‘Be Careful with the Patagonian Wind’ read the small label on the inside ledge of the driver side door. I remembered Alejandro’s words and slowly wound down the side window. Wind hissed in as though escaping under pressure and a blast of cold air nearly sucked my sunglasses from my face. Holding both the door handle and the frame I cautiously began to open the door. Stable at first, the door soon became a wild beast of a thing as it began to catch a proportionately larger share of the wind and when it was side on it took off like a greyhound from a trap. I was physically pulled out of the driver’s seat and onto the ground, only just managing to maintain a hold on the door and stop it from being torn from its hinges and blowing into the wild blue yonder. Welcome to Patagonia.
Driving when this force of nature is blowing can be a Herculean effort and is more akin to sailing than driving as one suffers the capricious swipes and tugs. The wheel is rarely still, it is a wrestling match with an invisible foe who can lull you into a false sense of security with a few moments of smooth passage then slam into you with a force enough to send you skittering a meter to port or starboard. At times one can almost feel the effect of having a sail tightly wound into the wind with all hanging on the grip of vulcanised rubber to tarmac. Haul in too close and you will surely capsize. Vehicles approaching in the opposite direction also present a challenge and the bigger they are the bigger the challenge. A coach can suck you towards it and then spit you out towards the steep gravel verge as it hurtles past. You soon learn to give these leviathans a wide berth. It is a dance and no doubting it.
And the when the rain comes, and come it will, it is a vicious stinging onslaught, each drop a slingshot of wind borne venom. Caught between the latitudes known as the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties the narrow sliver that is Patagonia is well and truly caught between a rock and a hard place. They get weather here that reduces hardy outdoor types to snivelling, downtrodden wrecks.
That evening we drove towards the border with Chile through a valley beautiful in its desolation. The cloud hung low and the wind was still battering us. Ahead in the distance we spotted a dense patch of forest, shelter for the night and relief from the onslaught out on the open road. Drawing closer we saw that the forest was composed of Araucaria, or Monkey Puzzle trees. Driving in amongst them was like sailing round a headland into calm water. Something about their tightly laced triangular leaves, which are thick, tough and scale-like, must act like a superb wind break. Anchored to the ground with great buckles of roots they all looked as though they could withstand any amount of wind. At night, although the van trembled slightly, we were serenely calm, save for a rather mournful keening as the wind, sounding as though far away, kept up its assault.
The morning dawned near cloudless and without a sound. Stepping out into the chill there was not a breath of air moving. The Araucarias stood timelessly mute as a pair of crazed green Parakeets swept through them cawing as they went. Through the trees I saw snow-topped mountains and then stepping around one giant tree saw the magnificent cone of Volcan Lanin. Patagonia, a beauty and a beast.