Hitch Hiking Thru Patagonia

by Mark Wynn

When i was preparing for my trip to Argentina, I was more than a little hesitant to get dropped off in a foreign country I have never been to and just walk with very little point or plan. When I was deciding on the route it looked pretty intimidating. I added up the miles er actually Kilometers it totaled 1414. I typed it in to see what the miles were and as I did it recommended other options like "meaning of" and "numerology of". So after I looked up how many miles it was I revisited these two things. Turns out it says it's something called an angel number or some such a thing. It said when you see this number it is a sign that your guardian angels are trying to communicate. I immediately used it to reinforced my ideas of this trip but in retrospect maybe should have take it the other way... Probably a normal person would have thought its a warning but not me. It said if you acknowledge them trying to help you, they will help you. So after I got to Bariloche, Argentina it was about 8pm. Bariloche is on the bank of Nahuel Huapi Lake. Surrounded by mountains it is an incredible site., but because of the tourism factor, which is huge, it has a real shitty Disneyland vibe that I hate. It means the food is really expensive and quality is low, plus the cops and everyone is preoccupied by money concerns and uptight. So, for me it was not enjoyable.

I didn't see any Argentine police that didn't look shitty, compared to Chilean police, although the ones dealing with tourists here in Chile are just as uptight. At the border the Argentinians were uptight but when I passed back through I told the Chilean something amusing and he got a chuckle out of it. That's the difference in a nut shell.

But once I arrived in Bariloche the hunt was on for a place to hide my hammock to sleep. It is very developed here but I found a brushy lot on a hillside where an old house had been taken down. It was in the middle of everything, but grown up enough to hide in. Plus it was on a steep well forested hillside with giant trees. There were some paths but it was late and my hammock is camouflaged so I felt safe. So after locating my spot I stashed my stuff in the brush and it Being about 10pm I went for a pint which here is more like a liter. Having swilled it down and pilfered WiFi I checked in on FB and returned to set up my cold camp. The only thing I was prepared to do was freeze my ass off this first night. I didn't bring a cover, just my hammock. I figured on future nights I could doze by a fire but tonight I knew it would be rough.

So I got my hammock up between the two enormous pines. I had trouble with the lines because I couldn't reach the line around. They were both 10-12 feet around, but my lines went around and tied but just barely. With the rain fly on I was very well camouflaged. I was also well hidden in the base of this large pine by the first layer of branches hanging down all around making a sort of shelter for my hammock from the wind. Even outside the city a fire would have been trouble because the thick pine needles here would have spelled disaster.

So around midnight I was fully dressed and laying in my hammock. I dozed off and on for awhile until the shaking fits became too much. I laid there and let them come and go for a few hours before I couldn't take it any more. I realized my legs were where I seemed to be coldest so I wrapped them in everything I had like a hand towel and my rain fly also. I got back in. Nothing sucks more than being forced to get out of you hammock in the middle of freezing. Before this I remember when I laid down I took my shirt off and put on all my t-shirts, a flannel, a hoodie, my Jean jacket and and Raincoat, so my upper body was layered up but my legs only had blue jeans covering them so they were leaking body heat rapidly. But I figured I could sleep a little before waking back up.

So wrapped in my towel and rain fly I miserably flopped back in a little more warmer. I learned a lot about freezing that night. I have spent multiple weeks sleeping in sub freezing Temps near single digits, but with enough sleeping bags it can be very pleasant. This was hellish though, I can not lie. After flopping back in my hammock wrapped as tightly as I could I dozed for a little while before the waves of shaking made it impossible. If you laid there they would pass but they would return quicker and a little more violent.

So I gave up, packed my shot up and decided to wander around town and look for an exhaust vent blowing heat or something. No luck with that. After walking along Nahuel Huapi lake for awhile while reading tourist information plaques. One said the name Nahuel Huapi is the Native Mapudungun language and means Tiger Island for the pumas that live around here. Further on I see Bariloche has an incredible Cathedral on a hill that is lit up with spot lights so of course I pray that there's an open door, of course this is no movie and no church is leaving themselves open to robbers so I keep going. Resigned to the fact I will be back at the bus terminal soon and looking forward to it. As I walk along the street named after a date, these being popular in Chile also, this one I think was "11th of October" for those of you following along, I was fully armed for battle feeling very exposed. I had my brass k uckles in my right pocket and my knife in its sheath in the left expecting trouble as I walked along this deserted well lit road. I heard a group of motorcycles coming and thought this might be trouble but they turned off somewhere before reaching me.

