Puerto Varas, Chile - Bariloche - Villa la Angostura, Argentina
Four years ago at the last Copa, which was held in Argentina, I travelled around Argentina for a couple of weeks (just as I was dumped by my girlfriend of six years). That dumping meant that trip to one of the loneliest places on Earth was...well, lonely. Miserable at times admittedly, but then there were incredible high points like witnessing the almost unmatched splendour of Torres Del Paine, the bottom-of-the-world vibe of Tierra del Fuego, and the truly awe inspiring sight of ancient ice collapsing into the glacial lake at Perito Moreno. Four years on, with my soul well and truly cleansed from what went before some 1,500 days ago, I return to Argentina to visit the bit of northern Patagonia I couldn't visit before due to the blizzards that cut off that part of the world in July 2011.
I suppose I am also exorcising a demon or two as the moment I am back on Argentine soil, it feels a little like I am back in 2011. The route between Chilean customs and Argentine customs, separated by a national park, is truly epic.
I booked my ticket to Villa la Angostura on the advice of Huayupe who told me the area around the town is the most beautiful place he has ever been. I decide though to venture further to visit Bariloche, located in an incredible setting surrounded by sheer snow-capped mountains, some with bizarre pinnacles that resemble Buddhist statues.
But Bariloche itself is a massive disappointment. Firstly, it feels damn unfriendly compared to Chile. Secondly, the town is an urban commercial sprawl. Yes, the buildings are fine, but where is the lakeside promenade or the pedestrianized streets? I just don't like the vibe of the place at all. From street level you cannot even see the mountains.
And so I change dollars in town getting 12.85 to the peso because I have cash instead of the official market rate of 9 I would get if I took cash out of an ATM. I know inflation is bad in Argentina, but I am impressed that a sandwich I buy goes up in cost from 30 to 35 in the time it takes to make it and eat it. It feels downtrodden around the edges here, even in this affluent town.
Back in gorgeous Villa la Angostura, the youth hostel costs 200 instead of the 95 it was two years ago, according to the Lonely Planet. This place is like Twin Peaks, surrounded by mountains, thick forests; its spotless streets full of boutiques and chocolate shops.
I could have been in Concepcion tonight for Argentina v Paraguay but instead it is pizza, Argentine red and a bar full of passionate Argentine football fans as Argentina tear a tired Paraguay to pieces. Even at 1-0 you could see Argentina would end up scoring five or six.
Population 5,000 but the main street is rammed with cars and motorbikes all beeping their horns, teenagers doing hand-brake turns, fireworks going off.
Of course, I am gutted I missed the game in the stadium but, hey, I have been to eight games and by skipping the semis, it has given me four days in beautiful southern Argentina and Chile. Oh, and the demons of 2011 - they are well and truly buried.