Monday 30th November 2015
We woke up around 7.40am with Fredrik and had brekky. At breakfast, Patrick, the French guy in his sixties hanging out at Las Natalias was chatting about the terrorist attacks with another French traveller who had just arrived the night before. I was happy to hear them and join the conversation. As a French travelling abroad, it remained something I wanted to talk about with other French people, even 2 weeks later. The other French guy was saying how he had the same reaction as me when the terrorist attacks occured on the 13th November. He was searching French people, willing to talk with them
and could not find any around him. All of us French people travelling or living abroad felt isolated that day, so far from our home country and crying deeply for France. Chatting with them felt good. We had porridge and fruits with Fredrik and then it was time to say good-bye to this wonderful place where I would have liked to stay longer and to Fredrik with who I had just spent a week travelling. It was awesome travelling with a like-minded travel buddy and we did lots: walking around Chiloe National Park, hanging out at Castro, meeting the English couple Niels and Aleyna and Vojin the Serbian guy, taking the night boat to Chaiten, meeting the Chilean couple Fabiola and Daniel, going with them to the thermes and Pumalin National Park, climbing towards the Chaiten Volcano, taking the bus to Futaleufu, and finally, rafting this legendary river and falling together with Marcus and Maya in The Terminator in the water, having a freezing bath in Class 5 rapids. Memories we will not forget!!!
I walked away from Las Natalias, having a last look back at this wonderful place.
And off I was walking on the road to the bus station.
When I got there, the bus for Esquel was there, 6 French people in their sixties, 3 Israeli girls and a German guy and a German girl were also waiting, along with a couple of locals.
Soon we were in the bus. We stopped half an hour later at the Chilean border and gave our little paper and got an exit stamp in our passport.
The bus drove us to the entry of Argentina. We got out of the bus, got an entry stamp for Argentina.
We boarded a connection bus that we paid 83 Argentinian pesos. I was glad to still have pesos from Bariloche!
The landscape was dryer again on the Argentinian side. Such a different Patagonia. Still so pretty and beautiful.
We arrived around 11am at Esquel bus station.
First I went to Marga counter to enquire about the buses going to El Chalten.
There was a bus every three days. And luckily there was one today, and luckily at 4.50pm. Perfect! For info, every three days means the next bus would be Thursday 3rd December, then Sunday 6th December, then Wednesday 9th December and so on. The bus goes directly to El Chalten, and arrives there the next day at 11am.
Right next door was a counter where I dropped my big backpack for the day. Then quick stop at the toilets. Then I went outside of the terminal and ate a pizza here.
After that, I walked to Esquel train station. I was very excited about seeing it and learning whatever I could learn about the legendary train called “La Trochita”.
I enquired in the station if it was possible to take La Trochita, El Viejo Expreso Patagonico, The Old Patagonian Express. They said yes, but only every Saturday. La Trochita used to be a train people would take to travel which was running from 1935 to 1994. It closed for one year and then became a train for tourists in 1995. It now does a 3-hour return journey every Saturday at 10am. It goes from Esquel to El Maiten on a 402 km scenic journey. There are only 140 seats available so it is better to book in advance. Enquiries can be made at this email address: reservaslatrochita_at_hotmail.com
Sadly the museum was closed. I hanged around a little bit inside the train station, taking photos of photos.
Then I went to check out the two wagons which were in the train station.
One man passed by and asked if I wanted to get inside the wagon. Sure, of course! He let me in. Waouuu. Soooo cool. Here was the first class wagon, with comfortable brown seats.
We sat there and chatted a bit. His name was Domingo Martin Morale and he was the Esquel train station manager. He had worked here with La Trochita the last 20 years, since 1994 when they opened the touristy train. I was so happy to be sitting there, in La Trochita, conversing in Esquel, like if the train was moving and we were off to somewhere. I told him about Luis Sepulveda who had written about La Trochita in his “Ultimas Noticias del Sur” book. I also got out of my bag “The Old Patagonian Express” book from Paul Theroux and showed him. He started having a look at it. I asked him if I could take the picture of him reading it. That moment was so symbolic to me.
Then he took me to the second wagon, the white seats one.
We sat there again and continued chatting. He said he had some photos he wanted to show me. He went away. I sat near the window and imagined the train about to depart.
He came back with some flyers but also a CD which shows the journey from Esquel to the station of Ingeniero Jacobacci. I was so moved. Woooowww!!! Such a shame my crappy little computer doesn`t have a CD-reader. I just couldn`t wait to see it. I thanked him a lot, we chatted a bit more, exchanged what`s app details so I could send him the photos of him and off the train. Then I went, dreams in my head and continued my walk around Esquel.
Note: Once back in Europe, I have watched this fantastic 20 minutes journey which made me dream. I haven’t managed to upload the video to Youtube yet but maybe some day! Meanwhile, here is a 2-min video I found on YouTube, you can watch more of La Trochita there.
There were three hours left and I was keen on visiting the Esquel museum to see photos of how Esquel looked in the past. I went to the Tourist information but they told me the museum was closed too, for a month, for renovation. Shame. I asked if there was anything else to see in the city. The guy told me about some walks I could do around Esquel and gave me this map.
