5:45am. The bus shudders to a stop. It never starts up again. We are 10 hours into the journey and stuck in the middle of nowhere with no mobile signal. No announcement is made as the two drivers start walking off in different directions...
Plan B: a bus will pick us up in 3 hours to take us to a near by town where we will wait for a replacement bus that will take 14 hours to get to us. It's early so most of the people stay asleep. One guy gets off the bus and decides to hitch hike.
11am. No sign of a bus. We decide to check out the scenery. Alejandro, a Columbian student, is cold so does 10 press ups, barely. It's Yumi's turn. 30 press ups in the a row! Alejandro goes crazy shaking his head in disbelief while the bus driver and Thomas make fun of his weakness. Yumi tries to console Alejandro by explaining that we had just finished a month long 1,000 press up challenge.
Plan C: our half of the group will be taken to a petrol station 30 minutes away. The driver will then return to the bus and take the other half to Perito Moreno station 3 hours away. A bus will take them to El Calafate at 4am. He will then come back to the petrol station around 9pm and drive us to El Chalten.
So we hang out at the petrol station for 6 hours. Thomas checks Google Maps. We still have 700km to go...
8:45pm. The chain smoking driver returns and we are off. His wife unfolds her lawn chair and sits next to him. 3 hours later, we arrive at a tiny bus station and are reunited with the other half of our group. There is no rep from our bus company. Just a note on their booth advising us to that a bus will take us to El Chalten. No contact number in sight. A woman from another bus company wants to go home, but everyone is refusing to leave the station as it is really cold outside. Our driver and his wife leave to get the police. Our bags are still in the mini bus. Please come back...
They return with a police officer. No one is being kicked out. He's just there to make sure everything is okay. We find out that the driver has been driving non-stop since 7am and now he is going to drive us another 6 hours (or so he says, we later find out find it's actually 12). Half the group refuse to get back on the mini bus. The driver calls his boss. The mini van cannot leave unless it's full.
Plan D: We all make ourselves comfortable in the bus station and wait for the replacement bus.
3:30am. The replacement bus arrives with our 2 original drivers plus 2 more. At first they say they are not going to El Chalten as we should have gone with the other driver. One look at our faces and they back down. At least we are on a nicer bus. And then the bus stalls. Someone yells out, "Come on!" We all think the same thing. Thankfully, the engine restarts.
4pm. We finally arrive in El Chalten, 44 hours after leaving Bariloche. We are all tired and weary, but in good spirits. It was that way the entire time. No one complained or turned on each other. On the contrary, a bond had been formed. Over the next few days, we all kept running into each other and laughing at our adventure.
p.s. 4 days later, we found out that the bus after us had flipped and 4 people were sent to hospital. Then the wheel of their replacement bus came off while they were driving. Thankfully, they finally made it to El Calafate on their 3rd bus.