We made another visit to the bus station where again a cleaner and two security guards seemed to be the only people in the know: ‘There would be busses along sometime today!’ A couple of back packers, looking like snails with the entire contents of their homes loaded on their backs, looked on with disbelieving smiles. We left, again none the wiser.
Yesterday’s explorations had taken us south on a rather variable track. Today we aimed to get farther south but taking less time, so we headed some 58 km back east, to Perito Moreno and then south along Ruta Nacional 40. By the way, RN 40, the road that runs along the west of Argentina and RN 3 that runs south from Buenos Aires following the Atlantic Coast, are the subject of marketing to given them a Route 66 type cult status. Both Juan and I now have the T Shirts, as it seemed safer for me not to wear the newly acquired Conga y Toro T shirt until we’re back in Chile.
But (and not for the first time) I digress. Once on to RN 40 we were impressed with the high quality of the road. Unfortunately GPS location data that we had been given seemed to relate to another road, presumably the old road that seemed to have run some 2-3 km farther east.
Once on RN 40 we made a stop (S2145) at the by now familiar traffic sign of a palm tree being blown over. Of course there are no palm trees here and the traditional windsock sign used in Europe seems to be even less familiar, so a nearly blown over palm tree it is. I’ll probably use it to introduce the Patagonia part of next year’s ‘What I saw Last Winter’ talks. When we passed back this way later we could see an enormous dust cloud hanging over the road. As we got closer the cause became clear – a couple of thousand sheep – freshly sheared and the lambs with their tails docked – were being driven along the side of the road to their summer pastures. Driven? No, not in a car, being walked in the right direction by a group of gauchos, on horseback and each with two dogs to help to keep the sheep moving along the side of the road rather than in it. This immediately destroyed my theory, published on these pages a few days ago that the best place to find cacti was the road side of a fence – not the area inside the fence where animals grazed. It will take some time for that road side part of RN40 to have recovered from the trampling hooves and the teeth snatching at anything. We surmised that the wool taken from these animals would be full of heads of Pterocactus.
But again, I digress. S2145 confirmed the accuracy of the traffic sign. We were nearly blown out of our skins! The car’s outside thermometer indicated 17 C but the wind chill factor must have been -17 C!. As per usual it took only seconds for my eyes to be streaming as the wind blew in around my glasses. I must check out the possibility of prescription goggles to avoid this in the future! Still convinced of my ‘on the roadside of the fence’ strategy, I had found my first cacti in minutes – Pterocactus hickenii. Juan found a single short stem of Maihuenia patagonica, these were certainly nothing like the massive clumps that we had seen farther north. This could explain why we had not found this plant at locations provided to us by friends. We had been looking for something far bigger. I was very pleased with my woolly hat that I had bought earlier today at the petrol station – at least my ears stood a chance of surviving this trip.
John, who had taken the super windy trail up a ridge, reported having found plants in flower. So had we, but it was still worth a look. His Pterocactus hickenii grew ‘inside’ low shrubs which showed that the stems could indeed reach more than the usual one ‘ joint’ that was visible in sandy locations.
As we drove off, I made a suggestion. The conditions in which we were exploring, while tolerable, were not fun. We were unable to meet our objective of seeing these self same plants across the border in Chile as we had not been able to resolve the riddle on how to (legally) take our car in and back out of Chile and the taxi driver who had promised to come up with a proposal to pick us up in Chile once we had taken a bus in, had not been seen again. Time for a reality check. There seemed to be little point in staying here for another four nights, filling the time with day trips around the area where we were not going to find anything new on the cactus side. So I suggested that tomorrow we’d head north to Esquel (600 km – a driving day!). This had been earmarked as our ‘safe’ hotel (it accepted credit cards and would be open over Christmas), but that would just waste another three days. So instead, on Tuesday we’d move on to Villa La Angustora the plan would be to carry on into Chile aiming for a night in Osorno, along R5. The R5 corridor is more populated and offers more options for us to find accommodation during the Christmas period.
This plan received a favourable response, so we’ll work over the details in days to come. Meanwhile, back to reality, we made stop S2146. As if to suggest that Nature had beaten us, there was no wind and the temperature was up to 19 C, so that I could take off the coat and jumper that were essential at the last stop. Plants found: M. hickenii and Austrocactus dusenii the latter with a pink (!) flower.
Back on the road, the wind was back in force and buffeted the car around – we made the right decision!