A thermograph taken thought the year shows a low daytime average of 17 degrees in September, rising to a peak in late November of 32 degrees. We’ve managed to arrive and to travel across the Chaco at it’s warmest time of year, an area that regularly records Argentina’s peak temperatures. The trouble with averages and statistics are that they don’t give a true picture. We would happily trade down to 32 degrees. Each afternoon we’ve had readings up to 45 degrees. An afternoon sitting in a mozzie burqa at El Espinilla means we’ve made a habit of searching out a fan or even an AC unit. At first we felt (actually the mean Chronicler felt) a tad guilty; an opt out from the proscribed, pre-scripted adventure, like searching out a shower every night. The thin edge of the wedge that leads eventually to credit card touring. So we take an hotel or a Hospedaje room; that turns out to be cheaper than any hostel, less than any European campsite. Heck, we’ve paid more for an hour of internet in an US hotel. We mollify our consciences by still setting up the petrol stove to brew up water for coffee and porridge. To be able to rest up in a refuge, away from the glare, blast furnace hot wind and the voracious mosquitoes has morphed from a luxury to a necessity.
The road atlas suggests that the town of Laguna Yema has population of up to 5000, which, from experience suggests that it could have some form of accommodation. The roadside petrol station certainly holds out no chance of a place to pitch a tent; there’s no showers, there’s no shade, there’s no safety rocks or bollards to protect you from any reversing lorries. So we ask after the possibility of accommodation and are pointed of to the side of the yard. A “gas station forecourt “ might suggest a paved area, some landscaped flower borders a degree of organization and order. Here it’s a reality of swirling dust devils and two foraging pigs, an vast expanse of baked earth and drifting sand. It’s siesta and the whole scene is one of desolation. What we’re directed to is a windowless, brick built, flat roofed concrete block house, the only ornamentation a row of six padlocked, ill fitting wooden doors. All rather unprepossessing; we aren’t terribly inspired, but “any port in a storm……” is still a port.
We rouse El Patron from his siesta and once he has hurriedly donned a shirt (when he realises that The Navigator is a feminine), he shows us one of his habitations. First glance shows a selection of three single beds, so its not one of those types of establishments. Second glance, and we realise that the place is immaculate and brand new, and phase two is partially under construction. This impression of constant destruction and construction is one that we see in all these towns on the trans Chaco. It’s to do with the heap of wind-blown sand that accumulates in every bielded corner, the piles of porous bricks left over and not cleared away from the last extension, that will inevitably be required for the next building project. The owner even offers us a separate room for our bikes and when we graciously refuse, insists in covering them in rugs.
Yet again we praise the God of Cyclists who seems to come to our rescue. It is also a timely reminder not to judge a book by its cover.