Leaving the conquered volcán Villarrica feeling victorious, we headed south from Pucón to the border crossing at Paso Tromen. This involves getting your passport stamped out of Chile then driving for a kilometre or so to get stamped into Argentina at the other end. A relatively straightforward procedure, however some of our American companions had neglected to pay the reciprocity fee required for entry and so we were stuck, quite literally, in the middle of NOWHERE. After this minor delay in no man's land, we entered the Argentine Lake District - a series of great lakes strung along the foot of the Andes stretching for 339km. A long bus day, we appeared to have gotten into a rhythm as a group and wiled away the 12 hours quite merrily, flanked by majestic mountains on one side and crystal blue lakes on the other.
On arrival in Bariloche that evening things took a somewhat less agreeable turn, however, as the political situation in the country has caused the Argentine Peso to go into freefall. This actually means we, the turistas, get a better exchange rate but consequently meant it took an absolute age to find an ATM that would actually let us take any money out. There also seemed to be a marked hostility from the locals and my poquito español - hitherto comprehendible in Chile - no longer appeared to be understood. Plus the weather had turned cold and overcast with a ridiculously strong wind. But what Bariloche lacked in immediate charm, it made up for in steak! It was a somewhat hangry and tired group who went for dinner that evening but half a kilo of bife de ojo later, and everyone perked up considerably. So much so that we braved the local bars until the early hours of the next morning and Bariloche was definitely starting to look more favourable.
Situated on the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi and at the foot of Cerro Otto, Bariloche is another Alpine-esque town boasting chalet style wooden buildings lining the slopes of the mountains above. It is also a renowned hot spot for outdoor activities like cycling and rafting but we only had a day here so we decided to take it easy (nothing to do with the hangover, honest!) and catch up on some chores. I think the danger of a trip like this is that you feel the pressure to be doing something incredible every day without taking the time to just be somewhere. One of the greatest achievements I've felt as a traveller is being able to do something normal, like getting your clothes washed, in a foreign country. And boy did we pick the right place to get that done! Manuel the Lavandería was one of the most bonkers people I've ever met and I don't think I've ever laughed so much over dirty laundry, and it didn't surprise me on collection of my clean clothes that I had gained an extra pair of walking trousers in the process.
We decided on a more civilised evening that night and I can highly recommend Alto del Fuego for yet more steak and amazing Argentinian red (I have been converted!). I don't think I've had a better meal for £15 and I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying the company of my fellow travel companions. Next stop Patagonia...