We arrived at the car hire terminal with a swagger that befits those rugged and tough enough to tackle the Ruta 40. A box full of emergency provisions, should we break down and have to spend the night on the wild plains of Patagonia, accompanied our EXPLORERS’ backpacks, along with things like proper motoring atlases and emergency fuel supplier lists and instructions for changing a tyre. Not that we needed the instructions, mind. By this point we’d watched the video on youtube so many times that we were like old hands when it came to wrenches and jack handles. Man, we were so prepared it hurt. We had sleeping bags that would keep us warm in minus fifteen and a pack of playing cards for the point in about two hours’ time when we had run out of things to say to each other. We were ready.
“SHOW US TO OUR 4×4,” we yelled. “LET’S TAKE THIS ROAD ON!”
The woman raised an eyebrow and took us outside to a small, old three-door Ford Ka. She gestured towards it and we laughed politely. “Our 4×4 please!” we repeated, with a little less swagger. She looked bored. “Here is your car,” she repeated. I looked at Marge.
“Er…” we said.
“I agree. This is not the car that you should use to drive the Route 40,” she said. “It is not safe. You need a jeep.”
“Well then why did you rent it to us?” Marge asked. It seemed like a reasonable question.
“You hired it through a third party,” she said flatly.
I didn’t really know what to do or say so I inspected the tyre treads like I was taught to do by the nice man on youtube. They didn’t look good so I subjected them to the penny test. “These aren’t good enough; they’re too old,” I reported usefully. The woman looked bored. “They are all we have.”
“And spare tyres,” I said. There are at least two, right? She shook her head.
We went inside and discovered that the full insurance we had purchased was a massive porkie. As was the fee for leaving the car in a different town. As was the fee for, oh, f*cking EVERYTHING.
“Can we clarify exactly how much this is going to cost, please?” Marge asked. She’s good at things like that. I was just staring at all the numbers and loading my pants. I have a numbers dyslexia thing where my brain goes into total spasm as soon as it looks at numbers.
It turned out that it was going to cost us about £800 EACH to hire this crock of shit for a week. If anything happened to it we’d have an excess of £3000. Petrol is exorbitant. Suddenly, our little jaunt was going to cost us about £1500 – for a week – which is my budget for, oh, two years at the moment.
“What shall we do, Marge?” said Marge, looking very depressed. (Neither of us are called Marge but we have been calling each other by this name since we were 20 years old and studying the strange witterings of medieval mystic Margery Kempe at University).
As I tried to work out what we should do a pack of street dogs burst through the door, all humping each other. Marge and I stood at the counter tapping away at calculators while this canine orgy unfolded around us and the woman screamed angrily.
Neither of us wanted to abandon our Excellent Road Trip Adventure but things were not looking good. We looked outside at the car one more time. “Should we?” I asked.
We went outside. “Hang on,” Marge said. “What the hell is this?” The woman came out and looked. There was a large hole in the side of the car.
She smiled, wryly. “Oh, that’s a stab wound. The people who returned the car took it to Chile and it got stabbed.”
We laughed uncertainly, presuming she was making a joke that neither of us got. But it turned out she wasn’t joking. Argentine cars get stabbed in Chile, apparently.
We decided to take the bus. It costs fifty quid. We agreed that we would create an Excellent Adventure of our own once we reached Bariloche and bravely abandoned our box of emergency supplies, saved for a gigantic tin of fruit cocktail which we will eat on the bus, pretending to be rugged and brave.
Meanwhile the dogs continued to shag each other all over the office and pavement.
Another day in paradise.