…Just what I was looking for and needed!
That’s actually Lake Nahuel Huapi, not the sea in that photo, but with the rocky beach and wind coming off the water, it almost could have been the sea; it only lacked the smell of salt water. I felt like I almost was in Seattle…
And that is the sea on the edge of Puerto Madryn, and a beach of many pebbles, with the soothing sound of water gently moving stones. I almost felt like I could have been on Whidbey Island in WA state…
Clearly, I missed a familiar environment of rocky salt water beaches and snow-capped mountains. A trip to southern Argentina was just what I needed. And it was splendid! Such beautiful vistas…
A plane ride to Bariloche was only a bit more than a full-cama bus ride, so I chose the plane. It was totally worth it with the views of the snow-capped mountains!
And there’s the city of Bariloche up against the mountains and lake!
Bariloche is also known for its Swiss Alpine architecture (like Villa General Belgrano and La Cumbrecita in Córdoba’s Sierras). However, it’s a much bigger place (city not a town) and is experiencing sprawling development with it’s outdoor tourism draw. Sometimes the architecture appears odd at front with some moderner structures, but most new buildings also have an alpine touch.
There’s also these big WEIRD buildings that literally go up the hillsides like stairs with their different levels!!! I was totally goggle-eyed upon first sight of such things, and I’m still not sure what I think of them…
I was going to Bariloche in winter (remember Southern and Northern hemispheres have their seasons reversed) to meet my goal of skiing while I was in Argentina! This was part of the reason I chose my hostel, because I wanted to have a nice wintery, rustic wooden, mountain lodge feel! Of course, it was actually close to the city center, but I also liked my hostel for many more reasons. Periko’s!!! Named after the dog that originally came with the property when the hostel got started, Periko’s has a great kitchen where everyone gets to know each other, and Charli at the front desk gave great suggestions and directions about the local attractions! I highly recommend it!!
Anyways… skiing!!! While Las Leñas up in Mendoza is known for being word-class ski resort in South America (and their season was over), Cerro Catedral in Bariloche used to hold that title and has MUCH better views. Need I say more…
And I met this guy Emanuel from Neuquén on the bus ride up from town and we ended up next to each other in the lift line so we spent most of the day together.
Boy, was the sun fierce!! It wasn’t super cold and although I put sunscreen on my face (and with snow and a high altitude), I ended up burning the skin around my lips, ouch! Good thing I rented those ski goggles! I ended up enjoying the views more than skiing really, but it was still a nice experience. Unfortunately, at the end of the day when I was heading back, I didn’t feel that well. I thought it might be dehydration. Later that night, I ended up feeling worse and upchucked my lunch :((( It was probably a combination of sun, dehydration, and something I ate or drank up at the Refuge on the mountain. I will be eternally grateful to my roommate Alba from España who calmly dealt with it all, and Charli at the front desk, too. Anyways, I won’t delve more into all that, but all in all I spent the night and the following day feeling terrible and mostly bedridden. ;_( What a trip!!! Hahaha, but really it didn’t dampen things too much, just one day lost and that I didn’t have the energy to go hiking. I managed to make it out of bed and the few blocks into town for simple food and to buy a tour ticket to La Ruta de los Siete Lagos (The route of the 7 lakes). Man, did I lack appetite! Soup, crackers, and bananas was about it!
The next day was a bus tour through La Ruta de los Siete Lagos to the town of San Martín de los Andes, so it didn’t require much energy. And oh the sights!
But I didn’t have much energy or appetite so I ended up spending most of my time in San Martín de los Andes lying on the beach enjoying the view, the soft lapping of waves, and the sun since it was nippy outside. I managed to eat part of a tostada (not toast, but a toasted ham and cheese sandwich without crust that you will find everywhere in Argentina), and got the rest as take-out. I ended up feeding most of it to one of the beach (instead of street) dogs that was timid (I think he’d been abused), but needed food underneath all that black fur. There were other beach dogs but they seemed well-off. Besides, I always have a soft spot for black dogs. 😉
My final partial-day in Bariloche I spent going to see the famous Llao Llao Hotel and Capilla (Chapel) San Eduardo. It was like a scene off of a postcard, need I say more…!!!
Also, look at these cool birds!
It was quite the memorable visit with the weather trying to spit rain and wind moving the clouds about. It reminded me of the weather of Thanksgiving at Fort Worden in Port Townsend, WA. Good thing I slipped my earwarmer and gloves into my backpack last minute!
