Ciao, Argentina

You might think that renting a car in a place like Bariloche would be easy. It just might be if you are willing to walk into the Hertz office and pay an exorbitant amount of money, but we weren’t willing to do that. Armed with a list of companies and their prices from the internet, we set off looking for the best deal to be had in town. Unfortunately, our list was soon depleted. The first place didn’t even seem to exist unless the lawyer at that address had taken to renting cars on the side. At the second place after repeated pounding on the door did not elicit a response, we gave up. The third place quoted us a price way higher than the one on their website explaining that the internet price did not include taxes and insurance.

What to do next? Well, the only thing to do was to walk blindly around town looking for car rental agencies. After several hours and what seemed like hundreds of conversations in Spanish we found a place that quoted us a price a little more than we thought we would be paying, but still pretty decent compared to the others. We decided we still needed to think it over before we committed to anything. As we walked out the door, we were accosted by a woman who reminded me of an excitable chihuahua. She had strapped to her an apparatus that you might use if you were a one-man band, except instead of instruments she had various communication devices hanging from it: several cell phones, blackberries, and wireless headset clipped on one ear. She spoke to us in rapid Spanish. “Are you looking to rent a car?”

We said that we were, but that we had already found one. “I can get you one for 900 pesos for the week. What price did they give you?” she demanded as she whipped open one of the cell phones dangling from her chest.

We gave her a price 50 pesos lower than that and told her that we were going to go have some lunch. At this she produced from some hidden pouch several flyers for local restaurants that she shoved into our hands. “These are good places to eat,” she assured us.

After lunch we ran into her again, still sans car. This time she had a better deal for us. She quoted us a price that was 100 pesos less than the legitimate agency that we had been to. It was such a good deal that it was almost tempting, but I could just see us getting thrown in jail for tooling around the country in a stolen car.

That evening as we drove back to Llao Llao in our legitimate silver Volkswagen “Gol” we were giddy with freedom. We had not been in control of our own transportation since we left Scotland in the beginning of October and at last, after being slaves to planes, trains, and buses, we were now in charge of our own destiny. So…what now?

On our first full day of freedom we took a drive to Villa la Angostura, an adorable town north of Bariloche and close to the Chilean border. The town was tempting, but we had the national park in mind with a hike from the forest to the peninsula passing through Los Arrayanes National Park where forests of several hundred year old arrayanes trees are protected. At the end of the trail that passed through twelve kilometers of unspoiled forest was a tranquil beach, the promised forest of arrayanes trees, and dock where we could see Bariloche and Llao Llao across the vast lake. The drive home was no less stunning. Everywhere were dazzling lakes with high cliffs springing out of them that seemed to say, “Come on! Climb on up here and take a dive into that water!”

Next on the to-do list: climb Cerro Bella Vista. Our first attempt at climbing it was unsuccessful due to the fact that we couldn’t find the trail head. We drove around the area, back and forth, several times and finally settled on a trail that looked as if it might at least connect with the trail that we were looking for. As we climbed up the mountain and the trail quickly became non-existent, I thought, “Well, better luck next time. Better just go on back the way we came and try again tomorrow.”

But Adam was convinced that he could find the trail if we just went over to the other side of mountain. And eventually he did find it, but not until we had bushwhacked our way through several kilometers of poky and spiky things. I was scared that we were going to be lost on the mountain with no one except the golden retriever who followed us down the first part of the trail knowing where we were. I was tired from going up and down and up and down and being speared by branches. The combination of mental and physical fatigue made me think that there was no way that I was going to be able to make it up the actual trail that day. And I was correct.

The next attempt was much more successful in that we did complete the task. However, I was still being, I realize as I look back, a whiny bitch. After being fooled by a false summit and seeing what we were dealing with to get to the actual summit, I went into panic mode, as usual. The summit of Cerro Bella Vista can only be reached by climbing up what looked to me to be a fairly steep trail covered in decomposed granite. Adam continued to remind me that if I took a spill, I was not going to go far, and I finally made it to the top with a good deal of whimpering on my part, and a good deal of coaxing on Adam’s part. What can I say? From the top we had a superb yet different view of the lakes as well as a view of several other peaks that were clustered nearby.

