I am not sure if I can do this far flung land justice as my writing is not up to the standard required a land as immense as Patagonia calls for Chatwin or Theroux. I will write, however Patagonia will resolve my capacity to write and I hope I give can you an idea about something of Patagonia’s unsettling grandeur and alarming beauty. Of course for those who are coming in February, they themselves, I am sure, will be unyielding in portraying what they will have seen in the imposing land of Patagonia.
Why? Because this land stretches broad in every direction and in every direction the land is immense; for this is substantial land. The big flat lands are without trees and without a high point – or a low point – just pampas for 2,750 km south, Buenos Aries to Tierra del Fuego, and then west for too many miles before the steppe rise up upon a plateau, at its lowest, higher than any point in Great Britain, to ultimately meet the mighty Andes.
So this is a big land, a very big land the size of Europe. And this apparent empty land stretch’s out to bamboozle you, from the Rio Negro to Ushuaia, and what a land of nothing! However be patient for you will see more, much more in the vast emptiness as the journey unfolds.
Darwin put this question;
‘Why, then, ….do these arid wastes take so firm possession of the memory?’ ….but why?, is this land no more than a large open featureless terrain – a waste land? Or is this the hallucination of the destitute of life without feeling or vision? An observation of those who feel a coldness when the wind blows against their face and see nothing in an open landscape without being able to see the heaving underneath of the pampas grasses?
And I say again this is a land of slow, very slow changing pace, with a measured undulating place of being in Big Lands, and so Patagonia, the east cost more so, needs to be driven, and then driven slowly to see her colours; to see the tuffs of grass change their muted mixture of greens, and see the yellows go from golden to sandy that cover across all of her land – splendid colours of two. And then there is the rustic red and soft pinks showing the age of her escarpments, sliced by nature own time not by man’s.
The rolling countryside outside BA is a false dawn of the lands to come. This countryside of Surrey is not the start; this is the lands we are leaving behind. It is not until the Rio Negro is crossed that we leave Argentina of tango and revolution and enter the ruthless lands of Patagonia.
But remember Patagonia unfolds her splendour at a very slow pace, and so for eight days travelling south the magnificence of this land takes it shape and as an observer you soon see Patagonia, and understand life is hard and nature can be cruel. And then the world changes – the flat lands are no more, never to be seen again – the Deep South comes upon you with backdrops seen nowhere else on earth. Maybe Mt Kaillash or Kanchatka Peninsula will jump high and make their claim as rivals to this obscene title. But that is like Mouton Rothschild making a claim over Petrus, the point is pointless for the point has been made.
Then this beauty seen in the Big Lands will play on your mind and maybe, having seen the great rampant beauty of Pines, Frit Roy, Moreno Glacier and the Lakes, the Big Lands in hind sight will be remembered with more love and affection than these great facades of beauty.
My experience of big lands, mountains or plateaus is limited, for I am a driver from man’s land where man has shaped and sheltered himself from nature. He has changed the natural world to protect himself from this cruel environment. I mean to explain this better; in my lands, once nature’s land, man controls to shape and cut. If man’s presence had never been, or suddenly vanished, gone, what a change, reversed back to the days as uncultivated as nature intended.
However, that is not the case here, not in the lands of Patagonia. Man has made little, in fact no impact, and if suddenly man exited Patagonia, would Patagonia know? This is still the same silent land Darwin came upon.
And the wind blows; at first I cursed this natures wind, then I started to understand. It is nature and nature’s way and not air conditioning or central heating: this is a blowing unsettling wind not programmed to man’s ways, not controlled by man’s machines. I now love this wind, for it howl’s and blows and defies and so reminds you who was born to be King, and still here in Patagonia you start to understand nature reigns supreme.
The Big Lands undress very slowly. Consequently you fall in love with the solitude of the Big Lands of Patagonia; then you have then started some understanding. The beauty of Pines and Frit Roy are only on a cat walk, immediately beautiful, are they jam-packed with the same Personality?
Buenos Ares was made to start such a journey. For she is Tango, and Revolution, and the Argentine. This city follows in the steps of well-dressed Paris, except she is a whore, tardy, brash and has a recent tale of betrayal, tragedy and death. This city is not yet at harmony with itself, and for that reason should be known as Carmen de Buena Ares!
And to Santiago we all travel. Not worth my pen on paper – Soviet, dull and poor. I can accept this in a city for it makes for intrigue, except Santiago lives without soul and is devoid of passion. Santiago seems dreadfully exhausted. Fortunately her costal neighbour Valporaso has the rawness of working youthfulness I can enjoy. Certainly not beautiful, invitingly cheeky and so a great place to conclude a raw journey across unrefined lands.
I came to drive and had adventure. After the Big Land and the Beautiful Lands are the Driving Lands. The Carreterra Austral disappointed as much as many cooks in France can these days. Big build up, the ‘must be done’ rhetoric. The road was harsh and broke the Alfa and so I care not for such a road. I have driven many such roads in India, but there I forgive, for they are alive and heave with personality. The Carreterra is a broken road, as are many Chilean roads. On the other hand the roads of Argentine are a treat for a driver, on gravel the car gains confidence and then speed and so start to break out of line, understeering to awaken the driver. On the black top the roads run and run.
For many the highlight of the journey will be Torre del Pains. For me? the great drives of Seven Lakes. I have driven many roads and Route 40 is above all roads – El Bolsen to Balaocha – is near as perfect driving as is now on this earth. A 170 km drive that is not taxing, for you have no hair pins to power the car through, little in the way of corners to upset the ride, just allow the car to find her momentum, in the Alfa at 60 mph, no faster and no slower, and soon you will tango with the car. For any driver this is a life remembering drive. We journey for 23 days before we reach the El Bolson and the expectation of this drive will live with me every moment of every day out of Buenos Aries.
Then the following day is the short 30km around Llao Llao. This is the Argentines own Nuremburgring. I drove this early Sunday morning a road rising and falling with camber changes sweeping left to right, right to left. Astonishing to drive these lightly backed corners joined by quickening short straights, and not a car in sight.
With Jim and I in the Alfa she was cramped, overweight and so in hindsight we treated her harshly. Her oil pressure died on day one and so had to be treated like an old dame. Pity, for this Alfa is not elderly, and in February I have been assured by Frances (first Alfa trained mechanic in Argentina who is preparing the car) with this engine the Duetto will “sing” like no other. It will be a very different journey.
Jim’s Landy has arrived in Buenos Aries and for the next six weeks he will be putting the final touches to the leisurely journey many of you will be making with me across the unhurried lands of Patagonia.
If my writing has failed, I do however hope that my enthusiasm for this journey has broken through. So as you can finally see, after being fascinated and intrigued for many a year the Patagonia wilderness has take possession of my soul.
I suppose I have finally seen, and been touched, by the lands of Darwin.