We debated the best way up for a minute, our eyes moving from the chairlift to the mountain peak then back to the chairlift. Reluctantly coughing up the money for a one-way ticket, we readied ourselves to board; we could always walk down on the way back…
My two friends, Andy and Lucas, and I were in Bariloche, a town which during the ski season overflows with trendy Argentinians hitting the slopes. The season had yet to begin when we arrived, but we were not there for the winter sports. Sitting in the middle of the Nahuel Huapí National Park in Argentina’s Lake District and boasting awe-inspiring views – something we’d become accustomed to here – Bariloche seemed a perfect stop-off point on our journey south from Buenos Aires.
After being transported through a tunnel of trees to the top of Cerro Campanario we stumbled gracefully off the chairlift and made our way over to the viewing platform. It was cold and grey and my jacket did little to keep out the piercing wind. There were other people milling around, a group of middle-aged tourists all sporting luminous ponchos, going in and out of the mountain-top café.
The view was, quite simply, incredible. Lake Nahuel Huapí stretched out as far as the eye could see, interrupted by mountains here and there. Looking out I was speechless, unable to do anything but gaze gormlessly. But there was no need to speak; it was wonderful to stand there and let the lake wash over me. Of course, there would be time for photos later, but for now I was captivated, unable to look away.
The clouds hung heavy in the sky and even though it was midday it seemed dark. But then came a magical moment when, through the clouds, the sun’s rays shone down, illuminating one section of the lake, as if somewhere down there someone was experiencing an epiphany. The shifting of the clouds and the light rippling across the water gave a divine air; this was nature at its finest.
After a hot chocolate in the café and the inevitable photo session, it was time to think about going back. It seems that over-exposure to such a view can go to your head; so overcome by what you’ve seen you feel carefree and ready for anything. So it was with little hesitation that we set off on the path back down. At least we thought it was a path.
Of the various routes leading up and down Cerro Campanario we’d managed to miss them all, still under the spell of the lake. What had at first looked like a path quickly disintegrated among the leaves on the ground. But we persevered – the path would reappear soon and we’d reach the bus stop in no time…
Surrounded by trees, the intoxicating effects of the view diminishing, I felt less carefree and more and more as if we’d stumbled into the plot of a horror film. The path was not going to reappear, the light was fading and the trees loomed in. Soon enough, edging our way down the steep slope, we came to a menacing sign that read ‘No Trespassing’, hanging from a barbed wire fence. Next to it there was another sign stating ‘Beware of the Dog’. Imagining some great beast lurking in the shadows I voiced my concerns but the boys marched on, unperturbed (or at least trying to give that impression).
It was almost dark when we finally made it to the bottom, and scrambling through trees to jump down onto the road, we all let out a sigh of relief. Feet back on flat ground, completely roused from the dreamlike state that the lake had lulled us into, I resolved to be more alert when it came to spectacular views; they have a funny way of penetrating your mind and leaving no space for even the smallest ounce of common sense. You’d think finding your way down a mountain wouldn’t be too challenging – all you’ve got to do is keep going downhill – but next time I’d pay that little bit extra for a return ride on the chairlift.
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