Belief, beauty, and one of the most beautiful places I've ever been
In an hour and a half, I’ll be getting ready to head out to the city of Bariloche, on the edge of Patagonia. I’ll be there up until Wednesday, and then I’ll head to Mendoza, Argentina’s wine country.
I’m really looking forward to Bariloche. I haven’t seen an ugly picture of or from that place. I thought a visit to Patagonia was out of the picture, but it turns out I’ll be able to go! Bariloche is also right by the Andes, and has a lot of woods, nature, and lakes. It’s the chocolate capital of Argentina, and I’ve only heard people rave about the chocolates. As with the rest of Patagonia, their lamb is supposedly the thing to try over there. It’s a very woodsy area, and after the urban titan that Buenos Aires is, it’ll be a nice change.
I’m looking forward to taking pictures, taking it slower, enjoying the views, and hopefully renting a bike. There’s a famous 20km loop over there that I want to try to ride. It’s been a while since I’ve biked. I miss biking. I’m not sure if I’m in any shape to do 20km, though. I’ve been lesser active these days.
After there it’ll be Mendoza, which is also nature laden and perfect. It’s a wine country, after all.
The bus ride to Bariloche is 20 hours one way. I get on the bus in about four hours, and it doesn’t feel like it at all. How am I even getting ready for this? I’ve loaded up the iPod, and packed some reading materials.
I grabbed a bunch of new podcasts. Also, a few audiobooks. I have trouble reading in moving cars without getting sick. I have the entire Harry Potter series on audiobook… narrated by Stephen Fry, nonetheless. I also got a hold of some new albums, so I think I’m set.
I’m honestly just loving being here. This is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to, and I feel like being here is just in order. I’ve been a little bit tired, this past week, not so much physically, but drained. I feel like every time I’ve wanted to say something it hasn’t been coming out right- or worse, I end up inadvertently saying something I really would’ve never meant to say willingly without realizing it, whilst trying to say something else. I feel really bad when that happens. I think that might’ve come from pushing myself pretty hard lately. I’ve been writing something that’s very close to me and also very long. It’s the most intense thing I’ve written, and I’ve been working on it diligently everyday for the past week and a half. It’s nearing completion, but I think taking a break right about now could just be a very good idea. And what could be a better break than traveling?
Anyways, no more about me. Let’s talk Bariloche. I left Buenos Aires at 7 P.M. last night and I arrived at 4 in the afternoon. That’s about 20 hours on a bus. I had a pretty comfy seat, but that’s still quite a journey. How did I get by?
Well, first they played a couple hours of mostly 80’s music videos on the bus. Duran Duran, Bon Jovi, Europe, all the big hair classics. After I was amused by a few of those, they served dinner, which was bus food, so it had limits about how good it could possibly be. They started playing Premonition, but just when that movie got interesting, I fell asleep. I slept till nine in the morning, and I even had an interesting dream, but I forgot it. I spent the rest of the time listening to all I loaded up on my iPod. It was quite a diverse mix. I would go from hearing a talk at Woodland, to Sleigh Bells, to Harry Potter on audiobook, to a podcast on philosophy, to some more music, to nothing at all but thinking and praying. After a while, the view outside the window turned amazing, and I just had to take a bunch of pictures.
We got to Hostel Alaska (yes, Alaska) fairly easily. I’ve used a lot of hostels over the past year, but I’m leaning towards saying this is the best hostel I’ve stayed at yet. It looks like a nice little wood cabin, with deep sloping ceilings, dens, flannel bedsheets, wooden everything, guitars, and cats. It lives up to it’s Alaskan name. Just outside and across the street is a massive, beautiful lake right in front of mountains. Everyone staying with me is awesome. I came here with my friends Mandy and Sarah. We met Brian and Elaina at the hostel. We also made friends with some other U.S. students who go to Belgrano from Texas and New York, Dan, Meg, and Kathleen. Our hostel owner Javier is one of the nicest I’ve ever dealt with. This place feels incredibly homely, and I wouldn’t mind living in a place that looks like this. You’ll just have to wait for me to get back to my computer to put up some real pictures.
