Experiencing the mother of all roads going to Bariloche

The “Ruta Nacional 40” (or: RN40) is the Argentinean mother of all roads: It stretches over 5000 kilometers from the Bolivian border down to the southern tip of the continent, while it passes through 20 national parks, over 18 big rivers and crosses 27 passes. In short: This is the backpacker version of the famous “Route 66” in the U.S.

Bus near Bariloche

Two years ago, the road was still less than 50% paved. The part of the road linking the towns of El Chaltèn and Bariloche is still mostly unpaved. Sounded like a small adventure, so I had to take that road. Around midnight, some French guys and I were lining up on a cold, windy sidewalk at El Chaltén to wait for our bus to pick us up. Fabrice, one of the crazier among the French guys, found an empty barrel in which he managed to create a small fire that would keep us warm. We were tasting (aka: drinking) some Argentinean red wines and singing. This must have looked a bit odd, like some homeless people from New York City who had gathered in a rural Patagonian town to sing French songs of the “Resistance”. At least, the police must have been confused and they started to patrol in five minute intervals around our block.

However, our bus eventually arrived. By that time, almost all people waiting had become friends. Even though the road was very bumpy, we had a great time, but fell asleep quickly. I woke up a couple of hours later after a perfect nights rest in my comfy seat. It was almost nine o’clock and our bus was about to stop for breakfast in front of a road house in the middle of nothing. “Diez minutos!”, ten minutes, the driver’s assistant shouted and off we were to get breakfast. Well, the way the assistant did pronounce his words, it sounded more like “let’s try not to waste too much time and be on the bus within the hour”.


Since there was only one toilet for 50 passengers and one very slow cashier in the restaurant, the time needed was definitely more than only 10 minutes. Consequently, I faced the difficult choice of which queue to prioritize… Our subsequent stops were five minutes (Argentina: half an hour) and 15 minutes (Argentina: a bit over one hour) long.

Along the route, several times the people next to my seat changed. There was this 60+ year old lady who was offended that my knees would touch her butt inadvertently as she was trying to squeeze into her window seat. Each time I would bend down to get something out of my day-pack lying on the floor, she would start to nervously stretch her skirt making sure that her knees were covered. Needless to say that I found numerous occasions to tie and untie my shoe laces or fumble for stuff in my bag.

Further along the route, the lady had to leave and got replaced by a twenty-four year old Brazilian guy who gave me the biggest smile I’ve ever seen in my life. Which actually includes the biggest dental braces I’ve ever seen. But he was fun talking to and as it turned out, he was admiring rap music. Just before he was leaving, he would give me 50 cents of Brazilian money as a souvenir and smiling at me: “50 Cent from Brazil”. Well, dumb-fumbler as I am, I did not get the irony of his message and handed him – in return – a piece of Swiss money which would remind him of our encounter. It was Yann, another French guy on the bus, who quickly pointed out that there probably isn’t (and never will be) a rapper named “One Franc”.

Lakes near Bariloche

The second night on the bus, we drove to an unknown rural Patagonian town at around 1:30 in the morning. Our bus stopped on what was apparently kind of a main road, in front of the only restaurant around. Our drivers told us “media hora”, which made us a bit wary about how long that stay meant to be by Argentinean time standards. This remote place actually was very efficient: All those of us who were hungry, were able to order and eat freshly made Pizza’s within the hour. The last half hour, we saw our food in candle light, because – for whatever reason – the electricity was shut down at 2am. To be honest, for the short time being there, I did fall in love with that place. Hoping that the bus would break down and that we had to stay for a day or two in the Argentinean outback.

Unfortunately, the bus was in perfect condition and two hours later, we arrived at “Esquel”, where the French guys were leaving. Since they continued onwards to Chile, I wasn’t really keen to stay with them and I kept focus on heading further according to my plan. Arriving in a good mood and overexcited from the accomplished road trip, I was shocked when I saw first Bariloche – my day’s destination.

Never – on my entire trip, did I want to leave a town right upon arrival. Until now.

Yes, Bariloche is very scenic and very beautiful. People here are friendly and the place is probably very exciting for (South) Americans. It’s rightfully one of the main tourist attractions in the Argentina.

But this town just looks like home. The main streets are full of souvenir shops and restaurants. The central square features a medieval castle. Many houses are built chalet-type. The local speciality in Bariloche is (drum-rolls): Chocolate! Even the lakes and mountains around town look suspiciously Swiss. Unsurprisingly, one of the main local tourist attractions is a visit to the “Colonia Suiza”.

I ended up staying two days in town doing absolutely nothing. Just having a rest. Definitely, I am not yet ready to go home.