Where I am right now in Las Lajas, in the Neuquén province of Argentina, is technically Patagonia. Patagonia in Argentina reaches further north than it does in Chile. In Chile you have to descend at least as far south as Puerto Montt, though according to Wikipedia you actually have to descend down below the Grand Island of Chiloe to places like Puerto Cisnes and Coyhaique.
Las Lajas is a small town. Everyone knows everyone. It would be hard not to. And even if you don’t know someone you pretend like you know them, greeting them with a kiss on the cheek if they’re a woman, and sometimes even if they’re a man. It’s not uncommon for men to kiss on the cheek in Argentina. At first I found this uncomfortable, but now I kind of like it. I’ve only gotten one man-kiss in my life, but I remember thinking it was a sort of rite of passage. The first time a man tried to kiss me on the cheek by way of greeting was in Buenos Aires in 2008. Since I didn’t know it was the custom I pulled away, and immediately felt bad.
I got to Las Lajas on Monday after hitchhiking all day from the Chilean town of Lonquimay. Lonquimay isn’t in Patagonia, but as soon as you cross the border to the Nequen Province of Argentina you’re officially in Patagonia. Crossing the Andes is a lot like crossing the Cascade Range in Washington State. The west side is green and lush and full of people working for Amazon, and the east side is brown and barren and full of people drinking mate.
I haven’t done much since getting to Las Lajas. This was precisely the point in coming here. My days consist of walking around, cooking meals, drinking tea, drinking mate, drinking wine, and teaching my English classes. Last night I went on a walk by the river as the sun was setting. There were some teenagers shooting slingshots at birds, beautiful swans floating through the water, and I said, “Why do you want to hurt the birds?” “We’re just shooting to shoot,” they said.
Tomorrow I’ll take a bus to Zapala, 60km to the southeast, and then try to hitchhiking to Villa La Angostura, another few hours south, deeper into the Argentinian Patagonia. Villa La Angostura is nestled in the mountains, on a lake, and known for stunning nature, fly-fishing, and famous people. Famous people like me.
Today is not over yet, though. Now I’ll walk to the bus station pictured earlier and buy my ticket, since this is about the most exciting thing you can do in Las Lajas. And then I’ll come back to my cabin and drink some mate, and maybe pet the neighbor’s dog. And enjoy the Argentinean Patagonia.