Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Day I Left the Gypsy Train

By Zach W. Watson

I walked along the bay at the end of the world, a storm behind me, the bus behind me. My backpack hung heavy with everything: my tent, my six hundred and seventy pesos, my passport, a camp stove, some rice and tuna, and my sleeping bag. These were my valuables.

My plan: to hitchhike to Buenos Aires. 3040 kilometers to the north.

I was walking out of town to the police checkpoint, the only exit from Ushuaia, to wait. I had a thick moustache, pants with holes in them and long hair. Was I a dirty vagrant hippy, hitching rides, begging for handouts? The answer was yes. But that’s probably a whole other blog.

I got my first ride to Tolhuin. We didn’t talk much due to the language barrier. He dropped me off. And I waited again, this time longer, maybe two hours, the storm still behind me. Then Elbio picked me up. He told me the Falklands were Argentinean. We talked a lot, mostly just pointing and saying words like Guanaco, llamas native to southern Patagonia, which happened to be abundant on the sides of the roads.

He dropped me off in Rio Grande. I sat by the road again. I eyed out a nice place to put up my tent in some high grass, invisible from the road. I was tired.

In the distance I saw it coming my way, the toaster with the chairs strapped to the roof. I couldn´t believe they caught me. They stopped. We talked for a minute.

Alaena asked, “When you get into someone’s car do you tell them that you own a bus that is heading in the same direction as you are?” We laughed.

“I don´t think they would understand.” I said

“No one really does.” We laughed again.´

It was a personal journey, I decided, to have only myself to rely on to get me from point A to point B using my wit and resourcefulness.

They left me on the road. I was tired, so I set up my tent in that tall grass I had eyed, the Atlantic Ocean meters away. The sound of the wind whistled through the sea grass between the overpowering sounds of the crashing sea and semi-trucks.

Once I pitched the tent, the walls sagging from extensive use, I made chicken noodle soup under the vestibule and fell asleep before the sun had set, between Ruta 3 and the sea.

I awoke to a grey sky, packed up the tent, and hit the road, thumb in the air. It began to rain. Luckily, I hitched a short ride to the truck rest stop where Carlos eventually picked me up and there was shelter.

Carlos and I struggled communicating but managed to understand some things about each other. He was from Mendoza and was driving five thousand kilometers to see family. Also, he had a bag of cookies which we snacked on.

We crossed the border and headed to the ferry crossing at the straits of Magellan. I thought, that would be funny if the bus was here. And then, right in front of Carlos and I, somehow, sat the toaster with the chairs on top. They were waiting for the ferry. I told Carlos I wanted to say hi to my friends and walked over.


“We thought we would see you here! Who are you with?”

“Carlos. He´s my friend.”

We talked a little when the cars began pulling onto the ferry. I ran back to Carlos´s car. Carlos and I just sat in his little blue car waiting. He couldn´t grasp what the bus was and why I was not with my friends. And neither could I, looking at the bus from the passenger seat of some stranger.

I just kept saying contradicting things about where they were going. He thought me a halfwit. I knew this because he kept explaining to me the geography of the borders.

“Argentina. Chile. Argentina. Mexico. Estados Unidos.” He said followed by laughter. Then he would say, “Estamos en Chile.”

And I would look at him blankly and say, “Ahh.”

We crossed into Argentina again, after our short stint in Chile. He dropped me off in the middle of Rio Gallegos. I walked for an hour and a half to the outside of the city, asking my way to the north. I stopped at a gas station to fill up my water, so I could cook my dinner of rice and tuna.

I waited on a northern stretch of highway by the airport for a ride, hoping to get a ride before I had to see the Gypsy Train again. I sat. I stood. I sang songs. One went like this, “It is getting cold out, someone pick me up now. My jacket is getting thinner and thinner and thinner and thinner.”

I had made it four hundred kilometers in two days by this point and had waited for three and a half hours in that spot when I saw the toaster again, encroaching. It pulled over quickly under an overpass, five hundred meters to the south. It didn´t move. It just sat there, so I walked to it.

When I came closer, I noticed the hood up and Alex, working the same routine, filling up the radiator with water out of his blue nalgene. A panicked look on Alaena´s face accompanied the sweet smell of diesel lingering in the air.

I opened the door. “Perfect timing for a problem.”

They smiled. I couldn´t get away from the bus no matter how hard I tried. We talked, establishing that Alaena´s birthday was the following day and it wouldn´t be right for me not to stay in Rio Gallegos, where they were to wait due to the gasoline leaking from the engine. I jumped in. We camped, ate and drank for two days.

After the party, I hit the pavement.

1 comment:

  1. oh zach, you ramblin man... i cant imagine hitch hiking alone with strangers as my friends trailed close behind headed towards the same place. It definitely takes balls... i think it's amazing you are doing it all for a personal journey!

    best wishes making it safely to buenos aires
    & excellent post xoxo