Published: August 1st 2011July 24th 2011
Our nearest and dearest, who may have become encouraged at the news of us booking ahead and the prospect of us becoming a more planful pair, will be disappointed. Our forward planning has got us into a bit of a pickle. We have tickets for specific seats, on a specific bus, scheduled to depart on a specific date......and the bus has been cancelled. Snow has blocked the main road south. We´re told to try tomorrow, but are worried that even if tomorrow´s bus is running, we won´t be guaranteed seats, so we insist on being issued new tickets with dedicated seat numbers.
The extra day does at least mean to get to visit the whales again (and gives the camera another battery-sapping outing). We´re joined by two others from the hostel, so share a taxi to the beach. We spend a couple of hours there before hitching a lift back. We then pack up our stuff again and head for the bus station again. We´ve heard mixed stories about whether the buses are heading south or not. Another couple who were staying at the hostel managed to head south yesterday travelling with a different bus company. We´re not sure what to expect but are keen to get moving, conscious that we have a return bus booked back from the south and any extra days spent in Puerto Madryn, mean less days for us in El Calafate and El Chalten.
Bus stations here are often home to scores of agencies, each offering similar deals on long-distance journeys. Over time we have come to understand that there are probably only 3 or 4 companies actually running the show, and they sub-contract with all the others. With this knowledge, we begin our bizarre exchanges (tag-teaming or double-teaming as necessary). It goes something like this:
Mr. Otto (whg we have tickets with): Your 4pm bus has been cancelled. The road is closed becuase of the snow. Come back tomorrow.
Mr. Andesmar: We might have a bus running at 5pm (on the same road). Come back then.
Mr. Otto: It´s definitley closed. I have two seats left on the 1.30 bus tomorrow and can get you on that.
Mr Andesmar: The 5pm is running. But it´s full. It was our last bus. Come back tomorrow.
Mr. Otto: I can´t give you tickets for the 1.30 now, the road might still be closed. Here, have your money back.
Mr Andersmar: We don´t have any buses now. The road is closed. Try in a few days.
Mr. Otto: The road is closed
Mr. Tac: Go away
Mr Andersmar: Try Mr Penguin
Mr Penguin: Yes, we have a 6pm bus running and yes, there are seats available. You have to book them through Mr Andersmar.
Mr. Andersmar: Ok, here are the tickets for the 6pm bus. It´ll leave at 7pm
Mr. Otto: The road is closed
The upshot of all of this is that we eventually get on a bus, provided by a different bus company one to the one we´d orginally booked with. Also, not the bus which arrived at 7pm, which was the 7pm bus, but the bus which arrived at 7.30pm, which was the 6pm bus. So a day and a few hours late, we leave. There´s much high-fiving between us as we pull out of the bus station, heading South. We´re elated to be on the road and feel like we´ve won some sort of bizarre Crystal Maze mind puzzle game with the bus companies as our adversary. We´re joined on this leg of the journey by Kishwar, an interesting, bright and seasoned traveller who we met in Puerto Madryn. It´s great to have a new travelling compànion, expecially one that speaks more Spanish than us!
We´re still beaming about the fact that we´re on a bus an hour later when the bus pulls in to Trelew bus station. Our driver makes a rushed announcement in Spanish, which we interpret to mean that we will have a few hours stay here and that the bus will leave at midnight. This isn´t too bad - it´s approaching 9pm, we´ve got comfy seats and a chance to stretch our legs before the overnight journey ahead. But our travelling companion looks less content - Kishwar provides a more accurate translation of the driver´s announcement. The road south is closed for the night. We could keep going but would only get turned back. The 12 o´clock we heard didn´t refer to midnight, but noon tomorrow. We´re to spend the next 15 hours parked up at this staion. The seats suddenly seem less comfy and the distrations of the service stop less entertaining. Our journey has just become a 36 hour marathon and means we will miss our well-planned, pre-booked, pre-paid onward connection.
Still on a bus......
This update will be short. We´re still on the bus. Our only distrations for the last twenty four hours have beeñ:
i) Competitions to see who is most disgusted among the three of us at the plastic cheese and rubbery bread which appears at irregular intervals, kindly provided within the cost of our ticket;
ii) Choosing which type of dry biscuit to eat in between courses of plastic cheese
iii) Worrying about deep vein thrombosis
We actually left Trelew at 9 in the morning rather than midday, which was very exciting. But on reaching the stretch of icy and snow-edged roadthat has caused all our problems we slowed to 60kph. This soon dropped to an average 40kph thanks to the frequent, lengthy interruptions of the Police Department for the Maintenance of Roadside Delays. After about 30 hours the speed picked up which, on reaching 90kph, prompted a screaming passenger alarm and red flashing light display which helpfully informed us that the bus´maximum speed limit had been breached. The alarm was above our heads in the upper deck. Why we had to be punished for the driver´s transgressions is a quandry. We´re seriously over buses.