Sunday, 23 January 2011

Part 2

I thought I knew what flat was. Up until now it had been Ruta 7, our bus trip into the Capital Federal. That I had taken to be flat, but nothing can compare with the flat we woke up to this morning. There’s flat and there’s

Part two of our adventure starts in Retiro bus station. A near full bus going to Bariloche, twenty-two hours away. The Navigator has gone native. We explained that we had two cycles when making the booking, they suggest that they may need to be bagged. We’ve purchased plastic sheets and fancy coloured duct tape; purple, to match The Navigator’s bike, fashioned covers, and so are prepared for the fray. There’s the usual teeth-sucking from the bus crew. So The Navigator breaks down her bike right at the loading point, right outside the bus, right in the way. It’s the local way, it’s the native way, it’s the only way. We assert our place in the queue. It’s every woman for herself, there’s no place for the reticent, no standing on ceremony. Sharp elbows and a brass neck, stubbornness and tenaciousness a necessity. The bikes go on last; it means they’re on to top of the pile, it will be interesting to see if they remain that way to journey’s end.

At 22 hours some part of our trip has to be in the dark. We’ve opted to go lux, purchased a ‘cama’ recumbent seat, one grade down from a fully horizontal, executive bed, so avoiding the potential sufferfest of nether numbness. The company’s web site extolled the virtues of this class; the comfort and leg room, the champagne reception, the three meals served with a choice of alcoholic beverages, The space, the blanket, the pillow were all there, so to were the three plastic baled, Styrofoam tray meals. The alcoholic beverages transpired into a plastic cup of Cola, a small coffee and a shot of Sprite. I guess we got the Alcoholics Anonymous ticket. Oh, and there were the two non-alcoholic boiled sweets. Our dark time section was the run out from BsAs, part of which we had seen in daylight two weeks earlier on the trip from San Juan. Good planning or plain luck, it’s hard to say. It does mean we will be crossing the southern desert in the early morning.

That early morning transpires to be a blanket, monochromatic ashen grey sky, a low scrub desert, viewed through a rain streaked, tinted, double glazed window. The first rain of any consequence we’ve witnessed since Embarcacion, oodles of weeks ago. I don’t keep a diary, as a consequence we lose and acquire days at will. A calendar might be useful, but that requires a degree of diligence and discipline, skills that diminish on a journey. The Kindles have already thrown a wobbly by misquoting a date; maybe they picked up a signal from over the date line. In places there’s been confusion of clock times, given the various time zones around the ‘three frontier’ region. So they’re not an infallible source of information. Frankly, it’s not an issue, we don’t have to be anywhere or any place in particular.

From one dislocation in time to another dislocation in ideas. Jungles wet, deserts dry; simple geographical fact. Wet in the desert, it has to happen otherwise there would be no vegetation, yet the rain and the blanket sky only accentuate, concentrate the overriding feature of this landscape. It’s utter flatness. From our elevated vantage on the upper deck, the horizon shows not one single variation, not one single dent, bump or pimple. Not one single tree, house or spire, conspires to break the edge. The only variance of view are the scurrying rain drops, braiding and entwining across the windowpane; nothing changes for mile upon mile. The condensation dries quicker than the view changes. It’s still
FLA ________________________________________T.

Then suddenly the bus comes to a junction, we change direction, change topography, change climatology. Coincidence maybe, but as we drop down into a valley, the road starts to roll and the rain stops, The blanket detaches from the horizon, rumpling, to allow a vague hope of light to filter in to the changed landscape. Down to a river that is flushing red, bleeding a sediment akin to a the colour of a Glasgow west-end tenement. A rio that could only be named Colorado.

All change, now it’s Patagonia and southern nomenclature everywhere, from the fruit co-operatives to the superstores, from the banks to the confused house seller who is ‘norte del sur’. Gone is the desert, so quick the change that I begin to wonder if it was an imagined apparition.

Therein lies one of the problems for the travelling cyclist; busses and trains, unlike ferries and planes have a habit of whetting the imagination, opening up new possibilities, throwing out new routes and destinations. Sowing both seeds of doubt and shoots of new ideas, cutting and shredding possible plans. Maybe that spectral desert will have to be confirmed as flat from a Brooks saddle, rather than the recumbent chair of a ‘cama’ bus.