"Argentina 2002-03" story # 2

San Carlos de Bariloche, Rio Negro           December 9, 2002

Keep your head up, young hitchhiker, there are blue skies ahead!
     "Using only the will of my mind," I declared, "I will single-handedly hold up the rain from coming down." I concentrated hard, but the gloomy darkness that had closed in overhead began to slowly wet the earth and me anyways. A similar mental world determination theory of mine would fail in the future when I tried to will a car into stopping for me.
     I was in Santa Rosa, 600 kilometers from Buenos Aires, 1000 kilometers from my Bariloche destination. Iīd take a bus to this small city following my arrival fiesta, and, now, two mornings later, I was making my get-away.
     It was a very slow get-away, and if anybody wouldīve been trying to stop me, they couldīve had breakfast and brunch first. Althought if theyīd been the type to have brunch, they wouldīve had to have been pretty wimpy. After three hours of walking and waiting and getting wetted, it was my big-smile-stops-the-car theory that got a very nice, new jeep to stop.
     The dark-featured, thirties-something driver showed little emotion or friendliness, but he furiously vented on the situation of the country. He said that Argentina has a lot, in meat and petroleum and past labor, but that their last long-term president, Menem, sold all of the countryīs assets - phone company, water, railroad - to foreign companies. As he fumed about lack of education and the need for an honest president, he would sometimes turn to me; not to see what I thought, but to present - through his intense, black stare - proof of how the needless crisis could exasperate almost the life out of a man.
     All of the rides came quick after Santa Rosa. My driver, a happy 57-year old trucker a year away from retirement, was practically a bubbling school-girl compared to the first guy. He took me only twenty-nine kilometers.
     A second trucker stopped next. I climbed in, and a tiny, fat, friendly-as-a-kitten guy asked me: "De donde sós?" (Where are you from?)
     "Michigan," I said.
     "Que estais haciendo?" (What are you doing?)
     "Haciendo el dedo." (Hitchhiking.) I guess that was a pretty stupid answer.
     But, Juan-Luis, the 36-year old driver, would get more information out of me than that. He was over-joyed to have me with him, ,and he carried me 240 miles in m direction. At a brisk pace of 42 miles per hour.
     Itīs understandable why he stopped for me, because there was almost absolutely nothing on the road we crossed. We were in La Pampa, a region famous for the cows that are raised and graze there. And these cows are famous for the steaks they make, which Iīm sure the cows must be thrilled about. These famous hamburgers-to-be live on a long, boring plain where the only vegetation is short, stout, wintergreen trees and some grass. For five hours, we only passed those trees, the cows, some horses, sheep, goats, the occasional emu, and a total of two small towns.
     To pass the time riding, I let the wind blow through my hair. My mane has now gone un-trimmed for 13 1/2 months, and if hitchhiking with long hair isnīt travelling in style, I donīt know what is! Heck, for a little while, blue even peeked through the long, La Pampa sky.
     Also, Juan-Luis and I took mate. In a small, ball-shaped mug, Argentinians stuff it with herbs and then pour hot water on it and sip from a straw and then pass it around. Itīs pretty tasty. Itīs an Argentinian hit; in some parts of the country, people donīt go to buy bread without carrying around their mug, herbs, and hot-water-thermos. They say itīs addictive, but that seems like a hassle.
     "Que tal?" one Argentinian might say to another. (Whatīs up?)
     "Oh, things are stressful - what with the whole economic crisis and everything. Iīve been going through two sacks of Yerba herbs a day."
     Thanks to my friend, Juan-Luis, I slept that night in the next state capital, Neuquén, and in the morning I got another early start on the road. Also, thanks to my long day with Juan-Luis - whose lazy way of talking ran most of his vowels together in a seeming ostracization of all but a few consonants - my "castellano" spanish understanding had risen to a very competent level.
     First, a gay supermarket-pricer picked me up. Well, he didnīt "pick me up" in any but the figurative sense. Then, a father and very chatty mother - with their daughter - took me briefly and dropped me near a huge reservoir with cliffs that provides power for most of the country.
     And, finally, my ride for the next four hours to Bariloche was an inner-peace-looking, mustachioed truck-driver wearing a gorra (dark, flat, round hat of the Argentinian "gaucho" or cowboy).
     The guy hauled the big rigs, but he spoke excitedly of parading on his horse in gaucho-wear during festivals. He had one young son who was a gaucho near their home in Bariloche; another young son was apprenticing on a sheep ranch on the southern, cold and windy, Tierra del Fuego island. He showed me some gaucho clothes, including a warm, orange vest made from otter fur. The legend of the Argentinian gaucho began exciting me so much I wanted myself to work on a farm.
     Nearing the city of Bariloche, snow-triangle-topped Andes mountains stood beautifully in the distance. Below the road to the left, large powdery white-blue lakes sipped from the glacial run-off, and pine trees lined up beneath protruding rock giants to the right. Bridges led over clear streams speeding over stone beds. And then we came to Bariloche, a town of 100,000 or so that sits on the hilly shore of curious Nahuel Huapi lake, surrounded by Andes.
     Alpine architecture and Swiss chalets make this town, and big St. Bernard dogs sometimes walk around with tiny barrels around their necks.
     Alas, though, I have to say that Bariloche has not impressed me. The place is full of tourists, and the locals and tourists seem to mingle only when it comes to consumption and money. I have met some nice people here, but Iīd prefer to stay some placee with more of a community feel.
     Like, for example, a sheep farm. Or a cow ranch. "Voy ser gaucho!" (Iīm going to be a gaucho!) If thatīs not the worst idea youīve ever heard, I donīt know what is.
     Especially considering what I want is a community feel, and the rough, outsider-hating, fight-picking gauchos almost certainly wouldnīt accept me. Especially when they see how incompetent I am, and what a horrible gaucho Iīd make. Perhaps Iīll be able to integrate myself into the sheep community, though. "Mmmbbaa-aa-aa-aarrr!"
     Iīm going to hitchhike further south into Patagonia over the next days, in search of a ranch that will employ me. Also, although the sun is out sixteen hours a day, itīs very cold here. And all I have to keep me warm are three long-sleeve shirts and a bad plan to find work on a ranch.
     And bad plans DONīT keep you warm.

- Modern Oddyseus

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