Day 84: Bus Cancelled and mucho mucho deniro later we have booked a flight back to Santiago!

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June 29th 2013
Published: July 4th 2013
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8am...I scramble out of bed and trundle downstairs to meet our host George who kindly offered to assist and call the bus company for us. As you would have read from Rach's blog yesterday, there was a snow storm that forced the closure of the road between the Chilian/Argentian border. The first thing I see on George's face is concern and in his best but broken English he tells me “probably zero chance”. Hmmm, I drag Rach out of bed as Gladys had already started setting out the breakfast table and over our croissants and cereal, we decide that the best option is to head to the bus station for further details.

We pack up our room and head back down to say (...what we think will only be a temporary...) goodbye to George and Gladys who have been absolute fantastic hosts from 816 B&B. George had booked us a cab and we jumped in and headed off to the bus station. On arrival, we head to the first Andes Mar ticket office we find. We walk up to the counter and, as always, ask “do you speak English”. The guy tells us “a little bit” and we tell him that we have a ticket to Santiago leaving in 45 mins. In response, all he gives us is rapid fire Spanish, not even talking slow in any attempt to see if we understand him. Rach and I just look at each other in stunned silence, then we say “Arhhh, any English??”. He writes down a platform number for us to go and visit which basically ends that conversation. We left the office in search of platform 17&18 as instructed from our unhelpful Andes Mar employee. On route, a bloke (who was clearly trying to sell us tickets to somewhere) asks us in English where we were headed. We told him that we have tickets to Santiago however have heard on a snow storm that has closed the road. He very helpfully takes us to another ticket office (this time the 'International' Andes Mar office'😉 and asks the girl behind the counter what the deal is. As we suspected, he comes back to us shaking his head saying that no buses are running at all today and nobody knows when the route will open up again. We ask him what can we do to get a refund and he runs back to the counter, chats to the girl again and comes back and says that we can only get a refund by emailing the website. Really!? What sort of company cannot give us a refund when we are in their international ticket office. We thanked our helpful ticket guy heaps, he was obviously trying to get a ticket sale by talking to us in the first place but went out of his way to help us out!

Rach and I stand for a moment in the middle of the bus station contemplating our predicament. Today is Saturday, we need to get back to Santiago for our flight back to Australia on Monday. What we gather from the ramblings from our bus company (“no salida”) that there is no certainty that the road will open up tomorrow. We decide that the best course of action is to head back to 816 B&B. We cab it back and reluctantly ring the doorbell. I don't think they were too surprised that we'd returned, but they let us in and we setup the laptop to search for alternatives.

Firstly, Rach searched for flights however obviously been next day flights, they were ridiculously expensive. I attempted to call our travel insurance company, Travel and Go. They had an 'emergency 24 hour' contact line written on my policy so thought given that we were stranded in the middle of Argentina, this was kind of an emergency. I pressed '2' for their claims department only to be told by an automated message that the claims department only operated during business hours, Monday to Friday UK time. Useless!! I dialed again this time pressing '1' for medical emergency and thankfully got out through to someone. I explained that it wasn't a medical emergency however wanted some advice on what we should do. Once again, Travel and Go turned out to be nothing but unhelpful from a travel insurance company. The bird on the other end may as well have been a monkey, always responding to my questions that she was only able to assist with medical emergencies and that I'd have to call back on Monday.

On our own again, we decided that the only sure way to get back to Santiago was to fly; as the road conditions across the Andes were unlikely to change in less than 24 hours. We decided to bite the bullet and book the $750USD one-way flight using eDreams website. We got to the final stage and payment confirmation and an error popped up, cannot book flight as less than 24 hours before take-off! You have got to be kidding me. I tried calling the airline too however on Skype I couldn't get the Argentinian number to work. I did however locate a Aerolineas Argentinas ticket office located in the centre of Mendoza and it closes at 1pm on Saturdays. It was noon now so we got our skates on and walked into town.

We walked into the ticket office and took a number, 08; the display showing that person holding 93 was currently at the counter. This could take a while! Thankfully they soon buzzed through the numbers and about 25 minutes later we were called to the desk. We explained we needed a flight to Santiago tomorrow. She tapped away at the keyboard for a while, finally printing something out. She began writing some numbers on the page before finally showing us. 2700 Argentinian Pesos, underneath she had written $502USD! Holy crap, then she explained that that was the price for 1 ticket!! We are talking about a direct one-way flight that takes all of 50 minutes to fly over the Andes. Rach was fuming, saying 'you have got to be kidding'. Nope, apparently they weren't and somehow could justify charging a ridiculous amount for such a flight. Rach stormed out in anger and I hung around to reluctantly to pay for the tickets.

We moped around town after that, walking in a daze that we'd just bought a flight for $20 per minute!! We were still getting over the fact that our bus was cancelled and now this! We thought the only way to cheer us up would be to walk back to Maria Antoinetta restaurant and at least have a decent lunch after an abismal morning.

Rach reverted back to her chicken, avocado and tomato toasted panini and this time I went the steak sandwich. We sat outside in the sunshine and watched the flurry of activity around us. Apparently there was a big soccer match in town today and the whole place was buzzing with people wearing bright red tops and tracksuits. We logged onto the restaurants website and watched the tennis using the amazing Wimbledon iPhone app (unfortunately Sam Stosur wasn't too well!). When our meals came out, Rach got her sandwich however mine was a gigantic piece of steak! Normally I wouldn't complain however I really just felt like a toasted panini, and the waitress apologised and told me I would only be charged for a sandwich. Why won't anything go right today!!

We finished lunch and walked around the corner to a hotel we had just looked up, as obviously we'd need a bed for tonight and our hosts at 816 B&B had apologised saying that they were fully booked. We had found this hotel using and a special for $60. However when we asked the front desk, he told us the best price he could do was $116!! We showed him on the iPhone the special however he couldn't accept it, indicating that we had to book over the internet. And because our luck was going our way today, the website wasn't letting us book it given that it was less than 24 hours until check-in! RAR!!!

We wondered back to the B&B and explained the morning's lack of success. Thankfully Gladys called a hotel around the corner and arranged a booking for us for $85. We grabbed our bags, thanked our hosts once again, without their help we would've (1) had no idea there was an issue with the border crossing to begin with (2) been stranded at the bus station with no access to anything. We walked down the road and around the corner and found a new hotel. They were expecting us and we checked in, crashed on the bed and turned on the TV to watch the tennis. We didn't move all afternoon (even though it was a stunning day outside). We did a bit of admin and caught up on some Kindle time. When the famdam back in Oz and NZ decided to wake up, we skyped home for a bit, doing the rounds between my folks, Rach's N&G and mum and dad.

We wondered around the corner for dinner, walking up and down the street trying to decipher menu's and decide on a place that felt 'alright'. We decided on the one which had to most people in it. It turned out to be more a cafe than a restaurant however it did do some food and our meals were ok. We walked back to the hotel around 9.30pm, and quickly got ourselves organised for bed. I did my level best to explain to the guy on the front desk in Spanish/charades that we wanted to book a taxi to the airport tomorrow morning. I think we got it right, and he would arrange for a 4am pickup, 3.30am wake-up call! Here's hoping my Spanish got it right!!


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