Ruta 40, Al Norte

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jan 20, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Monday, January 7, 2008

North, then. Heading home. Sort of. At least starting the long journey. But with a few stops on the way. El Calafate, first. For the glacier. Glacier Perito Moreno (after the explorer, of whom more later), in Parque Nacional De Glaciers. Another one? Yes, another. But bigger. More impressive. Very impressive.
And, of course, the bird sanctuary. Laguna Nimez, with its flamingoes. That was good, too. A hostel that looked like an oversize log cabin. But was very pleasant. At least compared with what was to come.
We headed off. An open ticket up Ruta 40. First stop El Chalten. Apparently a pleasant place to go hiking around mountains. And lakes. Very Patagonian. More mountains, more lakes. Can you get sick of them, do you think? More bastard lakes. With their ridiculous blue-green water. Hmmm.
El Chalten was raining. The whole town turning to mud (they hadn't bothered to pave the roads. Who needs paved roads? This is Patagonia. Paved roads are for other places). The sky was grey. Visibility was vastly reduced. The supposed large mountains surrounding the town couldn't be seen. And the 30mm of rainful that falls annually all decided to come down at the start of January. That very day. So we walked through it. Cursed through sludge. Towards our weary rest. We weren't being shot at or gassed, though. So that was OK. What wasn't OK was that everywhere was full. Todo completo. Even the really expensive places. Bastards. Finally, we found what were probably the last three beds in the whole one-horse town that is El Chalten. And decided we didn't like it, and would move on the next day. Superb. We confirmed our reservations (with Elisabeth deciding she would spend a few extra days around Los Antiguos, and myself and Laetitia heading straight from Perito Moreno, after one night, to Bariloche.) So the next morning (gloriously sunny, superb views of mountains as we walked to the bus, wondering if we had left in a huff, slightly too early. No. Je ne regrette rien, as they say in French Guiana, parts of Switzerland and some of North Africa. Another long bus journey. Twelve hours, mas menos. To a town that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Shite hole at the back of beyond". Like Nelson, Lancashire. But without the friendly locals... They possibly don't sleep with their sisters or eat the dead in Perito Moreno, but they don't seem to like outsiders. Which is a drawback when you run a hotel, you may think. Or a restaurant. It didn't matter. All the hotels were full. Every single bastard one. There was, apparently, a cherry festival in Los Antiguos. Why? Why a cherry festival, and why hold it somewhere too shit to cope with the demands brought about by the arriving cherry afficianados? Quien sabe. But they did hold it, anyway, and towns for miles around filled with deluded morons wanting to go to a cherry festival. All of which meant that I had to spend the night in a campsite. Without a fucking tent. In a sleeping bag, in a field. And after having been told by some random Germans that petrol stations were on strike, and there probably wouldn't be any buses the next day. Abso-flippin'-lutely fantastic. Stuck in a town that seems to be the 10th Circle of Hell (probably located up Judas Iscariot's arse, inside that block of ice), with no beds, and no way to the beds we'd reserved in Bariloche.
Nonetheless, back to the field -four of us - myself, Elisabeth, Laetitia and David, a chap from the US we met on the bus. At least, we were initially in a field, we moved into the kitchen at some point. When it became too cold. And the people holding a party in there had finally buggered off to bed. It was warmer. Albeit the concrete floor wasn't the most comfortable. Laetitia seemed to think sleeping sat up on a bench, with her head in her hands was a better option. Possibly. But whatever the options, we weren't sleeping in late... In the cafe just by where the bus left from, drinking coffee and eating bread, approximately an hour early. Better than lying on concrete.
And then a thirteen hour journey. To Bariloche. Through Patagonia. The Patagonian Steppe. Which starts off as a bleak, beautiful panorama, endless sky above a bush-filled plain. And slowly gets more and more boring. You can't stare at that for thirteen hours. Bruce Chatwin - so much to answer for. But, approaching Bariloche, the ground starts to rise up. Mountains, again. The Lake District. Bariloche, of course, claims to be Patagonia, but it's more or less level with Pucon, so that really makes it the Lake District. It has beds. Chocolate. Lakes. Stuff like that. And, to be honest, after Perito Moreno, really there couldn't be much more you could want.
We walked in a National Park. Llao Llao. Lakes. Trees. You get the picture.
And today I leave. Bariloche and Laetitia. On my own again. For the last leg. To Trelew and Puerto Madryn, initially. Completely the wrong direction. But never mind. I know what I'm doing. I think.
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