Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Need for Speed (and Other Risky Business)

The Road Less Traveled
As many of you have seen on my Facebook page, three friends and I went on a road trip a few weeks ago. It was the brainchild of Dave, for whom I am extremely grateful to for suggesting the trip. He’s here as an exchange student and the Easter holiday was his last chance to see the great Salt Flats of Northern Argentina before he has to head back to Canada to finish school. The people we told about our trip thought we were extremely crazy to take on such an extensive drive in 5 days (approximately 2,500 miles).  Turns out, they were right. However, with a bit of planning help from Jay (my constant savior and purveyor of good times) we were able to maximize our time by mapping out a few key places we wanted to see.

Somehow I managed to book a car in Spanish, and had the foresight to include a GPS. Little did I know that this GPS would basically become useless because of its inability to recharge itself and absence of recognition for roads constructed in the last few years.  We ended up relying on a tourist map inside Jay’s (there he is again) Lonely Planet guide book, which was also lacking many roads and serious detail. You’d think after the first few wrong turns, we would have purchased a road map.


Good thing we were able to rely on the well-intentioned people of Argentina who, for the most part, were able to send us in the right direction (after they explained our route several times and always sent us over, under, or around a bridge… after which point we completely forgot what they said in the first place).

Dave, my co-pilot/navigator/calming force/caffeine provider, was also a huge help. Always one to take the high road, literally, he did get us in a few precarious situations. However, this was nothing Tito (Tito Gonzalez is the name of the dealership our Ford EcoSport came from and subsequently our nickname for the car) and I couldn’t handle.  Bianca and Kendall (back seat passengers and merriment makers) were brave enough to put their lives in my hands. And when I say brave, I really mean lacked the necessary manual transmission driving skills and had no desire to drive. For the most part, they didn’t comment on my driving except to give a scream or two when there was impending danger.  In all seriousness, it was a crazy drive but I was in control of the situation almost 100% of the time. Tito, unfortunately, did not come out unscathed. A baseball-sized rock made a lovely sun-shaped indentation on his windshield. He handled it like a champ though and never gave up.

Tito & I, BFFs <3

Thus far, it probably sounds like I did all the driving. I took on about 90% of the journey (doing 10-14 hour days… still not quite sure how). Dave took the reins when I needed a nap PLUS learned how to drive stick shift along the way! I’m not sure if it was his innate skills or my amazing ability to teach but he had two perfect starts right off the bat. I honestly couldn’t believe how well he did. I’m so proud of the first graduate of the Eden Ligas Academy for Manual Transmission Driving!  On the last day he did stall out a few times, which made me feel better about my own experience of learning how to drive stick shift.

Driving in Argentina is… interesting. In the city of Buenos Aires, it’s every woman for herself and buses pretty much run the streets. Upon first glance, there doesn’t really appear to be any rhyme or reason as to how one should behave on the roads. At the conclusion of the trip, I decided it’s sort of a go-with-the-flow mentality. Don’t worry about your lane, just pay attention to the people in front of you and don’t get in the way of the buses. On the “highway” (anything from a 10 lane road to a one lane-both direction gravel path), the norm is basically to go as fast as you can and watch out for oncoming traffic/animals in the road. There are laws for just about everything but no one pays them any mind.

Passing vehicles is an art form. Much of Argentina has roads with just one lane for each direction of traffic. (Upstaters, you know what I’m talking about!) When you’re stuck behind a slow-moving truck/trailer/motorcycle with 3 people and a baby on it/horse and buggy, you have to pass or you will never get to your destination. Along our journey, we saw multiple cars passing the same car at once, cars passing multiple cars at once, and multiple cars passing multiple cars at once. My favorite was when multiple cars each decide to pass the car directly ahead of them, creating a leap-frog or card-deck-shuffling visual. My more American approach was to wait it out until the long lines of cars died down and to pass one car at a time, usually.

By this point in my post, you’re probably still waiting for me to get to the good stuff: snow-capped mountains, arid deserts, staggering heights, amazing food, friendly people, llamas… (oh yeah, we ate llama). But I think the multitude of photos we took speak to the sights. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, and we probably took a thousand photos. Sorry to disappoint (insert evil laugh).
For those of you thinking that this all sounds cool and you’d like to do it for yourself (although I will also tell you that you’re crazy), I leave you with some advice:

  • Buy a map and know how to read it (GPS actually stands for “Gonna Punch Sh*t”)
  • Have a super-excellent co-pilot who can also read a map (yay Dave!)
  • Ensure you have at least two capable and willing drivers (now she tells me…)
  • Stop as frequently as you want to take photos (“Take a picture, it’ll last longer!”)
  • Allow yourself a LOT of extra time (certain terrain takes a lot longer to navigate, and you’re taking a lot of photos, remember?)
  • Bring cool people who have as big of balls as you do (they might not be driving but they’re taking the same amount of risk)
  • Have some fun get-to-know-you games (20 Questions; Kill, Sleep with, or Marry; Tell us about the first time you ___; etc.)
  • Don’t distract the driver (thanks Mom and Dad)
  • Get plenty of rest each night (we don’t need any hallucinations, okay?)
  • Eat local cuisine (the llamas aren’t just scenery)

Above all, have fun! Don’t get so caught up in the fact that you’re trying to get somewhere specific or trying to make “good time” that you end up not enjoying yourself. If you have a laid back approach, you just might find out that the journey is better than the destination.

Some Lovin' for Tito