Bariloche is a very interesting city. It’s on the edge of Patagonia meaning it’s got everything Patagonia is known for- namely gorgeousness. It has a lot of pine trees, some of the bluest lakes in the world, rocky coasts, and views of Patagonia and the Andes mountain ranges. It feels partly unreal. The woodsy natural setting matches all of the cabinlike buildings that are around. There’s no shortage of outdoor activity, and it’s really serene. It feels good to get to some nature after very urban living in Buenos Aires. The scent of the air is perfect. It’s nature, mixed with chocolate. It reminds me a lot of the Pacific Northwest, the only other reminder of where you are is the Spanish signage on everything. For that reason, I’ve dubbed it Latin Oregon.
We’re possibly renting bikes and doing a 20km loop tomorrow. I really miss biking, so I’m excited. There’s also paragliding, swimming, and kayaking around. I’ll see how much of that I can afford. Javier seems to know the best way to do everything around here.
After freshening up in the hostel, we went out to the town, since I forgot to pack swim trunks. I bought some for only a bit over ten bucks. We then walked up to a plaza by the city center which had the strangest juxtaposition of activity. While the capital building, which also looked like a cabin, was on one side, the view of the sun setting over a lake and mountains stood on the other. Adorable pure bred dogs walked around, with barrels around their collar for people to put money into to get photos taken. A lot of families had small babies around. Skateboarders flew all over the place. To make it even more chaotic, every car was driving around in a circle honking, since someone just got married. It was bizarre.
We went to a nearby marketplace. Mandy and I bought chullos, which were definitely on my to-buy list. We made it onwards to Dias de Zapata, a Mexican restaurant. I’ve been missing Mexican food. I didn’t get anything spicy, but the macho burrito I ordered was great, and I had it alongside a salad, guacamole, and a bottle of Quilmes. Afterwards we wandered around and found a chocolate shop. Bariloche is Argentina’s chocolate capital, and that’s a must. I ordered a couple of really nice pieces which only came out to five pesos. Still remaining to be tried are Patagonian lamb and Calafate Berry ice cream.
I’m completely thankful to be here right now. It’s a trip-within-a-trip. It just feels like a great break from feeling like I’ve been overanalyzing things lately, and in a gorgeous place nonetheless.
We took the morning pretty easy after I got up. This is indeed the most comfy hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Breakfast was endless homemade bread with a variety of spreads, my personal favorite being dulce de leche. While we were eating, we were entertained by at least three cats and three dogs. This place is loaded with friendly animals.
Afterwards Sarah, Mandy, and I stopped by a grocery to get sandwich materials and then took the bus up to a bike rental place. We got a good deal on a bike plus kayak for $130 pesos. We planned to bike the entire 20km of the Circuito Chico, an extremely gorgeous trail that weaves through mountains and perfectly blue lakes. Along the trail lay access points to bays, a national park, panoramic views, and a Swiss colony town.
We set off right away on mountain bikes. I’ve missed biking so much. It didn’t take long at all before we crossed a bridge and arrived at our first stop to go kayaking. We went down there and met the guy and his cat and dog, who helped us get everything set up.
We were actually supposed to only row along the coast, since the center of the lake was pretty choppy. Unfortunately, my perception of along the coast wasn’t so great and I wound up crossing the lake through the middle. The guy came out to remind us, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. That dude can row. The water was extremely blue-green and the entire lake was enveloped by mountains, rocks, and hills.
The water was nice and cool. Kayaking was a good relaxing activity which was simultaneously physically demanding. I loved it.
When we got back to the bikes, I couldn’t find the key for the lock. We went back to check the life vests and the kayaks without much luck. It ended up being in my pocket. We said goodbye to the dog, and took off again.
We continued along the trail, and it got harder and more uphill. After half an hour of riding, we hit Punto Panoramico, one of the more amazing viewpoints on the trail. We locked and hid the bikes and climbed out to some rocks at the edge of a cliff, overlooking the lake. It was a really incredible view. I can’t wait to get some pictures up, but those won’t do it justice. Here, while we ate our packed salami and avocado sandwiches, a condor came by to greet us, flying very close to where we were eating.
