2300 kilometers from Comandante Piedrabuena to Buenos Aires with a wheelbarrow

(The original article was published, in spanish, in the blog Bahia Sin Fondo, September 2011)

This is a story that I heard or read a long time ago and that remained almost forgotten in my mind. Ten years ago I went to the city of Luján, in the province of Buenos Aires, during a weekend, and among other things I visited the transportation museum. This museum is one of the most important in its field in Latin America, and has many objects related to transportation that are emblematic for the country: the locomotive “La Porteña”, the aircraft “Plus Ultra”, presidential carriages, and many more. During that visit, among all these things, I found a special object that reminded me of the story that is the excuse for these lines.

The wheelbarrow of the raid Comandante Piedrabuena - Buenos Aires, in the museum of the transport of Luján (2009).

The wheelbarrow of the raid Comandante Piedrabuena – Buenos Aires, in the Transport museum of Luján (2009).

What can be seen in the image is an old wheelbarrow with an iron structure and a wooden box, painted with the national colors and marked “Raid Cte. Luis Piedrabuena Buenos Aires”. The story behind this old wheelbarrow is the following. In 1935, in an oil camp near Laguna Grande (Santa Cruz), a singular bet takes place. The Basque Guillermo Larregui (born in Pamplona, to be more exact) bet his friends that he was capable of taking to Buenos Aires a wheelbarrow loaded with 100 kilograms, starting from the town of Comandante Luis Piedrabuena. Once the bet was agreed, Larregui prepared everything and left on March 25, 1935 to meet the challenge. Pushing his rustic wheelbarrow of iron and wood, he traveled the more than 2000 kilometers that separate Comandante Luis Piedrabuena and Buenos Aires, in fourteen months. Today, with the current paved roads, the journey by car covers about 2300 kilometers. In 1935 some of these routes had other different courses and most of them were dirt roads, which adds more difficulty to the already difficult crossing. On May 24, 1936 Larregui finally arrived to the capital, where he was received with admiration by the people and the press.

The arrival of Guillermo Larregui to Buenos Aires as seen by the newspaper La Nación (25/May/1936)

The newspaper El Orden, of Santa Fe, began its edition of May 25, 1936 with the news that Italy was celebrating its entry into the war (sic), and a few centimeters below it referred to the “Vasco de la carretilla” [click here].

In the following years Larregui made other crossings with a wheelbarrow, which led him to cross the Andes and visit Chile, and then head north to Bolivia. His journeys earned him the title “el vasco de la carretilla” (the Basque of the wheelbarrow), and were followed by the public through the newspapers. Larregui finally settled near Puerto Iguazú, where he lived until his death in 1964.

The Bilbao journalist Txema Urrutia reviews Larregui’s life and travels exhaustively in his book “El vasco de la carretilla”, which can be partially read in Google Books. According to Urrutia, the best documented of the trips was the second, which took him from Coronel Pringles (Buenos Aires province) to La Quiaca (Jujuy province). Larregui had learned from his experience and, to put it in a habitual way nowadays, he made it more mediatic, with a more intense monitoring of the media. Anyway, the first trip was also followed by the national press, especially by the newspapers Crítica and La Nación. An interesting anecdote that Urrutia rescues about Larregui’s first trip is a story where the Basque says that the places in the country where he was best received and helped by the people were Necochea and Trelew. Although in the vicinity of Trelew he almost died frozen, it seems that he was helped in a special way by the inhabitants of that Chubut town.

Photo of the Basque Larregui taken presumably during his passage through Trelew [courtesy of Facebook group “Recuerdos del valle inferior del Río Chubut”].

In 2006, a documentary about the life and feat of Guillermo Larregui, called “Gora Vasco!” Its history is remembered in several places of the country, but especially in Comandante Luis Piedrabuena, where there is a monument that remembers his raid of 1935. His legacy, among other things, is a message of tenacity and effort. Those who knew him remember him as a great person, and undoubtedly his peculiar feat had an entire country in suspense, following his wanderings along the lonely and extensive roads of Argentina. To close this post, a reflection of Larregui himself that summarizes him and his travels in a few words:

Living the hidden rhythm of the fields

full of sunshine.

The emotion of the Argentine land,

full of generosity.

Here is my goal.

No one can take away my happiness

of owning my own destiny

Guillermo Larregui, 17 / August / 1938

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