“Excuse me madam, but the next bus to Lago Hermoso is leaving in 6 hours.” I raise my eyebrows. “…. 6 hours?! And how am I supposed to make a hike around the lake if I arrive there at 5pm?’ The attendant looks back with the unimpressed facial expression which resembled the look of a zombie. “Again, I`m sorry madam, but it`s low season. May I suggest you take a taxi down? So you can enjoy this sunny day down at the lake. Goodbye!” And with a big `slam` he shuts down the window to start his low season siesta. “What do we do now?’ I ask Grant, a bit disappointment by the fact we might not be able to go on a hike today. “We could try hitchhiking down.
There is enough couples standing on the side of the road, so why don`t we?” For a couple of seconds I allow different voices to cross my mind. The voice of my concerned mother, the voice of that adventurous chick hitchhiking through Africa by herself, the voice of CSI with their rotten bodies in the back of trucks. But when I finally hear the voice of Carolina, my Argentinian friend, who I met on the farm in Arteaga, I know everything is going to be alright. She has been traveling alone through South America, only by hitchhiking without any problems. Grant looks at me with a big frown above his eyebrows. “Yes ok, why not.” I sigh while I casually shrug my shoulders.
We pick up a piece of cardboard at the supermarket and write with big letters `Lago Hermoso`. Somewhat nervous we choose a spot in the street that leads to the onramps of the highway. “Ok, there we go..” I think to myself. Some horror stories of other hitch hikers pop into my mind. Like the one of a couple that had to wait 3 hours in the middle of nowhere, before a car finally freed them from the freezing cold wind.
Three cars are appearing from the distance. Somewhat clumsy I put my shoulders back, raise the sign high and wave my thumb up and down. The second car pulls over and opens the door. “Wow, that was easy!” says Grant. After a quick look into the car, during which we were greeted by a friendly smiling 65+ couple, we jumped on the back seats. One hour, a piece of paper full of travel tips and many stories later, the couple drops us off at a restaurant. “Just follow that gravel road, it will bring you to Lago Hermoso within an hour.” The couple drives of and we wave them goodbye. The sun is softly warming up are skin, making it feel like one of those perfect summer days back home. Time flies bye and before we know it, it`s 5pm, time to head back to the bus. We ask the restaurant owner what time the bus leaves, but he doesn`t seem to know. “I`m not sure, but I think it doesn`t pass before 7pm.” His friend behind him puts his thumb in the air, waving it up and down. Grant and I look at each other. Why not… and for the second time we take the hitch hikers position. A gracefully as possible I smile to the cars flying by on the pavement. After 15 minutes I was done with it and ask Grant if he wanted to swap. Then, all of a sudden a car stops and the same couple from earlier in the day appear. “Need a ride back to San Martin?” the man smiles from underneath his moustache. Without a second of hesitation, we get in the car. These experiences can`t be beaten by the most beautiful lakes in the world.
The south is waiting for us. We are about halfway through Argentina and although taking selfies is not our biggest specialty, taking one with us in front of the sign `End of the world` (the most southern point of the continent), is definitely on the list. About 2500 km left, so time to get our butts on the pavement again. As hitch hiking is a much more fulfilling traveling experience, we decided to forget about buses and put the thumbs in the air on the same spot as yesterday. This time we got picked up by a middle aged couple who appeared to be better travel guides than all the lonely planets combined. Filled with pride, they tell about the different lakes, the impact of a volcanoes eruption and much more. Just before the end destination they take us to a viewing point for a group picture in front of the lake. After a short drive, we arrive at the `center` of Villa la Angostura. A hug and a kiss to say our gratitude and goodbyes, knowing we would, most probably, never see each other again.
Grant had found a `couch` for us on the website `couch surfing`. A website for travelers. The idea: making your own couch/bed available when you are at home and have the access to couches/beds of others while traveling. The result: best inside travel information, friend`s for life and not spending a penny.
We ring the bell of a small, cute, wooden bungalow in the middle of the forest. Chalo opens the door, gives us the traditional Argentinian kiss on the check and introduces us to the 4 other `couchsurfers` that stay with him. The living room is combined with the kitchen and not bigger than 12 by 2 meters. The mattress leaning against the wall reveal a somewhat improvised way of life. As well as the creatively ordered kitchen. Chalo tells us that because of his work, he`s not able to travel the world. By receiving travelers he still has the ability to have a taste of traveling. “I learn so much every day. About the world, about religion, politics, you name it. It gives me so much energy to receive people from all over the world.” Camila, a fellow couchsurfer hands him a plate of spaghetti. `….. and it gives good food!` Chalo ends his speech with a wink. I chuckle. “Bon provecho!”
More and more people enter the house. A friend of a Brazilian couple that sleeps here as well and a Polish/South African couple that got lost and are looking for a place to stay. We ended up with 10 people. Quite a challenge for me and Grant as we promised to cook for everybody tonight. Everyone gives there last bits of rice, beans, vegetables, etc. and after the necessary improvisation we managed to put a decent meal on the table for everybody. Bottles of wine are making their circles among the group of wanderers, stories are being exchanged, the guitars are brought out of their bags, the dust is wiped of the drums and maracas are made from empty bottles with uncooked rice. As good and as bad as it goes we sing along with classics like `summer of 69` and `besame`. The clock keeps moving forward, taking the level of wine in their bottles with it. On the point that nobody can keep their eyes open, the couches are put aside, the mattresses are `tetris-ed` on the floor and everybody finds himself a spot to sleep.
It`s the second night we stay at Chalo`s place. Chalo took all the other `surfers` out to the village for a small guided tour around. Grant and I decided to stay behind and enjoy the return of the piece by playing a game of monopoly. Just on the moment I`m buying Mayfair I hear a peeping sound coming from outside. Filled with curiosity, I open the door. A pair of chestnut brown eyes look up to me. It`s a blond stray dog. “Ah little cutie, what are you doing here? Wait let me call the owner of the house, maybe you can spend the night here.” Luckily, Chalo answers the phone and I tell him the story. “No problem.” he answers. “Just put an old blanket in front of the heater and give her some water and food.”
The left over ravioli is gratefully eaten out the pan and the water is splashed out of the tupperware box. Everybody puzzles their mattresses back on the ground while Corina (as we decided to call the dog) keeps everybody awake with an intense loud snoring. I stare at the ceiling. My eyes move around the room and catch the outline of Corina, move over the other travelers and then finally get stuck at a little mountain of blankets with Chalo underneath it. He, the owner of the house, is sleeping on the most uncomfortable couch you can ever imagine. His house is smaller than many Hobbit holes and he has a fulltime job. Still he`s happy to help out everybody. I think back of the couples that gave us a ride. All people that didn`t knew us and still willing to trust us and help us. No requests to pay for gasoline, not asking to pay for gas and water. Just helping somebody out, without the need of a favor. They`re still there, people, good people who are really there for one another. On the background Corina produces her biggest snore of the night and I think to myself `What a wonderful world.`
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto