Presenting a 100 peso note [there’s 6.4 pesos to the pound sterling] causes consternation. Generally the manager has to be summoned to authorise it’s use. In Azara, a small sawmill town in southern Misiones, the shop is in darkness, you need to feel your around for provisions. Being local must help as they don’t go in for the Tesco trick of rearranging the store, so as to entice some impulse buying. On this occasion the high denomination note requires the offering of two red apples in lieu of change. The healthy option, in comparision to the old days of the Italian sweetie lira.
A further 20 kilometers down the road in Conception, and the navigator gets 4 boilings as change for a bag of deep fried empanadas. It doesn’t pay to count your chickens!
There’s a good reason why the grass and the wheat look so green. It does rain: an average of nine days in October, so our road atlas claims. When it does, the road can take on a whole new character, a complete personality change.
Coming in to Mercedes: a river town on the Rio Negro, a downpour starts. Ruta 21 runs down into town, and what starts as an innocent rivulet in the gutter, engorges as each tributary join from each succeeding side street. As we pass each new block it increases from stream, through spate to raging torrent, down which we are cycling. Back up hill and the flow diminishes, up to the watershed. Now a further few kilometers and we are over the Rio Negro, looking for a side road to take us to Paysandú . The sign says “Do not use on days of rain”. That could be today, but we don’t have a great deal of choice, so on we push. We’re working off a 1:2,000,000 map and the scripting for the town of Fray Bentos takes precedence over road detail. Our excuse for not noticing the slightly longer hard topped route. Plough would be a more accurate description. All the wash out has collected on the flats and in the dips in the rolling countryside. The mudguards are the first to clog up, the brakes grind, and the wheels spin out at 4 kph,we slither and slide through each succeeding bog. We had anticipated this section of road to be over 80 kilometres of all weather gravel, and not slog through the bog. However, due to navigational excuses it turns out to be a mere tenth of that. The navigator stays upright to the penultimate slough, when she opts for the wrong line, ends up slumped, a total wipeout, whilst wearing sandals. She’s not sure which is worse, the grit in the mudguards or the mud between the toes.
A lesson in believing road signs. Also a timely reminder for later in the trip, as we had speculated taking a much longer earth road, one with no escape routes, a three day adventure in the dry, or a potential disaster in the wet.