The next stretch was the longest, and was a mix between some downhill slopes and some uphill stretches. We were trying to budget our time wisely. If we made it to the Llao Llao area by 6, we could drop the bikes off at a Ranger station and take buses back. If we were going to be later, we’d have to ride them all the way back to the rental point, which would be four extra miles.
We decided to take the detour path that led to Colonio Suizo. We heard that there was a hippie fair going on, and we’d also heard rumors of excellent ice cream. I still needed to try the Calafate Berry flavor. We started down the path for not very long when we heard some panicking.
By a gate on the side of the road, a young Argentine boy was yelling, and basically sobbing. He asked us if we knew where the entrada was. We had no idea which entrance he was talking about since there was a lot of stuff on this trail.
From his panicked sobs, we gathered that we was lost and separated from his family. My Spanish can handle our dinner conversations at home well enough, but helping a lost and panicking boy was my biggest challenge ever. Collectively, Mandy, Sarah, and I tried to communicate with him.
We offered my phone, but he didn’t know any numbers. The more worried he would get, the faster he would talk, and since our Spanish is a work in progress, the harder the whole situation would get. We tried calming him down just using the tones of our voices.
“¿Como… te… lla…mas?
It was a mixed success since at this point the boy freaked out and ran into the woods. Sarah, Mandy and I exchanged looks. We didn’t want to get back to the hostel and find this kid all over the news.
"What should we do?”
“Well, we don’t want him wandering off into the woods. Let’s at least get him.”
Sarah ran after the kid, while Mandy and I debated our options. We could try to get him to come with us to Colonio Suizo, since it was a town and there could be people to help. Or we could go back onto the main road and just wait at the entry point before we turned towards Colonio Suizo. Sarah was taking a while, so I started to go find them, but that didn’t take long.
The boy, wearing a stained shirt, was pretty young looking and disheveled. We felt pretty sorry for him. We found out his name was Augustin. In order to calm him down, we tried making small talk.
“¿Vives en Bariloche?”
“No. Soy de Buenos Aires.”
“Ay, yo tambien. Vivo en Belgrano…”
While all that was going on, I tried calling some of the emergency numbers preloaded in my phone. My first attempt was the Emergency number.
“Hola. Encontré un chico perdido en circuito chico.”
The exact same thing happened when I called the police number. It’s good to know that the emergency response system around here is practically useless. I called the bike rental place. They were better than the police. They told us if we couldn’t find his dad to call back later.
We gave Augustin my phone and told him to call anyone, even if it wasn’t his dad. Just any number he knew. He tried calling his abuelos with no such luck. We continued walking towards the entry. We found a couple of backpackers and asked them if they could help him since their Spanish would be better than ours. Unfortunately, the conversation was extremely unhelpful. Augustin asked where the entrance was, and they pointed to where we were already going.
Augustin started getting frustrated.
“Tengo catorce años, puedo hacer eso.”
I didn’t quite believe he was fourteen, he looked too young.
“Hey, I’m twenty, and I’m not even sure what to do with you right now.”
When we got to the place we were looking for, Augustin recognized his family’s car in the parking lot. Just when we were going to tell him that would be the best place to wait, he took off running again. We followed.
Fortunately that’s where this story ends. Augustin ran towards his dad who thanked us a lot, and we got the satisfaction of having saved the day.
We continued biking the circuit, since we no longer had time for Colonio Suizo. If we made good time, we might be able to check out the park at Llao Llao. We passed a group of other students from Belgrano we knew, who were going the opposite way. They told us they just got done with a crazy hill, so we would have a nice downhill stretch. We zoomed down for quite a while.
After a while, the downhill stretch turned uphill, and we kept pedaling. That was until Mandy’s chain completely broke. The brightside was that we were right by an amazing lookout point. We called the bike rental place for the third time, and they told us they would have someone come over. While we waited, a very friendly stray we named Rio kept us company.
We took a lot of pictures until the bike people came. It turned out to be the same kayak man. He gave Mandy a new bike, fixed my seat, which kept coming down, and gave us a discount on the repair for saving the boy. We told him we just wanted him to remember us.
