A Travellerspoint blog


Tronodor: Border of Argentina and Chile

We gave our friends a couple days to rest, more or less, at the Hostel La Morada. Located most of the way up Cerro Otto, it has, arguably, the best view of any hotel near Bariloche.


After that it was on to Tronodor, or Thunder mountain, because of all of the avalanches that come crashing down. The mountain is located an hour or more down a one-way ripio road, near the border of Chile. You have to get the timing right because at certain times you can get in, but you can't leave, and vice versa. We stayed at the comfortable Hosteria Pampa Linda,which was good, since we didn't have good weather.

This was taken on the day we left

We befriended a Chilean maid, who seemed eager to talk about Chilean politics, especially the overthrow of Allende. She left the country disgusted with the excesses of Pinochet, but depending on when she left, which I frankly can't remember, things might not have been much better on this side of the border.


In the mist and rain, we walked up to the base of the mountain to look up at the many waterfalls fed by melting glaciers.


The next day, Allen and I took long hike up to the refugio, just at the snow line. It was good 8 or 9 hours there and back. We saw nothing for the duration, as Tronodor was socked in during the intermittent rain. It might have been snow at the summit, as we did hear the dull roar of distant avalanches. Had we prepared for it and brought sleeping bags, we could have spent the night and gotten clear skies late the next morning. The shots you see here were all taken then, from our Hosteleria.


Posted by jonshapiro 10:09 Archived in Argentina Tagged postcards Comments (0)

El Bolson

About two hours south of Bariloche, this restful and scenic town has been a place to get it away from it all since back to the land hippy-types came here in the 60's and 70's. It is known as the Woodstock of Argentina. How it fared during the Dirty War in the late 70's is an interesting question, and not one I know the answer to. I'll just have to come back to do the research.


It is located in a large green valley surrounded by rocky peaks, and is known to have a micro-climate which makes it warmer than surrounding areas. There are small chakras, selling some of the best berry preserves I have ever tasted, as well as microbreweries, (very micro) selling their own beer. Perhaps these are still being run by ex-hippies, but most are older and straighter looking now. There is also a craft market several days a week, selling jewelery, knitted clothes, some food, and the usual assortment of mediocre art.

We rented a small cabin with mountain views on the edge of town. Our hosts, who indeed seemed like back to the land types, had migrated from Buenos Aires 25 years earlier. They were extremely sweet to us with whatever we needed, and complained about the recent population growth in the valley. For them, it was no longer the quiet place that it had been.


We had our own kitchen for the first time in 6 months, and what a treat it was to "play house." We shopped in the local market, and did some cooking so that we could eat something other than meat and potatoes, the staple foods in Argentina. We had our "on the road" friends, EJ and Michael, over for dinner. When we didn't want to prepare a whole meal, there were different kinds of ready made empanadas, almost as good as in Salta. Pop 'em into the oven for 10 minutes and they were done. We even had a living area separate from the bedroom. It felt almost palatial. One of the luxuries of being home is having your own space. Of course, once you have it everyday it is easy to take for granted.

When we first arrived, we had no idea that we would spend more than two weeks here, but things really slowed down for us. We took a number of day hikes and bike rides throughout the valley. Often we were sidetracked by the wild blackberries which seemed to grow everywhere. We'd start out on a hike, come upon huge berry patch, and stop to pick and eat for hours. Belly aches were not infrequent. We could also buy raspberries very cheaply in the craft market. Between the wild and cultivated berries, I'm sure we ate at least two quarts a day. There couldn't be a better time to be here than fall. The days were comfortable, around 70 degrees, and the nights were chilly, sometimes with frost. We had heat in our cabin so that was okay.

El Bolson is also known as a kind of new age power spot, like Sedona, Arizona, and after five days it felt like some of that positive energy was rubbing off on me. We biked to a water fall and while Nanette painted, I just stared at the falls and the mountains for a few hours. I am not usually one to spend time just hanging, or contemplating, but it seems I did a lot of that here. Full of fruit and nut trees, the place just lends itself to that.

Quiet Country Lanes Abound

Oh sure, I did take some more strenuous walks up to a mountain refugio.



And we biked to Lago Puelo one day.



But mostly we did things for a few hours, and then read and relaxed in our "backyard." Nanette commented that she was sleeping a lot, like she often did in Culebra, in the Carribean.

View From Our "Backyard."

Somehow it just seems easier to relax while traveling away from home. There are no bills to pay, projects to complete, friends to meet, schedules to complete. You step away from the world you know, with all of its obligations, into the wider world, and you leave so much of that behind. Of course to many, our whole trip must seem like a long relaxing vacation, but that's not really the case. Extended travel is like the rest of life, with good days and bad days, and certainly not always relaxing. You do leave some of your baggage behind, but not all. I'm not saying that it doesn't beat working, and I am certainly not complaining, but it isn't always easy. It isn't always, well.... like El Bolson.

