Tren Patagonico and El Bolson, Rio Negro
So off I went last week, after 3 months in Viedma, and I started my journey with a nice long train ride aboard the Tren Patagonico. The train leaves Viedma once a week on Fridays and heads to San Carlos de Bariloche, literally at the other side of the country, in a 18hrs journey. The tickets vary between 1000 and 1355 pesos depending if you travel with regular seats, Pullman (similar to a Cama in the buses) or in a Camarote (which is a private room with a bunk bed, towel and sink). Good thing for me, as part of my placement in Viedma, the school is responsible to pay for my in and out of town, usually back to Buenos Aires. Because the bus ticket to Bs As was about the same price as the train, I got a nice ride in a Camarote for free!
My host family came with me and waited for the train, as well as some friends who also brought me a really nice gift so I make sure I don’t forget them! The alfajores were also probably the best ones I have had so far… The train left at 6PM and the track goes through lots of small towns in Patagonia that have no other regular access but the train itself. It was a bit dark already and raining so I didn’t get the best views, but I did enjoy a nice dinner in the train restaurant (170 pesos for appetizer, main plate and dessert. Drinks are extra) and a small breakfast (50 pesos for coffee, orange juice, one croissant and a few slices of bread). During high season, you can also go in the cinema wagon. It wasn’t up for us this time as the train wasn’t full occupancy. I actually got lucky as I was alone in my Camarote. I have to say I was surprised to see how comfortable the bed was! Although, typical Argentine thing, the heat was way too high and it got very warm during the night. One thing to note: I have to say I admire all older people who travelled in that train… it moves quite a bit and can be hard to walk around. Also, going to the toilet turned out to be quite a challenge even for me, and I got a bit disappointed when I realized in the morning (as the sun came out) that the toilet consists of a one way hole to the ground under the train. This train track must be quite lovely during high season…
So everything went well and we actually arrived in Bariloche 20minutes before planned arrival, which allowed me to catch the next bus to El Bolson earlier. The drive to Bolson is beautiful through the mountains and takes about 2hrs (95 pesos). When I arrived I went straight to the Moutain Office, which is just across the street from the Via Bariloche bus terminal. I got information about the hikes and the trails that were still opened at this time. I also got a ride from Pachi who is hosting me with her mom in their lovely house in the mountain, about 20 minutes drive from the center of town.
I got in touch with them because Anniken used to work for Colonias, and she is a good friend of my director. Her hospitality is legendary – I stayed in a beautiful private room and was treated with local, organic and home-made food for a few days. We had enough time to talk about Shakespeare, drawing, painting, gardening, civil wars, dinosaurs in Argentina, look at fossilized wood from Las Pampas, eat some typical Argentine and Norwegian meals, save the world with our ideas on gender equality, education, environment… I also used the house as my base camp when I went out in the mountains for a night in the Cerro Piltriquitron Refugio (to be covered in a separate post). The house is a cab drive away from the center of El Bolson, about 45min walk down from the house or 1h15 up from town. It is also difficult to access at night on the mountain road, so it is more or less convenient to actually explore the town and walk around (basically I could easily have paid in cab what I saved on accommodation if I wanted to spend more time in the town itself).
I have heard people talking of El Bolson as the Hippies capital of Argentina. I can relate to that. Although, for my Canadian readers, I would compare the town to Pemberton near Whistler (Whistler being similar to Bariloche here in Argentina). Even their main mountain, the Cerro Piltriquitron, reminds me of Mt. Currie! 3 days a week, they have a large fair in the city center where you can buy lots of artisan art, local food and clothes. I had a very quick look at it when I first arrived, but did not really take time to go shopping. On Sundays, the town is asleep and very quiet. I had to walk around for a while to find a place where to charge my phone credit as all the kioscos where closed (ended up at La Anonima, an Argentine supermarket chain). The town also has a bunch of local breweries and you can try their beers in the local restaurants. Considering I would have liked to hike more in the area, I would need a lot more time here to visit… but the rain and clouds in the forecast made me decide to move on and I will be catching the bus tomorrow back to Bariloche.