The Day We Escaped Esquel

We last left you with a crazy hitchhiking story from our travels down to el Bolsón. Those of you who follow on social media know that we then made our way to Esquel, where we got stuck for a little while. Aidan and I are both of the opinion that Esquel doesn’t deserve to mentioned, at risk that we accidentally give it some free publicity. There may come a rainy day when I am somehow tempted to lay that story down (it includes a surprise blues concert, an old train, boxed wine passed around bunk beds, and a braided mullet), but for now suffice it to know that it’s a horrible little town that we had to escape.
Escape it we did, by means of another hitchhiking adventure of course! Now I am very aware that this subject has become a touchy one (re. a lecture received last time we Skyped home… Note to the mahoney grandparents: mom has offered to wire Aidan and me money so that we stop thumbing our way through South America. Our blatant disregard of this offer is purely due our reckless and adventure seeking nature, and not a reflection of our upbringing. Besides, this story is much better than the one we would have gotten if we’d ridden a bus: We got on a bus, slept for 10 hours, got off a bus. Boring!)
Instead, we headed out after being passively aggressively forced out of the hostel we’d made our home for the better part of a week. We walked out of town, looking for a good hitching spot: a long straight of way, preferably some shade to protect our depressingly still-white skin, and then ideally some wild fruit to scavenge. We found such a spot, but kept going because just beyond it was a particularly dusty man, also hitchhiking. If you’re to glean any wisdom from this post, let it be hitchhiking etiquette! It’s bad manners to set up in front of another hitchhiker – especially if you’re a girl with much better odds of getting picked up.
We eventually got a lift – by way of another car just as eager to get out of Esquel as we were I’m sure – and were left on the Ruta 40. Aidan and I took turns thumbing it on the highway, while the other rested in the shade. I was on the thumb shift when a massive transport truck pulled over, having spied Aidan plucking away at my guitar.


Killing time hitchhiking

We scrambled in – me on the bed (a feature of all camións) and Aidan in the passenger seat. Our driver, José, then politely demanded a private concert. Apparently the guitar, and the fact that we looked halfway clean, was the only reason he had picked us up. I was only too happy to oblige, and I played to my captive audience for the next two hours, stopping only when I ran out of songs [the highlight of the concert was when José held up his hand to stop Savannah so he could finish singing “Will you still love me tomorrow”. Carole king bridges all language barriers] .

Camión concert!

José dropped us off several hours later at a gas station in Rio Mayo, which is where we set up our tent. As far as campsites go, I can’t exactly recommend the rear of a gas station – the wild street dogs made for some interesting night companions, and the policeman we met while going to the bathroom made us question the legality of our accommodation [but it did have the best wifi so far]. Nevertheless, Aidan and I managed a few hours of sleep before the next long leg of our journey.

Gas station camping – we started our own community, complete with neighbours!

We headed for the 40 again, and got a ride with a lovely family of three. We told them that our plan was to cross over to Chile that day, to which they responded that they had no idea there was a border crossing near this part of Argentina. But we had assurances from our dear friend José that the Lago Blanco-Balmaceda crossing was the one to choose. We nodded our heads indulgently as the family voiced their doubts, and left them at our planned intersection. How we should have listened to that family!

Ruta 260 appears to be a straight road running perpendicular to the 40, leading straight into Chile. Google told us we’d be there in three hours. What Google failed to take into account was the that the road was 200 kilometres of gravel. And that the only ones to typically drive down it are transport drivers, in trucks that would break at any speed exceeding 30 kilometres per hour. The truck that picked us up never went faster than 20.

His name was Baldy O’Ryan (name changed to protect his identity [no it’s not, that’s just his trucker nickname (yeah I’m not too concerned about him reading this…)]. He seemed to be a nice enough guy, if not without a few quirks. I was ready to kill him by the end of our drive.

All smiles at the beginning of the journey…

If you check out the aerial photos of Patagonia, you’ll see green mountains to the west, and a great expanse of yellow to the east. This desert – with it’s vast plains, far off blue mountains, and pillow like bushes- is probably objectively beautiful. Getting stabbed in the ass by one of those bushes on a wilderness pee break drove all thought of beauty out of mind. My thoughts turned instead to my hatred of our crazy truck driver, who delighted in sharing his views on Bolivians (lazy and ugly), Argentinians (untrustworthy), and Chilean superiority (apparently even their hotdogs were better). What kept me sane was Aidan’s music – I’ll let her tell you this story.

Baldy was apparently enamoured by Canadian musicians, but his favourite / love of his life was Shania Twain. He knew everything about her and dreamed of her coming to Chile and falling in love with a certain hair challenged truck driver. When he was unable to find her music on his phone, I offered up my own playlist. I played all of my Shania collection, then I played more that he claimed to like – some Buble, Celine Dione, one Sinatra. And then he started his racist rant and I put on a playlist our dads would have enjoyed plus a few musical numbers thrown in there. Savannah and I sang along for the next 6 hours. I think he stopped appreciating my music by hour 2.

The Patagonian desert

Then we crossed the border. To our disbelief, Baldy O’Ryan had been telling the truth about Chile. For the first time in 8 hours, we drove on a paved road. The deserts disappeared, to be replaced by the most lush hills and mountains I’d ever seen. Every turn of the road brought another breathtaking vista – once again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

By the time we got to Coyhaique, Aidan and I were both completely in love with Chile. We were in no hurry to take off (or to get in another vehicle), and have been staying at a farm for the past week. More stories to come!

Savannah’s last insta pic – I went radio silent after posting this, making mom believe I’d been abducted

Sneak peak of the farm life


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One Response to The Day We Escaped Esquel

  1. Naomi Bissell says:

    Dear Aidan and Savannah
    I am so enchanted by your story telling and photos! If you were my daughter’s I would be on tranquilizers..may the travel goddess keep you safe.
    What a journey and what an adventure!! Happy to follow along in my armchair traveller!
    Auntie Naomi

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