10 November 2014

The Big Blog Exchange 2014: The scenic beauty of northern Patagonia

When Hostelling International (HI) asked me in October the places I'd like to visit on my Big Blog Exchange to Argentina (and being the Geography nerd that I am), three immediately sprang to mind, i.e. the Pampas, the Andes and Patagonia - the three most important and significant geographical regions in this great South American nation.

I was being greedy of course; they was no way they could possibly (and realistically) accommodate my request on a 10-day exchange to a country nearly 4,000 km long and 1,500 km wide.  By they tried - I know they did - and in the end, very kindly obliged me with excursions to the last two.

I recently wrote about my dream visit to the Andes.  I'd like to now share with you what I saw on my visit to northern Patagonia just a few days ago.  For this leg of my journey through Argentina, I took a 17-hour, 1,225 km southbound overnight bus from Mendoza in the central western part of the country to San Carlos de Bariloche, a quaint and charming alpine resort town at the foothills of the Andes in northern Patagonia.  The entire night, the thermometer reading in the bus more or less hovered in the region of 7°C.  By late-morning, however, this had plummeted to an average of 3°C.  I knew then that we were close to Patagonia because this is where it starts to get really cold - and of course, scenic - in Argentina.

Then, after a few more turns, this.

Seated at the front on the upper deck of the bus, my eyes were literally feasting on the spectacular scenery that unfolded with the turning of each corner.  White snow-capped mountains, green vegetation and blue lakes; this was way too much for my senses to savour at one go.

I arrived in San Carlos de Bariloche shortly after midday and found this charming (and windy!) town no less picturesque.  After dropping off my baggage at the local HI hostel, I went for a walk on the promenade overlooking the lake; the cold and strong wind hindered me not from staying an hour or so to snap these marvellous pictures.

The next day, HI planned out for me two activities.  The first was a brief visit to the famous Black Glacier at Nahuel Huapi National Park, (sadly) a receding glacier.  Its black colour is caused by the constant fall of mud and rocks from the top of the glacier due to increasing temperatures in the region.  Quite a sight to behold.

From there, the tour proceeded to the main activity of the day - a 5-hour, 13km deep into the lush Nahuel Huapi National Park up to the viewing point of Mount Tronado (or "thunder" in English).  It is so-named because of the constant thunder-like sound it produces as the result of ice breaking as new crevasses are formed.

After trekking through lush vegetation for two and a half hours, we finally arrived at the lookout point.  The view from there was absolutely breathtaking with Mount Tronado literally looming above our heads.  Unfortunately by then, the weather had turned and we had to turn back after spending only about 30 minutes there.  It was of course another two and a half hours and 6.5km of trekking back to the starting point.

My day out in the national park will always stay with me for two reasons.  The first is because I've longed to visit Patagonia my entire life.  The Big Blog Exchange has given me the opportunity to not only see the region but also taken me through its heartland.  The second reason is this; I'd probably done more exercise in those five hours than I have in the last five years.  In fact, I got a virtual applause from my wife on social media for accomplishing the feat!

I'm into the final day of my eye-opening exchange to Argentina as I write.  However, this will not be my last post with regards the exchange; I will be writing at least two more on my experiences in this beautiful country.

I leave northern Patagonia with a heavy heart and hope very much to return one day with my wife to let her experience and see first-hand the splendour of the place.  Thank you, HI, for this fantastic opportunity.  From me in Buenos Aires, chao.

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