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yu-en-me ´a man who leaves home to mend himself and others is a philosopher, .. he who goes from country to country guided by blind impulses of curiosity is .. a vagabond.´ - oliver goldsmith

la Cuarenta

ARGENTINA | Tuesday, 20 March 2007 | Views [1408]

when i stop being a hermit, i´ll write more, but in the meantime, here´s a brief description of part of what i´m living:
i recently started my romance with ´la Ruta 40´, one of Patagonia´s (and indeed, South America´s) most famous ´highways´. mention ´la Cuarenta´ (´the Forty´) to travellers who have battled it out on their own terms, and they´ll shake their heads with wry smiles, their eyes taking on the same wistful look that one often sees in people remembering the first time they had their heart broken. mention that you want to travel up the 40, and they´ll either laugh outright at the absurdity, or become really serious as they try and tell you about the futility of it. to understand why the Cuarenta inspires such reactions, i have to firstly describe another well-known aspect of patagonia, namely the winds.
i may have mentioned the patagonian winds in previous emails, but i think that until now, i´ve been quite flippant about it. we´re not talking about a slight breeze that would make marilyn monroe giggle in delight and run off to change into her white dress; we´re talking about winds that can reach up to 140kph, winds that can blow a truck over in the middle of the highway, winds that *literally* take your breath away. i remember a few times when hiking, i´d have to crouch close to the ground to not be knocked over by the gusts, and where i have to actively inhale with effort, just to be able to draw a breath. depending on the location, the wind blows harder in some towns than others. in Río Grande (in the province of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina), a ´good´ day meant that the windspeeds were at less than 70kph. in Puerto Natales (the usual point of departure for Torres del Paine National Park, in the south of Chile), a couple of fellow campers told me that the pressure of the wind was such that sometimes they´d wake up in the middle of the night with the tent blown so low that the roof was centimetres from their faces.
now let´s return to the above-mentioned Ruta 40; this is the main road which runs along the Patagonian Andes on the Argentine side, connecting the mountain-side towns north-south, and branching off to the various passes crossing over to Chile in the west. the majority of it is ´ripio´, which can mean anything from dirt roads, gravel, sand, ... basically anything that´s not asphalt or cement. in this case, we´re talking roads which are made of large rocks the size of a newborn´s head, which makes navigating particularly difficult. when you add the wind factor into it, travelling becomes hell. adriano, the italian biker with whom i travelled last year, told me that to go straight ahead, he had to steer as if turning a corner just to counteract the force of the wind. another bikie friend who has had more than 10 years´ experience in travelling on her motorbike was blown over by a sudden gust of wind along the way, breaking her collarbone. the few cycling travellers that i´ve met who have attempted parts of the road have told me that they often had to hide out in roadside culverts to wait for the winds to abate before continuing. and a truckie who used to do a very small section of the 40 when they were doing roadworks told me that to cover 12km, he needed *2* hours.
my personal experience in tackling the 40 actually involved a detour. to get to a spot 220km north along the road relying on lifts, i had to travel a few hundred kilometres out to the coast, head north, and then come back in to the mountain range. i started to despair a bit about my chances of reaching my destination, since in 4 hours´ of travel, we passed 5 cars: not a good signal when you´re hitchhiking. when i got to a junction 120km from my destination, i met 2 couples who were heading the opposite direction; one had been waiting for 2 days, and the other were on their 3rd day of waiting. of the handful of cars that passed the junction each day, some would be full-up, some would have space but the drivers knew that the condition of the road would not allow for the car to travel with the weight of a couple more people and their backpacks, and some were just tourists who aren´t in the habit of giving people lifts. for the past couple of nights, the travellers had been hiding out under a bridge; that morning, they´d found a freshly killed hare, and were planning a roadkill roast that night. i was getting quite excited about the prospect of joining them when just at that moment a car approached, heading in the same direction as myself. after hearing the other stories, i was a little desperate, and replaced the standard hitchhiking thumb for a hands-clasped begging motion. the pick-up slowed down, the 2 italian tourists wound down their windows, and told me that they were full up.
´i´ll go in the back!´
´but it´s more than an hour, - you´ll get blown off, and it´s too cold!´
´no, please, you don´t understand,´ i pleaded, and after a bit more theatric desperation, they allowed me to get into the back of the ute, where i did the remaining 120km huddled in a quasi-foetal position, glad that at least it wasn´t raining.
(photos: 'la cuarenta' gallery)

Tags: On the Road

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