February 17, 2004

Argentina flagWe put on our packs and went over to the bus terminal. There was space on the 1 pm bus to Esquel so that is where we are going, hopefully to go on the narrow-gauge steam train “La Trochita”. Unfortunately that left us three hours to wait, and there wasn’t much to do at the bus station except read and watch the other passengers. There was one episode where a two-year-old desperately desired a teddy bear belonging to a five-year-old. Amazingly the older child allowed the younger to carry the bear around for several minutes, and the episode ended with only a little screaming on the two-year-old’s part.

Our bus was one of the fancy double-decker types with the reclining seats, and our seats were on top near the back. The ride out of Bariloche was very scenic as it went past many lakes and arms of Lago Nahuel Huapi, and it was almost all downhill to Esquel. First we went through pine forests around the beautiful lakes south of Bariloche, and then down rural valleys, which were a bit drier down to El Bolsón. There were a lot of tree plantations and small sawmills in this area. The area south of El Bolsón quickly turned into the steppe we were familiar with from the El Calafate area, but this time the roads were paved.

In Esquel we were thrown off a bit by arriving at the new bus terminal, which wasn’t mentioned in any of our references. That wasn’t really a problem, though; it was only a few blocks from the town centre where the tourist information centre was located.

We had two goals in Esquel: to ride “La Trochita”, the old steam train made famous by Paul Theroux as the “Old Patagonian Express”, and to visit Parque Nacional Los Alerces. We found out we could ride the train tomorrow at 9 am, a short excursion of about three hours, then catch a bus to the park at 2 pm. We went across the street to a travel agent (English-speaking, which helped), who booked us the train tickets. He also recommended a place for us to stay, but it unfortunately turned out to be full, so we ended up at one of the places from the list the tourist information people had given us, named Los Arrayanes. It had a “matrimonial” room for 35 pesos a night, which looked clean and comfortable enough.

By this time it was late, and we went out looking for dinner. First we stopped at a grocery store and bought some lunch materials, and then we went into the centre of the town to look for restaurants. It was very busy, and full of kids zipping around on bikes, but it had almost no restaurants. We only found one place that was anything like a restaurant, so we opted to have dinner there. We both ordered a chicken, egg, and lettuce sandwich that turned out to be huge. By now this should not have surprised us. But when we had finished, our waitress seemed to have disappeared, so it took a while to get the bill.

Back at the hostel we made the final preparations for our trips tomorrow, including arranging to leave the packs there while we were on the train trip, then went to bed.

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