Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Perito Moreno to El Chaltén

After our visit to the caves, the minibus took us on a bumpy ride back out Rte. 40 to meet the bus going to Chaltén. Our meeting spot was someplace along Route 40, at a predetermined spot. We did not meet the same bus we took to Perito Moreno; we met a different bus, different drivers, different in many ways. First of all no sign of Dingbat, like I stated before, we are on our own now, stranded and trying to get to the hostel in Chaltén and then to El Calafate, the town where we booked this section of the trip to end.

As our mini bus arrived at Route 40 we could see our new bus arriving, too. The timing of meeting each other in such a vast space as Argentina was nothing short of amazing. Our new bus did not have a bathroom on board and was filled almost to capacity. Our new bus was older too, but rattled less. Our new drivers, from now on, drove in drizzling rain and only on gravel roads all the way to Chaltén; 13 hours of bone shaking ruts, of up and down hills, deep gravel groves, washed out tracks and sliding in the slimy mud.

We drove and drove south along Route 40 but this time, the road had no relief in sight and it was all gravel, rocks holes and mud.

I looked at the road with motorcycle eyes and all I could say was “no thank you”. Yet we met some folks along the way who were riding this awful stretch,
even waving at us in the bus. One bike we saw along the way was making repairs but was OK and waved us on, thumbs up when I made the bus driver stop to ask if we could help.
The road was lonely, forbidding, desolate and dangerous. I am amazed that anyone rides his/her bike on roads like this all day long.

This was a 13 hour bus trip after our cave visit. No sleeper seats, no reclining seat feature to speak of, with seats made for small Asian bodies. I am too large for these seats. Did I say no bathroom?

How do you hide and pee behind a tree when you drive through a desert?
Especially if you are a woman! Every 3 or so hours the bus stopped and you could do your thing, but…. where do you hide?

This Route 40 is some tough road. I noticed that some stretches are being paved now; still, it is a lonely, desolate, difficult road to be on.
This road is dangerous in an area without much of anything. No house, shade, gas station, not even people or animals. Nada!

Rocks, scrub bushes, sand and either heat, wind or ice cold. God help you if you have trouble here. The few cars we met while travelling did not slow down; did not seem to care if you were stranded on the side of the road. To travel here means to survive or perish. You are on your own here, you are either going to make it to the next town and find help or else!

We bumped, rattled and rolled along on gravel roads between 10 to 50 km/hour speeds hour after hour and arrived at 10:30PM in Chaltén. The bus was a Mercedes stick-shift, the drivers really, really good.

We were dropped off at the bus terminal, two big suitcases at our sides feeling beaten up and lost. Where is our Hostel? Who do you ask that late at night in a small, God forsaken town in the middle of the mountains? But our luck was changing. We found a guy who told us our hostel for the night, Los Condor des Andes, was only 3 blocks away.

We walked, rolling our suitcases along the rough streets. We checked in, slept, had breakfast and the hostel the next morning got us new bus tickets to El Calafate for 90 Pesos each and for a 1 PM departure. We walked back to the bus station again and after another 4 hours on the bus, finally arrived at El Calafate.

As a side note to Chaltén: the town itself does not amount to much. Small as the town is, it used to be even smaller until it was discovered in the ‘80s as a great starting point for mountaineering or trekking.
Establishing the region around Mt. Fitz Roy, the highest mountain in Argentina as a National Park,
having glacier walks in the area and allowing true mountain climbing on the peaks of ‘Cerro Torre’ made this small place a Mecca for mountain climbers.

To the initiated, this is a world class location, featuring difficult climbs; great skills being needed to conquer those massive rock walls. No wonder only 20 year+ olds were on the bus to this location, carrying only backpacks with crampons, clamps, ropes and spikes. No wonder they looked at Carol and me in a strange way. Like one of the other passengers said: “What are YOU doing in Chaltén?” I told him, we are on the way to El Calafate!

And now we have finally arrived, El Calafate!

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