San Carlos de Bariloche is the perfect place to be at Christmas. Located in the Patagonia region of southern Argentina, it is hours away from the scorching hot weather of central Argentina’s summer. The downtown area has the mood of a ski resort even in the middle of summer. Its alpine buildings are a mix of stone and wood with triangular slate roofs. The white-topped Andes encircle the mirrored lakes that stretch out from the base of the hill that houses downtown.
The artistic composition that is Bariloche’s landscape begins way before the arrival into town. The terrain on the bus ride south to Bariloche is a continuous reel of evergreen forest flourishing between aquamarine glass water and haphazardly-formed rocky formations, some with a smattering of snow illuminating the matte grey of the rocks. It is an exhibition of winter during the summertime.
As someone who could sit under sweaty hot direct sunlight for hours on end without feeling a smidgen of discomfort and who shivers in agony at even the slightest cold wind, I planned my world trip to coincide with the summers of the various continents I visit. This means that my suitcase is full of clothes appropriate for beaches, sunny parks, and roasting city sidewalks.
Needless to say, I was completely unprepared for the blast of freezingness that bombarded me when I disembarked the bus in Bariloche.
Fortunately, my brother had given me his snow beanie before we parted ways in Africa, I had a pair of running gloves, and in case of rain I had packed a thin rain jacket. Unfortunately, these shields against the icy air were buried somewhere in the bottom of my suitcase.
I wrapped my thin scarf around my head and trudged toward the local bus stop at the far end of the bus terminal. A bus sped past. Yep, that was the bus I needed.
Blasts of ice wind swirled through my scarf as I waited for the next bus. It finally arrived, and I hefted my suitcase up the narrow entrance stairs.
Through some hand gestures, I found out you have to buy a bus voucher from the bus terminal before boarding the bus. I disembarked the bus back into the freezing air, plodded back to the bus terminal, and purchased the expensive 6 pesos ticket.
Back in the outdoor refrigerator, I braced myself against the cold wind to the bus stop. This time the bus really took its sweet time to come. But it finally did, and the next fifteen minutes I spent in the toasty bus were glorious.
I grumbled to myself as I dragged my bag all the way up the steep, curving hill to my hostel and continued my internal complaining as I struggled to get my suitcase up five flights of hostel stairs to my top-floor room.
Then I opened the door to my room and was confronted with the most amazing view I have ever seen from a hostel room. The entire far wall of the room was a solarium-type window through which the tips of roofs of hotels and restaurants peeked from the small town below, beyond which was a rippling light blue lake fringed by rolling grey-blue mountains and a wisp of clouds that were beginning to turn light yellow in the sunset.
As night set in, the lights from the town below cast a cozy gleam in the room, while the lake transformed into a black gulf stretching into murky darkness.
In the morning, I bundled up in my random winter gear and walked to town by way of the promenade along the edge of the lake. Standing on the lakeshore, I was staring into a painting. A virtually still lake of navy blue fading into blue-green at the shore. An evergreen forest dwarfed by the slate grey mountains crowned with a thin layer of snow rising high up behind it. A completely cloudless transparent sky that I could reach out and touch. Nary a sound or sign of life anywhere.
I walked along the side of this real-life painting, trying not to trip as I stared to my left at the lake and mountain landscape instead of the sidewalk in front of me, until I reached the town Catedral. I circled around the taupe stone neo-Gothic structure through its rose garden with a view of the lake through its fence of evergreens. Then I headed to Bariloche’s main street of eating and shopping.
Bariloche is known for its wine and its chocolate, especially for its chocolate, and it’s impossible to walk more than a few feet on its the main street without passing a chocolate specialty store. After a healthy salad lunch, I figured I had some calories to spare. I entered a chocolate shop that had a particularly impressive circular glass case of every kind of chocolate I could think of: all sorts of fruits and liquors, a variety of dulce de leches, coffees, and other flavors I didn’t even know existed.
I settled at a snug table with a pile of raspberry, whiskey, and dulce de leche chocolates and spent the rest of the eve before Christmas Eve washing down my chocolate dinner with a tart glass of Malbec.
My absolute favorite time of year is Christmas, and it has been weird and hard and sad to be away from home, family, and friends during this festive season. On Christmas Eve, I breakfasted with my hostel mates, ran along the lake, passed the afternoon away at the Catedral garden, strolled the charming alpine main street that was crowded with families merrily watching a holiday parade of firetrucks and ambulances, and dined on chocolates and wine. My Christmas spirit was boosted when I got to Skype with my family until the unreliable Internet connection cut out.
My Christmas morning was spent on a bus north to the Neuquén bus terminal, where I am waiting out the next few hours until I catch an overnight bus back to Mendoza. Despite feeling a bit melancholy that I’m not playing Monopoly with my brothers under the gleam of the Christmas tree lights to the sound of football on TV in the background, waiting to eat my mom’s delicious Christmas dinner complete with a rib roast perfectly BBQ’d by my dad, I am excited for my next venture in Argentina.
As soon as I arrive in Mendoza, I will hurry to my new school for Spanish classes, after which I will move in with my new Argentinian family for the next month.