“Sweety wake up..” I hear from a distance. Slowly I open up my eyes. It`s still dark in the room. “Urggg…. Are you crazy? What time is it? 4 o `clock in the morning or something? I mumble to Grant with a grumpy tone, while I turn myself around, pulling my blankets with as a sign of protest. “No you silly goose. It`s already after 9am. We have to hurry, otherwise we miss out on breakfast.” Shocked by this news, I jump up and look around the dorm. All the beds are empty and most backpacks are perfectly packed and zipped, awaiting their own owners for a next adventure. Quickly I look at mine, but unfortunately there was no sign of Marry Poppins who magically organized my stuff. My backpack still looked like the after effect of a firework explosion. As a last form of confirmation I grab my phone, she shows the inevitable: it`s 10 minutes after 9.
“Ahh fuck… ok, give me some time to wake up.” Still half asleep I put my clothes on and make my way to the kitchen. “Ah there she is! Our sleeping beauty.” Says my German roommate from dorm bed number 6. Much more kindness than a mild smile and wave I can`t give him in return. I put some toast with `Dulce de Leche` (a traditional Argentinean caramel spread) on my plate, and try to balance the explosion of calories out by adding an orange and an apple on the side.
“Where shall we start hitch hiking?”, asks Grant, once we finally all packed up walk beside the road. "Let`s go up to the roundabout, from there the traffic leaves to `Ruta 40` which leads to `El Chalten`.” After waiting for several minutes, a minivan pulls over. “Hello, mates! Where are you blokes going?” The long blond pony-tail appeared to be top photographer David Wayne Swift and more than happy to drop us at the cross point with `Ruta 40`. “This road here leads to El Chalten. Just wait beside the billboard for passing traffic. You`ll need some luck, there is not a lot of cars passing, and a lot of hitch hikers.” We thank him for his advice and sit down on our backpacks in the comfy warm sun. We look around us. There is nothing between us and the horizon. We are literarily in the middle of nowhere. David was right, a small half an hour later another car pulls over, dropping of a couple. It appeared to be a French/Chilean couple we shared the back of Ute with for 5.5 hours through the freezing cold flats. We were all freezing our fingers off, so I decided to pull my sleeping bag out of my backpack as good and as well the turns and bumps in the road would allow me. Once my little mission was finally completed, I zipped my sleeping bag open and threw it over our legs. We did not allow the cold to pull down our joy. We saw several Guanaco`s (a species of lama) and breathtaking landscapes. Once a couple condors flew along with us for a while, I couldn`t care less that my lips were turning blue and that I couldn`t my fingers were almost freezing off my hands.
The couple slowly approaches us and start laughing as soon as they recognize us. “Hey, how are you guys doing?” asks the girl. “Yeah good, bit quiet when it comes to traffic, but well… The sun is shining, we can`t complain. You guys want some crackers with pate? We got it from a truck driver.” The couple politely say no to the offer and make their way (completely meeting up with the unwritten hitchhikers laws) to a spot 100 meter further down the road.
Hours pass by, we get more and more bored. We decide to start a game of monopoly on the IPad, but once Grant after his 6th turn still didn`t land on a street to buy, the atmosphere has dropped to a level which would make a funeral look like a nice way to catch up with friends and family. Then all of a sudden a car approaches, as if God sent angel it comes closer, making its way over the hills. We start waving our thumbs up and down. It`s already 4 PM and the closest we have come to a hitchhike was a lost Guanaco walking past. The car comes closer, we see the driver discussing with his wife. I put my pageant smile on and try to send out as much charm as I possibly can. Unfortunately without any success, the car drives passed. Then, just fifty meters further, in front of the other couple, it makes a stop. The girl quickly gets up her feet and runs to the car. “To El Chalten?” the girl asks. She waves to her boyfriend, who quickly grabs their bags and both of them jump in the car. Leaving Grant and me behind in astonishment. “Did they just steal our ride? They didn`t even mention that we were here first…” I mumble softly. “You got to be kidding me!” Grant shouts out. “They know we don`t have a tent. It`s getting dark. If we don`t get a ride out of here, we`re screwed. They came here later than us and still they steal our ride.” Filled with anger, he grabs a stone from the ground and throws it towards a white-bleached smile of some fake super model, promoting El Calafate as the capital of glaciers. A loud `dong` echoes through the valley once the stone hits the billboard and then softly lands in front of the Guanaco, who raises up his head as a sign of astonishment. Softly chewing some brown pieces of desert grass. “Come on Grant. Are you done being grumpy and sad about the world and life? Calm down”
Grant kicks against another rock. “No I`m not calming down. It`s %&/( rude of them to steal our ride. I feel let down by humanity!” I start laughing. “Let down by humanity? Did you forget about all the amazing people we met on the way. People like Camilo, saving us from a freezing gas station. Giving us food, coffee and his bed while he drives us down for 7 hours along the coast. Yet now you let yourself get swept off your feet by just 2 random idiots. We start arguing and quickly the argument turns into a fight. It gets me to a point that I`m so fed up with the whole situation that I grab my back and start walking back to the cross point. “Where are you going?” Grant shouts. “Anywhere, I don`t care, as long as I get myself away from here!” A truck appears from the distance, going in the direction of the town we just came from. “I`ll show you some hitchhiking mister!” I think to myself, while I pretend I`m not looking at Grant. As elegantly as possible I raise my thumb in the air and flick my hair back. The car comes closer….beeps a couple of times…..and then passes with 40 miles an hour, making my hair dance from underneath my beanie. With one eye I secretly observe Grant`s reaction. He nearly rolls off his backpack from laughing. We continue ignoring each other for a couple more minutes. Then it`s Grant who puts his pride aside and walks up to me. I stubbornly look in the other direction, pretending I don`t see his action. “Would you please come back and sit next to me. It`s so boring alone with the Guanaco, we just don`t have a lot to talk about you know…” I laugh about his joke. “Ok, if you promise to be less of a grump.” “Deal” says Grant. A jeep approaches from the other direction, going back to the town we just came from. “Let`s try I get this one, at least we get back to civilization. If we`re lucky we can still try to catch a bus.” Grant states wisely. We both raise up our thumbs. As a gift from heaven, the car pulls over and a massive hell-angel-alike figure steps out of the car, exposing his perfectly trimmed mohawk. “Uhm… pineapple..?” (our secret code for potential trunk killers) Grant whispers softly in my ear. “No, I think this is fine.” I say while nodding to the 6 year old girl sitting on the passenger’s seat. “You poor guys look like you`re in deep trouble out of here. Jump in!” laughs the hells angel, while he opens the door for us. “Don`t forget to put on your seatbelt, safety first!”
While we`re cruising through the landscape, I think about what happened today. Of all the cars that had driven passed, most of them had a little cross on their hind mirror or an image of the Virgin Mary on the window. Some had a massive Ute or even plenty of space on their backseat. No one of them stopped to pick us up. Finally we`re saved by a man who most people would avoid when meeting him in a dark alley. Well as we all say: Help always comes from those you least expect.
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