Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Patagonia: Argentine Road Warriors

I returned from the bathroom as Kevin began negotiations with our third rental car company.  It appeared that our intended rental company, replete with webpage, phone number, and email address did not actually exist.  Or, if it did, no one at the Ezeiza International Airport had ever heard of it as it did not have a desk next to the other rental companies.

Karsten found a seat atop our cart of luggage.  Meanwhile, I attempted to stumble through striking up a conversation with Mario, a friend of a friend involved in a small-scale operation to smuggles U.S. dollars into the country who also doubled as our taxi driver.

By this point, we had been on the ground almost two hours coordinating the logistics of a car rental, cab ride, and money changing.  Our plan was bemusingly Argentine.

The first rental company we tried charged exorbitant rates and the second did not have a sufficiently large and capable enough vehicle for our combination of needs:  off-road capability and cargo capacity for three adults plus 300 pounds of stuff.  Finally, we managed to find a reasonably priced small SUV that we would have to pick up downtown, some 40 minutes drive from the airport.  Incidentally, the rental company clerk also ran a small side business in foreign currency exchange at better-than-market rates and was more than willing to offer us a deal on our rental for the trouble of letting him turn our dollars into pesos.

We soon found ourselves in the thick of Avenida Nueve de Julio, purportedly the widest road on the planet according to Mario.  He expertly threaded a line through cars, buses, trucks, mopeds, and bicycles stacked eight wide across six marked lanes, all while performing a variety of magic tricks with a well-worn deck of cards.  Our amiable chauffeur left us at the east end of the avenida to load our Ford Ecosport for our two day drive to San Carlos de Bariloche.

Our exit of Buenos Aires found us below the beautiful and imposing stylized portrait of Eva Peron enshrined as a one hundred foot-tall mural on the side o f the most prominent residential sky scraper in el centro.  Karsten jockeyed for position in the ever-changing flow of metal and rubber on asphalt.  Kevin navigated expertly with out tourist-scale map as I attempted to identify street names and warn of encroaching buses and suicidal motorcyclists in order to avert repeated, seemingly imminent collisions.

By mid-afternoon Kevn and I stood on Calle 42 in the town of La Plata, conversing with our new friend Diego, who offered us directions for el supermercado, la verduleria, and Routa Provincial 215.  I was impressed by his friendliness and enjoyed pretending like I knew my way around the market.  As I paid for some bananas, I sensed the growing urgency in the back of my mind to finally get on the road.

At the wheel on the cross-country drive.
Between fatigue, dehydration, our extremely tardy departure, and some navigational issues, my frustration tolerance was waning.  We tore headlong across la pampa, the sun beginning its slow fall from the sky.  The gentle green curves of rolling hills on the horizon were accented by the golden light until both faded to purple.  Rows of alamo trees lined gravel roads on either side, providing protective wind breaks for the homesteads they enveloped on each estancia.  The cattle and horses roamed freely across the grassy plains, and the occasional hawk would make its presence known as it swept earthward and then skyward clutching rodent prey from the roadside.  Frustrated though I was, I soon found it difficult to be upset in such a pastoral setting.  I gazed softly at the horizon beyond the steering well.  I cracked a smile.

Karsten grabbing some jamon crudo and wifi at the small hotel in General La Madrid.

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