Wednesday, January 25, 2006

San Martin de los Andes to San Carlos de Bariloche

Near Villa La Angostura, you pick up pavement again and it's a refreshingly smooth (and dust-free) ride to Bariloche. Just north of Bariloche, the road descends from the mountains into the starkly-contrasting, barren pampas. But only for a short time. It skirts around Lago Nahuel Huapi, and returns westward towards the Andes. There, tucked up against the mountains, is Bariloche, in a setting reminiscent of northern Italy. You can understand why Swiss, German and Italian immigrants chose this as the place to recreate a bit of their homeland.

I was arriving at a reasonable hour, so I anticipated better luck in finding a hotel. But it was soon apparent this is high season in the popular city. One of the first hotels I tried, the "Hotel Patagonia" had a room, but at nearly $40 it was expensive (I thought) and "too easy". No character!

So I said "I'll think about it" and went off to explore other options. Another hour or more of searching, and visits to about ten hostels, hotels and campgrounds convinced me options were few. I'd be foolish to pass up that first room. I returned and checked in.

I think of the $40 price, but then consider "I'm an expensive guest": because all my gear is coming in, it's going to get torn down and everything's going to be washed in the sink and bathtub, then hung to dry. It will be a mess!

Laundered my riding suit, boots, clothes, panniers, waterproof bags. Just about everything.

***

Following the hotel manager's recommendation for a typical Argentinean parrilla dinner, I drove out to "El Patacón", at "Kilometer 7" on the highway. (Trivia: the Patacón was the first coin of Argentina.)

I was instructed to try the cordero al asador, lamb roasted over an open wood fire "a la cruz", on a steel cross.

Just inside the door, I was greeted with a "welcome drink": vermouth, lemon and pomello (grapefruit) juice, plus sugar. The restaurant is large, but tonight not particularly busy. My server says it's busier in winter, when the city is snow-covered. (I didn't picture this as a place that would receive snow. It was so warm today!)

On my barber's advice (no jokes), ordered a bottle of wine from "Bodega Del Fin Del Mundo": their 2003 Merlot. (I was told I didn't have to finish it; you can take partial bottles home in Argentina.) The winery is in Neuquen, the Rio Negro region of Patagonia. (It's so strange to think I'm actually in Patagonia! But then Patagonia is a big place, stretching nearly half the length of Argentina.)

The wine is served with nice big crystal glass (the kind that can hold a half-bottle or more.) Plenty of room to swirl, sniff and spit. Not spit. DRINK!

One of the things I fret about in a nice restaurant is not dribbling red wine down the outside of my nice crystal glass. It's so disgusting! By sheer accident I discovered that if you barely touch your lip to the glass, it works much better. (I wonder if Martha knows that? I better write her.)

Caesar salad, excellent lamb (though it's not my favorite meat) and mashed potatoes. Too much food!

I think I lingered three hours over this meal, finishing with "Cabrales" coffee (of Buenos Aires - very good.)

Slow food, indeed!

Looking around, I again notice there are so many pregnant women! Argentina's at it too!

***

With a little time to reflect, and that philosophical perspective that a little wine draws out, I began to think about this journey. Many have remarked that it must be "life changing". I don't know; at least not at this point.

There are many lessons, to be sure. The most unmistakable one: you can't run from your weaknesses. The only way to overcome them is to face them head-on. Time and again (because they will always be with us!) Through practice, overcoming weakness becomes a routine exercise. The converse is also true. Let a weakness dominate, and soon it is habitual.

At the same time, living alongside these thoughts of resolve, confrontation and struggle, there's a softer side, another lesson that's almost as difficult to learn: enjoy yourself. Don't be so serious!

***

I was also thinking about Argentina's windy, gravelly Ruta 40 (to Tierra del Fuego), and what one person on the "Adventure Rider" site said while I was planning this trip: "why would you go that way, when a (better) alternate route (the paved Ruta 3) exists?"

Why batter the bike more than necessary? What is to be gained? It seems most "adventurers" (and I almost hate that term) are compelled to ride Ruta 40. Why?

***

Back at the hotel. I've had difficulty bending my elbows for over a week. The combination of riding long distances and "typing long distances" (computer keyboards) doesn't seem a particularly healthy one!

This has to be the smallest hotel bed yet.

Outside my window, the waves lapping at the shore below is such an incredibly-soothing lullaby.

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