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Route 40, Patagonia

We pulled into a small settlement; a place with twenty or so small houses concentrated together with a tiny store. I walked to the outskirts and looked at the land falling in front of me. I passed caged pigs and cow skulls lying in the dirt. On numerous occasions I’d read that Patagonia houses a ferocious wind like no other land. To quote Bruce Chatwin: ‘it is a wind so fierce it strips men to the core’. Trees stood ripped and battered at some angle; one side bare, the other clutching at what branches remained preventing them from being ripped from the truck. The tops of the trees bent and cracked as if in an invisible arm wrestle. They had struggled with the wind since saplings.

I met a man named Mario who ran a small pizza shop. I walked past twice before noticing. Mario was tall, slightly overweight and grey. He was contagiously happy. He rewound a tape sitting in an old tape deck, removed it, turned it and pressed play. Before it had a chance to begin he turned the volume knob and asked me in broken English ‘you like dance?’

Before I could reply a booming sound raced from the speakers. Mario started shuffling beside the counter and when I noticed some fellow bus travellers advancing towards the door I started dancing too imaging what they would think, me dancing with a 50-60 year old man in a Patagonian Pampa pizza store.

A shadow drew closer from the small hall. It was Mario’s son. He was also tall and looked simple with his shiny black hair combed forward. He had broad shoulders and looked as if he’d done a lot of lifting in his younger days. I think he was as surprised as I felt seeing his Father dancing with a Gringo. I couldn’t help but see the funny side. He retreated back to the hall without as much as a grin. Mario looked at me, looked back down the hall and smiled which made me smile.

Mario began telling us about his life on the land. He’d lived on the land for 28 years, had the store more or less the same time. His son was my age but looked much older. He showed us pictures of his first truck, hiking, branding, riding and various father son moments.
He did not mention his wife nor have a photo of her. I didn’t ask.

We clambered back on the bus and sunk into a dirt road. It was wide and disappeared into the horizon. I stared at it until dark.