Hunderburton Adventures


A record of wanderings through Latin America

Archive for the ‘Bariloche’ Category


Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Shock shock shock! New site!

Well, a little different. It took us a whole bottle of Pisco Sour this afternoon to redecorate, so we hope you like it. We’re particularly pleased with the top banner, every time you load the page you will be greeted with a different photo from our trip. Overkill, perhaps, but neat right? The design was hotly debated, so let us know what you think. Suggestions welcome.

We’ve now left Bariloche, and are back in Chile in a town called Pucón. Our last day in Bariloche was spent hiking up to the refugio that we would have reached if we hadn’t chickened out on the terrifying mountain pass. Again, the walk was spectacular. Its amazing the variety of different country around Bariloche. This walk basically followed a river from where it flows into one of Bariloche’s enormous lakes, up to its source, the tranquil Laguna Negra and the snow caps that fill it. It’s beautiful country. Sven said it reminded him of Jurassic Park and I think he’s right – these great big open spaces, low green shrubbery and these colossal snow-capped cliffs with waterfalls tumbling down everywhere you look. Photos never quite capture the sense of height and space, but here were our best attempts:

Walking to Laguna Negra

Walking to Laguna Negra

Refugio Italia

Refugio Italia at Laguna Negra

As an interesting aside, the bus that took us to and from the walk was decorated somewhat eccentrically with fluffy blue frames on the mirrors and matching metallic playboy stickers. We’ve been on this route four times now, and each time the driver has been a humourless, aging Argentinian man so I don´t know what that´s about!

Bariloche Route 10

Bariloche Route 10

So that was Bariloche. We are all very glad that we didn’t listen to everybody’s warnings about the ash cloud and went anyway, it has been a major highlight! Pucón, where we are now, is a great little town filled with adventure activities. The ancient lonely planet we were reading at our last hostel described it as the “Queenstown of South America” and so far that seems pretty accurate. The main attraction is its volcano, one of only five in the world with a permanent lava pool which means its smoking continuously. We’ll be climbing up it tomorrow (if I don’t make myself sick from the kilo of raspberries I just bought), so stay tuned!

Pucon Volcano

Pucon Volcano

Quitters (especially Anna)

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Hola amigos!

Just a quick post about our first overnight hike. This is mostly just an excuse to show y’all some of the great photos we’ve taken over the last few days.

The hike which we had planned to do while in Bariloche was closed due to ice, so, on the advice of the guy working at our hostel, we set out for a different nearby hike with virtually no idea of what to expect. The track started near a bizarrely located hotdog stand (maybe 10km from the closest other building), and gradually wound uphill for about a kilometer. Then, all of a sudden, the track seemed to end. Luckily, Nick’s map (and brilliant navigation skills) gave us the general direction so we persevered along some tiny animal trails up a giant hill and into a forest. The uphill didn’t stop for a looonnggg time, sometimes it was more of a climb than a hike, but eventually we made it to a clearing from which we had a pretty impressive view.

Bariloche Lopez

Over the day we climbed from a starting point of about 800m to roughly 2000m, where our hut was, over a distance of only 4 km. For those of you who aren’t familiar with hiking distances and heights etc; this makes for an incredibly difficult walk. The steepness made the views more impressive though, and the hut we stayed in last night is possibly the most spectacularly located building in the world.

Refugio Lopez
Refugio Lopez (the hut)

The huts here are great. They have permanent staff (none of whom speak a word of English apparently) from whom one can buy chips, drinks, wine etc. And for about $12 a night they give you a comfortable mattress to sleep on. Anna and I went with this option, but Nick (being the tough mountaineer that he is) decided to camp in the cold and (later) the wet.

Refugio Lopez Camping
Nick´s tent is the closest one

Owing to weirdly timed buses, we had to leave for the hike before 8am, and, as a result, arrived at the hut before 2pm. This gave us a lot of time to look around, so Nick and I went exploring the mountain ridge directly behind our lodging. The mountains jutted about 300-400m above the height of the hut (about the height of Mt Cootha, for those of you who are from Brisbane) and were incredibly steep. We thought we´d try some climbing for fun, but discovered about 100m up, to our horror, red markers up the mountain side indicating the direction of the following day’s hike. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get any good photos of the mountains, but I will try my best to describe the route up. The majority of the path required hands and feet to get anywhere, and if you looked back you could see maybe 2 m of steep ledge, then nothing until the level of the hut ground 100m below (we pretty much had to walk along the top of a cliff). If we slipped at any point we would certainly plummet to our deaths. I’m not usually scared of heights, and have even dabbled in rock climbing, but I kind of freaked out at this point and had one of those “oh my god i’m actually going to die in the next few minutes” moments, so we climbed back down the mountain.

