20. – 22. March
Hitchhiking – Day 1 – 803 km and 6 drivers
Friday. In the outskirts of Bariloche we say goodbye to Wim and start thumbing our way south. The first car stops just after 10 minutes. Ignacio, a retired professional skier, in his perfect English tells us about his career, olympic games, visits to Europe and then his company Rio Manso Expediciones.
He leaves us after 68 km in at very picturesque junction. Thumbs up!
After half an hour we get a ride from Christian. He’s 30, he’s got a pink t-shirt and techno playing really loud in his car. We go with him 206 km and luckily the music changes on the way. We get to listen to some Argentinian rock, too.
Juan Antonio Lopez stops for us at the crossroads before Esquel. On the 85-kilometre-ride to Tecka we talk about politics and economy. The views change from mountains to desert.
In Tecka we also do not wait long for the next ride. We spend the next 5 hours and 424 km (!) with an elderly Argentinian in his even more elderly car. We talk, it’s nice, time flies. Outside there are fields, cows, sheep, vast spaces changing its colour in the sun.
We stop to take some photos just before the sun sets. Empty route 40 ahead. It’s the last day of the summer in Patagonia…
We get to the crossroads 21 kilometres before Perito Moreno. It’s the last town that is on the way for all of us. It’s 9 pm. Deep inside we hope that the driver will not leave us but will give us a ride to the town. Especially that it’s already dark and cold. However, it turns out that he wants to drop us here. Luckily, we manage to stop another car even before we unpack our stuff from the previous one. We get to Perito Moreno in 15 minutes, find a hostel and get something to eat. Just after midnight k. gets a birthday hug from ł. together with a Kinder Bueno bar and a pink Swatch (beautiful!). We fall asleep within 30 seconds. It’s been a long day.
Hitchhiking – Day 2 – 343 km and one driver
Saturday. We get up early, get a coffee and some facturas, typical Argentinian cakes, and we go out to wait for our next ride just by a military base.
Actually, there are no rides, there isn’t any traffic at all. An hour passes, then the second one and the third. We’re bored. Books, ukulele. We eat all our food supply. Time goes by but no cars do. A few metres behind us another hitchhiking team (two guys) are also waiting and also with no luck. The forth hour passes and the fifth one. k. loses her temper. It’s not really the way she wished to spend her birthday.
A car goes past us and then returns after a while to take us. They are a married couple with a little daughter on their way to Gubernador Gregores, where they will stay with their friends. The town is 343 km away from Perito Moreno. It’s a long weekend in Argentina. In Gubernador Gregores there are the the days of the village celebrated (fiesta del pueblo). The good thing is – we’re going south. The bad thing is – there are no places to stay in GG anymore. Everything is booked out.
On our way we see a lot of guanacos and ostriches cross the road in front of the car a lot of times:
At last we get there.
It’s 6 pm. The family drops us at the campsite, our only chance to stay overnight. The thing is, we have no tent. Besides, our backpacks are not warm enough to sleep outside. We manage to convince the manager of the campsite to let us sleep in the reception on the floor.
We find out a couple of cool things about this place:
- there is a shower with hot water,
- there are bathrooms with toilet paper
- there are a few barbecue places and a spot for a campfire (and free wood),
- the campsite is free of charge (there only is a box for tips in the reception).
What is more, the two hitchhikers from Perito Moreno are already here. They are two French guys – Rhodrig (31) and Teddy (26). We go together to the supermarket to do the shopping for our own barbecue.
We buy a lot of vegetables and fruit, a lot of meat for the boys, some wine and some sweets. It’s a birthday party after all. Teddy builds the fire and all of us, very hungry, watch the tasty bits getting grilled. And then the feast. We share everything following Teddy screaming with his French accent, compartir es vivir! (which is: sharing is living).
