While the ‘country’ changes rapidly, the country itself does not. It is a 20-hour ride from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn; the bus sways and hiccups over mile after mile of ‘Las Pampas’.
Bus terminals rarely change either. While airports around the world are renewed and renovated, the land of the bus remains dark and confusing. The ‘Don Otto’ bus arrives almost an hour late; shortly after we reach the point of considering another bus line or maybe even a hasty retreat to a hostel.
We roll into traffic. Its a ‘cama bus’, I think this means reclining seat… I would say its worth the extra 100 pesos. The on-board televisions fold down and soon blare random South American music videos; an Argentine Jack Johnson and what looks like Jennifer Lopez selling stock video to an Argentine hip-hop guy fill the air. Oh wait, now a motorcycle-riding Argentine Michael Hasselhoff now seems to have thrown off his glasses and leather jacket to dance in the street. This could be a long night.
On the bright side, this is no ordinary passenger bus. After an appetizer (sandwich) then hot meal (pasta) with wine, we have the option of first coffee or matte and then champagne or whisky.
While most portions in South America tend to be on the ‘reserved’ side, such is not the case with whisky or beer. It is a three-finger serving to end the day; three fingers in a plastic tub, that is. We drift off to sleep with a whisky haze and an uplifting Reese Witherspoon movie.
Sandra Bullock and two croissants greet us in the morning. Surprisingly, rom-coms are a lot more entertaining in Spanish. I just hope this all ends well, Sandra is off to a rocky start!
The pampas is scrub land, it is dwarf shrubs and lightly rolling plains and slightly crooked fences. Sierras float on the sun-baked horizon as dust-devils chase cargo trucks and buses across the plain. Clumps of trees appear as errant battleships, drifting away until our bus finds another or the sun forces us to close the curtains once more.
This area was home to the Gauchos, late-19th century cowboys who lived outside Buenos Aires and outside the law. They would round-up free roaming cattle, living off beef and matte, South America’s caffeine-laced tea. It was a tough and violent life that eventually gave way to land barons and the military.
Gauchos were either ‘evicted’ from their lands, recruited for the Argentine civil war, imprisoned or simply killed. By the mid-1800s, the President of Argentina, Sarmiento, essentially declared war on the Gaucho, stating that the only thing they were good for was ‘fertilizing the soil with their blood’. Estancias (ranches) with expensive residences replaced the hand-to-mouth lifestyle of the horsemen.
Today, the rout of the Argentine cowboy may truly be complete. The Argentine Government has instituted subsidies for feedlots and the price of feed crops is high right now, so the era of the famous ‘Argentine steak’ seems to be over. The government has also moved to tax the export of beef so many large-scale farmers have further turned their grazing lands to crops. Most cattle are raised are grain-fed in feed lots just like Canada or really anywhere. There are few, if any, places to find grass-fed beef. The government seems to be everywhere.
As Sandra Bullock weaves her way through another Spanish misunderstanding, the ocean finally breaks through the horizon. Ocean is soon followed by buildings, trees and more ocean. I would say we are in San Antonio Oeste but then again, who knows… when civilzation does make an appearance, towns seems to fade in and out of each other here.