While my assignment was to write a comprehensive travel guide for San Carlos de Bariloche, to be honest I couldn’t be bothered.
You see, that would require research and imagination. Those things take time. Time that could be spent eating Cheetos on the couch and watching True Detective in a brainless marathon Saturday night wasting. So what the hell are you reading? Good question. What you have here is a rambling recount of what I personally did while I was there for a few days. It might not be what you wanted, but I’ve included enough information and genuine opinions that (hopefully) it will be somewhat useful to anyone planning on visiting, or looking for something to do in that glorious part of Southernish Argentina referred to in Calafate as “Patagonia Light”.
If you only have a couple minutes (or a child’s attention span) just head to the bottom where I’ve gone ahead and summed up all this nonsense into a convenient listicle, or whatever the hell you call that fantastically soulless, nail-in-the-coffin-of-literature style so popular with you damn kids these days. For those of you who go on to read the whole thing (like my mom, who still insists on printing all my articles for her scrapbook), the above mentioned (below located) abridged version will also offer extra info on any of the highlighted names that you may have interest in.
How to Get There:
How you wanna get there comes down to a few important factors. The most obvious of which being your budget. Now, I’m not “broke”, but I’m not exactly swimming in it these days either. I won’t bore you with the details, but a few bad investments – or what my ex always referred to them as, “our kids”—and more than a few bad habits have not left me much in the way of a portfolio. Not to mention that writing a half assed article once every six months doesn’t quite pay the bills, even if it is for an illustrious publication like The Bubble. Anyway, as I was saying, money is the key here. I took the bus. Full bed with a single seat right by the T.V, and my headphone jack even kinda worked. V.I.P.
I’m definitely not complaining about the long ride, but I could do a separate article reviewing the hundreds of movies I watched on the way there and back. The scenery is fantastic at times, but what you’re going to be surrounded by once you get to Bariloche is infinitely better, so don’t make your bus vs. plane decision based on that alone.
Obviously it goes without saying that if there are time restrictions to your vacation, getting there by air will afford you more time for drinking beer, eating chocolate, and making 4 AM plans to go hiking that you slightly regret when the alarm wakes you up three hours later. But I wasn’t in a rush, and I like keeping a few extra pesos in my pocket, so I didn’t mind the practically 24 (EACH GODDAMN WAY) hour ride. Plus, getting to and from the airport in BA is a pain, and I’ve heard some horror stories about planes being delayed, and the process in general being unpleasant.
Maybe most importantly, I get to brag about how much more of a “traveler” I am because I took the bus instead of the plane, you elitist.
Bariloche has plenty of places for people with more money than sense (or enough money that sense is rendered obsolete), and if you’re in that camp just go ahead and skip this section. That probably includes you aero-aristocrats who couldn’t tough out the road trip.
Much like taking the bus, I make my sleeping arrangements based almost solely on “traveler” points. That’s why I prefer staying in hostels, like all my fellow hip young wanderlusters. If you can stand sleeping in the same room as potentially snoring strangers, you should go the hostel route too. I stayed at a great place called Penthouse1004 – Playmates not included, believe me, I asked. An interesting thing to ponder is that it’s in the biggest, ugliest building in Bariloche; which is what makes the view from the large 10th floor deck (which obviously excludes the building itself) amazing. I’m not going to get into it, but there’s an interesting philosophical discussion to be had there.
Things to do Things I did:
I try hard to strike a balance in life. The most practical method for achieving equilibrium is (of course) to visit both extreme ends of the scale. If you looked only at my daytime activities, you’d see the itinerary of an energetic, outdoorsy, health nut. But that of course means my Zen-like balancing act required that I spent every night well within the debauched deep end of Barilochean night life. More on that later.
Within an hour of checking in at the Penthouse, I found myself riding a city bus with a stranger-turned-compañero from my hostel along the coast of a jaw-droppingly picturesque, mountain-enveloped lake towards my first ever hike in (quasi) Patagonia: Cerro Campanario. Not much in way of a strenuous exercise, but the view was definitely worth it. Hell, even the bus ride alone was worth the effort. My recently acquired Austrian cohort and I ate lunch perched high on a rock at the summit, I think he was as impressed as I was; “This is nicer than Switzerland”.
