Friday, March 18, 2016

Dusty Days Patagonia Ways

18 March 2016

We're on the last several days of our road trip, so we've shortened our driving time and are slowly making our way back to Buenos Aires.  And we've tried to spend time in places we didn't see on our way south, as well as revisiting places we liked previously.

We spent two days in Las Grutas, and then one night in Viedma, where we had stayed earlier.  Then one day in Monte Hermoso, another very pretty beach town.  Of course, the water always seems to be way too cold, we dip our toes and shiver and that's about it.  But we like beaches, so we're staying along the coast as much as we can.

Our  rental car has been a bit problematic.  It took a few days but we realized there's a law or regulation that vehicles on the highways must drive with lights on.  This makes sense given that many of the highways have very long flat straightaways that go on for miles and miles (or kilometers and kilometers).  When passing all the trucks, it's necessary to see long distances, and having lights on the oncoming traffic really helps prevent head-on collisions.

So we started driving with our lights on.  And realized that we only have one working headlight.  On the passenger side.  

We've had police give us a flashing light hand signal, and other drivers have flashed their lights at us.  We called the rental company and said that they've rented us a car that doesn't meet the country requirements, because we're supposed to have working lights and we only have one headlight.  They said we're responsible for the lights.  (WHAT?!?!?!)  

We figured we'd just give them back the car in the same condition they gave it to us - with only one working headlight.

We finally were stopped by two police officers who were checking registrations and licenses.  In our bad Spanish, we explained that this was a rental, we know we only have one light, we called the company, they said they wouldn't pay to fix the light.  I told the officers they should write a ticket to the rental company.  Another driver helped translate, and then another officer who spoke some English came over to discuss this with us.  It was a mess, with all this back and forth and translating.  Plus one officer reached in and fiddled with the light switches, trying to see if we were just doing something wrong and if he could make the lights work.  (As if the lights are different in North American versus South American cars?)

Eventually, the police jotted down the license plate number (one plate is also missing .....), as well as driver's license numbers.  The older officer went on and on in Spanish, the only part I understood was something about driving with the grace of God.  We were both totally confused and had no idea if we were getting a ticket or not.  

And then the older policeman shook our hands, he and Richard did fist bumps (daps in VI), and that was it.  They told us goodbye.  It wasted a good 15-20 minutes, but it was pretty funny once the situation was finally over.

As we drove away, we realized the inside light was on.  We checked all the doors.  We fiddled with the switches.  No idea what was wrong nor how to fix it.  Plus that one headlight?  Now on high beams.  Either off, or one high beam.  Oy!  

I finally figured out that we needed to push the light switch IN, and the inside light went off.  But we were still stuck with one light not working, and the working light on high.

So at the next gas station, I first asked the attendants if they had a windshield repair kit.  (We have a ding from a pebble.  Apparently we're also responsible for the windows.)  No, they don't.  But they seemed very helpful.  I figured since they seemed willing to help, I'd see if they could fix our light.  Again, I tried to explain we had a light problem, only one light; that we called the rental company but they said the light was our responsibility; and that the police stopped us, so I would like to fix it.

The two men came and looked at the car.  Opened the hood and opened the light.  And found that the light bulb was missing.  Just, not there.  At all.  Nada.  Nothing.  We were rented a car without a light bulb.  (How can they do that????)  You can bet they'll hear from us about this, complete with a bill.  Because yes, we bought the light bulb and my friendly gas station guys installed it for us.  For a whopping 65 pesos (about $4 US).  

It's always something!

Okay, this little furry animal that has a squirrel-like face and a baby bunny body is a cavy (sometimes spelled cavie - but I don't know if that sounds like cah-vee as in cat, or cay-vee as in cave).  Anyway, this is a cute little rodent that's related to guinea pigs.  Cavies live in both the plains, deserts, and mountains of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile.  There are different kinds of cavies, but they look pretty much the same to those of us who aren't rodent specialists.  Much cuter than a rat, and almost friendly.  There were three or four - one was brave and ventured out from the storage area, the other two or three were chasing each other all around.  I also saw one in Punta Tombo.  Very cute little guys.

Gauchito Antonio Gil.  We see various shrines along the road, usually red with red flags flying in the wind.  We finally stopped to look at some in a group, and several had pictures of Gauchito Antonio Gil.  I've seen his photo, this same exact poster, in various places along our route, and wondered about who is this person and why are there so many shrines for him.

His full name was Antonio Mamerto Gil Núñez, and he was born in the 1840s, supposedly near the town of Mercedes.  He died on 8 January 1878.  His life story has become legend, so some of the details are, well, perhaps not so accurate.  But he has become the most important and prominent gaucho saint in Argentina.

The short story is that Antonio Gil grew up as a farmworker on a ranch.  The ranch owner, a wealthy widow named Estrella Diaz Miraflores, fell in love with Gil (or had an affair with him, depending on the account).  Her brothers and the chief police (also in love with Miraflores) accused Gil of robbery and tried to kill him.  So Gil enlisted in the army to escape his would-be murderers.  He fought in the wars with Paraguay, then returned home where he was welcomed as a hero.

He was then forced to return to the military and fight in the Argentine Civil War.  Gil eventually deserted, and became a sort of Robin Hood outlaw.  His reputation was that he protected and helped the needy and poor, and soon various miraculous healing powers were attributed to him (as well as an immunity to bullets).

The local police finally caught Antonio and tortured him.  He told the police that they would kill him, but after his death they'd receive a letter of pardon.  And that the police sergeant's son was deathly ill.  But that if he prayed to Antonio, his son wouldn't die.

Of course, legend has it that all this happened exactly as Antonio Gil predicted.  He was killed.  The police sergeant received the letter of pardon.  His child was ill and dying.  He prayed to the Gauchito, and his son was cured.  So the sergeant ensured that Antonio Gil had a decent burial, rather than that of a criminal, and built a shrine in the form of a red cross for Gauchito Antonio Gil.

So now, he's seen as a folk hero and local saint, and there are numerous red shrines and red flags all over Argentina and especially in Patagonia.  People still pray to Gil for healing, for miracles, and there are yearly pilgrimages.  

However, the Catholic church does not see him as a saint, nor have they formally canonized Gil.  He's kind of a renegade counter-culture saint, which may be part of his appeal.  

There are worse ways to be remembered, right?

Patagonia has been interesting.  We're sort of sorry to be heading back to the big city.  

But autumn is in the air, the weather is getting windy, chilly, and we've had several thunderstorms.  

We may need to migrate north with the penguins.


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