In an old, white, compact car, Nora, Graciela, and I crossed the final 450 kilometers of the Patagonian desert.
Flat, brown earth and small, dry plants fell behind the car and were replaced by more. The sky was big, cloud-less, and hot. We reached a point where milky-sand rock ridges grew up and ran alongside the road.
Two-hundred kilometers from the coast, the perfect-blue Chubut River began wandering along beside us in a low groove it had carved out of the desert. Green, so healthy-green lawn, and trees and bushes round like ice cream scoops, huddled to the shore of the river. And the view-robbing rock ridges turned bright maroon here. I half-expected a brontosaurus to come lumbering out from behind one of them. Even with the riverīs vitality, there were only a few tiny desert towns and hardly any people.
In the car, Graciela poured the herbs and hot water into a bulb-shaped pot, and we took turns sipping mate. Graciela and Nora were thirty-or-so-year-old nurses on the coast.
Gracielaīs eight-year-old daughter was beautiful Iarra. She had long, hazy, rippled hair and an ear she couldnīt get wet for one year because itīd been operated on. This was torture for her, because she was crazy for the water and wants to be a marine biologist. She loves chasing crabs, and at one of our rests at a desert service village, she played in the River Chubut up to her neck.
I also love chasing animals. When car conversation went dull, I bragged to the girls about how I was going to chase and catch the first desert llamas, called "guarnacos," we came to. The # 1 advantage to desert hitchhiking was that - unlike in a bus - you can stop and chase llamas: something of a dream of mine.
One disadvantage facing me was that I didnīt have my animal-chasing sidekick, Jason Fox, with me. Back in Michigan, Jason and I had courageously perfected vehicular animal-chasing, against dangerous, nocturnal bunny rabbits. When we spotted a rabbit so evilly eating someoneīs lawn at night, we slammed on the brakes, opened and slid through the doors, and tore after the bunny in a speedy, drunk-like zigzag. (When I say we "perfected" vehicular animal-chasing, I donīt mean to get you to think we actually ever caught anything.)
Nora, as a driver, obviously had no animal-chasing experience. We came to some goofy-legged, gray flightless birds on the roadside - and my eyes grew big for the chase. The birds were like miniature emus. Nora slowly slowed the car down, then backed slowly up. By the time I was out the car door and running like a champion idiot, the birds had already scattered out of my reach. I needed Jason.
Unfortunately, Jason was busy doing something more important - as hard as it is to believe there is something more important - than chasing miniature emus. The day before this, on February 22nd, heīd gotten married to the new Michelle Fox.
Now, if they wouldīve been REAL-sized emus, I figure Jason probably wouldnīt have been able to pass up the Patagonian Desert. Instead, heīs on his honeymoon. Congratulations!!! my good friends, Jason and Michelle, have a great time together!
Without Jason driving, I thought about asking the eight-year-old crab-chaser to take the wheel. But, Nora was more ready when the llamas came.
"Alli, guarnacos!" Graciela pointed out from the backseat. "Agarra uno!" (Go grab one!)
With ears perked and curious, white faces pointed towards the road, the brown-gray-haired miniature llamas were gathered amid the dry bushes of the desert. (The actual "llamas" live further north, in the mountains.) Nora stopped, the guarnacos started running, and I slipped through the door. In my khakis, I concentrated to put each black shoe in front of me as quickly as possible. Speeding, I jumped the roadside fence and gave chase uphill after the guarnacos a little bit. Their headstart was insurmountable, though.
Iarra had left the car, too, to offer me emotional support, I suppose. Returning to the car, I exclaimed excitedly, "Viste!?" (which means: Did you see? Just like Iīd told you!)
The nurses had told me the guarnacos were fast, and they were right. But, I didnīt admit defeat. "Viste? Los guarnacos me vieron, y sabian que yo era rapido, y dijieron, 'Corras!' y se fueron antes de me. Tuvieron suerte!" (Did you see? The guarnacos saw me, and they knew I was fast, and they said, 'Run!' and they took off too early. They were lucky!)
"Saltaste ese muro tal como un guarnaco," Nora joked. (You leapt over the fence just like you were a guarnaco.)
We travelled together to the city of Trelew, near the coast, without seeing any more guarnacos. They mustīve known I was coming.
I thanked the nurses for the ride, wished Iarra luck in marine biology, and went to prepare myself for some coastal wildlife-interacting - on the amazing Peninsula Valdes.
Later, Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Nora, Graciela, and Iarra for the lift!