Before we embarked on our journey to South America, I recall having a few small apprehensions about what to expect. Could we drink the tap water? Would we stand out too much as gringos and feel vulnerable? What would it be like? Of course, an endless list of concerns had also been voiced from our friends and families but most of these were easily dismissed as “over-cautious” by our adventurous hearts.
To think that I held any nervousness about landing in Argentina and traveling to Chile, from my perspective today, is laughable. As we close our chapter in these two beautiful places, I can only think back on the countless friendly, incredible people we’ve met, the insane amount of beauty we’ve ridden through and the innumerable positive memories we will have for a lifetime. The small things that previously concerned me were all based on what fear or ignorance I had left in me. The water was perfectly safe. Not once did we encounter someone with bad intent, on the contrary we met SO many that were interested in our travels and beyond ready to lend us a hand. The drivers, albeit a little crazy at times, seem to be acutely aware of their surroundings and we were not run over during our months here! We were beyond safe and happy.
Leaving Argentina yesterday felt like leaving a second home – we’ve learned Argentine Spanish, shared mate with the locals, eaten our weight in empanadas and gained so many new amigos. It is bittersweet; we have so much more traveling ahead of us (Peru and hopefully Bolivia!) but will miss Argentina and Chile greatly.
We were lucky enough to spend our holidays and New Year working at a super fun hostel in beautiful Bariloche. Bariloche is a lakefront town surrounded by breathtaking peaks and often visited as a ski resort town in the winter. By summer, it is frequented by tourists, beach go-ers and recent the high school grads of Argentina. It’s known for it’s cervecerias (craft beer! Yay!), chocolate shoppes, wine and hiking. We were happy to say the least…
We found ourselves in this great little city by way of hitch hiking. My lone unfortunate event of our travels thus far occurred south of Bariloche when an especially strong gust of wind caused an encounter between my head and the pavement with my bike in a heap at the edge of the Ruta 40. Luckily, because I always wear my helmet, I walked away with a few minor scratches, a broken brake hood and no concussion. Quite a few bike tourists out there find it fashionable to strap their helmet to their rear panniers and forget that business altogether. Perhaps they never fall. I hadn’t been planning on it either, and am grateful I stay prepared. Saved us a trip to the hospital!
Obviously post-fall, I was ready to “hago dedo” – translated as “use my thumb” – and hitch a ride to the next town. After what seemed like forever, a little truck screeched into the gravel ahead of us and offered to let us ride in the bed of his truck. We happily accepted! Panniers and cycles loaded in, we sat against the back of the cab facing the travelers behind us, feeling grateful to no longer be bothered by the Patagonian wind.
It was shortly thereafter that it started to sprinkle. We had driven up into the mountains in this little white truck, already taken farther than we could have hoped for, when Marco (our salvavida) jumped out of the cab. We were ready to start unloading everything when he explained that we needed to get in the cab so we didn’t get rained on! We moved his personal belongings (which he risked getting wet instead of us) and jumped in the front. Turns out we were lucky enough to be riding with one of the most friendly, patient and helpful Chilean truck drivers out there. Despite the fact he didn’t need to stop in Bariloche and had already been driving for ten hours, he took us all the way to our destination. He even stopped and ran into a store at some point, and emerged with juice and pastries for us. We learned about his family, his job, his life in Pucon and his experience living in Pasadena as an ice cream truck driver in the 1980’s. He was truly wonderful. We were lucky enough to buy him dinner before he headed on his way down the road.
Moments after our arrival in Bariloche, the city came alive with soccer fans celebrating Racing’s championship win. We had no idea a game was even happening when, as we pushed our fully loaded cycles through the street, it started to fill up with exuberant soccer fans celebrating their win. We ducked into the nearest hostel to avoid being devoured by the crowd.
Bariloche ended up being filled with wonderful friends and fellow travelers. Devin met a few tourists in Monterey, California while working at his restaurant that happened to be from Bariloche. We had made plans to have dinner at their house and pedaled our way to their neighborhood. MaJo, Javi, Caro & Pali were the BEST hosts ever, fed us delicious food and ice cream and were beyond welcoming. We all shared lots of laughs, practiced our Spanish and a spent a beautiful day at the Lake with two of the brightest young people out there. It was time wonderfully spent before we headed to the hostel we would be working at for the next few weeks.
An awesome resource for vagabonds such as ourselves is WorkAway.Info. It lists different types of jobs travelers can do in exchange for a bed and sometimes food. We worked at Universal Travelers Lodge in Bariloche, a fun hostel where we had the opportunity to make a lot of new friends. We spent our Christmas Eve dinner at a table of seventeen other travelers from all parts of the world. Ruben, the hostel owner, pulled together a traditional (in the USA) dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and all the good stuff we were missing from home. We also had the good fortune of passing New Year’s Eve at the hostel, dancing around in the livingroom-turned-dance floor while wearing sparkly masquerade masks. Working at a hostel gave us the opportunity to befriend people from Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Israel, Poland and even get to meet some rad travel-minded fellow Americans.
During our time in Bariloche we also attended La Montana Spanish School on Elflein Street. The few weeks we spent with practically private Spanish lessons boosted our confidence and ability to speak proper Spanish a great deal. I highly recommend spending the time and money taking a few weeks worth of Spanish courses while traveling if you’re serious about getting fluent.
Bariloche is known for outdoor activities. Rock climbing, rafting, kayaking, horseback rides and trekking are among the local favorites, although we were pretty busy between Spanish classes and working and didn’t have the chance to dabble in all of this fun stuff. If you are into outdoor activities, this city is perfect for you. Transportation is really easy with an efficient bus system.
Information for Travelers:
Taking the Bus: Taking the bus is the easiest way to get around in Bariloche. One must purchase a tarjeta (card) for the bus at a kiosko. You pre-load it with pesos and when you get on the bus you let the driver know where you are going and he will deduct the appropriate fare. Very easy.
EVO SPORTS Bicycle Shop – Best bike shop in town. Matias and Rebeca speak both Spanish and English so you can find help here if you are not bi-lingual. Matias special ordered a part for my bike, prices are fair and the store itself is very clean and well-organized. Specializing in Mountain Bikes but a good place for bike tourists, as well. Plus Matias and Rebeca are awesome people.
Universal Travelers Lodge: Good accomodation for a fair price $AR 180 for dorms. Reservations required (Hostelworld.com or Hostels.com). Breakfast included with access to backyard, BBQ and heated pool. Positions usually available for work exchange (4-5 hr shifts in exchange for a bed and breakfast) – see WorkAway.Info.
Backpackers Hostel Bariloche – Centrally located near the Centro Civico. Walking distance from literally everything you need, this music-themed hostel has a fun vibe, is clean and run by a multi-lingual owner, Hugo.
Manush Cerveceria – One of the most popular cervecerias in town with an excellent range of Craft Beer (we recommend the “Honey Beer,” or “IPA.” Happy hour from 6-8pm with a great half off deal on pints. Make sure to try the Papas Fritas Super Manush – DELICIOUS!!
Antares Cerveceria – Just down the street from Manush with equally good beer and a happy hour as well.
El Boliche Parrilla – You can best get the best steak or filet mignon here for a great price. Highly recommend stopping here if you want some excellent Argentine Parrilla.
La Montana Escuela de Espanol – Classes are offered on a weekly basis for about $180/week. We found this to be a competitive rate. The teachers are friendly and helpful and the group sizes are usually less than five people, which is perfect for practicing but also getting the tutoring you need.