The bus that was included as the last leg of our Andes crossing dropped us a few blocks from Hotel Plaza where we checked into our large 4 single bed room on the fourth floor. Considering what we’d paid, we weren’t surprised it was dated and that the internet was terrible, meaning slow and every time you rode the old fashioned elevator to a new floor, you, frustratingly had to log back in. And although finding the flusher as a flip switch high on the corner wall was weird, it was clean (well, except for maybe the carpeted closet shelf). We wandered a bit downtown looking for a bank and decided to eat next to the hotel at a German restaurant, Family Weiss. We had the venison stew, which was a bit dry but tasty, and spatzle as an older gentleman played some muted tunes on an accordion.
Knowing not to book more than 2 nights in any new place, we got a list of a couple hotels we could actually go visit. We started with The Hotel Las Piedras, just a little over a block from us. There we met Natalia who spoke English well and gladly showed us some rooms. We really liked the place but the quote she gave us was way higher than what we saw on Hotels.com. So we booked it on the site right there in the lobby only to discover shortly thereafter that the manager had been trying to get off the online websites and wouldn’t honor the reservation. They did offer the room at a discount for 2000 (about $50) instead of 2200 if we paid cash. Room 204 had an amazing picture window view, a small refrigerator and a safe, so we said if they could put a microwave in it, we’d take it for 3 nights. Unfortunately, we then sat in their lobby (with excellent WiFi, thank goodness) for nearly two hours with hotels.com to get them to cancel the reservation and refund our money. The accented “Danny” of hotels.com put us on hold and came back to tell us he called and spoke to Edwardo and everything was OK. Taken aback, we told him we were sitting 15 feet from the reception but just in case, we walked up to Natalie who confirmed no call had come in and there was no one named “Edwardo” there. Confirming the phone number, we had him try again. He put us on hold for a long time, while Natalie told us of another horror story with hotels.com, and when he came back we adamantly told him we were tired of waiting and wanted a refund, which we thankfully did finally get. So after 2 hours of our lives wasted, what did we learn? Don’t use hotels.com outside the United States and if you do book through an online site, always confirm your reservation directly with the hotel before you show up.
Hotel drama over, we walked the dusty 35 minute walk to the bus station and purchased Marga/Taqsa tickets for the 12 hour ride to Los Antiguos. On the way back, we stopped for lunch at La Barraca, a creaky but pleasant old taverna where we were told politely by the Spanish speaking waitress that she was the menu and we had two choices. The meal was hearty and all we know was that it wasn’t chicken. We spent the rest of the evening in the “liberal” area checking out lavanderias, steak houses and Wesley Brewing where the IPA was very good. We also looked for an ATM that would give us money and, after several unsuccessful tries, Galicia bank was kind enough to oblige (although we were limited to 7500 and an exorbitant 8% fee – which we later found out all the banks charge – we would regret not getting more money out as it was the to be the largest amount we were ever able to extract at one time).
We stopped to make reservations for parrilla at Huacho for the next night (which we later changed to Thursday night via WhatsApp) and after smelling and thinking about steak, we ended up at El Nuevo Gaucho for dinner to share a grilled tenderloin steak (485 AP) and a bottle of red wine. We did not know how to ask for medium rare (“a punto menos” we later learned) and also did not realize they would cut it and grill the parts separately if you were sharing, so although the steak was more well done than we’d hoped, it was still delicious, and the whole meal was only $21 USD. As we devoured the steak and rolls, a group of women who were obviously a bachelorette party (the penis antenna headbands kind of gave it away) came giggling into the restaurant and, after some discussion, were allowed a couple minutes behind the door that lead to the kitchen. Hmmm.
With the hotel, bank, bus and nice steak dinner taken care of it was time to get out and do some hiking. We moved into our lake view room at Hotel Las Piedras (and, yes, they did put in a microwave) and then headed out to purchase a SUBE bus card from a kiosco for 20 AP which can be used for multiple people. Unfortunately, the machine that charges the card was down so we went to another kiosco that had a blue “SUBE carga” sticker in the window and put 500 pesos on it. We figured at about 40 AP per trip we should have enough for what we wanted to do and if there was any left over we could leave the card with someone at the hotel.
We caught the #20 bus to Llao Llao on Fancisco Perito Moreno street between Palacios and Beschtedt streets – this is where all the buses leave from (visit https://www.barilocheturismo.gob.ar/en/public-transportation) – and told the bus driver “dos a la Cerro Campanario”, at which point we had to press the card against the small display to the left, wait for it to go green with an adjusted amount showing, then repeat the process for the second ticket. It was one of those bus trips where along the way the answer to the question of “How many people can you fit on this bus?” was always “One more.”. After disembarking, we crossed the street and instead of paying 350 AP each for a ski lift up and back we decided to hike it up the mountain. It was a short but very steep and dusty 30 minute climb to the top and was probably the most dust we’d ever seen on a hiking trail. The views from the top were stunning; we spent some time taking pictures and then spent a single chair lift fare on a couple of empanadas and drinks at the little cafe.
