Lakes on Lakes

It would’ve been a huge disappointment if we hadn’t made it to at least part of Patagonia on this trip, so after Mendoza, we decided to overnight bus to Bariloche. Now before you get all “oh.em.gee that’s not REAL ridiculously remote/difficult to get to/freezing cold Patagonia next to Antartica” – we are aware – but it is legitimately called northern Patagonia, and I’m not going to argue with the experts. Quite frankly, it was cold enough for my NorthFace fleece and lack of boots, scarf, and gloves – and my Peruvian alpaca hat is only SO warm (I actually think it used up all its warmth on the Salkantay Trail and is now just a cute and kind of smelly souvenir). So Bariloche was as far south as we ventured, but to make up for its true “Pataognia-ness” is conveniently located in the Lake District of Argentina and thus WELL worth visiting due to Mother Nature’s clear dedication to make this place gorgeous. There is also world class skiing (if there is snow, which unfortunately for us, there was none).

We stayed at Periko’s Hostel which was wonderful – super recommend in case you’re ever there. We had a cozy room in the cabin-turned-hostel near the center of town and with one of the most helpful staffs we’ve met on our travels. To get it out of the way, restaurant recommendations are: Ceveceria Manush (tasty restaurant with their own craft beer- highly recommend the milk stout and honey wheat – and the beer-imasu for dessert), El Boliche de Alberto (a parilla – steakhouse), and Almazen de Sabores (Tyler’s 30th birthday celebration dinner – see below for full description). Make sure to drink some vino caliente (hot red wine with spices) and the ever-present-in-Argentina dulce de leche filled desserts. There’s also lots of fondue – related to the German/Swiss immigrants in the area – we had a great cheese&stout beer fondue at Alpine. And since we tried it both in BA and Bariloche, just do yourself a favor and don’t trust the Argentine version of Mexican food.

So the plan in Bariloche was to partake in some winter sports, but the weather had other plans. First, it was way too windy to do many activities, and then it didn’t snow. No worries, we’re always equipped for a Plan B, but unfortunately for us, there weren’t that many available due to the season/weather (i.e. no fly-fishing, rafting, good hiking, bike-riding). We wandered around the town quite a bit and ventured into (bad) museums and the touristy stores. On Saturday night, we went to a free high school orchestra concert in the town’s beautiful cathedral, which reminded me of my own high school band days and playing concerts at Duluth First Baptist Church.

On one of our otherwise uneventful days, we took the bus to Cerro Campanario and took the chairlift up to one of National Geographic’s best 360º  views in the world. It was clear but not fully sunny, yet the views were still OUTSTANDING. Breathtaking. Everything you’d picture Patagonia to be and more. Everywhere you turned was something even more beautiful. perfect winter-blue glacier-fed lakes&snow-capped mountains&trees&clouds so low you could almost touch them&smoke coming out of chimneys of the quaint cabins. And we forgot our camera. Actually, we brought the camera, but forgot the battery. FAIL. But you can google it – we have the visual memories to reflect on forever.

The highlight of our Bariloche time was on Sunday, September 2nd. As most of you probably know, Tyler’s 30th birthday was September 3rd. It was important to me that we make it special somehow, given that we couldn’t celebrate with family and friends like we normally would if we were home. You only turn 30 once, and it’s not a birthday to ignore (not that any is, in my opinion, but definitely not 30). Unfortunately, our travel plans worked out to make Monday, the 3rd, a travel day (to Chile!) so the birthday celebration had to be a day early. It’s not easy to surprise a person you’re with 24/7 (who also happens to carry most of the cash), but I surprised him in two ways: 1. suggesting and being excited to paraglide and 2. finding an awesome restaurant and surprising him with a Chicago-calibre tasting menu.

If you’ve hung out with Tyler more than 10 times, chances are you’ve heard his hang-gliding story from  his trip to Rio de Janeiro when he studied abroad in Fortaleza 10 years ago. It was, until 9/2/12, his favorite experience ever. I’ve never been hang-gliding and neither of us has tried paragliding (or parapente in Argentina). We booked it through our hostel and met our 2 guides/tandem flight partners. Both said that Bariloche is one of the best places and their favorite place to paraglide in the world, but conditions are rarely good enough to do it. Lucky for us, the day was absolutely PERFECT – sunny, clear, and the right wind patterns. We drove a jeep up a mountain, hiked up a bit more through mud, and finally made it to the edge of a cliff off the mountain. This was apparently our jump-site (insert me-screaming-on-the-inside).

