Escape from Malargüe!
To get away from Malargüe we needed all the 'good luck' we could muster. There were buses ...
- A night bus every Friday to Neuquén, but Friday seemed a long time away in Malargüe.
- A night service every day from San Rafael to Neuquén, but this would mean travelling three hours north to catch a 12 hour bus journey south.
- Our favourite, because it was leaving the next day, was the twice weekly brand new service over the Andes on the not quite finished road to Talca in Chile. It was also a day bus so we would get to see what promised to be a rather impressive landscape.
"Two tickets to Talca, please."
"We can't sell them in advance because the bus might not leave if there is too much snow on the pass." Explained the ticket saleswoman. "You can monitor the police website." She added.
The police website is well laid out. Each road pass has its own page and the status for Paso Pehuenche was 'open'. Then at 7pm, it changed to 'closed for 14 hours'. No panic, we knew the road was shut at night.
At 8am the following morning, Franco dashed off to the bus station to buy tickets, still they wouldn't sell. We finished packing, checked out of our seedy hostel and headed for the bus station.
"The bus has set off from San Rafael." We were told, which sounded encouraging.
We weren't the only ones waiting. Using the free wifi provided at the bus station, I logged onto the Argentinian police website. At 9:05 the status changed: 'closed until further notice due to accumulation of snow'. I simply couldn't believe it! There was cloud cover over the Andes but it didn't look like heavy snow.
As I was about to break the news to Franco, the lady from the ticket office called him over. He returned two minutes later with the tickets. The Argentinian bus company knew better than to listen to the Argentinian police, the Chilean Police were letting traffic through so the pass was open. I wondered whether the guy in charge of the webpage had actually been up to the pass or had decided to take a 'duvet day'.
The bus journey was fabulous; through a very remote part of Argentina over the Andes and back down the Maule Valley in Chile. We noted with interest that none of the bridges on the Argentinian side were built but the road had been declared 'finished and open'. Where would the money come from to finish the construction? As soon as we dropped down a few hundred metres on the Chilean side, the vegetation changed from semi-arid to mature trees, and lush greenery.
Talca was as gritty and Chilean as they come. The moment we stepped out of the bus station we knew we were home; the street stalls and hawkers advertising their wares, the music booming from every store, the friendly crowds milling and the need to search hard for a decent cup of coffee.
Goat-herder’s house built with adobe
Ford over the river where the Argentinian bridges aren’t yet finished
The top of the pass