We got up early, 0500 on our departure day from Bariloche. Antonio was at the gate to take us to meet the bus. We loaded our gear into his car – 1987 Renault – and headed for our last time on this trip to centro. A few travelers were gathered and more were coming. The bus wasn’t there yet so we found a piece of pavement and sat to wait.
The bus rolled around the corner and stopped. We were not quite sure if we needed some paperwork to board – some people had vouchers. We put our bigger bags in the baggage hold then got in line to board. Rosario, our guide for this leg of our trip, had a passenger list and at first could not find our names but, looking over her shoulder, I found them and we were sent to seats 27 and 28. Click Here for more pictures from this part of the trip.
We got going very close to the appointed time, 0700, and after winding through the streets of Bariloche, found Ruta 40 and headed south. Rosario made some announcements. She pointed out that there was a rest room in the rear of the bus – liquid only. During the trip she came to our seats and gave us a bundle of hotel, hostel and bus vouchers for the rest of our trip to Punta Arenas. Also on the bus were two couples that we met on our hike up Cerro Llao Llao.
We passed a seemingly endless parade of jagged peaks, as if they had been pushed up yesterday and had no time for erosion. Popping ears told us that we were also descending in altitude.
As we went through El Bolsón, we made a note to visit there on our next trip. It is notable as the “hippie capital” of Argentina.
The terrain gradually flattened to arid plains – the Patagonian steppe. The road was still mostly paved but there were some unpaved stretches. It also got hotter. The driver was asked to turn on the air. He did and we got air through the vents but not cooled air. The A/C didn’t work.
We made three stops along the way including one for lunch at a restaurant-gas station. We were told that it was OK to bring our own lunches into the restaurant which was nice because we had packed a lunch. But we did buy a few empanadas, which are available everywhere in varying quality.
On the bus, Rosario helped us select and book an excursion to a glacier that we would take from El Chaltén. It proved to be a wonderful excursion.
Our stop for the night was in Perito Moreno and the Belgrano Hotel. The Belgrano is a rather tired place with thin walls in need repairs and upgrades but we had a room and bath and got a good sleep. We walked down the main street looking for a restaurant and stumbled on Salon Iturrioz. It is a museum but serves coffee and light fare, including empanadas. When we tried to order some, they were out. But we were told that the bakery across the street had plenty and we could bring them here and have them warmed in the microwave. We did, they were cheap and very good. We went back the next morning for coffee and pastries from the bakery.
The next morning, we had a different bus (a bit older) and two new drivers. Rosario returned to Bariloche with the first bus. The road to El Chaltén was mostly not paved and slow. There were long stretches of a parallel road that was being upgraded and paved. We occasionally were able to go on the new surface. We saw wild llama-like guanacos and a medium-sized flightless bird called locally a ñandu or rhea. The ñandu looks much like a small ostrich.
This bus did not have a toilet, so we hesitated having a beer with lunch. The sun was hot and the air on this bus was worse than the previous day. It was hot. At all the rest stops there were long lines waiting for the few toilets. Many of the ladies used the men’s to speed things up.
Continuing on, the singing of the tires on the pavement alternated with the bump, rattle and jostling on the unpaved sections.
A young man from Buenos Aires joined the bus in Perito Moreno. He was mostly traveling on a bicycle which was stowed in the cargo hold. He is an avid sailor, has spent time in New Zealand and is working on a degree in industrial engineering.
From the last rest stop, the road was paved all the way to El Chaltén. I dozed a bit. Judy nudged me and pointed to the distant mountains. The sight took my breath away – it was our first glimpse of El Chaltén and its neighbors. I had never seen such stunning peaks. It was late in the day and I was hoping for a left turn in the road for a better shot from the speeding bus.
Many of the passengers, including me, were crowding to the front of the bus to shoot photos through the windshield. The driver finally stopped along the road so we could get out and take unobstructed pictures of the peaks as sunset approached. We had a clear view, which we hear is unusual.
The setting sun also highlighted some cloud formations.
We piled back into the bus and completed the trip to El Chaltén. Many got off at the Rancho Grande, but we had one night with a private room in another hotel. We checked in, got a night’s sleep then lugged our baggage to the Rancho Grande the next day for our first taste of hosteling in Argentina. More about that later.