Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sorry, the system's down....

I awakened to yet more views of the Patagonian countryside, which is relatively flat, almost completely treeless, and correspondingly bleak. And it goes on for miles and miles and miles. Travel down there requires the same level of distractions or patience (or both) as travelling the interior of Australia. On the former count, we were offered a fairly basic breakfast of crackers and some kind of cookie, and a film about Houdini, which I didn't really get into. Most people just carried on getting what sleep they could until we arrived in Puerto Madryn that afternoon, about 18 hours after our departure from Rio Gallegos.

On arrival in Puerto Madryn, I had one of my occasional tests of my Spanish, as I had to sort out how to get from the bus station to my hostel. The lass in the Tourist Info place was really nice, though, which helped. In fact, she was even really nice when I went back and sheepishly explained that I'd gotten confused as to which hostel I was supposed to be in and had just rung the wrong one. Ooops. Turned out the only really feasible ways to get to Hi Patagonia were either a cab or on foot, so my instinctive distrust of paying for taxis kicked in and I decided to walk it (this may also have been affected by the fact that I only had large denomination notes on me, and Argentine cab drivers, even more than most others, deny having any change much of the time). So I walked there. If it comes down to it, it was only about 10 or 12 blocks or so, so I think I did it in about 20 minutes, attracting the usual slightly strange looks I get when wandering around with the main pack on my back and the daypack hanging off the front. The member of staff who greeted me and checked me in was, slightly confusingly, German, another Matthias. I was also somewhat crushed to find that the only company doing a direct service from Puerto Madryn to Bariloche, Mar y Valle, would not do phone or internet bookings, so I had to walk right back to the bus station I had just left. I sighed.

Just to show that the travel gods have a sick sense of humour, when I got back to the bus station I found that, in a situation eerily familiar to me from certain times at Trailfinders, the relevant computer system to book the bus I wanted had crashed. I sighed again, and set off to explore the town centre a bit more. Truth be told, there's not an awful lot to detain the curious tourist in downtown Puerto Madryn, so I was quite glad to bump into my Israeli fellow travellers from the bus, Ben and Michel, with her brother at a cafe, and sit down to rest my feet for a bit. After that, I went back, more in hope than expectation, to the bus station, and for once hope was rewarded - the system was working again and I could get my ticket. Hurrah! No longer-than-planned stay in Puerto Madryn for me. Next stop was an internet cafe to book my accommodation in Bariloche (annoyingly, this was another one where I had to fight the conviction of an adult filter that Hostelworld is an "innappropriate site"), then Carrefour to get some supplies for the next day, then back to the hostel for an Asado.

Yes, I know, the Asado theme is getting worryingly popular, but if you're in Argentina and even remotely amenable to eating red meat, you'd be eating them a lot as well. Plus, this was one of those which featured copious amounts of vino included in the price, along with the ensaladas and the all-important carne. This was my first encounter with Gaston, the exceedingly genial owner of the hostel, and he proceeded to sit me at a table with a fellow Brit, Sarah (amusingly also resident in Bristol, though having grown up in Oxford rather than Cambridge) along with two French lads (Patxi, a French Basque, and Vincent), a Quebecoise named Julie and a Balaeric lass named Salina, who had been working and living in London. There then ensued the usual stuffing of faces (with beef, chorizo sausage, chicken, etc), quaffing of vino tinto, and swapping of travellers' tales and the like. I was also eventually persuaded to try an Argentine drink speciality of Fernet Branca and Coke. It seems to be an Italian-influenced thing, and is apparently particularly associated with the city of Córdoba over here, but I have to say I think the stuff's vile. It's right up there with Pernod in the list of "things I would have to be drunk to the point of insensibility or paid an obscene amount to drink". At the end of proceedings, sometime around 1 or 2, Salina and Gaston were heading off with an Argentine couple staying at the hostel to additional bars, but I demurred, citing my need to get up early the next morning for a trip, which, given that it was the principal reason I had come to Puerto Madryn, I didn't want to miss.