San Carlos de Bariloche (Barry to it's friends) is the start of Patagonia on the west side of Argentina and after a paltry 19hr bus ride the difference in temperature and air quality was apparent.
Our first hostel with heating that worked was welcome as after a few days hiking around the lakes and mountains in autumn sun, the nights felt cold. We spent a great couple of days schlepping around lakes and mountains, I went on my first ever ski lift (not quite as hateful as a cable car but still being swung off a high piece of wire is not fun), and Chris didn't enjoy cooking our own food in the hostel (his worst meal in 7 months, the first one with anything other than carbs in it for me).
Other than the incredible scenery in this heavily Swiss influenced city (will let the pics speak for themselves) it's worth mentioning the black market/blue dollar system in Argentina.
Economic crises after economic crises has led to the peso being at times worthless, and the dollar being highly sought after. As such every backpacker knows that it the month before entering the country you withdraw as many dollars as the random ATMs in neighbouring countries will dispense (Chile useless, Bolivia pretty good) and change them for a better rate on the street (currently 25% higher than the official exchange rate but has been up to 50% in the last 12 months). To do this illegal transaction you ask anyone in the town where to head, then go to (typically) a city centre street where a group of men will shout 'cambio?' At every passing gringo. You negotiate the rate (shouted at full volume), then follow a Cambio man into a nearby shop (in our experience often jewellery shops) where the owner will produce a fat roll of pesos and the deal is done.
Some streets are so full of illegal cash exchanges the police stand outside to ensure no-one gets robbed whilst breaking the law.
Typically South American to be so brazen, and for the police to be in on it, but helpful to budget travellers navigating one of most expensive countries on the continent.
Hostel wisdom (thank you Gus & Carla) informed us that contrary to our belief we could still get a lot further south as the winter weather doesn't shut down towns/tours and transport until the beginning of May. 30hour bus trip to El Calafate booked - glaciers here we come.
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