RN-40 Southern Patagonia
Patagonia. Holy Crap—the end of the world (literally). Wow—I can hardly believe I finally made it. This is one of the most sparsely populated places on planet Earth with less than two people per km². Patagonia comes from the word patagon used by the early explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 to describe the native peoples he saw—the Tehuelches. His expedition thought these people to be giants as they tended to be much taller than the Europeans of the time. So far on my travels I haven’t heard much mention of the indigenous peoples of Argentina including Patagonia. Argentina seems to be very proud of its early immigrant settlers from such faraway lands as Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and even Wales but of the indigenous little has been said.
You may remember (or maybe not) that I arrived first in Mendoza, Argentina from Santiago, Chile (up and over the Andes Mountains). From Mendoza I travelled south to San Carlos de Bariloche in Andean Patagonia (northern Patagonia) and then even farther south to El Bolson (Rio Negro) which is still in northern Patagonia. Thursday I travelled from San Carlos de Bariloche to El Calafate (Santa Cruz) in Atlantic Patagonia (southern Patagonia) and it was a mind numbing experience. For more about that epic saga continue reading below—it was a humdinger to be sure.
Perito Moreno Glacier – El Calafate, Patagonia
It started at 4:00 a.m. in San Carlos. The night before I had arranged an early morning taxi pickup at the hostel for 5:15 a.m. and it arrived on schedule. By 5:30 a.m. I was hunkered down outside the bus terminal in the dark pre-dawn hours waiting for the terminal to open. Sitting on my backpack I wondered to myself why no one had told me the terminal wouldn’t be open until 6:00 a.m. (my bus was scheduled to leave at 6:30 a.m.)—so much for the incongruities of international travel. So I cooled my jets for thirty minutes until the terminal opened and I could get in from the cold (near freezing). My bus arrived on time—I boarded—and we were off.
The bus ride from San Carlos de Bariloche to El Calafate is thirty one hours. Yes you read that correctly, thirty-one freaking hours (by far the longest trip I’ve ever made in one fell swoop). The less said the better (this blog is not for complaining). Suffice it to say you just have to enter a Zen-like meditation state and endure. And endure I did. I passed through thousands of square miles of pristine wilderness—from scenes that looked like the Swiss Alps, to Montana and West Texas, to the steppes of Mongolia. Words and pictures cannot possibly do it the justice it deserves. I gazed upon wonder after wonder during the daylight hours and tried to sleep during the nighttime hours.
Southern Patagonia, Argentina
Argentina’s RN-40 (a narrow two lane highway) is the thread that links northern Patagonia (Andean Patagonia) to southern Patagonia (Atlantic Patagonia). My bus passed through the regions of Rio Negro, Chubut, and finally arrived in Santa Cruz. Domestic stock included cattle, horses, sheep and a few small rural towns with people. Wildlife is abundant in Patagonia and includes: wild Guanaco (a Llama-like creature) which I saw in their hundreds, Cougar, Patagonian Fox, Patagonian Hog-nosed Skunk (which I smelled while sleeping at night—did we hit one?), Magellanic Tuco-tuco (rodents), Darwin’s Rhea (an Ostrich-like flightless bird which I also saw), Upland Goose, Ducks, Chilean Flamingo, and Southern Caracara (a large Hawk), and Andean Condor (which I haven’t seen yet).
The farthest point south I will travel will be to Ushuaia (my next stop) the capital of Tierra del Fuego—literally the end of the world. It’s about a 17-1/2 drive by bus (a piece of cake when compared to my last 31-hour drive). Once I reach Ushuaia I will only be 1,000 km from Antarctica. This is the embarkation point for many tourists travelling by ship to Antarctica, but it’s the wrong time of year (and too expensive) for my budget. I will have to be content with just getting close and reaching the legendary Cape Horn the nemesis of so many whalers and merchant ships. Before the Panama canal came into existence you had to round Cape Horn to reach the western coastline of the United States (and many ships never made it).
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, Traveller
El Calafate – Patagonia, Argentina