El Calafate to Puerto Natales


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South America » Chile
October 27th 2019
Published: October 27th 2019
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Fun road trip from El Calafate to Puerto Natales today. Woke up early worrying about what time we need to turn up at the bus station for our 7.30am departure. We’ve asked Ginny for the taxi at 7.00am but when I check my booking again it says we should arrive one hour before departure. Now I can’t sleep so get up and shower and go and knock on reception door just before 6.30am. The stray guard dog ‘blanqui’ curled up outside can’t be bothered to stir, but luckily Susanna is up and lets me in. She reassures me that turning up 15 minutes before departure is fine, but I ask her to get the taxi for 6.50 all the same. She also accepts card payment for yesterday’s trip, so at least that’s sorted. There’s a 5% (£13) surcharge, but it’s lower than the bank charges would have been, and I couldn’t even get any cash out anyway.

We have a speed breakfast, the taxi turns up and we prepare to leave Argentina. It’s under 10 minutes to the bus station which is deserted! In fact the COOTRA bus company desk is open and the lady cheerily checks us in and says the bus will be here in ten. It’s pulling in as we get to the parking bays so we load up and get to our reserved seats on the upper deck. Once more we have poll position at the front (except for Maia because under 18s aren’t supposed to sit there). We have the left hand seats which I’m quite glad about as the right hand window has a massive diagonal crack from one side to the other...as well as spoiling the view it doesn’t inspire confidence...don’t think it would pass an MOT like that. Anyway, that aside, the seats are wide and comfortable like armchairs, they recline a long way and there’s a sloping leg rest panel - I imagine this is what it must be like to travel first class - feels luxurious! Conversely, the temperature is arctic so we put in hats and gloves.

Slowly, the station comes to life with a few more passengers arriving and boarding, but the bus isn’t really very full. We set off just after 7.30am. We’re all tired so doze for the first couple of hours as we drive across the guanaco dotted landscape towards Chile. Feeling refreshed, we then enjoy the view of the Torres del Paine park in the distance as we continue passing scraggy sheep, cows, a few horses and of course more guanaco on the vast plains. We also see a couple more ñandúes (rhea).

The conductor or co-driver hands out immigration forms for us to fill out before we get to the border. We turn into a gravel dirt track and wonder what route we are taking. We’re trying to follow the journey on our phones, but the blue dots are going a bit doo-lally. We pull up at a small, unassuming building which turn ms out to be the Argentinian border control. We have to get off the bus to have our passports stamped, but it’s all pretty informal and good natured. A few hundred metres ahead, a pristine asphalt road appears with painted lines. There’s a slightly more imposing building and barrier in the road...this looks and feels more like a border crossing. We have to disembark again to show our passports, put our hand luggage through the x-ray machine and hand over our declaration forms. In front of us several passengers are tucking into apples. I assume that we’ll be allowed to keep our pathetic picnic food consisting of some grotty sandwiches, packets of unhealthy crisps/snacks and a few apples and oranges, but no. The horrid sandwiches make it through (which we’d rather throw away), so does the sweaty cheese and the packets of processed food, but the apples and oranges go...nooooo!!!

The driver says we can have a coffee break at the ramshackle looking Ovejera shop. We go in to console ourselves with an americano and a cafe con leche. It’s suddenly like an Aladdin’s Cave shouting WELCOME TO CHILE - bright lights, loads of souvenirs and good coffee - yay! A discussion programme called Hola Chile is on the TV and of course the discussion is all about the current situation with the curfews in various towns. We’re hoping to get back up to speed with what is going on soon.

The bus has gone from arctic to equatorial so we’ve stripped off for the final hour to Puerto Natales. It goes quickly and we arrive before 1pm, a little ahead of schedule. The trip cost ARS 1,500 each (around £20) and was really enjoyable - totally recommend it!

Andrea from our tour company Antares comes to meet us punctually and we’re finally back on track with our holiday as originally planned. Joy! Rodolfo is our driver and off we go to Hotel Aquaterra to settle in. There is no curfew in Puerto Natales, but there are peaceful but noisy protests happening in the evenings apparently. Today in Santiago, 1 million people filled the streets protesting. Although the president, Piñera, has made several concessions such as reducing the metro fares and increasing wages and pensions, people are calling for him to resign. The death toll from the protests is now in the teens. Andrea leaves us at our hotel, advises us to go to El Bote for and arranges to see us for supper at 8.20pm.

We have a pleasant lunch at El Bote - salads and sea bass, then go and check in to our room. It’s a cute triple with toe to toe singles in one room then down a step to another single in a separate area. All comfortable and cosy with nice decor, but the noise carries a lot from other rooms. We go for a wander to have a coffee and end up in the port in Kau Lodge. The location is stunning, the coffee is excellent and we have a relaxing half hour or so on a sofa just chilling. The only spoiler is a fairly large group of tourists in there, but they’re not too bad.

David and Maia go off to explore on foot while I go for a siesta to try and shake off a headache.

At supper time Andrea takes us back to Kau Lodge and this time we have the place to ourselves. We have a really fantastic meal, try our first pisco sour and get to know Andrea. Her perspective on the Chilean situation is that the news is being manipulated by the state in order to turn the public against the protesters. For example she believes that looting is being facilitated by the military to encourage wrongdoing that affects public opinion. However the protests in Puerto Natales remain peaceful and we see some candlelight notices on our way home. We have to go back via a hostel that rents hiking poles as we have no hiking poles and we apparently need hiking poles 😳.

From our room we can hear that the protesters are still going strong at 11pm with their saucepans and chants. Puerto Natales is a small town way down south in the country so the movement against the president and inequality is truly nationwide.

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