From Bolsón a very old pick up truck picked us up to Bariloche. He already had another hitchhiker in the seat so we sat at the back which was wonderful with a wider angle to enjoy the landscape. Bariloche is in fact in the middle of a protected area, the Parque Nacional Nahuel Haupi and the amazing nature starts fascinating you on the road. However being in the middle of the park also means that there is no phone coverage, there is no habitants or petrol stations and you are not supposed to leave the road and enter the protected area.
View from the back of the truck
Of course this piece of information did not become relevant before the pick up truck stopped abruptly in the middle of nowhere. Well in the middle of Andean Patagonia to be exact. It turns out we ran out of petrol. According to the driver it was the last petrol station that did not fill as much as he paid. He mentioned this was common practice. I still have my doubts on that, for a scheme like that to work the drivers should not have petrol gauges in the dashboard. Anyhow, the lack of phone coverage pushed us to find alternative solutions. The driver gave the other hitchhiker the telephone number of his son and asked him to call him once he receives any signal and let him go and a car stopped immediately. We waited only a few minutes when he announced that he was better off going as well. We asked him what we should do but before he gave us a clear answer another car stopped to take him and he was gone. So we were left with an old pick up truck without petrol far away from the civilization. We discussed our options and staying with the truck as a lookout seemed like the right thing to do. However on the other hand we didn’t know if the guy was going to return today, he may have decided to come back the next day. Also if we arrived late in Bariloche, it would be much harder to look for and find a place for the night. If the guy didn’t show up tonight it would not be safe to camp here because it was prohibited and also the stopped truck may attract curious people with or without good intentions. So we made a rough calculation on how long it should take for the guy to come back and how long it would take if we decide to go to Bariloche on our own. We still had time at that time which we spent taking silly pictures with the vehicle and after the time was up we started hitchhiking as well. Thanks to the stalled pick up truck another car stopped in no time. But they were more curious about the truck than us and when we told them the story, they thought the truck will not be safe without us and asked us to wait here while they check the next petrol station which was at least 50 kilometres away to our guess. They were going to ask the petrol station if someone came there to pick up petrol and if not, they promised to come back to pick us up. I can not say I put up too much trust in their return but regardless, they left without us. As soon as they left another car from the opposite direction stopped with our driver and apparently his son and a drum of petrol. The driver was very happy to see us guarding his truck, apologized for being late, and told us that finding the drum took a bit more than expected and promised us to take us to a hostel he knew in the city. This was very helpful for us now that it was getting late, but still I am not sure how to feel about the whole episode so instead of trying to figure out my feelings. I thought I better off enjoy what I saw so far and will see till it gets dark.
The truck and me
As in El Bolsón, in Bariloche the high season was over and the hostel was run by volunteers who were quite friendly. There we also found out that our host lives quite a distance from where we are. Being inside the city it was extremely hard to hitchhike and the only public transport was the bus. The buses in Bariloche only accepted “sube” which is the card for public transportation. However, the people at the hostel did not know where to get the sube card. I thought normally these kind of public transport cards can be easily obtained from either the shops, markets or convenience stores close to the bus stops or, from specific sales points distributed close to the bus stops. This should generally have been the case in a free market regime. However we found out that Bariloche was neither general nor normal. We checked all the shops that are close to the bus station next to the hostel to no avail. And when we ask the shop owners where the Sube could be found they usually directed us to the shop we were coming from. We thought perhaps we were not in a place very central so started walking towards the more central parts of the city. On the way, whenever we came across another bus stop we did the same ritual of asking for Sube to the shops without any success. We have asked to some police officers, security guards and people in uniforms who looked slightly official, they all gave various answers that were not correct or did not know where to find the lovely Sube. Some of the shops on the way were topping up the Sube cards which we though should be a kind of trail that will take us to Sube but none of them were selling or even knew where it was sold. To catch this mysterious shy Andean creature, we also asked to people who were waiting for the bus and we were sure that they were able to catch a Sube at one point in their lives. They should know but none of them did. It is not only Bariloche that are not normal or general but the people had similar symptoms. We considered just to board the bus and ask to use another person’s Sube in exchange of cash, but when we explained our intention to the driver he did not let us in. We still kept this option as a last resort to try again. Not all bus drivers could be the same or could they? Even if this local delicacy was sold in black market there should be a shady looking guy approaching us and whispering “Sube? I got the best quality, fresh from the mint, how much do you want?” but he did not exist. So we walked till the centre asking half the population of Bariloche where to find this rare collection item. I am sure if I was looking for illegal drugs, someone on the road would have sold me something by then. Anyway, in the centre, I also needed to exchange money and which could be done in a souvenir shop in a side road. They exchanged money and by which became a habit by now, I asked if they know anything about a card called Sube. “Of course” they said with a smile, you can buy them here. At a souvenir shop, where there is no sign anywhere indicating that there could be any kind of transportation card in the shop. I felt as if I had just cracked the enigma code. I promised myself, when I get back, I will frame this and put it on top of the fireplace.
A cultural centre in Bariloche
The Sube system was introduced recently to Argentina. The government wanted to have a universal public system that would work for all public transport at all cities and switched to Sube. However, very few cities adopted it. Some cities had similar systems and were bound by contract to the previous companies or there were other conflicts. I was never able to use Sube for the rest of my trip. I think this is one good example of how politics work in Argentina.
With the help of our Sube, confident and proud we were able to locate our hostess’s house with ease. She was very welcoming and I enjoyed her company a lot. She was a massage and acupuncture therapist working at a hotel close by. Like many people in the alternative medicine business she had her own interpretation on how things work in the universe which were quite interesting even though I did not agree with her. Different views always contribute to my understanding of people’s struggle to give meaning to life. Though I sometimes feel pity, this never ending struggle always amazes me. The mindless metaphors that stem from eastern belief systems are the top ones I guess. Anyway, during our stay with her we met a different group of her friends each night along with fernet and coke. Though it didn’t became my favourite drink we had good time in general.
Brailoche is located at a very beautiful place next to Lago Nahuel Huapi with other smaller lakes scattered around the area. You can walk to any direction and come across a hiking trail, all of them more breath taking than the previous one. However these are all spread to a large area (the natural park Bariloche located in is a huge one) and for some hikes even the magical Sube card is not sufficient and a vehicle is needed. The north European influence is strong in the city, which can be seen in all the architecture which is quite in harmony with the nature.
The beauty of the place is slightly shadowed by the huge income gap between people who live side by side. The social separation can easily be observed even by a foreigner like me. I guess it is the mountainside weather, snowy winter that attracted the Europeans from the Alpine regions to here. I somehow suspect the arrivals were increased during 1940s. However there is a Swiss colony which was established much before than that time. After a few days hiking and visiting the city centre (where we were able to locate the official sales office for the Sube, which is next to the tourist information. To me it was still very weird that no one in the city, not the people or the officers, or the shops knew where the Sube came from. Or more strangely, they did not want to share this information) it was time for us to move again. Our next destination was San Martin de los Andes where another host accepted our stay. To get to a hitchhiking spot at the edge of the city, we needed to use our glorious Sube again. However due to a strike by the bus drivers, the power of the Sube was limited which really shook my belief in the card. Some more Argentinean politics. We gathered this is something quite common in the city and though tight mouthed when it comes to keep the secret of the Sube, they were helpful to give rides to people who are desperately waiting on the roads.