Editor's note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote "Perils of Polly." She also has written a series of "Peril" columns about Australia, Asia, and Central America. Her perils continue in Argentina and Chile.
Driving in a foreign country is always a challenge, and Argentina was no different. But my sister and I enjoy driving, and we knew we were up to the challenge.
Getting lost is just part of the challenge. Everything is fine as long as no one in the car is worried about time or distance and can smile in the face of frustration. For this, both my sister and myself are well suited.
After getting lost between the rental company and the shopping center, and having trouble finding the way onto the freeway, our next challenge was to find the route off the freeway to head south. We had an atlas of every province in the country and even had close-up maps of the more populated areas of Buenos Aires.
I was driving, and my sister was watching for Route 28. That was the route Cris told us to take off of the freeway. We were supposed to get the route in the city of Pilar. We learned two lessons during the next two hours: Argentina does not use route signs, and the highways go around the cities. Instead of route signs, we found two things: the names of streets and the names of cities.
"I think we're in Pilar," I said as I saw advertisement signs with the word "Pilar" in them. "We need to find Route 28." We passed several more exits. "I think we're passing Pilar." I looked at the countryside. There was no change. It didn't look any more or less urban than it did several miles previous.
We approached another exit. I jockeyed for position among the trucks. "Are we supposed to go to Lujan?"
"I don't know."
"Look at the map!" I said, getting a bit exasperated.
She fumbled through the atlas. Our first mistake was not acquainting ourselves with the 100-plus page atlas before we left. Cris had marked out a potential route for us to follow, but now we couldn't find what pages he did it on.
I passed the Lujan exit.
"Yes, we were supposed to go to Lujan, but it didn't say Route 28," Sue said.
I kept on driving. No more exits. About 15 miles flew by. "I think we've gone too far," I stated the obvious. A toll booth loomed ahead. Instead of pulling out money,
I pulled out the atlas, frowned at the kind toll booth operator, and mournfully lamented in Spanish how lost we were. She smiled and told us we could turn around and go back 20 kilometers and get off at the right exit. She didn't even charge us a toll.
By now my sister was getting a handle on the atlas. "We don't have to go back. We can get to Lujan from here, just with a different route."
Her directions took us down a narrow but paved road full of slow trucks and fast cars, but if felt right. When we got to Lujan, we were faced with the nemesis of all drivers in foreign countries: the roundabout! This one had six roads converging into it. Once again, no route signs. We were looking for Route 5. Instead, city signs were the only guides.
"Yikes!" I gasped. "Where do I turn? Do I go to Gral. Rodriguez?" I had no idea what the Gral. stood for. "Mercedes? Carmen de Areco?"
"I don't know!" my sister responded.
With cars zooming in front and around us, I made an instantaneous decision. I pulled off the road. I could always get back into the roundabout once we figured out which way to go.
We pored over the map. I laughed as I found a more detailed map that showed that Route 28 never even intersected with the freeway we had been on. And we resigned ourselves to traveling without route signs. We would just have to always know what cities we were going to be heading toward. That took some ingenuity. Sometimes we wouldn't be going to that city, but might be traveling that particular road for a ways. It was a tricky way to travel, but we got used to it and had it down by the time we ended the trip 33 days later.
For this one, we discovered we were going toward Mercedes. I turned around, got back into the roundabout, and instead of Mercedes, the exit I thought I should take said Chivilcoy.
"Take it!" my sister shouted.
Once on that road we both laughed as a sign announced, "Route 5." Whew! The first roundabout was mastered without a fender bender and we even found the right road!
We continued on our way through the fertile and flat pampas, enjoying the paved roads and sunflowers, until the sun started going down and we decided it was time to look for a place to camp. Finding a campground was also going to prove one of the major obstacles of the trip. We turned off the highway toward the town of Talpalque. We knew there was a campground there somewhere. All we had to do is find it.
Look for Polly's next perils in next week's Recreation section.