In an attempt to shake a severe case of cabin fever after several days of unpleasant winter weather and self-imposed isolation due to the swine flu epidemic, Tomás, Hilda,Velia and I decided to go for a Sunday afternoon drive.
I piled into the car with Daniel's parents and grandmother, and we headed north over the river, leaving the city behind us in a matter of a few minutes. Tomás navigated the back country roads with a clear destination in mind: the quiet little village of Costa Bonita. We wound our way past farmland, humble little homes built from nothing, then down a dusty road flanked by towering agave plants.
We paused momentarily at a chapel and shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes (la Virgen de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes), watching as the faithful lit candles and sent up prayers. A few minutes later, we found ourselves looking out over the expansive, pebble-filled beach of Costa Bonita. We sat and contemplated the waves that buffeted a broken concrete fishing pier while shorebirds danced at the water's edge and sea foam swirled among the sand and stones.
At this point, I assumed that we would make our way south down the coast to Necochea, as I knew of no coastal road suitable for non-4x4 vehicles that continued northward. Apparently neither did Tomás until we spotted a sign that beckoned "Arenas Verdes 6km." Feeling adventurous, we all agreed to explore this unfamiliar route to Arenas Verdes (also known as Playa Verde), another tiny but picturesque beach spot.
I later learned that although the road between Costa Bonita and Arenas Verdes was built four years ago, it remains largely unknown to locals. Arenas Verdes may be easily accessed by the inland highway Ruta 88, but arriving by means of this unpaved coastal road offers a more scenic option that hugs the ocean. This stretch of coastline is quite rugged with virtually no signs of humanity along the way.
As we drove along I marveled at the desert-like scenery to my left – enormous sand dunes that rose up in the distance like something out of the film Lawrence of Arabia – while on my right the ocean waves crashed against the rocky shore. At one point I asked Tomás to stop so I could take a picture, and I leapt out of the car and scrambled up a small hill for a better vantage point. The wind whipped my hair as I surveyed my surroundings. All I could hear was the sound of the sea and the cries of a few seagulls.
We continued on our journey, making our way easily and comfortably, until suddenly the road divided. In a split-second decision, Tomás chose to continue straight ahead instead of following the curve to the left. The road, previously in good condition with virtually no sand, changed to nothing more than a narrow set of tracks blazed through the scrub grass and sand.
With no way to turn around, Tomás forged ahead, gunning the engine in spots where the "road" seemed particularly sketchy. We crested the top of a small hill and cringed when we saw that the next section of road was absolutely drowning in sand. Tomás shifted gears and accelerated on the approach to try to get us through, but as soon as we hit the sand trap we were stuck.
Tomás and I stepped out of the car, determined to remedy the situation. I set to excavating the front and back tires – efforts which Velia later described as something akin to "an armadillo burrowing for food" – while Tomás searched for stones and other material to place under the wheels for traction. Hilda hopped into the driver's seat and gave the car some gas as Tomás and I pushed. The car gained a bit of traction and lurched forward a foot or two, only to sink once again into the sand even deeper than before.
Standing there, hands on hips, with a defeated expression on his face, Tomás perked up when he heard the sound of a pickup truck off in the distance. Two very kind and helpful individuals stopped and lent us a helping hand – thank you, whoever you were – hitching us up to their 4x4 and extricating us from the sand. [Side note: The men mentioned that they hadn't been down this road in over a year.]
Trailing closely behind our rescuers just in case we should get stuck again, we finally arrived at Arenas Verdes about ten minutes later. Following the road not taken, we made our way back to Necochea safe and sound, though a pound or two heavier for all the sand in our shoes.
I'm pleased to report that after this outing all four cases of cabin fever were successfully cured without further intervention.