Monday, 30 May 2011

Running for Home

Our attack on the Paraguayan capital was a blast, a high octane dash, descending into a jolly joust with the city buses.  A trip that could have degenerated into a blood lust and the dubious sport of  'fox hunting  with hounds' was a day that developed more into a canter with  'horses running with the hounds'.  Our attack on the Argentine capital was a near identical episode; only there was one exception.  For the former there had been the requirement of a degree of navigational enquiry and some of our concentration had to be diverted to map perusal and road sign scrutiny, to negotiating left and right turn junctions.  The assault on BsAs was simple.  From Lujan, keep the rail tracks on your right; at General Rodrigues turn left.  Continue until you cross the third level crossing, then follow the railway all the way home.  What a relief to have a large scale, dependable map.  It simplifies the planning, give a degree of reassurance and security, leaving us free to concentrate on enjoying the challenge.

In the interests of investigative travel research, we had stopped at the station beside Lujan University, to check on the possibilities for railing the last stretch into town.  Cycles and trains are allowed to cohabit on the urban rail service, even when they are encumbered with an attachment of wheelbarrows and grass cutting strimmers, as we had witnessed on the coastal Mitre line.  Had there been a goods van on this train and not the Everest of ascending steps leading to the carriages' narrow doors, we would have taken our chances.  Deterred but not defeated we take to the road once again.

There's a fulfilling satisfaction about completing a tour that started at a back door and returns at the front.  In this instance we elected to call that front door our temporarily adopted flat in the northern suburbs of San Isidro.  Another item in the extended  Argentine family, it was my sister's late mother-in-law's flat, that has remained in the family.

The first and only piece of navigation arrives as the map predicted, heralded by the ubiquitous sentinel petrol station, and the usual confusion of dust, grit and broken tarmac.  Waves of macadam that have been squeezed, squashed into an interference, a disturbed sea of turbulence, over which we roll, whilst trying to work out which classification of junction we have found this time.  It looks like it could be a denuded, withered clover leaf.  Even now, after all the time that we've been here, we still can't work out the proper way to negotiate these areas of  'free for all'.  Rules of the road are sparse, adherence negligible.  On these occasions, in the midst of these intersections, a collective condition of amnesia  afflicts all the participants who are competing in this labyrinthine puzzle.  Dumbfounded as to our choice of line, as there's only one lane but two cars, going in opposite directions.  Do we go all  puritanical presbyterian, take on the superior airs of a virginal, verdant gringo, tut-tutting, or play the practical Latino game?  We go loco-local, and of course nobody bats a horn, nobody cares; we happily swerve around each other, and pass on our respective ways. 

Hitting the relax button, plotting our canny route, we're carried on a narrow, shoulderless, gunshot straight road that's an arterial lance into the northern heart of the city centre.  I know the vehicle in front is as likely to make an unsignalled swerve to left or right as we are to pulling out from behind a parked car.  We've both anticipated the manoeuvre, so there's no requirement for apoplectic gesticulations or raging horns.  I soon give up on using the rear view mirror, trusting implicitly in those around me, cycling in a bubble of confidence, that seems to be travelling faster and faster.  A helter-skelter that's verging on nirvana.  Bowling along at the same pace as the bus, number 26 never seems to leave our sights; we pass and re-pass it, always there, all the way into the delta town of Tigre.  Having  descended  from the odourless sterility of the de-oxygenated Andes, it comes as a pleasant surprise to realise that we're almost back at sea level in a place that carries the scent of its origins.  A port to service the labyrinthine mouth of the Rio Parana, a maw that feeds water traffic down an alimentary canal, deep into the guts, all the way to the heart of the continent.  The odor of decaying jungle and heavy, damp, rich air, mixes with the visual notes of date palms lining the avenues and the adverts for river boat tours.
Almost there.  Almost home.  Almost finished.  Avenidas Yrigoyen, Libertador, Peron,  Belgrano, Brown; we charge down the avenues of Argentine history and along a calendar of significant dates: 25 de Mayo, Centenario.  Then suddenly we are in familiar territory: an abrupt left over the final level crossing, and we are turning into Martin y Omar.  Back at our front door.  Doped on adrenaline, medicated with endorphins, we're perched on a high, buzzing on a physic of self-congratulatory satisfaction as we ride down the ramp into the nether regions of the underground car park of the tower block.  Moving out from the white light of uninhibited, peripatetic travel, and into the dark side of organised establishmentarianism, which is an synonym for bag packing, airport shuttles and a decent Scrabble score.  But at this precise moment we're not looking forward to a future, just glorying in a climactic conclusion to our trip.  A finale that we'd thought achieved back in Ameghino, anticipating an anticlimax, a petering out, and a gentle wind down.  We shouldn't have been so pessimistic.  The whole journey has been one of crescendos, so why not the finish? 

