The change could hardly be more pronounced, or faster.
Had we taken the bus, we would have been treated to several days of gradual change in the Patagonian (and latterly simply Argentine) landscape. Had we gone west, along Ruta 40, we would have been treated to the Andean foothills and the Patagonia of Chatwin and Theroux – Esquel, El Bolson and Bariloche. Had we gone east, along Ruta 3, we would have had the barren, raw Patagonia that greeted the Welsh settlers – Trelew and Puerto Madryn.
The change would have been gradual – as would the slide into madness only two solid days of bus travel can offer.
However to board a flight in the sleepy town of El Calafate – where doors are left unlocked and neighbours’ dogs are welcomed like long lost family. Where a wallet can reside in one’s back-pocket without fear – and 3 hours later arrive into Buenos Aires, one of the largest cities in the Americas, is quite a juxtaposition. Doors are locked if not shut in your face, dogs are stray and more often rabid than neighbourly and money – if the city leaves you with any – is quickly shoved into the waterproof money belt you have secreted down your trousers.
It’s not to disparage Buenos Aires as such – I haven’t seen enough of it to do that yet – it’s to critique all cities. To come from the rural, the slow pace and fresh air, to any city takes it’s toll on any number of people, and God knows I’m one of them. It’s good, useful to know who you are and where you belong – some people crave it, can’t live without it. I’m just not one of them.
There is a legend in Patagonia – if you eat a Calafate berry (after which the town was named), you’re destined to return to Patagonia. At this time of year they’re not yet ripe and bitter to the taste. Nonetheless I picked and ate two of them to be doubly sure.