I´ve lingered longer in Bariloche than planned - partly due to waiting for a parcel from Scotland with a replacement piece of kit and partly due to a spell of bad weather that brought snow and freezing temperatures. Bariloche itself is not a pretty town but it has a likeable hustle and bustle, and a good outdoorsy vibe. Of course, it's famous for its stunning mountain scenery - snow-capped, pointy peaks rise to 2000 metres from a base of sparkling lakes and green pine forests. It's also famous for something else . . . and honestly I didn´t know this until I arrived . . . artesan chocolate making!
All along Mitre, Bariloche´s busy main thoroughfare, are the colourful little shops of the chocolatiers who compete with each other to produce the most exquisite designs in chocolate, or the prettiest packaging with hand-painted tins and lavish bows, or simply the biggest selection of chocolate this side of the Milky Way! The shops are especially appealing just now as they try to out-do each other with flamboyant window displays for Christmas. Of course, I never eat chocolate but Tigger bought some and assured me it was delicious.
The other facet to Bariloche that you can´t fail to experience while you're here is the wind. The wind is born in the snowfields of the high Andes. It races down the slopes in an avalanche of cold air and is chilled further as it blasts across Lake Nahuel Huapi, turning it into a frothing mass of white horses. Icy fingers of wind then squeeze through the lakeside forests and sneak under the flysheet of my tent, causing me to reach for the duvet jacket and woolly hat in a month equivalent to June in the northern hemisphere!
A break in the weather gave me the chance to spend a couple of days cycling what must be one of the world´s most scenic routes - the Circuito Chico. A mix of tarmac road and dirt trails took me further west along Lake Nahuel Huapi at the very foot of the mountains I´d been gazing at from Bariloche. The route meanders around sapphire-blue lakes studded with emerald-green islands and always with a backdrop of snowy peaks towering above the road and stretching to the far horizon. The route also passes through the funky village of Colonia Suiza - the Swiss Colony, as it was when it was originally founded by Swiss settlers in 1895. I left the main road and bumped along a rough, forest track. After a few
miles, the forest track became the village main street and I cycled into a little slice of heaven tucked away in the forests. The village dwellings are pretty log cabins and colourful timber cottages and, as luck would have it, I arrived on the day of the artesan market, a cross between a farmer´s market and a craft fair with folk music thrown in. I really enjoyed wandering along the stalls with a big bag of delicious handmade fries. The other interesting thing about Colonia Suiza is that it enjoys a warm micro-climate relative to the rest of the cold, wind-scoured landscape around Bariloche. And so there are small plots with neat rows of raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries that will mostly be made into jams - the Argentines love their "dulces". I got chatting to one of the growers and she knew all about Scotland´s own tradition for growing strawberries and raspberries!
Beautiful though Bariloche and the surrounding area is, I´m hopeful that my parcel will arrive in the next couple of days and I'll be able to tear myself away from Bariloche and Tigger away from the chocolate shops!
More photos in the Argentina folder on my Flickr site.