Monday, 23 May 2011

Lujan, Bus City

They come in many forms.  From sleek, polished chrome, tint glazed racehorses, and the scholastic's faded orange workhorses to  the chain smoking, perpetually, terminally deceased deadhorses.  From double-decker semi-cama coaches flaunting  arachnoid mirrors, and double doored school buses, polished with a patina of vocation, to the double-troubled charabancs in a patch up of repairs.  Buses, buses and yet more buses.

Memories of Lujan are twofold: one is the end of the Pampa and the start of a two hundred kilometre conurbation, the Federal Capital's outer skirt, the other is of buses.  They and the collectivos, the mini-buses for the less than mini-visitor, were everywhere, all streaming in and out, running the autopistas, queuing up along Avenida.  At the terminus they are parked ten deep, countless long in a dry sandy yard, engines rumbling, mixing up an opaque haze of fumes and dust, through which an indomitable sun is diluted down to an innocuous, benign vapour.  The diversity of public transport might be wide and plural, but the 'raison d'etre' is singular: Religion, and the veneration of a nation's patron saint.

The early settlers were moving west, moving away from the coast and out on to the Pampa, when they encountered the innocent obstacle of the Rio Lujan.  On attempting a crossing, the first cart foundered and was lost, the second fared little better.  So being a pious people they mounted their religous reliquary, particularly a statue of the Virgin, on the third cart.  This one managed to cross unscathed, and by the expedient of passing the statue back and forward, subsequent transports all attained the far bank in safety. That's one credit, one creation myth; another tells of a  Portuguese setler in Tucuman, who in 1630, ordered an image of Mary the Virgen.  Unsure of the style required, the carvers sent two renditions.  The wagon bogged out on the banks of the Rio Lujan, and only managed a safe crossing when one of the statues was removed.  Kind of obvious, standard practice in such circumstances.  Foundered?  Then lighten the load, empty the cart.  The haulers then decided to jettison one of the figurines, possibly intending to return for it later and carried on their way west.  This marvel was credited as miraculous.  A prodigy that has grown into the city of Lujan.  Of the two competing contentions, I prefer the first, but the ring of truth hangs around the second.  Since then the Virgen de Lujan has been credited, attributed with curing ailments and eliminating epidemics, sending fogs to protect settlers from indios attacks, and promoted to the status of the nation's patron saint.  Over five million  pilgrims will visit the Basilica and the Icon each year.  Hence the buses.

The closer we get to the capital, the busier the roads become, and conversely, our choice of quiet side routes diminishes.  In Cordoba province and the west of Provincia de BsAs, we managed to patch together a series of less than linear routes that's kept us on asphalt, but deep in cereal and beef country, keeping clear of the dreaded 'all roads lead to Rome', lead to town scenario.  Eventually our choices are being whittled away, narrowed down to three major highways; it's these or the purgatory of earth roads.  They, depending upon the weather can vary from 'stuck in the mud' to a 'flounder in the dust'.  Neither is pleasant, and there doesn't seem to be any half way point, going from a glutinous glaur to a smothering smog, in one short desiccating wind storm.  Now add in the grain harvest of haulage and combines, and there's every reason for avoiding them.  However, we have devised a cunning plan.

If we can avoid the main roads until Sunday morning, we would  have a window of opportunity, a five hour slot to cover 50kms of  potentially busy road.  If we can get to Lujan before the basilica empties out, before the heavy transports start their week, before the city evacuates to the balneario, we could then reach a selection of city streets that offer a choice that's greater than one, the one Ruta Nacional 7.