Practically sliding our way down the trail, we caught the 20 bus again (grateful for its “One more” motto) to its terminus, Llao Llao: a very expensive historical resort hotel with a golf course. The views behind the resort were very nice and we walked about a kilometer from there to the circuit hike around Llao Llao peninsula by keeping the golf course to our right after the ferry terminal (a less scary road than the main one the cars take). The hike was a mostly flat 5+ miles through the forest with stops at stunning overlooks of the lakes and a beach on the north end of the peninsula. After the beach, the trail was surprisingly closed for restoration (we probably should have stopped at the information booth at the trail head). We couldn’t see an alternative and turning back would have meant a hospital stay after our feet fell off, so we plowed forward. This is the point where you think about stupid tourists dying because they ignored the sign. However, Warren did point out there was no “peligro” or “cuidado” so we forged ahead and soon were back on track, completing the circuit and heading back to catch the bus.
Our aching feet did not want to walk back up to the bus terminus behind hotel Llao Llao, so instead we waited across from the ferry port where, at 5pm, the “One more” motto failed and we were lucky to get on. We stood on weary legs for about 45 minutes as we watched the bus pass by groups of waiting people waiting to go back to Bariloche. Noting that the bus was taking a different route back though the city than the way out, we got off on the corner of Ada Maria Elflein and Sangento Andres Rolando, which was fortunate as a we noticed a laundromat that was less expensive, closer to our hotel and less frenetic than the ones in the “liberal” district. Carefully walking down the twisty “Lombard” style Sangento Andres Rolando, we walked another agonizing 2 blocks to our hotel where we washed off the many layers of dirt and dust. We were glad we’d moved our Huacho reservations and had dinner at Las Pizzas de Mostro, a tiny Mom and Pop pizza joint across the street. They spoke no English but were very welcoming to us foreigners, probably due to their failing economy. The pizza was actually very good, they had craft beer on tap, and at the end of the meal when we asked for the pizza we’d not finished to “para llevar” they would not let us leave without also giving us a cute little bottle of champagne.
Thursday, was a day of rest, laundry and good eats. After dropping off laundry, we went to the only pace in town that sells coffee beans (“granos de café”), The Coffee Shop, which was east passed the banks on the main walking street, Bartolome Mitre, and then had a good burger and craft beer at the brewpub Bachmann. We ended the day at our 8pm reservation at Huacho parrilla for steak, salad, and a nice Patagonian Malbec. The salad was outstanding, the wine was, of course very good, but the steak was a bit overdone (but still delicious) for our tastes. This is where we learned from the nice, English speaking waiter, that “a punto menos” was medium rare and “jugoso” was rare. On our way back to the hotel, the walking street was lively with people dancing, street performers and artists. Cynthia spotted a street artist making incredible paintings with spray paint. We gave him 200 ARP, for a piece he only wanted 150 but figured it would go towards the gas mask, gloves and paint for future pieces. Since there was no way to get it back home unscathed, we gifted it to Natalia at the hotel for all her help.
The next day we wanted to attempt the 8 mile Laguna Negra trail. We caught the #13 direct bus to Colonia Suize, snuck into a campground to use their bathroom (nothing in Colonia Suize opens until noon, not even the public paid bathrooms) then hit the trail. The first mile of the trail was an easy, flat, wide path up but then the trail became quite technical at times where we scrambled over rocks, up and down steep dusty parts, crossed streams on logs, etc. We pressed ourselves to the side at one steep point as two women trail runners leap passed us with the sure footedness of mountain goats. The only down side were the large grey flies that would travel on you or your pack and buzz around your head, in your ear, into your eyes and mouth – truly skilled at annoying you. As Warren picked up a skinny bamboo stick, I asked “What are you going to do with…OW!”, he exclaimed “I got him! Like Karate Kid! I stunned him!” “Yeah, and me too!”, as I rubbed my head. He became rather skilled at stunning or killing them over the next several hours, but I made sure only if they were not on my head. Flies aside, the trail was well marked with red dots of spay paint and around every corned there was postcard worthy scenery. The clear blue water in the river with the mountains in the background was breathtaking. In under 3 hours, even with all the photo stops, we made it the 5.5 miles to the campground at the base of the climb up to the laguna. The climb at this point would be very steep and worrying about catching the bus back, we turned around.
We emerged from the trailhead 5.5 hours after we started and as we headed toward the Berlina brewery a quarter mile down the dusty road, 3 guys called out from behind us. We turned and one guy started walking toward us repeating himself. Not understanding the rapid Spanish, Cynthia pleaded “Despacio por favor!” To which he paused and started walking very slowly toward us. We all laughed and he switched to English asking for directions.
At Berlina, we paid the cashier (caja) for a 2 glass (vaso) token which we handed in at the bar area for one of their delicious IPAs and, for a wonderfully surprised Cynthia, a cider. After enjoying our drinks in the dusty beer garden, we headed down to the Suiza “settlement” which really was a glorified tourist trap. While waiting at the bus stop, we were approached by someone who we finally deciphered would drive us back to town for $400 ARP with another young woman. We gladly accepted not knowing we were in for a sauna of a ride: the windows would not open and the car had no air conditioning. Even though we knew it would be an agonizing 15 minute walk on aching feet to our hotel, we hopped out when the other girl did in order to avoid passing out. In the spirit of almost being microwaved ourselves, we microwaved the leftover pizza from the frig and some empanadas from across the street as we packed up for our bus ride tomorrow to Los Antiguos.