I’m in a cafe in Bariloche. The town in the breathtaking Patagonia region of Argentina serves as a launchpad for mountaineers, hikers, skiers, campers and travelers headed to all points, but mostly south to the end of the American continent and its spectacular glaciers. The place is packed. I am hearing many languages: Hebrew. German. Italian. Dutch. English. Spanish. French. Some others I can’t quite discern. These are people who absolutely love the outdoors. Hardcore climbers. Extreme sports enthusiasts. They’ve somehow made it to Patagonia, despite the challenges getting here, not to mention spending any time here under current conditions.
There haven’t been commercial flights to Bariloche since last June. For these last eight months, the airport has been closed because of an erupting volcano and the ash it has been blasting into the air. Visibility on some days here is down to almost nothing. The volcanic ashhangs in the air, looks like heavy fog, falls from the sky and coats everything. There’s a thick layer of the stuff on the ground, and at first glance it looks like a fine gray sand.
It makes people cough and sneeze and stings the eyes when the wind kicks it up. I’ve had just three days of this. Imagine how it has impacted the people who have lived with it for months. Economically, it hasn’t been good, they say. Tourism is down. Way down. The only travelers in town are the hearty souls who have opted to make the 22-hour road trip from Buenos Airesor from other parts overland. They are the people now in the cafe who are here to conquer nature: a mountain covered in ice; a rushing river; a few days surviving in the woods. Nothing, not even an erupting volcano, was going to keep this crowd away. Just to look at them you can tell they live and breathe the outdoors.
I’m here with them. Not much was going to keep me away either. I have been looking forward to Patagonia for years. I checked news reports about the volcanic eruption and all official reports indicate it’s safe to be here. And yet, this isn’t exactly how I had hoped to experience Patagonia.
My plan for Patagonia: to head to the southern tip of South America, with stops in Punta Arenas, Chile, and Ushuai, Argentina. Beyond that lies Antarctica. But things don’t always go according to plan. With the volcanic ash, I had decided to cut short my trip in Bariloche and head to El Bolsón, which by all accounts is a cool place to visit in Argentina.
From there, to Perito Moreno glacier. But south of El Bolsón a destructive forest fire rages on. It has destroyed homes and forced evacuations. It has also closed the roads – albeit temporarily – south. So now I am rethinking and redrawing my plans. Perhaps go as far as El Bolsón now, then near the end of my three-year journey, return to Patagonia or southern Chile, to experienced what I’ve missed. This new plan would allow me to get back to Buenos Aires, cross by ferry to Uruguay and get to Brazil in time for carnival.
I had planned to be back in Santiago, Chile, anyway by 2013, on my way from Easter Islands, so it makes good sense to get to the rest of Argentina and Chile then. And hopefully then, there won’t be any forest fires or erupting volcanoes. Hopefully.
- Roll Over Beethoven – Bariloche, Argentina (travelpod.com)
- Patagonia to the Lakes district – San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina (travelpod.com)
- Buenos Aires: Why The Long Face? (miketendstotravel.com)
- Merry Christmas from Dream View, Patagonia – San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina (travelpod.com)
- Don’t be afraid of Argentina: Perth attack victim (smh.com.au)