There are few places in the world that inspire the traveler’s imagination like Patagonia does. Journeying to this land the adventurer will encounter mostly windy, barren expanses, but also some of the most staggering mountain scenery in the world. It has has pulled outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and been the basis of books by scientists and explorers, most notably Charles Darwin and Yvonne Chanard. Patagonia is though to have been named after the Tehuelche people’s moccasins, which made their feet appear overly large. In Spanish, pata means foot. Th name may also have derived from the word patagón, used by Magellan in 1520 to describe the native people that he thought to be giants.
After 6 weeks of doing a series of 3-5 day treks around El Bolson it was time for something different. Something a little more ‘out there’. My plan was to trek and hitch-hike to the southernmost tip of Argentina. Stretching from Esquel all the way to Calafate, some 800km along some of the most desolate terrain in the world, it looked an amazing journey. A long distance bus would’ve been nice and easy. But too easy. Too predictable. This part of my self-imposed initiation into rugged, shoestring travel. Each day presented itself as a fresh, unscripted adventure. I was also pretty terrified. I’d never done anything as wild as this. What if I didn’t get enough rides? And what about predators, scorpions and snakes at night? Camping in random places along the side of the road if I didn’t make it to small villages and towns also seemed quite scary. But so friggin’ cool at the same time. Tent, sleeping bag, stove, fuel, food for a few days, 5 liters of water. Ready to roll.
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It was nearing the end of March. Autumn had set in and it was cold in the evenings, a chilly wind insistently blowing up the earth and at times blanketing the horizon with dust. On my first overnight I organized a bench in a container, a temporary home to team of roadworks servicemen who were toiling away with piles of asphalt and heavy-duty rollers. After hiking for nearly seven hours, the sun dipping, I was eager to find place to crash. The wind had picked up to a gale-force.
Pitching a tent would be hell. I got talking to one of the men smashing up the tarmac with a sledgehammer. When I mentioned that I was hitchhiking to Calafate was probably going to set up camp on a hillside, he frowned with dismay and marched me to the container, completely out-of-place with no other building in sight. I was offered a meal and sat down with a bunch of guys – some still teenagers – begrudgingly soaking up vegetable soap with stale bread. I got a few estranged looks, but otherwise not too much attention. Blackened jackets hung on hooks above piles of grey blankets. It was a bleak space, but I was happy to be out of the wind and have a safe spot. The next town was Tecka, 60 miles south.
Tomorrow I’d need to catch at least one ride if had any hope of making it there. The road warriors told me that the gale should drop off by the morning, so I aimed at an early start. Stepping outside for a midnight pee was like wandering on the surface of Mars. I got a good six hours sleep and got going just after a cup of black coffee and a hazy sunrise. Vicuna cantered in formation through arid plains and dusty hills. The sky expanded on for forever.