February 9, 2004

Chile flagThrough the night the wind howled and periodically the building shook, but on the whole it was quite comforting to be in a building rather than our tent. Although it seems stronger from indoors rather than from outdoors. But around 6:30 am it suddenly died down and we could hear the cows mooing at the estancia next door.

Feeling much better, we had the usual breakfast, then packed up and were on our way by 8 am. The trail back was well graded, although we were walking into the prevailing west wind. It was a light wind, though, and it was overcast, so we made good time and we were off the trail in three and a half hours. The hike down the steep trail from the mirador was almost as hard as going up, but not nearly as tiring. Walking along the road went quickly and almost before we knew it we were back at the Administration Centre.

We ate lunch and drank another litre of AndiFruit pineapple juice there while we were waiting for the bus, then went in and had another look at the displays. At 1:45 pm we boarded the bus—yes, it was the same driver who had picked us up on the road two days ago—and off we went. Along the park road we saw flocks of guanacos again, and tried to photograph them from the bus window. Maybe some of those pictures will work out.

After picking up more passengers at the park gate at Laguna Amarga, we headed out of the park. We stopped at Cerro Castillo, where the road goes off to Argentina, for a ten-minute break. While we were there we saw a fleet of five Range Rovers with California licence plates. They were part of a round-the-world tour raising funds for Parkinson’s disease research. We spoke to one of the participants for a while before it was time to reboard the bus.

The police were holding up buses at Cerro Castillo, but after some discussing they let ours continue, perhaps because it was a local bus. Then after about five minutes we felt the bus lurch and swerve, then saw the left rear wheels plus part of the axle go bouncing and rolling past the bus! Luckily the road was straight and the bus driver had complete control, so nobody was hurt. We all piled off and took pictures of the bus and the wheels, which a couple of passengers fetched from the place they had stopped. After a moment a truck went by, so our driver gave him a message to relay to the office.

We had to wait about half an hour or so while they sent extra minibuses out from Puerto Natales, which was only about 50 km away. Unfortunately the driver of the one we got on drove like a maniac along the gravel road, and we were relieved to arrive back at Puerto Natales about 6:30 pm in one piece.

Back at Casa Cecilia, we had showers and booked tomorrow’s bus trip to El Calafate in Argentina. Then we went out to make sure we knew where the bus left from, and then went to dinner. We ate at the same restaurant we had eaten at earlier in the week. We had churreros (steak sandwiches with lettuce and tomatoes), just what we needed after a backpacking trip. We stopped by the Internet café to send e-mails to people at home, so they would know we were still alive, then returned to the hostel to pack our bags.

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