Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Well, after five days in the Lakes District of Argentine Patagonia, I can declare with some authority that this is the Switzerland of South America. Lakes, mountains, wooden houses...even a Hotel Edelweiss. And they make chocolate here, too! The view from Bariloche, across the lake to the mountains, looks eerily like the view from my former office in Lucerne. And today I took a cable car up with some people from my hostel, to a mountain outside of town with a rotating panoramic restaurant.

And like Switzerland, this area offers fantastic hiking opportunities. I spent three days in Nahuel Huapi National Park, which was the first established Argentine National Park. The first day, I went to the Black Glacier, which is entirely accessible by car and therefore frequented by lots of Argentine families with kids. I´m sure they thought I was a nut for walking the 14 km return trip to see it as they sailed past me in their cars.

The next day I undertook what turned out to be a challenging 18-km hike up to Refugio Otto Meiling. I was totally exhausted from the hike--halfway up through the woods, and the rest along a slightly treacherous, rocky footpath above the treeline. But the view from the top was absolutely amazing. Looking out from the refugio, you see mountains on three sides, as far as the eye can see. Behind the refugio you see the imposing peak of Monte Tronador, with glaciers spilling down on both sides. And then the sun went down, spilling shades of pink and purple across the mountains all around.

Downstairs at the refugio was a cozy restaurant and bar where the 35 or 40 other hikers could spend the evening, before retiring with their sleeping bags to the giant dormitory upstairs...only to be kept awake all night by some of the worst snoring I have heard in my life! One guy was responsible for most of it, but when I was lying awake at 3 AM wishing I had my earplugs, suddenly the cacophony of a roomful of sleepers (and fellow non-sleepers) was deafening! So I was pretty tired for the long walk back down yesterday, and deserved every minute of the 10.5 hours I slept last night!

Click here for more photos of Bariloche, along with further commentary on the hike and the city itself.