Saturday, February 21

Patagonia 4

Esquel is the last common destination going south on the 'ruta 40', or highway 40, which goes all the way down the country along the Andes. From that point on, bus schedules become much more sporadic, and the road much rougher.

To get to the next town down, Rio Mayo (May River), the bus schedule fell to only twice a week. And no one working for any of the bus companies was able to say anything about how I might continue once there. The only option was to go there and ask.

It's a very depressed town, not accustomed to tourists at all. Perhaps one of the most interesting things that I saw there were the horses, roaming freely in the streets. Beyond that, not much. Something that struck me as strange was that, despite the town being very small, no one seemed to know about where and when buses arrived and left, even the person working at the bus station. Only certain buses went to the station, and others stopped instead at the local gas station. Still, everyone told me to wait for the bus at a different time, and in the end, my only option was to call the company in Bariloche. To be honest, the lack of organization in public transport is pretty common all over the Patagonia.

It turned out that the next bus south was not for another two days, so I decided to try hitchhiking to the next town down, where buses farther south were a bit more regular. The road itself, known as Ruta 40, is something like Route 66 in the U.S. It covers pretty much the whole country, starting in the north at the border with Bolivia and finishing in the south, at the end of continental Argentina. At times it's paved, but often it's barely even graded. It was something of an experience to be standing on the road, waiting for rides, in what is one of the most desolate places I've seen. The land is completely flat, and too dry for trees. Beyond the bushes, there really aren't many signs of life. Cars pass only about every 15 minutes or so, making for something of a surreal atmosphere, like being on a different planet.

My first ride was in the back of a pick-up truck, which gave me a great panoramic view of the area. Again, it's hard to explain how impressive so much emptiness can be. This ride took me as far as a ranch, and after waiting for another couple of minutes, a mini-bus chartered by Estonian tourists took me the rest of the 200 km. trek to Perito Moreno, in the province of Santa Cruz.

A popular stop near Perito Moreno is a village called Los Antiguos, but to be honest, I didn't really see why. The village is by no means ugly, but at the same time, nothing special compared to many other villages in the Patagonia. Their main claim to fame is a large cherry industry.

As I was staying in a rather small camp site in Perito Moreno, I didn't expect to meet many people while there. Yet I was surprised at how friendly the locals were. While killing time one morning, I wandered into a hardware and toy shop, thinking about browsing more than anything else. Yet the shopkeepers were fascinated to talk to me, as they don't get many tourists in their town. They invited me to their house for lunch, and we also went out for drinks later on. It's amazing how friendly people can be in quieter areas.


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