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Friday, November 27, 2009

It's All About The View (Or Not)

There are basically two ways to enjoy views of Bariloche's numerous interlocking lakes: either by gazing down upon them from an elevated point or getting so close to the water's edge that you can stick a couple of toes into it.

A ski destination in winter, Bariloche's peaks are accessible not only by cable car, but also by chairlifts. Outside of the ski season, the chairlifts continue to operate, bringing eager tourists to elevated observation decks where they can revel in a gorgeous endless panorama of the surrounding lakes.

Excited by the appearance of the sun, we hopped onto a local bus which deposited us at Cerro Campanero, where we were scooped up by a moving line of cold metal chairs hanging precariously from a wire.

As we looked back towards the town centre from our sky escalator, the lakes put their bluest faces forward and looked pretty for the camera.

See, nice, isn't it?

The skies on the other side of the mountain, however, were in the foulest of moods. The lakes caught on to the heavens' dark vibes and scowled back at us, sullen and cranky.

Okaaaay, some lakes don't feel like having their picture taken today

Those grumpy party-poopers literally turned a cold shoulder on us and our cameras, and sent a strong gust of wind to bite at our heels (and everything above them.) They succeeded in chasing us back down the mountain pronto. And that's the tale of our short visit to Cerro Campanero. Humph.

We had booked a rental car for the much-anticipated Seven Lakes Drive the next day. We had been hoping that another couple who might be interested in doing the drive would show up at the hostel after we checked in. No such luck though. We invited Lai Fun, a girl from Hong Kong and Paulo, a guy from Dunnowhere (we asked, but he said "it's complicated") to come along with us. But Lai Fun managed to secure a coveted spot (the tours were very full) on a horseback riding excursion on the same day, and Paulo dumped us soon after in favour of a special local lunch available only on that day of the week. So it was just our army of two for this side trip.

The rented Fiat was pretty much crap - scratched, dented and skewed axles. As with our rental car in Puerto Madryn, the car didn't have power locking and automated windows, which was okay. But woe was us - the cigarette lighter wasn't working.

Huh? Since when did we pick up the smoking habit? Or have we been closet smokers all along?

Heh, neither. The cigarette lighter is for powering our RoadTrip - an iPod dock that transmits the music through the car radio and charges our music players at the same time. Very handy for long trips. And very important too. It's a big deal because it lets Dannie sing along to his favourite tunes. And as long as Dannie can sing, Dannie will not get sleepy. And as long as Dannie does not fall asleep, Dannie can drive. For hours straight. As long as he gets to stop for a pee break in the bushes.

As for me, sure, I can drive too. But it's a stressful experience for both driver and passenger. I'm much more talented at being the all-in-one navigator, music deejay, hospitality tent (chips, chocolate, water, tissue, anyone?) and sightseer. This way, both of us get to relax on a long drive and no one gets physically hurt (say, sharp potato chip in eye - just an example) in any in-vehicle arguments that might surface.

The catches in the cigarette lighter were broken, so we couldn't lock our RoadTrip in the holder, without it falling to the floor with a loud "thunk!" every time the car went over anything bigger than a pebble - which was pretty often on an unpaved gravel road. But it's absolutely necessary to feed Dannie a continuous bout of the King of Pop, Queen, Prince (his royal family), soundtracks from musicals and quirky originals from our favourite local a Capella group Budak Pantai (whose year-end performance and new CD we are missing! Boo!) So I gallantly held my left arm out at an awkward angle for a good part of the trip to support the RoadTrip properly, so that it could play non-stop music *cramp*

Bariloche isn't named Argentina's Lake District for nothing. Sure, there are lakes. There is also the cold wet omnipresent gloom similarly abound in it's English counterpart in the Lake District of Cumbria.

The scenery along the route is beautiful. But does it have to be so wet?

It's funny how as kids, we would find rainy days still good (in fact, more fun) for playing outdoors. But once we became boring old stick-in-the-mud adults, we get so bogged down by the slightest hint of wet weather. When the sky sulks, so do we, over inconveniences like waterlogged shoes, icky feet, damp hair, wet clothes, etc.

