If you’ve heard the phrase “money doesn’t buy happiness”, my experience leaving the Southern Argentina region of Patagonia exemplifies that.
The trip was from El Calafate to Bariloche, covering about 1500km over a period of four days. (From Feb 6–10th 2023)
I could have taken the easy route. Hop on a quick flight or a boring 27 hour bus ride. Instead, I decided to hitchhike.
Convenience could have gotten me there quicker, but I would have missed out on one hell of an experience.
The famous Ruta 40 is an Argentinian highway stretching from the northern border to the southern tip of the country at a length of 5,224 km. The portion of the Ruta 40 I traveled consisted of long stretches of desert, rocky roads and minimal signs of civilization.
Over a four day period, I got into five different vehicles and couch-surfed in one of the towns.
When hitchhiking in the past, my experiences waiting usually lasted about 5–30 minutes. However, the start of this journey was tough as I waited two hours to get out of El Calafate. During the wait, I met an Israeli girl traveling a similar path. It was funny running into each other a couple more times in gas stations and other stops. A little hitchhiking community.
Eventually I got dropped off at the crossroad 100km away El Chalten, Argentina’s hiking capital . I met five other hitchhikers including an American couple that hitchhiked all the way down from California.
After three hours, I finally got picked up but was on the back of a pickup truck. A five hour ride enjoying the views while getting covered in dirt ! With few cars passing, you take whatever you can get to go further.
Later, I couch-surfed in the small town of Gobernador Gregores, and was hosted by a Colombian named Gustavo along with his wife. He cooked up some arepas as we reminisced on the beautiful places I visited in Colombia.
Getting out of Gobernador Gregores was tough as few cars drove by. I ended up in an old truck driven by a father and his five year old son. We passed the time by sharing a mate and playing trivia games with his son such as, “what color will the next car that passes be?”
For the last 800km, I was lucky enough to get picked up by a young, high-energy family that was driving throughout the whole country. They were excited to meet someone who spoke English and Spanish. Our conversations made the time pass quickly.
After a bit a driving, the father, Facundo, got tired and let me drive for a handful of hours. Imagine that? Picking up a hitchhiker and letting them drive after a few hours of knowing them.
It takes a special person to pick up a hitchhiker. They don’t view you as a threat. They simply want to help you out or get to know you. I’ve made some great connections and relationships from this mode of travel.
This is why I love slow, low-budget travel. It brings me back to small yet memorable moments. Such as in El Salvador, being crammed on a bus and with the locals excited to meet me because I was a foreigner. Or hitchhiking in Japan as I was invited to a bonfire in the town of Kikugawa where the driver and his friends were from.
Standing at a corner asking for rides can be uncomfortable, but it’s made me great friends who I still keep in touch with today and I wouldn’t trade that for a thing.
“I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable. All these and other factors combined, if the circumstances are right, can teach and can lead to rebirth.”
— Anne Morrow Lindbergh