We were sitting in our flat in Buenos Aires. It was two weeks after we arrived in Argentina. At some point we decided to go somewhere. We already had plans to see Iguazú and Uruguay. And tangoeing Buenos Aires obviously. But suddenly we realised that we want to go a bit further, take a longer trip and drive through Ruta 40. The idea seemed perfect through and through – the possibility to see almost whole Argentina closely, seeing amazing nature, spending 2 months on the road and finding time for us, for the family. The plan was perfect, only the driver needed to digest it.
At the point we got the idea, we decided it’s ingenious and agreed to go. We didn’t sober up until we got the good price of renting the car negotiated and had to book plane tickets for Salta. I then panicked a little bit because I realised that it’s actually going to happen. Since I was supposed to be the driver, we tried to choose a route that won’t be too much for me. (We really thought it then. Only later I realised that I would happily drive further.) At first we thought that we would leave from Buenos Aires, leave the car in Ushuaia and go back on a plane. Unfortunately this option turned out to be horribly expensive because the car renting and returning locations were located 3000 km from each other. Back then I thought that renting the car in Buenos and returning it to the same office was impossible. I was sure I won’t make it, that it’s just making our drive longer for no reason. We finally decided to rent a car in Salta which is quite near to Ruta 40 and apart from that – I knew how people drive in Buenos and didn’t want to start the trip with scratches or bumps.
However – before we got on the plane – doubts emerged. I was supposed to be the driver who’s responsible for the whole family. In order to rent a car you need a driving license issued at least 2 years ago. I had mine for 9 years, I passed it in one go but so what if I haven’t drove that much. Only occasionally. Before we went to Argentina, we didn’t know that we’ll go on Ruta 40 but we were thinking about renting a car so I scheduled 4 supplementary car driving sessions. I wanted to feel more confident and see how I’m doing. The instructors had good opinion about what I do on the road so I felt quite OK.
I thought to myself that if I’m capable of driving through Warsaw in rush hours, I’ll do mostly deserted Ruta as well. I wasn’t sure, though. What worried me more was how the road will be organised and how will Amelia take it. What if she cries all the time, that she wants the tit, play, a hug etc. while I have to drive. Fortunately we made it work so that every member of our party was happy.
What about this ‘woman driving’?
I hate it when people observe another car and say that they’re sure it must be a ‘woman driving’, even though I sometimes fall for that too and (unfortunately) sometimes I’m right. I’m pretty sure that Argentinean drivers had similar thoughts about me.
During these 13 thousand kilometres I drove through Argentina and Chile, I often felt like a ‘woman driving’. I can’t even remember how many times did I have to knock on my head when people honked at me because somebody thought I was driving too slow, or returned in a place where there was no return sign (but it was supposedly customary to return here and I didn’t know any customs) or gave way on priority to the right crossing when there was no car on the right. In Argentina there’s plenty of customary rules unfortunately. That’s how it is with priority right. They know who should give way, the foreigners don’t.
I used to think that he worst driving conditions are in Georgia, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus but no. I’ve been there and yes, the conditions aren’t perfect and the pedestrians are treated as something marginal because you know, the cars are more important, you often have to run across the street since there are no pedestrian crossings, but I never seen anybody honking on a mother with a child in a pram walking the legal way through the crossing while driving super fast, just a few cm from her. And it wasn’t just an incident. That’s how it was there all the time everywhere.
The lack of driving culture often resulted in situations when driving out of your parking spot to the main road took 30 minutes. Even Kuba walking out and trying to stop the passing cars didn’t always help. I still don’t understand why are people so mean and aggressive while driving. ‘Stop Road Psychos” campaign may have been a good idea there. Fortunately, people only drive like that in big cities. On Ruta 40 it was perfect. It looked like a complete opposite to the big city conditions. The drivers were always kind to us. When we stopped for a moment to feed Amelia, people often pulled over and asked if everything was alright. When we were driving, cars coming from the opposite direction often ‘said hello’ by blinking their lights or honking. And that was super cool. What’s interesting – we haven’ seen too many woman driving but it didn’t surprise me.
I mean, I’m no saint and as I am a woman there’s some of the ‘woman driving’ in me as well. Here are some of my road sins:
– even though our car returned to the car rental in good shape (as for driving 13 000 km through Ruta 40 in two months, in varying weather conditions, through rivers, dust, dirt and rocks that bumped into the car’s body), it wasn’t in perfect shape. I only had one major sin to be guilty of – On the first day, on a parking lot in front of our hostel, where there were absolutely no cars, I didn’t see a pole and delicately scratched the right side of the car. After that I totally took it easy,
– I once didn’t see the police on the road and only realised them honking and waving in the rear view mirror a few seconds later. What did I do? I returned on the shoulder, wrong way and stopped in a place I considered a perfect spot. They didn’t even say anything about it, just laughed,
– I didn’t know (at first) that yellow curb means no parking. I did it once and got an oral reprimand from the police,
– at the Chilean border I turned in the wrong way (the signs were kind of confusing) and also got an oral reprimand.
All this time I never got a ticket which I consider great success :)
There were also things I could do nothing about. In Ushuaia someone scratched our trunk heavily with some sharp object at night. Fortunately they didn’t mind in the car rental and we didn’t have to pay. They also didn’t mind a guy driving into our back right after we returned to Buenos because he was preoccupied with his iPhone. Obviously he pleaded guilty, gave us his number and his insurance number
I have to admit that this trip was an amazing experience for me. I’ll be honest with you – it’s so amazing when you’re so afraid of something, has a trauma linked to it and even though decide to give it a try. Right now I’m not scared of anything and can drive anywhere, even to the end of the world. Oh, wait, I’ve already been there :)