Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Town of Bariloche

The hostel we were booked in, Hostel Los Troncos, was fairly new and a good place to stay, even though the shower sprayed water over the toilet. There was no way to avoid it, I tried every way possible but the bathroom was just too small. It was a feat just to use the towel to dry off or even to get into the bathroom to use the facilities. This new place; built in 2007, had a bad layout for the rooms we were in. The Wi-Fi was good however and we did the needed updates on our emails. Breakfast was included in the price of the room and the breakfast room downstairs was set up well for this purpose. The surprise at breakfast was fresh baked medialunas (croissants) every day. Two of those delicious croissants for each person, yummy!

The rooms were very small, just large enough for a bed with no room to even put a suitcase and we are travelling with two big suitcases. The first two nights we received a room without any outside light, the window in this room opened up to an air shaft. After two nights we switched and had a view of the mpountains yet this room was closer to the street noise and also overlooking a parking lot. The location of the hostel, on the main street and about 5 blocks off the main square, made up for those short-comings. Yet it was a noisy Hostel, new, nice looking, but poorly laid out. This place could serve as a metaphor of Bariloche.

Bariloche is nice looking but…

We walked the town, looking for our pick-up spot for our early bus departure the next morning to Calafate. We had booked a bus trip to Calafate with the hostess of the Hostel Los Troncos, she spoke halting English but I thought we did OK and she did the best she could. We had tested her skills the previous day with a booking she made for us, a tour of the Black Glacier. Everything on the Glacier tour ran as she had promised. Let's see how the trip to El Calafate will work.

The town of Bariloche itself is a fast growing, busy, not so small town. The tourist explosion for the National Parks in Argentina has affected Bariloche, too. I had the feeling, though, that the town grew too quickly, without much thought about the details and without a good Master Plan. The newly built houses seem like copies of Swiss chalets.

This idea of a Swiss looking town just does not fit in Argentina. While the area might be greener than the surrounding desert-looking areas, it is not Switzerland. None-the-less, the idea seems to be stuck in the heads of the folks around here that Bariloche is somehow Swiss. Names like Edelweiss, Chamonix, Zitterthal, etc. are visible on buildings. Even Fondue is touted in a restaurant, a knock off of food from Europe that does not really fit here. Argentina is Argentina. It seems preposterous to copy something when Argentineans have so much of their own culture. These 'imitation' chalets just do not fit in. I am jaded, I know it. I would love to have seen more Gaucho places, more indigenous history, more of the real Argentina with Tango and culture of Argentina, and less of a bad copy of Switzerland.

When a town grows as quickly as Bariloche did, what do you do? How do you get a city plan together, how do you handle the infra structure, the water, electric, sanitation issues? What are you proud off? What is your handle? Where are your roots? All those questions are just floating in space and were not addressed when Bariloche exploded from a small town to the city it is now. Some people had this 'Swiss' idea and went with it but it seems wrong.

Around the town square Bariloche built new, solid stone buildings which house the Municipal offices. These building are just a few years old. Everything seems new but it does not seem organized, logical, or natural. The planning of the town seems rushed. The execution of the buildings, albeit very solidly built, shows short comings that add up. Bariloche is a city now, still growing due to the nearby National Park and the influx of tourists which create a gold rush of some sorts.

The town plaza, just built too, sports an already defaced, monument of someone sitting on a horse. Did anybody not see who spray- painted the monument, carved the few wooden benches and caused the other vandalisms? Did anybody care? Did the police not see who did this damage? Did they not care? I watched idle police officers standing around looking bored.

An empty, green plastic hut was set up for something right next to the defaced rider’s statue. It looked shabby and ripped. The sidewalks on this new plaza were popping up already after being poorly installed. Nobody seemed to mind the lose paving stones and the curbs worn down already and the general damages or the unfinished sections of concrete work.

Local teens were roller boarding, or riding their bikes in dangerous ways amid strolling tourists. I counted 4 separate photographers talking pictures of tourists using a live St. Bernard dog with a small St. Bernard puppy as a cute thing next to it on this plaza.
The groomed dogs carried small barrels on their necks, just like in the pictures of the Swiss dogs on the St. Bernard Mountains in Switzerland. It seemed so wrong.

Workers were setting up an elaborate stage for the weekend performance of? We never found out. There was no sign to let the tourists read what was going to come, what was going to happen.

This plaza was built not that long ago, yet it seems they forgot the daily maintenance schedule of the place. Trash was piled up.The center of town clearly shows the ‘tourist fever’ rush. The growth rate was just too fast and not well thought through.

Still, the National Park that started it all, the Glaciers, Mt Tronadór and the hiking in the woods are worth a visit. I wish Bariloche well. I hope this town, Bariloche, can handle its growth and can find its own identity.

I hope Bariloche can get rid of the rough edges it seems to have, find the tranquility and the elegance tourists crave. I hope Bariloche can find her own identity based on what the area is. Bariloche, bring back some of the indigenous ways, live simply off the land. Teach us space-age people the simpler life. Bariloche go back to nature; do not copy what others did in Geneva or in the Emmenthal. Show us visitors that this is truly a unique place to visit. Because the area is a one of a kind place and deserves better.

A good place to eat in Bariloche is the Spanish Restaurant “Breogn Taberna Gallega” on Av. San Martin 405. I had a delicious paella and the local trout was wonderful too.
Bariloche has fantastic trout fishing and could be a Mecca for people that love to fish for this delicacy.

We tried the much advertised 'Tony' Parrilla across the street from the Hostel but were disappointed and I will never go back to this place. We asked Tony if we could bring our own wine and we were told, yes! Then we were charged 60 Pesos, (US$ 15.00) for the use of his wine glasses. He never even blinked when he presented us his invoice. In fact the use of his wine glasses on the invoice was added in red ink to rub our noses in it. Tony, shame on you! Your place is a rip off! Your steak was way too salty and the meat tough besides. There is nothing great about Tony’s Parrilla.

Good bye Bariloche! We are off to Calafate, again along famous Route 40, driving ever deeper South.

Our bus leaves tomorrow morning at 6.45 AM, we need to get a taxi at 6 AM. Getting a taxi this early is not easy since it is really the middle of the night for Argentineans who party until 5 AM without a problem. We know about that because our room faced the street and the noise came right into the room even with the windows locked. Make sure you get a room facing toward the back if you visit this Hostel.

No comments: