Day 8 bus to San Carlos de Bariloche
Trump has only gone and won. Breakfast is a stunned affair while the American couples here pore over their phones reading vitriolic opinion pieces and arguing with each other. On the plus side, our check-out bill is cheaper than when we booked it thanks to the newly pummelled dollar. Every cloud...
Nacho, the hero, has organised us another day of wine tasting which we begin at the is-this-acceptable hour of 11am. There follows an enjoyable few hours of bouncing around some lovely vineyards, and meeting down in the dumps Americans ("It's the ones who don't have passports who voted for him. Still I guess at least we've taken the sting out of Brexit for you guys"). Nacho to his credit, has picked some fine establishments - we enjoy more than we should at picturesque locales in Bonifanti, Carmello Petti and Lagarde. At the latter, we also plough through a fantastic six-course tasting menu which is heavy on both meat and diabetes-de-leche.
It is, therefore, with sluggish hearts and bloated livers, that we board our bus to Bariloche in the evening and brace ourselves for the 20 hour journey ahead.
Day 9 Bariloche
Not very much to report today on account of the bus turning up an hour late, breaking down somewhere in the middle of the continent, waiting for another hour for it to be fixed before finally rolling into Bariloche late the following evening, 22 hours after we started. There was also an inexplicable stream of disaster movies shown as entertainment, plus more bingo. I would suggest, on the merits of the information flow from Andesmar, their strapline might be more accurately changed to, "Hey, shut up. At least we got you there".
Also, frustratingly, I had looked up how to say "embarrassingly little" so that I could lend some lovable self-deprecation for when people asked what Spanish we could speak, but the word for 'embarrassing' was too long to remember.
Get to our hotel late and for the first time in our lives, order room service pizza.
Day 10 Bariloche
After a very welcome spell in a bed without an engine underneath it, we evidently don't get into town quickly enough this morning (10am, which we thought was bloody commendable) to go on the lengthy hike we had planned on. The National Park officer in the information centre reprimands us that we can't just do a bit of "walking around" up La Catedral - the peak we had wanted to reach (the bottom of). "You need to be ready in town to set off at 7am". Chastened, we head instead to appall the local bus company with our Spanish.
This is Argentina's so called Lake District. San Carlos de Bariloche sits on the edge of Nahuel Huapi lake with the National Park mountains looming over it on the other shore.
It's a region with a fascinating history, if you're interested you'll need another blog as this one deals mainly in shallow, self-serving commentary. However by way of a taster, after some centuries of being used primarily by the indigenous people as a route to the adjacent Andes, a German man saw its promise as a tourist destination where one could be charged £4 for a coffee, and helped found a small community here, which explains the distinctly Bavarian architecture (that is, where they haven't jammed in a high rise).
Following this, an oddly large number of the Third Reich have been turned out here (including, if doubtful conspiracy theories float your boat, one A Hitler). Furthermore, a healthy crop of dinosaur bones have been purloined, AND the world's first fusion reactor was attempted, bodged and aborted in secret on an island in the lake. Now the town serves as a base to get to the nearby national park.
This won't be us today, as a result of our aforementioned tardiness, so for the equivalent of 50p each, we get a pleasantly scenic bus 20km west, along the shore of the lake. We are turfed out near the famous hotel Llao Llao - an old wooden hotel which, like the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, was allegedly burnt down by an inattentive cleaner before being rebuilt again.
After letting the throng of other tourists I will charitably describe as "of advancing years" off the bus, (even though we are in the seat by the door, and could have hopped off before they've even asked the driver if this is their stop - which they all do) to get to the nearby port for a boat trip around the lake, we set off.
I can't really make much more of this walk other than that it is stunning - we trot around the most westerly isthmus of Bariloche, which takes in Mount Llao Llao and gives me the opportunity to take 50 photos of a condor (only one of which has the whole thing in the frame, the agile bastard) and offers a superb view of the surrounding lakes and peaks.
We continue round the coast, further plundering the camera's memory card on its idyllically proffered vistas before walking around to our bus stop to wait.
And wait. And wait. And it's not bloody turning up is it? We check the map, and observe cheerfully that we are equidistant from nowhere. Our choices are either to walk the four hours back to our original bus stop, or continue along this road and hope the bus turns up somewhere in the next 28km home. About a kilometre before Dinosaurios, (imagine Jurassic Park, then imagine what current technology can actually achieve. Favourite Trip Advisor review: "the fact that it is forbidden to touch the replicas leaves children disappointed") the bus at last rocks up. We have walked 22 miles. It drops us off near a chairlift which can hoik a weary couple up a mountain quicker than you can say "What's the Spanish for '£36?! You're having a laugh aren't you? And what do you mean you close in 40 minutes?!'".
More camera action later, and we're on a (more punctual) bus back to the hotel, and the further nurturing of a new addiction: room service pizza.
