Day 3: Bahia Blanca – Bahia Creek
It’s a long stretch of 275 kilometers of straight, unassuming road to Viedma. I am excited to get there, as somehow it feels like my road trip is really starting there, on the border between Buenos Aires province – a.k.a. civilisation – and Patagonia.
Carmen de Patagones, with Viedma on the other side of the rio Negro, is where in 1779 some of the first settlers in Patagonia started to make a living. Later there’d be plenty of time to get to know both. For now the road calls. But Jimi and I have officially made it to Patagonia!
Between Viedma and San Antonio Oeste lie some 265 kilometers of coastal road number 1. One of very few remaining passenger trains, el Tren Patagonico, rides the same stretch and continues on to Bariloche on the west side of Argentina. Exactly where I’m going, that is, according to plan.
First stop is El Condor, a beach town. It’s not exactly Saint Tropez.
So I keep going. The road is in a deteriorated state. It’s supposed to be asphalted, but feels like I am driving on the moon: all potholes. Jimi, eager as he is, shakes and moans on the crater like surface. I really have to hold him back. He may look fierce, but seems somewhat fragile. I wouldn’t want to break something here on this lonely road. Then the remains of what once was a smooth road turn into gravel and it’s a respite. Except for the washboards, a result of wind and rain forming persistent waves in the gravel. Many years and many roads back actually I thought these would firm my butt. That never happened.
After 60 kilometers and experiencing some minor inconveniences with Jimi shutting off automatically when gearing down, I reach the loberia. There’s a guard on duty, who takes me to what I came here to see: sea lions. Wow. My first view over the Patagonian coastline is tremendous. The sand cliffs are high and eroded and reach as far as the eye can see. The beach hosts a huge colony of 4.000 resident sea lions and their many pups in this time of the year. They form a long string of sausages on the beach. The refreshing wind blows away any concerns I had.
Inspired by the awesome views and happily cruising on reasonable gravel, I drive another 30 kilometers when I hear a sudden loud sound. Jimi seems unmanageable and then stops all together. ‘What the hell was that?’ goes through my mind. Jimi remains silent. Nothing. I pretend knowing something about car mechanics, open the hood and look for something unusual in the essence of a car. Really I have no clue at all.
Suddenly he looks very fragile and tiny. Strangely I feel sad for him, not for me. We are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by semi desert steppe landscape and I have seen three cars so far this day. Fortunately there is plenty of space for camping.
After about 40 minutes a car comes up the road and stops. Silvia and Juan, coming from Buenos Aires, get out. ‘Que tal?’, she asks, and sticks her nose under the hood. Within 15 seconds she reports: engine oil spilled and air filter broken. I see that too now, although I wouldn’t have guessed it was that. The filter thing leans somewhere between the motor and ventilator. It might have cut the oil tube.
They suggest to take out my valuables and drive with them up to the nearest town – if any – to see if I can get help. I look back at my car. Leaving him behind lies heavy on my stomach. Silvia meantime hits the gas relentlessly. We check the mileage, drink mate and eat cake while driving and chatting about our adventures on the road. I’d almost forget that this is only day 3 of my trip. With all the things that happened so far it seems like I’ve been on the road for a couple of weeks already. We have a good laugh about it, decide that it’s just bad luck and all part of the adventure. Juan tells me not to worry, anything can be solved. I hold on to that for now.
After about 40 kilometers of gravel road a small village dooms at the horizon. Bahia Creek, the sign says. In fact it’s the only village on the stretch between Viedma and San Antonio Oeste. The only permanent resident is at home.