Like an odd soldier-supplicant hybrid, I’ve been tasked by Leta to reminisce about our trip to Los Siete Lagos in text. The second guideline was to “make it funny”. Hmm.
Let’s set the stage for the visitors. Seven Lakes is a strip of Argentina near the Andes with pristine lakes, millennia-old forests, snow-covered mountains and just about everything that is pretty and wholesome about nature. It’s a virtual cornucopia of photo ops, and since we went in the middle of winter, it forced me to quickly hop out of the car a number of times for the timeless keepsake before rushing back to our warm, wheeled haven. Eventually, the practice devolved to lowering the window, extending my arm as high as I could, and snapping a shot or two while hoping for the best. And yet Seven Lakes is so beautiful that even then my chances of capturing something gorgeous were better than good. Warm jackets, priceless thermal underthings, a cheap rented car, a gorilla tripod to help us when no fellow tourists were in sight, some cookies, wandering hearts. We were off.
Much was seen, and more was eaten. That’s probably the very definition of a wonderful vacation week, right there. And if it’s true that at some point I might have gotten us lost in the middle of Patagonia, it’s also true that I was able to channel the Magellan every man has within himself and find our way to Bariloche in time for us to board that boat (without needing no stinkin’ GPS). But first things first.
I had never been to Seven Lakes before, and neither had Leta, but I had heard stories about it. The local folk myth is that while God was building the world, he laid down in Seven Lakes for a siesta and all the beautiful stuff we saw fell from his (deep) pocket. Now, you know people are proud of a place when they credit God for it. I chose to rent a beautiful cabin in Villa La Angostura, a small city set on the coast of Nahuel Huapi lake, the largest of the famed seven, 100km away from the main tourist hotspot of the area: Bariloche. The wooden cabin looked beautiful in the website, convincing in its rustic charm, and I was fully expecting to be disappointed by the real cabin – upon arriving to the compound we discovered that they didn’t do it justice. Wooden floors, walls, ceilings, chairs and tables, central heating, a small bedroom and another upstairs with large windows and a comfortable bed, and the unnecessary-but-romantic hearth, which would have a fire waiting for us in the evening if we so asked the groundskeepers. And the view, guys – the view.
We were set a few meters from a small, private bay, and there was even a small wooden dock that let you cross to a tiny island almost connected to land. The lake water was calm, forming a mirror that reflected the sky and everything around it, and beyond it stood the Andes mountains, white and imposing. I quickly took credit for it all, claiming it was all part of a carefully laid out plan to impress Leta, but unfortunately she didn’t believe me. Seven Lakes was living up to its promise already, and we hadn’t even left the cabin.
Hitchhiking adventures were plentiful in Seven Lakes, but the really beautiful national parks can only be (easily) accessed by boat. We joined a multitude of Brazilians and European tourists in our first morning in Angostura and sailed to Puerto Frías, crossing the Nahuel Huapi. One of the islands we passed, the guide said, was where Walt Disney had built his manor. Another was where Perito Moreno was buried. And that’s the forest that inspired Bambi, and that’s where they started the nuclear program, and that, and that. Now, you should know that Spanish is my native language, but not Leta’s. She was wholly dependent on my bilingual self, and she wouldn’t ask the guide to explain everything again in English for some unfathomable reason. I translated some of what the guide told us, but it quickly got old. Fortunately, that kind of beauty speaks for itself – and when you get down to it, Walt Disney really doesn’t add much.
(As an aside, it was during that trip that we found out that “plumber’s crack” is apparently an universal expression, thanks to a Frenchwoman that decided to bend down and ignore her pants’ limitations.)
We had lunch at a nice restaurant in the middle of nowhere, and got close to one of the few passes through the mountains between Argentina and Chile. There was a cascade we were led to, a small one in the middle of the forest, and a wooden stairs leading to it. It had rained and snowed the night before, so they were covered in white crap, slippery in general and downright treacherous in some places. Leta and I walked slowly, hand in hand, one of us always grabbing the handrail. It could’ve been cute, if it weren’t for the constant risk of breaking our necks. The cascade was almost worth the peril, but not really. We returned to the boat tired and skating along the frosty walkway, and Leta used me as a pillow on the way back. We had dinner in Bariloche at a nice little fondue restaurant, and by the time they brought the main courses we were stuffed with bread covered in hot cheese. I drove back to La Angostura, and Leta nudged me every so often to make sure I was still awake. She’s great like that.
There was another catamaran the next day, and another forest – the only arrayanes forest in the world, in fact. The arrayán is an oddball tree: yellow-brown bark with white spots, gathered in clusters as if many were born from the same roots and twisting and turning without any obvious logic. My attempt at anthropomorphizing them leaves me with the imagine of 60-year-olds grandpas that still suffer from teenage insecurities. You’ll grow into beautiful swans yet, arrayanes! We had hot chocolate in a small, picturesque house surrounded by tall trees, and if the burly owner had looked anything like a witch, I might have identified with Hensel right then and there, enjoying that wonderful sweet liquid after a long hike through the cold national park.
Our last day was spent driving around Bariloche and buying things for our families. The roads were busy and the day was overcast and this angry driver almost ran me off the road, the little bastard, but the city was full of sights to take into. Being the awesome planner that I am, I had made reservations for “tea” at the Llao Llao hotel, a luxury hotel with the best possible view of the Nahuel Huapi and everything around it, so we headed in its general direction. But before it, we hopped onto a ski lift and climbed all the way to the top of Campanario Mt. Only a photo can possibly show you what the world looks like from up there – but not quite. Leta and I shared an alfajor as a way to tide us over till tea time.
There’s a better world out there, guys – and yes, it’s hella expensive. We parked our car outside the main door and walked in. “I have a reservation, sir.” “Oh, of course. Come this way.” We were led in to a beautiful winter patio facing the garden. An ornate glass wall thankfully guarded us from the harsh cold, so we quickly shed out jackets and handed them to the waiter. There were many empty tables since we were fairly early, but suspiciously enough we were led to one of the corners. We laughed at the possibility of being hidden from the rich folks, and then set off to treat our corner like a watchtower from where we could people-watch at ease. The tea was excellent, the coffee was better, and a large table at the center of the patio was full of fattening delicacies. We were hungry, focused and felt entitled. The buffet never had a chance. On the way out we sought our tiny car in between all the imported BMWs and 4x4s. I approached the gray Chevrolet Corsa and tried to open Leta’s doors with my keys. I was starting to worry after the third or fourth try, when I finally realized that it wasn’t out car, doggone it. We finally found ours a few cars down the line, and I will always thank the gods for that car’s lack of a loud alarm.
It rained during our last night in La Angostura. When we woke up and left the cabin, a rainbow waited for us. We took some photos of us next to the lake, framed by the rainbow. They are my favorites. Later I remember telling Leta that I had set that up for her, too, as a goodbye.
She didn’t believe me then, either.