December 20, 2005

Into the nothingness of Patagonia

If someone had told me that I would be excited to hop on a bus to go over 1500 miles of gravel and dirt road in South America, I would have told them they were insane.

But of course, I actually was very excited to take a bus down the famous Ruta 40, to experience what Patagonia really was like, instead of flying over it.

Patagonia is an enormous region that encompasses pretty much the entire southern half of Chile and Argentina, and unlike the images that I had of soaring mountains and spectacular wildilife, was mostly flat and empty. The Andes gave way to shorter rolling hills, dry and shrubby patches of grass, some sheep, and not a single thing else.

The tour which would take us did not start off well. To make a long and annoying story short, the bus was delayed 8 hours, leaving at 3 pm instead of 6:30 am. Forty minutes after we started, I made the bus stop on the side of the highway, and ran off with a roll of tissue paper to a convenient bush. (Travel tip…do not eat meat stews that may have been sitting around for a while). But that aside, the ride was uneventful.

The most remarkable thing about Patagonia was the sky….I have never seen so much of it. It wasn´t blocked by anything, not a building, not a mountain, not electricity lines, not even disturbed by other cars. The cloud formations were so strange…given the high winds, they took shapes like paint smeared on a palette, thin and stretched, rather than white and fluffy. Because we were going far south, it didn´t get dark until midnight, sustaining a sort of twilight glow for hours after the sun went down.

My overwhelming impression of Patagonia was that of wind and of isolation. It felt lonely as no place I´ve been yet has. I could not imagine living there, and indeed, Argentina had to entice people to move there by giving huge parcels of land to anyone who would go. There were towns every 300 miles or so, each with populations under 2500. There are definetly more sheep than people. We dined on whatever food they had in the gas stations (ham and cheese sandwiches, empanadas), and shared dorm rooms with our friends Barbara and Ronald in hotels so crappy I don’t even want to relive by writing about it. We made our way further and further south until we reached El Calafate 72 hours later.

With little sleep and terrible lodgings, it was a real pleasure to be off the bus. Though I admit that bus travel was not as bad as it sounds…even though in the US I would never elect to take a bus for more than 4 hours (Boston to NY). I got to read, do some spanish lessons, and listen to music while watching the unchanging terrain whiz by. It was the free time that I never could find while at home. Wish I had my photos to organize into photo albums…

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.