Exactly one year ago I was leaving Ushuaia, Argentina to continue my trip through South America. I stayed there for 2 weeks and arrived there hitchhiking a truck from 1800 km away. Did that scare me? Not really!
Since I have hitchhiked a long part of my way through South America I can sum up my experience as a solo female traveller.
1. Keep in mind the time of the day when you start!
I remember when I was in Chile Chico, a very small city at the border with Argentina. I was planning to head even more West in Chile, through Carretera Austral to get to Puerto Chacabuco to be able to take a ferry to Chiloe Island. I lost you already with all these names, haven’t I? Shortly, I was in a very small village trying to get in just one day to a port. There were two ways getting there: 250 km distance (something like a 5 hours ride), or less than 500 km (something like 9 hours ride). Of course I took the long one, but I actually managed it in just one day and I’ve only took two cars. The first ride was for five hours but I did have some fun. The lesson learned is one day before I tried to hitch a car, in the afternoon, and no single car took me. So I booked a hostel, and following day I got a car in within first 15 minutes.
2. You need to be patient.
Everyone says this that it became a cliche. I do believe it is important to consider an alternative. Sometimes I had to wait up until 5 hours to be picked up. And that is when I had to get off the truck I was in at 2 am, and find a place to sleep for the night. Ended up sleeping in a conference room belonging to the Chilean Army (read my fb post from back then). However, sometimes I’d have to wait for about five minutes.
3. Listen to the driver suggestions
As I already mentioned Puerto Chacabuco, I have to say it was amazing when the girls told me to stay over night in Puerto Ayesen since that is an actual city and not just a small port. Not only that, but they even found me an accommodation calling to different places in that little city where we were heading to (I did not have a Chilean SIM card).
4. Be safe!
Now I know this goes without saying, but how can you actually do it? Have access to internet while hitchhiking and a full on battery on your device. That is a start. If you can write down the number of the car you are getting into and send it to a friend, that would be even better. As a woman I was hit on almost in every car I went in (driven by a man). But that happened less in Patagonia, and more outside of it. I still believe Patagonia is one of the safest places I tried hitchhiking. Also, what I used to do is to ask drivers where they go first, and then tell them where I want to go. Of course that means I would need to study a bit the map in advance, but it gave me a sense of security. Another side of being safe is where you actually stop for the car to take you. On to the next point.
5. Find a place where the car could actually stop
Staying somewhere you can be seen is not enough. You can not even imagine how often I have seen people waiting in weird places, like just before a bridge, or in the front of a continue line, or even few meters from a roundabout. But you also need to think about how safe you are in the place where you are waiting. People drive fast (especially in Chile!) and you never know what can happen on that side of the road where you are waiting.
The best place is a gas station if you are comfortable with going and asking people directly where they go and if they can take you, I have to say I wasn’t.
6. If you take a truck, think about the speed
So be prepared to spend hours and hours in that truck. Meaning you will share hours with the driver, so be prepared for that. I usually try to play it as it goes (sometimes I had amazing conversations, sometimes I would just keep silent the whole time). Most of the truck drivers are very nice and happy to help out, most likely they will share their food with you or make sure you have your bathroom break when you need it. So do not be ashamed to ask for whatever you might need, since they know the road best, but do listen to their advice.
7. Crossing the border
I have crossed the border about 7 times between Argentina and Chile and Chile and Argentina. One time in a bus, but the rest in a truck/car. There is some paper work involved and that is fine. In general drivers will make sure to let you off just before the border and then agree to meet you afterwards, as long as you say to the customs you have walked there. They all know someone drove you, but nobody actually cares.
I was lucky enough, first time when I crossed the border, for the truck driver to actually put me in papers as his companion so we went together through all that hassle. The very important thing you need to remember is to never have fruits or meat on you while you cross the border. Or if you do, just marked down what you have. Do not lie about this because you can get in trouble and believe me that is the last thing you want.
8. One is better than two, small luggage is better than big
I have travelled by myself the whole time, but half of my time I did not have a small and light luggage. I hated myself for that but that is another story. It happened few times I did not fit in a car because of my luggage and boy that sucked big time. However being just one I was easily picked up in front of others who maybe waited for a longer time.
9. Just go with it
I have travelled in a small car, truck, pickup truck (in the open back of it), SUV, minibus and so on. It really didn’t matter to me as long as I managed to get to my destination. But be prepared to get dirty or eat your weight in dust. Or if the driver goes somewhere else that sounds fun to you, feel free to change your mind and keep going with them if they accept.
10. Think about the distance and the road condition
You really need to keep in mind the road condition. A 200 km ride can be done in 3 hours or in 5. And also remember the East Coast of #Argentina is not the same with the West. East is a deserted area in which there are very few cities with huuuuuuge distance between them. On that side you won’t even have network coverage unless you are close to a city. And the landscape is rather boring. On the West side you have the mountains, there are way more cars (tourists included – even though I have rarely been picked up by tourists) but also more competition since there are a lot of people hitchhiking.
11. Use social media
I didn’t have much luck but there are some Fb groups for people who are interested in hitchhiking. Probably there are a lot of them but I only know of two: Grativiajes and Grativiajes Chile. Most of the times you can talk beforehand if they expect any payment to solve that from the beginning. However I need to say I was never asked for money no matter how many times I got into a car.
I know a lot of my friends were worried for my safety every time I was announcing I am on the road again, but I can say hands down the experience was simply amazing and I would have not seen #Patagonia any other way. Have you ever hitchhiked in Patagonia? What was your experience and the biggest challenge? #alinaswonders