The worst thing about being at the arse end of the world is that it’s a really, really bloody long way from anywhere. So when I wanted to leave El Chalten, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia, I really only had one option – a 24-hour-long bus trip along Ruta 40 to Bariloche. And yes, it was every bit as grueling as you’d expect, with sickening food, stops in creepy towns and police busts.
If you’re heading north from El Chaltén, the bus is the only way to go outside backtracking to El Calafate and taking an expensive flight to Buenos Aires, so they sell out early. During autumn there are only three buses a week, leaving plenty of people (like me) stranded in El Chaltén for a week or more. By the time I staggered to the bus stop at 10pm, I felt like I was breaking out of prison.
Whilst the trip sounded like a nightmare, I boarded the bus with hopes and dreams of being seated next to a pretty European lass. As the Patagonian wilderness rolled past, I’d win her heart with stories of my drunken adventures and by saying that her hair looked pretty, and maybe get a handjob around the 17 hour mark. Instead I climbed on to find a fat German bloke sitting in my seat with half an empenada hanging out his mouth, and when I asked him to move he farted into my seat and said he’d kill me in my sleep. I suppose dreams arent meant to come true.
The first 10 hours of the trip crawl through the pitch-black Argentinean night. The road out of El Chalten is bumpier than a crack addict’s complexion and there are no towns, villages, windmills, trees or amusement parks to break up the monotony. There’s not even much cow shit to gawk at. With nothing in the way of heating, it was so cold on the bus that ice was forming on the inside of the windows. I was just grateful the bus actually had windows.
There are two types of seating; the more expensive cama, with fully reclinable seats and plenty of space, and the cheaper semi-cama, which lean back a little and are a bit shit. I’d recommend the cama every day, but the little bloke at the bus station must’ve picked me for a poor cunt, because he didn’t even give me the option. So, squashed legs and an aching back it was.
Fortunately, the good folks from Marga serve food on the bus. Unfortunately, it’s of indescribably bad quality and the serving sizes wouldn’t satisfy a Somalian toddler who’d already stuffed his face with rice. Dinner and lunch were identical packages that consisted of some sort of dodgy biscuit, a slice of soggy garlic bread, and a sandwich that caused heated debate between diners regarding the identity of the contents. Some said chicken, some said tuna, I said arse. Homeless arse. Trust me, that’s the worst kind.
It’s a boring trip with stuff-all to see, so if you think it’s a good way to check out Argentina’s stunning scenery you’re out of luck. Ruta 40 is nowhere near the Andes, and the only thing you’re likely to see hour after hour is dead grass and brown hills. The occasional llama or deadbeat town are the only things to break up the boredom. Well, that and the chance of being caught up in a major police bust like I was.
Alright, ‘major police bust’ might be the biggest exaggeration since I told a girl that I’m often confused with Peter North, but there was still some excitement when the bus was pulled over by the cops. A local woman on board was caught smuggling a small dog in her handbag, which meant our trip was delayed for two hours in the middle of nowhere. Honestly, there are so many street dogs in Argie that she might as well have left her old dog at home and picked up a new one when she arrived. The rude bitch didn’t even apologise!
There’s no denying that the El Chalten to Bariloche bus is a tough ride, and as far from the glamorous side of travelling as possible. It’s a never-ending journey for backpackers seeking adventures in far-flung destinations, with the ever-present danger of major delays or breakdowns. By the end I was so tired I could barely pick up a six pack to drink back at my hostel. But there was also something wonderful about being surrounded by people willing to go through such an ordeal for the sole reason of exploring the world. Would I recommend travelling through Patagonia this way? In a heartbeat. Would I do it again? Fuck no, are you crazy?