Day 11 Kayaking
Our hotel has a 'jacuzzi' feature in its bath which we employ to do some laundry this morning before heading out. We have opted to save our day up La Catedral until tomorrow thanks to our feet-mangling day yesterday. I am in many a plaster, and whatever the bit that connects the back of your foot to your leg is, really hurts. Ruth is fine, and much is made of this. We walk into town amidst much complaining from one unnamed member of the marriage. We get a coffee and more stamps (£3 each?! We conduct a quick mental cull on future recipients and the list is reduced substantially).
Fortunately, it's not all walking here - there are also numerous water-based activities where one can frolic and splash with other like-minded people who shafted their feet yesterday. And so we find ourselves in the back of a minibus bouncing along a dirt road with a guy from Wimbledon, a guy from Newcastle and a Dutch couple. The two English chaps are the first Brits our age we've really seen since we've been here, (everyone else being either about a decade younger and on the ubiquitous gap yah, or at least two decades older, fed up with the Mediterranean and asking for the WiFi password in cafés) and we wonder which series of minor crises also led them to jack everything in and come out to South America for a few months. "Life Boredom" turns out to be the answer. We bond over shared experiences - meat overdoses, Irish bars, lingual development, ("What I've realised is I can construct very understandable sentences, but if they reply with anything other than 'yes' or 'no', we're back to square one") and being oh so grateful we don't have to deal with a British winter
But, rather spoiling the blossoming companionship, they turn out to be like Olympians in a kayak, and power off in their two-man craft while Ruth and I are still arguing about which side to stick the oar in.
Whoever goes in the back of the kayak controls steering, whoever goes in the front controls pace. As Ruth cannot tell her left from right, I go in the back. The first five minutes are largely an exercise in turning circles. We all head off with Diego, our instructor trying to herd us across Lago Gutiérrez. Kayaking is great fun. It isn't our first time doing this but you wouldn't believe it from the progress we are making. "Your oars are the wrong way round!" barks Diego. "Ruth, turn your oars the right way round," I helpfully explain.
"Not Rrruuut! [how everyone pronounces her name in Spanish]. Rrruuut is right, YOU are wrong" shouts back Diego, cutting my balls off as he does so.
Ruth spends much of the next hour splashing me in the face with her correctly positioned oars. We reach a beach, after an hour of marital ups and downs, and are rejuvenated with a cup of Yerba Mate, their weird but oddly delicious tea, and some selfies.
We head back, trying to beat a young Spanish couple and our English chums back to shore but getting left sorely behind. Leaning out to take a photo, I also manage to nearly capsize the boat, so Ruth bans all further on-board photography. Not that it's a race but we come third out of six.
Afterwards, at a bar where I'm upsold a margarita by Ricardo the barman, we discuss the likelihood of making it to La Catedral tomorrow morning (requiring a 6am wake up) when the forecast is snow. The margarita says yes we will.
Day 12 La Catedral
The strong winds and summary sent from Dad which shows sleet and temperatures of 6°C says no we won't. Also, my feet still look like Dr Frankenstein had a hand in their manufacture, and it takes another 90 minutes before we can be convinced to rise.
We are at breakfast by 9 filling up on dulce de leche pastries for sustenance and waiting at the bus stop by 10, surrounded by Bariloche's mix of brewpubs, shops catering to outdoorsy folk and cafés proudly displaying their WiFi passwords on blackboards, while young hirsute people walk around with healthy-looking tans.
"It's a lot like Newquay here" opines Ruth, "only without the open hostility to tourists".
Our bus takes a very scenic route climbing up winding mountain roads towards La Catedral and as the sleet begins to fall, we take stock of Ruth's clothing. It is entirely inappropriate. Jeans, trainers, and a world class pout. "I didn't think it would be this cold up here" she protests, as people kitted out in polar-survival gear trudge past outside. "This is why they made us add 'appearance observations' to that National Park check in - so they can identify the corpses of insufficiently-dressed tourists." I grumble, as the bus departs, leaving us halfway up a mountain. The view at least is excellent, with the clouds perched over the peaks, and fortunately now just expelling rain.
We manage 5 hours around the trail, this doesn't quite get us to the gothic-looking spires of La Catedral - we are forced to truncate the walk when Ruth starts using the word 'chafe' a lot - but does take us on a picturesque circuit rounding out at the bottom of Lago Gutiérrez. Not to be outmoaned about physical discomfort, I share that my feet have got worse. We bus back through the rain.
We stop off at a cervezeria for sustenance both solid and liquid, before picking up a few supplies for this evening. Back at the hotel, after packing ready to leave tomorrow, Ruth spreads cream cheese over crackers using the Bariloche bus card and we watch Vin Diesel films in Spanish, which aren't actually hampered by our ignorance of the language.