It’s a big desert– or if not a desert, arid plains, and steppe-land, and thousands of kilometers of gray brush, sand, and fenceline. We ride through so slowly, on this behemoth bus with a cracked windshield and leaky hubs. Come to a halt at every cattle-guard, for every imperfection in this gravel road. Ruta 40 is in constant detour for paving, a national project.
It gives a person a sense of scope, to drive for two days through this place. We get away from the tourist traps and the beaten path, pass through towns that see just 2 buses a day. All dirt roads, and high schoolers walking home in uniforms. Here, there is no myth of Patagonia, only people trying to make a life in this dry land, Santa Cruz, Chubut, up towards Rio Negro. Off the Cordillera.
The drivers screeches to a dusty halt to jump out and run down an armadillo. He brings it back to the bus so the curious can take pictures. I never knew their undersides were so fuzzy. He tries to dig to escape, and wheels in air, and then when released runs in circles around our legs until he finds an exit and takes off in a cloud of dust. The next abrupt stop is so the driver can cut the tail off a newly dead fox. This is Thanksgiving Day, for me.
The coolant begins to leak. We limp into Gobernor Castro, and the divers dirty their shirts fixing the punctured line. I drink OJ on a curb and watch a policeman help some schoolkids across the road. One says “hi” to me, how precocious! The others say “hola” and file past.
More bumpy hours. After 26 hours of desert, we ascend a pass and cross into a valley. Suddenly there’s the scent of water in the air. And green things everywhere, and snow-capped mountains rising abruptly. It’s all green and blue. Lakes, pines, lenga, alpenglow. El Bolson and Baricloche seem like oases, alpine Edens after desert.