It is so very surprising, but so stunning to me, how little travel in Argentina has changed since the 60s and 70s. Bruce Chatwin, a British travel writer, published In Patagonia in 1977. His descriptions of Buenos Aires, Patagonia, Argentine people, Argentine mentality, immigrants and even methods and means of travel are so very similar to what I have currently seen and experienced here now, over 40 years after him.
Beginning with very small things, all the rich people of Buenos Aires still play on their estancias all summer long. All the very rich still spend their summers in Punta del Este, South America’s supposed “micro-Miami.” There are still everyday victims of machismo. La Plata is still a university town. And still, people say “If Evita were alive she would have been a Montonera!” Argentina in general seems to be very stuck in time since the time of Chatwin’s travels.
When Chatwin embarks on his journey from the north down to the south of the country into the Patagonian region, I picture my own self staring out the window of extremely long bus rides. These buses still function, are surprisingly quite cheap, and even have cots for overnight comfort.
I find Chatwin’s writing to be very honest. He tells all the positives; the beautiful descriptions of the bare, Patagonian terrains and even the interesting experiences with a variety of different characters from Mrs. Jones to America’s own Butch Cassidy. Yet, he is able to be brutally honest about the ugly parts of travel; having to share a room with an excessively drunk man in a hostel style hotel, unable to sleep due to the smell of this stranger’s vomit. He even describes the negatives of the area that his acquaintances recount to him, including the amount of killings at the time.
As a travel writer, the author focuses much more on conversations and experiences with people that he encounters, rather than on landscape-only scenes or just a narration of things that he did while he was traveling. Although I’ve never been the type to be able to go with the flow in the same way that Chatwin is able to travel and completely change direction and itinerary based on who he meets and runs into, I admire and appreciate the lessons he draws from these people and the conversations he has with them, as well as things that he discovers and learns about himself.
The author references other texts of writers and their previous experiences in Patagonia. When he speaks of Darwin, he also mentions W.H. Hudson who wrote about his experience to the Rio Negro in 1980s. His “quiet and sane” book, Idle Days in Patagonia, concludes that, “desert wanderers discover in themselves a primeval calmness (known also to the simplest savage), which is perhaps the same as the Peace of God” (Chatwin 15). This quote resonated with me. It reveals some sort of foreshadowing that Chatwin himself was able to find peace in Patagonia. It is also one of the various references to God and religion in the book.
- Patagonia: Patagonia.com