Back to school in Bariloche

We were lucky to come across Casa de Mara! After crossing from Pucon to San Martin de los Andes in Argentina (beautiful scenery, Riona is constantly overwhelmed by the Andes), we decided to slow things down a little and spend some time doing a Spanish course. We did some research and found a lot of good things said about La Montaña, a Dutch owned school in Bariloche. A number of people who´d written about the school also wrote about the immersion programme that they organised, where you could stay with a local family for the duration of your course. One home in particular sounded nice, with a great cook as host and large double room with its own bathroom and kitchenette – it sounded ideal and staying with a local family would be something different, so we rang the school, booked four days classes and a week’s homestay, and after taking another bus down to Bariloche were in our new home for the week trying to make sense of our surrogate madre, Mara!

Riona outside Mara´s house With Mara on her kitchen balcony

Top of Nubles, Cerro Catedral

It was pretty difficult considering our only Spanish came from a phrase book we´d picked up a few weeks earlier and Mara´s English was limited to a few words, but we managed to express ourselves with lots of hand motions and a little help from Mara´s friend, Mariana.

The Spanish classes lasted for four hours each day, from nine until one with a break for coffee and ´medialunas´ (croissants) in between. We´d one teacher (Flavia) between the two of us so it worked out well, and the fact that we were doing the classes out of interest and not because we had to made it much easier to pick up. A lot of the Spanish verbs and words are similar to French and English which also helped, and by the end of the four days we were able to follow most conversations, although we´re still speaking in very broken sentences and all in the present tense but it´s a start! We met some nice folk at the school and got to visit a community centre in a poor neighbourhood to help out with kid´s English lessons – it was interesting to see another side of Bariloche that we wouldn´t have seen otherwise, a long way off the chocolate shops and fancy cafes of the city centre.

Dinner was at nine each evening (the Argentinians do everything very late) and always yummy. There were usually six of us (Mara, her son Martin, friend Mariana and another girl from the US who was at school with us, Katie) and it was probably where we learned most of our Spanish. We´d head down to our own wee apartment at about eleven and do our homework while watching Gray’s Anatomy which neither of us had ever followed but will be sure to when we get back, its a good show :-)

Bariloche itself is a pretty place, an alpine style city set on a large lake at the foot of the Andes and full of fancy chocolate shops (Tante Friada´s at 686 Mitre has the best combo deals and the fastest internet we found in town).  Known as the ´Gateway to Patagonia´, its also the main access point for Cerro Catedral, one of Argentina´s main skiing areas.

Maras Kitchen Window Lake near Cerro Catedral

El Bolson

We weren´t too pushed about doing much more skiing as we thought the conditions would be a bit crap given that it was the very end of the season, but we were proved very wrong and had some of our best days skiing ever. Catedral is a fantastic spot, far better than the last place we´d been, Whakapapa in New Zealand – the resort had much more buzz to it and the runs were uncrowded and in great condition, with only the lower pistes affected by the springtime weather. The view of the lake and the Andes from the very top of the mountain didn´t hurt either. The first day had clear skies and was really sunny and really was spectacular. We did two more days before deciding it was time to move on.

Ski Buddies Cero Catedral

After nine days in Mara’s place, we filled up on an excellent steak dinner in El Boliche de Alberto (delicious fillet steak meal was about €7 each), packed our bags again and were dropped off at the station by Madre Mara, who packed us us a box of chocs and some tea for the journey. We then boarded the bus to Buenos Aires, a 19 hour journey north and away from the mountains, lakes and generally stunning scenery of northern Patagonia.

Hot meat

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5 Responses to “Back to school in Bariloche”

  1. Isa Johnston Says:

    I have always wanted to visit Argentina and I am now keener than ever!
    Next year definitely.

    From your real Madre xx

  2. Maria Says:

    I am so envious! Dont take anything for granted. Your little trips are amazing, when is your book coming out??

  3. aoife Says:

    ola chica and chico,
    meant ot be studying for an interivew so thougth id read ur blog as happy diversion- it brings back all the brillant memeories for us..we vistied pucon and climbed that volcano.. an experience like no other i had, as it was seriously spluttering.. i loved bariloche too and the hippy town south of there cant remember name.. everything in south america is so culturally rich when in buenos aires check out the madres walking around the square every thursday in protest of there sons who were killed by the gov- amazing passion in these people… also the scenery is loco its so amazing i could not sleep on bus journeys as i was stuck to the window looking out (and for the whole of the andes/ lake district our cameras were broken) so will have to check out urs when home. those blue skies already remind me of it, although unfortunately did not have ski conditions- not long now is it until ur back with us.. it was great to talk to u on fone.. and that whole thing in bolivia it is usally mad but still u can get around (even when there is massive travel issues- we know- u just have to be a biteen flexiable and chilled re: travel plans).. anyway better go and emerse myself in humanistic and psychodynamic theories oh the joys. ciao x aoif.

  4. Paula Mc Says:

    Hey you guys,
    I have no spanish words to send u my love, would have loved to escape the moaning and groaning of the paddys and join u in South America but unfortunatley I am trying to redirect my life and find another job still and sort out finances. Boring I know but i figure that now you will be my real live travel guides so when I eventually go on a shorter trip I will have all the best spots lined up. Its great to see all your fab pics and hear about all the places, it cheers me up. Won’t say looking forward to seeing you because I know that means your hols are over but you have loads of fun times left so for now Asta la Vista babies (is that spanish?) or go neiri on bother leo xxxx Paula

  5. Lorraine Says:

    Hi Guys,
    Just logged on to see what you two were up to. Cannot believe those photos of you in the salt flats, they are really clever. The blue sky is amazing almost looks like it as painted on. The Argentina part of the trip really sounds so fantastic, i love your reports who needs the lonely planet!! Not much to report back here in grey old Ireland.
    Martin has got a new job and is due to start after the wedding so thats great and means we will be staying put in ireland for the forseeable future.We have finally booked our honeymoon and i’m really excited about it. Flying in to San francisco for New Years then onto Vegas then onto New York, cannot wait. Apart from that we’re stll slogging away at the house and doing the niggly bits and bobs for wedding

    Talk to you soon. Lorraine x x

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