Patagonia, that humongous swath of land, which makes up the southern half of Argentina, is also its least populated region. Only a handful of towns exist within, most of them established in the late 19th or early 20th-centuries. San Carlos de Bariloche, in the Patagonian province of Rio Negro, is one of its better known ones.
A favored winter sports destination by Argentines, Chileans and Brazilians alike, it is equally popular in the summer months, attracting hikers and mountaineers from across the continent. Not one to betray its European roots, Bariloche is also known for its alpine-style architecture, specialty chocolate shops, and an ever-expanding roster of microbreweries.
Malbec is probably the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Mendoza. Possibly Mt. Aconcagua, for those more daring. Other than being a gateway to wine country, the city of Mendoza itself rarely finds mention. There are no riveting edifices; no monuments or museums of note, not even an imposing Iglesia. Taking cue from that, the city administration took it upon themselves to make the town as inviting as possible, no matter how long you choose to spend in it.
The result: Mendoza today is a perfectly pleasant city to amble around in, dotted with beautifully kept plazas, and plenty of exciting dining destinations. Boasting wide tree-lined streets, it’s also incredibly green. Surprising, when you consider it’s essentially located in a desert. Back in the day though, town planners were smart enough to channel the runoff from the precordillera (Andean foothills), through a network of irrigation channels, and the results are there for all to see…
I was back in Rio a little over a month after my first visit, ostensibly to take due advantage of my Brazilian visa – one that required four trips to their consulate in BA to obtain. And although that was a strong enough reason to return, in reality, I was there to experience first hand that once-in-every-four-years spectacle, the Summer Olympics.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve cracked open a can of beer that early in the morning, but after having waited in a long line for over an hour, it was the best feeling in the world. And nothing more uplifting than to do so at the morning track and field session at Rio’s Olympic Stadium…
We’ve been in bumper-to-bumper traffic for the last mile or so, but the slow progress doesn’t bother me much. Cosme Velho is an attractive neighborhood; tree-lined streets, the occasional old mansion, and a vibrant street life. The slower speed also means I can pay close attention to the signs. A year plus of Spanish has definitely helped, and I can understand, with some degree of ease, a lot of the words I see. Speaking them out aloud though, is another matter altogether. My first stumbling block – asking my cab driver for change!
Friday 3:15 PM, The Summit.
Most first-time visitors to Rio will end up going to Cosme Velho, if nothing else, than to get up to the storied Corcovado Mountain, home to the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer.
It’s a short wait for me at the lower terminus of Trem do Corcovado, a rack railway that climbs to a height of 2329-feet or 710-meters. All of 25-minutes long, it’s a spectacular ride to the summit. But nothing, absolutely nothing – no amount of high-definition photos or 360° videos – can prepare you for the incredibly exhilarating views at Corcovado. Get past the hordes of selfie-seekers, claim your share of digital memories, and when that’s all done, pat yourself on the back for having made one of the best decisions of your life – visiting Rio.
The demise of long-distance train travel in Argentina followed closely on the heels of the United States. Vastly improved highways, comfortable overnight buses, competitive fares; you get the picture. By the 60s, passenger trains were but a shadow of themselves. So if you were to ask any sane individual today, how they’d get across the length and breadth of this vast country, you’ll probably get “by bus or plane” as their reply.
But there has been a bit of a resurgence in the past few years – new long-distance trains, a revised schedule; and you’d never have expected it, online bookings too! So with an e-ticket in hand, I find myself on Platform 8 of Estacíon Retiro one Friday evening, waiting to board the 20:38 departure of train 269, Buenos Aires to Córdoba.
A blast of warm, salty air greets us as we step off the plane at Gustavo Rojas Pinilla International Airport. Breathing is suddenly a lot easier, and my track jacket feels quite redundant in 29C (84F) weather. After a night spent in Bogotá, San Andrés certainly feels like the sea change we needed.
Armando has already spotted us at the left-luggage area, and is quick to offer his services. We negotiate with him for 20,000 COP (~$7) for the 20-minute ride down to San Luis, a little village on the southeast of the island. Filing into his dated Chevrolet, we follow the coastal road south, past many colorful homes, a smattering of Baptist Churches, and several vendors hawking coconuts.
Buggies line the narrow lane leading to Donde Francesca, a popular seafood eatery located on San Luis‘s sprawling beach. Lunch hour is busy here, and aptly so. Far removed from the commercial hustle of the island’s main town, the food here is excellent, and the setting is hard to beat…
The glacier-fed waters of Lago Argentino, the country’s largest freshwater lake, shimmer in the late afternoon sun. Marking the northern limits of Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, its striking turquoise color is a sight to behold. On the road to El Calafate, windswept plains, so characteristic of this part of the country, stretch far into the horizon. Over us, an incredible, otherworldly Patagonia sky…