Patagonian Driving Reflection: Deep in the Desert

22 Jan

As I type this now, we are driving through Santa Cruz Province, somewhere in Patagonia. South of Comodoro Rivadavia, north of Rio Gallegos, we are in the middle of the vast openness that defines the majority of this country. All around our white rental car is desert, monotonous and with little change. Its unchanging drab is semi-entertaining, at least for the first impression anyway. This is the end of the world.

Our trip hasn’t been without its own share of trouble and hardship. Much like Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado had to battle with crashes on the Argentinian roads, we have had our bumps in the road, literally. After leaving Estancia El Pedral we went south to Punta Tombo, a Magellanic Penguin rookery with 500,000 penguins. It was impressive, and I think even the hardest of tough guys has to admit that a penguin waddling away is cute to watch.

After leaving the rookery my dad opted to take RP 1 instead of RN 3, a paved national road. RP 1 is a provincial back road that is closer to the coast, giving perhaps better scenery, but trades off in that you drive along dirt and stone road, making the trip longer and more dangerous. My dad later admitted that he was wrong to choose this route, as a plan had been to gas up in Camarones before reaching our destination at Bahia Bustamante,

Unfortunately unbeknown to us, a gas strike was in effect, and there was no gasoline in Camarones. We continued on the road, only passing our first car of the day about 30 minutes before reaching Bahia Bustamante, and now had less than half a tank. This was bad because we had a 9 hour drive in 2 days, were in the middle of no where, and would either have to drive in the opposite direction or risk going part of the way and running out of gas on the way south.

We were later told the strike was over, but would have to wait to see what we could get from Bahia Bustamante. In the meantime, we enjoyed ourselves at the rustic seaweed community, doing excursions with a really friendly guide named Nicolas. Bahia Bustamante has its own penguin colonies and around 100 species of birds. It’s a natural paradise. We also went to a ranch and helped hold down some sheep to be vaccinated.

The estancia gave us 10 liters of gas, which was enough to get us to Comodoro Rivadavia to refill for the drive 9 hours south to Estancia Monte Leon. It was awfully nice of them, considering they themselves needed gasoline to function. Back on the road, we’ve been driving for several hours and taking in the scenery. I’m exhausted, unshowered, over-fed, my red-tainted travel beard is coming in thick along with my sunburn, and I’m frustrated. It’s been a tough trip.

In Patagonia, whenever you see a gas station you fill up no matter what, because who knows when the next time will be. At the last gas station my dad somehow lost his credit card, but didn’t realize it until we were already at the next one, 200 kilometers away. It’s obviously out of our hands for now, but in the meantime it has made things unpleasant and unsettled the mood of the road trip.

It’s easy to yell at a friend if they screw up badly, but doing so with your parents isn’t a fair thing to do. But I lost my cool a bit when both parents started shouting across the gas station quickie mart in English. Having lived and traveled around Latin America, I know from experience that while you often stick out a lot, it’s best to keep a low profile. Showing that something is wrong and talking loudly in English is hardly that. But my experiences in Latin America have given me a different perspective on travel that most people won’t have, and for that I can’t expect everyone to be as alert as I am.

So for now we continue driving south, hoping to reach out destination before nightfall. It should be easy here, as the sun keeps setting later and later the farther south we go. It’s also getting colder and windier, so that the car gets tossed around on the road like a toy. A quick night over in Monte Leon, and then on to Calafate in the morning. Sometimes vacation is work.

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