At the end of the worldI search the horizon with my binoculars. No sign of life as far as I can see. Just withered bushes and grass surrounded by steep hill through which our sandy running route cuts right through. I hold my smartphone as high as possible. No signal. A sigh of relief. Today no Instagram, Facebook or WhatsApp. I flop into my foldable chair, listen how Weking, Liesbeth and An squabble over a game of Rummikub and watch how the horizon absorbs the sun. Life is beautiful at el culo del mundo - the end of the world.
Family visit in northern Argentina. Christmas in Mendoza. Again visit a bit further down south. New Year in San Rafael at Naty’s and Leo’s place - friends of Weking and Liesbeth. The last few months of 2017 slipped by very fast. I note 2 january 2018. The first run of this year starts at spot where we ended last year. Here we take up the thread. From the starting place we overlook the rio Diamante. Somewhat further down the river becomes a big reservoir. Some fishermen toss their hooks into the depth while Weking and Zander, An’s cousin and his girlfriend Karolien, jog across the dam towards a tunnel lodging through te rocks. A small light at the end warps us into a new world. We officially kicked our last three months of running.
Life gets thinner towards Patagonia. There is a quite a distance between villages and cities. The road that connects them is from time to time ruthless ripio, a sandy road with lots of rocks, washboard and deep by heavy traffic hollowed out tracks. We run close to Chile with the Andes as natural border. “We got to get moving”, Weking urges us while he’s running his last 10 kilometers of the day. “Bad weather is moving fast in our direction.” He points to pitch-dark clouds not far away from us. Once in a while a lightning bolt splits the dark air in two. The thundering is approaching fast. The Patagonian weather is unpredictable. In the morning you get up underneath a sunny and clear sky, but in the afternoon it clouds over and without even noticing you’re trapped in a heavy storm. “A bit outside Malarguë they close the road. Too dangerous”, an Argentinian traveling south tells us. “The 40 got washed out at several places. A lot of cars ended up in the ditch.” A few days ago we ran with glorious weather into Malarguë with the brothers Becerra, Argentinian running champs from the region, and barely one marathon further down the road they serve you four seasons in one day. “Remind that weather can change very fast here” en he leaves us again with his heavily-packed car. “Suerte”, he shouts while he accelerates.
Seven lakes and mochileros by the dozen
The summer holiday in Argentina reaches its peak. It’s busy on the Ruta de los Siete Lagos or the Road of the Seven Lakes. This part of the Ruta 40 is breathtaking. The road swindles up and down through endless pine forests and along turquoise lakes. Pine trees crawl up the mountains towards the snowy peaks. It’s as if we’re running in Swiss, but only more impressive, larger and with less habitation. Alongside the road mochileros, backpackers, try to score a ride towards Bariloche. In bunches they are the side with their thumb up high, hoping good soul would stop and take them at least a few kilometers further down the road. Hitchhiking is a national sport in Argentina and a very cheap means of traveling. Mochileros, a new generation of hippies, cleverly make use of it. Generally they don’t have any money and earn their pocket money to travel by making jewels, playing music or circus artist and meanwhile they travel the whole country. They are a part of the Argentinian couleur locale with their typical looks.
Trapped on a white line
The Ruta 40 between Bariloche and Esquel is a gullet which runs through narrow canyons and from time to time flows into wide valleys. Every day we digest bravely our kilometers. Sometimes on cloud nine. Sometimes with lead in our legs. Less than 2.000 kilometers separate us from our goal. I’m trapped on a white line - the border between a steep ditch on which I can barely run and the road on which cars and trucks in series of 5 to 10 thunder down in opposite direction.
In the far distance two yellow head lights dance across the bumpy road. They’re approaching very fast. The car to which they belong overtakes the car in front of him. After that a second one. With his foot down he tries to overtake a third one. But a few hundred meters before me he slows down and he merges again. I see trouble ahead. In flash a grey SUV rush past at a few centimeters from behind my back. I get the fright of my life, end up in the ditch on the left of me and take a misstep. “Goddammit, you son of a …”, I yell while the SUV disappears behind a curve. Our bodies can not handle this kind of manoeuvres any more, we don’t have the reserve any more. Every wrong step is punished with a shock that screeches from head to toe through our body.