Refugio Lopez
View of the hut from the terrifying mountain ledge

Because the hike we were doing was evidently far above the level of the regular traveler, the only hikers anywhere near the hut were locals who didn’t speak any English. When we asked if the mountain was, in fact, the path, they would all say ¨si, si¨ and tell us that it was easy. So we discovered at that point that Argentinians are some weird breed of mountain people, because no reasonable person would consider the path easy, or even safe. Eventually a group of five hikers clambered down the mountain from the other side. Four of them were more Argentinians, but luckily one of them was a German guy who spoke English, which was was great because while our Spanish is fine for ordering coffee, it’s not nearly at the level needed to discuss the difficulty of mountain climbing. The German had this crazy laugh which made him sound like a psychopath from a horror movie, but he turned out to be a good guy. He told us that the climb was, in-fact, hellishly difficult, and that once you scaled the first mountain, there were a series of mountain ridges covered in ice to get across. Later that night some Israeli´s came down the mountain looking thoroughly beaten. One had a gash in his leg which was bleeding a lot, from falling down on an ice sheet, he told us. At this point we started to think we might head back the next day.

The next morning it was raining a lot, and even the hut woman told us the pass would be dangerous (when an Argentinian mountain person tells you a pass is dangerous, it must be) so we had a good excuse to turn back without feeling like quitters. So that’s what we did! YEAH TEAM! (So, dear readers, contrary to the name of this post, Anna wasn’t especially responsible for our failings…)

One other thing I wanted to fit in- we think we saw an Andean Condor flying over the hut. ¨Whats so great about seeing an Andean Condor?¨ you might be thinking? Well let me tell you! They are the largest flying animal found anywhere on earth, which is pretty amazing in my opinion. It was pretty far away, so we cant be totally sure that it was a condor, but later the German guy said that he had definitely seen one around the same time, and the thing we saw flying was about the size of a fighter jet, so there’s not a lot else it could have been.

Andes Bird
An example of a bird which is not an Andean Condor. Just another sort of bird of prey which hung around the mountains


Friday, December 9th, 2011

Our first walk through the beautiful Patagonia! This post won’t have much substance and I wish I could put in some narrative flow but I do not posess the writing abilities. They say a picture is worth 1000 words and so I am hoping that this is true in order to make this post worth your while.

Our spirits and expectations of the national parks around Bariloche were dampened when we arrived yesterday to find an ash cloud where Bariloche was meant to be. Despite this we thought it would still be worth it to go for a walk the following day in the mountains and Christine (the Malmorian (i.e. Malmö in Sweden) we have been traveling with recently) had talked to people and basically organised the whole thing for us so we thought we may as well go along. The worst thing we supposed that could happen would be that we may breathe in enough ash to maybe age 20 years.

There must have been favourable winds or something during the night because looking out the window the following morning (before the walk) showed us that actually there was a town beneath of the ash of yesterday and what more there were beautiful mountains as well! At that point we thought that we might actually get to see some real beauty today and maybe only age 10 years instead of 20. With this new level of enthusiasm we hopped on the next bus to the skiing resort town located at Cerro Catedral. The skiing resort was, of course, a ghost town due to it being out of the skiing season (as a side note; this was the first time I have seen skii slopes not covered with snow) but it happens to be where a hike starts. We were only doing a day hike so the plan was to reach the first hut (or refugio as they are called here) of the hike and then come back (10km each way). Unbeknownst to me at the time was that the trail we were walking was one which I had wanted to do while in Patagonia (I was blindly following Christine so I hadn’t bothered to try and work out where we were going).

The walk was nothing short of spectactular, photos never give these things justice but they are nice none the less. This section of the Andes, as you will see, is much greener than near Santiago although not nearly as high. It felt very New Zealand-esk.

The theme of these photos is “Anna standing or sitting on a rock”. I assure you it was not intentional, it was just a conicendence that the good sceneriary photos included Anna … on a rock. So if you are a fan of Anna on rocks and nice scenary then get ready for the best darn photos you will ever experience.


Bariloche Frey

Near the beginning of the walk

Bariloche Frey

A river where we stopped to snack.


Bariloche Frey

This was the lake right next to the refugio.


Bariloche Frey

Us at the refugio. The middle one is Christine.

Anyway it was a tiring walk but inspired us to do another in the same area. So tomorrow we depart on a 2 night hike. I’m sure you are all looking forward to that!

