El Bariloche

A few hours after writing of my longing for green mountains my prayers were answered.
The land had started to form itself into great mounds and folds again and hopeful green grasses start to sprout when huge wall of mist rose up to meet us.
We drove straight into this great white wave which stretched across horizon and were engulfed.
After about 20 minute of driving through this milky universe huge shapes began to appear high above us in the mist. Initially so faint as to seem almost imaginary. Then growing stronger and more defined until enormous mountains were revealed in all their gigantic glory.
Green mountains.
We emerged from the cloud as from a magic portal into another world. The afternoon sun cast long shadows on slopes coated in thick pine forest and the valley floors luscious with water meadows.
It was glorious. I drank up our surroundings with thirsty eyes as the bus slowly wended its way up and down among the rocky Titans.

Sadly after three hours of stunning mountain roads Bariloche itself was a disappointment.
It was described to me as being like a little corner of Switzerland in Argentina.
Now I have been to Switzerland. I have seen firsthand the pretty chocolate box perfection of towns like Lausanne and Montreux and I can assure anyone reading this, Bariloche is not like Switzerland.
Bariloche is a ski resort. And the thing about ski resorts is, generally speaking, they are bloody ugly. This is not always noticeable when one is skiing because one is too busy admiring the mountains and frankly, anything looks good if you cover it in enough snow.
It is when the snow melts away to reveal what lies beneath that a places’ true character emerges.
Bariloche has about five buildings all sitting around the central town square which fit the attractive Alpine mould I had been promised, but the rest of the town is an unprepossessing scramble of modern apartment blocks and garish shop fronts.
It is not a bad town. In fact it is frustrating because it could, with a few tweaks, be lovely. It should be lovely. It lies next to an undeniably picturesque lake from whose opposite shores mountains rise blue through the haze.
But the waterfront in Bariloche seems to have been forgotten and left to go to seed.
The walkway along the lake looks down on a dispiriting dirty grey gravel “beach” and other even less promising attractions such as an empty swimming pool filled instead with graffiti.
Very few bars or restaurants overlook what is surely the town’s biggest asset.
The beauty of the mountainous landscape around Bariloche is not visible from the town and one must take a bus to reach the places where this can be admired.
I know Bariloche is most famous for its skiing and it seems it has not quite made the successful transition to a summer destination, despite the friendliness of the people and generally relaxed welcoming atmosphere of the town.
In Bariloche’s defence I think I came with high expectations and had they been lower it may have pleased me more.


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