Bariloche, Argentina. Attempting to learn Spanish amidst Bariloche’s alpine surrounds.
We arrived in Santiago, Chile 5 hours before we took off from New Zealand…and another 7 hours later we arrived in Bariloche in a dazed, time-confused state, somewhat in shock from the realization that NO ONE speaks virtually any English here and our Spanish “from Spain” was going to get us nowhere!
The Spanish school we had booked had supposedly booked us into a hostel for the first week. To cut a long story short they hadn´t, and to cut an even longer story short everything they said on the web site was a complete lie! (Lesson no. 1 for South America, never be seduced by a good web site!). So we spent the first day traipsing round to find a room which, as it´s high season here took a stroke of good luck to find. The place is packed with the youth of Argentina who arrive in droves to hike, trek, mountain bike and horse-ride every year.
Bariloche is right on the shores on an enormous clear blue freshwater lake. The lake is surrounded by snow dusted peaks and thick pine forests. I hadn´t expected a town in Argentina could be so similar to Swiss ski resort but it is – all the buildings are wooden Alpine style and Fondu is the speciality. For the first few days we were greeted with blank stares every time we tried to speak in even the simplest Spanish. This could have something to do with the main sounds of Spanish being pronounced completely differently in Argentina. Even after starting school the blank stares and the crumpled faces continued, until we had got the pronunciation of these sounds exactly right. The people of Bariloche are not exactly linguistically open-minded.
Despite the school being perhaps the smallest school in the entire world (9 students is it´s max capacity) and being severely dodgy, we have improved dramatically I have gone from level “can´t speak a word” to “can string a sentence together which may or may not make sense”. As well as doing Spanish for 4 hours every morning we have been packing in the scenic and cultural diversions. To say the scenery is stunning would be a pure understatement. We have hiked around crystal clear lakes, through pine forests (apparently where old Walt got his inspiration for Bambi), up and down mountains, over streams, and sunbathed on beaches looking out to mountains rising straight out of the lake. We have also been on lots of very scary antique chair lifts – the mountains around here are South America´s main ski resort.
At first the lakes, with their bright blue water and forested islands, reminded us alot of NZ. Then we got right up into the mountains and saw the view of the snow-capped Chilean Andes one side and the Argentinian lake district the other and we realised it was no comparison. The top the mountains are barren, rocky and dusty and then an hour later you can be in a valley with waterfalls, pine forests and wild flowers as far as you can see. As we wandered in these valleys I half expected “Heidi” to coming running down or “Peter” with his goats.
We decided to spend this last week living with an Argentine family 8 km along the lake from town. The family don´t speak a word of English. They are a lovely family and made us feel really at home. Dinner lasts 2-3 hours every evening and sometimes doesn´t start until 10pm! Monica, the mother, is a serious talker, like literally non-stop. Half the time we had no clue what she is talking about and just sat at the table nodding our heads in agreement. The father doesn´t say much, principally because he can´t get a word in and the daughter, Pia, aged 7 is totally adorable.
5 minutes after arriving Pia persuaded us to take her and “Oso”, the dog, for a walk. Oso is completely “off his rocker” and escaped his lead quickly. Since every single Argentine household owns at least one dog the street was soon a mass of barking dogs all chasing each other. Pia jumped into my arms and began screaming (from what I could gather she thought these other dogs would bite Oso) and meanwhile I caught fleeting glimpses of Jason as he chased the dog benny-hill style through all the gardens in the neighbourhood. We have had so many hilarious episodes here in Bariloche but this is already too long so I won´t bore you with them all. The funniest was perhaps on our last night with the family when we got home at 3.30am after going out with our favourite teacher, Nancy. Oso the dog is strictly not allowed in the house but managed to wiggle his way in as we unlocked the door. Next thing he is in our room and in our bed with his head on the pillow as if he owned it! Unfortunately Oso had chosen my side and after a few minutes Jason didn´t even notice the hairy cross-breed next to him was not me! Meanwhile I tried repeatedly to get Oso out of the bed, but every time I managed it he jumped straight back in and went to sleep! In the end I just had to go to bed and had about 2 inches of room ! I know we are supposed to be roughing it but giving my bed up for a dog was not in the deal. After the 10th time Oso woke up and trod on me I finally woke Jaosn up and we had to carry him outside.
We are very sad to leave our little life here. It feels like we have been much more than tourists and it has made me realise what a different perspective you can get when you involve yourself with local people rather than travellers.