Crazy South America

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Hey hey friends!

So we’ve had an interesting couple of days over here and our first real taste of the South American craziness that people talk about. I’ll start with the story of an interesting encounter we had with a Belgian guy:

So we were in Mendoza, Argentina (the wine city I mentioned in my last post) on Sunday, and being a Sunday in a heavily Catholic country, absolutely nothing was open, so we took the opportunity to take a long stroll around the parks. A few minutes out of the center of town, a European guy walks past us, then stops and turns around and asks ¨hablan ingles? (do you speak English)¨. Naturally we tell him that we do, and he asks us for directions to the “Plaza Independencia”. Nick had a map with him, so we stopped and Nick gave him some directions. The direction giving then turned into a brief discussion of our travels and countries of origin. The Belgian told us of his travel down from the Guiana´s north of Brazil, and how he was glad to be away from them, seeing as they have some of the highest crime rates in the world (worse in parts than Iraq he told us). We all looked a little shocked, as one does in response to such information, and filling a silence I said ¨I’m glad at it’s safe down this end of South America¨. He responded to this with ¨that’s what I thought! Thats why I came here! But its not, this morning at 11 in broad daylight I was, how do you say in English.. ‘mugged’, at the bus terminal!¨. He then told us his horrible story of getting off the bus, and being approached by a gang of kids wanting cigarettes. When he didn’t have any they started feeling his pockets for them and pushing him. He said he tried to run but one of them pushed him down and ripped his shirt and when he tried to fight back they splashed something in his eyes and pushed him over again. They took his wallet, money-belt with passport, his bags and his 2 cameras with all his photos from his trip. At this point in the story he looked thoroughly frantic and was sweating profusely.

But the story gets worse… because he had just arrived from Buenas Aires, he had everything he owned with him. In Argentina you can’t book into a hostel or book a bus ticket as a foreigner without a passport (as we well know), he had no cards to get any money, the police needed identity verification to come through from Belgium before giving him a police report (which he needed to get any help from his travel insurance). AND because Mendoza is a small town there is no Belgian consulate, the only European consulate is the German one which, he told us, was away with work until Wednesday. He would have to, he was told, get to the embassy in Buenos Aires which was an impossible bus trip away.

He thanked us for directions and said he´d better be on his way as he had to sort out somewhere to stay before dark, but as he was going we offered him 100 pesos (20$Aus) to get something to eat. He thanked us and tried to write his e-mail on a piece of paper so that he could arrange to pay us back- He was shaking so much that he gave me the pen to write it down because he couldn’t. We insisted we didn’t want to be paid back, and that it was the least we could do to help, but took his e-mail anyway because we wanted to hear what happened to him. Then he thanked us again, went on his way to the Plaza Independencia and we haven’t seen him since.

So we walked back to the hostel planning ways to prevent ourselves from ending up in his situation- we would put money in shoes, never leave the hostel with our passports on us etc. Once we got back to back we shared the story with an friendly Irish couple who were as shocked as we were to hear the story (Argentina doesn’t have a reputation for these type of muggings, save some slummier parts of Buenos Aires).

Later that night the Irish guy came over to us as we were eating with this smile on his face, holding his laptop and said ¨I had to come and find you guys to show you this¨. He turned round his computer so we could all read it. It was a wiki travel page with the following highlighted:

¨Be wary of scams, especially around the bus terminal. Occasionally foreigners will pretend to have been robbed and use your sympathy to “borrow” money for a bus ride. Specifically, a guy claiming to be a Dutch/Belgian traveler (blond/brown hair, about 30 years old) who got ‘mugged’ at the station, having everything including his backpack taken. Do not help him out, he’s a local and has been doing this for a while¨. We read elsewhere that hes been doing it professionally since 2006, and is quite famous in these parts.

So yeah. We got scammed, but in our defense the guy was really good. Truth is, it did cross all of our minds that it might be some sort of scam while it was going on (for no real reason other than that we are constantly told by all travel advice forums not to trust any strangers in South America), but we figured it was better to lose $20 than read ¨Belgian traveler starves to death after he is mugged and no one helps him¨ in a newspaper a week later.

What is so bizarre about the whole thing is that a Belgian would move to Argentina to pursue a career in petty fraud against sympathetic tourists. He seemed to be a legitimate European- he was white, had a European accent, and when I told him my name he asked me if I spoke German, in German. AND he spent almost an hour talking to us, and never asked for a cent (we offered, when a lot of people wouldn’t, and he still only made $20). We read on a forum later that another group gave him $700, so I guess he relies on tourists who are more generous than us. To be totally honest it was worth the $20 for the show, and now we know what to look out for in future. We also now know that Mendoza isn´t actually dangerous- just morally bankrupt.

