Thursday, March 20:
We woke early and checked out of Kau Yatun, a little sad to be leaving this lovely hotel and its staff, but we had an early bus to catch, and after settling the bill, they called us a taxi to the bus terminal (note to anyone considering taking the bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales – you have to bring your passport when you buy the ticket, and you should really buy them in advance, as they often fill up). Boarding was uneventful, and we settled in for the long, long ride.
Out the bus window, somewhere on RN40 in Argentina
The bus started slowly on the well-paved road from El Calafate toward Rio Gallagas, but we did see a few Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles on fenceposts, along with numerous Southern Caracaras. Lucky for us it was a modern, comfortable bus, since we soon turned on RN40, a well-graded gravel road, and spent the next couple of hours traveling at no more than 15mph – uggh!
Lesser Rheas / Choique
As we crawled along, I tried to entertain myself attempting out-the-window photography, not an easy matter on a bus on a gravel road! I did get a few images that captured the mood, however.
Chilean Flamingoes / Flamenco Austral / Flamenco Chileno
I was looking at some Ashy-headed and Upland geese on one side of the bus when Sarah poked me and we saw a handful of Chilean Flamingoes (LIFER!) out the other side. Alas, they were distant, but their hot-pink coloring left no doubt as to their identity! Exemplary of the enmity between Argentina and Chile is the common name for this bird. In Argentina, it’s called Flamenco Austral (Southern Flamingo), but in Chile, it’s the Flamenco Chileno (Chilean Flamingo). Go figure.
Dusty rest stop
After what seemed like an eternity, we got to the end of RN40 and the bus stopped at a dusty, lonely roadside gas station.
Torres del Paine
It was nice to get out and stretch anyways, and we had nice distant views of the Torres del Paine, our destination for the next few days. Given the highly unpredictable Patagonian weather, we drank in these views all we could, having read plenty of reports of folks to went to Torres del Paine, but never saw the Torres.
Back in the bus, we continued, thankfully at a reasonable pace, and now on a paved road, through Rio Negro, a somewhat sad coal-mining town, and at around 1pm arrived at the Argentine border control. Having read stories about the border crossing, I was prepared for an inefficient process, but it wasn’t too bad – we just had to queue up to get our passports stamped out. Of course, then we had to get back on the bus, drive 2 miles up the road, and go through Chilean customs, which were quite thorough.
They started by bringing a drug-sniffing dog onto the bus, making sure it sniffed everyone, then let us disembark and line up for their entrance control, which involved handing in a form, getting our passport stamped, and having our hand baggage inspected.
Between exiting Argentina and entering Chile, about 90 minutes elapsed – not too bad, but I’m sure the folks in the bus behind us had to wait quite a bit longer, since we were in front of them.
Rainbow over Puerto Natales
Safely documented in Chile, it was mercifully but a short drive from the border into Puerto Natales (note that Chile is a very long and very narrow country!). The bus emptied everyone at the Cootra company offices, as Puerto Natales does not have a central bus station, and after some map-consulting, we walked the 7’ish blocks to our hotel for the evening, the Francis Drake.
We were to meet Sarah’s folks, who had been traveling in South America since early January, here, but they were coming up from renting a car in Punta Arenas, and hadn’t yet arrived, so after dumping our luggage in our teeny room, we walked around town. It was siesta-time, and little was open, but we stumbled upon El Living, a restaurant catering to foreigners that Sarah’s folks had recommended, and enjoyed a lovely meal there. Extra-nice was that they had a lot of green veggies, something we had been missing amid the excellent Argentine meat.
Sated, we went for a walk along the waterfront, and I quickly saw several new life birds:
Magellanic Oystercatcher / Pilpilén Austral
Chiloe Wigeon / Pato Real
Crested Duck / Pato Juarjual
Kelp Gull / Gaviota Dominicana (L) and Dolphin Gull / Gaviota Austral (R)
Not (yet) pictured, but a lifer, was a flock of Imperial Cormorants on a decrepit pier, keeping the Kelp & Dolphin Gulls company. Along with the lifers, we enjoyed good looks at some other new birds we’d already seen:
Black-necked Swan / Cisne de Cuello Negro
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle / Aguila
We returned to the hotel just in time to catch Jim & Diane (Sarah’s parents) arriving and said our hellos, glad to see them after a few months. Naps seemed in order, and after a bit of a rest, we regrouped for wine and had a tasty dinner at the too-chi-chi-for-Puerto-Natales Indigo, which at least makes a mean Pisco Sour. Although we’d bought stuff at several places this day, the exchange rate was hard to get our head around – 430 Chilean Pesos to the dollar. Mmm, multi-thousand-unit meals! Our meal at Indigo was CHP$49,800, which I think is sort of expensive, but not too much so 🙂
After searching out an internet cafe, we retired early, eager to get to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine the following day.
Part 1: Getting to Patagonia
Part 2: El Calafate & Laguna Nimez
Part 3: Glaciar Perito Moreno
Part 4: El Calafate backcountry excursion
Part 5: Goodbye Argentina, hello Chile <– You are here!
Part 6: To Torres del Paine!
Part 7: Lago Pehoe and Paine Grande
Part 8: Mirador los Cuernos
Part 9: To Rio Verde and Punta Arenas
Part 10: Pelagic, Penguins, and farewell to Patagonia
Part 11: To Buenos Aires!
Part 12: BsAs’ Sunday markets and other diversions
Part 13: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Part 14: Buenos Aires’ Jardin Botanico and Costanera Sur
Part 15: There’s no place like home