Slight change of plans. We overslept and missed the 9.30 train! We can’t remember how we idled the morning away but we caught the train at 12. It’s a small narrow gauge railway originally built by the prison colony to take prisoners to work in the forest. Now it’s just a tourist attraction running two hour round trips through the national park.
We had had a sneak preview of the train and decided to travel in luxury, first class! The second class carriages were designed to seat three across but it would be a very tight squeeze. In first class we had a little table and a sandwich, some biscuits and a coffee. The carriages were so small neither of us could stand up straight or get our knees under the table.
The train set off up to a small waterfall and some model Yamana’s huts. We soon realised our travelling companions had come from the cruise liner that docked in harbour today. They’re sailing for two months in total and get one day in port at about ten stop offs on the way. Cruising like this does not appeal!
After our stop the train carried on through the national park, past some beaver dams and through an area of stunted trunks. These were all the trees cut down by the prisoners while they were establishing the infrastructure of Ushuaia. Stef had his mate with him and this brought cheers of applause from the railway staff and the Argentinean couple in our carriage.
The train is something of a specialty for train buffs. Unfortunately we didn’t have the steam locomotive. I think ours was diesel. It had been built in South Africa in 1999. A commemorative fridge magnet later we left the train behind.
With some time on our hands we went to see the “cascadas” in the national park. Having seen the cataracas Macarena from the train (in joke for Stef’s team in Hannover, one of their nick names is Macarena), we knew it would be small scale. But this surprised us at how small, it turned out to be a mini rapids about 20m long.
Time running out we headed back to the hotel to get our cases. Then on to the airport for our flight to El Calafate. The car hire company finally turned up at 4.20 for us to return our car (boarding started at 4.25). We also went to the Hertz office, not open the day before, to confirm that our car rental from Rio Gallegos now needed to be from El Calafate and that we would be arriving there in two hours. The Hertz guy spoke little English but by 4.35 he said no problem and we were off.
Aerolineas excelled themselves in culinary terms on this flight, no jamon y queso sandwich, no croissant and biscuit, in fact nothing at all. In some ways it was quite a relief.
We thought that Bariloche and Ushuaia airports were small but El Calafate is truly a modern Biggin Hill. The plane arrived and there was a flurry of activity of people being met by tour companies and then an odd calm descended. There were about ten people left including us. The car hire office at the airport was closed and they were sending someone from town to pick us up. A Swiss chap we’d bumped into on the Beagle Channel cruise was stranded (his transfer bus went without him) and we have him a lift into town.
It turned out that all Hertz’s El Calafate cars were rented out and they were having to drive our car up from Rio Gallegos. They dropped us off at our hotel and promised the car would be delivered later. (It later turned out that our car had a puncture on the way to El Calafate. We had already arranged our trip for tomorrow and needed a car so at 11.30 Hertz dropped off a car we could use for the day until ours arrived.)
We had a run down of the available tours and mapped out our stay in El Calafate – mini-trekking on the Perito Moreno glacier, Upsala glacier and Estancia Cristina, 4x4 experience, hot air balloon and archaeological caves! This area is not known for walking and any trails that do exist will be on individual ranches.
Dinner in the hotel – massive steaks – and packed lunches booked, and off to bed ready for our 6.30 wake-up call, back to early starts!