29.11.2011 - 01.12.2011 20 °C
Most of the buses leave at a stupid time from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas (and by stupid I mean 5:00 in the morning) and then take around 12 hours to get there. It is only about 250 km as the crow flies, and there is even a road that gets close to being direct, but public transport won't take it. Instead, you have to head north west through Rio Grande and then make a big loop around to the East into Chile and out to the coast. It is about 500 km. I couldn't face doing the trip all in one hit, so caught a minibus up to Rio Grande (noting the distance to Buenos Aires as we left Ushuaia was 3000 km), stayed in a ratty old hospedaje and discovered why Rio Grande has such a bad reputation. It was windy, dirty, covered in graffiti and generally very unpleasant. So after another hamburger at Tante Sara, it was back to the hospedaje - the TV had two channels in English, but they both seemed to confine their showings to Friends, Seinfeld, House and Two and a Half Men. All in all, I was pretty pleased to be out of there the next morning.
People think of Latin American buses as being death traps full of chickens, pigs and about 600 passengers but Argentinian buses are possibly the best in the world (Chilean buses give them a run for their money) with seating better than that found in airplanes, waiter service (some even have wine, but I was never lucky enough) so that travelling around in Argentina is generally very comfortable and fast. I actually took quite a few pictures of the buses at one point but, thanks to a story I'll share later, I no longer have them. Here's a sample I stole from someone else's blog:
As for what you see as you travel around Argentina by bus, here's a fair representation of about 90%:
Every so often you'll see an estancia
or a tiny wee town, comprised mainly of a service station, a tyre repairer, a food place, some houses - most were in some sort of indeterminate state of being half built or half falling down.
Before getting to Punta Arenas, we had to leave Argentina, a fairly painless process, and then leave Tierra del Fuego, which involved a bit of a wait in a very rustic looking cafe where the locals were tucking into very large and tasty looking meals. Since I didn't know how long I had, I just had a beer.
I had vague memories of Punta Arenas as a city of quite grand buildings, and my memory proved to be correct, particularly around the central plaza:
This town was a vital trading port back in the day, had its gold rush and was a focal point for large scale sheep farmers, including the Braun and family. Sara married well and was left a fortune, which she used in part to finish off the family palace, right in the middle of town, which is now a museum. I spent quite a while wandering around, marvelling at the opulence of this place
It is decades since anyone lived here and yet there is still some of the wine collection to be seen
It is a bit drab from the back
Everyone seemed to be raving about a particular restaurant, La Luna, so I thought I'd check it out. It certainly had quite a spectacular bar area
That ladder was used by the waiter to scurry up and down to get wine - it looked decidedly precarious and was quite a mission to get down with a bottle of wine in hand. On the ceiling, there were some suspended diners
but, all in all, I was not that impressed with it. The food was average, the service was random. I had a far better experience the night before, when I saw a burger restaurant which was absolutely packed - for once, there was no ham in the hamburger. Best of all, however, was a restaurant I found up above a very faded looking shopping mall, a typical local place (I wish I could remember its name) with great food, and on Friday nights they have a special dish called Curantos. I tried to get the waitress to explain it to me, she said something about fish, chicken, pork, shellfish but I couldn't make any sense of what she was talking about. I asked back at the hostel and really wish I'd had it. It is basically a kind of hangi, with smoked pork, chicken and shellfish making up the main ingredients but the thing that got to me was the ceremony in which it was developed. On Chiloe Island (half way up the Chilean coast), they don't have many houses so when people want to move, they take their houses with them - put them up on logs as rollers, use bullocks to pull them. It takes a village to move a house and the curantos is the thanks the house-owner gives - they make it into a big party, one day of party for each day of house moving. Of course, the restaurant version would be different, but it did still sound wonderful.