I’m almost 23 years old, and I’ve taken a lot of buses.
I’ve taken buses to elementary school, I’ve taken a bus across all of Tanzania, and I’ve taken a bus from Philadelphia to the Canadian border in Buffalo only to get denied entry into that f*cking country. I’ve sat on buses with WiFi, buses shiny new and World War II, and buses that have broken down in the middle of the highway. Some buses are long. Some buses are short. Some are comfortable, and some smell just awful.
Today is Sunday, and this past Thursday, I was in Bariloche, Argentina. Bariloche was pretty dope, as the weather was exactly pristine, and I did some non-serious-business hiking for the first time in Patagonia. It was super nice. The next step of the journey was back to Buenos Aires, where I’m hoping to CouchSurf around for about a month (maybe 6 or 7 different hosts?), and learn more Spanish. I’m relatively functional in Spanish these days, for the record, after maybe 30 hours of Rosetta Stone, and 5 weeks in Spanish-speaking South America. I speak French well enough, and Spanish is pretty similar.
There’s roughly 1600km separating Bariloche and Buenos Aires, and there’s a bus that takes you direct. It’s about 20 hours. I’m bored of the bus.
A few weeks ago, in Punta Arenas, Chile, I bought a tent off of this Portuguese guy. I did a lot of camping in Patagonia, and want to do a lot more. I think you put yourself in more interesting situations when sleeping in a tent, and you definitely meet a different type of traveler. You meet the ones that “shoestring” a lot harder. Specifically, the guy from which I bought my tent, Tiago, and his girlfriend, are traveling South America for about a year, sleeping only in a tent, and getting around exclusively via hitchhiking. Like–how f*cking cool is that? This, as always, is the type of stuff that inspires me.
Thursday, April 26th, 9:30AM, on a highway running parallel to the bus terminal at the edge of Bariloche, with a Swiss guy I met via CouchSurfing two nights before: Will stands at the edge of the road, backpack at his feet, and thumb in the air. Sorry Mom.
Long-story-short, we didn’t get picked up. After 5 and a half hours, we didn’t get picked up. There was one Israeli family that stopped and offered to drive us up the iconic Seven Lakes Road, but that wasn’t in the direction in which we were heading. 5 and a half hours, and nothing. Did I smell that bad? Probably. I probably did.
Anyways, at 3:30pm, we got on a bus (sigh) to Neuquen, the next big city. The ride was five and a half hours, ironically, and the plan was to try again the next day. Pete had found us some CouchSurfing hosts in a small adjacent town–Cipolletti. We arrived around 9:30pm, met up with Juan and his girlfriend Stefanie, and were treated to a beautiful, typically Argentina steak dinner. Pete did most of the talking–he’s fluent in Spanish. I held my own, though.
The next morning, and we were off to the highway. The couple with which we stayed were huge hitchhikers themselves, so they took us to the best spot to get started. You want something where cars can see you, are moving relatively slowly, and have space to pull over. After two hours, and we had our first ride–2 brothers from the next town. The guys were maybe 25, and we just talked about traveling, Peru, and Bolivia. I’ve hitchhiked before, but only minor stuff–maybe just 20 minutes at most. I was a bit nervous. The brothers took us only about 50km, and then let us off. They gave us their number, and told us to call if we had any issues. Very nice.
Next, we tried to network at the gas station, to see if any trucks were heading in our direction. Nope–back to the highway. After about an hour of waiting, we decided to change things up a bit. I’ll let the video do the talking:
Yea. Roadside dancing and clown noses. Yea…
After about 15 minutes of this, we got picked up–a bakery delivery guy named Pablo. Pablo’s car only sat two people, so Pete and I switched off riding shotgun, and sitting on a cardboard box in the huge trunk among all the bakery stuff. Pablo was a big hitchhiker himself, having done it a bunch around Argentina. He said he doesn’t use a tent, which I actually presume to mean that he like builds a shelter in the woods, or something. Pablo was a pretty good driver, and every time his phone rang, he pulled over to answer it. This was comforting. Pablo’s radio had an auxiliary hookup, so I plugged in my iPod, and we were juh-jamming to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine. Pablo was loving it. Pablo drove us for about two hours, and then dropped us in the small town of Choele Choel. It was his daughter’s birthday that night, and he had to race back home.
We arrived around 6pm, asked a few truckers at the gas station if they were heading in our direction, and came up empty. We resigned to camp for the night. The campground was a few blocks away from the gas station, and was pretty nice. We set up our tents, cooked pasta in the indoor kitchen/rec room, and were ready for bed. However, the manager had said that there was a couple staying there that could take us another ~170km tomorrow, so, with toothbrushes in hand, we went to talk to them.