I see this dog laying in the median watching me and like an asshole I made eye contact with it which if you don't know, is a sign of aggression. So it came at me snarling and I already had my knife out ready to stab it but it stayed back a few feet. Then I remembered the old reliable "act like you're picking a rock up" and it ran a comfortable distance away. Remember that if you ever have a dog attack. It works like a charm. You just need to act like your picking up a rock.

So I left the dog barking behind me as I walked off up the road, cussing the dog for shattering the peaceful stillness and cussing myself for making eye contact. Then I hear another motorcycle racing my way. I'm already on the highest alert because of that adrenalin rush from the dog when the motorcycle comes up from behind me and the driver starts yelling at me and stops beside me. The guy on the back of the bike is dismounting before the bike has stopped fully. So he's about to each my brass knuckles when I see the guy is wasted and he is almost more falling off. So I relax almost completely knowing that I can handle these two fools. But the guy who was looking at me and yelling turn toward his drunk friend and keeps yelling. So I just just give some advice about not riding drunks on your bike and turn and walk away. That's was just a weird coincidence.

I made it to the terminal that I kept trying to convince my self would be open. It wasn't of course so I dumped out my bag and repacked it and sat there waiting for the sun. I noticed a dog had gotten locked in between the sets of doors and was really scared and wanting out. I really wanted to trade places with him. I really wanted to spoon that damn dog for a few hours.

After awhile, I got up and walked down the building front to the other set of doors where I saw about a dozen people laid out on sleeping mats between the doors. A sleeping mat was another thing I didn't have but there was a space for me to lay down, so I laid down very happy. Even with the smell of stinky feet in the air I was content to doze of there. I remembered spending time in Central Lockup in New Orleans for three days. While in Central Lockup, for three days mind you, there was nothing but a toilet in the corner for your comfort. So remembering this I laughed to myself and removed a shoe to use as a pillow.

I was comfortable enough to doze off on the hard linoleum floor of the bus stop but soon woke from the shaking again. It's interesting to know how warm you might feel laying down but given enough time you will inevitably be drain of every ounce of body heat and start shivering again.

When I got up off the floor the terminal was opening and everyone was going in. I went in and found a stack of plywood in the corner and made a bed out of it for a few more hours. That was a good spot for once and I slept a couple more hours. When I got up finally it was around 9am so I decided to get this journey started.

The plan was to get to the south side of town and start thumbing south at a large intersection i saw on the map. I had walked about two blocks and realized it was a lot colder than the night before and couldn't take. It drained me of my desire to continue. So I said "fuck this", I gave up and decided to walk back to the terminal to catch the next bus to Concepción, Chile. I found out there was two buses heading to Chile and they were both there and full, so I had no options til tomorrow. So that reinvigorated me to get back on the trail. I decided the only way to get started was to get a cab away from the terminal. It was about $5 to the south side of town so off I went.

I got dropped at this outward bound road and saw a couple standing there thumbing. With there giant external frame back packs and rolled up sleeping mats, they looked to me to be showing off. I can't hitch and stand in one spot so I quickly left them standing there looking well prepared. As I malked on with my double stuffed Jan Sport backpack and multiple water bottles hanging, I was very worried about where I would end up tonight depending on where I got dumped out.

I had aimed myself at Esquel, Argentina as a good stopping point. I had scavenged up a cardboard box for a sign and scribbled the word "ESQUEL" and hoped for the best. That city being the closest to the right turn I would take into the Andes. I knew if I was out all night in that pass in the Andes without a fire I would literally freeze to death maybe so I was nervous about that.

The temperature had shot up since my first attempt out of the terminal this morning. The sun was glaring so I happily put on my straw hat and tried to smile and bow my way into a ride, but with no luck. I only walked for maybe 40 minutes when I thought of the number 1414 and remembered if you ask the angels will help you. So I took out my Sharpie and wrote in small numbers "1414" below the word "ESQUEL".

With in one minute a Argentinian couple stopped on the way to El Bolsón returning from a vacation up north. They were pleasant and talked for awhile. The man was insistent that I try some Argentinian grilled beef before I return to Chile because it is the best. I said I know what he means cause Chile loves to grill meat too, and they import Argentinian beef so I figured I knew what he meant. He said no, Nobody can grill like an Argentine. So we left it at that. When we had a break in the conversation I nodded off happily. It was about an hour and a half to El Bolsón from where they picked me up so I had a nice rest. They drove to the other side of town and put me out, pointing down the road and said that's where you're heading. So quickly saying thanks and good luck we parted.

