I´m a bit crunched for time this evening, but it is time for a blog post, and I want to tell about this last week before we leave on our 4-night backpacking trip in the morning. Our week consisted of 3 big trips, with lots of nice downtime in between. We hiked up to the refugio on Cerro Lopez, where we took in the best view of our lives, then a few days later we drove to Chile for a fun money-getting adventure, and on Tuesday, we took a bus to El Bolson for a 3-day adventure at Cajon de Azul. We finished our last night of work at the hostel on Sunday night, but fortunately we are still able to use it as a base for our travels. We just aren´t ready to leave Bariloche for good! It has been another great week, and we are pleased to announce that Saturday will make it one month since we arrived in South America. We just bought tickets for a bus from Bariloche to Mendoza next Wednesday, so we plan on making the most of or last 5 days in Patagonia before heading north.
Wednesday morning we awoke eager to check out Refugio Lopez. We had heard great things about this steep hike (one of our co-workers labeled it as his first choice on the map he customized on our first day), and we were excited to spend another night in our tent. The views started out as impressive and by the time we rounded our last corner 3 hours later, they were leaving us speechless. All we kept saying was, ¨No wonder they call this the Lakes District!¨ We followed a man guiding a horse for the last few hundred meters and arrived at the top to find that we would have the whole mountain to ourselves. Unlike Refugio Frey, this place was cloaked in solitude, and we had the whole mountainside available for camping. We chose a protected site, where the rocks could block the wind, and went about the endearing business of setting up camp. It was a successful trip, and it sated our appetite for nature nicely. The next morning, after packing up and eating breakfast, we took a long dirt road most of the way down instead of the incredibly steep trail. The road dropped us near the touristy villa of Colonia Suiza, so we walked into town, got ourselves a milkshake and beer (typical) and relaxed in the afternoon sun while we waited for a bus. We got ¨home¨ dirty, sunburnt, and content, and settled in for another evening of work. We didn´t know it then, but we would end up spending the next 3 days in town, doing nothing but sleeping in, relaxing, and studying. We knew we had a big week ahead once we took off for El Bolson, and we figured we owed our hostel the work hours since we´d be coming back to stay for two extra nights between trips.
On Monday morning we had made plans to drive to Chile with our friend Martin. Actually, the original plan was for me to take a bus on my own into the closest Chilean town, almost 6 hours away, just to retrieve money. I would then take a bus back and exchange the money in Argentina so we could avoid the ¨official¨ exchange rate at the ATM´s in Argentina. It was an ambitious and somewhat risky plan, since it meant solo travel, the chance of our card or the ATMs not working (just becase that seems to be a recurring theme), and since the trip alone would cost almost $50 USD. Fortunately we didn´t have to find out whether or not it would have worked out, because Martin was more than willing to drive us across the border and take care of some personal shopping at the same time. The drive to Osorno, Chile was far more scenic than I had imagined. We passed more lakes, rainforest, volcanoes, and a few small towns before we got to the bustling commercial center of Osorno. Crossing the border was painless, but full of red tape, and we were relieved to have an expert (and local) with us. Once we got into town, we were like little kids on a shopping spree. For Martin, everything seems cheap compared to prices in Argentina, so we helped him get in some Christmas shopping before dealing with my ATM cards. Unfortunately, as we expected, our first few attempts to take out money failed. After hours of attempting to contact my bank (making calls from Chile when you don´t have any Chilean pesos on you is nearly impossible) I finally got in touch, only to discover that I was trying to take out an amount beyond my ¨daily withdrawel limit¨. With that figured out, we were able to pull out funds and finish up our errands (which included the successful discovery and purchase of $2 flip-flops for Don and I). We drove back to Bariloche, just barely passing through the border before it closed, and got back to the hostel exhausted, but satisfied.
The next morning we began our 3-day adventure in El Bolson, almost 3 hours south of Bariloche. After a painless bus ride, we arrived in time to meander through the town´s thrice weekly arts and crafts fair. El Bolson is often called the ¨hippie¨ capital of Argentina, and after just a few minutes of exploration, we felt it reasonable to extend that claim to all of South America. We spent the afternoon indulging in street food, drinking home-brewed beer, tasting local jams, and relaxing in our hammock at the clean and hospitable Refugio Patagonico campground only blocks from ¨downtown¨. We picked up some groceries for our camping trip and Don cooked us some tasty pasta for dinner before we settled into our tents for the night. The next morning we awoke to a picture-perfect day. The birds were chirping (or more like squawking…they have some crazy looking/sounding birds down here), the sun was shining, and the air smelled like fresh cut grass. We took a cheap taxi to our trailhead, about 20km outside of town, and began the enjoyable 3 hour hike up to Cajon del Azul. Much of the hike followed the beautiful Rio Azul, and we crossed multiple death-defying bridges that truly seemed ready to collapse before arriving at our final destination. One of our favorite activities is to swim in natural freshwater, so you can imagine our delight at finding a row of torquise swimming holes, complete with a variety of rock cliffs from which a swimmer can jump. We spent the whole afternoon jumping into the water (Don kept pushing the limits, but I stuck to the rather gentle 10 foot ledge), then drying off in the sun, and then doing it all over again. Don kept telling me how very relaxed he felt, and I could only smile and nod in agreement. We found ourselves the perfect riverside campsite (outside of the Refugio so we wouldn´t have to pay the $70 peso fee) and went to sleep dreaming of crystal clear water and the hot, bright sun.
Today we reluctantly made our way out of the forest and back to our trailhead by noon. We were planning on catching the bus back to El Bolson, but instead met a hostel owner who offered us a ride. After chatting for a bit in his car, Claudio offered us jobs at his hostel. Unfortunately we had to decline, but we promised that we´d be in touch if we ever came back to El Bolson. After eating some well-deserved ice cream, we hopped on a bus back to Bariloche, and found our way back ¨home¨ to Hostel Punto Sur. Even though we were only gone for 3 days, it felt a bit like a reunion when we walked in and it made us happy to know we had such a great place to return to. This evening Martin invited us to his home to have an asado, so we have had the chance to see his beautiful home, eat (more) awesome BBQ, and hang out with his son and good friend. I have stepped away at times to write, but now it will time for goodbyes until next time. Tomorrow morning we leave at 8:30am for a 4 night, 5 day trek near Mount Tronador over the ¨Pass of the Clouds¨. It will be great to spend multiple nights in a row camping and we look forward to even more sun, trees, mountains, and swimming holes.