After 34 hours on a bus, we pulled into the city of Bariloche, our last destination in Argentina where we were going to spend the next three weeks. The place that we had rented was about 25km outside of town in a place called Llao Llao which is closer to the park and trailheads. We climbed into a cab and it whisked us down the winding coastal road past snug restaurants, quaint cabins tucked behind walls of brilliant red rosebushes, and tiny boutiques selling specialty cosmetics, chocolates, and handicrafts. As we drove further and further from town, I was wondering if we had done the right thing by booking a place so far away from the city. It turns out that we couldn’t have made a better decision.
When we got to the studio it wasn’t quite ready, so the owner told us about a walk that we could take that would kill some time and allow us to stretch our legs a bit. He was speaking English (he was from Tahoe), but after so much time on a bus it still sounded faintly like Charlie Brown’s teacher. “…up the road…waaa waaa waa waa…past the waa waa…up the waaa waaaa…you’ll come to a green Jesus…” My ears perked up. Who doesn’t want to see a green Jesus? It turned out that neither one of us was listening very well and we did not end up finding the green Jesus that day, but we did get some fresh air and returned to check into the studio.
First of all, I must mention that we were paying about $20 a day for this place. That is an absurdly good price. The studio itself wasn’t much to look at. The carpet was brown and worn, the oven we used once and never again, the walls were bulging out slightly in some places. But it was clean and functional and it happened to have a better view than 95% of any of the places in the area. The view alone was worth more than what we were paying for that place. In the morning we would open up the blinds and see the mountains reflected in the lake that had been ironed flat by the windless dawn. In the afternoons we could sit outside and read while the boats carved gashes of white froth into the water. And at the end of the day after a long hike we got to sit in front of the window with a glass of wine and watch the sky turn bright salmon pink over the peninsula. And this was only the view from our window.
When we went into Bariloche for the first time after we arrived, we felt much the way that we did our first day in Berchtesgaden—overwhelmed with joy. The architecture is sort of Swiss-chalet-meets-Patagonian-outpost which gives the town center a wonderfully rugged yet cozy feeling. But no homage to the Swiss would be complete without a serious preoccupation with chocolate, and that is exactly what Bariloche has. Almost every restaurant or store you pass has a “artesenal chocolates” sign in the front. In the town center there is at least one candy store per block. I didn’t know which way to turn, so I looked to the guidebook which said that Mamuschka had the best chocolate, bar none. Good enough for me. I don’t know if it was the best chocolate because we didn’t have time to try all of the shops, but Mamuschka lived up to our expectations. Dark chocolate with whipped, creamy mint filling. Almonds dipped in honey and cinnamon covered with white chocolate. Hazelnut paste sandwiched by thin milk chocolate squares. My eyes are rolling around in my head just thinking about it.
Besides the chocolate, Bariloche has something else that most other cities do not—ethnic food. It may not be the most authentic, but it is close enough for someone who hasn’t had Chinese food in eight months. Italian, Mexican and Indian restaurants. Grocery stores stocked with gourmet delights. And that was just the town center.
That night after we had eaten tacos at a Mexican restaurant and stocked up on groceries and chocolate, we sat staring dreamily out of the window of our studio thinking it was almost too good to be true. I looked hard at the darkening sky and saw a small cluster of stars blinking on and off. They looked like the final second of a fireworks display when the last of the aluminum burns up in the air. They seemed to be playing with each other, disappearing and reappearing in a new spot, chasing after one another. It was such a blatant display; I haven’t ever seen anything quite like it. I don’t believe in signs, but if I did, I might have taken this as a sign that Bariloche was going to be one of the most arrestingly gorgeous places I have ever been. It turns out no sign was necessary—all I needed to do was open my eyes and look around.