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Happy New Year, Happy Hangover: 34 Hour Bus to Patagonia

ARGENTINA | Tuesday, 1 January 2008 | Views [2194]

In retrospect, we should have flown from Bariloche to El Calafate in Patagonia, however, finding an "open" airline office for LADE (the local Argentinean airline with the best fares and available schedules) wasn't going to happen between Christmas and New Year.  We didn't want to risk purchasing over the web, as we'd seen other tickets, even but tickets, available for purchase via web for dates that we had confirmed there was no service for.  In fact, when our bus stopped in the middle of the night to pick up passengers, one woman had been sold the same seat as us, but for the prior day, New Year's Eve, and there was no bus service on New Years Eve, so she had hoped to get on today's bus, but we had already paid for and been seated in the same seat.  So at this late stage in the game, bussing it was the only option for us.

Heading south to Patagonia, there are really no nice paved roads, unless you opt to take the 40+ hour bus that crosses Argentina over to Puerto Madryn, and then down to Rio Gallegos then back up and over across Argentina again, to El Calafate.  So we spent two nights in seats that are like airline economy seats, and driving over continuous wash-board roads.  At one point the bus stops, i think it's around 1:00 a.m. the first night in a remote little town.  Driver and copilot get out and duck around a small house, coming back to the bus carrying huge black metal screens 12 feet tall to cover the front windows of the bus, protecting it from the large rocks that keep flying up from the road. iPod batteries can only last so long, and with a bumpy ride, we can't get much reading done. the air conditioning and heater in the supposedly "brand new" Marga bus (we were sold on), that just started this route (there are no other options for a direct route), and because it's a holiday week, there's no one around for them to call to service the problem.  So during the long days, they pop open the vents on the roof, filling the bus with gravely dust, sending my lungs into an allergy fit... finally the driver makes me sit up front in the main driver cab, where interestingly enough there is relatively pure air and air conditioning, despite the rank stench of cigarettes they've been chain smoking in their airtight capsule.  Sitting up front with the huge view windows in the driver cab is the scariest part of the ride for me, as the bus seems to float freely from side to side of the road, and come to screeching halts every 50 or so meters for big piles of dirt detouring traffic across half built bridges crossing new large drainage ducts.  I asked why we weren't on the other road, a significant distance off to our left that had a few lonely vehicles on it, and the driver said that the road we are on is much faster, even though the government has banned traffic on it because the funding to finish it has dried up.  Hmmm... It's now nearly 11:00 p.m. and there's still light on the horizon and pink/purpleish sunset hue behind the clouds in front of us.  We finally pass out in our cramped airlines seats between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. only to wake up completely frozen around 6:00 a.m. praying that we're only another hour away from El Calafate.  We finally arrive just before 9:00 a.m. stumbling into our next cold, windswept destination.  El Calafate is considered the gateway to Patagonia and Los Glaciers National Park.  The town is just beginning to open its sleepy eyes and start the day, and we've arrived, ready to sleep the day away.

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