It was with some trepidation that I hit the Chile/Argentine border, I don’t really know why probably because I’ve not had to present Bumble’s paperwork up to now. I chose a quiet mountain pass so was expecting a bit of a shack of a building so was surprised to see a very shiny, impressive, stylish new build. It was very organised with 6 windows in a line, I needed to get a stamp from the varyingly smiley/dour/officious/friendly individuals staffing each of them. And with little fuss I was on my way into Argentina.
I may as well deal with the elephant in the room and get that out of the way immediately…
Don’t mention the war
Well, I wasn’t going to! However, just 50m from the shiny new border building is a massive, official, shouty sign “LAS MALVINAS SON ARGENTINAS”. I did wonder for whose benefit the sign was. That border must only be used by people from Chile and Argentina 99% of the time. Is it a reminder from the Argentine government to their people? or maybe to remind people from Chile? I don’t suppose they’re overly concerned. Or maybe it’s just to make the 0.01% of border traffic who happen to be English a little bit scared? It works.
As I passed through the small towns to my first overnight stop the theme continued. Shiny, new, official signs; massive monuments; bumper stickers on brand new cars; currency notes! Clearly Argentina has not forgotten. It did make me reflect a little bit on the whole Brexit stuff, it only took a few signs to make me feel anxious, unwelcome, mildly threatened, because I took each sign as a personal attack on me, illogical as that is. I imagine it’s how some europeans felt during the worst of the Brexit jingoism. We really should be careful what we put on posters and signs because people will take it personally.
Not that the Falklands/Malvinas is any of my doing, I was 12 at the time and living in Australia. My overwhelming natural tendency is anti-imperialism so it’s not really a cause I’d throw my weight behind. What little I’ve seen of the people that actually live there reminds me of some Unionists in Northern Ireland, clinging to some bygone idea of what Britishness never was, while the rest of the country has evolved.
Anyway, I’m pleased to report that I’ve managed to shake off the unfounded guilt and persecution complex thanks in no small part to this gorgeous family…
…who came bounding down the side of the road where I’d stopped, babbling unintelligible (to me) Spanish. I thought they needed help with something. I was getting my phone out to try to use Translate, when I realised they were just actually coming to see me and find out what my story is. Happy, enthusiastic and really welcoming. A sheer delight. They asked for my picture and I thought I’d better take one too and gave them the address of this blog, telling them I’d post their picture on it. 40 more miles down the road I waited in a queue for petrol and heard someone behind me shouting “Gus! Gus!” as the car sped past. It was the youngsters waving their phone at me, they’d looked up this site… I couldn’t stop laughing. So if you’re reading this people – thanks for making my day and making me feel welcome in your beautiful country!
High plains drifter
The first day on the “road” in Argentina was what I’d politely call a challenge. Immediately following the border I found myself on a gravel road, looking as far ahead as the eye can see with an uninterrupted view to the horizon, the same behind me, and the same to either side. No other vehicle in sight. I’d never seen a sky so big. It’s how I imagine Arizona/Utah/New Mexico to be.
The gravel was tough, but the view gave me some joy. Not long afterwards, I became aware of the real enemy. Wind. It was OK-ish as a tail wind, but gusting 40-50mph from the side, I needed the whole of my lane to stay on the road once I was on the tarmac. Oncoming lorries building up a massive buffer of air jolting me as they pass from the opposite direction. This was to be my endurance test for the next 12 hours on the road over two days. Relentless, forceful, omnipotent wind blasting West to East, hour after hour. On the bright side, there was no chance of me getting tired and nodding off on the super-straight roads, which was a fear. After hours of that, I felt I should treat myself to a little diversion for body, mind and soul. What could be better than…
Yes you heard right! The biggest colony of penguins in South America only a short diversion off my route. What a find, comedy creatures that they are, and totally nonplussed by humans just feet away from them. I felt like David Attenborough in amongst them. Add to that an encounter with guanaco (llama family member), and suicidal ostriches playing frogger with the trucks on the road, it was a great day for wildlife!