Lost in Argentina

We were in the small town in the middle of nowhere in Argentina. Only few people drinking coffee in the gas station. No one knew when is the next bus out of here coming or where will it stop. To make everything even better we had no Argentinian pesos. What a wonderful day which started with really bright idea. But lets get back to the beginning.

Leaving Chile

It was only few hours since we left bus terminal in Coyhaique in Chile. With cunning plan in our heads. Our destination was Patagonia in Argentina, ideally El Chaltén.

It was quite a journey from Coyhaique with no direct bus connections. All the buses were going all the way to the Comodoro Rivadavia on Atlantic coast, which was quite a big detour. We have looked carefully at the maps and checked all the towns on the way and came up with something really clever. We can get off the bus at Rio Mayo, which is not far from border. There is a big road going through that town and leads south, exactly to towns which we want to visit.

There were no doubts that there would be busses stopping in Rio Mayo which we’ll be able to board. No need to go all the way to the coast and then back inland. We’ll also save little bit of money, tickets to Rio Mayo costs only half of the price to Comodoro.

At the beginning it was journey like many others we made in past few months. Nothing exceptional, even crossing at Paso Coiaique was all right. Couple more hours and were in our first destination.

Río Mayo

Bus was full but only three people left it. Me and Tana and one girl who looked like traveller but her luggage was strange. You usually don’t go on hiking adventures with wheeled luggage that is falling apart.

Bus left and we were standing there surprised by strong wind which was chasing dust all around. No point in waiting there, as our stop did not look like bus terminal at all. No terminal building, no shops or waiting room. We looked at the map and decided to go to nearby gas station (YPF). Girl was going in the same direction and we carefully helped her with her luggage.

Gas station was open, with pleasant lady working behind the till.

Where does the bus stop and when?

We put all our stuff down near the table. Now was time to ask questions. Tana was the one who spoke better Spanish so she started with the most important one – “Where is the bus terminal and when is bus going south arriving”? Lady looked little amused and told us, that there might be bus going through the town but only every other day. One day going north the other going south. Where it stops was another question, maybe at the gas station but it was also possible that it would stop somewhere on the main road going through the town. Its time schedule was also a mystery, some people said it is arriving sometime around noon others said in the afternoon and there were also information about midnight.

Our cunning plan suddenly did not look very good any more. No buses out of here, no money and no place to go. We bought some pastry and coffee with card at the station and thought what to do.

How to get money

It was easy to see that we’ll need money. Lady at the station was willing to exchange some of our American dollars for Argentinian pesos but we were reluctant to change a lot of it. It was better to find some ATM.

Our first destination was set – Banco Provincia Chubut. It was not very far from the gas station, five to six blocks, just follow the main road. We have arrived there and saw two ATMs. And it was behind the doors so we were able to escape persistent strong wind, nice.

We spent there roughly 10 minutes with no success. It did not matter if we used mine or Tanas card. If we selected smaller or bigger amount we wanted to withdraw, there were no money coming from that machine. Ok, bank is next door, we can ask there.

To our surprise it was locked. We looked through the glass door and saw some people inside, so we knocked. Then knocked some more and one gentleman got out. We asked him about the ATMs and he told us, that they are old and probably don’t support our fancy European cards. Also bank was closed, so we could not change the Chilean money there today.

We went back to the gas station.

Hitchhiking for the first time

Time was flying and it was already late afternoon. Luckily for us sun was setting down late. We decided to do something we’ve never done before – to hitchhike. To at least get to another small town – Perito Moreno.

Tana had a good idea, to get some cardboard and write / draw name of our destination there. We had few colourful felt-tip pens and our result was beautiful. If I was a driver going around and saw that, I’d definitely stop.

Tana lost in Argentina
Tana lost in Argentina

We went to the main road leading south, strategically positioned ourselves on visible place with lots of space for cars to stop and waited. And we waited for a long time, there were not that many cars going around. Few drivers who passed were turning their heads and pointing in other direction, probably meaning that they are not going to our destination.

Tana told me to stand straight and and smile nicely, that it helps. People are much more likely to pick up someone who looks like a good company and not like a murderer. I did my best but it did not help. Also the creazy wind was not helpful at all. Few hours standing at the edge of the road were quite tiring. Sun in the face and lot of sand in the face was hard to endure.

Out of boredom Tana started to practice some spanish words, related to our expected travel. In the end amazin song accompanied by dancing with a cardboard sign came to existence. Words were simple but catchy. “Vamos a Perito Moreno, juntos, juntos, ju ju ju ju juntos”. Sadly it did not help, drivers probably did not hear that. It was time to go back to town and find some accomodation for the night. We were lost in Argentina.

A peaceful night

We stopped at the gas station to get more money exchanged. We were little bit worried if there are any hotels in town as it did not look like a big tourist destination. But we were lucky, one was just on the other side of the road. It was pretty empty, only owner and one of his friends sitting there.

We got room with private bathroom and instructions to use gate in the back to get out rather than going through the restaurant. Surprisingly it was not possible to pay by card so most of our cash was gone. I must say that room was nice, cozy and with hot shower. We slept like a babies.

We slept little longer and enjoyed the comfort of our own bathroom. That nice peaceful moment did not last long and was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. I guess check out time was set to 10. Previously in Chile all the checkouts were at 11 or later but this was Argentina. We quickly packed, cleaned up and were on our way.

Busy day

We wanted to do few things this morning. First of them was to get money in the bank. Not by putting a ski mask on our faces but by exchanging our chilean pesos.

It looked like an easy task, what can be complicated on money exchange. But not in Argentina. I was surprised how much paperwork was involved. Signing at least two forms and a copy of passport. I think it took roughly 30 minutes. And in the end exchange course was quite terrible. I’d say 20% loss compared to money withdrawal from the ATM. For some reason they don’t like Chilean money in Argentina, dollars are much more preferable.

Next stop was tourist information. At the very edge of the town was small wooden house. This time we were lucky and there was a lady inside. Information that she provided was not that good, because she also did not know when and where the bus will arrive. It looked like that once you enter this town you have to stay there forever.

We went to gas station, had some apple filled pastry and coffee and went out to our previous spot near the road.

Hitchhiking again

It was a long wait. We went to the gas station to use their toilets and get little refreshed couple of times. On one visit we saw that there were loads of cars waiting. It was caused by the power outage – no power no gas from the pumps. It lasted for two hours.

We met a big group of australian travellers on motorbikes and in van. They were thravelling through Argentina and heading in our direction but were not able to take us as the cars were full. At least they wished us luck.

Few hours later, after lot of singing “Vamos a Perito Moreno” and some dancing we got lucky. One guy in a pickup truck took us on board. It was a miracle.

Vamos a Perito Moreno

Car was small with not enough space. We had to leave our big backpacks on the deck. It was a little risky as it did not have any sides but beggars can’t be choosers. Our driver was speaking fluent Spanish but no English. We had a chance to practice a language a lot.

Even though we were technically in Patagonia views along the road weren’t that amazing. No mountains just flat steppes as far as you can see. It was easy to see why wind is so strong and powerful in this part of the world. There was nothing to stop it. At least there were some occasional alpacas and emus walking next to the road.

I think it took less than two hours to get to our destination. Our new friend let us out of the car at the bus station. There we learned that bus to El Chaltén will be leaving later today and they still have some free seats. Awesome! We even had few hours to walk through town and buy some food in La Anónima supermarket. It was better to do it here as more to the south you go the more expensive stuff gets.

And really, few hours later with stomach full of argentinian burger and some beer we were on the way.