After spending a good amount of time driving through Patagonia, you start to notice the little things that make the difference between a smooth drive and a rougher experience. Expect a difficult drive even if you stick to the paved roads, and keep an open mind as always. But even though you pass by some incredible scenery, it is a trip that can wear you out quickly, whether you are driving on the coast or in the mountains.
The distances in Patagonia are great, and even when you finally reach a town after hundreds of kilometers of nothing, you might find that you are just in a small outpost with one gas station. Though you might have enough to get you to the next town, you should always try to top off on fuel, because you never know if the only gas station in town actually has gas that day. This was a problem for my family and I on our trip down the coast. We had planned on getting gas in Camarones, but once there found out there was a gas strike. We had just enough to get to our destination, but then had to beg for gas from an estancia to get to the next city, almost 200 kilometers away.
Wind is going to be a strong factor on the drive. As you head down the paved roads at a smooth 120 kph (technically speeding, but following the flow of traffic), you’ll feel the car being knocked around like a toy, and you have to actually fight against the steering wheel to stay on the road. While I was driving, I normally had the wheel at 10-11 o’clock or 1-2 o’clock, even though I was driving in a straight line. You have to really pay attention because you will most likely get bored pretty quickly; the landscape is unchanging and radio stations are way out of reach. Bring CDs you can listen to over and again, and try to get some good conversation over the sound of wind against the car.
Other dangers on the road are animals. Though it seems like hardly anything lives in the steppe, there are a large number of guanacos and sheep that roam around with freedom. From time to time these animals will get right on the road, and you have to give them the right of way. The guanacos will usually clear out quickly, yet farther down in Santa Cruz Province they actually walk into the road as you drive towards them. Then you also have rabbits, road runners, ostriches, and other species along the trail.
When driving on the dirt roads, you need to measure the quality of the path itself to know how fast to drive. Some are better than others, and I was able to get up to 60 kilometers an hour. Others were terrible, and we struggled at 30 kph. There are large stones all over the road, and you need to find the grooves in the middle to sail through, though those lines are also sometimes blurred. Rocks bump up to the bottom of the car and it feels like a bomb is going off. Throw in the wind, and the car gets tossed around even worse. Once in a while a big dust storm will come through and you have to stop the car and wait because there is zero visibility.
On the rare occasion that you pass a car, definitely slow down to a near crawl, and then there are two schools of thought. You can either get as far to the edge of the road or get as close to the other car as possible without hitting. The idea is that rocks will generally fly farther out, so if you get closer the will pass by. Either way, expect to have some dinks and cracks in the car by the end of the trip. And make sure you have at least one spare tire with you.
With every long road trip you want to be prepared. So get the gas filled up, bring water and snacks, and get your directions down. Luckily, it’s generally a straight shot in one direction with few roads to screw you up, but as you pass through towns, the roads change names and you need to pay attention to get through on the same route.
So if you do decide to drive through Patagonia one day, you now have a bit of advice from someone who has done it. Get ready for a long and boring, though worthwhile drive.