Argentina - Bariloche - Circuito Chico - Road

Bariloche

After crossing the Andes into Argentina, I journeyed to Bariloche via the scenic Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Route). Flanked by the snow-capped Andes, the legendary Lake District road winds between glacier-fed lakes, dense pine forests, and blooming wildflowers. The picture-perfect scenery on this section of the Ruta 40 is among the most spectacular in Patagonia.

Bariloche has the atmosphere of a Swiss Alps village, with alpine-style architecture, chocolate shops, and Saint Bernard dogs. After strolling through Centro Civico and posing for a photo with a Saint Bernard, I found a travel agency to arrange for a round-trip transfer to Pampa Linda. Pampa Linda is the starting point of a hike to Laguna Ilón, which my Lonely Planet guidebook describes as “A strenuous hike that involves fording Rio Alerce and a steep, tough section that leads to the gorgeous namesake lake.” While it took a lot of gesturing and pointing to the map in my guidebook, my patient, Spanish-speaking travel agent booked the trip.

The next morning I rented a mountain bike at Circuito Chico Adventure. The guy at the bike shop must of have read my mind when he handed me a bright orange vest to wear because he looked me in the eye and told me that wearing the garment is mandatory. I didn’t wear a vest (or helmet) when learning to ride a bike in the ’70s and haven’t been keeping pace with society’s ever-growing safety consciousness. I obeyed the rules and donned the vest as he gave me a map and phone number to call if becoming too tired to complete the circuit. I cockily informed him that completing the route wouldn’t be a problem, and then I peddled off to Circuito Chico, a 17-mile loop around Lago Moreno.

Near the start of the circuit, I shifted to a low gear and started climbing the first mountain. The hill was long and steep, and my heart was pounding while peddling past others in orange vests pushing their bikes. The reward at the top of the mountain is Punto Panoramico, a beautiful panoramic viewpoint of Lago Moreno Oeste. While admiring the view, I wondered if I wouldn’t be able to complete the entire 17-mile loop and would have to make the call of shame to the bike outfitter. The first mountain turned out to be the steepest–you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to complete the circuit.

The Circuito Chico gave me a biker’s high, with endorphin-inducing, uphill peddling followed by exhilarating downhill coasting at breakneck speeds.
I frequently stopped to take photos of the stunning scenery and reward myself with beers at breweries and restaurants. Other stops included a hike on Sendero de los Arrayanes and a photo stop on the grounds of the 5-star Llao Llao Hotel. I must have looked out of place at the luxury hotel in my bright orange vest because a security guard asked me to leave. After returning the bike to Circuito Chico Adventure, I rode a bus back to my 1-star campsite.

When boarding a van the next morning for a day hike, I was surprised to find that the rest of the passengers were seniors. I quickly realized that I wasn’t successfully communicating with the travel agent a couple of days earlier. Instead of being transferred to the trailhead, I was on a driving tour of Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. I wanted to spend the day hiking, not sightseeing through the windows of a van, but I made the best of my mistake. The tour guide was very accommodating, speaking with me one-on-one in English after guiding to the rest of the group in Spanish.

We exited the van when arriving at the Ventisquero Negro lookout, a spectacular view of Monte Tronador’s two glaciers. Blocks of ice from the mountain’s high glacier tumble onto its low glacier, which is “negro” from mixing with rocks and soil. The negro glacier descends into a gray glacial lake at the base of the mountain. Monte Tronador lives up to its name (Thunderer) when large chunks of ice fall from its glaciers, producing a thundering sound that ignites applause from its onlookers. The lookout was almost worth missing out on the hike.

I left the Argentinian Lake District the next morning, eager to continue onward to El Chaltén, Argentina’s trekking mecca.