countries

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South America | Chile

Patagonia / Hitchhiking Chronicles & Idle Waiting

why waiting doesn’t feel like leisure

   We had driven a rental car from Bariloche in Argentina to Puerto Natales in Chile, watching the Patagonian settlements get thinner the more we neared the end of the world. But, looking at the odometer now called for reconsideration. We were running out of our limited mileage as the land ran out of civilization, yet Ushuaia, the most southern city on earth, our final destination and kind of the final destination of final destinations, was still far. It was time to take these lazy thumbs out of our pockets and hitchhike the last 500 miles.

Of a rugged and fierce beauty are Patagonia's landscapes, unsullied and almost immune to civilization.

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"I’ve never really been in the travel business of hitching rides for the challenge, the struggle, the fame or the otherness of it."

I’ve never really been in the travel business of hitching rides for the challenge, the struggle, the fame or the otherness of it. It’s mostly been a spontaneous means of simply getting me from A to B cheaply and when other options were scarce. I enjoy this way of going local, but it comes with restrictions. Meeting people and having a chat is lovely, but when hopping into a stranger’s car conversing becomes somewhat of an obligation; hitchhiking, to me, is the Couchsurfing of transportation modes. Often I prefer an anonymous and solitary bus window with no social obligations attached to it, where I can listen to music and gaze at the landscapes flying by. 

"Just why do moments of waiting feel so dull and wasted? Why do we have to “kill” that time? Usually we can’t wait to get a break from our duties, but once leisure time imposes disguised as idleness it becomes an annoyance."

We started the next morning, split up into two neat couples to increase our hitchhiker-attractiveness. Vastly oblivious to the fact that we were trying to bridge some 500 miles of sparsely populated lands on a Sunday, including a border crossing, the words “see you tonight in Ushuaia” were our farewell. Our friends got a head start on us, but trudging behind we snatched the first ride. Our luck was short-lived, however. The ten minute ride with a father and his three kids only took us to the next junction which, by then, was far enough for me – while my companion had stayed in front, I’d been sitting on the bed of the pickup truck, left slightly perplexed by the swastikas on one of the kids' backpacks. These people seemed genuinely nice, but getting out now was fine by me.

Soon, our friends passed us by and we waved at them with excitement. Little did we know that the only thing ahead of us was a three hour wait filled with throwing stones at a signpost. Just why do moments of waiting feel so dull and wasted? Why do we have to “kill” that time? Usually we can’t wait to get a break from our duties, but once leisure time imposes disguised as idleness it becomes an annoyance. It’s not like there wasn’t a stunning landscape to look at, or book to read, or conversation to be had, or train of thought to be traveled. How often do we crave and seek these moments, only to turn them down when they present themselves voluntarily? It's as though we are playing hard to get with leisure time.

From early childhood days to this very moment, patiently waiting has never been our strong suit. Maybe it’s because we feel like we have something (better) to do. After all, we're waiting for something to happen or we have to be somewhere. We're missing out on whatever these stringent plans had promised and it makes us anxious. We have a hard time accepting that our plans aren't unwinding as desired, let alone that they might have been ill-conceived or ill-executed all along, and that chance has its way of not caring about them.

Filling waits with impatient restlessness is a waste of time. When the waiting can't be helped, we might as well embrace it and guiltlessly indulge what we usually can’t get enough of – free time. Of course this is easier said than done. I've been trying to utilize my unwelcome waits (like every time I get into the slowest checkout line, which is, psychologically speaking, every time) to get some pending thinking and decision making done, but find it hard to focus with conditioned impatience breathing down my neck. I am patiently trying, however, to re-condition myself. Part of that is also to not let my smartphone fill every little void and dumb down my days with its distractive temptations.

Eventually a truck picked us up on that idle Sunday. The truckers we encountered in Patagonia were as nice as they were lonely and then some. We got offered coffee and cake, welcome infusions to reanimate our weakened hitchhiking spirits. After some hours we made it onto the ferry, where we had to find our next ride before reaching the other bank. By the time we arrived at the border, we had caught up with our rivaling friends and in the end we were reunited in Rio Grande that night – a solid 350 miles from our starting point. We rocked up at the city’s only hostel, where a group of locals watched soccer. The owner never showed up, but his friends let us sleep in the lobby.

The next day began with a long walk to an industrial area, which seemed like an adequate spot to hitch a ride. Indeed, this time our plans and hopes were spot on and within minutes a quirky camper van picked us up, and a few hours later we looked at the end of the world in Ushuaia. With the cold closing in and not much to do in those late autumn days, we turned around a day or two later, hitchhiking back to where we started from.

This time it was pretty smooth sailing. An Argentine trucker gave us a lift across almost the entire distance and even smuggled our fruity contraband across the border. We could have done without our bananas, but he insisted and hid them in one of the dashboard compartments. Having driven that route for some ten years (or was it twenty?), we assumed he knew what he was doing. The monotonous trucking reality of repeating the same route over and over again tarnished my romanticized idea of the profession, but it probably helped along our hitchhiking cause.

Back in Puerto Natales, we were excited to hop into our own car, which came with unlimited freedom despite its limited mileage. The 1000 hitchhiking miles did feel good in our lazy bones though, now that they were behind us.

 

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