The end was not as dramatic as we might have expected, or feared or maybe even hoped for. Indy and I spent days fantasizing about an explosive finish, exchanging blows with a smug rental car agent, getting arrested and becoming national heroes. In the end, it didn’t happen but it did teach us a few tricks about how to return a rental car with a long history of domestic abuse, outlined below.
- Return the car the night before it is due. This not only confirms your disgust for the car, but it confuses the rental agency. Any misdirection you can instigate is beneficial.
- Wait until it is dark outside before meeting with the agency. If possible, choose a time when it might also be raining. Dark, wet conditions discourage agents from spending too much time noticing things, like a one-inch rock gash in the window, or the mud caked and blown out, spare tire.
- Park the car away from the rental agency so that you have to lead the agent to the car. This way, you can force the agent to approach the car from the side which has fewer window cracks and scraped bumpers.
- Pray that the agent doesn’t actually attempt to start the car, because when if it doesn’t, your chances of getting reimbursed for costly repairs are greatly minimized
- Settle up on money and abscond as quickly as possible, preferable into a large crowd.
- Call your bank immediately and place a temporary hold on your credit card so that the rental agency cannot charge you for any damages they soon discover.
- Leave the country.
Our return to Bariloche was fueled by spite and characterized by high speeds. We attempted to enjoy a two day stop in El Bolson, but concern over the car seemed to seep into our thoughts at all times and ruin what would have otherwise been very enjoyable moments. Beer seemed flat, empanadas were dry, prices high and weather was miserable. The town was nothing like the sunny, hipster paradise it had appeared to be when we had passed through on our way south, just a week before. A never ending rainstorm flooded the streets and for two days we long jumped around town, trying to stay dry in spite of the ever rising urban streams.
Saturday was our final day of driving and we struck out early, anxious to eat up the last hour and a half of incarceration in our German engineered, rolling prison. We buzzed by roadside food stands and scenic viewpoints, once again avoiding turning off the car for fear of it never starting again. Whether it was necessary I will never know, but we did finally make it, checked into a smoky hotel and waited for darkness to fall so we could return the car.
Miguel, the rental agent, met us around 7:30 and performed a delightfully perfunctory check of the vehicle, failing to notice the blown tire, rock chips and cough riddled start. I spent 20 minutes arguing with him about refunds for days lost while Indy passively, but deliberately, blocked Miguel from exiting the car. Eventually, Miguel and I agreed to a simple reimbursement for only the repairs. He seemed equally and oppositely frustrated with the whole deal but when I left, I think we both felt that we had gotten away with something. Us with the rock chips, failing engine and blown tire and him, with our refund. Perhaps justice is found not when things are correct, but when all parities involved feel equally screwed.
Indy and I then had a few days in Bariloche to catch up on souvenir shopping and conclude our trip. On the surface, we had failed in nearly every aspect of the trip. But, I think we both know that the experience we received was truly unique and will someday be a far better story. For me it was the conclusion of more than a two week road trip.
I said goodbye to my Argentine home with final stops at favorite restaurants, park benches, happy hours and public bathrooms. The last 24 hours went by very quickly and this morning I was on a bus out of Bariloche, waving goodbye to Indy who would take a later bus to Buenos Aires, followed by a set of plane rides home. The sun was rising on the new day, but fog obscured my view in such a way that Bariloche disappeared before I was ready to turn away. Leaving my little place in Argentina left me wondering if and when I would ever return. The prospect of a permanent goodbye to a place that begin to feel like home made the morning unexpectedly challenging.
At present, a new chapter begins with Chile, starting in Puerto Montt. The few hours I have spent in the streets so far have revealed a pulsing city. Rosy faced women hawking knock off Puma bags face off against loose lipped food vendors frying dense breads and grilling choripan sausages. The plinking sounds of ramshackle gambling houses collect with piles of tumbleweed garbage and suspect electrical work at every corner. It’s messy and loud and wonderful.
The empty, family-sized bag of nacho cheese Doritos at the foot of my sagging bed has committed me to devoting tomorrow to an exploration of seafood and all things maritime. After that, my plans lie north. Only time will tell how far. For now, a toast to Argentina for everything it was and a challenge to Chile for everything it might be.