Piltriquitron at Sunset

Unfortunately, after 10 glorious days, our little home was rented to another family, so we decided to rent a car for a few days and go south to Parque Nactional Los Alerces, a large wilderness area. It is home to 2000 year old Alerce trees.


Renting a car might not seem like a big deal, but it was the first time in six months that I had driven a car, and this too seemed like a treat . And yet... in many respects, it was good not to have that responsibility. There is much to be said for having all of all your belongings confined to a mochilla, (backpack).

On the way there we took "the scenic route," a long and bumpy ripio road . En route we went looking for Butch Cassidy's cabin, where he lived for almost 7 years with the Sundance Kid and Etta Place. Etta was initially The Kid's girlfriend, but depending on you believe, they had some kind of menage a trois while living on their farm. We thought that this would be an obvious tourist attraction, but it turned out not to be so easy to find it in the small town of Cholila. We managed to do so, and then spent time exploring the deserted homestead.


We couldn't resist stopping at "The Butch Cassidy Teahouse," as it is described in The Handbook.


This is a stone farmhouse a few miles up the road, and is run by an elderly woman who is full of stories about Butch and his exploits, including the children he fathered whose relatives still live in the surrounding valley. She has some old pictures and memorabilia, and insisted on giving us meriendas, tea and pastries, usually served as a late afternoon snack, although we were there about noon. It was delicious, but expensive. I assume that she makes some much needed cash serving it to tourists like us, while talking about the Wild Bunch, as Butch's gang came to be known.

After a few years hiatus, possibly getting bored with semi-retirement, or with Etta, he and The Kid starting robbing again in other parts of Argentina. They were eventually killed in a shootout in southern Bolivia, though the bodies have never been found.

I digress, but I remember, dimly perhaps, seeing the movie many years ago, somewhere in the wilds of Montana, (Not Missoula). We thought many parts of it were funny, almost campy, but nobody else was laughing. People in our own wild west seemed to take it very seriously.

From there we continued to the national park, and took a few short walks in the spooky and damp forests, also deserted, and were able to see some Alerce trees. The oldest were in a remote and hard to reach spot, so we didn't see them. We went on to Esquel, a western feeling town with wide streets. It felt like you could hitch your horse up to the posts outside, but we pulled up to our hotel in our tiny Toyota, along with everyone else. This was originally a Welsh community, but we didn't see or hear any evidence of that. We did see La Trochita, otherwise known as The Old Patagonian Express, per Paul Theroux.



On the way back we had a paved and more direct road, but elected to spend the night in an isolated and funky farmhouse on Lago Epuyen.


We took one of the canoes out on the lake, in the sunny and warm afternoon.


We discovered a large floating Buddha beached on an island, and knew we had some to right place despite the lumpy beds.

When we returned to El Bolson the other family was still living in OUR cabin, and so we negotiated with the owners to rent a different one, not quite as cute, for another few days. On one of those days, we hired a taxi to take us to the top of Piltriquitron, the mountain outside of town, and took pictures of the valley and mountains.



We hiked to sculptures of Bosque Tallado, before walking the 10k back to our cabin.


It truly was difficult to pull ourselves away, but we had to return to Bariloche to meet our friends from home, Natalie and Allen.

Posted by jonshapiro 07:51 Archived in Argentina Tagged living_abroad Comments (8)

Perito Moreno

One of the major attractions near El Calefate Argentina is the Perito Moreno glacier. You can get fairly close to it on the wooden walkways that have been built across the lake.



It is hard to avoid the throngs of people, but we managed to find an unmarked trail which was almost deserted.
In the morning it was rainy and misty and hard to see much of anything, but later there were breaks in the weather and the sun came out briefly. The turquoise and blue crevasses were brilliantly illuminated, but I had to to take photos quickly because the light would disappear as fast as it came. Now and then chunks of the glacier would calve into the lake below, though we were too far away to hear it.





The following day we took the boat ride to view the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers. Unfortunately it rained the entire day and visibility was poor. The boat was full, mostly with an older crowd. Do I include myself in this category? Only if you insist. On this particular day, it didn't seem worth the money, but perhaps if the sun was out I would feel differently. We did manage to see floating ice bergs, some of which had a sculptural quality.



