All Alpine Heidis and apple strudel, sugar waffles and cuckoo clocks. Little Switzerland, right down to the walrus moustached gent, the wooden gnomes and the steins of artesanal beer. The main street, the only street is compacted river gravel base with a topping of soft bull dust. Even our tyres raise up a cloud of talc that hangs, suspended among the pine and myrtle trees, then a bus passes and our mildly opaque world is instantly converted into a choking opaque world.
Slowly, out of the storm, up in front, a red blob emerges in the middle of the road. At first it appeared detached yet oddly ambulant, it leaves an odd spoor. Then it’s attendant materialises, taking form and substance, becoming human then traveller, then sack carrier. The red transpires into a roll along suitcase, ploughing a single furrow through the deep dust, staggering from pot hole to pot hole. An object so dislocated from it’s usual environment that it’s red with mortification and embarrassment, more used and suited to the superior airs of hotel foyers and airport concourses. The carrier hauling this rig turns out to be tres petite, her dwarfing rucsack is in the throes of birthing a sleeping bag and as I pass I realise that an other is in the final month of pregnancy.
Christmas time is over and now it’s Argentine holiday time. It’s good to be around other people, the campgrounds are busy, personal space at a premium. On one occasion it was impossible to plot a route from the tent to the sanitarios without infringing upon someones tent space. Nobody seams to care, so we give up apologising, and just trip over their guy lines for a change. As we’re non-auto ambulant, we’re sent to the ‘walk-ins’ the car free tenting area. A feature that meets with our full approval, memories of reversing RVs and camper vans negotiating onto our tent, are still too fresh. Being ‘sans car’ means we’re placed with the back packers, so raising the average age, a happy band who come in a cloud of music and deodorant. There tents are ‘tardises’ of nylon and plastic sheets, their sacks bulge fly fish rods and tin cups, silvered bed rolls and extension cables. Given that public transport covers virtually every single locality in the country, it’s not that surprising that we encounter them in the most interesting of localities. Another dust cloaked road, this time well north of Valle de Angostura: three lads emerge out of the latest lorry induced grit storm, it feels like the middle of nowhere. Their damp washing draped on their sacks, garnering an armour of Andean dust, a tent swinging loose, a sheathed guitar hung like a holstered gun. It looks like a recipe for a sufferfest: tramping the hot dusty road, being peppered by a shot of pebbles and stones, hoping for the Good Samaritan to pass and offer a lift. Yet they seem totally unconcerned. Unconcerned, because there is still a culture of hitchhiking, still considered honourable and safe, that and when things get tough, there is always the collectivo to be flagged down. That day we were to pass several more hitching parties, only to be re-passed by them as they and there bags are blasted clean, pilled into the back of pick-up trucks. They all wave, either in sympathy or in congratulation. We, on the other hand will get clean when we dive into a lake, surrounded by cattle cropped grass, snow topped mountains and a flora of lupins, lilies and buddelias, our own Switzer alp.