Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Patagonia Part 6: Long Bus Rides and El Calafate

When we woke up the morning after the hike in El Bolson, it was raining pretty hard. I felt like I timed it just right, if it's going to rain all day I might as well be on a bus, right? I got a cab into town and hung out at the bus station/travel place. I was a little nervous, this was to be my first REALLY long haul ride: to leave at 11am and arrive at 1pm the following day. What would I DO for all that time? What if I sat next to someone who smelled bad or something? All I could do was download some new books on my kindle, buy a bottle of wine, charge all my devices, and hope for the best.

It was a long time. But it wasn't *that* bad. I did a lot of reading, sudoku puzzles, logic puzzles, sleeping, movie-watching, eating, and sleeping more. The bus class for pretty much all long-hauls is "cama" which means bed. The seats are big and do recline really far back, and have more than adequate leg room for my short self. But they don't go totally flat and it's not "like a real bed." It also depends on the bus line what amenities you'll get. Unfortunately, only one company goes from Bariloche to El Calafate so it's not like there is a choice. This is unfortunate, because this particular bus line does NOT serve alcohol, unlike the stories I've heard from other bus travelers who had an array of delicious choices to help their ride along. When it became apparent that I was not going to be offered anything after dinner except ultra-sweet coffee, I asked for a cup for my wine. The following is my exchange with the waiter-on-a-bus type guy (translated into English for your reading convenience): "A cup, please"
"A cup of what?"
"Just a cup."
"Water, tea, coffee?"
"Just a cup."
"Why?"
"For my wine." For the record, everywhere in South America is open container. Drinking in public, on a bus, in the streets walking around, or basically anywhere is just not a big deal. Which is why I wasn't secretive about my intentions. So I was really surprised by his response that it wasn't allowed. But I accepted it and went back to my book. About 20 minutes later, he came, accompanied by another attendant and a styrofoam cup. He handed it to me, said "solamente un pocito" (only a little bit) and he and the other guy watched me pour a cup of wine. I don't know why....it was weird.

Anyway fast forward about 20 hours and I finally arrived in El Calafate. Getting off the bus, I realized how far south I'd actually gone because it was cold! After buying a bus ticket for the next morning, cabbing it to my hostel and unpacking, I set off to explore the town-and my first stop was to buy a winter hat and gloves! I set off to find a cerveceria I'd seen on the map (hmm, anyone noticing a theme?). I found it and loved it because I sat down and before they even came to take my order or bring a menu, they brought me peanuts and samples of their 3 microbrews! That was exciting. I ended up staying there for dinner as well.

El Calafate itself isn't really much of a destination, but it's very well traveled by tourists for one reason: Los Glaciares Parque Nacional. That was my destination for the next morning so I got my things packed and got to bed early so I'd be ready for it!

DO
Go to the glacier (see my next post for more on that).

STAY
I stayed at a place called Marco Polo Inn (not to be confused with Hotel Marco Polo, by the way. I'll take this opportunity to mention that really, hostel/hotel reviews are pretty subjective because for ME, my experience at a place is based almost totally on who I meet while I'm there. And from one day to the next, you could have a completely different experience. That's kind of how this place was. The first day, everyone was gone (to the glacier no doubt) when I arrived, so I took a shower and wandered around town-no problem. The next night, all but one person in my dorm had left and a new group of 5 Australian guys were staying there. They were really nice, but taking showers and getting ready to go out, playing loud music until after midnight, then came back falling down drunk when I was eating breakfast at 7am the next day. Totally different experience. Anyway here's my review of the place.
PROS-decent location (but take a taxi from the bus station the first time, hard to find). Nice enough dorms and staff. OK kitchen, OK breakfast. Nice common area with a big dining area, TV, and pool table.
CONS-nothing was bad but nothing really stood out either. They were pretty disorganized though, both days the wrong beds were stripped down even when it was obvious someone was still there. It's annoying to have to remake your bed (and have someone else try to sleep in it) 2 nights in a row because they don't have it straight!

No comments: