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Day 91 – Not the Most Boring Seat in the World (Bus to Puerto Varas)

January 9, 2011

Location: Bus between San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina and Puerto Varas, Chile

Date: Sunday, January 9, 2011

It’s hard to beat a storyline to death, but it’s bound to happen when you try to explore South America overland. That’s right, folks, another bus.

At 4 a.m. I was awake. At 5 a.m. I was on a bus to Puerto Montt with the aim of reaching the Chilean lakeside town of Puerto Varas. I can’t tell you how long the trip was supposed to be, but I didn’t get to my final destination until 9 hours later.

In between, there was a border crossing from Argentina to Chile at Paso Cardenal Antonio Samore, more gorgeous scenery, a bus switch in a small Chilean town, a switch to a combi at Puerto Montt, and one grumpy traveler (me).

I haven’t dealt well with all the movement over last few weeks. While my main complaint is all the hiking I think I’m pretty fed up with doing stuff. I’m ready for a sensory deprivation chamber. That’s right—the full Lisbeth Salander, without the leering psychiatrist.

The problem with El Bariloche is that it’s just too expensive to hang around in for long and, since I’m on a budget, I’ve got to find a way to keep moving. Turns out South America’s a pretty big continent.

A few observations from a weary traveler.

***I’ve sat in the most boring bus seat in the world. Today, I sat in the most interesting. The nicer long haul buses in South America are double-deckers. That means that the seats at the front of the second floor have an unobstructed view out the front of the bus. It’s like you’re flying over the road. So long as you don’t mind missing out on the onboard entertainment (usually a bootleg movie shown on tiny communal TV screens) these are the seats for you.

***Chile is obsessed with customs checks. They cannot keep it simple. Every border crossing into Chile has been a hassle. You must drag your bags off the bus and have them searched by hand. You must declare everything that is made of animal, vegetable, nut, wood, plant, fruit, oil, honey, or contains a carbon molecule. It is stringent.

The crossing between El Bariloche and Puerto Montt is no exception. Here, though, they use dogs which makes it at least entertaining. Customs officers stack your bags on the edges of a table then run a sniffer pup between it at least three times. Then they force you to drag your bag from there to an X-ray machine. While you wait, you have to line up in a room with your carryon luggage as they run another sniffer dog up by you and your effects. Once complete, the passengers gave the dog a round of applause. Proving once again that humans are suckers for animals and babies. There’s an idea—sniffer babies. I’d definitely applaud for that.

The one Chilean border crossing that isn’t a hassle is the one from Ushuaia where I guess the officers figure there’s nothing down that way anyway so what could you possibly be sneaking in.

Normally, though, it’s extensive. Excruciating. Mind-numbing. It’s almost as bad as trying to get into the U.S., actually.

In the end, I ended up in Puerto Varas on the shores of Lago Llanquihue with an enthusiastic horde of beach going Chileans. All this travel and I was ready to do nothing. Nothing. Nothing. You know, something I’m good at.

I Put It in My Mouth – Periodic Feature on Food Told (Mostly) in Pictures

The restaurant Donde El Gordito (translation: Where Is The Little Fat Man) came highly recommended by my hotel as the best seafood place in town. It’s pretty good. A uniquely Chilean item of note is the marchas con parmesan a baked razor clam dish which should have been invented in the U.S. of A. what with its innovation being the addition of melted cheese.

GALLERY: No bonus pictures.

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