And so to the magical and mystical Ruta 40 – or just ‘La Cuarenta’ according to the locals. When you look at map of Argentina there’s a road that starts south of Rio Gallegos on the east coast and seems to randomly head west towards the Andes and then wiggle it’s way north to the very top of the country on the Bolivian border. That’s the 40. Che Guevara wrote about it his motorcycle diaries with both love and distain and so surely any trip to South America needs to have an ample serving of the demanding 40?!
With this in mind, why not start near the beginning at Rio Gallegos? Well, like a comedy sketch, just finding the road was a challenge. Sign posted to Rio Turbio heading west out of Rio Gallegos it seeming just disappears. The road became nothing more than a dirt track heading out into the wilderness, without a sign or indication that we were on the right path. With its bone jarring, wash board entrance and my enthusiastic statements that ‘this is Che’s road you know’ wearing thin on Gemma we decided to flag down the only car coming the other way in about an hour to make sure were on the right path. Turns out we were… Sort of!
In the Argentine Government’s desire to pave the whole of Ruta 40 they seemingly keep diverting bits of the original path, eventually we found the new road in gleaming Tarmac! Nothing like an early detour!
As much as our earlier entrance had been challenging, the next section to was both welcoming and astounding. It was magic, the road stretching out seemingly endlessly into the distance and the Patagonian landscape entrancing with the late day sun falling in never ending sky.
After skipping over numerous train line level crossings and wondering at wilderness we found ourselves in we decided to bush camp on a hill just outside Bella Vista; not a soul to be seen and and I swear I heard silence, which for someone with live music induced Tinnitus is no mean feet, but I guess that’s Patagonia for you.
The following morning we ventured on towards the Chilean border and we encountered ‘Fin de Pavemento’ signs (read end of what most people would call a reasonable or any road surface), which resulted in our first rock in pond ‘is it safe to drive through?’ test, all set against a background of gauchos driving their livestock on. First impressions are that La Cuarenta has a hell of a lot in store for us!