The Gambit of Patagonia

“So of old we’re alone in a car at night bashing down the line to a specific somewhere, nothing nowhere about it whatever, especially this time, in a way- That white line is feeding into our fender like an anxious impatient electronic quiver shuddering in the night.......

                                                                                                                                                                                      Jack Kerouac

Im not a gambling man, By that I mean I’ve never bet any of my hard earned on the off chance of loosing it. I’ve never felt the need to risk something I’ve worked hard for in a game of chance. It only indignafies your efforts and all you’ve accomplished to earn it. And for me that holds no excitement whatsoever, win or loose. 
Thats not to say that I don’t take risks, don’t gamble a different kind of asset. Indeed I was about to enter the greatest gambling den in all of Argentina, the inhospitable deserts of Patagonia.

30 or so Kilometres south of Senillosa there is a junction, not a ’T’ but a huge, enormous roundabout which enables cars, trucks and even the gargantuan oil tankers that ply this route to maintain their speed whether heading north towards Neuquén, west to the oilfield and Zapala or south the the great wilds of Patagonia.

5 months previous me and Ed spent 2 days trying to hitch out of Senillosa to go south towards Bariloche. We eventually picked up a ride to this desolate junction in the desert from a guy heading west to Zapala. On reaching the oversized Roulette wheel in the scorching summer sun we were horrified at the thought at being stranded there. It shimmered inhospitable, it disappeared and reappeared like a Saharan oasis. Trucks rose silently through a desperate milky haze like ships over an azul horizon, and all around three- hundred- and- sixty- degrees- of- nothing but rock and sand and Death waiting for you with his indiscriminant scythe.
 We decided not to risk it and reluctantly but relieved, continued west to Zapala and the long way round towards Bariloche and spent 2 more days in the doldrums there before getting another ride.

This time I decided, I’m not going west. A young oil worker took me those 30 or so kilometres arguing all the while that I was crazy to get out here, in the middle of nowhere. Why not come with him to Zapala. But I told him I knew what I was doing.
He slowly pulled away. I watch him as his eyes glance back at me in his rearview mirror, until I can’t make out the detail anymore. 

I was alone in the desert, no money, little food, but plenty of water. I turned to face the junction. The road reels off almost endless until it touches the sky. A giddyness comes over me and quickly gives way to calm. Silence. Not even a bird. My own inner voice the loudest sound in the wilderness singing songs of joy without utterance. Its so beautiful I could weep. My heart pounding in my chest with the intoxicating rhythm of a shamanic prayer drum. I hear the voices of my grandfathers grandfather and all his before him, all those countless generations, who lived and fought, who made love, who built homes for their families, my family, who taught their sons now long forgotten ways. Their sons, my countless fathers all whispering to me simultaneously, their blood coursing through my veins, all their collective wisdom and knowledge written into my genetic instinct. Through my lungs they breathe. I take a step and my foot comes down upon the dirt with the weight of a thousand Red Branch Knights, those noble Celtic warriors of lore, my ancestors. all their feats, their lives, Everything they’ve ever done leading to one moment.One man.The child of endless orgasmic ecstasy, Standing. Alone. In the desert.

Hitch hiking is an art, but it is also a science and in a way a form of psychology.
I was about to put all three to the test.
As in playing an instrument hitching is about timing, rhythm. there’s an aesthetic nature to it as well, you need to appear interesting not vagrant, welcoming, not desperate.
Timing is everything, nightfall is out of the question.
Science. You need to pick the most favourable position. Edge of town, never in town, junctions, gas stations. I’ve heard toll booths work well, but have never hitched a motorway. There is no art, there is no honour in riding the tollways. For me it’s about the going, not the getting there. The more interesting people take the byroads, the conversation is richer and the views more pleasant. 

Psychology; well thats a combination of art, science, and a Jedi’s ability to read people and project the voice of Alec Guinness into their head’s saying-These are the hitch hikers you are looking for. Knowing, when, where, and why someone will pick you up if at all. You generally get to know by sight of a vehicle if they will pick you up. You can definitely tell in advance who won’t give you a ride. I made a decision early on not to be selective in when to put my thumb out. I do it for each and every vehicle. Those who pass get a slight wave of acknowledgement. Oil trucks here cannot pick you up for safety reasons. These kings of the highway I usually salute or offer a wave out of respect, they also generally but inadvertently slow down all the traffic behind them, to a good hitching speed, by which I mean it gives me enough time to make eye contact with the following drivers as I pace backwards slowly with my arm outstretched. This eye contact is what converts a passer to a ride. Use the force, so to speak.

Standing by the lonely Roulette wheel at the southern end I await. Im gambling in the hope that not everyone will leave you stranded and alone in the desert. Although most will. You hear a car coming, put out your thumb, you make fleeting eye contact with the driver, In a fraction of what to you feels like an eternity theres communication, an understanding between both of you, of the consequences of where YOU are. Your eyes betray to them your thoughts, they don’t see a man standing there they see a soul laid bare and vulnerable. They pass at a hundred kilometres an hour and in a moment you are alone again. Sometimes you can see guilt in their eyes, sometimes fear. but nothing in the world, no feeling can beat the swell of emotion, the enamouring sense of humanity that comes over you when they stop. Not long after as dusk begins to fall, a Jeep slows and pulls over. Maybe the 20th vehicle to pass my way in an hour. amigo! what are you doing here? get in! Some people gamble and loose. I win the lottery every day.


No comments:

Post a Comment