Reliving an Abandoned Town on the Patagonian Coast


Reliving an Abandoned Town on the Patagonian Coast
Story and photos by Madelaine Triebe

At the end of a dirt road far away from any civilization, a couple slowly revives a settlement in Argentina that has been sitting empty for more than half a century.

Patagonia Camping Sign

"It was made out of our dreams", he says.

Eduardo has a scar on his right cheek and dents in his tanned face around his mouth and eyes. His hair is black and slightly curly at the top with a few streaks of grey. The Patagonian steppe has left its ungentle mark on his face and my eyes are fixed at him whilst he speaks.

We fill up the tank in Trelew in southern Argentina and follow the green road signs south towards Camarones on RP-1. We have a choice to turn left on the sealed road that takes us to Punta Tombo where there are pedagogical signs about Magellanic penguins, or we can take the dirt road to the right towards Cabo Raso—a once abandoned coastal town a two-hour drive away.

"Four kilometers to Punta Tombo or 75 to Cabo Raso"? Gonzalez asks me. It's 4:00 pm and we have been driving for eight hours straight without stopping for lunch. My hunger is reflected in my mood, bleak face and tired eyes.

The choice is obvious: "Cabo Raso," I say without a doubt.

Cabo Raso sign in Patagonia

I've read about a coastal ghost town called Cabo Raso that has been revived by a local Argentine couple after it was abandoned in the 1950s. I've left the pristine prettiness of the Patagonian Lake District packed with young local backpackers hitchhiking along Ruta 40 and holidaying Argentine families bulk buying chocolate in Bariloche. I've traded that for barren land with three friends from Buenos Aires; Gonzalez, Mauro and Max, whom I have managed to convince to bring me to this isolated place. I've plotted it for more than two years, but with no car or access to public transport it's been, until now, a quest doomed to fail.

As Gonzalo drives along the unsealed road in his white Fiat cursing and demanding that this is the last time we're driving on ripio on our road trip, it feels like the world I know has taken a step back. I look out the car window and only see dry shrubs, arid steppe, and the occasional sheep. Staring straight ahead, the Patagonian horizon swallows the dirt road. The digital clock on the Fiat changes with every kilometer and every kilometer seems to take us nowhere. After an hour of no living thing, three guanacos cross the road and jump the fence over the enclosures next to the road. A few sheep escape the grasping sound coming from the tires against the pebble stones. We meet no humans expect for a man on a motorbike with a rifle strapped to his back. We wave, but he drives pass us with a straight face. We don't even get a nod.

"Why did the people leave?" a friend asks me as I tell him about the town on the coast of Chubut that had 3,000 inhabitants at its peak.

"Maybe to find a life in the city", I guess. "You know what it's like... People abandoning the countryside for the city, seeking a better life."

Ghost town in Patagonia

"Look—the sea", Max exclaims and points to the left. The blue colour breaks off the monotonous faded brown beige colors of the steppe and I put my head out the car window and notice a warmer wind, with particles of salt crystals in the air. The wind takes a firm grip of my hair and fills my nostrils with a new smell. As we drive over the cattle grid and past a green sign with rust covering most letters—we can barely distinguish the C and the R-we assume we have arrived to our final destination.

The Keepers of the Ghost Town

Entering the gate, a blood hound and a border collie come running out barking at the car. It takes half a minute before a woman, in big blue shades covering half of her face and blue matching tights in lycra comes out and greets us. With a tight indigo colored long-sleeved sweater, she's as blue as James Cameron's avatars.

We look around and see a shack made of re-used tin and rectangular shaped brick houses with flat roofs scattered around the land. With my 30-yearold eyes I think that there's not much around here other than the Atlantic Ocean.

After 15 seconds of silence Gonzalez is the first to speak. "Buenas tardes," he says and continues: "We are looking for accommodation."

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