If one must spend the holidays away from friends and family, the next best thing is to be somewhere beautiful. Somewhere beautiful like San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina. Bariloche has to be one of the best locations on earth to spend Christmas. Perched on the edge of a huge and ridiculously blue lake, surrounded by snow-capped peaks with pine forests growing all around… I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a more Christmassy town. We arrived in Bariloche a few days before Christmas and were excited to be there for the holiday. To top it all off, our apartment had an amazing view over the town and lake.
We bought a few apple-cinnamon candles to try to conjure up the smell of Christmas.
Bariloche is best experienced by car as there are many incredible sights spread throughout the nearby national park. So we decided our christmas gift to ourselves would be to rent a car during our time there. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to find an automatic car in South America, and neither of us have learned to drive manuals. Luckily we found one available after visiting around five rental companies. The downside was that the price was double for the automatic, but we decided it would be worth it to be able to fully experience the national park. While filling out the paperwork for the car, we realized Denny’s license had just expired on his birthday, so Sarah was begrudgingly forced to drive the rental car.
Our traditional Christmas breakfast includes Cowboy Quiche, a rich quiche stuffed with bacon, cheese and onions. This year ham had to suffice instead of bacon (as bacon’s impossible to find in Argentina), but it was still tasty.
After hours of driving over rough dirt roads, we arrived at the black glacier at the base of the mountain. As the white glacier above calves from the top of the mountain, the ice falls and becomes part of the black glacier below, colored dark brown by the dirt and sediment of the valley. The glacial ice-melt forms a unique grey colored lake at its mouth.
Our next stop was Pucón, Chile, another lakeside town. On our way to Pucón we had to switch buses in Osorno, Chile. Which was all well and good until we arrived in Osorno and learned there was only one seat left on the only bus going to Pucón that day. So, we had to go find a hotel in Osorno and hang out for 24 hours. We don’t have any photos of our time in Osorno because we were frustrated and tired and bickering and Sarah had a terrible migraine. Hey, it can’t all be mountaintop views and cowboy quiche.
We arrived in Pucón a day late but it was worth the hassle. Pucón sits in the shadow of the
Lonely Mountain Villarica Volcano, one of Chile’s most active volcanos, and the surrounding nature is nearly as beautiful as Bariloche.
We booked the treehouse room at our hostel in Pucón. It was a tiny room with barely space for anything other than the bed, but it was cozy and quirky and had a view of the lake.
The next morning we set off to climb Villarica. Climbing a volcano seems pretty daunting, and we were both nervous about making it to the top, but in the end it was surprisingly doable. Our guides were super helpful and provided all the gear needed for the trek.
The last major eruption of the volcano was in 1971, when this old ski-lift was destroyed.
Swimming in the clouds at the top of the world.
After the climb, we pulled our mini sleds out of our packs and sledded down the volcano. What took us 4 hours to climb up took a little over an hour to sled down. Unfortunately we couldn’t get any photos of the sledding, but imagine us sitting on little pieces of plastic clipped in to our belts, using our ice-axes as a brake and you get the idea.
One of our favorite things about Chile is the abundance of avocado. They put it on everything here, sandwiches, burgers, salads, and best of all, hot dogs. Chileans LOAD UP their hot dogs with mounds of mayo and guacamole and I don’t even know what else. We order ours with just guac and they’re delicious.
The day after the climb, we took a tour to Geometricas thermal hot springs. You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful hot springs. Geometricas is located in a narrow canyon, thick with lush greenery and shrouded in steam.
After a few days on the beach we moved on to Santiago. The city was more interesting than we expected, but the heat was sweltering and almost unbearable while walking around town.
We spent hours in the Museum of Human Rights, listening to the audio guides and learning about the dictatorship that controlled Chile from 1973 to 1990 under Pinochet. It is a sad fact that Pinochet came to power via a coup d’etat that was backed by the United States. During the military dictatorship, thousands of Chileans were placed in camps and tortured and many went missing and were never heard from again. The museum was a fascinating and sobering experience.
We decided to walk down the hill rather than take the funicular back down. After about a half an hour of walking we realized we were heading the wrong direction and had to hike back up the top of the hill to get to the correct path down the mountain. We decided to cool off and try Mote con huesillos, a popular Chilean drink. It’s sort of a super sweet peach tea with a whole peach inside and full of wheat grains.
The dilapidated brown building was built to be a luxury hotel at the time when this street was the ritzy-est avenue in Latin America. Unfortunately it was completed a year after the opening of the Panama Canal and its vision was never fulfilled. The last remaining descendant of the Italian family that built it is a 90 year old lady who lives alone in the gigantic building and is lovingly known as La Nonna by the citizens of Valparaiso.
Up next: Coasting through Chile
Previous: Wine & Wildlife
Your’s in adventure,
Sarah & Denny