Fast forward to midday.  Up to a point the plan has worked.  There's been no harvest traffic, no heavy haulage, but that has been amply replaced by the horse box going to the races, the family to the relatives, the collectivos to the church.  With the latter, I'd made the erroneous, Protestant assumption that there would only be one Sunday morning service, and not the Catholic procession of masses.  It's hard work, watching to the rear, waiting for the next truck that's unable to ease over, away from us, because he too is being over taken. Watching to the front, waiting for the next overpowered Euro import to pull onto our side of the road, flashing head lights, forcing us onto the verge, and into a soft tangle of grass that absorbs all our momentum instantly.  We grumble and mump for a bit, until our efforts are thanked by  passing milk tankers and petrol lorries; at least someone appreciates that we've made an effort to share the road.  Thanks comes in  another form when a laden cattle float passes.  It's carting Hereford cows, whose anatomy combined with the height of the deck offer the perfect platfom and opportunity for spraying me with a trajectory of  by-products.  In many ways, we are only reacting to the fact that one: I now smell bovinelly fragrant, and two: we've been on empty, deserted roads for such a long time.  It takes time to adjust back into city cycling.

When a commercial campground appears on the outskirts of Lujan, and we're encouraged by the presence of a 'whipper in', an aging gent with a flicking rag, flagging down potential customers.  We pull in.  It's either proximity to the capital or the influence of religous iconography, but the charge is double what has, up to now been standard.  Maybe I'm being punished for a percieved degree of profanity; that, or there's a 'devotional duty', or a 'secularist's surcharge'.  Further chastisement comes when we make the mistake of payment  before inspection.  You might have expected that after six months of experience, we might have learned.  In our defence, I would like to explain that the site we saw from the road, the one with grass and water in the pool, was not the site we now found ourselves in.  For that less than 'free-will offering' you might expect the sanitarios to be clean.  It's what you alway think, or at least hope, half knowing that the opposite will prevail. The toilet; singular, the rest are blocked or flooding, would cause a petri dish to salivate at the prospect of reproductive super abundance, go forth and multiply.  The shower is......well cold.  Which, I suppose, helps to reduce the favourable conditions that would encourage and enhance the breeding grounds of bacilli and other micro-organisms.  I'm quite happy to do 'cold', as cold is a relative term anyway when the ambient daytime temperature hasn't dropped below the high 20s.  What comes out the tap is generally in the range of  lukewarm to comfortable.  But we've just been divested of more than the cost of a room up on the Chaco.  Location, location, location.  The rule is simple, or so it might seem.  The closer your accommodation business is to a honey pot, the more you can charge and the less you need offer.  The higher the price, the lower the service.  What makes our situation so pertinent, the circumstances so stark, is that the previous two nights we were out in a real world, pitched with the fishermen and the plantsmen of the cereal towns.  On both occasions the facilities were spotless, the pool filled, and the grass abundantly green.

Yet my whinge has less to do with a 'value for money' and more to do with the fact that the major part of our journey is over.  Travels have a natural life expectancy, and ours is, slowly, naturally dying, finally losing its direction back in Ameghino with the estancia visit.  The emotional and cerebral aspects are over, leaving just the physical and the symmetrical.  We left the capital on bicycles and we want to arrive back in a similar fashion.  It's the neatness, the completeness, the closing of the circle.  The final challenge.   
Set up home under some deep shade thrown by a cedar tree, beside a bridge that once carried the main road out from the capital and still transports the populace and the pilgrims into the town.  A bridge with a blistered expansion joint that must make it one of the noisiest in the land, as horse carts saddled with tin, cattle floats loaded with cows and empty lorries hauling nothing but noise, clattering and banging their way across, all through the day and all through the night.  Yet for every third vehicle that crosses, one will be a bus, and four have pulled into the camp ground.  It's now that I understand the meaning of the entrance hoarding, an advertisement of "parilla, pileta, eventos, camping, abierto", steak house, empty pool, room hire, day-camp, open.  We've chosen to lodge on an expensive picnic site, one that caters for  those who have attended mass at the Basilica.  A packed lunch at the concrete tables, a siesta under a tree and a queue for the toilet,  all before they make the  long journey home.  For us it's an un-Argentine scene, yet, on reflection, explainable.  They're sitting down to a home-prepared repast of crustless sandwich migas, mixte ensaladas and sugar infused postres, washed down with bottles of diluted Tang.  There's no fire to tend, no to beef sear on the asado, ergo no meaningful place for the male.  It's a world of women and children, all in their Sunday best of headscarves, long frocks and white shirts. Yet another, differing Argentine experience.