We continued for a while, and then Sarah spotted a sign for Cementerio de las Montanas. We abandoned bikes for a few minutes and took a short hike which led to some interesting looking burial grounds. It was pretty cool.
We kept going with the bike ride. After the boy, the bike chain, and the cemetery, we had no time left. It was already six, meaning we couldn’t hit the drop point, and we’d have to stop dilly dallying in order to get to the bike shop by eight. We gunned it. It took a lot of intense pedaling, uphills and downhills, biking close to traffic, and bumpy dirt roads. Finally we made it.
We were asked to fill out surveys and we got vouchers for free beer at a nearby pub. We wound up going straight to the hostel, incredibly tired, just wanting to eat and hang out with our animals.
We spent tonight eating pizza across the street in a quaint looking cabin, and we are positive we’re going to be sleeping well tonight.
This morning’s wake up call was Javier, the hostel owner, tapping my leg and asking me if I would like to go paragliding.
I had slept perfectly after all the physical activity yesterday. I was ready. When we made plans yesterday to go paragliding some time, there were only two spots open for today, so I let Mandy and Sarah take them, and I would tenatively go on Tuesday. Paragliding is pretty cheap in Argentina. Things worked out even better.
I told Javier I didn’t have enough cash on me to pay for the paragliding. He said that he would tell the guy who picks me up to stop by an ATM along the way.
After eating breakfast and getting ready, the guy showed up at the hostel’s door. I got in his car and we took off. I was now in the care of Frederico, who didn’t speak English, and I was about to go paragliding.
Much like the time I went skydiving really early in the morning, I felt an odd mix of apprehension, excitement, and half-awakeness. The morning drive through Bariloche was completely scenic, as is pretty much any drive, or walk, or anything through Bariloche.
The ATM didn’t have any cash. This turned out to be no problem, though. Javier would let me put it on my tab at the hostel. It felt funny saying that.
We arrived at an intersection where I joined an Argentine woman and her instructor who would also jump. We wound up trading instructors since her instructor, Ernesto, spoke more English. I totally believe in using Spanish as much as I possibly can to nail down the language, but when descending from a mile high and having no idea how the equipment works, I think I’m willing to make a few exceptions.
We drove up towards the top of a mountain. It was really distinguishable because I noticed the ski lodge perched right on top everytime we passed by. It was excellent. We drove up these winding roads to almost the top, when we stopped the car.
From this point, we would have to walk to the top. The walk turned out to be more vertical than horizontal, though and we wound up practically rock climbing towards the ski lodge. The rocks were really loose, making an extra challenge. By the time we hit the tarp at the top, we had already taken a morning drive, a hike, and a rock climbing expedition. We were perched at a great viewpoint. It was hard to imagine that we still had to do the actual paragliding, what we came there for in the first place.
That’s when it hit me. I don’t know a whole lot about paragliding. I get that you hang and glide from a parachute, but I’ve never bothered looking into how it gets started. I recalled a few friends’ anecdotes who told me things like “you start running, and eventually it feels like there’s no more ground.” On top of this really steep slope, I couldn’t even imagine running. It would be like running down an almost vertical wall, more like a tumble.
I got into my jumpsuit and helmet. Unlike skydiving, I got to take my camera with me. Ernesto fastened it on to my harness. He then fastened himself onto my harness and then fastened both of us to the chute.
“I can’t really tell you when exactly we’ll be able to go,” he said, “It depends a lot on the wind. Basically, when I say run, you run.”
I couldn’t picture what running would be like on this steep mountainside. I looked at Ernesto and found out that the start of paragliding is basically like really ambitious kite flying. He started pulling at the strings trying to get the parachute to catch enough wind. I watched, as it still had a long way to fill up.
“Run,” he said.
I went ahead and made a running motion, which must’ve looked totally silly. At that point the parachute took off and pulled us away from the ground. We were taken high, above the mountain, and the lake, and the city of Bariloche.
We glided all around the top of the mountain, with views not to be missed. I was so thankful to have my camera on me. I started taking a few shots, then some videos.
