Walking on a Highway, Early Morning

Handsignals for Hitchhikers

From the end of the world, the only way out is north.

(Or to Antarctica.  But as I don’t have a budget stretching to the veritable ceiling, I chose north.  I will save Antarctica for my mid to late 40s, a time in life in which I imagine myself able to afford such bucket-list-ticking oddities.)

After spending a lovely few days in Ushuaia, the city at the “End of the World” (though there’s always another end point an additional expensive boat trip slightly further south) I decided to hitch out* with a friend I’d met at my hostel.

It turns out that Argentine roads in this part are not at all well made, and that snow or frost upon them slows down acceleration considerably:  at times to the painfully crawling pace of 40kmh.  We left on a Wednesday at 11am and arrived at our destination on a Friday at 4pm, which, given that our destination was some 400km from the origen, means that our time was not efficiently spent:  nor financially, nor logistically.  But we did meet some great people.  And learned some very useful handsignals for hitchhikers.

For future reference, I’ve noted down my favourites:

1)  Shoulder shrug, hands lifted to ceiling:

Sorry bud, my hands are tied.”

This gesture lost meaning when the gesturer was in possession of a car full of spare seats.

2)  Spin one finger around in a circle:

“I’m coming right back this way again.”

Much appreciated – at least they saw you and recognised your plight.

3)  Point one finger decisively at the road ahead:

“I’m going just up there, not really leaving this street.”

This last one took a looooong while for Keith and I to translate.  At first, drivers gestured this way so deliberately that it looked like they were trying to point out a sort of hitch hikers’ taxi rank that might be further up ahead.  Much walking revealed that this was not the case.

On day two, we finally started making some ground – five cars in total took us where we were headed, the last of which will be forever remembered for being the sweetest little family who ever graced the land of Argentina.

Luis, Alejandra and Abril were headed to Punta Arenas to take advantage of the tax free zone there.  They’d previously seen us trapsing along, but thought we were just traveling by foot (on a windy and frigid day like it was, that would have been valiant, indeed!).  Luckily, they caught us at the Chilean/Argentine border and were lovely enough to include us on their immigration papers as passengers.

I don’t think I’ve spent such an entertaining few hours in a car, since I was an eleven-year-old myself.  Abril and I laughed through her life’s collection of photos, marveled at the landscape outside, looked at the stars as night settled, and had a mini English lesson.  All this was played to the rhythm of many a slurp of mate, as well as mini pastries, hot chocolate and pear juice provided by Alejandra.

Muchas gracias por llevarnos – lo pasamos genial con ustedes!

Obligatory parental disclaimer:

* Mum and Dad, I purposely sought male company for this adventure, don’t worry.  I provided the Spanish and Keith, the fact that he is trained in some such martial art in which, if provoked bar fight style, it used to be necessary for him to warn others of his registration as a “weapon” before engaging in any kind of hand to hand combat.

I trust his presence (particularly the fact that only days before, he’d crash tackled a thief and successfully wrestled his wallet out of the dude’s death grip) made our stint much safer 🙂


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