Unfortunately, not much else to see around here. I went to the supermarket and bought some biscuits and fruits for the journey. The guy of Marga bus company had told me that we would be served a dinner and a breakfast but I could also remember that my Galapagos travel buddy Patrick had told me that usually Argentinian buses meals were not that great. So better have some more food. Then I walked back to the bus station. Passed this statue of Evita Peron. I got stuck in my head again the song “Don`t cry for me Argentina” for the rest of the day ahahaha.
Here is a picture of one street of Esquel, while walking back to the train station.
At the train station, I went to the toilets and then went to a cafe where I got a tea and used the WiFi for a bit and wrotethis article text in preparation for the day I would have a good WiFi to publish it.
So…to write a bit more about “La Trochita”. Why was this moment earlier in the day so symbolic to me? Because so many writers have talked about the legendary Trochita train.
The American travel writer Paul Theroux started his train trip in Boston and took trains after trains from Boston to…Esquel. He wrote this book, “The Old Patagonian Express” about his train journey from Boston to Esquel. The book finishes in Esquel, where he arrived in 1979. Esquel must have been so small, so different at the time.
Here are the last pages of the book “The Old Patagonian Express” by Paul Theroux:
“It had been my intention to arrive in Esquel on Holy Saturday and to wake on Easter Sunday and watch the sunrise. But Easter had passed. This was no special date, and I had overslept. I got up and went outside. It was a sunny breezy day – the sort of weather that occurs every day of the year in that part of Patagonia. I walked to the station. The engine that had taken me to Esquel looked derelict on the siding, as if it would never run again. But it had a hundred more years in it, I was sure. I walked beyond it, past the one-storey houses to the one-roomed huts, to where the road turned into a dusty track. There was a rocky slope, some sheep, the rest bushes and weeds. If you looked closely you could see small pink and yellow flowers on these bushes. The wind stirred them. I went closer. They shook. But they were pretty. Behind my head was a great desert.
The Patagonian paradox was this: to be here, it helped to be a miniaturist, or else interested in enormous empty spaces. There was no intermediate zone of study. Either the enormity of the desert space, or the sight of a tiny flower. You had to choose between the tiny or the vast. The paradox diverted me. My arrival did not matter. It was the journey that counted. And I would follow Johnson`s advice. Early in his career he had translated the book of a Portuguese traveller in Abyssinia. In his preface, Johnson wrote, “He has amused the reader with no romantick absurdity, or incredible fictions; whatever he relates, whether true or no, is at least probably, and he who tells nothing exceeding the bounds of probability, has a right to demand that they should believe him who cannot contradict him.”
The sheep saw me. The younger ones kicked their heels. When I looked again, they were gone, and I was an ant on a foreign ant-hil. It was impossible to verify the size of anything in this spadce. There was no path through the bushes, but I could look over them, over this ocean of thorns which looked so mild at a distance, so cruel near by, so like misshapen nosegays close-up. It was perfectly quiet and odourless. I knew I was nowhere, but the most surprising thing of all was that I was still in the world after all this time, on a dot at the lower part of the map. The landscape had a gaunt expression, but I could not deny that it had readable features and that I existed in it. This was a discovery – the look of it. I thought: Nowhere is a place. Down there the Patagonian valley deepened to grey rock, wearing its eons` stripes and split by floods. Ahead, there was a succession of hills, whittled and fissured by the wind, which now sang in the bushes. The bushes shook with this song. They stiffened again and were silent. The sky was clear blue. A puff of cloud, white as a quince flower, carried a small shadow from town, or from the South Pole. I saw it approach. It rippled across the bushes and passed over me, a brief chill, and then went rucking east.
There were no voices here. There was this, what I saw; and, though beyond it were mountains and glaciers and albatrosses and Indians, there was nothing here to speak of, nothing to delay me further. Only the Patagonian paradox: the vast space, the very tiny blossoms of the sage-brush`s cousin. The nothingness itself, a beginning for some intrepid traveller, was an ending for me. I had arrived in Patagonia, and I laughed when I remembered I had come here from Boston, on the subway train that people took to work.” THE END
Copyright Paul Theroux, extract of the last pages of “The Old Patagonian Express” book.
I just savoured writing down these few pages of the book while sitting in this cafe in the bus station in Esquel while waiting for my 4.50pm bus to El Chalten.
Sitting at this table.
I looked around. At the time Paul Theroux came in 1979, there was probably not much in Esquel. It must have grown massive since then. Esquel is now a little pueblo, there are buildings, there is WiFi, there are people living here. I looked out of the window. Those mountains over there to my right would have been some he would have contemplated.
Those little hills behind me also. Which road had he taken? In which hostel did he sleep? What was the bar where he had some steak in the evening he got to Esquel? Unanswered questions.
I also thought of Nathaniel, the owner of Las Natalias, who grew up in Esquel. If only he could write a book about his Esquel, the one he knows way more than Paul Theroux!
4.30pm. Time to go grab my big backpack from the bag keeper and board the bus soon.
Bye Esquel, let`s go further South, off to El Chalten!