Just as we were leaving, a whole gang of school field trip buses were showing up. I can’t tell you how happy I am that I got outta there when we did. Nothing enhances the enjoyment of nature more than hordes of screeching fourteen-year-olds. We thankfully got back to town in time for a quick dinner before the commencement of the seemingly obligatory — though loosely officiated — hostel-wide drinking competition.
Many of us got well lubricated before heading out. We passed the time by talking about how globally loved America’s foreign policy is, and how ridiculous it would be to hold me personally responsible for whatever the hell my government does, or the new McDonald’s in your once pristine hometown. Just kidding. Sometimes I don’t think people really appreciate how hard it is to get out from under these vicious middle-class white guy “trying to take over the world” stereotypes. Especially us poor Yankee bastards spending time here in South America. Food for thought.
Whatever geopolitical differences we had were quickly dulled by the liters and liters of beer consumed in preparation for a night really experiencing the local (craft beer) community in the traditional Argentine style: a pub crawl. The highlights of the night were Konna Bar, and some apparently prepubescent kid trying to sell me weed “for money to get into the club” at three-o-clock in the morning. What can I say, support local business, right?
My new-found hostel buddy and I had bought tickets for a white water rafting excursion offered by Aguas Blancas early on my first morning in the Penthouse, so I didn’t get much time in the sack. But then again, who needs sleep when you wake up to homemade bread and the sun rising over snowcapped mountains?
Rafting was cool. It was the only thing I spent much money on, and I was happy with my choice. I’m not a travel agent (translation: they didn’t pay me), so if you want to check it out, feel free. If not, whatever. I would recommend packing your own lunch instead of buying something at the asado, and bring a towel, hoodie, and some sweatpants because (at least while I was there) the river was “why the fuck did I decide to jump in?” cold. But if you don’t go for it, you’re a total weenie.
Getting to the departure point takes about an hour from Bariloche center. When I went, a couple of young ladies more on the ball than myself used the van ride as a free trip to El Bolsón, a small town not far from where we stopped for lunch. I couldn’t tell you if El Bolsón is worth it or not, but that clever trick earned them so many traveler points that it was automatically a justifiable side trip. I worked on my own traveler score by tipping me hat over my face like Indiana Jones and napping on the ride home. Being an old man comes with some benefits, I fell asleep within minutes of shutting my eyes.
Being an old man also means I can’t completely remember what happened upon our return to “downtown” Bariloche. What I do recall is that my now best friend (whose name, funnily enough was Jimmy too) went to the bus terminal to secure a seat on to Cordoba the following morning, and I returned to hostel alone. This is where the recollection becomes fuzzy. I’m not sure how it happened, but by the time Austrian Jimmy got back I had managed to make plans for the two of us to dine with a couple of new American female acquaintances. We were recommended a place called Familia Weiss when the girls asked for a place to get some fish. Apparently that’s a Bariloche thing. But I come from New England, and I find it hard to believe I’ll come across any seafood worth writing home about down here in the land of steak and red wine.
It was okay. A little expensive, and not exactly my kind of vibe — a little too fancy and touristy for a hip son of a bitch like myself, but not the worst place I’ve ever been. After dinner I suggested we go to Konna Bar to make sure we met our daily recommended amount of Barilochean bear. We sat sipping cold pints, eating peanuts, and solving world problems till the bar closed at “I hope the choripán stand is open”-o-clock. I have a suspicion that there must have been something funny in the chimichurri because I thought it was a great idea to agree to join the girls on a six (SIX GODDAMN) hour hike the following morning. “We need to catch the bus at 8, so let’s meet in the lobby at 7:30.”
Ya, ya. Homemade bread, mountains. Got it. I’m not sure if I was still drunk or not. I had no idea who was staying in my dorm room with me because I’d only been in it for a total of 5 hours since I checked in. I stretched, showered, and sucked down some mate before heading out with the pro-hiker 25 year old Coloradoans I had foolishly convinced myself I could keep up with on the trail. Pay attention here people: a 10 peso bus ride each way and whatever you pack for lunch is all it costs to do what I consider the highlight of my trip.
