We have in hindsight many titles in our heads for today’s blog. We started with: “Cold, wet, muddy Route 40”, to partner yesterday’s title, but it really didn´t fit in the end. Others we´ve since considered have been:
- Bus broke down in shacksville
- Breaking news: Passengers abandoned and made to walk hour and a half before rescue
- Chicas izquierda, chicos derecha
- Bounce the Bus
- Everybody off, we´re going to try one more time
- Route 40 does Glastonbury
- The Somme along Route 40
Thunder! Lightening! Rain! Ouch! That wasn´t the wake-up call we were expecting! There´s going to be little choice for food supplies on route today we´ve been advised, and obviously we stocked up last night when it was nice and dry and pleasant to walk around town – wrong! We have to go this morning in the rain, not fun.
Still we had a nice brekkie in a wee café of “café y media luna” (that’s coffee and miniature croissants if you didn´t know already). Bernice is dying to ask what the French think of the re-naming of their home staple, but we both agree it would be lost in translation.
Some of our bus got up at o´crack-sparrow this morning to go off to the caves (the tourist attraction we mentioned) and we´re supposed to pick them up on route, except by about 2pm, there´s no sign of them and we´ve been holed up in the middle of nowhere (worse than the nowhere town of last night) at a wee shack with some excuses for toilets, for nearly an hour now. It was supposed to be a 20 minute stop, but as soon as the drivers started tinkering with the engine we feared as much! Today´s journey is approx. 600km, almost all unpaved roads so it´s no surprise really.
Josh and Elise had gone on the early morning excursion and they arrive back pretty pissed off. The mini-bus picked them up around 1115 to come meet the bus but got stuck in the mud going up a hill. It ended up going back to the caves and transferring them to a 4×4 pick-up that proceeded to bring them part of the way, drop them off, you guessed it, in the middle of nowhere, with no clear indication of who would come and get them to bring them the rest of the way. They started walking and were walking for quite some time before they were brought the rest of the way. When they enquired about getting their money back they were told no way, the main thing was they were here safe!
The rest of the party arrived about a half hour later and we set off again about 1540. Only ~3 hours late. It had been raining off and on all morning and started hard again now. We were due to arrive at the hostel in El Chalten at 2330, that was now already estimated to be 0230, take into account the rest of the journey was going to be more muddy that usual and perhaps that would take it to 0400…. Nope!
Around 1700 the bus stopped and the driver indicated it was a toilet stop – boys to the right, girls to the left! As you can imagine that went down well with all the princesses on the bus, luckily Bernice had gone just before we´d set off again and was fine for now. We stopped again about 2030 at a fuel station. Another bus on the same route, different company, had just got there in front of us and eaten every morsel of decent food they had so it was coffee and a choc cake thingy.
Back on the bus and everyone tries to settle down for some shut eye, accepting the late arrival now on the cards. Then if things hadn’t gone pear-shaped enough, the bus starts sliding about the road more than just a little – a couple of times at least, we are driving completely side-on to the road direction!!!! Then we come across the other bus, it appears to be stuck, halfway up a hill opposite the one we´re trying to go down, the driver has stopped us and is weighing up the situation. Then suddenly he takes off at ramming speed to make it down and back up, hoping to avoid the other bus and get past without getting stuck. Wrong! We get within a few bus lengths to the other one, he bottles it and we´re stuck too. The co-driver then instructs everyone on the bus to jump up and down! Vigorously! To free us from the mud! We barely move. Plan B: Reverse down the hill and have another go. Nope, that doesn´t work either. Plan C: Everybody off, make the bus lighter and then he´d have another go. Right! Sensible idea except it´s pitch black, a complete mud bath on the road, and half the bus are wearing flip-flops!!! Nice! We all parade off the bus and stand in front of the other one. Our co-driver goes on ahead with a torch to check out where the top of the hill is and returns and guides our bus…. against all the odds our bus does make it this time and we all get back on the bus feeling we´ve got one over on the other one and for now at least weren´t doomed to spend the night out here on the battlefield.
Not so fast…. at most we get a further 5km down the road and come across an open top farm wagon carrying 8-10 horses in the back, sitting side on half on, half off the road…. We go for the same approach (by this time the bus steps and all down the aisle are caked in mud and smelling like roses, not!) but without success, we end up off the bank stuck parallel to the wagon. Guess that’s it for the night then!
The drivers to give them their due had tried their best and it was obvious that this was not normal conditions on the Route 40, never-the-less it didn´t endear many of us to entertain the return journey this way. Settling in for the night for sure we tried to get some sleep – we´re probably about 250km away from our destination still. Even if we were to get past this blockage, chances were we´d encounter another, and another….
Around 0430 the driver tried again to get us out of the mud, they´d dug out the back wheel a couple of times now back-filling with tufty grass monsters from the barren landscape around us, but to no avail. In daylight it was easier to see the lay of the land and the situation we were in. There was a further pick-up truck stuck behind us, drivers from all vehicles tried to get him going, jump-starting his battery in the end, then digging out the road ahead of him so he could break fee. We guessed so he could go get help!!! It was about 0900 when he finally sets off. About an hour later some weird JCB type tractors turned up to tow us and the wagon out of the mud. We are all loitering about along the road, nobody wanting to be on the bus in case it rolls when pulled.
All ends well and we get underway again about 1100, everyone exhausted but elated. As you can imagine we are also all good friends by this stage having spent so much quality time in each other’s company! About an hour or so down the road after a couple more minor incidents we stop at another roadside cafe shack where we are able to use the tiolets but again there´s not much food options, not the other buses fault this time, they´re still behind us. Hungrily we return to the bus for the final leg.
About 30 mins from El Chalten we stop again at the side of the road for no apparent reason (we know we´re close because we´re now on tarmac´d road). Then suddenly a car coming in the opposite direction stops and starts transferring boxes of stuff onto our bus – coke, fanta, and lots and lots of hot sandwiches filled with milenesa (breaded steaks, a speciality here) Nice one!!
By the time we´ve all scoffed them we are pulling up outside our hostel (1450, approx 15 hours late and 56 hours after we started!). Last night´s stay was included in our bus ticket – kindly they honoured it for tonight and we were all ecstatic. Amazing how a sandwich on approach and a further night gratis can diffuse any potential complaints…
We were lucky here as we hadn´t booked any further nights and were getting worried we´d have nowhere to sleep tonight. It turned out they gave us a double room at dorm rates which was most welcome.