When we enjoyed three days on the Navimag Ferry sailing to Southern Chile, we did not imagine how difficult and time-consuming it would be to get back to the North on the overland route. By bus from Puerto Natales in Southern Chile to Bariloche in Argentina it also took us nearly three days!
Saturday, 6 am: Our alarm clock rings. We wake up in Puerto Natales, a small town in the far south of Chile.
Saturday, 6:30 am: A number of people are already having breakfast in the Hostal Nancy. Their bus for the Torres del Paine National Park leaves at 7:00 am. We, too, slurp down huge mugs of Nescafe, have some Haalulas (Chilean rolls) with cheese and walk out into the pouring rain in order to catch our bus – from Puerto Natales to Calafate in Argentina.
Saturday, 7:30 am: We take seats number 14 and 15 and sink immediately into a well-practiced bus slumber. After just over an hour this is disrupted by the border formalities. We now cross into Argentina and move into the next time zone, losing one hour.
Saturday, 1:50 pm: We have arrived in Calafate and are now researching the possibilities for going north towards Bariloche (also in Argentina) by bus. All the direct buses are booked days in advance.
Saturday, 3 pm: We finally decide on a “combination ticket,” a euphemism for having to change buses and bus companies several times and for having to take a detour. “You can leave your bags here if you want,” offers the attendant. 13 hours to go before the first bus of our combination leaves for Rio Gallegos.
Saturday, 5 pm: The Casablanca offers wireless internet access and a rich delicious chocolate mousse cake. We order our third espresso that comes in white Italian style designer cups but without the Italian taste.
Saturday, 8 pm: We stroll along the main street of Calafate: A casino, three Internet cafes, two supermarkets, about a dozen souvenir shops and some more shops selling outdoor clothes. We have inspected all of them and continue walking up and down now narrowing our dinner choices.
Saturday, 9 pm: We have entered Rick’s for the all-you-can-eat salad buffet. The hunchbacked waiter with his drooping eyelid, ill-fitting suit jacket and a dirty beige frottage towel draped over his left arm looks like a character straight from a Kaurismäki movie. We order a bottle of Argentinian Malbec and heap beetroot and egg salad onto our plates.
Sunday, 1:30 am: A middle-aged couple enters the Café Balcarce for a quick cappuccino. When they have left, we are again the only customers. It was difficult to find a place that would let us use the electricity for our laptop.
Sunday, 2 am: Some of our fellow travellers have been waiting on the wooden benches in the bus terminal for hours by now. It is rather chilly and, when the last bus offices have turned their lights off, too dark for reading.
Sunday, 2:30 am: “What are you doing here??” an Asian woman sitting on one of the benches cries. We have met Miss Jeong months ago in a backpacker hostel in Costa Rica. She has just returned from Antarctica and enough photos to show and stories to tell to keep us awake.
Sunday, 4 am: The reclining seats in the „Interlagos” bus don’t recline at all. Never mind, we fall asleep before the overheated bus has even left the terminal.
Sunday, 8 am: It is still dark and cold when we arrive in Rio Gallegos. Some people have stretched out on the floor, and the crowded waiting area smells of sweat and cheesy feet. We flee to the overheated cafeteria on the second floor for a morning coffee.
Sunday, 9 am: Our Tramat bus for Comodore Rivadavia leaves. After 30 Minutes, right outside town, the bus stops. For an hour, we wait without any explanation, until finally a police car pulls up, and one of the passengers is called out.
Sunday, 2 pm: A brief stop in Piedra Buena is a welcome opportunity to escape the sweaty black leather seats of the bus and the air-conditioning that switches between freezer and sauna. After the stop someone hands us a plastic package containing pressed white triangles filled with yellow and a brownish layers. A cheese and ham sandwich, we figure out, after hearing an elderly Brit behind us complaining about “double bread in the middle.” Luckily, we brought some food. Outside, the same flat landscape of dry grass with occasional ledges of dry grass has been passing for hours. The second hilarious film starts.
Sunday, 9 pm: We arrive one hour late in Comodore Rivadavia. In anticipation of the next bus ride, Isa runs for an open supermarket to stock up our rations. At the extravagantly scheduled departure time of 22:18, our bus to Bariloche is nowhere to be seen. After another 20 minutes of uncertain waiting, the destination sign of a nearby bus suddenly changes from Rio Gallegos (!) to Bariloche, and we can enter and devour our dinner.
Monday, 8 am: We have to get off the bus at the bleak bus terminal in Esquila for half an hour, still before daybreak.
Monday, 10 am: Two yoghurts and some leftover cheese and soft rolls have to do for breakfast. The coffee available on the bus is a heavily sweetened dark liquid and decidedly not drinkable.
Monday, 1 pm: We arrive in Bariloche (our scheduled arrival time would have been 12:38). We easily find the local bus that goes to the centre of Bariloche, where it takes us only about an hour to find a small holiday apartment with hot shower, kitchen, and well-stocked supermarkets nearby.
If you enjoy (reading about) long and uncomfortable bus and train rides, try our travel blog post about a 30-hour train ride in Vietnam (from Hanoi to Saigon).