I looked at my card board sign and said thank you to the little "1414" I had scrawled on it just before the ride. I asked if it could do it again and held it up as I walked on. Almost immediately a car with another Argentinian couple stopped. This car was loaded with stuff besides a tray of raspberries and clothes was a small guitar Amp. This couple was A LOT younger than the first couple. That first couple was like my age, maybe 50, but these two were in there 20's. I asked the long haired guy in the passenger seat if that was his Amp and he started speaking broken English. It was understandable enough we talked. He mentioned how he had just discovered Ma Rainy and was really getting into the blues. So I could really appreciate that and he talked quite a bit about music. He started putting on some music.

I suspected them of being Mapuche natives and I wanted to ask but not knowing if it was appropriate I asked., "Are there lots of Mapuche in Argentina?" Knowing there are. They woman driving said, "Yes, We are Mapuche." So as always I asked, "Do you speak Mapudungun?" and she smiled and said that she did. It got the conversation steered to a much more interesting subject. It became obvious we were passing through the heart Mapuche land. I saw some protest signs and some things claiming this arid region for the Mapuche. I also saw sign of the forest industry here as in Chile. The Mapuche are fighting that encroachment there also she said. It takes a land where the Mapuche know every grain of sand and plant, where they can get every medicine they use and other subsistence for their way of life and turns it into an evergreen desert. Where nothing of use to the Mapuche can be found.

This couple gave me a ride for over two hours all the way to Esquel. They also said in a couple hours they're heading to Futaleufu, Chile and if they see me they will pick me up again. So when the dropped me off in Esquel I was feeling pretty good. I had plenty of time in the day to get through the Andes to Chaitén, Chile which was a familiar destination I was looking forward to stopping in.

Walking through Esquel I pulled out my Sharpie and wrote "CHAITÉN" in big black letters. I found a small stick and fashioned an actual handle for my sign to hold up while walking. I walked into a store and bought a beer to drink as I walked along. Finishing my beer quickly I realized I hadn't paid my respects to 1414 on my new sign and took out my Sharpie. When I held it up a car immediately stopped. Right in the middle of town surprisingly enough. It was a single young Argentine girl who said she wasn't going far but would give me a lift to Trevelin a half hour away. After talking a little while she offered to take me to the tourist info center for a map and translate any questions I may want to ask. I was happy to have her on my side and when we got to the info place and got me my map she said good luck and was off.

I charmed the two girls at the tourist office for a moment... At least I always feel more charming here. It's easier to be humble when you can't speak the language so it's easier to rely on smiling and just trying to be charming. I left there and cut across a park and headed out of town. As I walked holding my sign up high I saw a few cars go by. One was a pickup with a girl in the back who had a floppy sun hat on. She looked quite cute looking back at me so I sent her good vibes as the truck sped away. No sooner did the truck leave my memory than the U-turned and came back and picked me up.

The guys in the front motioned for me to hop in with the girl In the back. Fantastic! I hopped in and we introduced ourselves. She turned out to be a German girl hiking toward Chaitén alone. Fantastic I thought so I said we can travel together if you would like the company. She smiled and said cool but were immediately interrupted by the truck stopping for another couple sporting fancy external frame backpacks.

This new couple was Spanish so it turned into a gab fest.

It was at this point I realized this ain't what I was here for. I realized this mode of travel is a social event for these younger Europeans hitch hiking around South America. They love to talk about themselves and where they're from and to me this socializing was just annoying. My Spanish got really bad at this point. Talking to one person is not to hard but three enthusiastic young people just brought out the ugly American in any language.

The truck bed was very full of legs and backpacks so it became immediately uncomfortable coupled with the non stop babbling it was the least enjoyable ride yet. The truck was flying out this gravel road approaching the Argentine border. I had my head down like I was sleeping to discourage the conversation coming my way. I looked out the side of the bed and was day dreaming when the German girl looked at me and said how about you? I answered in all honesty, "I'm sorry, I wasn't listening." They didn't ask me any more question.

We roared up to this little Argentine immigration trailer and I hurried in thinking I would get on a little quicker and leave this group behind. I finished in there quickly and came out to see everyone unloading the truck. The German girl ask me if I heard the Argentine say you can ride in the back of the truck. So I looked at the license plate and it was Chilean. So I told the girl if we get down the road this guy will definitely pick us up again, she of course acted hesitant. I had to take a leak and walked a little ways into the tree to pee and an Argentine soldier started yelling at me saying, "There are children here!" I wanted to laugh in his face because I have seen people literally sitting in public in Chile and I guarantee it's no better in Argentina cause I saw the "Public Defecation Index" on the internet and Chile was the lowest. So there's that..