Our directions were simple – put on giant multi-colored and oversize jumpsuit, helmet, and gloves, and wait. T’s guide set up first which consisted of spreading out the giant sail/wing/proper name on the ground and attaching himself to it properly. He yelled “OKAY” to Tyler who then ran over to his left side. Tyler faced out – i.e. the cliff – and the guide faced in. The guide attached Tyler to the wing (apparently properly though who knew at the time) and when he decided it was the right time, yelled “RUN” and T kind of ran/flew off the cliff. Eventually the guide changed directions and so they were both “seated” facing the same direction while gliding. I just stood there watching all of it and literally had no words. T kept flying by and taking pics of me (I could tell) but all I could muster was a thumbs up. Meanwhile, my guide started setting up on our own death-mobile on the cliffside. It was around this time that I noticed we had an audience of people above us on the cliff. They were clearly amazed at T’s high-flying bird-like feat, but for some reason even though they didn’t even KNOW me, I heard them say “do you really think SHE’s going to do it?!” Oh.Hell.No.

My guide, Hector, was finally set up and called me over to get hooked up (again, hopefully correctly, and I definitely double checked the caribiners that kept me from plummeting to the earth multiple times). He pointed in a direction (straight-right) and said “when I say RUN – go this way.” Yes sir – you rarely have to give me directions twice and especially not in life & death matters. I took a deep breath and said to myself “it’s okay – you’re just running off a perfectly good mountain – no big deal.” The wind was a little weird I guess, so of course I had to wait what felt like eternity before he yelled the magic word, but then he finally did. And I ran with ALL my might (greater now cause of all the pao de queijo – cheesebread- I ate in Brazil). And despite my best efforts, we got completely pushed to the left side of the cliff by the wind and right when I saw the end of the cliff and thought “HOLY CRAP” we were suddenly in the air.

We.were.flying. FLYING. Okay fine. GLIDING. SOARING. LIKE AN EAGLE. WHICH FLIES. Do you understand what I’m trying to say? It was… in a word? There aren’t any. Life-changing. I know, you’re thinking “oh please, shut up, it couldn’t be that great” but it really was. It was peaceful and exciting and magical and breathtaking and inspiring and though-provoking and mind-numbing and soulful and terrifying and calming and blissful. It was an experience we shared, but experienced individually. The views were stunning – lakes, mountainside, trees, snow, houses, farms – we observed everyday life from an impossible vantage point. I could’ve stayed up there for hours (which is apparently possible), but after 30ish minutes, it was time to come down from nature’s high. We appropriately landed in someone’s backyard filled with dog and horse poop. Tyler landed first, and from far away, I could tell he landed he fell flat on his face. I hoped he didn’t break anything or land his face in manure and tried to concentrate on my upcoming landing. My guide gave me no directions until it was almost too late – and they only consisted of “when your feet touch, run.” Awesome- that makes sense. Except my mind and body were in disagreement since I had been sitting in air for 30 minutes. Instead of running upright like a normal human being upon landing, my knees stayed bent like I was still seated. I managed to squat-run a few steps (while trying to avoid stepping in horse poop) before stopping abruptly. My guide almost toppled on top of me but he managed to stop himself and just laughed it off. Tyler ran up to me and didn’t have words initially – but when we both finally found our voices again – our first reaction was “we HAVE to do that again!”

I’ll spare you more jealousy and just tell you that you should go paragliding in a beautiful mountainous town at some point of your life if you can.

To complete T’s day-before-his-birthday celebration, we of course had to eat something delicious. After a LOT of online research (I do love him, even after all this together time),  I settled on Alamazen de Sabores. It’s a tiny, adorable restaurant in a house about 20 minutes away from our hostel. Since I made reservations for an “early” dinner (i.e. 8pm), we had the entire place (all 6 tables) to ourselves. We ordered the 6-plate tasting menu and a bottle of wine (malbec, of course) for dinner and a bottle of champagne for dessert. For $25/person, we were served a nice-Chicago-restaurant-worthy meal of:

1. beet, red pepper, and coconut milk soup
2. fried prawns with soy-ginger sauces (best shrimp we’ve had since Panama City ceviche)
3. wine-stewed mushrooms with polenta and the most delicious chicken pate we have ever had
4.  corvina (chilean sea bass) yellow curry/stew
5. the most delicious pork belly – charred on the outside, incredibly tender inside-  with peach infused pure (mashed potatoes)
6. 3 desserts – flourless chocolate cake with decadent chocolate gelato, cinnamon gelato with cinnamon crumbles and peaches, and (our favorite) ricotta cheese something with raspberry sauce (with a candle on Tyler’s)

It was delicious and service was impeccable – easily the best meal of our trip! It was a truly special way to ring in Tyler’s big 3-0 and the end of our time in Argentina, and I’m so glad the day worked out so well. Tyler deserves it!

On Monday morning, we packed up and headed to the bus station for a 6-hour ride to Osorno, Chile. The scenery along the route was incredible and the road was fairly treacherous – to be expected when driving up and down the Andes. We were surrounded by snow, mountain tops, clouds, and pine trees – the road was littered with ice patches and overturned trucks. The border crossing was rather intense with sniffing dogs and mean military personnel, but we made it through with no problems (except we had to throw away our apples – sad). Osorno is a crappy industrial town with nothing to do, so we settled into our kind of crappy hostel for the night, made a simple dinner, and prepared for our morning 5-hour journey to Pucon and what would end up being an incredible week in Chilean Patagonia.

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