San Luis and the Beauty of Hitchhiking

It’s free. It’s social. It’s educational. It’s eye-opening. It’s cultural. I could just keep going, but then this post might turn into: worthwhile reasons to hitchhike. However, I’m also here to talk about the tranquil town of San Luis.

I met six people on the long roads going in and out of the town and fell in love with the place. The ambient was enjoyable, the atmosphere was peaceful and the thrill of hitchhiking made San Luis a worthwhile spontaneous decision.

San Luis, who’s ever heard of it? You’ve got Mendoza, Cordoba, the renowned Buenos Aires, Patagonia …. and San Luis? It doesn’t quite make the normal touristy stop over in Argentina. But that’s the beauty of travelling. You’ve made the time to do exactly what you want to do. So we decided to stop in San Luis. Our plan originally was Cordoba, but we met a guy in our previous hostel in Mendoza who recommended a visit to Parque Nacional de las Quijadas.

Catching a taxi from our hostel to the bus terminal we try to find a bus that can take us to the part altirro. (Immediately in Chilean slang.) But there is none running. Zero buses en route to the park. Our whole purpose in this town was the park and now we had no visible means of getting there. That leaves us one and only option.

Hitchhiking can be such a risky means of transport. There’s potential violation, kidnapping, abuse etc. These thoughts did run through my mind a few times. However, most of the world is made up of nice people. Additionally it is extremely cheap AND you get to know the locals. While travelling helps you know more about the world it can also isolate you in the bubble of international travellers. From hostel to hostel you’ll meet people from all over the world but perhaps no one from the place itself.

We walk along the side of the highway. Cars, trucks, vans whiz past us at 100km/h. Our left arm sticks out and we pull up our thumb. This is the first time I’ve hitchhiked it so seriously.

It takes about 20 minutes for the first truck to pull over. He has an open back so we just jump into the back and go as far as he can take us in the right direction (which is only about 15 minutes). Getting out we still have two hours to cover but after one success I had more confidence. Honestly the first attempt I was nervous. ‘What would mum say if she knew right now?’ But the second go was easier.

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We were now out on a more deserted highway, mostly occupied by an occasional truck. Our next pick up is a truck driver who takes us the hour and a half to the entrance of the park. This driver had a long trip to go, transporting cargo from Mendoza to Buenos Aires via San Juan (the next town). So really we helped him. Our company made his trip entertaining. And ours as well! We got to know more about the country, its poor economical state, the change in government, why the surrounding bushland was blue, his personal life and all the while improving our Spanish with a native. It really was win-win.

We arrive at the entrance of the park, walk ten minutes to the official entrance, buy our tickets and take a ride with the park ranger. Our expectation for the park was a day full of trekking amongst the red sandstone rock formations, exploration of the dry river beds and good exercise amongst the rock peaks. However, to walk below the rock formations we needed a guide, which we thought wasn’t worth the money. Instead we walked the free paths scattered around the entrance. All up we had 40 minutes of easy walking, enjoying the views but generating minimal exercise.

 

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I guess this post has turned more into the beauty of hitchhiking as opposed to the beauty of San Luis. After our stay in the park, we safely hitchhiked the two hours back to the centre of town as the sun was setting and prepared our bags to leave the next day.

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