Bariloche, Argentina: Ancient Poya Hideaway, Alpine Ski Town, Where Adolf Hitler Died?

May 30, 2015

Bariloche, I will be back. This place was quite interesting and even though I didn’t like the in your face “we have been nothing but a tourist attraction for the past 100 years” feel of it, I liked the alpine surroundings and proximity to Patagonia. Perhaps I would also like living in/near the Rockies or Switzerland?

One of the many AMAZING views from our day of mountain biking outside of Bariloche.

Bariloche began as a route through the Andes used by the Poya civilization who fled there for safety as the Spanish went in search of new people to enslave in the early- to mid-1600s. Later a German man settled in the area and opened a basic outpost store selling things people needed while crossing the Andes and moving along the mountain chain. His store became the center of a larger settlement of other Germans, Austrians, Slovenians, and Italians. Later, as the trade center grew and became a town, which was primarily inhabited by immigrants from Germany, it was transformed to look more like a town from the Swiss Alps to attract tourists. Given the likeness to the Alps and its inhabitants, it naturally became a ski destination with lots of European Cafes and Chocolate Shops. When the Railroad arrived in town in 1934, tourism took off and became the primary economic driver. While German is still spoken by many, it is not the most common language in town and has not been since a large migration of Germans took place in the 1940s during WW2. It’s actually believed that Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun successfully made it to Bariloche, faking their deaths in Germany as the Allies closed in, so that they could live out their days in a place like home while remaining incognito. Some say Hitler was seen living in a grand house six miles east of town until the 1960’s. Jen and I went mountain biking out there and the area is beautiful and dotted with nice estates and a few of the clubs for the wealthy. We didn’t see any Hitler-looking kids running around but it’s still an interesting story.

As a major tourist destination, it’s a little too touristy for my liking, but I’ve found that “touristy” places are usually that way for a reason. Something awesome is drawing people in so it must be worth a look, right? That’s kind of how I felt going into Bariloche. That being said, places with a view, close to the main street, and close to the lake tend to be pretty expensive so Jen and I looked for a workaway opportunity so we could stay a short while and take in some of the cheap/free adventures around town, primarily hiking, biking, climbing, and the like. Fortunately, they needed four people so Matt and Elissa could also work and stay for free. It was actually quite awesome in that sense.

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Climbing a 500ft tower. It was fun and frightening. Jen's artwork helping to sell Matt's Asado dinner.

Matt handled cooking Hostel dinners, Jen and Elissa handled the front desk, some cleaning, and baking the daily scones for breakfast each day and I did all of the above plus some general maintenance type stuff depending on need. I even got paid to climb a 500 ft TV Tower and help install six transmitters AND learned how to weld. Neither of these are anything I had any experience with and that’s no doubt why I enjoyed them so much.

Fabricating a trailer hitch and welding it onto a Nissan Sentra.

The awesomeness wore off as we got to know our host a bit and his personality rubbed pretty much everyone the wrong way. Imagine a cocky bro-type guy from Cali with a low IQ and no people skills being your boss and you’re only getting close. Hate is a strong word, but I came to dislike the guy more and more as time went on.

It wasn’t all lemons though, we had a good time working with the other workaway members and made great friends with a few of them who will no doubt read this post and laugh at my comments. They’ll likely think I held back a bit, which is true.

Another perk was that Matt and I got some free dinners by being the Chef on a handful of occasions. That was actually kind of fun to do as I’ve never cooked for so many people nor sold anything I cooked and had people rave about it. I can see why people become Chef’s but you’ll never see me in a commercial kitchen. Matt on the other hand seemed to be quite happy in his role as Chef so when he was cooking I tried to keep his beer glass full. Oh that reminds me, there was also some delicious beer on tap behind the reception desk that we took full advantage of when possible. It truly is a dangerous thing to have delicious beer on tap 24/7. It REALLY tests your self-control.

Jen and I spent a bit of time just relaxing and hanging around town but we also got in a very long and very tough bike ride, as well as a couple nice little hikes. The biking trip was up and down some massive hills often into a brisk wind that never let up. We somehow didn’t bring enough food so by the end we were running on fumes but felt really accomplished. Naturally we treated ourselves afterward to a big dinner. The big hike was similar but we had everything we needed with the exception of actual hiking boots. My trail runners left my feet aching a bit and Jen’s pretty much died that day. It was long and steep but worth every huffing, puffing stride. We reached one of the Alpine outposts, which acts as a small “hostel”/campground, and where the caretakers live year round, all the way through the 2 meters of snows and all. It was a really cool place with fantastic scenery. Jen and I wished we had camping gear so bad we considered renting some but decided against it after researching the rates.

We hiked for hours over tough terrain to reach this little lake high in the mountains and loved every minute of it.

Overall, Bariloche was a good place to visit and I have some fond memories, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not into mountain or lake activities. On the other hand, if you like Skiing, climbing, hiking, biking and ironman-like fitness activities then you will absolutely love it here. I’m somewhere in the middle there so when I return someday, I’ll probably focus on the hiking/camping and maybe rent a motorcycle to head out into the vastness of Patagonia.

Category: Places

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