As the temperature starts to rise through the 20s the city of BA starts to feel like living in an oven. The huge number of people, traffic and heat storing concrete all add to this, so many people now take to the cooler south for their summer holidays. We lead the migration leaving a week before the schools finished, ensuring we got a seat on the coach for the 22 hour journey to Bariloche. You would think that 22 hours on a coach would be torture but this coach has just three seats across, actually armchairs, complete with footrest and almost horizontal recline. They also served drinks and provided food, very much like flying. The journey took us through La Pampa, which we were looking forward to seeing. After winding our way out of BA the countyside started to reveal itself and it was just as expansive and flat as people say it is, miles and miles of it, for around 18 hours of the journey. The odd river, windmill or farm/estancia breaking up the flatness. It is like being at sea on a very calm day, the horizon stretches out majestically, the sky, unhindered by geographic features, takes centre stage especially at sunset and sunrise both of which are observed on a 22 hour drive. Looking out of the front of the coach the romans could have built this road, it’s straight and flat, reasonably surfaced. It’s easy to sleep.
Waking up reveals a new landscape, one with hills, trees and the twinkle of snow, the remains of the winter just leaving us. Fresh meltwater streams, turquoise in places, add sparkle to this magical place. The plants are vibrant green and spring flowers of red, yellow and white dot the landscape. They only have a short period in which to grow before the icy grip of winter returns. A relaxing calm comes over us, it definately seems to have been the right thing to do.
Steping down from the coach the fresh breeze and 18°C makes it feel like home. The scenery is breathtaking but people tell us about different places where it is even more spectacular. Our host for the next two nights helps us settle in by dropping us at the end of a hiking trail and arranging to meet us at 4pm by the teleferic cabins, this is ski country. We head off up the trail, this should be easy as we do not even have big rucsacs on, it’s steep and it becomes apparrent that dulce de leche is not good for muscle building. The views as we climb to the revolving restaurant at the top take our minds off the effort and we soon find ourselves at the top looking over the lakes and up into real mountains, our next challenge. At 4:30 we are back down, having taken the cabins (cable car) to avoid being later than we already were. Our lovely host suggests we get a picnic together for lunch at the beach, so we sit in the sun on a sandy side of the lake in the warm afternoon sun gazing out into the lake. Our host tells us about the Chilean volcano (Puyehue) that errupted a couple of years ago, it sent up a huge column of ash for days. Pumice and ash nearly a foot deep covered everthing, the photographs make it look like it had been snowing. The lakes were covered in the ash, which floated at first, making the lake look like a huge vat of porridge. It was a frightening time as the sun was obsured for some days. Eventually the ash was cleared away, by residents of the town, and it sank to the bottom of the lake. To the residents amazement the lake changed colour, with a layer of reflective ash and silica it reflected the sky and in places took on the most fantastic turquoise colour it has today.
From the beach we had a driving tour around the mountains, a relaxing end to the day. After another training trek we then set off with rucsacs loaded for our first camp site and then on to a mountain refugio, Frey. This four and a half hour trek took almost all the strength we had, however every step of the way revealed a new peak or view that surpassed the last. The view speaks for itself.