Monday, April 1, 2013

Los Arrayanes National Park, Isla Victoria and Llao Llao Hotel.

To say that Winston was thrilled to see me would be a huge understatement. The boy went crazy. It took me a couple of days to settle in and recover from jetlag, the arduous flight back and finding a routine that worked for myself and Winston. It was strange after 3 plus years of togetherness not to have Tom around. After all we had gotten used to just the two of us, in a small space and moving to another city whenever we felt like it. Marcela and Mariano knew I had returned alone so I received an email saying they would visit the following weekend. Our goal is to visit another national park and to have dinner at the Llao Llao Hotel. I am looking forward to seeing them again and immediately booked one of the cabanas for their arrival. Los Arrayanes National Park and Isla Victoria are only accessible by boat or by hiking 13 miles from the town of Villa La Angostura, located about 60 miles from Bariloche on the other side of the lake. It did not take too much thought or time to decide that we would opt for the boat ride, which leaves from Puerto Panuelo. On our way, we passed the small capilla of San Eduardo. The beautiful log and stone chapel with its gorgeous stained glass windows depicting religious scenes was built in 1938 by the architect Bustillo, who also designed the nearby and equally amazing Hotel Llao Llao. The chapel is considered to be one of the most popular places to hold a wedding in the country. We also pass the sumptuous Hotel Llao Llao where we intend to have dinner later. There are a couple of boat companies that run the tours and we chose the Cau Cau simply because it fit into our schedule. The boat is also called Cau Cau, which I think means a type of large gull. On the way to Los Arrayanes, the boat company invites people to the open top deck and to attempt to lure the seagulls which are following us, with pieces of bread and crackers. The idea is to hold your hand up and a gull will swoop down and take the offering from your hand. Naturally they have a couple of photographers ready to catch this, so they can sell you the photo. Hmm. It did not take us long to realize that statistically the odds of catching a gull in the act, so to speak was slender. Yep, you probably guessed – Photoshop!! They capture the person holding up the food and then from an assortment of gull photos, do a “cut and paste” job. Gimmicky, touristy, kitschy but from the number of people who ordered one, profitable. We can only hope the rest of the boat trip is better. First stop, Los Arrayanes National Park. This small park, located on the Quetrihue Peninsula was established to protect the Arrayanes trees, a type of cypress. The bright, cinnamon colored bark and the extraordinary shape of the trunk and branches are what make these trees so unique. The park, itself has easily accessible walkways and the self guided tour was enjoyable. This is also the same forest that is rumored to be the area where Disney perceived the idea for Bambi. This is story is perpetuated throughout the area and many Argentineans believe it to be true, including Marcela. She was quite disappointed when the tour guide announced that this is just a myth, a tale that somehow came about and just won’t go away. Despite that, we all enjoyed our walk through the forest, admiring the centuries old trees. From there, it was back on board to Puerto Anchorena on Isla Victoria. We were treated to a walk with an English speaking guide through a part of the island. The guide was fairly knowledgeable as long as you don’t ask too many questions! That threw him off his learned speech and outside of that, he could not answer some of my questions regarding the history of the island, native birds, trees and the like. I finally stopped asking and let him just conduct the tour. I can always look things up online later. From some of the higher elevations though, we did get fabulous panoramic views of the lakes and mountains. There was also a coffee shop to get drinks and snacks. The 40 minute ride back to the mainland concluded the five hour tour. All I can add is that for the cost, the tour was just like the seagull photos. Very touristy and expensive and with so many other things to see and do in the area, not really worth the time and money. Pelusa and Winston have been alone for much of the day and were very glad to see us return to Camping Petunia. That excitement diminished substantially when they realized we were leaving them again to go to dinner at the Hotel Llao Llao. The hotel is located to the west of Bariloche, in the foothills of the Andes on a hill between Nahuel Huapi and Moreno lakes and has quite a history. The original hotel was destroyed by fire soon after its completion in 1939. A year later Bustillo rebuilt it out of reinforced concrete and stone. The hotel was closed down in 1976 due to lack of funds to maintain it but in 1993 was bought, renovated and reopened. In 1999 the hotel became a member of “The Leading Hotels of the World” and has won many awards since its re-opening, including "Best Hotel and Resort in Argentina" in 1999. When you see this hotel the term “location, location, location” comes to mind. The setting, the grounds and the views from the large windows throughout the lobby and ground floor are truly spectacular. The entrance is massive and made from stone and wood. Adjectives like lavish, opulent, grand and sumptuous come to mind to aptly describe the interior décor. Huge wood beams and columns dominate with gorgeous couches and chairs strategically placed to better enjoy the views. We had made reservations to eat in the restaurant “Assador”. As the name suggests, this is their parrilla and the food and service were outstanding. Mariano ordered the wine and we toasted our good fortune at being in such a beautiful place. The whole experience was so delightful that we decided to eat at one of the other restaurants in the hotel “Café Patagonia” the following night. If you go, you must order the ciervo (venison) empanadas. Without a doubt, hands down, the best empanadas – ever! The three days with Mariano and Marcela went by much too quickly and Monday morning found Winston and me by ourselves again but with more good memories of time spent with our friends from Rada Tilly.

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