3,000 Kilometers South, Part Two

A heavy hand on my shoulder and a voice in my ear saying “don’t move” woke me from the deepest sleep. Instantly fully awake, I froze in my skin, eyes wide open and staring at the tent ceiling.

Then I heard it. Snarling and growling and rooting noises that were unlike any animal I’ve ever heard. And they were right outside our tent.

“What is that?” I whispered as quietly as I could. “Rabid dogs”, my friend replied. “WHAT.” “yah.”

I understood now why my friend had awoken me the way he had. Had I woken up on my own to that god awful sound, I’d have gone shrieking out of the tent only to run headlong into the threesome of deranged dogs that were currently ruling this beach we were camped on.

We laid there frozen long enough for the pre-dawn light to become sunrise. Once we heard the pack of dogs move far enough away that we felt we could exit the tent without drawing attention, we got up.

You don’t realize how much you value stability in a dog until you experience an unstable dog. The sounds they make, the dysfunctional behavior they do – it leaves you on edge.

As we broke down camp, we watched the sun rise, and kept an eye on the gang of dogs as they aggressively attacked each other and then shifted to mounting each other. They’d then go trotting further down the beach together. It was an awful sight alongside a stunner of a sunrise.

All too happy to press onward, we began the drive to an extinct stratovolcano in the southern Andes, where the road would be closed to descending travel and we’d find ourselves camping at 11,000′.

Glaciers & Sporks

The windshield was covered in a thick layer of Patagonian dust that made it impossible to see through. With nowhere to pull over to clean it on this narrow dirt road, we hung our heads out the window to see ahead and drove on.

The sun hung low as we wound our way upward, until we finally arrived at 11,000 feet and what would become our camp spot for the night.

We hiked a short ways to see the glacier and spent a few hours listening to this glacier creaking and guessing at the size of objects far up on headwall. For the record, I was horrific at the guessing game. In between the guessing, we talked about life.

Late day had become sunset, sunset had become night, we finally pulled ourselves away when the grumble of our stomachs became too much. As we walked back to the 4×4, we saw the gate ahead of us closed. “No descending travel from sunset to sunrise.” Oh.

Makes sense given that the road down is a veritable roller coaster of twists and turns. But still. We hadn’t planned this.

We hadn’t planned anything on this trip though, so we shrugged and got sorted for a night of camping at 11,000′ with a wind that whipped off the glacier.

We cooked a simple dinner in the shelter, and I sat there eating with my camping spork – an entirely new piece of cutlery for me to own – fascinated by the other travelers in the shelter.

As they made oatmeal on their single burner and looked over maps while they ate, I wondered about them, where they were headed, what they were all about. Travelers who go off adventuring in the “great outdoors” were entirely new to me – just like the camping spork.

You see, this Patagonia trip was my first experience – ever – with road trips, camping, hiking, exploring, and the “great outdoors”. But like all things, if I’m going in at all, I’m going into the deep end.

The Longest Road

There is no such thing as ‘standard issue travel’ when you’re on the 40…

The winds will howl harder than you knew was possible. The sky and horizon will bleed together making a mirage that confuses your eyes. Patagonian wildlife will dart across the road nearly killing themselves and you. The “road” will turn into “not road” faster than you can blink and for longer than you’d wish…

After a fast but rich twenty-four hours in Bariloche, it was time to start the long march south to Torres del Paine, by way of Ruta 40.

The sun was bright. Spirits were high. The terrain became ever more vast and equally as sparse.

On the road for a few hours at that point, my friend asked “want to make some coffee before we get much further into no man’s land?” “Sure.”

So we pulled the 4×4 over on what would be one of the last stretches of pavement we’d be driving on for the next week. My friend got the propane stove going to boil some coffee, and I walked up the hill to have a look off into the distance.

No cars. Or animals. Or anyone. For as far as my eye could see. So this is what ‘desolate’ feels like.

‘Desolate’ is one thing, ‘desperate’ is another.

The sun had started to head for the horizon when he said it, “um, that’s weird.” I tensed. Not the sort of thing I want to hear out here.

“What?” “We normally get better gas mileage than we’re getting right now. By a lot.”

“What do you mean?” “We’ve got 20km till we’re out of gas.”

“But the next city isn’t for 35km, we planned for that.” “I know, but, well, look…”

I leaned over to the drivers’ side of the car and indeed, the gas light was on, the needle was at the bottom, and we were too far from the next city on La Cuarenta. Shit.

I grabbed our paper map and got to work. I had 20km to figure out if there was anywhere near us to stop for gas in this barren, rugged, empty, terrain we were traveling through. Any tiny side roads that led to a tiny town. Any anything that we weren’t seeing between here and where we’d planned to stop.

“There’s a river ahead, I bet there’s something there.” “You mean the tiny creek that we just drove over?” “oh. yah. damn.”

We started discussing what we’d leave behind when we had to hitch hike, how we’d stay safe, how long we thought we’d have to wait…

Then we just stopped talking altogether. Driving in silence, and with the dash showing 4km left before we were on empty, we came over the top of a sloping hill and by god, there was an outpost. A military mini-town.

My friend and I both let out a gasp of hope. As we coasted into this tiny place, not on any map we had, we saw locals standing on the street corner ahead.

We leaned out the window and shouted, “necesitamos gasolina, por favor”, and one of the locals shouted back.

We followed his directions and looked at each other with disbelief as we pulled into the tiniest gas station. We’d made it.

“I’m going in to get us espressos.” (You will find a proper espresso in every gas station in Argentina.) When my friend was done pumping the fuel, he came in and sat across from me. We drank our espressos knowing we had gotten lucky.

As night fell, with headlights on, we set off again on La Cuarenta, the paved road now turning to dirt. We decided to push on for several more hours of night driving in the hopes of making it to the last ‘big’ city before the main destination we were headed for.

[Continued in part 3 found here.]

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