Sunday 9 November 2014

A long bus journey

I've spent 27 of the last 48 hours on a bus with drivers who openly loathed their passengers. We had a half full bus (which perhaps explains the mind numbing price), except for the 5 hours when I could sleep, when the seat next to me was filled by a teenager who hadn't heard about the great invention that is a shower.

Route 40 is stunning, for parts of it. Close to El Calafate and Bariloche (the two ends of my long journey), we were slaloming in between mountain ranges, the scenery illuminated in shades of yellow, orange and red by the setting sun, reducing the strongest of us to silence and the rest to tears of joy.

For me, I was 5 again. Here, on a bumpy unpaved road heading north through the Patagonian countryside, I had a slight epiphany. Why do I travel? Why do I spend hundreds (if not thousands) of pounds of my money to get a numb arse from hard seats, get lost in strange cities after dark and struggle to communicate with every person I meet? To feel like this again, aghast at the beauty and wonder of the world. When I'm here, I know nothing, I'm a child in the world learning again what true wonder is, astounded by everything I see and hear around me. It's humbling and educating and incredible. How funny that I feel all this inside me and to you it's just words.

I stole that last line from somewhere on the internet by the way, but when the time is right hopefully I can pretend it's mine eh?

And then the stars came out. Bright, beautiful, extending into infinity across the sky. If only the clouds were missing and the street lights weren't getting in the way!

Now that I know what I know, I would have done the journey slower. It's a shame I'm not much of a trekking guy, this whole area is a trekking paradise. The bus stopped every 4 or 5 hours at a small town, dropping some people off and picking up more. With more time, it would be lovely to just jump off at each one, spend a few days, walk around the hills and glaciers and parks before heading towards the next one. Alas, I wanted to be a bit warmer. And this is a journey you should do by car, so you can stop along the way and admire the sunsets, the stars, the scenery. Not a bumpy bus driven by grumpy middle aged men.

Bariloche is pure tourist town. Not quite as tourist as Koh Phi Phi, but it's full of shops, bars and restaurants to create a pleasant enough stop off spot as you head into the countryside nearby.

I cannot recommend Achaley hostel enough. Run by the incredibly kind, laid back Pablo, this is a true casual hostel. I woke up this morning, 90 minutes after checkout, and stumbled into the common room to find two guys singing and playing a guitar and harmonica, creating an incredible atmosphere as the sun streamed in through the windows. Pablo waved his hand nonchalantly when I apologised for waking up so late and handed me a cup of coffee, telling me to just let him know when I was ready if I was staying another night or heading onwards. I stayed.

And so, I'm enjoying the pleasant sunshine, the quiet enough town (everything is shut on a Sunday) and just relaxing for a few days I think. Next up is a quick detour through Buenos Aires, and then onwards to the wine capital that is Mendoza. Looking forward to that.

You're all awesome!


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