Friday, July 03, 2015

Around Bariloche, Feb. 2015

We spent a week in early February in Bariloche.  As in much of our travels, we rented a house in town and then did day trips.  Our house, from Air BnB, was great.  It was a couple of K outside of town, which complicated grocery shopping, but included a garden with a play house, which was perfect for our family.

Bariloche has a good public transit system, so we used buses half the time and then rented a car for a couple of days.  Those days, we could have taken package tours, but having our own transit gave us more flexibility.  It was our first time renting and car and driving in Argentina, and driving in town was an experience, particularly the uncontrolled intersections.  We also paid more attention to the gas stations, which often had lines for cars lined up waiting for the pump.

Our first day trip was a boat drip on Lago Nahuel Huapi to the National Park of the Arrayanes.  Google translate tells me the arrayan is "myrtle" in English.  This is a microscopic national park within the larger national park that surrounds Bariloche, and includes a stand of Arrayanes.  The boat ride across the lake was lovely, and it dropped us at one end of the Arrayan woods to do a short walk on a boardwalk through the trees.  These are trees that are regularly found alongside creeks, and usually only grow to be large bushes, but here have formed a woods.  They were lovely, their brownish trunks rising off the forest floor.
Another day, we took the city bus out to Lago Gutierrez, one of many in the national park, that had a waterfall, a hike, and the possibility of swimming in the lake.  The kids were determined to swim as much as possible.  The waterfall, the waterfall of the Duendes (fairy folk), was tiny.  From there, we walked up to a lookout over the lake.    Mike and I enjoyed the view while the kids played under a tree in the shade.

 Since it was a nice sunny day, and Lago Gutierrez has a nice beach, on the way back to the bus stop, the kids wanted to play in the water.  In the absence of bathing suits, they stripped down and hopped in.  I think it was a little chilly despite being  warm summer day.

 The next day, we had a car and drove the Llao Llao circuit.   Llao Llao is another name for pan de indio, an edible fungus.  This is a short drive around a peninsula within the national park.  There is a famous old hotel there, which we tried to visit but the security really didn't want us to park.  We did a short hike through lots of cañya colihue, and then a longer hike around to Cerro Llao Llao.  At this point, we didn't understand why all of the caña colihue canes were brown and sere.  We later cornered a park ranger and learned that this plant has a massive bloom cycle every 50 years or so, and had bloomed 10 year ago.  So the head canes were from that bloom cycle, and the rest was new growth.  The canes apparently last a very long time without rotting, again not something we're used to in the Pacific Northwest, where rotting is quick.
This is a view of the Llao Llao peninsula from a chairlift.   It includes some of Lake Nahuel Huapi as well as several other lakes.  These are partially glaciall-fed, but mostly from rainfall and snow melt from the Andes, and not nearly the same blue-green, glacial milk color of Lago Argentina farther south.  

Maeve and Silas passed a lot of the day carrying around caña colihue canes.  The also did a lot of Army marching.  This was particularly helpful around Cerro Llao Llao, where we somehow got off on a side trail, as usual, before backtracking to find the main trail that would lead to our car.

Afterwards, we went swimming.  The first swimming hole we walked to was off a dock, not a beach, so we walked another K or 2 to a nice bay.  We all got in - Mike and I wading and the kids got wet.  It was cold. 

The next day, we went to Villa la Angostura, a town on the north side of Lake Nahuel Huapi. It's another cute tourist town, and has the shortest river in the world (they say) the 100 M or so Rio Correntoso, that flows from the Lago Correntoso to Lago Nahuel Huapi.  There's a trail alongside the river, and we walked the whole thing, from source to mouth.  Here's a photo of the kids on the footbridge crossing the river, with the new highway bridge, part of the improvements to interstate 40, the famous highway that runs the length of the Argentinean Andes. 

 Here's us at the source of the river, Lago Correntoso.  The lovely green plants in this photo are scottish broom.  This incredible plant in high summer has brown seed pods that dry out and pop in the sun, exploding seeds everywhere.  We found it throughout our walks around Bariloche, and had great fun pulling off the pods and exploding seeds at each other.  It is, like the pine tree, a horribly invasive species that crowds out the slower-growing native bushes.

What is a day in Nahuel Huapi park in summer without a stop at the beach?  This is the beach at Lago Correntoso.  The kids played in the water a bit, played a lot in the sand, and came out frozen.

The next day, bright and early to beat the tourist buses and hit the time points for the one-way roads, we headed out to the Cerro Tronador part of the park.  Tronador (thunderer) is the biggest mountain in the Bariloche part to the Andes and is on the border with Chile.   We took our little rental car, heading out of town going south on highway 40, a newly paved blacktop road, and quickly got to the turnoff for Tronador.  From there it was a slow ride over gravel roads.  Going in was good. No traffic, no dust, just us and a waterfall.

Our first stop was Casacada los Alerces (Waterfall of the Larches).  This lovely little waterfall, reached from a short walk on trail and boardwalks (there are lots and lots of boardwalks in the Argentinean national parks), is where the Rio Manso (Sluggish River, huh?) drops from the highlands near el Tronador down to it's meandering park (lower Rio Manso that gives it its name) until is meanders over the Andes to its outlet in the Pacific.  The water was an amazing color.

