Monday, January 20, 2014

Expatriating, The Nomadic Way: Crossing Patagonia by Train

article from December 27, 2010
The continuing saga of how we got to where we are
By Jamie Douglas

We ended up staying at Don Celestino Cabañas, in El Bolsón, at the foot of the Patagonian Andes, for about 6 weeks, where only the winter rains ended up driving us away. “The rains of the century,” they called them. It turned out that we were able to harness the free Internet from the gas station across the street with the computer perched on a pile of suitcases in front of the upstairs window, or we could walk over and have a cup of coffee to do our Internet communicating. (Marina and Miguel are constantly making improvements to their various cabañas, so the Internet access for their guests has improved since then.)

Before the rains, while the weather was gorgeous, we made many excursions, went to the artisan market three times a week, walked to the vista overlooking the valley, to the river, to different parts of town, always with Mora, the faithful companion doberman who was as sweet as they come, at our side.

But soon, it was time to move on. I had heard that there was a weekly train that ran from Bariloche to Viedma, on the Atlantic side, and, being train buffs, we decided that el Tren Patagonico would be a great way to get back to the east coast from the Andes. It was an overnight ride across the Patagonian steppes that gave us a gorgeous sunset view out over Lake Nahuel Huapi, then a moonrise over deserted hills, half a day of passing through windswept badlands, and ended up with us getting locked inside our cabin because the ladder to get to the upper bunk got stuck in the bracket that was on the inside of the door. So when we arrived at the Viedma train station, it took us quite a while to free ourselves. But it all happened for a reason.

We got into town later than we wanted to, and then went to get a bite to eat before taking the romantic, age-old boat ride across the Río Negro to Carmen de Patagones, the old colonial city on the other side of the river, with our computer, our cameras etc...

Well, when we arrived at the dock, there were all kinds of navy and police officers all around telling us that the boat ride was temporarily suspended. We took a few photos along the river, and of the big statue of Argentina’s bigger-than-life heroine, Evita Péron, and then took a very long taxi ride over the old bridge to the other side, which we found to be much more charming, since it had not washed away in the floods a few years prior. There, we took more photos, had a few beers in a little bar, and toward the end of the day, walked down to the river, hoping to catch the boat back to Viedma. No such luck. So we hoofed it back up the steep hill to the cathedral and took a taxi back across the river, via the new bridge this time, to our hotel.

The next day, we booked an overnight sleeper bus to take us back to Buenos Aires, then went to have our customary coffees, and as I was looking at a newspaper from Buenos Aires in the café, I discovered that the ferry we had wanted to ride had exploded mid-river the day before, with all onboard. Many people were badly burned, but fortunately, nobody lost their lives. It was due to our discombobulated circumstances on the train that we still have the our skin, our laptop, and our cameras, which we carried with us wherever we went, because leaving things in hotels is the easiest way to lose them – except for when the boat blows up.

Amazed at the coincidences of the previous day, we headed down to the riverfront to have a nice meal and use the Wi-Fi at a hip yet comfy little restaurant, took a taxi back across the river, went to the hangout that we had discovered the day before, drank beers and conversed with a woman we had seen on the train, and I went and walked around town to take one more round of photos while we waited for the hour of our departure.

We had talked of meeting up with the woman in Buenos Aires, where she was also headed on an overnight bus, but when we awoke the next morning on our bus, finding ourselves winding our way through the insane city traffic, we suddenly decided to go straight to the Buque Bus terminal from the main bus terminal and head straight on over to Uruguay on one of the giant ferries that the company runs from Buenos Aires to both Colonia del Sacramento and Montevideo. So, by 2 pm on June 10, we touched Uruguayan soil, two months after we left the USA. All was wonderful. We had finally arrived, right where we wanted to be.
So, as Paul Harvey would have said, and now you know... the rest of the story (But wait, there’s still more.)

Until then, continue to live your dreams.
Jamie Douglas

[All photos by Jamie Douglas]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.