Monday, 24 January 2011

San Carlos de Bariloche or 'Send Cash to Bariloche'

When our average spend on two nights camping in northern Argentina will only buy you one small coffee in Bariloche, you start to understand why we had been warned that this place is expensive. Still, everybody tells you that you just have to go there, it’s so beautiful.

Our first encounter with San $ de Bariloche was in the bus terminal. We were reconstructing our cycles; wheels and pedals reattached, handlebars realigned, when we are approached by a tout for one of the accommodations. He tells me he works for one of an hospedaje, I explain that we’re camping, he says that it’s going to rain, I say we have a good tent, he says that it’s only $300, I say no, and think: ‘Jesus!’. Further north that would buy us three nights in a good hotel. Could this be the value added premium that we can expect, that we had been warned about, a combination of tourist town and long distance, Bariloche and Patagonia. A three times markup, that could send us on our way quicker than we might have intended. It’s a pity as we’ve been forced through to many towns and cities where we’ve been prepared to dally, so we’re determined to give this one a go. The first night’s camping was cheaper than the hospidaje quote, one toilet, one shower and basin shared by a community who dare to travel without the aid, the crutch of the motor car. The walk in hikers, the backpack in fishers, the cycle in bikers. We move further out from town for the subsequent two days, it’s a slight relief on the pocket, but are shoe horned into a sloping site. We defend our pitch by the judicious placement of bikes and guy lines. All to little avail.

The guide book recommends a ‘circuito chico’, that may offer an, at times , arduous, introduction to the Argentine Lake District. Our inability to second guess a tourist office’s drawing, and our inability to pay attention, means we have a small adventure exploring Cathedral ski centre and the small sand tracks between the various lakes. It’s a classic, serendipitous route, the moment we leave the guided itinerary we are on our own, in a world of wild roses, astrolmerias and tall flowering thistles. Sudden views of bottle green lakes, far below, sliding down boulder and sand strewn tracks unencumbered by luggage or ascending pick-ups.

Lunching on mayonnaise and peach sandwiches, beside a southern beech enfolded lake. Maybe SC de Bariloche has something going for it. Then just as suddenly as we escaped the crowds, we’re back in town.
In the spirit of fairness to the town we go for some retail therapy: search out a bank that might have some cash in it. Three attempts so far have been abortive, there’s a shortage; no surprise there, I know that the notes are disappearing an increasing rate out of our pockets. To search out an ice cream shop, to continue the field work and to sit in the plazza and people watch. We sit under the most frequently reproduced bronze casting, that is after the busts of San Martin, Sarmiento, Guimes and the other super heroes of Argentine history, under a she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. It stands just across from the Cathedral, a neat juxtapositioning of religious iconography. A professional photographer has positioned himself on the plaza with his two St. Bernard dogs, traditional wooden barrels under their chins, sitting appealingly, waiting to be the vital props in a photo opportunity. Trade is slow. Everybody is on the move, transient, passing through..

Therein lies this town’s summer time position. It’s not the place, the destination, but more the stepping of point, a hub to move out from.

Our tentative thoughts when buying our bus tickets, had been to head south, down the Chilean Carretera Austral, down to the true south. The view from the bus and the sight of so much water has caused a re-evaluation: we’ll head north and explore some more of this lake district. Terra del Fuego and the far south will have to wait for another day, another journey to add to a growing, expanding list

We eventually get our mapping skills together and head off on the, ’arduous ‘little circuit‘, ’may require some bus assistance’, leaving early to avoid the traffic, take it at a leisurely pace and are back at the beginning just as the other neighbouring campers are rousing themselves. Twenty five k of no panniers and bottles of water seems to have an effect. Another classic route that only confirms our new intensions to head north, stay in the sierras and the volcanoes for a little longer.

Yet it’s hard to see a place for what it would like to be seen as, when your hand is spraying pesos, broadcasting dollars, like seedcorn. When every stakeholder needs to make his yearly income in a very short summer season, then take a breather and repeat the procedure when the winter season starts. It’s only later when we pass through another winter wonder land ski resort clad in it’s summer mantle, that you realise what San Carlos de Bariloche has. It’s a winter resort that has successfully added on a summer programme. The park grass is clipped and the Av. San Martin completed, the pavements are level and the piles of bricks are tidied away. It’s not in a perpetual of reconstruction and renovation, it has to work hard after the snow has melted.