We had some issues with understanding the westward flow of an Argentinean river - how is a river that has an outlet in the Pacific in Argentina?  Where is the Continental Divide?    It turns out this is a rather contentious issue.  Perrito Moreno, he of the name of the famous El Califate glacier, was an Argentian explorer and government official.  He was charged, among other things, with exploring the Andes region and getting more Argentinians to settle there to substantiate their claim to the un-explored territory.  He negotiated a complicated treaty with Chile which ultimately gave all of the land until the tallest mountains to Argentina, even though this territory had originally been explored and settled from over the Andes in Chile, not from the Argentinian plains.  This was true of the native Americans - the Mapuche went over the mountains into Argentina in response to pressure from Spanish conquistadores radiating out from Peru.  They were later followed by Spanish missionaries from Chile who crossed the Andes to evangelize and calm tensions with the Native Americans on the east side of the mountains that were raiding Spanish settlements on the west side. Moreno helped devise Argentina's strategy for claiming all the land east of the Andes by creating land-grant incentives to settlers and creating Argentina's first national park, Nahuel Huapi, in the disputed area around Bariloche. 

After the waterfall, it was another drive on a dirt/gravel road through the park to the Ventisquero Negro, or Black Glacier.  This glaciEr falls off of snow & glaciers on top of El Tronador, and in the process gets lots of dirt mixed in, therefore the name.  So it's a glacier formed from snow and glacial droppings from another glacier farther up El Tronador, which gets its name from the thundering sound of falling snow and ice.  This glacier is rapidly retreating.  It's the start of Rio Manso, and there is a new (in the last couple of decades) lake that has formed as the glacier retreats.  There's an awesome lookout, and we, in our little rentacar, got there right before the hoards of tourist buses, so we had it to ourselves for lunch.

After Tronador we drove to the end of the road where there was a cafe (a truism in Argentina) and a short walk up a creek to a waterfall called Garganta del Diablo (devil's throat).  It was a nice little waterfall but not to be confused with the Garganta del Diablo at Iguazu..  We saw lizards and played a lot in the rocks on the side of the creek.  We saw a lot of lizards in Patagonia.  Jumping on rocks in water, throwing rocks in water, and generally playing in water keeps the kids happy. 

Farther down the mountain at Pampa Linda, we took a hike to another waterfall, Saltillo de las Nalcas.  This is another tiny little waterfall, reached through a short hike through lots of caña colihue, crossing the Rio Manso, and with several excellent views of El Tronador.

There was a multi-day partner race through the mountains that was spending the night after one long leg from Bariloche to Pampa Linda, to cross over to another mountain hut the next day.  On the way out, we were behind a nice line of cars with exhausted runners & walkers slogging uphill in the car dust.  They were amazing, keeping moving in horrible dusty conditions, and provided entertainment to the kids on our slow way out of the park.

Our last full day in Bariloche, we went rafting on the Rio Manso.  It was called rafting, but it was more like floating.  Several companies from Bariloche will take you rafting for similar prices on similar stretches of the Rio Manso for a similar duration, and we picked the company that had space on the warmest day and provided wet suits.   Just because summer in Bariloche isn't really all that warm.  

It turned out to be a lovely day, maybe 70 degrees in the sun, so on an even slower than usual stretch of the river, we got out for a swim.

The float/swim was another great way to look at the mixed Cedar/Notofagus forest and enjoy meandering through the park.   The kids quickly learned how to identify the cedars (pointy) and the lenga (round) trees.  The Rio Manso here really is manso (placid), nothing like the Cascada los Alerces in the upper part of the river.    The water here is very clear, which we'd noticed at the waterfall.  There is a big change in water quality from the upper river, which has a lot of glacial milk (see the milky lake in the Ventisquero Negro photo above), to the lower river, which is crystal clear.  Most of the glacial milk sediments in Lago Mascardi which leaves the vibrant but clear colors we saw. The river drops very little from the Cascada (also lovely blue-green) where we'd been the day before, to the border with Chile where it flows over the Andes and into the Pacific. 

The kids were pretty cold after the swim and didn't paddle much the whole trip, but there wasn't much need.  A couple times Mike and I had to pull our weight for all of 15 strokes or so, but it was mostly the guide. At the end, we met the van with dry clothes and had a snack with hot cocoa and bread with yummy dulce de leche in a cafe next to the river, conveniently situated for all those rafting and fishing tourists.  What is a day in nature without a nearby cafe!

From Bariloche, we were heading across the Andes again to meet friends (Miguel - Mike's former officemate, Ceclia, Jose Miguel, Martin, and Ray the dog) in Pucón.  We had a lot of trouble figuring out the international bus connections from abroad, since we don't have either Chilean or Argentinian national identity numbers,  but eventually worked with a travel agent based out of San Martin de los Andes to get us a transfer to San Martin de los Andes and then an international bus to Pucón.  The route over the border went past the Volcano Lanin, and through steppe with lots of Araucania trees, as shown in the foreground of the photo taken near the border crossing.  These trees are very interesting conifers and an emblematic tree in Chile, giving their name to the region around Pucón.

This was our 3rd time crossing the Argentina-Chile border. We got out of the bus in Argentina, threw out all our organic trash, had our visas processed out with the other 50 passengers.  Wandered around outside where they are building a new toll booth.  Got back in the bus and drove a kilometer, where we did the same thing in Chile in a much nicer building with more serious customs check, we took off our luggage which was sniffed for money, drugs and agricultural products.  Then on though highway construction on the Chilean side, widening and paving the road all the way from Pucón to the border.

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