The side window was open, a gentle warm breeze was blowing across the surface of the Rio Azul cooling and blowing through the screen onto my face. There we were parked on a dirt road not to far out from the town of El Bolson, a dusty mountain town bustling with tourists in the peak of summer season. The day reminded me of eastern Montana in the heart of the summer, cloudless, blazing sun, dry heat; we decided that the local swimming hole would make an excellent choice for a campsite. When we arrived at 2 pm on a Sunday afternoon, the riverbed was bustling with Argentineans enjoying their summer day off on the riverside, with music blasting, empanada stands dishing their fare, children playing and parents sunbathing.
We spent the afternoon floating the cool dark aqua blue waters, scouting for good fishing holes, hammocking, reading and enjoying the oasis from the heat. Time flew, and the temperature dropped as the sun dipped below the opposing mountainside, the locals gathered their children, picnic gear, empty booze bottles and headed for home. When the sun finally set we had the place to ourselves, finished off stir fry veggies and left over steak dinner and prepped for our nightly board game of Catan.
The game heated up as the bugs found their way inside the netting over the van doors, more annoying was that Andrew was the eventual victor. We set up our beds for the night by pulling out the bench seat into a two person platform for Marlie and I, while Brian set up the rear single and Andrew extended his upper loft, that as Greti put it, “is suitable for a small child.” I read by headlight as Marlie dozed off next to me, Brian was in his own special ear-plugged world in the rear with the doors open slightly to allow the cool air to blow through the cabin, eventually us three were asleep as Andrew watched a video on his tablet up top.
I awoke around 1:30 AM to Marlie tapping me and Andrew worriedly talking about a car that had pulled up 50 yards to our rear, turning its lights off, the driver stepped outside for a cigarette Andrew said. Contactless and bleary eyed I managed to find my glasses in the dark and tried to piece together what was happening. We all waited and imagined in silence, as Andrew spied on the suspicious vehicle behind us. Eventually the driver returned to the vehicle and I remember dozing off as the the small white tattered car slowly rolled past, crunching the gravel like the terrifying alley cars of my youth that once attempted to abduct Brother Bear. I was scared, a primal flight or fight type terror, I’ve always and still am a little scared of being in my parents basement alone in the dark, now here I am in a van with three grown men, one very capable woman and a thousand scenarios are running through my head as I tried to forget about it and fall asleep.
I’ve felt safe at the last ten previous wild camp spots we’ve chosen, but this is the first one where I am questioning our judgement. Was it a bad idea to park in such a public place and then end up spending the night there? Did a local thief size us up and was planning a heist? Was this not a safe area, and we were about to become victims of our own judgement? Who was in the car? Was there more than one bandito? Did one person exit the car? Did they get back in the car or was someone sneaking up in the bushes or along the river bank? Should I tell a sleeping Brian to close the back doors? Did I lock the front thee door? Yes, yes I did. Shit, I didn’t close the full front privacy curtain. What if someone walked up to the open screened window next my face. You’re paranoid, I thought, the stars are beautiful out here, the Milky Way is so thick and bright. I slowly slipped back to sleep, glasses still on and earplugs in to fend off said banditos.
Maybe it was a gust of wind hissing through the screen or maybe it was instinct, that caused me to open my eyelids, regardless all of the hair on my body stood erect and I bolted awake. Something or someone was blocking my view of the Milky Way, I sat up, squinted out the window and a bandito was staring back smiling at me. Instinctively I swung my arm over Marlie and screamed. She bolted awake, as did Andrew above her as I slowly came to my senses, It was just a dream.