The Magical Mystery Tour: 1,000 Miles on Ruta 40


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South America » Argentina
November 27th 2008
Published: December 4th 2008
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We weren't imitating Ken Kesey and the merry pranksters taking heavy psychedelics and messing around with hi fi stereos, we aren't from Liverpool, and we can´t even play instruments, but the road trip through Patagonia was nonetheless a Magical Mystery Tour. The landscape was magical, what was going to happen next a complete mystery, and a tour... well I´m not entirely sure how that fits in as it was not planned at all, but we are tourists, so I guess it applies.

We left Bariloche in the evening and headed south to El Bolson, where we had spent a night previously. We got in late and got some sleep as we had an early day planned. We woke up and hit the trail of Cerro Pitriquitron. It is a couple thousand meter mountain to the east of the city, providing great views across the valley and onward south through Patagonia. It took a couple hours to hike up the steep hillside, through a forest full of carved figures, across a completely deserted plain, and then up an extremely steep skree slope. For every step you took you slid back half. After this frustrating climb we were rewarded with fantastic views. It was a great way to start the trip, and it also gave us a nice glimpse of Ruta 40 going off into the distance.

Shortly thereafter (with a quick break to grab a great meal at the hippy market in town) we were back on the road headed south. We headed for Los Alerces National Park just a few hours south. It was the shortest day of driving we had, only a few hours, but it was our first taste of the dirt roads that we would be having for most of the drive. The views were spectacular though, and it was one of the most beautiful drives we have had in Argentina. We found a great free campsite and sat out on the lake for the night, teaching each other mind teasers Drew and Eric and I have picked up along the way. Burton was new to all of them, so he had a splendid time trying to figure them out.

The next morning we drove into Esquel to get some coffee and gas up before starting on the next eight hour section of driving. We pulled into a gas station which ended up having a
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The sign to show wind was hilarious.
cafe but no gas and sat down for a quick pick-me-up. Eric got some ants in his pants and wanted to rush off to get gas while we finished our coffee. Now, if you know Eric, you know he has the worst sense of direction of anyone you have met. We all knew he would get lost, and he even admitted he would, but he swore he would find his way back. Forty-five minutes later he still hadn´t returned and the three of us (Drew, Burton and I; Erin couldn´t come due to last second circumstances, but she is at least on the blog now. Hi Erin!) were sitting on the curb waiting. Finally we see him running down the street, the car was no where in sight. All of us burst out laughing, Eric included. The gas station was only three blocks away, but he somehow couldn´t figure out the one-ways to get back to where we were. I don´t know how hard it is to make a right, go a few blocks, make two rights and then turn into the cafe, but I guess it is beyond him. (Eric´s edit: Okay, this was definitely the most defeated I´ve
Ahhhh!Ahhhh!Ahhhh!

I loved these signs. Just a big ! with no other warnings.
felt thus far on my travels... it was only 3 blocks away, but both streets at the corner of the gas station were one way in the opposite direction...SHIT... I could always get back to the gas station no problem but I could never got onto a street that passed the cafe where they were... DAMNIT! Okay, so I delayed us 45 minutes but it was worth it in terms of the laugh we all got out of it. Also, though I may have gotten us off to a slow start, I did however drive us single-handedly safely across the Patagonia (to the family members of my compadres - you are welcome). In total we drove 1,237 miles, the first 1000 of which I drove by myself, which took us to El Chalten. While I lead this journey forward, Burton and Drew took turns napping in the back seat and Kyle (designated navigator) was rendered useless by the simplicity of the drive - just drive straight ahead forever. In their defense however, I was having the time of my life driving across the vast nothingness and rocking out to the iPod and had little desire to hand over the wheel at any point.) (Kyle´s edit to Eric´s edit: If by useless you mean doing the pointless tasks you constantly demanded of me such as opening your water bottles and calculating the kilometers to the next... Seriously, Eric is a mix between Rainman and George Costanza. He is neurotic about math calculations on how good of time we are making.)

