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Where I stayed
Around midday, Patti and I took the seven-hour bus ride to Bariloche, a town in the lake district of Argentina. There's a picturesque boat cruise you can also take to get there, but it costs $230, while the bus is $25. Easy decision. Actually, there were beautiful views out of the windows of the bus as well, some of which you can see below:
The views of the Chilean lakes were on our side, but the big lake in Argentina was on the other side of the bus. At one point, I held my camera over the passengers' heads to get a couple of good shots. Across the aisle, a very nice Asian tourist offered to take some pictures for me, which I thought was adorable. In contrast, a jerk face Chilean guy in the row ahead of him saw what I was trying to do and yanked the curtains shut!! What on earth?! Later in the ride, he was looking out our window and I begged Patti to look him dead in the face and shut our curtains. Disappointingly, she refused. If I'd been in the window seat, you can bet your boots I would've done it, just for a laugh.
Anyway, except for that absurdly rude guy, we made it to Argentina without incident. Crossing the border was pretty weird, because there was a 20 minute drive between the Chilean and Argentinean borders. I know this because we had to get off the bus at both to get our passports stamped. So, my question is, where were we during those 20 minutes? No man's land? Patti and I speculated that it could be a smart place to commit the perfect crime, since there would be nowhere to try you. Can any of my friends in law school venture a guess?
Once we got to Bariloche, we decided to book our next set of bus tickets right away. This (summer) is the high season, so transportation and accommodations fill up fast, especially when you head south into Patagonia, like we're trying to do. With the distances between towns so vast, very few companies travel the route. This leaves three main ways to get there:
1. The Carretera Austral - Very scenic drive/ferry combination that takes up to three weeks to complete, due to multiple connections and switches, plus the fact that not every service runs every day.
2. Route 40 - A two-and-a-half day drive with the Chalten travel company. It gets you to El Chalten (near El Calafate) the quickest, but you spend the first two days driving through vast, bleak landscapes over sometimes unpaved roads. I've seen people's pictures and it looks really boring. Plus, some people have reported that Chalten put them in a small van instead of a bus, the very thought of which makes me feel motion sick.
3. The East Coast of Argentina - Patti and I picked this route. It's by far the longest route, since the road swings way out to the east coast of Argentina, but the roads are all paved and many of the buses we'll need to take are overnight, so the journey will automatically feel eight hours shorter each time we sleep. Along the way, we can stop at Puerto Madryn, a town famous for its marine wildlife and the largest penguin colony in South America. I hope we made the right choice!
Bus tickets successfully booked, we hopped a local bus into town and trudged up a series of very steep hills to our hostel, the Hostel Inn Bariloche. It was conveniently located at the top of a couple hundred steps. I thought I was going to have a heart attack by the time we got all of the way up. Our reward for making it up was beautiful views of the lake and... the news that they'd overbooked the hostel and we had to stay at the Marco Polo Inn down the street instead.
So, we went back down the steps, all the while wondering if we were on Candid Camera, and found the new hostel. It was ok, very big and somewhat impersonal, but it seemed clean.
Another perk was that the hostel served free dinner, which turned out to be a plate of white rice with tomato sauce and one-and-a-half meatballs. It was sort of weird and bland, but at least it was free.
The dorms were full so they'd upgraded us to a private triple. Maybe it was karma, saying, "Sorry about those steps." The bathroom had pretty periwinkle tiles, but tons of water damage in the ceiling. It was all spotted with mildew and mold and had small holes in it. The bathroom window, which did not shut properly, looked out over the bar next door, which was pretty noisy late into the night. All in all, not our dream hotel, but at least it was clean. Or so we thought...