24 March, 2018
This post could have just as easily been entitled “Are We Nuts?”
One of the biggest challenges when doing your own planning for a trip to Patagonia is connecting all the transportation dots. Given its remoteness, this is not a task to take on lightly. Even during peak season, bus and ferry schedules can be a bit sketchy in the interior of Chile, but move into the shoulder season and it is anyone’s guess if the bus or ferry lines run on time, if there is a bus or boat running more than once a week, or if there will be one available at all when you arrive at your destination. Since we both wanted to venture into the interior and travel some of the infamous Carretera Austral, it was particularly important to connect the dots so as not to get stranded. Complicating this matter is that you can literally read through countless websites and forums and get conflicting information.
Planes, trains, automobiles, and boats is Terry’s specialty when planning our trips. He will tell you I don’t know which way is up most days so he just refuses to relinquish this part of the duty. I am relegated to accommodations and activities, which frankly I think is a lot more fun to plan anyway.
While doing some research during a very windy, rainy day in El Calafate (have I said how wild the Patagonian weather can be?), Terry got a somewhat panicked look on his face. Upon reading yet another website, it appeared there was no public transportation available from Los Antiguos, Argentina to Chile Chico, Chile. Los Antiguos is a remote border crossing so it seems the only way to move from one country to another is on foot or putting out your thumb. We had often read that hitchhiking is commonplace in Patagonia, but I had said this wasn’t something I wanted to do. Seems I was about to reconsider that decision.
But I digress for a moment…
While planning our trip, we packed no less than three separate times, using various bags, whenever our route changed. Since we weren’t able to book the refugios we wanted in Torres del Paine National Park, I set aside my backpack, opting for a roomier bag that still allowed for shoulder straps, although not near as comfortable as one’s own fitted backpack. One of our travel rules has been that if one of us wants to bring something that the other might find unnecessary, that person bears the burden of carrying said item(s). For me it was our vitamins and some creams and lotions I couldn’t leave behind. For Terry it was the electric toothbrush. My choices necessitated a roomier bag. When I discovered I might be carrying all my bags across a remote border crossing, I thought I might live to regret the decision to displace my backpack.
So, during one of our rest days in El Chalten, we laid out our belongings, and with the mind of a backpacker looking to shave ounces from her pack, I proceeded to set aside items I thought I could do without. Jackets, earmuffs, and gloves were set aside, and bottles of this and that discarded, with the hopes of replacing them. My full-size deodorant mineral stone soon became a mere shell of itself as I broke away the plastic container and cut it in half. I was not budging on the supplements however. 😉
At 9:30 the next night we hopped on our overnight bus to Los Antiguos, not knowing what to expect in the morning. It’s a wonder we got any sleep but the bus tires on the pavement seemed to do the trick. I awoke to watch the dark golds and oranges of dawn diffuse across the Patagonian steppe, softening to rose and violet, with a promise of a beautiful day unfolding.
We pulled into the bus station and were able to catch a taxi to the border, 2 km (1.2 miles) away. And that is where we knew things could get interesting. We moved through Argentine immigration, then stepped outside with all our bags. A long, lonely road stretched before us, 7 km (4.2 miles) from the Argentina border to the Chile border, a section of road dubbed “No Man’s Land”. Well, at least it was flat, paved, and the sun was shining. We looked at each other and said “let’s do this”. About 15 minutes into our walk, Terry turned to me and said “you are a good sport”. I smiled and turned back to the road with the thought of “remember this when you find my personality less than pleasing.”
In another 15 minutes we saw a car on the horizon and Terry stuck out his thumb. A smiling young couple in a beat-up jalopy opened the door and welcomed us. Our last hitchhiking experience had been decades ago and our only hope was that their backfiring car would make it to Chile. It did and they could not have been nicer.
Another trip through Chilean customs and immigration and we headed down the road the 5 km (2.5 miles) into Chile Chico. A collectivo (van) picked us up within 20 minutes and delivered us to our lodge. Life is good, particularly when in the presence of kind strangers.
Note to self: When given a choice, always go with the backpack. 🙂