From Mendoza I flew to Bariloche, in Argentina’s lake district. The town itself turned out to be an odd mixture of Alpine-style chalets and ugly concrete buildings. I had booked an AirBNB rather than a hotel because my clothes badly needed washing after ten days on the road. My flat turned out to be in the ugliest, most decrepit modern block in town. After checking in, I nervously checked the location of the fire exits, but at least it was very central and had a nice view of the lake.
In the afternoon, I relaxed and wrote my blog, and set off to explore the town. It felt like a European ski resort, with lots of cafes and shops catering to hikers and skiers – some of Argentina’s best ski slopes are a short drive away. Bariloche also has lots of microbreweries serving craft beer. I tried the best-known one, called Manush. The beer was the best I had ever tasted – and remarkably cheap.
I tried the IPA and chocolate stout, and then left to try Bariloche’s next specialty – chocolate. The town has lots of shops selling a bewildering variety of the stuff, and even a chocolate museum. I stocked up with a 200g assortment, and then headed to the waterfront. Bariloche is located on a pretty lake, with bright blue water.
The sun was setting and suddenly it got very cold. After the 30-35C temperatures of Mendoza, it was a shock to suddenly find temperatures of 5 to 10C – Bariloche is a long way south, and at high altitude. The cold drove me back to the flat where I spent a quiet evening before settling down to sleep – or so I thought. My room looked out onto the main plaza, which some people (visitors? locals?) used as a race track……..all through the night. The thin walls of my ancient building allowed me to follow every rev of an engine or crunch of gears.
When I got up in the morning, after a very poor night’s sleep, I resolved to write off my investment in my AirBnb flat and booked a new place to stay – outside of town, to have some peace. Before checking in, I picked up my hire car and set off to explore the “cuircuito chico” – a road trip to the west of Bariloche. The scenery was pretty – a bright blue lakes, mountains, and lots of golden broom flowers.
On the way back, I stopped at my hotel. It was a great place, set on the lake with a beach of black volcanic sand and its own waterfall. My room had a 180-degree view of lake and mountains. In the restaurant they served local trout (fish, finally!) with some good local white wine.
I slept really well in my new, quite, luxurious room and woke up refreshed to drive the Route of the Seven Lakes, one of the famous scenic drives in Argentina. I set off early to avoid the traffic and was soon cruising along the now familiar RN40……….
………..past some sublime countryside……….
I was making good progress and was even thinking I could extend my trip to Lanin volcano further north, when I arrived at the town of Villa La Angostura, where the main road had just been blocked for a bicycle race. Total chaos ensued. Race marshals waved the oncoming traffic up dusty side streets. We all arrived at a junction blocked by a grumpy policeman. I got out to ask how long the road would be blocked. At first, the policeman tried to ignore me; when I persisted, he finally told me that the road would be closed for three hours. I turned around and wound my way up and down more dusty tracks in attempt to find another way through, but there was none. Without warning, the authorities had completely blocked the main road running through the region for several hours, to the anger of both local drivers and tourists like me. I was very annoyed; had the road closure been indicated back at Bariloche, I could have done my circuit the other way round and avoided the mess.
The situation brought one unexpected bonus though. In my search for a way through, I found a very scenic spot – a pretty lake with a beach, shack selling coffee and a short river leading to another lake, which was apparently famous for its fly fishing.
After drinking some coffee and calming down, I decided to abandon my original plan. I headed back towards Bariloche and took a different road (the RN 237) heading north, which turned out to be very beautiful – with quite different scenery to my original route.
I turned off the main road onto a track leading to the village of Villa Traful, which had an impossibly scenic setting and restaurants selling good coffee……but no wifi or phone reception to allow me to check the traffic situation at Villa La Angosgtura.
I drove on and reached the RN40 and the Route of the Seven Lakes again, at a point about 30km north of where I had been blocked in the morning. I was relieved to see many trucks go past loaded with bicycles – meaning that the race must have finished, so felt it was safe to head back south to home.
That evening I had dinner in a “parilla” – a place serving grilled meat, and one of Argentina’s culinary highlights. The meat – lamb and beef – was indeed excellent. After I had finished several steaks, they even asked if I wanted more. However, contrary to popular conceptions, bears are omnivores rather than pure carnivores, and I (unlike some of the human diners) had had enough.
It had been a strange day. I had not managed to drive the full length of the Route of the Seven Lakes, but had found two good consolation prizes – the quiet, pretty lake with the fly fishermen, and the spectacular scenery of the RN 237, whose winding river valley and sculpted rocks had made a welcome change to the parade of pretty blue lakes and yellow flowers.