Our option was a simple one. A flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, at the far bottom of Argentina, would take four hours. A bus trip would take forty-eight hours. One promised a swift and uneventful passage. The other held possible boredom, sore backsides and potential insanity – but also a great adventure. What better way to see something so vast, so epic as Patagonia.
“It will be great” I promised, as we sat around the dinner table in Buenos Aires. “We’ll see mountains, lakes – maybe even a glacier” I was on a roll now, Simon’s eyes glistened with interest – Natasha eyed me suspiciously – but nevertheless laptops were opened and credit cards were brandished with the kind of excitement that comes after several bottles of fine Argentine Malbec.
Now it must be said, I had never been to Patagonia. These brash predictions came purely from a recently seen movie, and hazy images from National Geographic magazines years before. Still I felt fairly confident. There are mountains in Patagonia right?
We splurged a little to get full sleeper class. First class air travel has always been well above my pay grade, consequently I have always been forced to shuffle enviously through first class while the elite sip on champagne and attempt (poorly) to not look smug about the whole situation.
We marvelled in delight at our lazy boy chairs – large, puffy, leather contraptions that reclined so for back it in fact became a little uncomfortable. Other, less fortunate souls, shuffled past our half drawn curtain – gazing enviously into our little world – as we sat, and attempted (poorly) to not look smug about the whole situation.
Our bus charged out of the bus station and immediately became embroiled in the messy city rush hour. On the outskirts we stopped at another bus station and an odd, bespectacled middle aged woman nestled into the seat next to me. She was the kind of person you tend to make immediate assumptions of great dullness. The kind of person who might bring up cross stitching as a conversation starter – we didn’t talk much. She stared blankly ahead for hours on end, before moving, to my great relief, to another seat
Dinner was served. We made the mistake of eating our dessert before the main had arrived, but the generous servings of wine softened the blow. We settled down for the night with a movie and a hearty glass of champagne that allowed for a peaceful slip into slumber. It is a rare moment in life when you can fall asleep in a public place with an alcohol beverage in hand, safe in the knowledge that nobody will draw on your face.
The sun rose over a winter desert. We were surrounded by a brutal loneliness. Nothing but small shrubs stretched to the horizon in all directions – a deathly flatness. A tiny lake appeared by the side of the road, not a ripple visible as it reflected the perfect sunrise colours like a mirror. A rainbow appeared, which was a little odd, because it hadn’t rained. Then it started raining.
Small desolate little towns appeared out of the emptiness, then quickly disappeared. We made our way through the original Welsh communities of Puerto Madryn and Trelew settled in 1865 as a way of preserving their heritage from the ever encroaching English influence. Patagonia beat out a number of rival alternatives, namely New Zealand, Australia – and oddly, Palestine – because of its remoteness. I’m not sure about you but I would love to see how a fiery Welsh community smack bang in the middle holy land would have effected things to this day.
I gazed out of the window hoping to see a little slice of Wales – the streets were a mix of Jones and Mathews, but also Garcia and Ramos. I peered at the people we passed, hoping for some distinct Welsh characteristics. They seemed paler, possibly more European, but nothing dramatic – when a man with a curly afro of fiery red hair walked passed. I sat back, very happy with myself. Now I just needed some sheep.
We were kept ticking along with a steady stream of movies – one of which was ‘Alive’ which deals with a plane crash almost directly parallel west of us. I suspected it was to promote bus travel instead. Normally a red wine buzz at 4pm on a Tuesday might be construed as a bit of a problem, but in the middle of the Patagonian wilderness we fully embraced it. To our surprise we were treated to an on-board game of bingo, which took about twenty minutes to set up, and lasted about ten minutes – but was as much fun as ten minutes of bingo has ever been. Somebody from the peasant class upstairs won – we grumbled a little, reclined our chairs a little further and poured another glass of wine. We’ll let them have that one.
The sun, having made its journey over the bus, began to set. The orange glow of the morning returned once more. We managed to not screw up dinner, and settled into the second night of our journey.