The next day we ended up in the back of an Argentinian police car… don´t worry, we havn´t been arrested for drug trafficking or anything- It´s all far more innocent than that. This is what happened: Being in the wine capital of South America we thought we had best go on one of the famous bicycle wine tours. So we met up with our Swedish friend, Christine, whom we knew from Santiago. She speaks better Spanish than us and we thought that between us we´d be able to get to the vineyards budget style rather than on an expensive tour (a quick aside: damn Europeans, we Australians are here struggling to learn a few sentences and it seems to take the average European a week until they’re chatting with locals). So anyway we caught the bus and, naturally, ended up 4 kilometers from where we wanted to be. So we found another bus, and showed the bus driver a map, and pointed to ¨Mr Hugo´s: Wines and Bikes¨ on it and asked if it was the right bus. He told us it was so we got on. The bus trip was not really what we expected, considering we thought we were heading to vineyards; the area seemed to be getting slummier and the houses more and more dilapidated as we went further, and eventually we were even driving on unpaved dirt roads. Then beside some dirt highway, the bus-driver ordered us to get out, which we did. The place felt like the setting of some Deep-Southern American slasher flick. The only life around was some woman who must have been about 95 years old, in a dilapidated caravan with ¨cafe¨ written beside it. She beckoned us over then said something in weird Spanish which none of us understood.

Apparently the trailer is a cafe


After a bit of standing and feeling confused, we started walking down the road with no idea of where we were or why, just hoping we wouldn´t be raped and beaten to death by Argentinian Deliverance-style hillbillies. None of us had a phone or any way of calling a cab, or even if we could to tell them where we were. Eventually an Argentinian cop on a motorbike rode past, saw us and came over (thank God!) and arranged for us to be picked up be a squad car and taken to the vineyard. Apparently the bus had taken us in completely the wrong direction. Not sure if the bus driver didn’t understand where we wanted to go, or just thought it would be fun to freak out some tourists. Either way we made it to the vineyards courtesy of the Argentinian tax payer!

Now Mendoza wine and bike tours are amazing (Christoph this would be your dream holiday activity). Basically what happens is you arrive at the place, they give you a ~200ml glass of wine and a map, you have to drink the wine before you get your bike (just enough to affect your judgment of speed and distance), then they unleash you on the poorly maintained roads without helmets or any advice (there is no way in hell Mr Hugo´s little operation would fly in Australia- its a thoroughly dangerous enterprise he’s running- but we though ¨ooh well, when in Rome¨). So then you spend the day riding between vineyards, beer gardens, and a spirits and chocolate factory, tasting interesting and exotic food and drink.

Shots of Absynthe being served to us at the liquor factory


Also over here they don’t do the taste and spit out thing, your expected to drink everything your given. We only did the half day tour, but if you took the full day and visited everything in the area you would end up dangerously wasted. It was a really great day altogether and we had no accidents or injuries even though we got caught in a thunderstorm.

Sven and swedish girl (Christine) biking to vineyard


After the wine tasting we had to run to catch an 18 hour bus to Bariloche, a Quaint little city in the south of Argentina in the lakes district. Interestingly, a series of historians who have written on the possible escape of Hitler from his bunker, believe he lived here in Bariloche until he died here in the 60´s. There is ¨overwhelming proof¨ that this is the true story of Hitler, one book tells me. I cant say I’m convinced, but its interesting nonetheless?

Some mountains on route to Bariloche


So basically Bariloche is known for its beautiful lake front view, and stunning mountain surroundings. The problem is, a volcano erupted 90km away from here (yeah, you remember the one from the news which disrupted all the flight paths? We knew that has happened somewhere near but never put 2 and 2 together) and spewed thousands of tonnes of ash into the air covering the city in 30cm of ash over the first few days. The volcano is so huge we got a dust storm in Mendoza from it, over 800Km away. Initially Bariloche was evacuated and in a state of emergency, but now, life has sort of continued, but the volcano is still erupting, and the air here is worse than any Chinese city. 

The Ash in the air of Bariloche. Usually you should see mountains


I find it hurts to breath outside, but I have unusually sensitive lungs and I’m told its not the harmful kind of volcanic ash. I’m still hoping to get out of here as soon as possible and head south early.. I guess we´ll see what happens. But the bus trip was very beautiful before the ash blew in, so hopefully it will blow away and we’ll have a clear day or two.