Category Archives: Bariloche

Chau, Bariloche

Nora, our landlord, and her husband Pocho

Nora, our landlord, and her husband Pocho.

We met some exceptionally nice people in Bariloche. They made us feel welcome, they made us feel more secure, and they helped us experience Argentine culture more deeply.

We saw beautiful scenery from on foot every single day, and we spent more time outdoors than we ever do at home.

These things you may already know from reading the blog. So, how’s our Spanish, right?

IMG_1635After 15 weeks in Argentina, Lou effortlessly switches back and forth between English and Spanish. His solitary play is often in Spanish. In the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, when he’s still groggy, he uses Spanish if he’s talking to Pete and English with me (someone should tell that kid I graduated with a B2 level in Spanish!). He has an American accent, most notably with Rs, but he chooses constructions that are more native-like than we would come up with. He doesn’t make mistakes between ser and estar, the two verbs that both mean to be.

Pete had a stand-out final week and left Bariloche on a high note. He would like to go to Chicago in May to take an internationally-recognized exam called the DELE that is designed to measure proficiency. He’s hoping to qualify as “advanced.”

We had a goodbye dinner at Alto el fuego, a really good parrilla restaurant where even I--the 22-year vegetarian--ate steak.

We had a goodbye dinner at Alto el fuego, a really good parrilla restaurant where even I–the 22-year vegetarian–ate steak.

And then there’s me. All along it was difficult not to measure myself against Pete—who is charming and funny in any language—even though he has 10 years of study and practice behind him. And it was difficult to be a perfectionist who loves language and also says things like “I’m going to revolver” and “She lost her bank card” (talking about myself). But I can say that I made a respectable amount of progress and have a good foundation to build on. To keep me motivated I’ve got two books waiting for me at home: a novel written in Spanish and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir translated into Spanish.


(by Pete)

IMG_01090Lucas passed out red noses at the end of the first day of class. We had just finished a role play between a buffoon, who believes in nothing but belittles everything, and a clown, who by traditional theatrical definition is a gentle, innocent being that is the opposite of the buffoon.

On the second day of class, after a lecture on infection control, I was interested. On day three, after a lecture on clown history, I was hooked.

Lucas was our charismatic teacher. He is an actor, director, and medical doctor who teaches a week-long class on how to be a clown. He is one of the founding members of an effort to help hospitalized kids heal faster through humor and interactive play.

According to Lucas, young patients passively follow doctors orders and wait to get better. However, through the intervention of a clown, he says, they can be brought out of passivity and into active participation in their treatment, which aids in the healing process. I think he’s right.

IMG_01095Lucas is deeply pained by the current portrayal of the clown as a menace, a drunk, and a figure of fear for children. So throughout the week we got history lessons on the clown as well as lessons on the subconscious psychology of the ill or dying patient.

The class culminated on Saturday with nearly 30 new clowns descending on a local shopping mall to practice their skills (I was excused from this part since I didn’t actually plan to volunteer as a clown). Mall security guards, still haunted by memories of the looting in December, panicked and started chatting on their radios. Lucas soothed their fears.

With Lucas

With Lucas

All in all, it was my best week in Bariloche. I also have a newfound respect for actors, especially those that perform live on stage.

Cerro Leones

At the eastern end of Lake Nahuel Huapi, about 15 kilometers from the center of Bariloche, the land changes dramatically: this is where a cold steppe zone begins and, if you continue east and north, eventually changes to a temperate steppe better known as la pampa, or grasslands famous for producing high-quality Argentine beef.

You can see the change in terrain from these pictures, taken during our tour of an extinct volcano called Cerro Leones.

Colonia Suiza

An outdoor handicrafts market ringed by ice cream and beer stands in the middle of the woods is a lot more interesting when you’re not taking mincing steps down a rutted gravel road, sans umbrella, in what my mother would call a good soaking rain, and cursing the steamy hour-long bus ride it took to get there, during which you were privileged to share a seat with a large four year old while praying the severely overcrowded bus wouldn’t slide right off the narrow road into a ditch, causing numerous “crush” fatalities among the passengers because, being so heavy, the bus would undoubtedly roll.

Today at Colonia Suiza—under a cloudless sky and after a month without rain—negative thoughts were focused exclusively on my Spanish, which has atrophied in the five days since I last went to class.

Moving on.

Valeria, a mom we know from tae kwon do who is trying to build a business making pottery, invited Lou and me to spend the afternoon with her and her son Otilio, and as we wandered past stands where woodworkers, weavers, painters, potters, and jewelry, soap and candle makers were trying to make a mango (a buck), I was acutely aware that I was one more tourist passing through without spending money.

More financially successful, I think, was a pair of donations-accepted performers from Buenos Aires. With music, a few props, and moves worthy of Cirque du Soleil, they kept the crowd entranced.

After treating ourselves to ice cream, we headed to the beach to cool off and observed a curious seasonal phenomenon: seed pods on retama bushes popping open with a sound just like crackling fire. Take a listen while trying to ignore the people sounds (15 sec), and then look at retama bushes covered in yellow flowers in mid-November.

Shimano Open

IMG_01018(by Pete)
We went to Cerro Catederal today to watch the Shimano Open mountain bike event. When we got there the kids were racing in the downhill event. At the end of the course, where we were watching, there was basically a sand trap for the riders. They came over the top of the hill (usually airborne) and had to deal with a steep, rutted decline with deep sand. Many tried to proceed cautiously at this point by reducing their speed, I suppose to avoid going over the handle bars when their front wheel sank into the soil. Many crashed at this point and disappeared into a cloud of dust. (No rain here for the last month, so all is very dusty.). The advanced riders launched themselves down this section without hesitation or brakes. In fact, they seemed to pick up speed as they approached the bottom.


Ready-made membrillo (fig) and batata (sweet potato) filling. Sweetened, of course.

Ready-made membrillo (fig) and batata (sweet potato) filling. Sweetened, of course.

I can’t leave Argentina without writing about sweet baked goods, which can be broken down into the following families: tartas, tortas, facturas, galletas and galletitas, and pie (tarts, layer cakes, pastries, cookies and other small confections, and pie—most commonly, lemon meringue).

Dulce de leche, a smooth, spreadable caramel (think Nutella) made from sweetened condensed milk, reigns as a filling or drizzle. It is served to kids with bread and butter as an afternoon snack and is as clearly and importantly Argentine as yerba mate. Other common dessert accoutrement include chocolate, and raspberry, apple, fig or sweet potato filling.

Dulce de leche gets as much shelf space at La Anonima as jam and marmalade.

Dulce de leche gets as much shelf space as jam.

I’ve eaten raised donut holes filled with dulce de leche and rolled in white sugar, buttery pastries filled with sweetened ricotta cheese, cubanitos (a waffle cone in the shape of a cigar filled with dulce de leche and coated in chocolate), alfajores of various types (a cookie sandwich filled with dulce de luche), churros, and, in case you’re holding your jaw to stunt the sudden tooth pain, sugar-free vegan chocolate chip cookies.

Then there is the artisanal ice cream and gourmet chocolate on which Bariloche has built a reputation among tourists. I’m officially tired of (from) so much sugar.