February 25, 2004

Argentina flagWe slept quite well last night, except when the other residents of our room returned from their night out at 5 am. We got up at 8:30 am and quietly took our stuff downstairs, although it would probably have taken a bomb to waken the others. We walked up to the bakery to buy some buns for our breakfast and also for lunch on the bus trip.

Our bus to San Martín de los Andes didn’t leave until 11:30 am, so we had plenty of time to reorganize our packs. The black bag that formerly had a bit of extra stuff in it now has all of our souvenirs in it, so it feels like a lead brick to carry. Then we sat and chatted for a while with a British couple who had taken five months off work to do a round-the-world trip.

Finally it was time to leave, so we settled the bill with Juan (90 pesos for three nights) and set off for the bus terminal. Once again we decided to walk along the waterfront, as there was much less pedestrian traffic there. This time we didn’t have the tailwind, just the heat and the heavy bags, but we still got to the terminal in plenty of time.

The trip to San Martín was indeed very scenic, as we were told it would be. It took us around the end of Lago Nahuel Huapi, into dry country, then back along its north side into forested country, and then past another big lake that turned out to be just another arm of Nahuel Huapi. There were more lakes in the forested mountains—no Andean peaks were visible from here—surrounded by campsites and fishing lodges. We thought there were more than seven lakes, but we never did an accurate census. The road was paved for most of the way, and our driver took advantage of this to drive as fast as possible, overtaking cars across double lines and around curves. He did slow down somewhat when we reached the gravel road, but we still made good time and switchbacked down into San Martín about half an hour early.

We collected our packs and then went into the bus terminal to research tomorrow’s trip to the Araucanía, the land of monkey-puzzle trees, in Chile. We found that we could go via Paso Hua Hum, the back roads and ferry route, to Panguipulli tomorrow. But we decided we had had enough of little ferries, so we would go straight through Pucón to Villarrica. We had had several comments over the Internet recommending Villarrica over Pucón. There were two bus companies who do that route, but one was closed so we booked with the other. We paid the 70 pesos and were a little startled to find that the departure time would be 6 am!

Outside the bus terminal there was one man handing out flyers advertising his hostel, so we spoke with him and decided to walk over there, on the other side of town. Our walk along the main street (which is named, guess what, San Martín) was very hot and we got a bit turned around, but we eventually found the place. Its name was La Grieta (“The Crack”) and it looked quite nice from the outside. Once inside we decided it was fine, and we got a matrimonial room on the main floor, which was very clean.

So we deposited our bags in the room and went straight back down San Martín to do some shopping. We put aside 40 pesos and determined to spend the rest, since we have so little cash that it would not be worth exchanging it in Chile. Our first purchase was two designer ice-cream cones, which were really good. We checked out the souvenir shops but we didn’t see anything we really liked. We did buy some buns, fruit, and juice to go with our dinner and breakfast, and we managed to track down a tostador. That’s an Argentinian device for making toasted ham and cheese sandwiches over a stove, which Paul recognized from when he was a kid. We inquired at several places that only had electric tostadors, and we must have got the last hand-held tostador in town.

Back at the hostel we cooked up the last of our hiking food, the Lipton’s noodles and sauce. We also had fresh tomatoes and a bun, followed by green tea with mint. We still had 13 pesos to get rid of, so we went out for a walk, and then made one more pass at the shops. We had seen wooden tea-bag caddies, so we focussed on them and finally found one we liked for 12 pesos. The remaining peso bought us a bag of chocolate-covered peanuts.

Tomorrow we need to get up at 5 am to catch the bus, so it’s early to bed.

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