Day 1: Buenos Aires – Libano (2)
It’s another 100 kilometers to Sierra de la Ventana. Technically we could make it in an hour. However, in real-time we are not that fast, which is fine with me. In fact I don’t know: the odometer doesn’t work, neither velocity nor number of total kilometers. I stop at a Gauchito Gil memorial site, where I pay my respects and watch the sunset. I hope the Gaucho, patron of all on the road, will make a bit of an effort.
At 8.30 p.m., long past daylight hours, I decide it is time to find a place to sleep. I am driving on a very straight, two lane road in a landscape of pasture and emptiness. A sign reads wild camping is not allowed, but I’m not sure how to interpret that: does it mean where there is no sign, it is allowed? After todays’ rubbing shoulders with the law I decide not to try my luck.
As in a fata morgana huge capital letters reading L I B A N O doom up on the right at both side of the turn off. Reminding me of H O L L Y W O O D, but expecting something less over the top, I drive into town. And out again. Oops. It’s all dark around again. I turn and park in front of the super market which is one of few places that has lights on and people around.
Tentatively I ask if there is any place to crash (‘be careful what you ask for’, a friend of mine would say). The guy behind the counter looks at me and shakes his head, saying there is no hotel or camping. ‘You can sleep in your car on the side of the park’, he suggests. Then, ‘Wait here!’, and leaves, leaving me somewhat surprised. Within a minute he comes back with a friendly woman, who tells me to follow her. That night I stay with Maria Alicia and her husband in their home. Jimi proudly stands in the driveway. We make the bed together and she apologizes for the bathroom being reconstructed. I wave away her concern, saying that me staying in her home is already a lot more than I could have hoped for. She points me another somewhat basic shower and apologizes again.
At night at the kitchen table we talk about my trip while eating empanadas and drinking cooled red wine. Maria Alicia urges me to leave a message on Facebook to let ‘them’ know I’m fine. On her old-fashioned computer with dial-up access, I write: day 1, on my way, about 500 kilometers up to Libano plus a few (actually, a lot) more around Buenos Aires, one fine. Jimi is doing fine, it feels great to be on the road, so far so good.
I wake up being bitten by Juan, a cute little grey-and-white blue-eyed doggy, less than three months old. If he’s not biting me, he’s biting anything. Maria Alicia has her hands full with this disaster on legs. I planned to leave early, but the very friendly, helpful school teacher, professional tourist guide and obviously the man of the house all-in-one, Maria Alicia, makes me toast and jam, takes out her Turistel guide and together with my road map we look at possible routes to go. Once past Sierra de la Ventana, she advises me to take the road to Bahia Blanca and Viedma, and then the coastal road to San Antonio Oeste and crossing Patagonia to get to Bariloche, where I am visiting my Belgian friend Leentje. ‘It’s not the shortest route, but surely the best’, dictates Maria Alicia, passing sea-lion colonies, cliffs and Mapuche villages along the Patagonian rail track. I decide that’s the way to go: slow traveling, taking in the sights along the road and making some detours to get the most out of my trip.
It’s 11.30 p.m. already when I get going, but not before we have a photo session with Juan and me and I get a prolonged, warm hug from Maria Alicia, who gets slightly emotional saying goodbye. I’ve got a new tiny friend. And a big one too. I feel very happy. If this is what my trip is gonna be like, I’m in for a hell of a time.
Next episode: Hell breaks loose.