This past week I was gone in the Andean Northwest in Argentina. Along with my boyfriend and two of our amigos, I experienced an intense Carnaval under Tilcara’s bright sun, saw Incan ruins, ate llama, camped in the cold Andes, and viewed the Hill of Seven Colors. There is much to tell, to start off I’ll share my experience of the beginning of our 20 hour car ride.
March 2014, Salta, Argentina
We drive through the flat Argentine countryside and the air smells fresh and clean. There are no hills, only farmland and vast stretches of grassy pasture. It doesn’t look particularly lush. The greens are faded; light greens mixed with hints of brown and a slight yellow tinge. The road is two lanes only, but the drivers speed as if on the expressway. Swerving out from behind the car they want to pass, and often jerking the car right back upon seeing the headlights of another vehicle coming at them.
The way people swerve their cars and drive at top speed as if they are in a race frightens me. I do not have as much faith in life as them. They think that if it has never happened to them before, it will never happen. I thought most people outgrew that theory after their early twenties. I think the Argentine people never do.
It’s difficult to find a car in Buenos Aires that doesn’t have damage from a collision. Accidents are so commonplace you can back into a car and if you don’t do anything major it is perfectly normal to take off without leaving a note. I have seen a man on a motorcycle get hit by a car and after a quick and vocal exchange of unpleasantries, the guilty party just drove off. No one, not even the victim, was bothered by the aftermath of the hit and run.
Swampy mud ponds line the road. Every now and again a small metal windmill pops up next to a rickety fence. Mainly all you see is wide open plains until the horizon, along with the never ending abandoned power line poles, short wooden and bent, with no electric lines to be had. As it gets flatter, the trees disappear in the distance and look like a mirage fading in and out of view.
We stopped at a Parrilla for lunch. Then guys chatted away in Castellano while I viewed the world through the lens of my camera. I glanced at the menu as Alejandro held it.
“You tell me what I can have,” I waved my options away. Not to give up power but to stave off the temptation to indulge in something that was strictly against the doctor’s orders.
“Chori? Dos chorizo? Babe?” Alejandro looked at me as I looked at him through my camera.
“Yeah. And potatoes or something, oh they have puré. That.” I aimed the camera up and snapped a shot of the sign “Parrilla” brightly painted next to the flag of Argentina. The flag was caught at the end and awkwardly flapping in the wind like the balloon of a sail.
I tried to avoid eye contact with anyone at the table. I wasn’t trying to avoid interacting, I just felt guilty for still not being able to speak Spanish, so I shrink into the background and let their culture take center stage.
I quietly and slowly ate my instant mashed potatoes and butterflied chorizo. I only munched through two-thirds of it. It was my first attempt at eating small meals. More doctor’s orders.
After spending the better part of 20 minutes swatting away flies and quietly giggling at the trip of puppies begging for scraps, we piled back into the car. Another leg of the journey began.
When the landscape changes it is subtle upon first glance. The plants are ever so slightly greener, the air wetter. Looking far into the distance it becomes apparent that there are mountains. These mountains descend from heavy clouds, matching the darkest blue shade of the clustered cloud formations which disguise the mountain peaks.
As we get closer and begin to gradually climb the foothills, there are more trees. The trees come in shapes and sizes I’ve only seen in books and on television. They remind me of the Joshua tree in the desert, only greener and gathered together in luscious forests. The road starts to become less straight with more extreme bends in the road. Fewer clear spots to pass at, but less cars to pass. The mountains then turn green, distinguishing themselves from the clouds that still hover above them.
When we stopped for gas, I tried to rouse myself from my Dramamine induced exhaustion. It doesn’t matter where I am, my eyes will always droop when I’m in a vehicle. Even worse when I’ve taken a motion sickness pill.
When I got to the bathroom a woman was standing outside it washing clothes by hand. I’ve done that, but only in Argentina and India. The bathroom was hardly finished, it looked like it was supposed to have a shower. The sky was visible through large cracks that separated the tin roof and the tiled wall. At least the bathroom was clean, although it lacked any soap or toilet paper.
Again I wished I could speak Spanish, there are so many questions I had about that woman’s life. Not out of strange curiosity, but because people are interesting. I like to hear people’s stories.
Once in the car again, Alejandro fills our mate gourd with mate. Santiago adds sugar and hot water. Everyone shares the drink, refill after refill.
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