Refugio Frey is incredible. You have to hike it. There’s also a cabin at the summit that you can rent a bed in if you really want a story – not to mention like a million traveler points. The whole hike is scenic, and the view from top is unbeatable. I wish I had done more (or any) research before my trip, because I definitely would have spent a night up there had I known about it.
It took just around the predicted six hours from the bus stop to the top and back. And that includes the hour long photo shoot I was party to on the summit. Anyone surprised by that hasn’t spent much time with the young women of generation selfie. It was a beautiful sunny day, so of course I was sunburned to hell, but not so bad that the pizza and beer we’d been daydreaming about for the last two hours on the trail couldn’t fix.
The food and beverages we found at Antares were great, but at the time I was under the impression that it was a local spot. I am embarrassed to say I have since learned that I can get the same exact thing at the Antares in Palermo a few blocks from my apartment. I committed the same sin as eating at a KFC to get the traditional taste of southern cooking, and it resulted in a serious loss of traveler points.
I got a liter of their strongest beer to go, and dove head first into the festival-like atmosphere we found upon returning to the Penthouse. At some point in the midst of the next few hours spent drinking, smoking, and joking, an idea to properly celebrate the night was hatched. We finished our glasses, and the glasses of people who couldn’t finish theirs, and set out for La Luna.
I was told it was a local-ish bar right on the water with pool tables and craft beer. What we found was four floors of something that more closely resembled a boliche than a ski lodge, with wall to wall members of the “I’m from Buenos Aires, but I moved here four years ago” club. I found real Barilocheans very hospitable, but all those porteña transplants (at least the two I tried to chat up) were a little too snobby about their choice to move out of the city. You don’t live on a farm, or in some pristine natural oasis. It’s as “small town and quaint” as Aspen. Or maybe they just weren’t interested in a middle-aged yankee divorce, I guess we’ll never know.
Our group of eight or so had dwindled down to just two when my Bosnian partner and I were ushered out when the bar closed for the night. Keen to continue our persistent pursuit of a good time, we called a cab and headed back into town where we refueled with milanesa sandwiches before meeting up with the rest our thirsty friends. What happened next doesn’t happen often, but as soon as we entered the boliche, I suddenly had a very mature boring realization. It was four in the morning, and I had to check out of my room by 10. It was time to call it a night.
I was ruthlessly under rested when I awoke, but I managed to get packed and showered on time for checkout. The angelic staff allowed me to get what sleep I could on a couch in a dark corner of the lobby until I felt sure I could walk five feet without losing balance. I shuffled out to the street to pick up last minute souvenirs, and something hot and greasy to cure my hangover. I got some chocolates from the famous (super touristy) Rapanui to bring back to BA because I may be oblivious sometimes, but even I know that going to Bariloche and coming back without something sweet for your amigovia is a serious blunder.
I made it to the bus without incident, and settled in for the upcoming journey. My brilliant plan of not sleeping for the previous three nights finally paid off as I slipped into unconsciousness before the bus even left the station, comfortable in the knowledge that I had done Bariloche right.
For us awful millennials:
The Top Eight Tips from That Article You Just Scrolled Past
- Go by plane, nobody wants to listen to your bitching and moaning on the bus.
- Stay in one of the cute little bungalows for rent right by the lake. Hostels are for poor people who like to socialize with strangers. Gross.
- Cerro Campanario is extra fun around 3 PM, you’ll make tons of friends!
- Konna Bar lets stray dogs just hang out inside (ew), and the guy who owns the place actually works there… what a loser! You should check out Antares or La Luna, they’re both really hip.
- Talk to the folks at Aguas Blancas if you want to go rafting. Then again, don’t bother. Nature is boring.
- Familia Weiss is exactly what you’re looking for in a quaint, small town restaurant: big screen T.Vs playing local travel ads on a loop. You know, so you can plan on what to do next instead of talking to each other.
- Refugio Frey is a huge pain in the ass to hike, and barley worth the time. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I heard you even stay in some shitty little cabin on the top. What the hell is wrong with some people?
- Rapanui is the first place you’ll get directed to buy chocolate, just go with it.
That’s all you get from me, freeloaders.
Enjoy your trip.