South America | Argentina | Patagonia – Further South!
I leave Buenos Aires at 20.30. This partucular bus comes with free entertainment (or tedium, depending on how you look at it) – a tone deaf Argentine teenager who insists on singing (I`m being generous there) along to his portable CD player. When even my own music can´t drown him out I am forced to lean over and say, ‘ Excuse me, can you sing in your head please, I don´t want to listen to your music.’ It works. The official entertainment comes in the slightly inappropriate form, in my opinion, of two films about transport catastrophes – Flight 93 (about 9/11) and Poseidon. The former is, frankly, not what you need to be seeing when a world away from everyone you love, and hurtling down a dark Argentine highway in the middle of nowhere. Finally, and rather coincidentally, we get a Korean film.
I awake to Patagonia. This is getting ridiculous. How many ambitions can a person fulfill in one journey?! Finally…Patagonia. There are some place names in the world that are particularly evocative – Borneo, Sumatra, Zanzibar, Kamchatka, Samarkand. For me, one of the most evocative has always been Patagonia. It suggests wilderness, adventure, remoteness. It suggests the edge of the world.
In 1878, a lady traveller, Lady Florence Dixie, wrote of Patagonia: ‘Without doubt there are wild places more favoured by nature in many ways, but nowhere else are you so completely alone. Nowhere else is there an area of 10,000 square miles which you may gallop over, and where you are safe from the persecutions of fever, friends, telegrams, letters, and every other nuisance you are elsewhere to be exposed to.’
Since then, the outside world, or at least access to it, has reached Patagonia, but little else of her description has changed. It`s still a vast expanse of wilderness. The salient feature of Argentine Patagonia is its endless nothingness. For hour after hour we pass through grass and scrubland extending utterley flat to the horizon in every direction. Three things comprise the world outside our vehicle – the limitless, open landscape, the road – a lonely, narrow line through the emptiness, and predominantly, the sky…the biggest sky you can imagine. To say Patagonia is nothingness however is to do it an injustice. It`s the absolute, all encompassing nature of the nothing that produces the very total sense of something grand and magnificent. This is the edge of the world. South of Patagonia there lies only the ice of Antarctica. I`m here, and I feel immensely privilaged to be.
Mid-afternoon we come to the first sizeable settlement we`ve seen since Rio Colorado six hours earlier, Puerto Madryn (if anyone is following any of this on a map. about halfway down Argentina on the east coast). I disembark and find a place to stay. After two consecutive nights on buses, the prospect of a bed and a shower is a very welcome one. I also arrange my onward transport, a further 19 hours south by bus to Rio Gallegos, from where I can get a connection to El Calafate near the Chilean border, gateway to Glacier National Park and my next target, the Perito Moreno Glacier. Finally I sort out a tour for tomorrow to Reserva Faunistica Peninsula Valdes, the reason for stopping here, where hopefully I will be able to see southern right whales, elephant seals, penguins, and who knows what else.
Puerto Madryn is, it occurs to me, the first place on this trip I`ve seen the sea. The Atlantic Ocean is a calm, deep blue on this cloudless afternoon, and despite the latitude, Patagonia, in the fresh spring sunshine is warm and pleasant. Puerto Madryn has the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere of a coastal town, tempered with the frontier fortitude necessary to exist here, so far from the world.