Route 40, Patagonia, Argentina.
The long and winding road… very long and very winding.
Route 40 stretches south from Bariloche, hugging the Chilean border. Its a long stretch of winding road through flat desert, most of the road is dirt track. I’d been warned about Route 40, everything from it being the slowest and most boring bus ride known to man, to “Don’t do it even if your life depends on it”. Not a comfortable ride by any stretch of the imagination.
But a comfortable ride is not what I was looking for, give me the experience. “Don’t do it even if your life depends on it”?? Yes, I’m in.
So I paid my 360 Argentinean Pesos for a 32 hour bus ride on a dirt track, south from Bariloche to El Chalten.
We had a good team. A French guy named JB and a Swiss guy named Yann who we’d met at Refugio Jakob whilst hiking outside of Bariloche, an English girl we’d met in the street who had pointed us in the direction of the ticket office, an Australian man from Brisbane who’d given his children the comfort of a flight while he took the long bus ride with us, and what would a good South American bus trip be without a group of 45 friendly Israelis fresh out of military training. (Ok slight overstatement, maybe there were 10, but you get my drift.) A surprisingly lovely bunch.
Our Team Leader, the second driver. An unexpectedly cool guy who wore his sun glasses on the back of his head. If Argentina did tight white bonds T-shirts this guy would be wearing one, and he’d have his cigarettes tucked under the short sleeve. He walked down the bus asking were we were all from. The only English words he knew were “You British? Get of my bus, get off my bus now!” followed by a cheeky grin. In was clear from the start that his guy had brought a big bag of fun along for the ride, and I was intrigued.
We headed out at 9pm. I was set with my two food bags and down jacket. One thing I’ve learnt from long-haul bus trips in South America is that you can never have too much food or warmth. It doesn’t matter how hot it is outside, inside the bus it’s 99% likely to be sub-zero temperatures. So I settled in, watched 3 episodes of Heroes on the iPod, and finally fell asleep under my jacket with the hood over my face.
I remember partially waking up at sunrise, I peered out the window hazy eyed to see a beautiful sunrise which turned the sparse desert pink as far as my eyes could see, before passing out again curled up in my seat with a small smile on my face. At 9am we were treated to an old-school techno music wake up call, which included Team Leader Fun Bags doing a little dance at the front of the bus. Bus ticket plus entertainment. Who ever said Route 40 was boring.