We have to be on the alert for traffic again. In Argentina traffic is even more crazy than in Mexico, Centra America and Peru. As disturbed rally pilots Argentinians race across the road, the drift through sharp curves and they are not too anxious too overtake blindly while they don’t know what’s coming from the opposite direction. They give us barely space to run even if they can make way for us before they pass by. Gesticulating they wish us ending up in the ditch and they emphasise these feelings with honking the horn annoyingly long. A small family car bungles at the end of the umpteenth series of cars. The passengers give us a thumbs up and wave exuberant while the pass by. These moments give us a little bit of oxygen to surfive the next storm.
Muttering Mapuche warriors
A man bare to the waist with his head wrapped up in a black turban is looking in our direction for minutes now. Only his eyes are visible. From within our campers we see how he stares at us without moving any muscle. Something is wrong. Does he want rob us? Is he alone or are his mates hiding in the bushes to attack all together? Weking walks towards towards the man for a chat. “Don’t come any closer or I’ll sling this rock against your head”, the man shouts while he shows his catapult. A big rock rests on the leather piece in between the two rubber bands and the handle. “Che, tranquilo”, Weking responds. “What’s your problem?” “This Mapuche territory and also war territory. We’re in war with the police and Argentinian government. Now we fight with stones, but tonight it’ll bullets when we face the police again.”
Mapuche, freely translated people of the land, mostly live in the south of Argentina and Chile. There are about 900.000 of Mapuche indians nowadays, but they aren’t so sure if these are correct numbers. During the Spanish occupation Mapuche mixed with the Spaniards and it’s difficult to know who is full-blooded and who’s not. Today Mapuche are a hot news item again. They involved in a struggle with the Argentinian government. The base of the struggle is a massive chunk of land in Patagonia that belongs to the Italian clothing company Benetton. Mapuche occupy a piece of the Benetton land because it belongs to them and it was, so they say, unlawfully sold. The occupation already bursted out in extreme violence between the Mapuche and police forces. Recently Santiago Maldonado, a mochilero from Buenos Aires with Mapuche sympathies, disappeared during one of those confrontations. The Mapuche accuse the government for the disappearance and fear they might have killed him. Officials act dumb and accuse the Mapuche for what happened with Maldonado. The image of Maldonado is on every street corner. Argentina is under the spell of what might have happened to him. Where is Maldonado? Who saw him? Is he still alive? The wildest theories are circulating, but there is still no sign of the man.
Weking tries to talk some sense into the man. But he won’t listen. He keeps on staring. He doesn’t give in. On his righthand side a mate with white turban appears and more warriors would hide a bit further down in the bushes. “We just want to sleep here”, Weking tries one last time. “Can you guarantee our safety?” The man can not be persuaded and keeps on firing aggressive answers towards us. After a while they’ve had enough, turn around and disappear in the bushes. “Can you guarantee our safety”, Weking shouts one last time. He mutters something without looking back. It’s better to be safe than sorry and we leave. It’s dark already. Hopefully we’ll find a camping spot quickly. In the far distance there is a light with a small white house in its glimmer, a police office. We ask if we could spend the night on their property. “Did they chase you away”, the police man asks as if he’s clairvoyant. “We are in conflict for many years with those youngsters. It’s a plague. A few days ago they destroyed ATM's and daubed the whole city with Mapuche propaganda.”
The confrontation shimmers for a little while. It’s been a while we felt so unsafe. That we barely could assess the situation. A few weeks ago two Mapuche, brother and sister, drove with us towards Chile. Just outside San Martin de los Andes they were trying find a ride towards the Chilean border. The two were on their way to a Mapuche conference. They explained how forests died due to the eruption of volcanoes while we drove through a cemetery of silver-grey wood. They talked on how they tried to preserve that one string of Mapuche DNA. About Mapuche schools where they taught in their own language and on how they try to achieve it also in Argentina. The Mapuche fire still burns fiercely within them and it’s inextinguishable, even not by a bunch of troublemakers who only bring them in discredit. At Entre Lagos in Chile we say goodbye with a big hug. Brother and sister disappear in the night while we’re on the hunt for a good camping spot. The next day we cross the border with Argentina again. Again three months are stamped in our passport. We’re officially in the tail.