There really is nothing like fresh baked bread in the morning.
Heading to the bus stop in the early morning as most of the residents of El Bolson slept on, we came across a tiny bakery (one room, husband, wife and daughter and one oven) from whom we purchased a whole loaf of freshly baked bread and a selection of fried sweet bread sticks. As we sat outside in the warm morning sun and ate the baker joined us periodically, escaping the heat of his workspace and trying in his best broken English to make small talk.
Perhaps it was the satisfaction of seeing his product eaten so voraciously by these tres dirty hombres.
The bus ride from El Bolson took us over the dry, high plains where wildflowers spun a vivid yellow shag pile over the terrain, punctuated by fertile river valleys where lines of poplars marked out where the earth had yielded to agriculture and mans' endeavours.
Esquel was a disappointment; the railway workers were on strike (very common here due to the deadly combination of low wages and spiralling inflation) and La Trochita was grounded - there would be no trip on the Old Patagonian Express today. And we waited in anticipation for the tumble weed to roll down the dusty windswept main street. The only action today was young men hooning in their beat up, but pimped up saloons - and what their cars lacked in street cred, they more than made up for in attitude. But three grimy gringos taking a lazy mini market lunch on the steps of the post office hardly raised an eyebrow.
And at the bus terminal I was hopelessly unsuccessful at negotiating our onward travel:
"Do you speak English?"
"I'd like to go to Chile"
- No, is impossible
"Seriously, I really do want to go to Chile!"
- No, go away and come back on Wednesday (it was Saturday)...
A local woman, who had wryly observed all of this approached us and said in perfect, clipped English that she was driving to the border this afternoon and could take us too. Sizing her up and our situation we decided to take her up on her offer. Anthea was a geographer, German and married with a family whom she invited us to meet now at her nearby home - such was the dearth of English speaking visitors here.
We enjoyed a long afternoon tea of warm bread (pumpernickel of course), cheese and homemade plum jam accompanied by traditional maté tea (hints of coca with a strong aftertaste of freshly mown grass) followed by lemon tart. It was wonderful to connect with some semi-locals (they had lived her for 14years) and also to cut through the language barrier we had so foolishly failed to even attempt to conquer.
We drove out past farms and ranches, through the picturesque Welsh village of Trevelin where they still sing wonderfully robust Anglican hymns in church each Sunday and Welsh Tea is the order of the day.
The border crossing was a relatively informal affair, with an atmosphere more akin to a picnic with families making day trips between the countries, crazy cyclists and white water rafters all milling about. The border was just a swing gate (open).
We were dropped off at the plaza in Futaleufu after 8pm and began the search for accommodation and onward travel; the weather had closed in and it was getting much much colder...