We hit the road and got our first real taste of Patagonia driving. After a few hours the pavement ran out and the dirt roads began. They aren´t horrible, I´ve been on worse segments of road, but I´ve never been on a road of this low quality for soooo long. You constantly had to seek out the best tire tracks and ride in those for as long as possible, until they were no longer the best and you had to change tracks. At times the pile of rocks you drove over would get so high that you would swear were scraping the bottom of the car on them. I actually had to get out a few times to check the clearance of the car to make sure we were making it alright. Changing lanes over these banks of stone was interesting, however there was never another car insight. We would drive for hours without seeing another car, or another human being. Those that we did see were normally construction crews working on the road in one way or another. However, the construction sites hardly ever had signs. There were simply two roads diverging, in the distance you could see construction vehicles, and you had to guess which road was the appropriate one to take. Many times you would take the wrong one, but the workers could care less. Several times it was only one road, and you would cruise through the middle of the sight, dodging a crane here, a bulldozer there, and it was completely normal. Well, normal for the workers, the gringos in the car were more or less dumb founded.

The landscape that we drove through was the most barren environment I´ve ever seen. We would drive for hours on a completely flat plain, with small shrubbery covering the ground; no grass, only small shrubs and rocks, a lot of rocks. You could see the horizon in all directions and the heat off the ground would cause distortions. Then, suddenly, you would start descending, winding around a few corners and you would come out a few hundred feet below where you were on another plane. The ground behind you would gradually rise, like an exponential curve, into an enormous plateau. You spend the next half hour going up and down hills, looking at distant buttes which were once part of the plateau and should have eroded with the new plain around it, but for some reason they forgot to go away, until eventually the landscape flattens out again and you are on another plain. While you don´t see many humans, and the plant life is minimal, there is an incredible amount of other animals. Cows and sheep free range all around. Wild horses roam the plains in abundance; granted, they may not be "wild," but they certainly seem to roam the broadest of ranges without any human barriers to their movement. There are also ostriches (or perhaps they are rhea or emus?) that roam the area. They are extremely skiddish birds, and as soon as they see you coming they take off in a sprint running in all directions, they are ridiculously fast for such an awkward looking animal. It is very easy to see where
Clouds Over El BolsonClouds Over El BolsonClouds Over El Bolson

Hiking up Pitriquitron
the idea for the Roadrunner came from.

So that was us, driving from spot to spot through the vast wilderness of the Patagonia. To give you an idea of the distance we covered, it was about a third of the U.S. However, we only passed a few cities with a couple thousand each. To put it in more understandable terms, if one of the gas stations we passed was closed, or wasn´t working, we would have been stranded for a few days. The entire way we only passed five pumps. I would have loved to have been one of the condors with a birds eye view of this tiny car barreling through the void, kicking up dust for miles as it covered thousands of desolate kilometers between tiny towns. Crossing the plains with the iPods blasting music out of the tinny speakers. (While there was plenty of music played where you could, and did, sing every word to the song, as one would expect with me and Eric at the helm, we did only hear Madonna twice. Green Day´s Dookie probably took the cake with coming on at least seven times. (Eric´s Edit: This edit is specifically for Mike and Karen on Kauai - Take three guesses as to one album we listened to on our journey, then continue on .) While that may seem a bit more masculine, Eric did request Alanis Morisette at one point. And, while I had heard this before, why isn´t it more broadly complained about that nothing in "Ironic" is remotely ironic? Why aren´t people up in arms about this? What is ironic about "rain on your wedding day?" It is just a bunch of crap scenarios, none of which are ironic. Okay, just me flailing my arms in frustration, but still. Parents should warn their kids about the misuse of the word in this song. (Eric´s edit: Credit of this subject conversation goes to Kaplan as well.)

