Its full name is San Carlos de Bariloche. It's one of Argentina's biggest tourist destinations, and it's my first stop in this great and expansive country. The town itself is chock-full of tourist accommodation, cheap and dear alike, as well as countless bars and discos. Nearby is beautiful Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. And the biggest attraction of all (for me, at least!): just 20 minutes away, is Cerro Catedral — one of the largest alpine ski resorts in South America. I'm here for a week, and enjoying every minute of it.
After nine nights at this place, I finally checked out and said goodbye to Patanuk today. I'm very sad to be leaving: it's the cosiest hostel I've ever stayed at, and I feel like the staff and guests that I've been with over the past week have become my family. It's also sad, because quite a few people are leaving today or tomorrow: Sarah and Jordan, along with Simon and Anna, are heading off west to Chile (yeah, I know — why? :P); and Ed is following my tracks to Buenos Aires pretty soon. So Patanuk is going to be a house with all the children gone. Ah well, I'm sure they'll have a whole new family of guests by next week. Chao, Patanuk: it's been great!
Tonight was, sadly, my last night in Bariloche, and my last night at the amazing hostel of Patanuk. But tonight was also time to celebrate: and we did so with an enormous dinner of roast beef. One of the Spanish-speaking new guests in the hostel cooked this sumptuous banquet, which almost all of us feasted on with delight. Juicy meat, crunchy roast veggies, and mountains of salad got polished to the bone. I sure ain't leaving this town hungry.
Before I came here to Argentina, I'd honestly never even heard of mate (pronounced MA-te, with "ma" as in "muster", and "te" as in "test"), let alone been aware that it's the country's most-prided national beverage. But now that I'm here, I've quickly become educated about it; and to visit Argentina without trying the famous drink would be nothing less than sacrilege. So, when I was offered a cupful today, I gladly accepted. It is quite a bitter tea — but it's not that bad, and I think that LP's description of mate-drinking as being akin to "ingesting horse $hit" is a bit harsh. However, I can see that, to put it mildly, mate is an acquired taste.
It's been a big and exhausting week of snowboarding, the past seven days. Today, I had a well-deserved day of rest. Reading, blogging, eating burgers, drinking hot tea. And realising how seriously, utterly bruised I am! I didn't really feel it until today: but now that it's hit me, I've realised that pretty much every part of my body is aching in the aftermath of repeatedly being knocked and whacked about on the mountain. Could be a little while before I'm fully back into shape. Ah, well: haven't got anything too hectic planned for the next few weeks, apart from more steak-eating and wine-drinking; so shouldn't be too much of a problem.
After six years of skiing, and after one week of snowboarding, I can now say with confidence that I've experienced both of these alpine sports, and that I'm able to talk about them a bit and to compare them. So here's a few reflective points in favour of snowboarding, and a few more in favour of skiing. I'm not making any decisive call here on which one I think is the better — just spelling out my views on the advantages and the disadvantages of each. The verdict, I leave in your hands.
Tonight was Saturday night. I'm in Bariloche. And I've just finished doing seven days of intense snowboarding. I don't know what you would have done like at a time like this — but for me, the appropriate course of action seemed obvious enough. Party! Thus it was that, after dinner tonight, I went with the Patanuk crew down to Wilkenny's, an Irish pub and club in the middle of town, and one of the most popular places to rev up the night in Bariloche. Packed with overpriced imported beer, with all the usual music (well above full volume), and with many a fellow latin-dance-challenged gringo, it made for one hell of a night. ¡Viva Bariloche!
Home-made chocolates are a famous regional speciality of Bariloche. Although Argentina in general is not known for having great chocolate, this part of the country is an exception. This afternoon, I treated myself to two boxes of the stuff from Mamuschka, one of the finest chocolate boutiques in town. I managed to preserve one box, but the other one was devoured by the Patanuk crew for dessert this evening.
This big, furry, Russian-style gorro (lit: "beanie") was purchased this morning, due to my previous beanie's whereabouts being unknown. I tried it on the slopes today, for my final day of snowboarding, and I can attest that it is very warm. Quite stylish, as well. The emblem on the front reads: "Patagonia Argentina" (Patagonia is the name of the region encompassing southern and Andean Argentina).
All good things gotta come to an end, and what a lovely end it was. Today was my 7th and final day of snowboarding, here at the alpine resort of Cerro Catedral. Considering how crap the weather's been all week, I wasn't expecting much this morning: but I was rewarded for my week of perseverance — the sun was shining down on me today! Lovely weather, slightly less crowds, and the best snowboarding so far, all combined to make this about as good a finale for the week as I could have hoped. Got some great piccies today, did plenty of runs that I've never ventured down before, and finished the week with enough bruised body parts to keep me sore for a while, but luckily with no broken bones.
Just a quick note about the unbelievable, too-good-to-be-true wine situation here in Argentina. I was talking to someone on the bus today, and they told me that apparently Argentina produces 5% of the world's wine, and that it consumes 5.2% thereof! That is, despite producing a colossal amount of wine, Argentinians nevertheless drink more wine than they make. This would explain why you don't see that much Argentinian wine anywhere else in the world. It doesn't make it out of the country, and into the global export market. It's too good to let the rest of the world get it's hands on — the locals drink the lot! And considering how even the most basic, US$2 supermarket bottle of red tastes absolutely divine around here, I can believe that fact, despite how economically crazy it may sound.