Later in the afternoon, as the crowds and the heat start to disperse, we too cross the rio, and head to the Basilica.  The low evening light accentuates the colours of the newly cleaned limestone edifice, taking up the glow of the setting sun.  Etching out with deep shadow the details in the carvings, the intricacies of the rose window, the particulars of the greater-than-life sized saints and the crouching, bedevilled gargoyles.  It's a magnificent building, easily the most impressive that we've seen on these travels.  Yet - there's always a 'yet' in Argentina - the boulevard that streches out before the basilica is polluted by parked cars, concert stages and a line of lighting standards that ruin what should be a classic structural view.  One that could stand alongside others of their ilk, like the Taj Mahal, the White House or Trafalgar Square on a pigeon-free day. The plaza is proportioned, a balance of early 20th century cloistered arches  partially concealing the  vendors' barrows of ecclesiastical wares.  Key fobs and fridge magnets, rosary beads and pendant crucifixes.  Flutters of red ribbons, like the flags that adorn every roadside shrine, these ones for hitching to rear-view mirrors and tow hooks.

We move further into the square, away from the miasma of swirling dust from the bus park and the near constant stream of slow moving penitential cars, their captivated occupants held until they either escape the confused confines of the city or find a vacant parking spot.  Moving into a pedestrian world, where picnicking family groups are scattered across the grass, sprawled around the redundant artillery pieces of the Malvinas memorial park, on to an esplanade of cobbles and crowd control barriers, of choripan fast-food and horoscopic vendors.  Mercantile mongers and holymongers are lined out, a cordon of booths, a torc of guilt, through which you are seived, through which you need to break if you are to attain redemption and the steps of the Basilica.  We stand to watch and gaze skywards at the twin spires imposing on the crowds below, on the square and its surround of coffee shops, hotels and resto bars, the pavement tables shrouded by awnings of uniform maroon, their business titles in a standardised script.  But, like the 'yet', there's always one exception, and it's always the same one.  Who carries more clout?  The Church, the State or the soda monolith Coca Cola?

Whilst the building is the focal point, a testament to the wealth of donations, it's the people that are the fascination.  I look to my left and there's a father intimately photographing his wife whilst she breastfeeds their child.  To my right a teenaged daughter is directing her mother on how to photograph her glamour style, posing, pouting and posturing with  religosity for a backcloth. dBehind me are queues rescripting the scriptures, waiting at the water fountains to fill the newly consumed wine and caffeine infused fizzy  pop bottles; converting wine into Water.  I'm approached by a leather-clad biker, who's off  to ride south, down to Tierra del Fuego and has stopped to get a blessing on his trip.  He encourages us to the same.  Holy Water, Holy Milk, Wholly Vogue and Wholly Different.  For one who was raised on the reticent wing of an inhibited, undemonstrative  Kirk o' Scotland, this feels like a challenging disrespect to place, a sacrilege of faith, a profanity of belief.  Yet it is we who are riding through someone else's normality.  Too often we move through a place like a skimming stone, stotting across the surface of a town, causing minor ripples, a mild interference, that spreads out only to fade away just as quickly.  Touching, then glancing off, only to bounce once more, but never penetrating below the skin, as we visit the bread shop and the fruit stall, the supermarket and the gas station.  Places that had a history yesterday, and will have a future tomorrow, neither of which we know or will see.  We are continually riding through in someone else's present tense.           
I want to see more, but not through the shroud of mammon that encircles and smothers this structure.  We resolve to come back in the quiet of the next morning.

Again the light is low, but now the air is clear and cool.  A heavy dampness has settled across the grassy areas, a sheen of glazed silver that can't hide the detritus of picnic.  The contents stripped and consumed, the foragers and devourers departed, the wrappings now sweepings of wind waste.  A bent man with a switch of twigs laboriously sweeps the barren acreage of cobbles, gathering piles of ketchup spattered napkins and  scripts of  votive prayers.  The early vendor carts have already pulled into place and are setting out their wares.  The first visitors - their demeanor and timing says north European - are inspecting the brass reliquary, the saintly key fobs and the 'bless me papa' hats.

Discordant notes abound.  Any public works, be they road asphalting, school construction or as in this case, stone cleaning, requires an obligatory  bragging board.  Its colour and message must be mandated in the constitution, so ubiquitous, consistent and pervasive that they are.  All the effort will be credited to one person, to the office of La Presidencia, such an industrious lady; how she manages it all, I don't know. Coloured a patriotic blue and white, they're never smaller than motorway hoarding, and  this one occupies the most prominent of positions, just where it can impose a less than subliminal message on every photograph taken of the Basilica.  It is an election year, after all.

