The journey to Neuquén from el Bolsón will forever be etched in my mind. Our home of Salmon, Idaho, is ultra remote, so a 6-hour drive is no big thing for us. We were glad to be traveling with sleeping bags and a tent, we had a box of groceries and beverages (yes, by now I’d come to embrace that it’s not red OR white, it’s AND), and we’d downloaded the Dolly Parton’s America podcast.
Oh and we had copies of letters the US Embassy told us to carry, which I believe informed the checkpoint guards they should wash their hands with soap while singing the ABC’s twice after having contact with us.
The scenery in Patagonia is so spectacular, I found it difficult to want to leave.
But the many checkpoints on the empty roads served as a stark reminder that getting home would be an excellent idea.
This total lockdown was new for everyone and each guard focused on a different aspect of our paperwork. The passports, the embassy letter, our good-housekeeping seal of good health from our Bolsón quarantine, our 2 sets of plane tickets. We all wished each other well as we parted — que le vaya bién.
We weren’t making very good time, and the scenery was getting more and more austere. We passed a huge hydroelectric project, reminding us of some of our previous angst back home. After about 8 checkpoints, 7 hours, and 6 Dolly Parton episodes, we were beat. We deployed the sleeping bags and slept in the Renault Duster for a few hours under a brilliant Milky Way.
We started driving again at 3:30 am. The kilometers to Neuquén we’re getting smaller. Two more checkpoints successfully navigated. Thinking there would be signs to the airport was the wrong way to think, and soon we realized we were off course.
Fortunately, there was another checkpoint just ahead. We would ask these nice officers for directions and get to el aeropuerto a few hours early.
Nah, too easy, right?
Neuquén is a bit more gritty than the Patagonia region. Think eastern Montana or the part of Nevada that is not Caesar’s Palace. Tourism isn’t much of a thing here and our folder full of papers weren’t impressing anyone. In fact, our diploma from the Bolsón quarantine course seemed to be giving them the impression that we had been quarantined because we’d been sick. That’s when I have reason to believe my sleep deprived, stressed, and broken Spanish said something like, “We bring you Coronavirus on behalf of the United States Embassy. Please to meet you. Now we go to the airport in which address?”
So we were invited to follow the police and our stack of papers and our passports to the downtown office. When we got there, they took our keys and told us to stay in the car.
No es bueno. I’ll tell you more in Episode 10.