How Green Was My Valley

One of the first words you must learn in Bariloche is cerro. Pronounced “chair-oh” and basically translated as ‘hill’, cerros are everywhere. But, the name hill is a little misleading. At the gateway of Patagonia, where the Andes pile up like a pyramid of cheerleaders, the word hill is fairly relative. In most places in the U.S., these hills would probably be mountains. Being the tourist town that Bariloche is, many people are concerned with viewpoints, dramatic scenery and above all, minimal effort. As a result, chairlifts are at the base of most of the cerros, hauling families to the top for a meal and a pretty picture.

Cerro Campanario is just one such chairlift operation. Listed by National Geographic as one of the Best Views in the World, Campanario was known only to me for contributing throngs of tourists to several packed, uncomfortable bus rides. According to a very nice placard at the bottom of the hill, Cerro Campanario is home to four different types of alpine zone, but I only noticed one. Namely, the aerobic fitness zone. I had seen many travel sites mention hiking to the top of Campanario as a delightfully fiscal adventure, consisting of a short (20 minute) but steep ascent. I immediately pictured elderly bloggers complaining of a gradual incline, perhaps one that irritated their bunions. Based on this assumption, I figured the hike would be a cake walk for a young man not adverse to exercise or physical activity. Yet the trail had other intentions. What started as deep loose gravel turned to deep powdery dirt and finally to a field of scree, which is like walking on a field of upturned roller skates. Approximately 19 minutes after I had started–and one-minute faster than the advised duration–I found myself prostrate at the top of Campanario, clutching my chest and ravenously gulping at thin air. I am certain that if I had taken the extra minute, I would have arrived in much better condition.


They apparently have excellent cable at the top.

The top of Campanario is typical of Patagonian viewpoint/restaurant/chairlift operations. A wide balcony with uninterrupted views, a trinket shop, birds hovering at eye level and bits of garbage swirling in the wind. It was stupidly windy up there. Not a strong, steady wind, but a mosh pit of gusts and howls that kept me holding on to the edge of just about everything.

Because the chairlift had already shut down for the day I was pleasantly surprised to find the place completely abandoned. The viewing deck was my personal balcony. Three-hundred and sixty degrees of mind blowing scenery stretched out below, leaving me with a feeling I can only describe as omnipotent.

Constructed on either side of the balcony were crude, illustrated boards that helped visitors identify the names of the mountains in the distance. But the board did not resemble what I saw. It did not show the dusty breath of various barrios, sighing out of evergreen lungs. It did not show the sun, slowly falling into the open, snarling peaks of the Andes. Nor did it show the dinner I had packed, getting blown of the balcony in a sudden gust and falling 50 feet onto bare rock, breaking open and immediately hosting a flock of raptors more interested in sandwiches and Lays than mice and lizards.

I snapped a few pictures, read for a while and decided to head back down before it got very dark. The trail to the top featured dozens of forks and alternate pathways. I was not very optimistic about finding my way back along the same route, and I didn’t. Instead of coming out at the trail head, confident and exuberant. I half fell, half stumbled down a dirt slope and directly into the camp of the chairlift employees who were enjoying a pleasant dinner. We were both fairly surprised when I came flying out of the bushes. A stupid grin and an ‘hola’ got me by and released from the locked, gated chairlift area. It took me all of about 4 minutes to get down.


~ by Hutch on February 11, 2011.

One Response to “How Green Was My Valley”

  1. Another wonderfully, entertaining post. Looks gorgeous there! Hope all is well. February here is February… mostly dark and cold and seemingly endless. The indian Plum is starting to bud which is a good sign that not everything is completely dead, as it appears… and there is a light at the end of this wintery tunnel.

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