Truth be told, I’ve never hitch-hiked in my life. Until now in South America (sorry mum!). Like most children from a young age, my sisters and I were drilled with the ‘never get into cars with strangers’ spiel. And for many years those words were etched into my mind. Until of course Uber arrived, and Ola and LYFT, and our mindsets toward the matter completely shifted. Willingly submitting our personal details and paying those unknown to us, to safely transport us across bigger cities and surrounds, throughout the world.
As you drive the length of Argentina, it’s not at all uncommon to see travellers (and locals) lining the roads in the heat of the sun, with their thumbs cued to the traffic.
My grandmother hitched her away around Europe as a single young woman. Perhaps you could argue that times have changed and the world is not as safe a place as it previously was. But today, the majority of us are armed with smartphones. We carry GPS tracking, Google Maps, and pre-programmed emergency call functions in our fingertips, everywhere. We’re connected. And it provides a considerable safety net that she, and others of her generation otherwise had.
However still. For many people (and places) hitching carries a negative stigma.
But here in Argentina, it’s absolutely the norm. As you drive the length of the country, it’s not at all uncommon to see travellers (and locals) lining the roads in the heat of the sun, with their thumbs cued to the traffic.
After spending two weeks volunteering on an eco-project in beautiful Confluencia Traful, about an hours drive from Bariloche in Patagonia, time had come to say ‘adios’. And though buses seldom drive the route, hitching from what seems ‘the middle of nowhere’ is seemingly a more reliable method.
So, for forty minutes, my boyfriend and I took to the roadside to find a ride back to civilisation. It’s definitely a patience game and one of which you needn’t become discouraged by as the many empty cars drive past. In my terrible Spanish I’d asked some people who pulled into the service station for a lift, only to be turned away. And so, back to the roadside I remained whilst C stood 100m further away. There we were, waiting in the heat of the afternoon sun with our sunglasses off to supposedly appear more friendly, yet squinting through the masses of volcanic ash that filled the air, and keeping a strong hold on my skirt to avoid the wrong kind of attention in the wind; all the while passing friendly waves to those who drove past and trying to remain positive that our time would soon come.
And it did, finally. A friendly older man from Chicago who in part grew up in Argentina pulled in to help us out. As I approached his window I completely lost my words in apprehension. Very gently, in perfect English he responds ‘what are you trying to say?’ As well cracked a joke about knowing how to work the system – in that the female should signal the traffic.
The road would bend and Douglas kept a straight line, using the gravel shoulders in place of lanes, and he drove as though he owned the way; front and centre at speeds between 90 – 150 km/hr.
We climbed into the very nice dual-cab Toyota that was filled to the brim with food items and felt relieved that Douglas seemed a kind man (non-serial killer like), so that for the next hour we could relax. Smartly dressed, he was on a month-long trip from the US to visit his family’s 3000 head of cattle ranch, disperse said food items to those in need, as well was trying to track down a long lost friend that he’s not even sure still resides in the area.
As he reached behind his seat to show us his very expensive horse-hide riding boots, with an oncoming motorcyclist in sight, I quietly freaked and reminded myself that this was a new car with good airbags!
As generous and interesting as he was, it didn’t take long to question this man’s driving abilities, what was in his system, as well our decision to ride with him. His acceleration was ridiculously inconsistent, with gentle motions of whiplash taking place for the full hour as he lobbed over the steering wheel. The road would bend and Douglas kept a straight line, using the gravel shoulders in place of lanes, and he drove as though he owned the way; front and centre at speeds between 90 – 150 km/hr. (And these roads are not at all built for speed!). As he reached behind his seat to show us his very expensive horse-hide riding boots, with an oncoming motorcyclist in sight, I quietly freaked and reminded myself that this was a new car with good airbags! Similarly, when he took out his phone and directed us to look through ‘all of his photos’ whilst we approached bends without his hands on the wheel at speed.
Douglas was a character. He meant incredibly well and was geared with the most random conversations. From growing up in Argentina and the workings of his ranch, gifting of food items and travel anecdotes, to his family members’ later in life circumcision (yep, you read correctly!). He cackled when he laughed and it wasn’t until he mentioned that he had Gin in the back (that was the perfect accompaniment to a recent party) that the penny really dropped.
High on life, definitely. But high on substance, perhaps… Or maybe he really was just a terrible driver?
Nonetheless, it was such a relief to arrive safely to Bariloche. Fuelled with adrenaline from Douglas’s chaotic ways, yet also grateful for people like him. Incredibly witty and kind, living in the moment and in search of an adventure. And it’s those like Douglas who are that little bit crazy, who take a chance on others, gift their time and efforts to help to make the world a better place. Kudos to them!
Thanks for the ride Douglas, and for the reminder that life is precious!