I wanted to stay on the top of the mountain not only because of the view, but because I was still nervous to climb back down. When it finally came time, Adam gave me a demonstration of what it was like to walk down a mountain with a thick cover of decomposed granite. He just let his feet sink into the pebbles and walked down the side, sliding slightly with each step like he was doing a forward version of the Moonwalk. “See?” he called from below, “it’s kind of fun.”

So it was my turn. I cautiously stuck my foot into the tiny rocks as if I was testing the temperature of bath water. I took a deep breath, a few steps, and suddenly I was effortlessly sliding down the mountain. Adam was right—this was fun!

That night I was feeling really lucky to be with someone who so patiently helped me conquer my fears time and time again so that I wouldn’t miss out on anything. But a tiny, nagging voice in the back of my mind asked, “What if that isn’t the reason he’s being so helpful? What if he’s trying to kill you?”

The only way to know for sure was to ask him, which I did that night. “Honey,” I said, “do you want to kill me?”

“Right now?” he asked without looking up from his book.

“Yeah, I guess,” I replied.

“No,” he said decisively.

“Well what about other times?” I asked.

His eyes paused on the page. “No,” he said in that tone that implies that what you mean is not a flat-out “no” but more like “not really.”

So that was that. Once and for all I had ascertained that when Adam pushes me to do things that I don’t think that I can do, it is because he doesn’t want me to miss out on something spectacular—not because he wants to kill me. Good to know.

Our second to last day we drove out to get a good view of Mount Tronador, the volcano that sits on the border between Argentina and Chile. The road up to the base of the volcano is 40 kilometers of bumpy dirt and gravel road, but the car arrived unscathed at the first attraction of the day: the black glacier. Now, you may be thinking, “How in the world can ice be black?” And the answer is: get it very, very dirty. Not that the black glacier wasn’t a sight to see. Of course, I’m partial to glaciers, but standing by ourselves in front of the glacier with its small glacial lake below watching the black chunks that had been cleaved from the face bob in the pale blue water was pretty dramatic.

Next we took a stroll over to some waterfalls, had lunch, decided that we did not like the meat flavored Doritos and we should not buy them again, and got slightly involved in a domestic dispute whereby the husband wanted to continue the walk to the waterfalls and the wife with the screaming child did not. Fortunately my accent saved us from getting in too deep.

The last big attraction of the day was the hike up to Mirador del Valle, which, as its name suggests, gives you a panoramic view of the valley below. I’m not sure how high the view point on the top of the mountain was, but I do know that a year ago if I had been standing with Adam at the trail head and he had said that I was going to make it from there to the top of the mountain in less than an hour, I would have said that he was deluded. But that is what happened. As I looked down at the valley with its foliage turning fall colors and a long, slim river flowing through it, I was content not just because of the fabulous scenery, but because I was finally starting to feel like my physical abilities were improving. I trotted back down the mountain cheerfully, and after snapping a few more pictures of snowy Mount Tronador, we turned back onto the gravel road to take the leisurely drive back.

To celebrate our last night in Argentina we had dinner at a local parilla. I have written before about the quality of meat in Argentina, and this place did not disappoint us. We both ordered the filet and got some mashed potatoes to share and, as usual, the people of Argentina showed us that good quality food cooked simply and perfectly is the way to go. I didn’t even use any of the chimichurri sauce that I love so much.

As we drove back to the apartment, our stomachs full to the bursting point, a sort of sadness settled over us. We were about to spend our last night in the apartment that had come to feel like home. We had hiked every nearby mountain. We had learned every curve in the road between the town and our place. We had become used to watching the colors of the sunset from our window every night. And now we were not just leaving Bariloche, we were leaving the country that we had spent almost four months in. The next morning while it was still dark we dropped off the rental car and boarded the bus for Chile. Although we had no idea what Chile had in store for us, we did know that Argentina had not seen the last of us.

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