Gnome, Sweet Gnome In Villa La Angostura

Arriving at our cabaña, we discovered that "los gnomos" are part of its, er, charm.

Arriving at our cabaña, we discovered that "los gnomos" are part of its charm.

Our arrival to Villa La Angostura, about an hour north of Bariloche, set the tone for a wacky week. Driving the windy road on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi thrilled us with views of snow-capped Patagonian peaks but made poor Kyle throw up all over himself in the car. When we eventually reached our cabaña complex, called Guardianes del Bayo, we probably looked as bad as we smelled because an icy rain and wind left us bedraggled and shivering.

The living room decor includes antlers and this little gnome.

The living room decor includes antlers and this little gnome.

As we unloaded our belongings and cleaned up the mess, my eyes took in a babbling brook that cut through a well-kept lawn and a cluster of wood cabins, flowing past a play structure and under several arched footbridges. Then my ears caught a tune from long ago that was piped in from speakers somewhere — The Carpenters’ “Top of the World.” Karen Carpenter’s saccharine voice singing “I’m on the top of the world, lookin’ down on creation …” floated through the breeze and became a tape loop in my brain.

Then I began to notice pointy red hats on little bearded figurines inside and outside our cabaña. And then the sign with our cabaña’s name: Los Gnomos.

With a mix of shock and awe — uh-oh and oh, wow! — we realized we had booked ourselves into some kind of fairy-tale lodge where everything seems a little bit off.

It’s not just our cabaña — these wooden creatures are everywhere. Just as varnished burl bear carvings decorate the landscape in the backwoods of Northern California, so do fanciful carvings of mythical spirits on these roadways.

I met this elf on the main road into Villa La Angostura.

I met this elf on the main road into Villa La Angostura.

Morgan did "I'm a Little Teapot" by this wood carving.

Morgan did "I'm a Little Teapot" by this wood carving.

This part of Patagonia has a distinctive, Disneyland-esque style of mountain architecture that I hereby dub Gnome Home. We got our first hint of it in Bariloche, at a restaurant called Tarquino that we nicknamed the Hobbit Hole, which has an exterior that belies a surprisingly sophisticated menu.

Tarquino restaurant in Bariloche is a prime example of "Gnome Home" style.

Tarquino restaurant in Bariloche is a prime example of "Gnome Home" style.

But Gnome Home truly flourishes in this smaller, quainter tourist hamlet of Villa La Angostura. Large, heavily lacquered logs, all gnarled and knotted, frame every door and window, and over-sized, lumpy-looking rocks form the foundations and chimneys. Some of the dimensions of doorways and furniture seem designed for trolls — low and wide — while other doorways and stairways seem unnaturally narrow.

The kids are enchanted by the place and seem more elfin with each passing day. All they want to do is read, play make-believe and run around. They’re probably inspired in part because Morgan is reading The Hobbit to Kyle and helping both kids draw hobbit-like creatures. Another book we’re reading together, Lois Lowry’s classic The Giver, motivated them to spend hours creating a fictional community. They seem to have moved past their homesickness — at least for the time being — and Morgan observed the other day that it’s been weeks since we’ve heard either of them complain, “I’m bored.”

The kids are having fun just being kids, especially when playing outside this kid-friendly cabaña complex.

The kids are having fun just being kids, especially when playing outside this kid-friendly cabaña complex.

But just as every fairy tale has something frightening, so too did our week. We had to cope with a dental emergency when a crown on one of Morgan’s molars popped off, leaving the tooth underneath painfully exposed. We had no choice but to seek treatment — and very limited options. Hence we found ourselves two days in a row in a small office that specializes in cosmetic dentistry for the tourist trade. It had a waiting room decked out as though designed to appeal to twentysomethings from West LA. The kids and I spent a few hours sitting there on an oddly curved couch with faux fur trimmings, surrounded by neon accent lights and multiple video screens that played MTV videos from twenty years ago. We had noticed in Buenos Aires that American pop from the ’80s and early ’90s is big, playing on radios and in stores everywhere, but this dentist office showcased retro flashbacks as much as any late-night VHI marathon.

Video screens playing hits from the 1980s helped Morgan take his mind off his tooth pain and made the trip to the dentist slightly surreal.

Video screens playing hits from the 1980s helped Morgan take his mind off his tooth pain and made the trip to the dentist slightly surreal.

Morgan, meanwhile, seemed to be disassociating while watching four music video screens that surrounded the dental chair. When the dentist (a fashionable and relatively young woman) prepped Morgan’s tooth, he discovered that she skimps on Novocain, and he later described the process as excruciating. The good news is that after back-to-back appointments, everything seems fine.

Perhaps you’re wondering, after all this, why we’re here as opposed to somewhere warmer and not quite so weird, such as Mendoza (where we’re headed next week). We came to Villa La Angostura, which has a population of around 7,000, for this weekend’s Salomon K42 trail marathon that traverses the town’s main peak, Cerro Bayo. Some 2000 runners and their families have arrived for the 42K and 15K races, so the town’s three-block center permeates an athletic vibe. We’re two of only three participants from the United States registered for it, but the event draws runners from all over South America.

To my dismay, I saw more fresh snow outside our window a few mornings ago (not what we need in advance of the trail marathon). The gnome on the windowsill seemed to mock me.

To my dismay, I saw more fresh snow outside our window a few mornings ago (not what we need in advance of the trail marathon). The gnome on the windowsill seemed to mock me.

Earlier this week it seemed the weather would play a trick on us all, as fresh snow coated the ground and deepened the frigid knee-high river that runners have to cross, but the sun came out yesterday and everyone is cautiously optimistic it’ll hold. Nonetheless, I’m admittedly nervous about this event. But Morgan is game for it, and so am I. If I find myself plagued by doubt, exhaustion or hypothermia, I’ll just keep singing that Carpenters’ tune that’s been stuck in my head all week: I’m on the top of the world …

The shores of Lago Espejo by Villa La Angostura will be the starting area of Saturday's Salomon K42 trail marathon. I am dazzled each time I discover more peaks and lakes like this!

The shores of Lago Espejo by Villa La Angostura will be the starting area of Saturday's Salomon K42 trail marathon. I am dazzled each time I discover more peaks and lakes like this!

The marathon goes up and over this peak, called Cerro Bayo. We probably really will feel "on top of the world."

The marathon goes up and over this peak, called Cerro Bayo. We probably really will feel "on top of the world."

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  1. Pingback: Salomon K42 Race Report: An “Adventure Marathon” Lives Up to Its Hype | Sarah Lavender Smith on November 18, 2009

5 Comments

  1. Martha Howard, November 13, 2009:

    what a truly strange place…

    That dog Kyle is playing with looks like a young Albert!

    LOVE the last pic of your heads in the Runner’s magazine cover! Do you run Saturday or Sunday? I want to be thinking about you…

    Lots of love -

    Martha

  2. David W. Lavender, November 13, 2009:

    What a perfect place to read Tolkien!

  3. Kia, November 14, 2009:

    I love the gnome house. What a memory that will be for all of you – for life! Patrick says “HI, I miss you!” to Kyle.
    I am guessing you are running right now, so thinking of you…..

  4. Malta Vacations, November 14, 2009:

    I just stumbled across your blog … I love reading travel journals because I find that you learn so much from them.

    I wish I had parents like you guys when I was a kid lol … your kids are soooooo lucky to be traveling across the globe with you. I bet they learn so much more from your travels than at school!

    Hope you continue to have fun, learn and enjoy each other’s company as you continue hopping from one place to another :)

  5. Jorge Ullfig, November 30, 2009:

    Very magical indeed!

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