Posted by jonshapiro 14:23 Archived in Argentina Tagged tourist_sites Comments (6)

Southern Argentina: El Chalten and Fitzroy

We eventually caught a LADE flight, run by the Air Force and therefore cheaper, to El Calafate, some 1400k south. This is a tourist town whose primary reason for existence is Parque Nactional Los Glaciares, about an hour away. Plenty of Argentinians as well as foreign tourists make it down here, and it is relatively expensive. Our plan was to first to go north 200k, to the tiny outpost of [El Chalten, and spend a few days hiking around the Fitzroy Massif and Cerro Torre. El Chalten didn't exist until 1985, and now comprises just a few hundred souls, whose only business it seems, is to take care of the mountaineers and trekkers who show up in the summer and fall.

The bus ride over the plains with its stark terrain and clear air reminded me of the Altiplano, though it is not nearly as high.

Near El Calafate

Along the Road

Nevertheless, the mountains are quite serious, and were not climbed until the late 50's or early 70's, depending on who you believe.

Fitzroy From a Distance

A Little Closer

As soon as we got out of the bus, we were immediately buffeted by a cold wind that blew unrelentingly for the three days we were there. At times it was blowing so hard that it was difficult to walk. This was our first introduction to Patagonian weather, and it was a good thing we didn't get here later in the year. It was somewhat cold already, though as we later found out, it could literally change in an instant.

The trails began just outside the village, and were below the tree line at the start. At first, there was actually less wind than in town.


The weather however, did not cooperate.


Most of the time it was overcast and the peaks were obscured, with intermittent rain and grappel for all three days.


On one particular day, as we went higher and around a bend on the trail, the wind blasted us with such force we couldn't stand up, and we elected to turn back under threatening skies. I pictured climbers being blown off the mountain or clinging to their belays on vertical rock, thankful that I was not THAT crazy.

I've done technical rock climbing about a dozen times in my life, and always had issues with the exposure, mostly on the way down. Even on non-technical terrain, I can get freaked in areas where there are sheer vertical drops. I have to talk myself through it, and have resorted to holding hands with a guide on narrow traverses or steep downs. In this vein, a story I have told many times is about an experience I had in the Indian Himalaya, some nine years prior to this trip. We had an Indian guide, Nagy, who was about 4 feet 10 inches tall, spoke poor English, and more importantly, walked with a limp. That should have told me something. At any rate, we had a long, extremely narrow traverse on the way down from a particular mountain village. I'm talking here about a trail that was a foot wide in some places, dropping off more than 1500 feet to a river. Somehow it had been carved or blasted out of the rock cliff, just enough so that an Indian man of Nagy's height could stand up straight. I had to bend over to avoid cracking my head for the duration, perhaps a mile or so. In places, the trail was so narrow that I had to face into the cliff and side-step. I was holding Nagy's hand for a good part of this. I should point out that Nagy probably weighed a good 20 pounds less than I do, and I'm a skinny guy, around 145 pounds. Somehow we managed to negotiate all of this, and the trail widened to about three feet, at which point I was able to continue on my own. I was chatting with my friend David while Nagy was 20 or 30 feet ahead. Suddenly, he stumbled and disappeared over the side. We were horrified, and ran up to where he fell and peered over. Luckily the drop was not quite as steep here, and Nagy had managed to grab onto a small stubby tree about 20 feet below. In a few minutes he climbed out, grinned at the two of us, and said he was fine. The absurdity of thinking that someone of Nagy's size, with a limp, who couldn't even keep himself on the trail, was somehow going to save me if I fell, still makes me smile. At the time it didn't seem so amusing.

There was a rather hard core crowd staying at the hostel with us. Two of them were a Swiss couple, around 40, who were biking their way across the entire length of South America. They were 18 months into their 2 year journey, and they weren't taking the easy route. At times they had to carry their bikes over mountain passes and had gotten lost, sometimes for several days at a time. They were close to the end now, a few hundred miles from Tierra del Fuego. Another fantasy of mine has been to bike around the world. Sadly, I guess that one will have to wait for another life time.

Posted by jonshapiro 08:07 Archived in Argentina Tagged postcards Comments (0)


Fall was starting in Patagonia, so we figured we'd better get down there before it got too cold. It was a long way in a big country, so flying seemed like the best option. We were lucky to get seats, as it seemed like a lot of Portenos, (people from Buenos Aires), were having their last fling before school started. Bariloche has both a summer and winter season, as other mountain towns do in the states. If we had any doubts that we were in a more "first world" place, they were dispelled with a vengeance upon our arrival . The main streets were packed with people, shopping and eating in upscale shops, foreigners and in country tourists alike. Situated on Lago Nahuel Huapi, Bariloche is like a cross between Lake Placid and Burlington Vermont, but with mountains more like the Alps.


It was a bit too hectic for my taste when we first arrived, but the crowds thinned out as the week went on. The architecture is a mix of relatively new, modern looking structures with glass and wood, Swiss chalet type municipal buildings, low rise concrete and wood houses on the side streets,


and the Hobbit-like "Trunco" wooden style, one of which was our favorite romantic restaurant.


