Patagonia/Lakes Region Travelogue Part 2
HUIFE, CHILE, December 10, 2016, 5:00 p.m.:
I’m sitting at a table in my room, looking out the large picture window at the rain as it falls into the river that’s about 25 yards away. I expect it will help lull me to sleep tonight.
Bariloche is a touristy city, and we stayed downtown only a block away from the main plaza. A large main tourist street about two blocks from the waterfront ran parallel to it. It had been closed down, apparently street by street, and pavers installed, so that it became a pedestrian walkway. The main area was full of tourist shops with Patagonian and Bariloche-related souvenirs, and chocolate shops by the dozens (the Swiss were reputed to have brought chocolate making to this area).
The streets were full of tourists, lots of them kids around 16-18. Our guide indicated that this was time in Chile where high school seniors went en masse for one last trip before the end of the year. They cluttered together in giggling groups of a dozen or three, often wearing sweatshirts or jackets custom made with their group and all of their group members’ names emblazoned on them. For an American point of reference, it reminded me of every fraternity or sorority function in college, that required a separate t-shirt being made for all members to commemorate the event.
We watched some street performers, walked around, and then went to a restaurant to eat some big steaks. The food was good but based on the price we’d definitely fallen prey to a tourist trap. Still, the quality was good, and I’d rather have overpaid for something good than have paid normal prices (or more) for something poor.
Afterward, we called it a night so we could go back to our rooms, check in our businesses, and rest. It turned out to be futile.
The internet was close to non-functional, and I couldn’t connect quickly or on a regular basis. I decided to go to bed but was woken up outside by lots of loud music, screaming and general partying. Turned out that our location wasn’t so great after all. We were about two blocks away from the malecon with a large parking area, and across the malecon were a number of nightclubs. All of the high school kids were out all night, parking in the lots, windows rolled down, competing with each other’s music coming out of their car stereos. The hotel windows did a decent job of keeping all but the bass outside. With the windows closed (and no air conditioning) the room was pretty stuffy, so I alternated between lying in bed a little hot, and opening up the windows to the cool air and listening to the teenager kids outside partying nearby. I feel asleep some time after 3:00 a.m., and woke up a couple of hours later.
My opinion of Bariloche was no doubt affected by hotel in which I stayed and by my poor luck in picking what was essentially a Spring break weekend to visit, but with those disclaimers, Bariloche, while undeniably beautiful, was too touristy for my tastes. Traffic was so thick it was difficult to cross roads, and there were just too many people for me to enjoy. Also, outside of the city’s charming Alpine-themed plaza and tourist walkways, the rest of the city which I saw looked a little shabby.
The next morning we met up with our driver for our trip to San Martin de los Andes. He encouraged us, prior to leaving, to take the “Seven Lakes” trip a little farther outside of Bariloche, telling us that one of the sites was the eighth wonder of the world. We took the side trip and it was well worthwhile, providing some of the most stunning mountain and lake vistas we saw on the trip.
The ride to San Martin retraced the last hour of yesterday’s trip, so I slept for a little. Eventually we were in new territory, climbing up the Andes and seeing mile after mile of forest and lakes, seeing too many to count. They were all in national forests, so pretty, but nothing anyone could live on. The trip to San Martin was pretty arduous because of the higher altitude and curves, such that when we reached our hotel in town, I was feeling a little queasy and our driver didn’t look well. He said he was just tired from all of the driving, so he left us at the hotel around mid-afternoon.
San Martin de los Andes is a smaller town, also German-settled, located in a small valley mostly surrounded by mountains and fronted by Lago Lacar. Nothing much happened there until it started becoming a tourist destination in the 70s. Now it is known for skiing in the winter at nearby Chapelco, and all sorts of adventure sports during milder temperatures. The town, while geared toward tourism, is still relatively small, and much more quaint. Most of the architecture was fairly recent, and sort of modernist alpine flavored.
My buddy and I walked through town to sightsee. The traffic was much lighter, and through the small town there were three green plazas with playgrounds, trees and open space. We stopped at a restaurant named Dublin and ate outside. My friend ate what he declared was one of the top ten burgers of his life there. My food was also good.
We went back in, and I caught up on some work, then went back out for dinner and drinks later in the night. Throughout the town was a mix of tourist shops and “real” shops. Lots of shops related to outdoor gear, a few more chocolate shops and souvenir shops, then regular stores.
Our hotel, once again, was unpretentious, but our rooms were beside a small farm house, and the internet worked well.
We both agreed that of the three places we visited so far, San Martin was our favorite. It was lively, yet not too crowded, nice architecture, leafy greenways, and just an overall laid back vibe. If you were a skier, this would be a place to come spend some time. If you liked the outdoors, then summer here would be a real treat.
I slept far more peacefully than the previous night, waking up only to the rain coming down the following morning.
Today is supposed to be the only rainy day of the trip. We were to cross back into Chile at a different border crossing, then make our way to a hotel not too far from the city of Pucon. Total time: about three and a half hours.
We took a different route out of San Martin than we’d entered, once that was less mountainous with more straight roads. Very quickly the land turned to semi-arid. I had to wonder whether the rain we were experiencing was unusual for the area. Most of the land and the surrounding hills contained scrub, save for a river and green buffer along it that ran for miles, probably created by snow melt.
As we reached the last ten or so miles to the Argentinian border, the road turned to dirt, and quickly became mud in the rain. We reached the small border crossing to exit Argentina, and pass through in less than ten minutes. We continued along until we saw a sign advising us of entering Chile. We cross out of a muddy ill-kept dirt road to a modern paved and curbed highway.
The scenery changes at the border as well, almost as a metaphor for the two countries’ politics and economic policies. While the land on the Argentinian side was dry and scrubby, the landscape once inside Chile quickly became lush and green again. This rather abrupt change is because, according to our guide, Chile and Argentina created this border area based on the natural physical characteristics of the land—so it’s the effect rather than the cause.
We came near to Pucon then turned off a narrow country road to the little town of Huife. I didn’t see much there except our hotel: Hotel Termas Huife. In the area are a number of hot springs, and this hotel, situated on 300 hectares, has small cabins with hotel rooms in them, a restaurant, spa and a number of hot pools. My buddy and I ate a late lunch, then sat out in the pools and people watched.
I’d call the area bucolic, and good for a getaway if you like that sort of thing. There’s no wifi except in the reception. Both of our rooms sit out riverside. It would be a good place to get away and hike, ride bikes, and enjoy nature.
On both sides of the border, there’s lots of acreage if you wanted to buy or build a place to just get away from things. My buddy and I both liked the scenic beauty on the way to the border crossing this morning, but I’m not sure how tenable living there would be without many water sources or towns of any size. Over on the Chile side, while towns of any size were few, the land at least looked more capable of sustaining agriculture in the area.
Based on my brief visits between the countries, I’d say the difference in the two countries’ border roads was symptomatic of the infrastructure differences between the two. Chile’s areas were cleaner, better maintained, and had better overall infrastructure. Even in a highly touristic area like Bariloche, the sidewalks were cracked and uneven, some side roads leading into the city being just dirt.
It’s evening now, and I’m going to get a little work done before going back out to eat.