As we are leaving the Hotel Patagonia a very excited guy came up to us to tell us he was also travelling Ruta 40 in an old car but his was a 1920s Ford – I’ll leave it to my ex-Ford friends to identify the year and model. A short detour via the waterfront which is totally deserted this morning but gets more interesting towards the end where there huge piles of rusting machinery from earlier eras. In one yard there are rows of old boilers and steam engine parts in advanced stages of decay. Maybe an opportunity for someone to come in and preserve the history of Rio Gallegos in a museum?
We then rejoined the main highway out of town and were amazed by what appeared to be recently installed overhead lighting. Elegant poles and light fittings which continued for the next 26 km! How can a country with a debt problem like Argentina’s commit to a folly like this?
Apart from one lonely cyclist there was nothing for the next 200 or so km – no towns, no cross roads, just barren brown pampas. Lago Argentina looked just as impressive, this time heading northwards. On the way down we had passed right by the lonely hotel at La Leona but this time we stopped to find out more about its connection with celebrities. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid here for a month after robbing the Bank of London in Rio Gallegos in 1905 and lasted another 5 years before being killed in an epic shootout in Bolivia. We think of Ned Kelly as a bushranger who got around a bit but he was a rank amateur compared with these guys.
El Chalten is another Mecca for trekkers but tiny compared with El Calafate and less developed. No phone coverage, just one ATM and mind-numbingly slow internet. One guy we met had spent two days trying to send an email. The big attraction are the Fitzroy ranges – 3400m high with jagged ice and snow covered peaks. The town is full of young people, mostly serious walkers, which is pretty refreshing compared with Australia where most walkers are people just like us. The town has a real hippy feel to it so this evening we find a restaurant called Techado Negro with good vegetarian options. Good food and very drinkable malbec at $10 a bottle but the table full of noisy Americans just behind us was a bit of a downer. The guy at the next table leant over and asked where we from – once he had established we were Australians, we jointly reflected on how much space people from different cultures could dominate.