I didn’t want to leave, but I wanted to go to Cerro Campanario before leaving Bariloche. I caught to bus to the base of the mountain and got on the aerosilla (literally air-seat, but basically a chairlift except that there’s nowhere to ski hahaha). Once again, gorgeous views!!! And so much wind that I couldn’t stay long without freezing.
And even though it was freezing, I had to buy the famous ice cream of Bariloche! It was super good; I got dark chocolate!
Soon after I went to the bus terminal and boarded for Esquel/Puerto Madryn. I got to see more gorgeous views of the mountains as the light slowly faded from the sky. We passed through El Bolsón, which I’d like to visit in the future. I also was looking at google maps on my phone afterwards because the Cholila Ranch of the US outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (aka Harry Longabaugh, a very distant relative) was hidden on the other side of the night-obscured mountains. I wanted to visit, but it’s hard to get to and public transit is only during the summer. I really enjoyed the dinner on the bus, but with my recent stomach upset, unfortunately I could’t eat it all.
Now to the ocean!!!!!!!!!!
I arrived in the morning to Puerto Madryn and after dropping my stuff at the hostel, I went to walk along the boardwalk. Near the pier, I had my first view of a Ballena Franca Austral or Southern Right Whale! It was spouting and hanging out near the surface. It was kind of far, but I’d have more opportunities to see them. I went to the Museum of Oceanographic and Natural Sciences that is in a prestigious house looking out over the town. The exhibits covered the Ballena Franca, preserved marine species, and the cruel history against the indigenous people, but the building itself was also pretty and they had a video on its preservation (right up my alley!).
Afterwards I headed back over to the pier, the sun was out and with some wind. I got great views of a couple whales hanging out and splashing around a bit.
Then I headed down the beach to go to the EcoCentro and I met a perro de la playa (beach dog instead of street dog) and few young girls from Buenos Aires who were playing with him until he got hurt by another dog, which captured my attention.
Then close to the EcoCentro I found a small historic park to the first Galeses settlers who made caves in the beach cliffs. There also was a lookout to the town with flags and a monument to the Indigenous people.
The EcoCentro was well-made and its whale exhibit had rope hanging from the roof you had to pass through like the baleen of a whale. However, because I’ve been to many ocean-animal education centers before, it wasn’t terribly exciting. I also bought a book about the North American Outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. 😉
Outside I found the calm beach (second photo in this post) with a whale a-ways off and then heading back I got to see gorgeous sunset over the town. Walking back along the beach in the dark I got to hear the beautiful whale sounds not far from shore.
The next day I went on my tour to the Reserva Faunistica (Wildlife Reserve) and World heritage site on Peninsula Valdes, northeast of Puerto Madryn. Just north of the town, before reaching the Reserve, there is a beach called Playa Doradillo with a steep dropoff that allows the whales to be seen VERY close to shore (however this also means that occasionally a baby whale dies beached on the shore). It was SUPER cool to see and reminded me a lot of Admiral’s Cove on Whidbey Island in WA State.
After entering the Reserve, we stopped in Puerto Piramides so that most of the tour could go on a boat tour. I opted not to do that to save money and because I don’t really support seeing whales from boat tours. Instead I got to see lots of shell fossils in the banks above the water and I still got great views of the whales from shore, splashing a lot. I also got to walk along the beach and meet the locals’ dogs of course!
It was a long drive to our next stop so I slept, but I did get to see one of the salt flats on the peninsula that is actually below sea level. Our next stop was lunch and seeing Elephant Seals! They shed their skin and the males get REALLY big and possessive.
Then we went to the Caleta Valdes, which is where there’s a inlet of water where the Orcas come to hunt. The opening is always changing and actually a baby orca got trapped their recently, but luckily the currents opened the channel again to its parents. We went over to see penguins and I was thinking it’d be nothing given that I’ve seen them in zoos, but no… They were so cute and were SO close, some less than a meter or few feet away!! Most of them were the males who arrive first to prepare the nests. Only two females had arrived. They were resting in the sun or waddling like one was up the hill!! It definitely was an awesome experience!
On the way back we also saw burrowing owls, maras (type of hare) with babies (!), and guanacos!!
I finished off my night with a delicious seafood dish!! It was very rich. A kind Porteño family invited me to talk with them after since I ate alone and I enjoyed their company.
Before I caught the bus the next day back to Córdoba, I walked the beach once more and of course met more doggy friends! What a great trip!!! The ocean and mountains were just what I needed.