”Artsy and hippie-ish El Bolson”, says Lonely Planet, “is about as close to Berkeley, California as you can get in Argentina”. There is indeed an unmistakably organic or “granola” vibe to the place and it attracts alternate life-stylers not just from Argentina but from around the world. You get the feeling that if ever there was a South American “Woodstock” this would be the venue. We didn’t stay long enough to do a deep dive into the place but did enjoy its local artists markets and laid back feel in the few days we spent there.

“Artesenal” fair at El Bolson
Walking across a park in El Bolson, I heard what I thought was the unmistakable sound of a didgeridoo. Turns out it WAS a didgeridoo! He attracted quite an audience
All over Patagonia, in Chile and Argentina, we have noticed these beautiful birds ( they make a laughing sound a bit similar to a Kookaburra ). Found out they are called Andean Ibis. Saw many in El Bolson

We’d also been looking forward to a pit stop just north of El Bolson at the home of an expat German couple who have a long history of overlanding themselves and now provide an invaluable service arranging South American vehicle insurance for people like ourselves with foreign vehicles. We had some documents to collect, wanted to meet them in person, and were glad to be able to spend a night chatting and camping on their farm. They live by a river in a beautiful secluded valley – first time we can recall in South American not being woken by barking dogs and roosters crowing that seems to be the norm around most South American campsites.

The farm of our European friends near El Bolson. Very tranquil
We camped by this river at their property. Better lulled to sleep by a babbling brook than a barking dog !

Just two hours north of El Bolson lies San Carlos de Bariloche ( “Bariloche” as it’s more widely known ) – despite the proximity the two cities share almost nothing  else in common ( well, they do both have ski hills nearby ). Bariloche is an upscale, architecturally heavily German/Swiss influenced resort city that draws wealthy Argentines ( and others ) to its picturesque setting on Lake Nahuel Huapi. Summer and winter the place is packed, the day we arrived being no exception. Very lucky to get a spot in one of the few campgrounds with space available and never have we seen so many people, cars, bikes, motorbikes and camping vehicles compressed into such a small space. May have to start making reservations ( ughh ! ).

Clock tower, Bariloche. The wood and rock elements give the city a very alpine look
Bariloche, “Centro” ( downtown )
Bariloche downtown
Street scene, Bariloche
We had never seen camping as crowded as it was at Colonia Suiza, near Bariloche – jam packed ! Our rig just visible in the rear

Had a few administrative and routine vehicle things to attend to while there but after dealing with that it was nice to simply enjoy wandering the city and exploring the surrounding lakes. The views were beautiful no matter where you looked. 

Oil change at 96,000 kms. The Goodyear guy said no need for a tire rotation – couldn’t believe how the tread has lasted and how even the wear was considering the roads driven and distance covered. Go Toyo A/T !
Bariloche Centro
Generally we can just drive in and get fuel anywhere. Five to six car waits in Bariloche in summer. They say it’s like this for two months solid
Lake scene near Colonia Suiza, a small, originally Swiss, settlement near Bariloche
Selfie time – Bariloche in the background seen across Lago Nahuel Huapi
Our itinerary up Route 40 through the Lakes District around Bariloche

Given the history of German immigration to the area it’s probably no surprise that at least one ( and likely more ) famous Nazi fugitive settled here after the war. Especially well known in Bariloche is the story of Erich Priebke, an SS officer, who lived freely in the city for almost  50 years until his identity and whereabouts were uncovered by an American ABC journalist in the 90’s. He went on to live to 100, dying only in 2013. The first impromptu interaction between the journalist, Sam Donaldson, and Priebke was recorded and makes for astonishing viewing. It’s short, but powerful- check it out here.

While Bariloche is the southern end of the 7 Lakes circuit, the lakes extend all the way up to San Martin de Los Andes further north on Route 40. On the way is beautiful Villa La Angostura where we stopped for a couple of nights. Much smaller and thus more walkable than Bariloche it is no less popular and the streets there were also filled with holidaying Argentines. This area must surely be one of the most popular destinations in the country. While camping there we met a couple of Brazilian families ( seems to be a lot of them in Argentina ) and had a great chance to chat with two young ( 18 year old ) Argentine lads who jumped at the chance to practice their ( already excellent ) English – they gave us an interesting perspective on the country, it’s opportunities, it’s struggles and it’s political and economic challenges. These were two very worldly and well educated young guys and it was educational for us just to make their acquaintance.

Relaxing, camped at Lago Correntoso, near Villa la Angostura
The lakes are crystal clear here, but not always warm ! Here near Villa La Angostura
Like chocolate ? Fill your boots in Bariloche and/or Villa la Angostura ! Here in Villa La Angostura

Sometimes travel is about the places you go and sometimes it’s the interesting folks you meet. This past week we were fortunate to have a generous amount of both !