So at this I had had enough of Argentina and there shitty self absorbed tourists and their malhumored police so I split and happily walked away from Argentina. The Chilean immigration was right down the road and I filed through and got my passport stamped. I was very comfortable to be back in Chile. As I walked on surrounded by trees and small farms the pickup stopped and picked me up again. This time by myself I rode to Futaleufú.

The Truck dropped me off in Futaleufú with a "Ciao" and a "gracias" and I started to walk through town. I saw they still had a Christmas scene set up with a big Araucaria tree decorated like a Christmas tree in a park that was very nice looking. I held my sign up and a few cars passed. I turn left on a road that had an arrow pointing toward Chaitén. I dint walk a kilometer before a young French couple in a green VW bus stopped for me. I climbed in the back with a young guy and we talked a little. The driver was his girl and she had picked up an older Chilean guy before me and talked non stop. Me and the guy in back agreed to a truce in talking and both dozed off.

She was a good driver other than the constant talking but it was comfortable. After a little while she stopped and dropped the old man off and I crawled into the front seat to get a better view. That of course initiated a conversation but one thing I noticed is that Argentinian and Chilean people always complemented me on my Spanish but Europeans always assume a more critical stance. They always make a comment about it. Like experts of Spanish as a second language are the only people who say anything. That's something I noticed with other Europeans I crossed paths with. Native speakers never point that out.

So as we rushed up the road I saw a Patagonia Hare darting back and forth in the road in front of the van. It was around 30lbs. and the size of a medium dog! It looked like it could attack you it was so big! It darted into the brush as we caught up to it but it was impressive to see.

We were deep in Patagonia at this point and around every bend had another beautiful lake. I so wanted to hang around and try fish a little but with out a sleeping bag I couldn't chance it. I had so much luck with rides I was well on my way across the Andes when we stopped for two more hikers. They were another young couple a French girl and a Chilean guy. Lots of French was being spoken and I space off out the window. We rapidly rounded Lago Yelcho where I had caught an enormous rainbow Trout on an earlier trip but there was no chance this time.

Now I had made it to route 7 that runs North to Chaitén. At this intersection you pass through the remains of Villa Santa Lucía. A tranquil little community of 2000 a few years ago but about a year ago after 5 inches fell a landslide covered it in a 15 foot wall of mud and trees. It was unbelievable the plain of destruction. Surprisingly it only took 5 lives but it erased the vast majority of the town. It left 200 people still living there where the mudslide spared their houses.

The slide started up on the mountain a couple Kilometers above town and removed maybe 500 acres of hillside and mountain top as it slid down into the valley and over Villa Santa Lucía. The horror was still plainly visible even a year later.

It was a beautiful and quick ride through the Andes at some point the other couple bailed out at some small town along the way. We made it to Chaitén at about 7pm and me knowing the way around directed them to the main street where I jumped out at the corner. I offered the couple some pesos for gas and they refused so I said Ciao and closed the van door and they sped up the road.

I went immediately to the ferry terminal and found it closed until Sunday. It was Wednesday so It looked like if I wanted to go to Chaitén by ferry I would have quite a wait. I needed a warm place to sleep so I started looking for a hostel. I checked about 5 before I found a room for about $20. I wasn't thrilled about it but it was clean and comfortable. It had a nice shower too. The guy who owned it was out front and we struck up a conversation. He introduced himself as Juan and said he was a Carabinero in Chaitén, that's the Chilean Police. He was a good guy and we talked briefly before I insisted on finding something to eat in town before it was too late. Its not unusual for things to close at 6 around small towns in Chile. I found out there was still some tourists around town and the restaurants were pretty busy. I went to one I had visited on a previous trip and feasted. I had pork chips and mashed potatoes with a salad of avocado and tomato slices with palm hearts, plus bread a sprite and a bottle of water. I was stuffed and happy. I went back and got cleaned up and slept all night. I had to get up early cause the bus I decided to catch home left at 6:30. When I booked the seat the guy asked if I had a seat preference and he motioned to the available seats on a paper. I said I don't care but at the paper and my eyes fell on 14 so I said I'll take 14 thinking that was half of my lucky number. The same scenario happened at Puerto Montt and when the person asked what seat I wanted my eyes fell on 41 so I of course sat in 14 and 41 on the way home.

Rate this submission

Plot:
Dialogue:
Characters:
Wording:

You must be logged in to rate submissions