I was ten when my family was staying in England and that year, for my sister's birthday, we drove to the Lake District and spent a week at Lake Windermere. It was November. It was autumn. It must have been cold. It must have been wet. But all I remember is us kids squeezing our feet into our shiny, patent, plasticky Wellington boots ("wellies", just like Paddington Bear!) - yellow for me, red for my sister and blue for my brother. Donning raincoats, we stomped through piles of red, orange and yellow leaves to the lake, in search of ducks to feed.

Yet under the same drizzly conditions in Argentina, I spent the initial part of the Seven Lakes Drive in a "bah! humbug!" mood under the relentless rainy assault, bemoaning how difficult it was to take good photos under such challenging lighting conditions. But after a while, I learnt to embrace the weather conditions that lent the Lake District it's moist misty beauty and accepted that my photos weren't going to be great, but that I would enjoy the experience anyway. Good views, or none.

Serene, not dull. Introspective, not gloomy. Subtle, not colourless. (At least that's what I tried to tell myself)

My alpaca comes out of the car to pose amidst the reflections in the lake (and throw pebbles to mar the perfect stillness.)

Wildflowers add a touch of sunshine to the scene

The Seven Lakes Drive is so named because it snakes it's way through a mountain route adorned with, well, seven lakes. Honestly, we couldn't tell where one lake ended and another started. At times, it felt like we were just driving along one big lake! We gave up counting after (what we think was) Lake No.2.

Perfect stillness in Lake No. Idontknowwhat.

Whole trees reflected in the lake

Traveling north, the road brings visitors to the lovely alpine-like village (I don't think it's correct to call it "alpine" since it was located in the Andes?) of San Martin de los Andes (see what I mean!)

We scurried into a pizzeria for shelter and food. But not before I walked into a tree while getting out of the car and trying to avoid the huge kerbside puddle, because I couldn't see very clearly from under my hood :-/ The staff at the pizza place were so nice as to light the furnace specially for us (there was no one else in the cafe) when they saw me rubbing my hands together for warmth *beam* Service like this warms the cockles of your heart, doesn't it? (Actually no - not as much as the hot pizza warmed the insides of my tummy.)

With a happy warm gooey mixture of ham, cheese and crust bouncing inside us, we u-turned and bumped along the gravel road to the remaining lakes and back towards Bariloche.

It's not all about the lakes only - there are pretty rivers to stop for too

Lush lakeside foliage (even though it was limited to just one side of the lake - the other side looked rather bald)

A scene so dark that it is better expressed in monochrome

Not helping to brighten up the picture in my black ensemble. Except maybe for the shoes.

We took a different road back to town, climbing a mountain pass and finding ourselves in some unlikely scenery for the gentle Lake District. The rolling hills and lush slopes were replaced by steep vertical cliffs and a craggy mesa-and-butte skyline, more fitting for dry desert environments than this wet soppy one.

The seemingly endless road where somebody kept whining, "Baby! Where are you bringing me to?!?!?!"

A face sticks out from the crowd

Back in Bariloche, we still had the use of the car for another 2 hours, so we drove into the town centre for helado at Jauja's cafe. You are never too cold (nor too old!) for ice-cream!

Half a kilo of gelato makes Dannie a happy manny. Clockwise from top: white chocolate, "fruits of the woods", peanut butter, calafate with goat's milk, and my favourite - chocolate profundo.

Yes, whether it's about perfect lake views or not, the Lake District is one of Argentina's most beautiful places.

Even though it can be such a wet blanket.


Dale said...

Beautiful pics....

As for the Roadtrip, you could practice using your Big Toe and 2nd toe to hold the plus in place. That way you don't have to lean down :p

Yi Lin said...

Thanks Dale!

Actually, I'm more prone to toe cramps than backaches! Anyway, we got it settled for the return journey - I pulled my seat really near the dashboard and the Roadtrip rested on the seat. Luckily I've short legs... can tahan the cramped space.

michael loh bp said...

HI Hi, seems like you had a good time. We had a good time singing as well...next time then!

Yi Lin said...

Hi Michael,

Wow, it's an honour to have you leave a comment on our blog. Yes, we're having fun but are looking forward to coming home soon. I'm sure Budak's concert was a hit - heard that tickets were sold out for some nights. We managed to get our hands on the songs from Budak's latest album though - and they really made our long overnight bus rides ALOT more enjoyable!

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