After a ten hour flight and twenty-three hour bus ride, we arrived in Bariloche, Patagonia. Bariloche is a town of about 100,000 people in the foothills of the Andes Mountains that sits on the shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi. I, along with thirteen other University of Montana students (whom I had only met previously in passing) hopped in cabs from the bus station and headed to our hostel, La Justina, which was to become our home for the following month. I felt rather uneasy realizing that I was to share a room full of bunk beds with five other girls who I had never spent any time with. A few weeks later, I knew I could not have found a better group of women to share such awesome adventures and such a tiny room with.
While the town of Bariloche itself is beautiful with the massive, turquoise lake and surrounding mountains, we found that its popularity derives from not just majesty and beauty of the town itself but the Patagonian mountains and national parks that surround it. While we were in Patagonia, my bunk mate, Cree, and I were able to embark on four separate backpacking trips in three different parks. I thought that getting on the trail would provide some familiarity for me in such a foreign place, but for the majority of it, it felt quite the opposite. We had to use our Spanish language skills that had only been practiced in the comfort of UM’s classrooms in order to buy bus passes, comprehend the counterintuitive bus schedules, and yell at the driver to drop us off near a dirt road we had only read about in online blogs to find the trailheads. On our first backpacking trip to a mountain lake called El Frey, we ran into several others on the trail, but no Americans. When we reached the top of the mountain after 8 grueling miles, Cree and I sat together on a boulder that rested a few dozen yards past our tent to soak in the view. Several minutes later, a man approached us to ask for matches to light his stove. After sharing our lighter and conversing for a bit, we asked where he was from, only to learn that he works and lives in Victor, Montana. And even after entering a different hemisphere after a half day flight, a full day of a bus ride, and 8 miles into one of the national park trails, we felt a little closer to home and enjoyed the sunset with our new friend.