Sin Bicicleta

I have been forcibly separated from my bicycle. According to the website of AndesmarExpress, it’s still in Rio Gallegos, 15 hours bus ride south of here. It was supposed to arrive a day after me, but now it will be Monday (two days away) at the earliest. So I’m stuck in Trelew for the next couple of days at least. Oh well, at least it’s warm and sunny, and the town is reasonably pleasant.

In Ushuaia, I got up at 4:00am on Thursday morning, loaded up and rolled down to the bus station nice and early, clutching four large pieces of cardboard. The bus crew weren’t too impressed by the sight of the bike, but luckily the bus was less than half full, and once I slipped them a few pesos they cheered up and gave me the rear luggage section for the bike. Easy, no boxing required.

It’s not that great a distance to Rio Gallegos, but it involves going via Chile, and a 20 minute ferry across the Straits of Magellan. Border crossings are much simpler with the bike. You’re often the only one there. But on the bus, it takes longer. Especially the “Paso Integracion Austral”, the second crossing back into Argentina. Heaps of cars, trucks and buses. For once, they had combined the Chilean and Argentinian border posts, rather than the usual long gap between them. This saves time, but the building designers are surprisingly clueless, making this take longer than needed – for a start the Chilean customs are on the Argentine side of the building – so you go past Argentine customs, check out of Chile, come back and do Argentine customs, then walk out. Daft. Obviously doesn’t work properly coming the other direction either.

Plenty of people getting frustrated too. I saw something that reminded me that age does not always bring wisdom. A grey-bearded Englishman, looking like the sort that would smoke a pipe, was shaking his fist at the customs officer. Rule number 1 of border crossings: “Under no circumstances should you ever, ever allow yourself to show anger. Remain calm at all times.” You are at their mercy, do not do anything to piss them off.

Reaching Rio Gallegos after 11.5 hours of travelling, it was cold and drizzly, so I decided to get a bus north that night, rather than staying a night. First bus company wouldn’t take the bike, so I didn’t tell the second ticket seller. Waited 3 hours, then the bus turned up at 19:45 (for a 20:00 departure), with a big crowd of people around it. This is not looking good. Crew looked at the bike, said nope, we can’t take that, then turned away. Shit. What do I do? Throw away the US$65 ticket, and hope for something better tomorrow morning? Have to move fast.

Race back into the terminal, there’s a desk that does cargo shipments to other bus terminals around the country. Can you send this to Trelew? Sure, will arrive a day after you do. OK, fine, take it, will cost US$20. Enter my passport details, quick, quick. Take my money, ah no change, no-one ever has change in Argentina. Go get some from another shop, done, no boxing required. Run back out to the bus, jump on, we’re off.

Hang on, someone’s sitting in my seat. Both of us have tickets with seat number 47 marked on them. Odd. Talk to the attendant, he seems to say “your ticket is for the other coach.” It’s the right time, the right company, and this bus is going to Trelew (I had checked with several people), but somehow it’s not right. Don’t worry about it he tells me, sit down, it will be OK.

I’m still a bit nervous as we leave town. There’s not many roads around here, so I try and see if he gets on the right road. All seems OK, and luckily there are enough spare seats for me in the cama section. I’d paid an extra 10% for cama, where the seats recline further, and it’s a smaller section with fewer people and no kids. Good for those very long journeys, easier to sleep, without costing too much extra.

On the way out of town, we’re stopped at the police checkpoint. Normally they just wave you through, or maybe take the passenger manifest, but this time they get on board, and check people’s ID against the list. I’m worried about this, because I’m not on that manifest, and someone, either the bus company or me, could get in trouble. But they turn out to only be shaking down the locals, as the police do here. They carefully compare everyone else’s ID to the list, but with me they just look at my passport, and hand it back. No check of the manifest.

So I go to sleep, safe in the knowledge that the bus must be going in the right direction for at least another 700km. Things work out well, and it ends up going all the way to Trelew, a Welsh colony, where we arrive 15 hours later.

Hopefully on Monday the bike will have arrived, and I’ll be able to leave this town, to head to Puerto Madryn. In the meantime, it’s a nice enough place. I’m staying in a very old hotel, which could do with some updating, but it’s nice enough, in a faded 1920’s glamour kind of way. It’s another former Welsh colony, but I will be steering well clear of any dodgy Irish bars this time…