Swissiloche

We didn’t expect to stay so long in this little Swiss village, but it was rather welcomed. After traversing the length of South America, hiking every other day and averaging 10kms of walking tours, our bodies were asking for a much needed break. We had all the intentions to hike to Frey (a small stone hut 1300 meters up in the mountains of Bariloche), then to Jacob and every other refugio in the valley. However, once we rested our weary legs, our minds said enough’s enough, relax. So we took a holiday from our holiday.  

Sometimes doing nothing is welcomed. Especially when you travel for such long periods of time. All the new sensory experiences tend to fry ones circuits a bit. It’s no wonder our ancestors decided to remain in places from time to time. Luckily we found the perfect place to kick off our boots and relax. Penthouse 1004 (although they are in a need of a better marketer). Penthouse 1004 wouldn’t be the first name that we would use to describe this warm homely place. We ascended to the tenth floor of a rather ugly apartment block and made our way down the corridor to the door at the end. Buzzing us in, we were met with beaming faces, old wooden furniture and panoramic views of Nahuel Huapi lake. It was wonderful. So cozy and warm, with the fresh smell of baked bread filling the room. How could we justify spending a cold night up on the mountain when we had our home away from home we so desperately seeked. Everyday we would wake up look at each other, and say ‘Shall we stay in today? We have the time, why not’…

When you’re absorbed in your working life, five days a week, it doesn’t leave much cognitive space to learn other skills. I’ve always wanted to learn web development but never really found the mental capacity to pursue such a difficult endeavour. Over the course of the past two weeks I’ve been waking up with butterflies in my stomach, ecstatic to jump into my online course and learn how to write computer code. Easily spending 3-4 hours per day, I can now write basic HTML and CSS.  The way the course explains these concepts are as follows: HTML is the noun, the structure you need in a sentence for it to make sense. CSS (cascading style sheets) is the adjective, to make the noun sound more appealing and attractive. And finally, javascript is the verb, to action the noun or adjective. All three of these “disciplines” make up what we know as a website. There’s all sorts of other jargon and complicated explanations but I find this to be quite compelling. I’ve gotten to the level where I can write up the basics, and working on various projects to tighten up my understanding but at this rate I’m well on my way to having a thorough understanding of the languages. My goal is to be fully fluent in web development by the end of the year. For a while now, I’ve believed that we need to have a fundamental understanding of how to interact with technology simply to understand how they interact with our world. And to create some cool applications/websites on my own – of course.

Anyway enough about coding, more to come on that in the future, and hopefully I can inject some custom code into this blog soon enough! Fem’s also had the time to pursue her own exciting project. A hostel cookbook! An excellent idea, considering the average meal at every hostel we’ve been to has been half cooked pasta over tomato sauce. I think I can count on my one hand how often I’ve seen other travellers cook anything else (although we did see someone roast some chicken and veg at Penthouse 1004, but it’s rare). But it’s not often that you see these places decked out with ovens, let alone pans. So more to come on that project soon!

Anyway enough with the side project stories and more on what we actually did outside of the hostel. The area of Bariloche is well known as the Swiss village of Argentina. It gets its name from a few Swiss settlers that made their way here many many moons ago. It’s isolated. It’s cold. And there are mountains. So one can imagine why they would want to settle in such a delightful Patagonian spot and eat their chocolates. Speaking of which, there are more chocolate shops than Willy Wonka’s here. Every corner has a different chocolate store, something which our Swiss friend was rather pleased about. The town centre looks quintessentially Swiss, with cobblestoned squares, wooden steepled houses and smokey gables. While exploring the town we found many local treats (and came to realise that artisanal is a rather dirty word – most “artisanal markets” sell the same “home made” items, mate guards, assortments of wooden handled knives, knitted scarves and endless amounts of bracelets). The one day we decided to venture further afield to the original Swiss colony in the mountains. I got chatting with one of the local vendors who was selling hand carved coins (he would carve out the middle of the coin, and only leave the various symbols in it – for example the old five Rand coin had all metal cut out, except for the buffalo). I was so intrigued and gave him all my loose coins from our travels so far, to which he responded in kindness and gave me one of his many carvings. On the same day we got to witness a traditional Patagonian curanto. These wonderful creations entail burning wood until it turns to hot embers, throwing down nalca (a type of Chilean rhubarb) leaves and then resting the ingredients on the leaves and covering with hessian bags, and eventually with sand. This forms a natural oven, cooking meats, potatoes and various vegetables for over two hours. Delicious!

Surrounding the area of Bariloche are vast mountain ranges that span the horizons. Plains create catchment areas for melting snow caps, which result in beautiful glacial lakes. Our penthouse, as mentioned earlier, was overlooking one such lake. However, there were plenty of other lakes to explore in the valleys beyond this quaint town. We heard that it was fairly inexpensive to rent  a car and travel east toward the small isolated lake town of San Martin de los Andes. The road winds, dips and saunters left and right. Surrounding are thick pine trees, frozen cypress trees and bristling bushes. This would mark our trip along “Ruta de Los Siete Lagos” or the Seven Lakes Route. Beautiful surroundings shadowed by spectacular mountains made our trip worthwhile. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t holding up, so we had to spend the majority of the trip in the car, but still this didn’t detract away from the blissful views. Taking us to San Martin, we stayed the night in a wonderful little inn and feasted ourselves on a Swiss cheese fondue (our Swiss friend was dying for one – being in Swiss Argentina and all). Leaving the early the next morning we detoured a bit to rock formations along the Limay river. These rocks are sandwiched and compacted together, as if they had all eaten to much. The mind wonders what these places looked like millennia ago when our earth was a mere toddler, life spawning out of the primordial soup. Arriving back without so much as a hitch of a problem, we settled back into our home away from  home.

The following days saw us finally hiking up to Refugio Frey. Having seen some beautiful surroundings already, we were left fairly unimpressed with the hike. However, the warm autumn colours were still a site to behold. Walking back down, we reflected on how much of Patagonia we had seen, and how much we take for granted. We left Bariloche with heavy hearts, and made our way to Mendoza. Wine country!

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