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Perils of Polly: Nafta gas, food inspection and just where is that campground?

Posted: March 23, 2012 - 8:17am
Photo courtesy Polly Crawford
“Where is that campground? Speak slower please ...” Polly tries to understand the Spanish directions to a local campground.

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.

Our second day of driving through the Argentine pampas and into Patagonia was one of language confusion which left my sister and me laughing. The Argentines we left behind are probably still shaking their heads at the two old American ladies driving through their country without a clue of what was going on around them!

As our gas tank arrow descended below a quarter of a tank, our anxiety rose. Gas stations, especially in Patagonia, were few and far between. Another problem was that our vehicle took what they called Nafta gas. I still have no idea what Nafta gas is, other than it is what we use in America. But we did find that not every gas station had Nafta. 

We ignored the posted prices because we couldn't figure out the price anyway, and realistically, it didn't matter. Of course gas is sold by the liter, and between the measurement difference and the money exchange, we didn't realize we were paying about $7 per gallon until we got home. Oh well.

We turned off the highway and into the town of Gral. Conesa, desperate to find a gas station. We found a little hole in the wall gas station with a huge semi trying to pull into it. We were coming from the opposite direction, but it looked like we could fit on the other side of the pump, which was where our gas tank was, anyway.

I pulled up to the pump, and a man came out waving his arms and yelling at me. I cocked my head. "No Nafta?"

"Si, Nafta. Atras!"

I didn't know what atras meant, but through much waving and gnashing of teeth, I finally got the jest -- he wanted me to back up. He kept circling his hands, and I was overcome with confusion wondering what in the world he was asking me to do. Trying to comply, I finally just got in the car and backed it up. I had no idea what for.

I could see the frustration on his face when he finally motioned for me to come back up to the pump. Now I was really confused. First I was supposed to back up. Then I was supposed to come forward. I shrugged my shoulders and he shrugged his and filled up our car.

As we pulled out of the extremely crowded station, I noticed a long line of cars which I had previously thought were just parked. I gasped and turned to my sister. "Look! He wanted us to go get in line! We just cut in front of a whole bunch of cars!"

Embarrassed, we were glad to get out of that town.

That wasn't the only confusion for the day. We crossed the "border" into Patagonia which meant a food inspection station. We looked into our cooler. We had lunch meat, hard-boiled eggs, an apple, and a banana. Not sure of what was legal and what wasn't, we decided to have a big lunch. We ate sandwiches jammed with a huge amount of meat, and I ate all the fruit. We found out later lunchmeat and the banana would have been OK, but not the apple.

They stopped us and searched the car. We held our breath as they noticed the eggs and the BHT boxed milk. We had bought eight boxes. Surely they wouldn't take them! They didn't, but said they would've taken the eggs if they weren't cooked. We proceeded through some kind of bug sprayer that sprayed the undercarriage of our car and we went on our way. We had to pass through many of these stations, and found a quick way through: admit to having food and stuffing it into our mouths right in front of them, and give them the trash. They laugh and motion us through without searching further.

We arrived at our predetermined camping area, the town of Las Grutas, after about 12 hours of driving. We quickly discovered we weren't using our brains. A beach resort on a hot Friday night in the summer is not a wise place to find a campspot. First we had to find the campgrounds -- and we finally found three -- only to turned down. Everything in that town was full for the weekend.

We headed down the road. A couple hours later at dusk -- thanks to the long daylight hours of the southern summer -- we arrived at Sierra Grande. Our Spanish campground guide, which turned out to be totally useless as we never found a single campground listed, described a nice campground there.

We pulled into a gas station. There happened to be a police car filling up, so I approached them, campground guide in hand. A barrage of language told me that campground from the guide didn't exist, but there was one nearby. I just couldn't understand where. Finally he said the magic word: Sigue (follow). The police car then escorted us to a tiny free campground behind one of the major gas stations, YPF, complete with showers.

We soon discovered the showers didn't work. We collapsed in the back of the van.

Check back next week for Polly's next perils.

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