Friday, 23 January 2009

New year with a random local family in the middle of nowhere

Even though it was official day 1 of the tour, I wasn't due to meet the tour people until the evening so still had the day to myself. Went up a cable car to Cerro Otto where you get good views over the lake. Had a walk round too but couldn't really get far, so decided to head to Cerro Catedral, which is about 2,500m high. Unfortunately I didn't make it to the top though - to buy a ticket for the chairlift was taking forever with some inefficient system I never did work out and there were giant armies of noisy students (the worst kind) already in the queue for the lift, so by the time I'd got up I would have had to come back.

All wasn't lost from the day though as I managed to get a photo (without getting caught) of two Bariloche policewomen. Their uniform includes a reasonably short skirt and black high-heeled knee high leather boots. Not that practical for chasing criminals in but who cares about that!

Went to meet my tour people in the evening. The omens were good when I met my roommate for the trip not in the room but in the hotel bar! We waited an hour for everyone else but then decided to head to the pub and wait there. When we left a note at the hotel to say where we were, the receptionist tells us the group were delayed - the tour started in Santiago and picks others up in Bariloche - and won't arrive for another 4 hours. Might have been useful to tell us this earlier maybe, but never mind. So had a couple of beers and then an absolutely enormous steak. The tour people finally turned up at 11.30pm so we went for another drink with them. Apparently they were delayed getting across the border and even bribery didn't work!

The other people who joined the tour in Barlioche were Gary and Denise, an Australian couple. As they had spent twenty something hours flying, they hadn't heard the cricket score so I took great pleasure announcing that Australia had haemorrhaged another winning position and lost the Boxing Day test to South Africa...and the series!

Next day was a free day in Bariloche. Most of the group headed towards the Circuito Chico that I'd already been to so I decided to have another go at getting to the top of Cerro Catedral. The buses are every hour and a half and having just missed one I think I was at the wrong bus stop for the next one (even though it was the same stop as I'd used the previous day) but eventually did get on a bus. At the chairlift there was an even bigger queue of students there - I never did find out why...or why they were all wearing matching anoraks - but there was a cable car running as well so got up on that. Was well worth it too as I could see for miles over several lakes and valleys. Was pretty spectacular.

I knew I'd miss the last cable car back down so walked down. It is difficult to see which path you need going down so ended up having to 'off-road' down some bits but following the chairlift path. Was quite fun though and managed not to fall over and break anything.

Group meal that evening, so the end of day 2 of the tour and I actually got to meet the tour group properly.

Next day was spent entirely on the bus pretty much. It was new years eve and our stopover that night was to be Perito Moreno, a tiny town (nowhere near the glacier of the same name) which if you found it on a map you will notice it is precisely in the middle of nowhere. The tour company had real trouble booking both a hotel and a restaurant that would open for us. They did in the end, but we were concerned about whether we'd be able to buy booze for new years drinking. So when we stopped for petrol in the similarly small town of Rio Mayo we found the supermarket and grabbed some beers...but they refused to serve us because the only way you can buy new beers is to bring empty bottles back. We even offered to pay more but they weren't interested. It's no wonder Argentina's economy is in trouble with capitalism like that! It also begs the question how kids can take up drinking when you need to start with empties, although I'm sure they find a way. So we were still without alcohol. Not good.

But luckily the off license in Perito Moreno was still open when we arrived so we stocked up. Once we had the beer though there was an issue with how to keep it cool as we had no fridge to keep it in, and you wouldn't want a warm beer! So myself and Patrick managed to fill a carrier bag with cold water, put the beers in and stand it in the bath without it all spilling. The carrier bag did not have holes in it so small children could suffocate, but the most important thing is you can keep your beers cool!

We were the only ones in the restaurant so it was looking for a while like we might see the new year in with beers on the tour bus. But then approaching midnight seemingly the whole family of the restaurant owners piled in and a big family knees up ensued! So we stayed and it was good fun. There was music and beer and we all danced with various elderly family members. Two blond Dutch girls also turned up at 11.59pm obviously realising this was the only party in town, metaphorically and literally probably! So new year was fun for its randomness really!

We did then head onto the tour bus for some more drink and some cards. At one point, Nikki, the tour leader and Antje started pole dancing! With their clothes on its worth pointing out, but what must their poor mothers have thought...Nikki's folks were actually on the tour so they probably did find out!

Next day was another full day on the bus, but was pretty subdued due to the previous night's exploits. Destination was El Chalten, a tourist town near the Fitzroy glacier and some good trekking. That night I went for a wander round, but managed to get lost trying to find the hotel, my lack of navigational skills coming to the fore again. Cleverly I couldn't remember what the hotel was called or an address! But when I was wandering round a Japanese girl asked me for directions, so I had to sheepishly explain I was lost too! I did shortly find my hotel though so I went back to find her as I then knew where we were on the map.

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