Viaje En Patagonia Norte

We’re leaving Bariloche today for the latitudes below 50° South and we won’t have a car again until the last week of the trip. From here on, we’ll be relying on planes, buses and shuttle vans to get from place to place.

But here in northern Patagonia, we’ve managed to drive over 600 miles, not including multiple trips into the city of Bariloche. Here’s the map of our travels:

It has been a real experience driving in Argentina.The people here are generally friendly and helpful – until they get behind the wheel of a car. Then they turn into maniacs: tail-gating, speeding, changing lanes without warning – in fact, making their own lanes and ignoring the road-striping (when it exists).

I suppose the local driving habits are so bad because traffic regulation is nearly non-existent. There are almost no stop signs, the custom seeming to be that the most aggressive driver has the right-of-way at intersections. Imagine an entire city without stop signs! We’ve experienced it and it’s not pretty. Traffic lights are also nearly non-existent and, as I mentioned, many roads are not striped, though newly constructed roads do have good lane markings.

Construction zones often have no flagmen and drivers are left to their own ingenuity to avoid being bulldozed off the road or run over by laden dump trucks.

And, while pedestrian police (mostly gun-toting women) stroll the city streets, police cars on the roads are a rarity. When we have seen them, they have had their flashing blue lights perpetually on, though they are not pursuing anyone nor are they on their way to an emergency. I don’t know how you would be able to tell if one is signaling you to pull over since their flashing lights are always on. It’s probably not a problem here, given that the police don’t seem to enforce the traffic regulations, anyway.

Carelessness seems to be the rule, at least around the city of Bariloche. While filling up at a gas station, a girl next to us got out of her car without putting her hand-brake on. Her car started rolling down the hill toward the main street that runs along the lake and was on its way to rolling off the bluff and going for a swim (taking out the hamburger stand on its way). Fortunately, the station attendant saw what was happening and ran after the car, diving through the driver’s window to grab the steering wheel to maneuver the car away from the ledge to safety. The only help he got from all the motorists on the road (that he saved from the accident) was honking and fist-shaking. When he returned to the station, I congratulated him on his quick reflexes. He said it had happened before, not long ago, but that car ended up in the lake.

I suspect that they pull several cars out of the lake each year. Two nights ago, not far from that same gas station, as we were driving home we passed an SUV that had veered off the pavement, gone totally off the road, and was hung up in some trees – the only thing keeping it from landing in the water some 50 feet below.

So, I’m ready to let someone else do the driving for a while.

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