We had two options when leaving the small mountain village of El Chalten on Monday for Bariloche: we either 1) backtrack a few hours by bus to the nearest airport and fly, or 2) take the "legendary" Route 40 road trip - 2 days on a bus on the ultimate unbeaten track.
Being the adventurers that we are, we signed up for the road trip. And now, in retrospect, after constantly questioning what the tour operators were thinking when they heralded it "legendary", I believe I have come up with the answer.
I think that the Route 40 trip as advertised is a "legendary joke" among Argentinians. How many gringos estupidos (I don't think you need me to translate that one) can we convince to take this gawd awful bus trip?
Day 1 saw us starting 45 minutes late. Then about an hour later the bus broke down and it took another 45 minutes to get it running again. A few more hours later and we got stuck in mud for 30 minutes. We somehow managed to lose another hour along the way so ended up being on that loud and uncomfortable bus for over 14 hours in total on day 1.
Day 2 saw us in a more comfortable bus and on mostly more comfortable tarmac. But we barralled down the road without much of a glimpse into some of the seemingly interesting towns that we passed. Another 12 hour day on the road until we finally escaped the bus and could begin to nurse our tired and sore bodies.
Two thirds of the total trip was on rocky dirt road. Only about one tenth of the trip had any kind of scenery worth looking at. Pete and I did not bring much food with us (thinking it would be available along the way!), and we were stuck with gas station empanadas and bananas to tide us over.
It's allllll a part of the grand adventure, right? Whatever. I would like those 2 days back. All over the place we see souvenirs advertising the "Legendary Ruta 40", and I am tempted to pick up a t-shirt and get it personally stenciled at the top with: I survived...
But, we did survive, and we are now in the beautiful Bariloche. Bariloche is almost directly over the Andes from our Chilean stops of Pucon and Puerto Varas, so I expected the same sort of setups and ambiance.
What a difference a big ole mountain range makes! Bariloche is a bustling city, and while it definitely has it's tourist sections, the city has more to offer then it's Chilean counterparts. It finally feels again like we are experiencing something new - it is more authentic, and not all wrapped up in a pretty tourist bow. There is much to enjoy here.
When we finally got checked into our hostel after the marathon bus trek, we joined up with a few fellow gringos estupidos and went for a late dinner (past 10pm!) of glorious wine, steak and veggies. A little late for such a meal, but we all felt like we had deserved it after the hell of the past two days.
Slept in as late as we could but made it down in time for the last 15 minutes of breakfast the next morning. Pete and I did not plan for an adventurous day, but instead ran a couple of errands (including buying tickets for our next bus trip - groan!) and hit one of the not-to-be-missed sights. A 15 minute bus ride out of town landed us at a chairlift to the top of a mountain overlooking the whole area. Wow!! Absolutely breathtaking views of the many islands that dot the large mountain lake the city is situated on.
A few more days to go here and Pete and I decided to enjoy a little pampering this morning. We are in an amazing hostel - not necessarily for its interior beauty - but for it's low cost and the many perks available that we have not gotten at other locations. After our yummy breakfast of crepes and scrambled eggs (included) we just each enjoyed an hour long massage (about $20 each), plus an hour in the jacuzzi just next to our room. And not to mention the view that we get out of our window...
Much more exploring to do before we get back on a bus Friday afternoon for the overnight trip to Mendoza. One of the things on our agenda I am most excited about is taste testing from the many chocolaterias in the area. We are apparently in the chocolate capital of Argentina! We have already visited a couple for the free samples, but have many more to test. It's a tough job, I know.....but, okay.....I'll do it!