The bus roars silently as we drive through the vast plains of Patagonia. The landscape changes not ever-so-suddenly; within mere moments the snow capped mountains and the tall, thick green evergreens transform into a rolling summer steppe. Short, stubbly shrubs and pockets of grass are peppered with grazing herds of sheep. The spectrum of deep green and blue grasses against the golden yellow sand and rock carefully coexist with the jagged mountain ranges that touch the low, dramatic cloud formations in the sky.
I can recall the cloudless, sunny skies from only hours before: the impressively green mountain ranges created undulations of height along the horizon its negative spaces offeredglimpses of their snow-capped counterparts in the distance. The lush countryside was dominated by monkey puzzle trees, evergreens, purple and pink lupines, and yellow flowers. Severely still, turquoise colored lakes emerged between the valleys.
But this image is gone now, as it’s replaced by the Patagonian steppe. Sunshine and cloudy skies are at play, creating paintings of shapes along the rolling hills. The strong winds pull the vegetation in our direction, as if guiding us along our path. Within the blink of an eye comes the rain. It departs as quickly as it came, leaving behind only the clouds that create a kaleidoscope of shadows below it.
The tiny houses offer evidence of life among the severe vastness, quickly disappearing as if a mirage. Blending along the hillsides that protect them from the elements, blurred into the landscape. Bless the farmers who live along this desolate route. Summer brings them the daylight, but winter takes away their heat as fast as it does the light. One can only imagine their lives on the plains as the seasons change.
Horses rest, cows graze, rheas care for their newborn babies, and wanaca gallop up the hills and across the plains in packs. These wild animals are never alone, except for the majestic condor, seen only once. A rare sighting as the largest bird in the world glided slowly close to us, looking for prey.
And then, the flatness of the steppe transforms the scene. The ever expansive flatness extends for miles and miles, extending all the way to the horizon, withnot a a hill or mountain in sight. We drive through a piercing 6pm sunlight that won’t meet darkness for another four hours. Pink flamingos wade in the little ponds along the road and baby armadillos cross the highway. Utter flat nothingness. The wind is strong and the sky is dotted with white clouds. We are taken off road, for miles on end, slowly tumbling along in the gravel. I realize how foreign we are in this land, in the way we’ve invaded the sea life within Earth’s deepest oceans we’ve crossed paths with the flora and fauna in Patagonia, only to be completely humbled by what we explore.
I had the pleasure of riding 1,386 km (861 miles) along Route 40 on a two day drive from Bariloche to El Chaltén (and will go back on this route at a later date for a four hour ride El Chaltén to El Calafate). Route 40 is the longest route in Argentina, and one of the longest in the world, stretching 5,000 km (3,107 miles) from the province of Santa Cruz in the south to Jujuy in the north, and running parallel to the Andes Mountains. Two, 12 hour stints of driving along this route gave me an incredible sense of the Patagonian landscape, and above are the reflections of my experience while on the road.