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Driving in Patagonia

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Road Conditions

In general, the roads here are some of the of the most narrow, most loose gravely, and steepest I’ve ever seen, often all three of those things at once.  Everyone drives stick-shift (mecánico), mostly pick-up trucks and SUVS.  The pavement begins (along with cell phone

Every bridge has a name.

service) about two kilometers outside of Palena and Futa, and it is a sweet relief to arrive on the smooth surface with a line down the middle, though there are also track marks of where cars have veered off.  About a week ago we heard about an accident just outside of town; this morning we saw a tow truck pulling away a truck that had flipped.  As far as I know, no one was seriously hurt in either incident.  (Note: Though the driving may be dicey, these roads are made for running.  When I turned back to town yesterday, I was shocked into pausing, still panting, to admire the orange sunset over purple mountains.)

Rules of the Road

If you are driving, you will be asked for rides by hitch-hikers (ir a dedo, as in, go by thumb): families, kids, women going into town.  A few weeks ago, someone popped out of her house to ask us to wait a minute; a minute later, she hopped in.  There are no stop signs in town, but at least in Futa, all roads on the grid in one direction have “right of way”, and in the other direction, you are supposed to stop, according to one person l I talked with.  On the road between towns, there are groves in the middle of the road, reflecting the way truck drivers and men in general prefer to drive; women are more likely to stay to one side and endure the bumps.


Sheep and chicken run quickly out of the road, scared.  Horses are usually directed to the side of the rode with ease by their rider.  Pigs are likely contained by a fence.  Cows are a different story.  Much like our beloved cat, Rosie, cows do not seem particularly motivated to move when a car

Horses are also a valid form of transportation. Last Saturday, I rode this horse to the Argentine border!

comes by.  A few days ago, we came across a cow nursing her calf in the middle of the road.  The calf scampered away, but the mother cow looked over her shoulder, annoyed, and reluctantly moseyed off after a good ten second stare-down.


In Palena there is one gas station, but there are none in Futaleúfu.  This means that if you want to buy gas in Futa, you have to know which corner stores and private houses will sell you gas– they don’t advertise, since it’s illegal.  But these individual vendors run out, so you may have to try several stores before you find gas.  Of course, this creates a great market for vendors in Futa, who buy their product in Argentina, and then sell it for about double the price of gas in Palena.


That's right: the view out of the car is water.



So far it hasn’t rained much, but I have heard that the road becomes impassible in several places in the winter.  We did ford a small river in the truck recently.



Sometimes it takes a boat: this is part of the commute of the other teacher to one of the rural schools.

NOTE: My fearless fellow American teacher has been doing the driving, not me.  Speaking of teaching, today I met the superintendent, school principal, and my English co-teacher, and tomorrow is the first meeting with the entire school staff.  My job begins!  More on that soon.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Cynthia Watkins permalink
    Wednesday, February 23, 2011 8:24 am

    Gosh Margaret!
    How brave and beautiful you are. Love your updates, observations, insights and humor. Be careful on those roads!!

  2. jane woodman permalink
    Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:13 am

    It’s not looking like a road trip to Palena in our summer (your winter) looks very promising! Chickens, cows, no problem… floods? Trucks barreling along from the opposite direction? No gas? Hmm. But parents figure these things out, right? Love your descriptions. Love the cow and calf. The woman stepping out to get a ride… and the orange sunset over purple mountains. Gasp! Love YOU, Mom.

    • Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:53 am

      I know, we’ll have to figure out when you can visit. I knew you would like the mother-child scene!

  3. David Russell permalink
    Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:26 am

    Wow. That first picture looks crazy. The “road” appears to be just a minimal horizontal slice along the side of the cliff. Precarious to drive on. I am reminded of roads we encountered in western Ireland, though not usually on the edge of cliffs. When we would see the sign with two narrowing lines on it we would sometimes exclaim, “MORE narrow?!?” I love the “ten-second staredown.”

    • Wednesday, February 23, 2011 9:52 am

      The road in the first picture was build by dynamiting out the cliff in around 2002, I believe; before that, it was largely impassible in car, better on horseback.

  4. sally johnson permalink
    Thursday, February 24, 2011 9:59 am

    Stick with the horse! more sure-footed than the car! 🙂 car rides sound pretty nerve-wracking to me. love the casual pick-up of folks along the way. can you imagine that in Boston! winter soon over here. Teaching soon begins for you. I know you are ready! go get em!!

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