Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Thursday, March 08, 2012

On the Road to Calafate

We booked a special trip to visit the ‘Cueva des las Manos’ Caves. Those caves are on the way to Calafate. We committed ourselves to two days on a bus again, with a stop overnight along the way and a visit the second morning to see the Cave of the Hands (Cueva des las Manos).
then arriving in Calafate the second night. The girl at the Hostel Los Tronchos did all the paper work for us. I was a bit concerned since she used a bus line that does not start from the Bus Terminal but from someplace on a side street in town. We scouted out the bus stop yesterday and yes, it seemed to be legit and known to the locals.

The first day on the bus was purely bus riding. As I said before, up at 5:30AM, a taxi at 6:00AM and then waiting in the rain for the bus to show up at 6:30 AM. I am still concerned since this was a stop not at the Bus Terminal but in front of a store in the middle of downtown Bariloche. So we stood around, wondering if the bus would show up. There was no sign or any other indication that this was a bus stop. We found an overhang to shelter us from the downpour. Another couple stood nearby and we were the only people around this early in the day. He came over to verify that he was in the right place; he seemed to be concerned, too. I told this fellow that I was told this was the spot. I guess we are correct! How do I know for sure? We were standing in the middle of a block, someplace in Bariloche, waiting for a bus, along with this South African couple. All of us were just hoping this is the place!

Sure enough, after some 20 minutes and a bit late, an older bus, worn down from traveling on the unforgiving Route 40 showed up. It had the right name on it, so it must be the right bus. We asked if this bus goes to Calafate and yes, we were told to get on the bus. We stowed our bags in the hold and off we went on a new adventure. Still not too sure about our destination, we asked the guide on the bus who barely spoke English, if this bus goes to Calafate. She affirmed that this was our bus; we were on our way to Calafate. Phew, what a relief! The bus was not crowded; there were plenty of seats available.

The occupants were mostly young people in their 20s, traveling with backpacks, not suitcases. Our guide, a young woman, conversed in Spanish, speaking on a loud microphone, giving all of us instructions about the trip. At one point she was leaning against the bus door when suddenly she fell out of the bus. Luckily we were stopped at a traffic light or for some other reason and she just fell out not hurting herself much. Her English was beyond my comprehension, I understood nothing she had to say. I am not sure why we had her along, but she was there, none-the-less. She was not the guide for the Caves.

Our trip that day ended at 7.30 PM in the town of Perito Moreno. The last few hours were no longer on tarmac but on gravel.
We had some short stops along the way for smoke breaks for people who smoked or bathroom breaks and a lunch stop.
There was a small toilet at the end of the bus but the constant shaking of the bus made this bus bathroom an iffy affair. After some hours it even started to stink from the constant shaking of its contents.

We stopped for the first night at the smallish town of Perito Moreno. A desolate place, brought back to life with the discovery of the nearby Cave of Hands in 1999. The town is still very much asleep.

The hotel picked for us on this excursion in Perito Moreno was 3rd class. It had a restaurant attached but we opted to find a local place a bit more elegant for our dinner that night. There were better hotels in town, but our tour just preferred the local flavor, incl. cigarette stink, over a better place.

The steel bathroom door in our room did not close, the shower was so dirty Carol did not even take a shower; she said she would be dirtier getting out then walking in. This hotel was an old place from the past, before the tourists made Perito Moreno a bus stop on the way to Calafate.

Calafate??? No, we are not going to Calafate, our 'tour guide' said!

What do you mean; we are not going to Calafate?

Well, we are going to El Chaltén, close to Calafate, but we are not really going to Calafate!

How close to Calafate do you go?

Well, 3 or 4 hours away by bus from Chaltén!

I am puzzled! All along the way I thought we are going to Calafate, I even told our guide, I will call her ‘Dingbat’ from now on, about our Hostel reservations in Calafate and now this Dingbat tells me the bus is not going to our chosen destination! What is going on?

Oh, I am fuming! In addition Dingbat tells us that part of the tour package is a night in a Hostel in the next town of Chaltén. She tells us a hostel just for the night, with breakfast is included in our package. And after that, our tour ends. Showing her the brochure we had did not help.
I believe someone changed our schedule to fit their needs. Someone took it upon themselves to omit the drive of the bus from Chaltén to Calafate since none of the other passengers were going to Calafate. All of the other passengers were mountain climbing in Chaltén, we were the only people going on to Calafate; the tour management ended our tour in Perito Moreno and dumped us, passed us on to the jitney driver and washed their hands of us. Yes, we will see the cave of the hands tomorrow morning after we wake up in Perito Moreno. A small bus will take us to the Cave. Our whole itinerary is being changed right then and there. Confusing? You bet!
What to do?

We have reservation in Calafate for late arrival tomorrow. We booked and prepaid the Hostel reservations in Calafate by credit card through Supernova, our travel agent in BA. This is a Holiday weekend, we cannot contact our Travel Agent in BA and nobody is working on this long Bank Holiday. And now you, Ms Dingbat, are telling us we are not arriving in Calafate tomorrow? Are you kidding us? I am livid. Planning is everything. We trusted the travel agent at the Hostel, we trusted the Bus line when we stepped on the bus and we even trusted Ms, Dingbat, even though she fell out the bus door. I should have known better right there and then.
So a lot of confusion, a lot of how could this have happened. But we need to keep our cool, those things happen on a trip, confusion can be really bad, we can work this out.

First things first! We are going to the Cave of Hands tomorrow morning starting at 7AM. We have a pick up at the hotel. We need to buy breakfast because it is not included in the package tour and then......we are off to Chaltén. Yes, we are still on the way to Calafate but with a huge detour and an unexpected stay over in Chaltén. But let's talk about the Cueva de los Manos next. I explain to you after that how Ms. Dingbat found a way out of this mess and how it happened.

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