Buenos Aires – At first I thought “just another big city”. And being a country boy who’s not particularly taken with the hustle and bustle, I wasn’t too impressed. Our lodgings, “Portal del Sur” was a hostel clearly set up for back packers. Despite this, they had found us a family room as promised with a small en-suite. The staff couldn’t be more helpful and welcoming, and the breakfast in the rooftop bar always got us off to a good start. Best parts of the city for me was the ecological reserve just the other side of the Casa Rosada, where you could quickly find some peace and quiet, and the fact that the city has many different sides to it. One minute you would be walking through a pretty run down area, then you turn a corner and you would be in a street that wouldn’t be out of place in Knightsbridge. Then it would all change again to look French, and then Italian. In the end, 4 days here was enough for me, but I’m glad I came to see it. As big cities go, not typical!
San Carlos de Bariloche – The first week here was wet and windy. We took the 40 minute bus ride up to the Cerra Catedral ski area on the second day. The wind had shut the high altitude lifts and the snow at the base station was non-existent. It was beginning to look like trying to ski the Andes had been a big mistake. However we took some days out while the weather settled, then there was a huge dump of snow, the wind dropped, the sun came out… And it was all worth it! This may sound like nonsense to the non-skiers reading this, but the snow quality of the fresh fall was amazing. I’ve skied most of Europe and some in the US, but even though the visibility was still poor, the fresh snow that was still floating gently to the ground all around us was a delight to ski on. When the sun finally broke through, the views across the Andes were truly awesome! Totally unlike the Alps, where all is snow as far as you can see. First the majestic Lake Nahuel Huapi dominates the surrounding area. In the distance mountains sit on the horizon, while in the middle distance, you look across the wide Argentinian pampas.
But it isn’t just the skiing that takes your breath away. On one of our days off from skiing, we took a bus to the Colonia Suiza, a small artesanial and camping village at the foot of the mountains. We walked the circuit for a while, and enjoyed the Andean Condors soaring overhead. Since we got here every bird we see has been an Andean Condor, but I’m convinced these were the real deal, given that even from a distance they appeared to be the size a small light aircraft. We then failed to gain access to the Parque Nahuelito Dinosaur “theme park”, because they didn’t accept cards and I hadn’t brought enough cash, much to the distress of my kids to whom I was now public enemy number one. To add insult to injury I then made them walk “about a hundred miles” (actually more like 1km) to a local beauty spot to eat our sandwiches. When we got there the term “beauty spot” didn’t even come close! And to make it even better there was a small café/restaurant (with a Visa logo in the window) called Punto Panoramico. At this point sandwiches got relegated to the evening meal, and we tucked into fresh Nachos and Quesidellas with relish. Even the kids got excited by the “Cubanito” desert: an ice cream waffle wrapped around caramel and covered in chocolate on the outside, and we indulged in waffles with the local delicacy of Dulce de Leche (basically soft, gooey caramel).
However the best thing about Bariloche is none of these things, but the locals who are enormously warm and friendly, especially given our distinct lack of Spanish language skills. Everyone from our hosts at the Hostel En Bariloche, to the people who let you on the packed buses first just because you have kids to the lovely lady at Chips computer shop, who found me a lead to connect the camera to the computer.
What the kids think…