Bariloche, a slice of paradise


After the spectacular scenery of Patagonia, I took a bus back from El Chaltén to the airport at El Calafate and flew up to Bariloche, or San Carlos de Bariloche, to give it its full title. This was going to be my last flight for a while, until I reached Peru in fact, but I had decided when back in Helsinki that it would take too much of my time to bus that far down into Patagonia and then back out again. And, even though I appear to be rushing from one destination to another, there’s a lot of sitting around waiting to arrive, whether on a bus, waiting at a terminal, or at one of the occasional stops along the way in the middle of what seems like nowhere. 

Down in Patagonia, there’s definitely a kind of ‘frontier town’ feel going on, whereas Bariloche has a more permanent, been-around-for-a-while, moneyed feel to it. Sure, ‘fast and furious’ tourism still happens, like your two week skiing trip in the winter, or your horse riding, hiking, rafting, in the summer. But it doesn’t take much imagination to realise that the best way to experience the place would be to spend the whole summer or winter season taking it easy, with occasional bursts of outdoor activity or maybe a more leisurely jaunt to a nearby town. As the taxi from the airport drove through the town centre and continued alongside Lake Nahuel Huapi towards my AirBnB accommodation, the impressive villas with their private driveways made it easy to understand why many of the well-off families in Buenos Aires would have a second home here.

I was feeling physically and mentally drained after Patagonia and would have liked nothing better than to stop and take it easy myself. Even before leaving Helsinki, I’d been shooting in the studio the whole week prior to my departure and had only the weekend to finalise last minute stuff and pack all the gear. I hadn’t stopped shooting from the moment I arrived in Argentina, walking ridiculous amounts each day, getting back to base and then trying to organise the material before it all spiralled out of control. This continuous ‘where’s the next picture’ mode was going to mess me up in no time at all if I didn’t do something to take my foot off the pedal. Luckily, I arrived at Adriana’s home, my AirBnb host for the next few days, and it didn’t take her long to realise that this wired person on her doorstep needed to take a deep breath and reboot, maybe even shut down for a while.

Originally from Buenos Aires, she’d been coming to Bariloche with her young family over many years and realised early on that the space and pace of life here suited her much better than in the capital, so she stayed. It reminded me of the decision my wife and I made to get out of London and head to Helsinki. We wanted to have a family and we wanted to have the time together to be able to be a family. A story she told me about the name she chose for her firstborn let’s you know a little about the kind of person that she is. It’s a native indian name and she was told by the powers-that-be that she could not use it and that there was no precedence for the name having been used before. Instead of accepting the decision, she contacted a professor of anthropology who specialised in indigenous argentine history. Together they put together a document that proved that the name had been in existence in Argentina for a lot longer than any of the hispano-american ones. She was allowed to use the name. This story not only says a lot about her, but also a lot about the prevalent attitude to the indigenous culture here, the little of it that remains.

I was also fortunate that another fellow photographer, Eliezer Gonzalez, from Córdoba in Argentina, was spending a few days at the same AirBnb. We talked a lot, about life in general and photography in particular. I still have the links to his recommendations on using ‘lab mode’ and ‘frequency separation’ in Photoshop; all I need to do now is implement them into my own retouching skill-set. We got on so well that he invited me to come and stay with him if and when I passed through Córdoba. You’ll find from a later post that I took him up on that and experienced my first ‘asado’, a barbecue that is just as much about the social hanging out as it is about the amazing varieties of meat on the grill. Good wine, good conversation, good food – the simple pleasures of life. 

Back in Bariloche, I have to admit that I did very little, resting up as much as possible. I had arranged to go horse riding but there was some last minute confusion about the dates and the opportunity slipped away. Instead I rented a bike and did the ‘Circuito Chico’, a 25km route which takes you through some magnificent scenery, with a few gradients, but manageable. I picked up some food in a corner store early on and ate by the side of one of the lakes half way round. It is a special part of the world and it makes me think that the kind of travelling I am doing here in South America is a little disrespectful to what is around me. Rushing from one place to another, experiencing these amazing sites like it was some kind of a ‘fast-food’ frenzy, definitely fills you up but it all goes by so quickly that there is very little time for it to leave a deeper impression. I understand that this trip is different for me because I spent my childhood in South America and am trying to fit in as much as possible between Buenos Aires, the city of my birth, and Lima, the city of my early years, but there’s a price you pay that equates to the speed, distance and time you spend travelling. I’m still looking for the equation that will give me the right balance.

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