The long and lonely road

The bus snakes its way through a vast barren landscape as the Andes slope off into a giant rocky plain, starved of water by those great mountains to the west. A lonely pilgrim, it trundles north east through this undulating unceasing desert, unchanging for several hours. The bus is the only sign of movement as the sun makes its slow descent across the giant horizon.
Patagonia is a region divided with the mountains to the west and a dusty glacial plateau stretching hundreds of miles to the east.
This arid land is adorned only by beige grasses and squat grey shrubs.
It dips and curves around wide shallow valleys carved out many years ago when the area was covered in ice.
There are no houses and few other vehicles. The only sign of life are the few Chimangos which sit on the fence hoping for road kill.
Estancias stretch for more than 50km here, their sheep eeking out the little goodness to be found in this soil.
Staring out of the window at this seemingly endless unforgiving terrain I had a sudden craving for the lush green valleys and rolling hills of home. That patchwork quilt of little green fields as one comes in to land at Gatwick or Heathrow.
It is strange to English eyes, so used to such huge variety in such a small space, to drive for so long without observing any discernible change.
Patagonia comes to life when you veer towards the mountains. Here the rain falls, rivers flow and trees grow.
And this is where my bus is headed, from El Calafate to El Bariloche, ski resort by winter, hikers paradise by summer.
But for now I stare out of the window at the grey flats in the fading light until I fall asleep and dream of green meadows.
When I awake eight hours later, the sun already glaring down on me and the desert, unrelenting still surrounds the bus in every direction.
I am beginning to appreciate the immense size of this country. And the miles and miles of empty space, an alien concept to someone bought up in the Home Counties.
Another few hours and I will see mountains again.


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