The man and woman were about 40 each, and were delivering cheese and ham to this next town the next day, or something. They quickly agreed to take us. In addition, they were just sitting down for dinner (around 11:30pm), and offered us plates. It was–you guessed it–more steak. BOOM. Steak, more steak, peppers, wine, and some dulce de leche (this stuff is incredible) pudding. Woo-hah hospitality. Great dinner.
We awoke the next morning, chatted with some park rangers, and then got going. We all sat shotgun in this mid-sized truck from 1973, pimped out with a Playboy sticker on the front.
There was matté, too. There’s always matté.
Not marijuana. Matté is basically just tea leaves jammed in a gourd, and filled with hot water. You probably get like 4 big sips out of each fill, and then you refill, and pass to the next person. It’s a community activity. Matté gives you a bit of energy/sharpness, but nothing crazy. It’s like coffee I guess. Everyone in Argentina is addicted.
170km later, and we arrived in Rio Colorado–the official end of Patagonia. The couple dropped us off at the gas station, hugged us goodbye, and headed off. They were very nice!
That’s Pete on the left in the second picture. He was traveling in the US for 5 months before South America, and was actually at Rock The Bells in NYC in September like myself. Wild.
So yea–back to the highway. Clown noses on. About an hour and a half into the wait, and I see a car pull off into this little restaurant on the road. The girl in the back, maybe 16, gives me a wave. She’s there with her brother, presumably–maybe 13. I walk towards the restaurant, but don’t actually talk to the kids. Hitchhiking with young people is just a faux-pas, I guess. Instead, I just go into the restaurant, and try to network with the truckers. No dice.
I come back out, and this kid is pointing a rifle out of the window. Um. It doesn’t look like a real rifle, as he’s folding the thing into 2 pieces, but what the f*ck do I know. I look at him with this let’s-just-settle-down-you-mother-f*cking-maniac smile, and he smiles back. All good, I guess. However, as I’m walking back to the road, I here this whizzzzzz go by my ear. I’m 80% sure this rifle was a BB-gun rifle, and I’m 90% sure this f*cking maniac shot at me. I was 100% hiding behind Pete when I got back to the road.
Shortly after, we decided to walk about a kilometer to the police station. The station was just after the intersection, so every passing car would have to be heading in our direction. An officer steps out of the station, and asks us for our passports. Apparently they need to register all of the hitchhikers, just in case we steal stuff from drivers…
Half an hour, one apple and one salami and cheese sandwich later, and we get picked up again–Leonardo from Bahia Blanca. Leo was a pretty big guy, and drove a beast of a pickup truck. I was a bit nervous for this one too. He helped us load our bags into the truck, and off we went.
Leo turned out to be a pretty smart guy, and worked as like a minerals engineer in the Cordillera region. He had his PhD in something. We talked about politics, actually–about our respective Presidents. I think it’s called a President in Argentina? He was a fast driver, but probably our best so far.
After 200km, we arrived in Bahia Blanca. Leo dropped us off near a hostel, which came recommended by a French couple that Pete had met. The hostel was full, but they had room for our tents. We paid 25 pesos each (about $5.75), and set up shop.
Maybe an hour later, the manager came and told us that there was a nightclub next to the hostel, and that it would be very loud. Also, since this “campground” was essentially the hostel parking lot, we might get run over by a truck the next morning. Instead, he suggested that we sleep on the floor of the laundry room with our sleeping bags; warmer and less noisy. We obliged. Believe it or not, I slept, um, terribly…
Unfortunately for future adrenaline but fortunately for the sanity of all those who care enough about me to read this blog, the hitchhiking stopped here. It’s pretty difficult to actually hitch into Buenos Aires (the capital of the province of Buenos Aires) apparently, because there’s lots of psychos and people are reluctant to pick you up. Instead, we took a train, which I didn’t really know existed in South America.
The train was supposed to take 14 hours, and was built in 1965. We boarded around 7:40PM. Most of the windows were cracked, and the thing was in desperate need of a wash. They had a dining car outfitted with black wooden chairs with red cushions, which looked very “KBG.” Myself, Peter, two Germans and a Slovak drank red wine, Quilmes Lager, and shared all of our snacks. We all wanted to sit together, so since Pete and I bought 3rd class tickets and the rest 2nd, we were forced to sit in seats that weren’t ours. We got woken up by over-enthused yet under-pragmatic Argentines several times throughout the night, who desperately wanted to sit in the seat to which they were assigned, and not in any of the other 15 empty seats nearby. I made friends with one family of 7, ranging from the 10-year-old to the grandmother, who invited me to matté and educated me on the do’s and don’ts of buying marijuana and cocaine in Buenos Aires. Thanks guys.
The train broke down for about 3.5 hours the next morning, in some small town. We de-boarded, and drank matté in the train station. There’s always matté…
Finally, around 2:30PM, we arrived. Victory.
Hell of a journey, and again, so much more fun than the bus. Maybe more hitching to come?
Because Reib told me to face new fears every day,