El Bolsen to San Carlos de Bariloche (Argentina)

Day 1 El Bolsen to Lago Guillermo

We left our Warm Showers host Mari in high spirits. She had prepped us with advice what to expect from the Ruta 40 to Bariloche and also areas to avoid when we got there. Our main concern for the day was the forecast 29 degree high temperature around mid afternoon which would coinside with the major climb of nearly 600m.

The morning went well. The traffic we were worried about was relatively light and the trucks mostly gave us sufficient room when passing. We stopped mid-morning to take a walk/climb to the impressive Cascada del Virgen, nearby the road (well worth the trouble).

Cascada del Virgen (Miguel in the background)
Around 40km into the day’s ride, at the top of an ascent, we spotted a sign for food and drinks with a ‘vista panoramica’ in 2km. We all felt that would make an ideal spot to stop for lunch. We pulled off onto a steep dirt track which, after about 200m, led to an idyllic grassy garden/courtyard area, with quaint looking bar/cafeteria, complete with the advertised vista paroramica and terrace. The area looked almost deserted and when the owner came out to greet us, we asked if we might buy a drink and eat our own food in the garden/courtyard. To our surprise (considering he clearly had no other customers) he said ‘yes’ to the drinks but ‘no’ to the picnic. As it was hot and the shaded terrace looked inviting, we decided to shelve lunch for a while and headed in for a brief rest and liquid refreshments.

Vista panoramica
Whilst the drinks were overpriced, the stop was just what we needed as we cooled down, enjoyed the vista and listened to the curiously heavy metallish music being played. The manager delighted in speaking first Spanish, then English with a poor attempt at an ozzie accent, then French when he found out that Marie and Miguel were Belgian. It transpires that the ‘Buho Blanco’ (white owl) is a motorbike themed bar/cafe which is packed with stop-off bikers during the tourist season of Jan & Feb. With the prices of the drinks, its not surprising he can be choosy about who uses his courtyard but the ambience of the place was good and we enjoyed the brief visit.

We set off again and stopped after a further 3km or so for lunch at the small village of Rio Villegas. The vista wasn’t much to sniff at but we enjoyed the food and steeled ourselves for the long (13km) climb ahead in the afternoon heat. We set off uphill after agreeing to stop every 3km or so (in the shade) to regroup, hydrate etc.

The next hour was tough. The hill itself wasn’t too steep but it was constant and with very little shade or breeze we sweated buckets all the way. We stopped twice in sketchy shaded spots but were relieved when Mapme announced that we had reached the top.

Our single aim from then on was to find a good spot close to water to rest for the night and replenish our empty bottles. We agreed that the shores of Lago Guillermo in 9km looked perfect, as it was mainly gradual downhill to there, and set off at a much faster pace (thanks entirely to gravity) than in the previous hour.

The beauty of this lake was that we could see it at the bottom of the valley from almost 9km away…its amazing how appealling it looked in the afternoon sun.

Lago Guillermo
Reaching the dirt track down to the lake we had covered almost 80km (mainly uphill) during the day and were so happy to only have a relatively short distance left for our final day into Bariloche, that we didnt care that we would need to cycle back up the track the following morning. We trundled down the heavily wooded track and after half a km or so decided on taking a left turn at a fork in the road. The path got increasingly overgrown and finally petered out only a stones throw away from the lake but too dense to progress through with our bikes and panniers.

Mmmmmm a little overgrown I think
We headed back to the fork and took the other track. After another half km we came across a locked boomgate in front of a river crossing. We were able to squeeze our bikes past the boomgate (intended for cars…we figured) and Miguel insisted in entertaining us by trying to cycle through the shallow but icy cold river, only to come off midway across and soak his shoes.

and here’s how not to do it!
With Miguel having shown us what no to do, the 3 of us took off our shoes and waded across where the river was less deep.

Crossing the stream without shoes
We cycled on again (shoeless) for what seemed ages on the dodgy track but was probably only another half km. We eventually stopped at the lakeside and swam in the most refreshingly beautiful waters imaginable, before the sun started to disappear behind the mountains to the west. We also attempted to wash our sweaty clothes in the lake (proper wash definitely still required).

Clothes wash
Refreshing swim

The only issue left to resolve was the lack of descent spot to pitch our tents and light a fire. Jon recalled seeing a minor track a few hundred meters back which might lead to the sandier spot beside the lake that we were seeking. After a quick cycle (sin panniers) he reported back that it led to the perfect spot and we cycled towards it to pitch our tents, light our fire and eat our well earned dinner.

Campfire and dinner
We couldn’t have picked a more perfect location for our last night on the road (save for the distant rumble of the occassional truck on the road across from the lake).

Day 2 – Lago Guillermo to San Carlos de Bariloche

With less than 40km to Bariloche, we had the luxury of not needing to get up too early for the final leg of our South America cycle (although Miguel and Marie were continuing cycling North to Peru). When we did peep out of the tents, we were greeted by clear skies and mist rising from the lake, which we enjoyed as we sat eating our breakfast in the frost of the morning.

As the day’s cycle was pretty straightforward by our standards, we discussed and agreed that we would follow the dirt track around the lake for 9km, as it eventually joined the main road and would likely be more entertaining. We set off along the track but after less than 1km it started to resemble lunar landscape and a quick look at the road ahead indicated that there was worse ahead. We decided to cut our losses and head back to the main road via the route we had come the previous evening…this also meant crossing the icy cold river again…during which we noticed (too late) the partly obscured ‘no camping and fires’ sign :-).

Obscured sign
Our last day in the saddle was ideal. The sun shone and Ruta 40 was relatively quiet. We cycled past lagos Guillermo, Mascardi and Gutierrez in that order, each one as breathtakingly beautiful as the last.

Lago Gutierrez

Before we knew it we had only a short 150m ascent as we entered San Carlos de Bariloche,

Almost there
before a similar descent to the town centre, where we stopped in the curiously Bavarian themed town square, overlooking the stunning Nahuel Huapi lake to eat lunch, bask in the sun and enjoy the satisfaction of having completed our Patagonian challenge.

Bariloche Bavarian themed town square