The times in this might seem a bit weird, I wrote all this at different times, some of it on the bus, some it afterwards so it’s a bit jumbled, so you’ll have to bear with me…
After a couple of weeks travelling round the Lake District, I decided it was time to head down to Patagonia proper. The Patagonia of legend, land of glaciers, the steppes, the sheep. I arrived back in Bariloche (5th visit to the bus station there in 2 weeks) last night, treated myself to a nice proper hotel and then went to the travel agency to arrange transport down to El Chalten, “The Trekking Capital of Argentina” and got me a 2 day tour leaving this morning at 6:45 (so that nice fancy hotel was really worth it for the 3 bloody hours sleep I got…)
But why a Travel Agency? Why can’t I just hop on one of Argentina’s wonderful, modern, comfortable buses? Well I could but it would mean 28 hours to Rio Gallegos which is a large fishing port and not much else on the Atlantic Coast and then doglegging back 350k to El Chalten. So I ain’t doing that, plus I wanted to do the alternative which is to go down Ruta 40. Which, I had been told is what proper travellers. Well, proper travellers actually hitch down it, but given that only 3 cars an hour pass, I’m on a bus with 8 others trundling down the asphalt of Ruta 40 on the way to our much awaited lunch stop. We left at 7am, it’s now 1pm and we have been through 3 towns.
I am finding it really hard to grasp the concept of how empty this country is. Get out of Buenos Aires Province where the best part of half the 40 million inhabitants live and it’s 8 times bigger than France. The trip down to El Chalten is 820k today (700k asphalt, rest gravel) and 650k tomorrow (all gravel) and we go through 2 towns big enough to have accommodation. However, driving through it is an experience in itself, simple because the lack of anything becomes the thing you’re looking at. Moving south the landscape gets progressively flatter. After a while it becomes hypnotic and you stop asking yourself “Who lives here? What do they do?” (answers are Hardly Anybody and Not Very Much) and just stare. It’s incredible. Approaching Perito Merono where we spent the first night we drove for over an hour through an area so flat nothing could be seen on the horizon in any direction. I wasn’t in Montana but this really was Big Sky Country. Was I imagining it or could I see the curve of the earth?
Day 2 started at a more reasonable hour, 10:30. The first stop was a couple of hours later after 125k of gravel road in a town called Baja Caracoles. I never really got why one patch of desolate scrubland was the place to set up a town compared to all the other patches of desolate scrubland, but maybe somebody just got tired one day and decided to stop. There’s so much to say about a place like that, somewhere so alien, about the whole experience and my head was at the same time full of thoughts yet I’m incapable of writing them down. I did however write this into my notebook at some point in the day. At least I think this is what I wrote, it was kinda bumpy.
The fact there is nothing is the point. Why else do it? Nothing, but you’re moving, making progress. Moving on with your life but with nothing else around, nothing to distract. Nothing else is moving apart from you. It’s not about seeing, it’s about being. Here you have no choice but to be. There are no thoughts to be had, no decisions to be made, no revelations to be experienced. Just being. In the middle of everything. Now.
Deep huh? Looking back on it does nicely sum the day up. At one point a fellow traveller (from an small northern European country, that’s all I’ll say) on the bus had been into the little shop run by a very friendly lady, came out and all she could do was moan about the prices of the sandwiches. There we were 80 miles from anything, these people literally scratching a living out of the dust and all she could do was moan. Kinda ruined the moment for me. But overall an unforgettable day.