes and road conditions (a number of them are dirt roads). They gave me a map and the details of the southern and northern loops I planned to take, and then, after a number of very large topes (Haven’t seen any of those for a while !) we arrived in Bariloche.  Passed the railway station and bus station on the way in, and it was backpacker city – They were everywhere, getting off buses and trying to get into town, and vice versa !  I drove straight through town initially, travelling along the very scenic coast road beside the lake – The city is right on the lake side. My plan was to
do a scenic loop out to a lake called Llao Llao and round Lago Moreno (and others), and then come back to Bariloche for a look –see.  On the way out of Bariloche I saw a respectable looking hitch hiker and stopped – Turned out he was a local called Martiniano del Cerro (Martin of the sky !!)  and is a “high climb” specialist – Trees, roofs, any thing that needs high climbing ! He spoke excellent English so was able to tell me about the area and possible walks, and confirm that Llao Llao was a “good spot”. He also told me where I could find a good cambio (money changer) in Bariloche – VERY important as my Argentinian currency left from before Christmas was low – I hardly had enough left to go shopping let alone fill up with fuel !

I dropped Martiniano off just short of Puerto Moreno, and then set off up the road to Llao Llao – Only to be stopped a couple of kms further up the road by the police who were telling everyone that there had been a serious traffic accident and the road was clocked, so we had to turn around and go back.  They did say that the road should be open in an hour, so I went the short distance back into Bariloche, found a car parking area, and went off in search of the elusive cambio !   I actually found him quite easily – He was standing out on the pavement outside his clothing shop saying “Cambio ?” to every tourist who walked past !   It reminded me a bit of the copy-watch salesmen in Singapore, who had to operate their illegal copy-watch business in the back of another shop – Often a tailors ! Anyway, got some money changed at an acceptable rate (despite only having $20 notes, as discussed previously !), then I found a camping shop who sold gas cartridges for my little mini-stove that I use a lot of the time, so got a couple of them, and then went for a wander through the centre of town.

The main street is packed with tourists – Many local ones, but also a lot of Americans and a lot of back packers.  I found a couple of Argentinian guys on big BMW bikes who had stickers from Ushuaia on their panniers, so we got chatting.  The normal first question is “”Are you heading north or south ?”.  Once that is determined, you can work our whether to ask each other questions about the route ahead, or to chat about places you have both visited already.  Simple really !!   Anyway, they had done the Carretera Austral road that I plan to do next week, so we chatted about ferries and the need to book ahead etc – Good useful information for me.   But other than that, the centre of town is just lots of restaurants, bars, fast food (McDonald’s ! And of course the more local “Super Pollo” – A kind of KFC !), coffee shops, and local clothing and artisanal stores - Not really my cup of tea on a trip like this, especially while I am on my own.  Not into sitting in bars and restaurants by myself !

A lot of the buildings here are stone and wood, and there is a stone archway at the end of the main street into the main square.  Walking through into the square, the setting is delightful, with more stone and wooden buildings on the sides, a statue in the middle, and the lake to the north.  But in the square were about 5 people with St Bernard’s (and puppies) who were trying to make money off tourists posing with their dogs.  I overheard one bunch complaining about being charged for taking a photo, while I noticed several others trying to take sly photos while the dog owner wasn’t looking – which they are SO on to, and usually ended up in a slanging match.  Oh dear, Oh dear – I left as quickly as I could, before it spoiled my day – This is not the Argentina I want to remember.   I headed back to the car and back towards Llao Llao hoping the road was open by now.

It wasn’t open. The police were still turning people around.  What to do ?  I checked the map and found there was supposedly an alternate small road round the back way – So I went looking for it. After passing it twice without realising it, it turned out to be a quite narrow dirt road – So before setting off up it I checked with a local in a nearby shop, and they said the road was not only fine, but very scenic.  So off up the dirt road I went.    It got narrower and narrower, but a few cars seem to be coming the other way, possibly due to the other main road being blocked, so I presumed I was heading in the right direction – No signs, of course !!  My satellite map on my tablet (not my GPS), called the “bouncing ball” in my car, also showed that I was
headed in the right direction, so I plodded on.  Suddenly the road came out beside a beautiful lake, Lago Moreno, and though it was very narrow and in places washed away with steep unguarded drop offs into the lake (would they ever find me if I fell down the slope and sank in the deep (but clear) blue water ?) I kept going, stunned by the beauty and the isolation, out in the middle of nowhere.  Suddenly I could see this white sandy beach below, and what looked like tents.  Camping by the lake ?  It was too attractive to me, even though it was only about 2 pm.  So I turned off down a little lane into a village called Colonia Suiza, with a big Swiss cross on the sign.  (Could this help explain the St Bernards in Bariloche?)  Wandering down through this little town, I found a Camping sign, turned in, and after completing the formalities (ie money, of which I now had supplies !) I was soon setting up Troopie for the night.

It was quite crowded, being a Saturday during the holidays, and most people were down on the beach.  Not a lot of swimming done here (except by the kids) as the lake water is pretty chilly, but they like to lay out in the sun.  A lot of people stopped by to have a chat about Troopie and our adventure, and had a great chat with one family in particular – Fernando, wife Cecilia, and boys Max and Juan.  Max spoke enough English to enable us
to communicate reasonably well when combined with my Spanglish, and I ended up  giving him an Aussie $1 bill to add to his money collection (sounds like a good thing to collect !).  In the end, Fernando went shopping and then they invited me over to their tent for the evening, where we had beer and barbecued chorizo and chicken.  A very pleasant evening spent trying to find enough words to have a meaningful conversation m- The dictionary was used a lot !! They are from Buenos Aires and over here on holiday.  Thanks for a fun evening, guys, and safe travels back home. 

I fell into bed at about 11 pm !!

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