From the oil plains of Neuquen, I caught a bus to San Martin de los Andes, near the border with Chile.
It's surprising how similar it is to other mountain resorts, for instance in Canada and Switzerland. The same log cabin architecture, all buildings no more than two stories high, and all signs made of hand crafted wood.
Moving south, my next stops were Villa La Angustura and Bariloche, which took me through the Seven Lakes Path, a stretch of winding dirt road that connects the towns. It was amazingly beautiful, one of the prettiest pieces of scenery I've seen.
Whereas Villa La Angustura is a relatively quiet village nestled in a valley, Bariloche is the long established economic center of the region. Most tourists head straight there, and it's one of the only towns in the region with a notable night life.
From Bariloche, I headed south to El Bolson.
This is basically the hippy mecca of Argentina, one of the few places where dreadlocked teenagers still roam the streets commonly. It was interesting to note the differences between the Argentine hippy and the North American variety. While both tend to be quite into handcrafts and talking about abstract ideas such as positive energy, the overall peaceful mindset seems to be missing in Argentina. And where most American and European hippies tend to be vegetarians, the Argentine type still love their asados (a slowly barbaqued beef).
The town is most known for it's crafts market, which is very nice, but at the same time a bit limited for the size. It tends to be 5 times bigger than others, but it ends up just being 5 of the same thing, over and over again. There are some nice things on offer, but nothing that would stand up to being in a backpack for the next 6 months.
While exploring the very nice hiking trails in the area, something that stood out were the decrepit hanging brides that connected sides of river banks. It was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie...
On my way out of El Bolson, one of the most depressing experiences of my trip happened as I was getting on a bus heading south. A crack-head (or someone on paco, a much cheaper, much more destructive Argentine version of the drug) walked up to me and told me that I owed him money. I say he was a crack-head because of the absolute crazed look in his eyes and his rotten teeth, despite only being in his twenties. He asserted that he was the owner of a campsite, and that I had stayed there the previous night and not paid. I had actually stayed in a hostel, but that didn't matter much to him. He showed me a piece of cardboard with a number scribbled on it, which was supposed to amount to proof of what he was saying. There were about 75 other people around me, all getting ready to get on the bus. When I told him that it wasn't mine, and that I had stayed in a hostel that night, he picked up on my accent and told me that as a gringo (roughly translated, a stupid American), I had to pay him. When I refused, he started punching me in the face.
Since I still had my bags on, I couldn't even defend myself. And of all of the people around me, all young and in good shape, not a single person offered to help me. I had to run around the group, while getting punched in the back of the head, into a shop (of which the girl threw me out because she 'didn't want to get involved'), to the door of a bus (of which the driver wouldn't let me on because my ticket was for the bus behind him, and capped things off by laughing at me), and finally around to another bus of which the driver reluctantly let me on board. Of the Argentines that I've told this story to, few are surprised. The degree of 'look after yourself, first and last' that actually goes on here is still shocking to me, even after having been here for a year. Luckily, I came out of it with only a slightly blackened eye, but things could have easily gotten much worse.