Ruta 40 is the stuff of travelling myth, the Argentinian route 66. You can, if you wish, travel along this epic highway from the Argentinian/Bolivian border almost to Ushuaia in the south entirely on the one road, a distance of approx 5000 kms. Lots of it however is still gravel track with a speed limit of 40 kmh (obviously), although the government is making a final push to tarmac the whole thing.
'At its traditional southern end near the city of Río Gallegos it starts at sea level, crosses 20 national parks, 18 major rivers, 27 passes on the Andes, and goes up to 5,000 m (16,404 ft) in Abra del Acay in Salta'- wikipedia.
We booked a two day bus ride to travel approx 1,300 kms along it; leave El Chalten at 9am, stop at 9pm somewhere else in Patagonia, sleep in a hostal, start again at 7am and reach Bariloche 14 hours later – the idea being that you could watch the countryside glide by and wouldn’t miss a thing by doing anything crazy like travelling at night.
Now then. If you haven’t gathered this by now then let’s be clear about what we mean by Patagonian countryside. There are times when you can see mountains in the distance to the left of the bus and other times when the road goes round a bend to deal with some gradient or other, but mainly it is just 30 kms or so to the horizon in all directions of Patagonian desert which means dust, knee high shrubs and miles of fencing.
Ben thinks this landscape is beautiful in its vast and empty nothingness; the light is always stunning, the wind is relentless and the sky (with cloud formations that we hadn’t seen anywhere before) an integral part of the 360 degree 3 dimensional vista.
Pam thinks Ben is nuts.
It is perhaps a boyz thing, but as the driver was wearing a leather Stetson this qualified as a road trip to remember. Pam slept through as much as possible.
The only downside of day 1 was the bus’s inability to have its heating turned off (overheating old grunter) or the windows open (dust issues) and the four blokes sitting across the aisle who hadn’t showered for at least a month, which meant for 40 (of course) degrees of minty freshness.
Day 2 saw a newer bus (with cooling functionality) and fewer passengers, all of whom seemed to have a firmer grasp on the concept of personal hygiene which meant for a way more pleasant journey.The landscape also started to change in the final few hours into lush green mountainous forests surrounding lakes, for indeed we had reached the lake district of the north of Patagonia, and then our destination of Bariloche.