Argentina: Buenos Aires to Valdez

Argentina: Sierra de la Ventana

Sunday, 1 February 2009, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
After 3 weeks, and more than 3000km from Buenos Aires, we have arrived at the 'end of the world', as they like to name it down here. Ushuaia is the most southerly city in Argentina, and the most southerly city in the world that you can drive to. For us it marks a special point in our long journey - we have travelled both North and South America quite literally from one end to the other.
We arrived in Buenos Aires, from Uruguay, on January 7th at around 10:30 at night. After a few glitches at customs with the paperwork for the truck, we finally left the port after 11:00. Somebody had suggested a nice secure spot for parking overnight, saying that it was in a park and there was 24 hour security. Well, it was on the side of a wide street that ran through a park and there was a full-time police presence in the street. We settled ourselves for the night only to discover that the police presence had a reason - the area seemed to be a place where the youth of the area hang out all night, and the police are there to hold them in some sort of check. It wasn't working all that well, as we heard a variety of noise from outside, including cars racing up and down the street, right past the police! At 2:30am Juergen got out of bed and moved the camper to what he hoped would be a quiet location. Only after we were settled again did we become fully conscious of the thump-thump music coming from a 24 hour fast food stall, about 500m down the street. By 5:00 he was up having breakfast and by 6:00 I had joined him. We were on the road out of Buenos Aires well before 7:00. Although our visit was very short-lived, we do plan to spend some time in that city after we have sold our vehicle and before we fly out of South America.
The journey from there to here is almost all flat, with seemingly never-ending straight roads - first through the Pampa, and then Patagonia. There is a province in Argentina called La Pampa, but we didn't drive through that. Instead we headed south-west from Buenos Aires, through the province bearing the city's name. But this didn't save us from the Pampa. For those who don't know, the Pampa is a vast, treeless plain which covers a fair portion of north-eastern Argentina. It is not completely treeless, because the farmers have planted some in places, either to produce a lovely border for the long driveway to their house, or sometimes as wind-breaks. Fortunately the Pampa is farmed extensively so, to relieve the boredom that could ensue from a vast, treeless plain, we had enormous fields of crops, which were a very pleasant shade of green. You may have noticed that we are rather partial to green in the landscape. And the best thing of all is that they grow sunflowers in this part of the world and they were mostly in full bloom. So sometimes we had enormous fields of these stunning yellow flowers, which can really break the boredom of a vast, treeless plain which is mostly covered with green crops! And if none of those things really do it for you, there are always the dust devils spinning to the heavens from all over this vast, treeless plain. I'm surprised there is any soil left for them to farm. Still the endless flat began to get the better of us and we decided to take a detour into the Sierra de la Ventana, just to see some hills. Although not high by the standards we have become used to, their craggy peaks provided a pleasing change in scenery.
In the very south of the province of Buenos Aires we crossed the Rio Colorado and were welcomed to Patagonia by a sign in the middle of the bridge. I have learned a lot of new geographical facts on this journey and the last 3 weeks are certainly no exception. Patagonia is a region bordered by this river in the north, the Andes in the west, and the Atlantic Ocean in the east and south. As such it covers most of southern Argentina and some of south-eastern Chile. It is actually a plateau, but mostly just looks like a vast, treeless plain with seemingly never-ending straight roads! The first thing to help alleviate any boredom coming from the landscape was a number of stops for food checks. It seems that there are quite a lot of things you can't take into Patagonia in the way of fruit and vegetables, and meat. After 3 or 4 of these (just when we had worked out how best to hide the precious commodities that we weren't inclined to give up) they stopped. I guess there is really no good reason to take things away that you have purchased in Patagonia.
The other thing, which begins to make its presence increasingly felt as you progress through Patagonia, and is sure to keep you safe from the torpor often produced by boredom, is the wind. Sometimes it is really strong and you think it can't possibly blow any harder - and then it does. And sometimes for inexplicable reasons it completely dies down, lulling you into a sense of relief and a totally false sense of security, only to reappear suddenly even stronger than before, and most likely from a completely different direction. It attempts to blow you off the road when driving; it attempts to turn your camper upside down overnight just when you are finally drifting off; and don't even try to use the big outdoor loo when nature calls!
Sometime on the 3rd, or maybe 4th, day into Patagonia, the word to describe this whole experience - the landscape, the barrenness, the wind - came to me: it is bleak. I'm sure I'm not the first to use it and won't be the last, but when I looked it up in the dictionary I discovered it was just perfect - "lacking vegetation and exposed to the elements". There is some vegetation, though - mainly very low, wind bent shrubs and yellow, clumpy grass.

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