Hitchhiking ups and downs

Argentina

When it comes to travel, apart from the act itself, there’s not much better than going through your old photos and being reminded of the stories behind them. This is exactly what happened yesterday with the above photo…

After spending a couple of nights in Cipolletti, in the heart of Argentina, Dominik and I headed west to the outskirts of neighbouring Neuquén to start hitchhiking the 430km to Bariloche.

With only a couple of hours of sleep the night before, waiting in the scorching sun wasn’t easy, but our first lift finally arrived after two hours… Even though this ride only took us 30km, it seemed to place us in a much better location – Senillosa being a reasonably small town, with plenty of space for cars to spot us and pull over.

Our sentiments may have changed around ten minutes later when a dust storm broke out, but we kept ourselves entertained by listening to music on my portable speakers, which must have paid for themselves several times over during that twelve month trip!

Another couple of hours took us through to 6pm and probably about thirty minutes short of giving up for the day, when a rusty old Renault pulled up around ten metres past us. We initially thought it was just another customer for the old couple selling nectarines from the back of their car nearby, but on enquiry, he was actually heading the whole 400km to Bariloche – our day was suddenly looking up!

We arrived in Bariloche just before midnight to an unexpected five degrees Celsius, but before Dominik and I set off to try and find a hostel for the night, I searched through my backpack for the very first Leeds United shirt that I had owned and handed it to the guy that had got us there. Granted, our performance over the last fifteen years might make this seem like more of a curse than compensation, but seeing as though he told us that he and his son like football, I don’t think the gesture was lost on him…

Just over a week later, after spending Christmas in Bariloche and exploring the Lake District, we set off on another hitchhiking mission, this time a much easier 120km south to El Bolsón. So we thought. Somehow it ended up taking four rides and just as many hours, but we met some great people along the way and eventually made it to our destination.

We spent New Year’s Eve in El Bolsón and went hiking in the nearby mountains for a couple of days afterwards, staying in refugios along the way. Due to the alternative vibe of the area, we thought that it would be fairly easy to continue hitchhiking as we made our way further south towards El Chaltén. It also seemed like a good way to break up the twenty hour, 1,250km bus ride, which was our other option.

For the second time in a week, we were mistaken – it took a lot longer than we expected and seven hours and four rides later, we had only made it 150km.

We were just outside a town called Esquel, but still had plenty of daylight, so rather than heading into town, we tried to get another lift in an attempt to get closer to El Chaltén. Unfortunately, there was no rusty Renault in sight this time and we ended up camping under some trees next to the highway… With nothing else around us, each sound seemed amplified and we must have woken up every time a twig snapped – it’s fair to say that it wasn’t the best night’s sleep we’ve had and our things were packed and ready to go as soon as the sun came up!

After five more hours of waiting, we were once again about thirty minutes from calling it quits and walking into Esquel to find a bus, when a car finally pulled up. If we’d known then what we know now, we probably would have politely declined, but instead we eagerly jumped in, hoping that our luck had changed…

The upside of being dropped 100km down the highway in Tecka was that we were able to eat something for the first time in a while… The downside was that we still had 1,000km to go. Nevertheless, all we could do was wait on the side of the road and try to hail another lift – something we’d become fairly accustomed to!

The next ride seemed promising – a guy about our age, playing decent music and keen to have a chat. If only he hadn’t dropped us in the middle of nowhere, with winds that made it hard to stand, let alone pitch a tent! We were aiming for the turn off towards Río Mayo, but he accidentally dropped us off around 50km too early… After thirty minutes without sighting any cars, we agreed to hitch in any direction, just as long as we got out of there!

At a guess, we were about 200km from Tecka, where he had picked us up, which meant El Chaltén was still 800km further south. It had taken a day and a half and six lifts to travel just 450km, so you can imagine that morale was pretty low when the first car that appeared was heading north, where we had just come from… It was starting to get dark and the wind meant there was no way we could camp there, so we had no choice but to head 100km back the way we came to Gobernador Costa.

It was well and truly dark by the time we arrived, so we had to decide between staying the night there and trying to hitchhike again the next morning, or getting on the first bus out of there. We chose the latter – for several reasons! Firstly, we were told that the bus would be there soon and the thought of getting some much needed rest while still making some progress was definitely appealing. Also, waking up there and trying to do it all again was probably the last thing we wanted to do at that stage!

Our only concern was that the bus was going to Comodoro Rivadavia, on Argentina’s east coast, where we would have to change buses in order to get further south. The people at the bus station assured us that we would be able to do so as soon as we arrived, so we paid for the tickets and tried to relax as we waited for the bus to arrive.

As it turned out, the bus turned up much later than we’d been told and when we arrived in Comodoro Rivadavia, there actually wasn’t a connection until the afternoon, giving us six or seven hours to kill. We tried to make the best of a bad situation by checking out the town and its ‘beach’, but I have to admit, it was a pretty tough day!

The late departure also meant that we arrived in (freezing) Perito Moreno close to midnight with no accommodation booked. Luckily, we were able to find a hostel for a shower and a few hours of sleep, before heading back to the bus station early the next day for the final leg to El Chaltén.

What started off as an attempt to break up a long bus ride ended up taking around four times longer, with one night spent camping under some trees on the side of the highway, three bus rides, seven lifts from people and half a night in a hostel…

As you will read in the One day in El Chaltén article, this extended journey may have been a blessing in disguise, but you’ll probably agree that, just like the lyrics of Leeds United’s anthem, Marching on Together, we certainly had our ups and downs whilst hitchhiking through Argentina!

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