Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Thursday, March 08, 2012

On the road to San Carlos de Bariloche (famous Route 40)

The distances are great in Argentina. Another 17 hours on a bus, going due south from Mendoza to Bariloche. Long flights seem better; at least I don’t get jostled around so much in my seat when I fly. We had a few stops along the way to Bariloche to pick up other passengers.
Just after we left Mendoza at 9.00 PM on Sunday it rained quite a bit and yes, the roof of the bus leaked right over my seat. I had to use a blanket to hold the water off of me. It was a good, strong shower and luckily did not last too long. The rain wet the floor and all seats were taken so I could not switch seats. The crew had no answer to my predicament.
We stopped about 6 times for military controls along the way but nobody came into the bus to check out the passengers like they did on the bus to Iguazú falls. We were served dinner at 10 PM, breakfast at 7 AM and lunch at 1 PM on this trip. The food is similar to airline food with an Argentinean flavor. We had cookies and stale medialunas (croissants) for breakfast, for example). It was food to still one’s hunger, not to satify ones senses.
A speed alarm went off after one stop and could not be reset manually. Once the bus driver exceeds 90KM per hour, his speed limit, a red light comes on and a high pitched beeper sounds upstairs. The personnel tried to manually turn if off but it was stuck. So it beeped for a while, right above our seats, wailing at a high pitch that was actually painful for Carol. Luckily she had ear plugs handy. Only after the driver stopped the bus and restarted the engine did the buzzer reset itself and turn off.
The trip was butt numbing; my backside ached from sitting that long in a semi-reclining seat. I tried to sleep but fitting like a pretzel into the seat made it just a nap here and there. The landscape around us was the same flat landscape for miles and miles.
Most of the land was now desert, with just a few houses or small towns along the way. The land in between the towns was not farmed; I just saw scrubby bushes and a few grassy patches here and there. During the night no light shone and I saw only blackness.
I noticed that Poplar trees were planted wherever possible to break up the wind coming out of the west, off the high Andes that look like a black wall in the distance.
Route 40, the famous road we are now on, 5000 km of road from north to south, runs parallel to those expanses of monster volcanoes, most extinct but some still quite active. Near the town of Neuquén, the land started to change. This is the official gate city to Patagonia. From now on the Route 40 no longer runs straight but finds the easiest pass thru the foot hills of the mountains but always bearing south. It must have been some work to put in this road through the western part of Argentina. The terrain is unforgiving, the desert, hot and dry and very windy, the mountains twisty and undulating, seemingly forever.
We passed spots of dead poplar trees and gray,
dust covered bushes. The air looked like we were driving through a cloud yet it was ash from a spewing volcano nearby.

This Volcano, Puyehue, southwest of Bariloche, has been erupting continuously since last July. Westerly winds make the ashes drift far into the land and sometimes block out the sun.
In this wild area of Argentina, the road is just one lane in each direction. Two vehicles can just about pass each other, there is not always room to pull off the side of the road, and there are just a few guard rails in the most dangerous spots. Since I sat in the driver’s seat but on the upper deck I had the same view as the driver. Sometimes the going was very tight, the curves difficult to negotiate. I noticed the bus driver cutting corners on steep curves,
but I also noticed he never passed when there was the slightest chance of oncoming traffic. Some cars, old and dilapidated, were very slow and never did the bus driver pass unless he could really pass in a safe manner.
Head on collisions on route 40 are part of life. We passed one such accident and had to drive through the dirt on the side of the road to get past the accident scene.
It was difficult going in the soft sand next to the road for big trucks and buses. We were lucky we did not get stuck but the driver managed with a lot of wheel spinning to get back on the tarmac again.
Once we entered Patagonia, trees were more numerous and the bus now had to contend with curves upon curves. Once in a while we saw different trees, most of them I don’t know, but I recognized a few Monkey Puzzle trees.
I watched the road signs and still it said, 340 km. to Bariloche, then after some time 280 km. etc. We were getting closer. We crossed rivers, we passed blue/green lakes, and we saw in the west the 3000+ meter giant mountains looming with their white snow hats. On and on we drove until finally, at 2 pm we arrived at the Terminal de Omnibus in Bariloche. I am so glad we had Hostel reservation; I would not want to drive around in a taxi now, looking for accommodation after such a long trip. My body aches, my head is spinning, and I need sleep.

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