Gobernador Gregores to El Calafate, Feb. 10, 2020
Argentine Patagonia is exactly what you expect: an endless horizon. Once past the Chilean-Argentinean border, the mountains remain behind, the peaks smooth out, gradually thinning out, and the landscape takes on a linear shape. The green hues of Chile give way to lighter tones veering to yellow and brown. Intense tree lines turn into a petrified road that opens majestically before us.
After only a few steps on Argentine soil, with the same serenity of someone returning home after a long journey, we compartiamo (share, ed.) a mate, passing it hand to hand. And so we enter the heart of this legendary land.
Ruta 40 runs parallel to the Andes Mountains cutting across the country from north to south and, with its 5117 kilometres, is the longest road in all of Argentina.
Ruta 40 is unforgiving You walk through it slowly, almost asking permission. But you have to be convinced and face it head-on, otherwise, you have no chance. Sections of asphalt alternate with a treacherous dirt road made of grit, gravel and sand. Dust and wind, a wind that lashes you, a wind that comes suddenly, leaves, and then knocks on the door again. You ride Ruta 40 like you’re on eggs. Stand on your feet, keeping your weight back for extra balance and giving gas when you start to sway so that your speed allows you to get through the slide unscathed. The tires here are kept a little deflated for extra grip, and you hope the Gauchito’s gaze is always with you.
The meeting with Gauchito Gil on Ruta 40.
The wandering prophet, Gauchito Gil, finds his home on all the roads of Argentina to deep Patagonia. These are small houses placed along the route where travellers pay their respects or even a simple greeting to what is considered the nation’s most important secular tradition from the colour of silver. At the first one we met, on Ruta 40, we stopped and left, as was the custom, something dear to us but which we could do without. The last cigarette given to the Gauchito was our small sacrifice, and his greeting accompanied us to El Calafate.
Along Ruta 40, the dust gets inside you. You feel it crunch in your lungs and end up in your blood. The dust of Argentine Patagonia we will take home with us: once we encounter it, it is impossible to shake it off. It is his gift, the coin in the Trevi Fountain to come back, one day, breathless again to ride the roads of this land of infinite horizons.