Happy and/because full we go out to the centre. In the village cultural centre there is a big party going on – the queen of the region is going to be chose. There are a lot of people, all of them overdressed: men in suits, women in high-heels and very old-fashioned dresses. The girls stand there on the stage smiling and waving, while the host is intruducing them: name, surname, age, size, favourite colour, favourite singer and the message to the youth. During the breaks there is music and dancing, colourful lights blinking here and there, there are crowds on the dancefloor. In no time Teddy dances with a lady, who is at least three times as old as he is. It’s surreal, like at a school disco in the 80s, just the people around a bit older.
We return to the campsita after 1 am, Teddy and Rhodrig party until 4 am.
Hitchhiking – Day 3 – 343 km and two drivers
Sunday. We wake up early. ł. gets up and takes photos of k., now 31 years old, who just cannot get out of bed. Five more minutes, please…
We go out to have breakfast and then we return to pick our backpacks. Our French friends are already up, packing their tents in awesome moods. We all plan to go in the same direction today, so chances are we will meet somewhere on the way. However, as we are ready to go and they are not, we leave earlier to find a nice spot on the shoulder of the road.
We walk across the bridge on the other side of the river to the road that leads out of town and we thumb our way again.
Just after 20 minutes a car stops. It’s a police officer going to Piedra Buena. It is south-east. El Chanten, our destination is south-west. Apparently we realize this when we’re already in the car. Anyway, it’s not that bad. After all we’re going south. We’re going! It’s good news after yesterday 6-hour waiting.
About 1 pm, after 117 km, our driver drops us at a junction in the middle of nowhere. There is some traffic on the road towards Gubernador Gregores, where the village fiesta is going on. In the next two hours only two cars go towards Tres Lagos and El Chanten. Both full of people, so they don’t even stop. The weather changes. Every now and then we can see the sun, otherwise it’s cloudy and windy. Books, ukulele, kicking stones.
At last, two old tumble-down cars stop by our mini-base. A huge number of people jump out of them (there are more of people than the cars can officially take, that’s for sure). The driver of one of the cars runs towards us without his shoes on (just white socks!) and asks if his band could take a photo with us. We can hardly believe what we hear but we agree, so the musicians instantly take a big keyboard and a loudspeaker out of one of the cars. They gather around us and take shots. Then they pack it all back to the cars. Before they leave we ask them to take one more photo with our camera. Just in case one day we start doubting if this really had happened.
The musicians leave towards Piedra Buena, leaving us all alone with our confusion. Another hour passes. We consider other options – returning to Gubernador Gregores or going to Rio Gallegos. We have to get somewhere, because there’s no way we’d sleep here.
At last a big renault approaches with only two adults on board. The car slows down to enter the dirtroad. A moment of hesitation, as they probably had not planned picking up hitchhikers on the way. k. makes the begging face (just as the cat in Shrek) and the car stops. It turns out the people not only go in our direction, they go exactly where we want to get – to El Chanten! We’re saved.
Miguel, a man with a peaceful job (anesthesiologist) travels to El Chanten with his wife to see a concert organized due to the Trekking Festival. They are very friendly, they share their cookies and mate with us, they joke, it’s a really nice ride. The road is not paved, so we ride the first 150 kilometres pretty slowly, which is really good if you want to admire the views. We see many ostriches and guanaco and even one armadillo (but unfortunately somebody has run it over).
We get to the asphalt road and here uncle Miguel really speeds up towards the mountains!
Suddenly, two incredible mountains turn up on the horizon:
Just before entering El Chanten we take a photo-break and then we’re dropped off in front of the tourist information office. We say goodbye, find a hostel, do some shopping for dinner. We get to bed early, leaving the sightseeing for the next day.
Within these 3 days we travelled 1489 Patagonian kilometres with 9 different drivers. Thumbs up for all of them!
Our drivers’ most interesting maneuvers on the route 40:
- shifting back, just to see an ostrich,
- driving 130 km/h at the speed limit of 30 km/h,
- overtaking a police car at double yellow lines.