When you think of Patagonia, what comes to mind: a U.S. clothing manufacturer or some distant region of the globe? Well, if you thought globally, do you know where it is located? …hmm. Let’s just say that Patagonia is a sparsely populated region located at the southern end of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile. This unique location comprises the southern section of the Andes Mountains as well as the deserts, steppes and grasslands east of this southern portion of the world’s 4th largest continent. Patagonia reaches from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean of South America.
In any case, our trusty magic carpet found its way to Argentina’s capital city of Buenos Aires, which is north of Patagonia and the beginning of our adventure.
As soon as we slipped from the magic carpet and dusted ourselves off, we headed for a fantastic steak dinner, glasses of Malbec wine, and a tango show that knocked our socks off at the Carlos Gardel Dinner Theater. The dance styles range from the early Creole that is traditional, to outrageous modern versions that were acrobatic as well as musical. “Wow!” is all we could say at the end of the evening. Next we gained entrance to the oldest milonga (dance studio) in Buenos Aires, Confiteria Ideal, for a dance lesson. The movie title says, White Men Can’t Jump in basketball; well, we white Americans can’t dance the tango either! We tried, we really did, but we were pretty awful. It was much more fun to watch a 90-year old woman tango with a 30-something “gigolo” as they glided across the floor with so much style and grace.
Buenos Aires is called the “Paris of South America” and, true to its name, we found it a beautiful experience to wander about seeing the juxtaposition of old and new, rich and poor, churches and cemeteries…even a bridge that looks similar to the Sundial Bridge in Redding, California. It is called Puente de la Mujer (Women's Bridge) and was designed by the same architect, Santiago Calatrava.
The influence of Juan and Eva Peron is still significant and the Peronist party that they initiated is still influential. Years after both have been gone, they engender controversy as to the role they played in changing the political landscape of Argentina and other countries in South America.
Hopping back on the magic carpet we flew west to the east side of the Andes, landing in the city of Bariloche located within the Nahuel Huapi National Park. After development of extensive public works and Alpine-styled architecture, the city emerged in the 1930s and 1940s as a major tourism center with skiing, trekking and mountaineering facilities. Our small hotel fronted on Lake Nahuel Huapi and my room had a front row seat. One evening, 13 of us gathered there for adult beverages and snacks instead of dinner with room to spare.
In 1995, Bariloche made headlines in the international press when it became known as a haven for Nazi war criminals, such as the former SS Hauptsturmführer Erich Priebke. Priebke had been the director of the German School of Bariloche for many years. The German influence is still strong today with many cultural ties to Germanic customs and holidays.
Fishing, whitewater rafting, birdwatching and trekking are popular tourist attractions. We were treated to a delicious barbeque of lamb roasted over an open fire upon returning from horseback riding at the Haneck Hacienda. The Haneck family is part of a growing group of folks who incorporate agri-tourism into their lives in order to maintain their traditional lifestyle.
Although we were sad to leave lovely Bariloche, we were excited to be heading to Chile and its many treasures to share. The drive over the Andes was magnificent. There are a multitude of lakes, miles of rivers and lush vegetation on along the entire route to the Chilean border.
We had an interesting adventure at the border as the animosity between Argentina and Chile once again reared its ugly head. They didn’t seem to be concerned about tourists smuggling drugs across the border, but fruits and nuts, even chewing gum, were another story. “NONE,” “NADA,” “KEIN,” or one might be arrested. They seemed serious! All our luggage was removed from the bus and dogs sniffed each person and each piece of luggage before we were able to reload and cross into Chile. Talk about tough…
But once on our way, we laughed about yet another adventure to be remembered as we headed to Puerto Varas, also known as the “City of Roses.” This idyllic spot enjoys a scenic location close to mountains, lakes, forests and national parks, and the shores of Llanquihue Lake, the second largest in Chile. The conical Osorno Volcano and the snowcapped peaks of Mt. Calbuco and Mt. Tronador are clearly visible from the lakefront.
There is so much to tell of what we experienced on this next leg of our trip. So, Part 2 of my Patagonia adventure resumes next month as we explore southern Chile, Chiloe Island and the home of the HMS Beagle Punta Arenas and the Straits of Magellan.