Circuito Chico

1st Dec. 2016

Hotel Llao Llao with a mountain backdropIn winter, Bariloche is a centre for skiing which sort of explains the alpine pretentions of the buildings. In summer, which we’re now just about in, the activities are hiking, cycling, kayaking and generally exploring the lakes for which there are two recommended circular tours. Circuito Grande takes you to 7 different lakes in the area but you either need a car or to sign up for a day’s coach trip with one of the many tour companies in town. This is much too gringo for us. Circuito Chico (the little loop) on bicycle is much more our thing – particularly as we can get a local bus out to the start of the 27km loop and rent bikes from the appropriately named Circuito Chico Bike Rental.

Circuito Chico Bike RentalThe bus takes us out from town along the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi toward the mountains at its head. This isn’t going to be a bike ride on the straight and level and the views from the bus were so good it is tempting just to stay on it! Still, the cycle rental company is exactly where they said they would be, the bikes are of good quality and are well maintained. Just as well as it looks like we will need all 24 gears. They do a professional job of equipping us with helmet, high-vis vest and map and then with several reminders to ride on the right we’re off.

Notgorse in full bloomThe map we’ve been given breaks the route down into multiple stages, each between 1km & 3km in length. In practice, we don’t ride that far without stopping as right from the start the scenery is astounding and we have to stop and gawp. For example, we’d only gone a few hundred yards when we saw a track line with the gorse-like bushes in full bloom, awash with yellow flowers. Closer inspection shows that they’re not gorse and don’t have thorns – but I bet they still eat golf balls!

Bridge over Lago MorenoPressing on, we cross over a bridge at the neck that separates the east and west halves of Lago Moreno, past the signs advertising kayaks for hire. Whilst kayaks are an option for tomorrow, today the wind is up and whereas yesterday the lake was millpond flat it is now flecked with white-crested waves. I’m glad we’re cycling today. The next marked point is a punto panoramico and the penny slowly drops that while we were down at the level of the lake, the viewpoint is going to be looking down from above. Its a matter of engaging the lowest combination of gears, keeping the legs peddling and trying not to think about how slowly you are going or how much longer the hill is going to continue.

View from Punto PanoramicoNot just tourists & tat sellers at the viewpointOnce we get there, the punto panoramico is absolutely bleedin’ obvious because of all the coaches and cars parked up; the crowd of tourists; the vendors of tourist tat; and the (further) opportunities to have your photograph taken with a St Bernard. (No, we don’t know why this is a thing here.) Whilst the views are truly panoramic – 11 separate photos were stitched together to create the above picture – they were matched by the views at the two unofficial puntos that we had stopped at just down the road. And which, of course, were completely deserted.

Bahia Lopez - Just one of many stunning viewsAs we were planning this cycle, we suspected that restaurants for a lunch stop might be few and far between and so it is turning out to be. As a precaution, last night we bought some bread rolls, salami and cheese slices to have as an emergency pack lunch and for which we are now very grateful. Whilst the food is hardly gourmet, as we sit on the jetty at Lago Escondido (Hidden Lake) we console ourselves by looking at the scenery and enjoying the peace and quiet.

And this is the less gringo boat that we saw!After a bit of exploration, we decide to pass on the track down to Mirador Tacul. We’ve been on tarmacked road up until now, this is a bumpy dirt track and although it is only 1km or so down to the coast it looks to be downhill all the way – and hence uphill all the way back. In any case, we have seen plenty and we still have c. 10km left of our circuit left to ride. One of our options for tomorrow is to take a boat trip out on the lake (Nahuel Huapi) but when we get to Puerto Pañuelo where the boats leave from we go off the idea. The port building is modern, full of tourist shops and looks to be purpose built for herding gringo sheep onto the boats. We content ourselves with walking round the headland and finding a sheltered spot where we can watch the sheep being loaded onto the boats and then heading out.

Wonder if I'd be any good at this game? (No!)Nearby is Hotel Llao Llao (pronounced yaow yaow). Supposedly, this is the most famous hotel in Argentina, though (unsurprisingly) we’d never heard of it before we got here. Naturally, we have to go and investigate, though as it is a big, posh hotel in our walking shoes, shorts and t-shirts we are not exactly dressed to fit in. We content ourselves with the views out over the mountains, with glimpses out into the high Andes. Down below we spot some people playing a game of some sort where the idea seems to be to hit a little white ball into a bush, a pond or a patch of sand and then come up with a creative swear word. Perhaps we should give that a go at some point!

Bariloche cathedral at sunsetChurch at Llao LlaoJust down the road there is a little wooden church, which despite protests from my legs I climb up the slope to the church (Janet volunteers to stand guard over the bikes at the bottom of the hill). It turns out to be a bit of a treasure – not just in its own right, with timber walls and bronze tiles on the roof, but also because framed through the pillars at the front of the church is the hotel with the mountains in the background – and a flowering red rose bush thrown in as a bonus! Happy with the pictures we crack on with the last 7km back to the rental shop, not happy with the climb over the last 500m but overall very pleased with our decision to ride the Circuito Chico.

In the evening, our legs are still protesting about the abuse that they have suffered during the day. However, we remember that last night the sunset was glorious but we got down to the lake front too late to take any pictures. We try to do better tonight but we are still a little late and the sky is free from clouds needed to make the sunset really dramatic. We do head to the cathedral and make up for the lack of pictures on the first day (when the light was just too harsh) with some pictures against the pink and blue sky as the light fades and the floodlights illuminating the building start to take effect.

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