February 15, 2004

Argentina flagUp really early this morning, at 5 am to pack up and catch the 6 am bus back to El Calafate. It wasn’t quite dark out, as the moon was just past third quarter, and we packed by starlight. The Milky Way and Southern Cross were directly overhead, and the moon was close by it in Scorpius. Down near the western horizon we could see Cygnus in the Milky Way, but the rest of the stars were unfamiliar southern constellations.

We packed quickly and trotted down the road to the bus station, getting there with 10 minutes to spare, but we still had to sit at the back of the bus. The bus ride was again long and very dusty, and every time the bus hit a bump the person sitting by the window would be showered with dust from the “air-conditioning” system. This time we stopped at Hotel La Leona for the 10-minute break, so we had hot chocolate and torte to make up for our missed breakfast.

We arrived back in El Calafate at 10:30 am, collected our incredibly dusty packs, and headed back to the hostel. But on the main street the local military and police forces were forming up, along with some horse riders and what looked like Girl Guides. This turned out to be part of the Festival of the Naming of the Lake (which is significant because the lake is named Lago Argentino). The military band was not too bad, and we listened to them play a few numbers. But when thirty men in suits filed into the square we knew the speeches were coming, so we continued on our way.

Back at America del Sur, Dolores greeted us and we talked about our hikes. Then we recovered the bag we had left and had showers, which felt really good after the heat and dust of the last few days. After reorganizing our packs we went back into town to get an ice cream. For a mere 2.50 pesos we got double-decker cones; Rosemary had chocolate suiza and café and Paul had chocolate suiza and calafate. Then we went to the shops; we each bought a T-shirt and Rosemary bought two souvenir pins and a small leather coin purse.

We took a taxi out to the airport, which was about a 20-minute ride that cost us 28 pesos. Then we did the usual airport stuff: wait to pay the departure tax (18 pesos each), wait to check in, wait to go through security, wait to board the plane, and so on. The flight to Bariloche took an hour and 35 minutes, and we were given a cup of pop and (guess what) a ham and cheese sandwich to eat. The sandwich was even worse than LanChile’s version.

In Bariloche we took the bus into town (4 pesos each) and were dropped off at the central square. At this point we didn’t have a place to stay, so we consulted one of our photocopied references. It suggested that there were a lot of lodging places down a nearby street (San Martin). After inquiring at one place, which was full, we ended up at another hotel called Pehuén del Lago. It too had no doubles available, but after a while it turned out that it did have a “matrimonial” (a double bed instead of two single beds). That was fine for us so we took it, although the price of 35 pesos per person per night was more than we really wanted to pay. But it was late and neither of us felt like looking for another place.

We unpacked a bit and then, after waiting for a rain shower to end, headed out to find the tourist information centre. This turned out to be located exactly where the airport bus had dropped us off earlier, but we hadn’t noticed it then. It had very helpful people with good information, and the girl there gave us a discount coupon for one of the local restaurants, El Fogón (“The Fireplace”). We thought we might as well check that one out as any other, so we went there. When the headwaiter saw us outside looking at the menu, he came out and gave us a Spanish sales pitch highly praising the place, so we thought “why not?” and went in.

We both ordered bife chorizo (standard Argentinian steaks) plus papas fritas (french fries) and salads. The steaks were huge and really good, and the whole price of the meal was 42 pesos including tip! After dinner we went back to the hotel to rinse out socks and organize our gear. We had already decided that tomorrow would be laundry day and looking around the town day. Around 11:15 pm it started to rain, so we hoped that by tomorrow the skies would be clear. At least tomorrow we could sleep in.

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