Anyway, we made it to Perrito Moreno that evening and threw down our tent (which the guy at the awesome car rental place in Bariloche, Corrientes, gave to us for free) at the municipal campground. We woke up early in the morning, or I should say Eric woke us up grudgingly (Eric´s edit: Oh please...¨grudgingly¨? Kyle fails to mention that we collectively decided on a 7AM
At the topAt the topAt the top

Burton, Kyle, Drew and Eric, from left to right
departure time because we had a long day ahead of us. He further fails to mention that I woke them up at 6:45 after making all their sleepy asses coffee.... pfff... ¨grudgingly.¨), and we got headed out of town towards the Cave of the Hands. After an hour of driving, we headed onto this private estancia (i.e. ranch) drove down a really nice dirt road, came to a parking spot, hiked for about half an hour, and came to ancient rock paintings from over 8,000 years ago. I had low expectations, but they were astonishing. It was completely mind boggling to be as in the middle of no where as I´ve ever been and to come upon this amazing site. All those years ago, this group of hunters and gathers started placing their hands on the walls of this cave and blowing a paste of liquid and minerals over them onto the walls, leaving a negative relief their hand. Over time they started drawing animals and hunting scenes; it was one of the first rudimentary attempts at artwork. I found it completely staggering; it was one of those times while traveling that just give you goose bumps. (Eric´s edit: For me personally, the beauty of this experience was the fact that viewing this primitive artwork had the effect of looking back in time. A clue to what these ancient humans lives were like 8,000 years ago!)

Back on the road we had our longest day of driving. We had intended to spend the night somewhere along the way, but we weren´t able to find a decent place to camp, and the weather was playing tricks on us. Or, I should say, the horizon was creating the most bizarre visual illusions. For hours we thought we were driving into the most intense storm we had ever seen. However, as we drove it just kept staying on the horizon. We waited, in mounting anticipation, for a torrential downpour, golf ball sized hail, and gale force winds, but they never materialized. Well, that isn´t entirely correct, the winds definitely arrived. At one point Burton got out of the car to relieve himself quickly without taking them into affect. Not sure if anyone else as really seen what happens when you literally "pee into the wind," but it was gut bustingly funny. (Burton´s edit: As it is true that I relieved myself, I
Rotting Sleeping BeautyRotting Sleeping BeautyRotting Sleeping Beauty

Kerry-Lynn, this person did more carving than I did on the last blog!
definately pointed down wind. However, the crazyness of the wind caused an optical illusion of going into the wind.) (Kyle´s edit to Burton´s edit: You, of all people, claim it was an "optical illusion?" Really? Well the pee covering you afterwards wasn´t an illusion, and I have photos, which I sympathetically didn´t upload but would be willing to share if you continue to disagree.) And, while the storm never did materialize in the full force we expected, it did give an amazing sunset. One of the best of the trip, as it provided a double rainbow of the most brilliant colors. Even Drew, who lives on Kauai and sees rainbows constantly, commented that it had the most red he had ever seen in a rainbow.

We ate Thanksgiving dinner as we drove through the night that evening. For the meat eaters in the car it consisted of a rotisserie chicken, a salami sandwich, a bunch of beets and a can of kidney beans. For Eric it was just a bunch of raw veggies. (By the way, one of the funniest things on the entire trip was Eric´s reaction to eating broccoli. He has the smelliest burps you have ever
Purple FlowersPurple FlowersPurple Flowers

No idea what they were, but in northern Patagonia they are in full bloom and beautiful.
had the displeasure of smelling after eating raw broc. It causes tears to come to your eyes, and he made us suffer through it for days. So, hopefully there is some degree of humiliation here as vengeance.) (Eric´s edit: Eh, smelly broccoli burps were humiliating back in high school, but now I am proud of them. I just wanted to point out that as soon as it became known that those burps were a displeasure to my navigator, I, of course, tried my best to conjure up the biggest, deepest broccoli belches I could). And, yes, this paragraph is intended for all of those back in the states still eating leftovers to take pity on us, and for our mothers to feel the need to make a Thanksgiving dinner when we get back in the Spring.

We pulled into El Chalten near midnight and found a place to stay. While our road trip wasn´t over, we had driven the bulk of the way and now planned on spending a few nights camping the Los Glaciers National Park...


Additional photos below
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Welsh Towns

Burton getting to his Welsh heritage in Trevelin... a photo for Aunt Ann.
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Butte

I believe this is technically a butte, but I have no clue.
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Roadblock

See the horse in the road in the distance?
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Screwing off

Faking a breakdown


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