It was weird thinking how much I didn’t know what was going on, and how much I was trusting Ernesto. When you’re hanging that high off the ground, you don’t really have much choice except to take it that he knows what he’s doing. I decided to let Ernesto have his way.
Our flight operated off of faith. Ernesto would occasionally tell me to lean to the left or right. A lot of times I thought I was already to the left or right, but not enough apparently. I guess I had the tendency to drift to whatever position was more comfortable, and for me that was the center. It seems like a good idea, to stay wherever you have the most balance, and where you started from. The thing is, Ernesto knew what he was doing, and even if tilting while paragliding goes against natural safety instincts I just had to take him at his word and comply.
“Keep left,” he instructed, “until I tell you otherwise.”
Faith is so much more than cognitive belief. While I’m sure that Ernesto would’ve been able to handle things if I didn’t lean, leaning made the experience so much better, and Ernesto’s life so much easier. I always find these kinds of adventures that put your heart on edge to be great lessons on discovering what it means to truly believe in something. It’s very easy to believe in paragliding; it’s in pictures and movies and endless people have great stories about their experiences and have lived to tell them. When you’re actually at the top of the mountain, though, you start to feel the opposite, and for me this is kind of true no matter how many height-defying activities I’ve done. The idea of a giant kite taking you up into the air and supporting your life miles above the ground goes against common sense and natural instinct, and suddenly it’s as hard to believe as it once was easy.
Ultimately though, you just have to run and jump. And trust Ernesto.
Once in the air, it was an incredible experience. It’s one I’ll never properly be able to relate to someone who only believes in paragliding, or to someone who turns away, realizing how absurd the whole activity kind of is. You would’ve needed to been there to understand how amazing it was. I took a lot of photos from up in the air, and some videos too. Those will be fun to put up, but they still won’t do justice to the combination of an incredible view of what might be Earth’s most beautiful city, and the feeling of flight. Everytime you turned and looked at something, it looked like something that could go on the label of water bottle packaging.
I eventually got the hang of the leaning, thanks to some tips from Ernesto. And during our descent he let me take control of the parachute. There wasn’t anything you could do other than just marvel at everything going on.
We finally made our landing. We landed in some guy’s backyard as he was grilling something on the barbecue. Ernesto greeted him. Federico and the other woman landed not too long afterwards. This was an unexpected and fantastic morning. We folded up the parachutes and they took me back to Hostel Alaska.
I’m going to have to say that the past week was perfectly timed. It was great to step away from the city for a while, and right into the heart of some real, legitimate nature. I’m still in awe of all the places I wound up seeing and the things I wound up doing, and it was a very refreshing getaway. Not to overlook Mendoza, which was beautiful itself, but Bariloche just might be the prettiest city I’ve visited. It’s at least in the top five.
The week was packed, between kayaking and biking a 20km circuit, paragliding, cave touring, hitchhiking, wine tasting, and exploring the Andes. There was oddly a lot of room for downtime, too. The 20 hour bus rides, the coziness of the cabin, and the high presence of nature kept everything in balance. A few people pointed out I was quieter over the past week. I didn’t notice anything. I just don’t think there was much to say other than how amazing everything was and how thankful I was to be able to see it.
Yesterday was fun. I went to a youth church service with my friend Irving. Irving’s fluent in Spanish already, so it was an added challenge for me to keep up with everyone. He offered to play the guitar at their evening service, and then everyone kept on asking me if I wanted to play too. I doubt my own church would want me playing the guitar for everyone. These guys had yet to hear me, and I guess they were just assuming I could carry my own via association with Irving. They must’ve thought we were some traveling band.
After that we went to a Parilla, an Argentine barbecue. Have I mentioned that they like meat over here? For $90 pesos, or a bit over $20 USD, we ordered a parilla for two. “For two,” was an overstatement. They brought out to our table, basically an entire grill, still sizzling. Atop were various sausages, steaks, and rib cuts. The two of us did work, and left completely full off of great food, for only $10 a person.
Bariloche will always have a special place in my heart. The week before was filled with intellectual doubts, internal debates, challenges to core beliefs, and new territory.
Sometimes you just have to stop deliberating everything inside your head, breathe, and take the leap.
There’s more to faith than believing.