We head onto Ruta 40 as we leave Bariloche. In the morning sun, the cold lakes’ water evaporates and creates thin, smoke-like clouds on the surface, veiling the snow-capped mountains that frame the water. We peek at them through the thick forests as Gus – our truck – starts her drive south. Rocks gleam against the see-through blue of streams and the white of the surf. It looks mysterious and a little magical, like a scene out of an Arthurian legend.
Going south the landscape turns to steppe and it’s like stepping into The Lion King. Guanacos, the local llamas, run wild everywhere. Too often, their carcasses can be spotted through the window, usually caught in the fences that separate pieces of land and border up the road. Sometimes we slow down to let a rhea wobble across the road, its long neck bobbing forward and back. Fauna and flora come first in Patagonia.
Down south it’s all burnt yellows and washed-out algae greens; bucketloads of ocres – dust and sandy hills, sometimes turning rusty red or almost bright pink. Scattered piles of rocks cohabit with prickly evergreen. In the distance stands the solid deep purple of the mountains – here they are low and flat-topped, tracing a perfect line against the blue sky.
The wind ties it all up together. It’s shaped the land. Trees are bent and shrubs grow sideways. Huge clouds of dust follow everything and everyone, everywhere. It sticks to your clothes, your shoes; covers your face and settles in the lines of your hands, and its ashy taste is part of most meals.
We bush camp twice along Ruta 40. The first time, we find a large meadow-like spot away from the road, surrounded by trees. We build a fire surrounded by animal bones picked around the area. We’re up late drinking, hidden from the wind, warmed up by the fire.
The second night, we pitch our home close to a stream, and the few trees are this time no good at providing any refuge from the wind. It follows us everywhere – as we try and drape our flyovers on our tents; as we find a discrete spot in the bushes for a bathroom break; as we attempt to get rice and beans from our plates into our mouths. The one thing it comes handy for is drying our dishes.
And we’re back in the truck. Gus swirls around bends, braving trail roads as well as the endless asphalt, sometimes a little shaky from the gutsy gusts of wind. Off we go.