Wednesday, 9 April 2014


23rd - 26th Mar 2014
General Julio Angentino Roca, who kept changing his appearance.

Left: The spectacular view from my hotel room window over  the lake to the west. My small camera does not do the scene justice.
Bariloche is at the north-west corner of Patagonia on the eastern edge of the Andes, and is part of the Lake District with all that implies vis-a-vis fishing, canoeing, hiking etc. It is a very scenic, and touristy, part of the country.                                                             
I had arrived on the Sunday when the town was 'celebrating', if that is the correct expression, the demonisation of Gen. Roca in particular, and Argentinian  dictators in general. Something to do with the 'disappearance' of many leftist agitators in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Another case of a draconian government taking a rather robust attitude to it's opponents. How many 'disappeared' or were killed is open to wild speculation. 

Suffice to say that there were killings by both sides, but the leftists hold the moral high ground and this is an annual festival to give them the opportunity to wave their red flags (right) and have a jolly holiday. They were making the most of it.

....amidst much dancing, singing and rabble-rousing speeches from a stage in the plaza, later to feature very loud pop music. Any excuse for a piss-up!

General Roca was the man responsible for establishing, no doubt brutally, Argentine control in Patagonia, by effectively removing the hitherto dominant Mapuche nation in the 1880s. He is labelled here (right) 'ASSASSIN'. I wonder why they continue to have a statue of him in the main plaza if he is so unpopular, but I suppose if it wasn't here they wouldn't have a statue to demonstrate against. He must have some enthusiastic supporters as there are still many streets in towns (including Buenos Aires) named after him.
Monday was an 'anti-dictator' holiday in the town and festivities continued, but it was not great for a tourist as most of the shops were shut. Extraordinary architecture predominated. It was all Alpine ski-resort stuff, without snow. Many of the buildings were of this half-timbered chalet style (left). Maybe they do have snow on the mountains in winter with skiing facilities. 
Right: More banging of drums and making whoopee.
Left: Just to add to the Alpine ambiance there were, curiously, St Bernard dogs knocking about the place with barrels of brandy? hanging around their necks. It was 80º in the shade, and these poor animals were panting their hearts out in the heat. They were the ones needing revival with copious supplies of water.                             
I'm not sure if Pedro here was enjoying himself, but he earnt 15 pesos a shot to have his photo taken with you. Kept him in Kennomeat no doubt, (and petrol for his owner's Porsche).

Another curious aspect of the town was the proliferation of chocolate shops. Almost every other shop on the main street sold the stuff with vast shop-front displays. It is 'chocolate city' here. I was told it is something to do with Italian immigrants.                                                               The only thing missing was 'gluwein', but maybe  it was called something different in Español.
Also, as is the case in the touristy parts of all Argentine towns, arrays of mate (pronounced martay) mugs for sale (left). 
....together with the silver filtered straws with which to suck the stuff up the (right).                             The drinking of mate is not just a gimmick. All the locals thrive on it and every bus driver, and probably all the airline pilots for that matter, keep sipping it on the job. They all carry mate mugs, bags of mate leaves and thermoses of hot water to top it up. I was to be subjected to much 'passing around' of the mugs. They insist it is a very healthy and reviving drink. 
Left: Even people relaxing by the lake shore were passing around the mate mugs and thermos. They seem to be addicted to the stuff, and it is passed around with great ceremony amongst a group. It tastes just like green tea as far as I could tell.

The next day I went off fishing. I had insisted on going to a local river (rather than a trip in a boat on a lake). The area is renowned for it's trout, both brown and rainbow,  and fly fishing is 'de rigeur'.
I was met by my guide (or ghillie), Marcello, at 8.00am and off we went in his 4X4 Toyota for what I assumed would be a short trip to a nearby stream. Two hours later we were bumping cross-country over some extremely rugged terrain to the Rio Pichi Leufu which must have been about 50 miles to the east of the town. Beautiful countryside (right) with large cattle estancias.

Left: On down to the river, which involved some severe slopes and much 4-wheel drive. The railway bridge crossed it here; part of the line from Bariloche to Viedma on the east coast. I was hoping to travel on this later, but that's another story.

Marcello, fortunately, spoke excellent English and was most adept at tying on the various flys  and lengths of casts we tried. He exuded great confidence that there were great trout to be caught. Everything was just 'perfecto', a word that I was to hear very often in due course. After about an hour I had actually caught four trout, but all tiddlers ranging from 2" to 4" long!
It was very hot and, to my eye, the water looked far too clear and still to be productive. Lots of changing of flys, from small nymphs to 2" long beetles, took place, and we did indeed see many rather indolent looking trout at various points; presumably not very hungry ones.
We moved up the river to a deep creek where, I was told, along the banks the conditions were absolutely 'perfecto' for catching a large trout. Marcello was wearing the polaroid glasses and I wasn't. After much scrabbling over large rocks he pointed out a large brown trout (not seen by me). I casted. "Perfecto!" he called. "Streep, streep", he yelled (i.e. pull in line), and then "he take fly, strike up!" I hadn't felt anything and then I turned to see Marcello lying on the ground beating his chest in frustration and telling me that a 10lb trout had just spat out my fly. I wish I could have taken a photo of him. I was, according to him, far too slow to react. I'm not so sure. I think we had a picnic lunch at that point.

Anyway, I fished on for another couple of hours with nothing to show for it, not even a nibble. Left: A photo of the great angler not holding a mammoth brown trout.

We eventually called it a day, with Marcello still waxing lyrical about the enormous brown trout that had escaped me due, he hinted, to my utter incompetence.

There were certainly many big fish around, but none too enthusiastic at taking the fly. Apparently the best period for fishing here is November/December. I must remember that in future. It had been an amusing day out with a great view of the impressive countryside and at least the weather had been 'perfecto' if not the fishing.

I had hoped to take the train across the country from Bariloche to Viedma on the east coast. It was advertised (as of two years ago) as a comfortable and interesting journey on one of the last long distance South American railways. I found out at the tourist office that it was now 'suspended', or it went, sometimes, about a quarter of the way across. Having looked at the railway line which we crossed by road, or dirt track to be exact, to and from the fishing I think that it must go very slowly. The line I saw looked very wonky and even overgrown with weeds. I'm afraid that rail travel in South America is now all but totally defunct. Due to the efficiency, comfort and price of the bus services, I suppose the cost of keeping rail traffic going is just not competitive any more.

So, my plan now was to head south through Patagonia on the three day bus ride down Route 40 to El Calafate. 'Route 40' is a renowned journey along the western side of the country and  apparently across, in some places, pretty rough going where the metalled road runs out. We shall see.

Right: Another half-timbered house in Bariloche.

I took due precaution to stock up on emergency rations prior to the impending marathon bus trek which was to start at 0630hrs the next day.

PS. I never did see the party of Japs again. They are probably still holding out in the hills nearby.

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