Though not on the same scale as New Orleans, we happened to be there for Mardi Gras.



Initially we arranged to stay at a small Spanish school, run by a couple just outside of town. When we got there, it was either a tiny room in the small house, or a more private and larger space in the garage. We opted for the latter, but after a few days it got quite cold at night and there was no heat. When we were awakened in the night by rain dripping through the leaking roof, we decided to move. The teaching itself was not bad, but the couple running the place seemed preoccupied and not especially friendly. After considerable leg work, we found a room right in town, at the reasonably priced B and B, Hostel Guemes. This was a much more acceptable arrangement as we could walk everywhere and had our pick of restaurants, bakeries, and chocolate shops. Our hosts were an interesting couple, older than us by at least 15 years. Jorge was an ex-fishing guide and described a number of different places to explore around town and further afield as well. I understood about half of what he said, but no matter, they were both, muy amable. Luckily we were able to continue our Spanish studies because one of the teachers lived nearby, and was more than happy to meet us in a cafe to continue our lessons. It would take me time to get used to the Argentine, Italian sounding accent.

We spent more than two weeks here and returned to Guemes on two other occasions. Typically, We had lessons for a few hours in the morning, and then took off for a hike, or if we felt less ambitious, a long walk around town or along the lake. The surrounding countryside was magnificent, most of it part of the oldest national park in Argentina, and full of hiking, climbing, and during their winter, skiing possibilities.

On one of our hikes we took the teleferico to the summit of Cerro Otto, on the outskirts of town. From there we walked on cross-country skiing trails through the magical woods full of wild flowers.



The views of the lake and the distant mountains were outstanding.



We returned here more than once, and stopped by the small winter lodge to have a cup of tea, the only customers at this time of year. It should have been mate, what amounts to the national beverage, but it was camomile. The owner, a cross country ski instructor from the Ukraine, seemed glad for the company.


Somewhat further afield, 25K or so, we took the bus to Llao Llao, Argentina's most famous hotel. Home to Bill Clinton, The Rolling Stones, and other celebrities, it seems to deserve its reputation. I can't say for sure since they didn't let us in, but once we did manage to sneak onto the grounds.


I didn't get a good picture of the hotel, but if you google it, after you finish reading the blog of course, there are some good file shots. We returned a 2nd time and couldn't get near the place. Security was extremely tight and we wondered why. We were told by a nearby middle age Israeli couple, that the owner was having a Passover Seder for 2500 people, which was free to the under 25 set. They were pissed because they couldn't get in without forking out a few hundred bucks a piece. Bariloche has a significant Israeli population, including their own hostels and internet cafes with Hebrew letters on the keyboards. Hence it is a magnet for young Israeli backpackers.

Not far from LLao LLao, on the Circuito Chico, are other nice walks and views of the lakes.


Cerro Catedral, the major downhill ski area about 15K out of town, also makes for some very good hiking. We didn't quite get to the top, but I guess at my age I don't need to make excuses.



Samantha, or Sam as we called her, in her early 20's, was an excellent teacher. Not only did we learn Spanish, but we had discussions about her life, friends, and politics. She was an admirer of Evita Peron, as so many people are down here. Evita is a complex figure. While speaking up for the poor and working class, she was anything but democratic in how she doled out money. and ruthless if anyone challenged her decisions.

A text book that Sam used with us, intermediate level, had some short stories and dialogues about life in Argentina. One of them was about a ladrone, or thief, who stole some money from an old lady while she was out walking. He was eventually apprehended and brought before a judge, who at first, demanded to know how he could have done such a thing. The thief, ignoring this comment, and apparently recognizing the judge, said something to him about the fact that they knew each other. The judge responded by saying, "Yes, now that you mention it, that's right. I thought you looked familiar. Did you go to X school in Cordoba?" The thief nodded. "Why didn't you say so right away. Of course, you were in a class with...." There was more dialogue about the school and possible mutual acquaintances. The story ended when the judge said that because they knew each other, he was going to release him, and he then did so without so much as a warning.

I was somewhat aghast about this ending and I questioned Sam about it, wondering if I had missed something. No I had not. "In Argentina," she said, "people help their friends all the time, and if you know someone it makes all the difference."

"But, this was a bad guy who had robbed an old lady. Surely he didn't deserve to be released just because they had been in the same school?" Sam didn't seem to think this was anything out of the ordinary, and was not surprised by it.

So things were not exactly as they appeared to be in this complicated country. And yes, there is corruption everywhere including the USA, but I don't think we would put it in a text book of American English. We wouldn't openly condone it and define it as the norm. Are the Argentinian's simply less hypocritical? Perhaps, but.....

Posted by jonshapiro 10:22 Archived in Argentina Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

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