Refugio Frey Trek - Bariloche, Argentina


Alternate titles: Doomed From the Start, Mediocrity At Its Finest, and Riding in Cars With Boys Strangers.

From Bariloche, we decided to tackle one of the more popular treks in the area to Refugio Frey. It can be done as a long day trip, but we opted to overnight in the refugio so we could take our time and enjoy it. We had to register with the park ahead of time, and they told us that we would absolutely need to bring sleeping bags, as the refugio doesn't provide any type of bedding and it is very cold at the top. They offered to rent them to us, and told us to come back at 9am the next day to pick them up. Easy peasy.

When we arrived there the next morning, of course they had no idea what we were talking about. The girl who was working called the person we spoke with last night and... "Oops, we gave them to someone else! We have ONE that you can rent." Since we had no desire to get cozy in a single sleeping bag (or give them any of our money), we took off in search of last minute sleeping bag rentals, while praying that we wouldn't miss our bus to the trail head about 50km away.

Luckily, there was somewhere nearby that had them, albeit a little more expensive than the first place had offered us. We went to pay, and they asked for a photo ID to hold onto as security to ensure we would bring the bags back. Uh oh. We left all of our ID's in our big bags that were in storage at the hostel, because why on earth would we need them for hiking? We didn't have enough time to go back and get them without missing our bus, so we offered them some extra cash as a deposit. They originally wanted the full replacement cost, which we didn't have on us, but settled for the equivalent for $40.

It didn't leave us with much cash on hand, but the information center gave us all of the prices for the refugio and we had enough plus a small cushion. We scrambled to the bus station, and made it with plenty of time. Whew. The ride to the trails was much less eventful, and we got started on our hike.


To be honest, it wasn't the greatest. The trail itself was fine, but it really felt like we could have been in any ordinary set of woods for the majority of the time. As we were walking, Daniel and I both felt like it was kind of "just okay". There were no great lookouts or views along the way until we reached the very top, which was covered in snow. From the top at the refugio, we got to see some amazing mountains and rocks, so it wasn't all bad... I probably wouldn't do it again though.


The refugio itself was basic, which we expected, but it was more expensive than we had been told. We (thankfully) packed our own food, so we only had to pay for kitchen use and a "bed" - there were about 30 mattresses piled on the floor and a makeshift loft in one giant room full of people. We set off early the next morning to make our way to the trail head, where a bus was due at around noon.

As we came out from the trail and toward the bus area, I noticed that it looked like the road into the area was closed. There were a few tents set up and some areas roped off... it looked like there was a race going on, but with no people. It was 11:30, so we sat at the bus stop to wait. We didn't see anyone else waiting, so we asked a random person if we were in the right place. "Yes," he said... so we continued to wait. And wait. And wait. We started to see lots of bicycles. Yes, definitely a race going on. Finally, we pieced together the problem... The road really WAS closed. The Tour de France, Argentina edition was going on and the road would be closed until 4:00 that evening. Lovely.

We were filthy, smelly, starving, and we had less than $15 on us (since the prices at Frey were more expensive than we were told, and we had to leave an unexpected deposit on our sleeping bags). I ate the rest of our packed snacks, and we found somewhere to get Daniel a "choripan" - chorizo on bread - to hold him over until we could figure out what to do. We were chatting a bit with the owner, lamenting the fact that we were stuck there and frustrated that we hadn't been warned by either the info center or the refugio staff.


Luckily, the man in line behind us overheard the conversation and offered to give us a lift. Hallelujiah! He and his three kids had come to watch the bike race, but were bored and getting ready to leave. "I have my truck parked a few hundred meters away. We will take the back roads," he told us. Excellent. We followed him and the kids to his truck, threw our backpacks and the boys' bicycles in the back, and got in. He put the key in the ingnition, turned, and... nothing. "I must have left the lights on, I do that all the time." You have got to be kidding me.

If this had happened three months ago, I probably would have completely lost my cool and assumed that this man was going to rob and murder us. Instead, we did what any logical people would do when a stranger is giving us a ride and their manual transmission truck won't start... we got out and pushed. We didn't have a large area to work with (basically a dirt parking lot and side road), and were unable to get it moving fast enough to start.

Luckily, the man knew someone who worked nearby, so he called him for help. I had assumed that by "help", he meant jumper cables, but you know what they say about assuming... The man pulled up in his hunk of junk SUV, drove up behind the truck, and proceeded to bump into the back of it and push, propelling it down the road. Success! The truck started, and Daniel and I piled in with his three kids.

He started driving along the dirt and gravel back roads, and at that moment, I was certain there was no way I would make it back without vomiting. This man drove like a complete maniac, passing cars with oncoming traffic, flying around turns, and hitting bumps so hard that I kept hitting my head on the ceiling. It was my most terrifying transit experience to date... yes, scarier than the bus to Pasto!

The ride that takes a bus one hour on a nice straight, paved highway took between 15 and 20 minutes on winding, horrible, dirt road. When he dropped us off at our hostel, I was never happier to step foot on solid ground. We thanked him very much for the ride, grabbed our things, and went inside.

I wish this is where it ended... but what's the saying? If wishes were kittens? Anyway, because of the bike race, our hostel was hosting a group of 20 people and there was no room for us to stay there. The owner was very sweet about it, and had made us a reservation at her friend's place a few blocks away. We loaded the rest of our things onto our backs, armed with a vague set of directions, and set off in search of the new accommodations.

If you have made it this far into the post, I trust that you have made the (correct) assumption that we were unable to find it. We were exhausted, miserable, and carrying all of our things with us. Rather than dragging them all around, we dumped everything on the ground and I plopped down on the sidewalk while Daniel wandered around in search of the place. After no luck still, we changed our strategy.

I left Daniel on the sidewalk with our things, while I ran back to the hostel and asked the man (again) for directions. He gave the exact same directions as before, of course. I grabbed a map, and asked him to draw a dot where the hostel was. He drew it exactly where Daniel was sitting, so I was sure that either we were blind, there was no sign, or something was wrong. Of course he didn't know the street number, so I had him scribble the name on the map and I ran back to where Daniel was sitting.

"Let me guess, he gave the same directions and didn't know the address," Daniel called out as I approached. I handed him the map, and by the look on my face, he knew that his guess was right. We asked a passerby if they knew where it was, and showed them the name. After thinking about it for a minute, he said "Yes! It is three blocks, take a left, then two blocks, and take a right." We thanked him, then looked at each other with the, "there's no way" look. In general, South Americans have been very eager to help us. Unfortunately, if they don't know the answer to your question, they would rather guess or make something up than seem unhelpful. This definitely seemed like one of those times.

Nearing our breaking point, we decided to just walk down the hill toward the center of town and stay at the first place we saw. Imagine our surprise when two blocks down the road, we saw an enormous sign for the place we were looking for. The man had given us the wrong directions and drawn the dot on the map in the wrong block. After checking in, they showed us to our room. It was quite possibly the tiniest room we have ever stayed in... a set of twin sized bunk beds (how romantic) with just enough room to walk beside them. By that point, we didn't care. We took our showers, and I settled into the top bunk. All I could think was, "Next time will be better."

You can see our Flickr set from the Frey trek here. The pictures themselves are good, but they are all from about 15 minutes out of the two day hike. The rest of it... just wasn't very picture worthy.

*I sat down to write this post about a week and a half after it actually happened. Much like that first day in Montanita, I had selective amnesia until I started writing. It's funny how something can be such an ordeal at the time, but forgotten about after only a week! Also: don't worry, Mom! The man was really nice and I could have outrun him if he tried any funny business!