Leaving El Chaltén behind was bittersweet, I definitely believe I’ll be back there more than once. It was the perfect combination of outdoors and cosy, beautiful skies and crazy storms!
We used the Cal-Tur bus company to book our trip from El Chaltén to Los Antiguos. We booked it the day before we needed to travel, with no problem. It cost $1100 ARS and they gave us a warm ham & cheese sandwich, and provided us with “jugo” and “cafe” for the journey. The seats were really comfy, which was extra nice as it was a night bus- we departed El Chaltén at 7pm on the dot and arrived into Los Antiguos just after 6am. There were two drivers who switched out every couple of hours. It was a very smooth journey, aside from the actual road (Ruta 40) bouncing us along!
We had been told that once we arrived into the bus station at Los Antiguos we would be able to get onto another bus which would take us across the Argentinian-Chilean border. However, none of the bus companies were open yet and the only one displaying any information was closed until 10am. A paper note taped to the ticket window informed us that the first bus to cross the border wouldn’t depart until 1pm, it also didn’t have a price listing. We opted to take a taxi-shuttle which cost us $50 ARS to the Argentinian border (about 3km away). The taxi driver assured us the walk across no man’s land was around 600 metres and then we would come across Chilean taxis.
Whilst waiting at the check point we chatted to some people who had just walked from the bus station and others who had taken a cab on the street which cost them around $10 ARS each.
We waited half an hour for the check point to open at 8am. After a fairly swift flick through our passports we were given a stamped piece of paper and sent on our way.
It soon became very obvious to us and the others we’d been chatting too that 600 metres was actually more like another 6km.. fortunately about 1km down the road, just as we stopped to take our heavy packs off and stretch our backs and shoulders a shuttle bus pulled alongside us and offered to take 10 of us for $50 ARS each through the Chilean check point and onto Chile Chico – the town we were staying at around 10km after the border. THANK GOODNESS because I really wasn’t sure my back was going to make it carrying our entire packs that far – my backpack weighed around 18kg and then I was also carrying my daypack on the front which I never weighed but assume was around 8-10kg especially with my 3L water pouch full!
We went into the Chilean checkpoint, filled in two paper forms and then came across a problem. It seemed that the Argentinian border patrol had stamped both Wendy and Scott’s passport with the wrong exit date- January 12th 2017 instead of January 21st, and they hadn’t stamped mine at all. (Un)Fortunately this had befallen a few other travellers and so the Chilean officer made some minimal fuss and then stamped our passports and welcomed us all into Chile anyway. Happy days!
Chile had some strict custom rules (and hefty fines apparently) about not taking in any animal products or fruit.. to our immense relief, the trail mix which we had excitedly put together from “Almazen” in Chaltén a few days before made it through!
We arrived at our hostel – Campament Nandu, Wendy and Scott had a nice talk with the receptionist in Spanish and I caught a few words here and there. This place was in the conversion process turning from a disco hall into a hostel but it had an awesome vibe and the “staff” – it is being run by a family – were friendly and especially helpful with a power cut that took place and wiped out all electricity and wifi in the building we were in, and they kept the place extremely clean. The sun came out to warm us and I managed to lay my yoga mat out, stretch and enjoy the rays!
Chile Chico is a small town, one long high street stretches languidly in the sun. Water laps at the shore of Lago Gral Carrera to the north and desert stretches to the south before running into the National Reservations where the landscape changes drastically. People are friendly and tourists frequently stop for a day or two after making the same border crossing that we had passed through. Street dogs hang in packs, too lazy to cause any real trouble besides howling through the night, particularly favouring the dusk and dawn hours.
We headed into town to find out our options for travelling to Coyhaique the next day. One option was to go to the marble caves at Rio Tranquillo (which otherwise we’d hit up on our roadtrip). After being told it was 5 hours away, buses either left at 9am or 10.30am and the ferry left at 3pm but was possibly fully booked for another WEEK because of a festival, we decided to come up with a plan C. We talked through our options and settled on trying to get ferry tickets and the back up plan would be to take a taxi to Rio Tranquillo and then catch a bus to Coyhaique from there. We also found out that it would’ve been possible to book our ferry tickets (more than 24 hours) in advance with www.barcazas.cl . Good to know, but too late for us at this stage.
Thankfully; the two hour ferry was running and had plenty of tickets, one bus service from Puerto Ibáñez was full but another had space for us, just, since we brought the last three tickets!! So temporary stressing had in fact been just about unnecessary and thankfully not too high among any of us. Minor crisis averted. I think travelling in a group highly reduces my worry about these things- even if everything goes wrong, it goes wrong for all of us and we will come to a solution together. This was also doubly true for me at the moment because of the language barrier. I am so thankful to be with Wendy who is able to discuss everything fluently in Spanish. I think it would have been a slightly if not majorly different trip otherwise. I have encountered plenty of people in these smaller towns who don’t speak any English, and as my Spanish is so limited it would not take long for us to reach an almost instant stalemate!
I took some sea-sickness tablets which promptly sent me straight to sleep for the entire ferry journey, and most of the one hour and forty minute bus journey to Coyhaique. I was looking forward to meeting with Sara, a friend I had made through helpX and then Wendy, Scott and I would be starting our roadtrip on La Carretera Austral.