Not bred to, or nurtured by this faith, it would be easy and cheap to stand on the outside, to be voyeuristic, to mock and ridicule what appears to be a cult founded on a superstition.  But I only have to look at my wrist to see the copper and leather band that's become a talisman for travelling, a fetish that so disturbed me when I thought it lost.  Or The Navigator's 'Koru' pendant, her own bone carving of a Maori design, deemed by orthodox faiths to be pagan, one that symbolises 'new beginnings', to realise that it might be wise to remove the skelf from my own eye before deriding another's faith.  Charms and amulets, vanities and superstitions to set alongside our much quoted, much thanked 'god of cyclists', who has come to our assistance on so many occassions.  Is it luck, providence or a guiding hand?  Today I'm not prepared to question.  We might, if our planned route into the capital fails to deliver, have to resort to those buses, or the aid of our cycling deity.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Instant Autumn

The weather seƱor had spoken: he'd predicted the change and he'd given us our hosing of rain, our blast of wind, and our school house camping.  In a two day period, temperatures have fallen from an afternoon high of 42°C to a new high that comes in at a sub 20°C, from a humidity and an armour of salt encrusted constraints, to multiple layers that starts with a base of woollen undies.  Night times have moved from sleeping in the scud and a sticky sweaty pool, to a wrap around of duvet and heavy wet morning dews.  It seems to be a newsworthy item as the prophetically named 'Chronic TV', has despatched a roving cameraman to wander the capital's pavments, recording people wearing coats, scarves and gloves.  The school run is in full flow, with four to a moto or two to a cycle, and all will have their hands thrust deep into pockets, circus skills that have amused and entertained us on many occasions.
Just as suddenly we are back to being the sole denizens of the mid-week municipal campgrounds and gas station rest areas.  It's part seasonal, part calendar, part geography.  We've headed away from the touristic sierras, away from the Germanically themed towns of gothic script and wooden stieners, transplanted into school time and on to the flat of the Pampa.  A place where corn and soya, beef and politics play a greater role than divesting the travellers of their pesos.  Which for ourselves translates as a return to reasonable accommodation charges and the encouraging responses of the passing grain trucks.  A return to an honesty of real working towns and the advent of mists and mellow fruitfulness, or at least the itchy dust from combines and the dull drone of grain dryers.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Heading for an Estancia.

We're off to put some faces to names, names that I've heard bandied around for a good number of years by my sister and her family. Names that are always associated with the comments "if you get to Argentina, you'll have to visit Peter and Joyce, they've got an estancia just outside Ameghino".

The initial contact starts the previous week, whilst we're still in the southern Sierras, near to Cordoba. Maybe the term 'near to', like its close associates 'close by' and 'it's not far away', need an explanation. In a country that's five times the size of France, proximities are relative. In this instance the nearness is five riding days away. So if one is going to visit people you've never met before, people who might also, like us, have a vague recollection as to who we are, it's only courtesy to give an aproximate time of arrival. So we try to plan ahead, counting distance from the atlas. Getting a score in leagues that could be a week's cycling away. Now add in the gremlins of wind, sun and cartographical nuances, it could be anything from four to eight days. Which in the lexicon of proximities makes Ameghino 'just down the road'
Flat country cycling can be heaven or hell. It all depends on the wind, and they get wind here. Days one and two, we score a nice tidy metric century, day three is short, er, curtailed by the appearance of an hotel with a chiller and a fan. The next day's ride is a blast, both of wind and heat, getting close to an imperial cetury. We could be at the estancia before the weekend. Only a roadside sign appears, suggesting that a further day's riding has miraculously been added to our journey. On the long, unscripted trip, such foibles are insignificant, but when trying not to offend potential hosts, it can be frustrating. So maybe tommorow we can lay down another big day, to try to win back a peace of stolen schedule.

Nature and the 'trixter gods' abhor a vacuum; they require a balance. We've had our day of high speed, high odometer counts; now comes the balance. It's a day of two light shows. Starting with a storm of lightning that heralds a much needed day of rain, and as it transpires the onset of autumn. It's a day that, had we not been on a timetable, we might have sat out in the dry of some comfortable accommodation. It's still raining, and the television in the hotel breakfast room is forecasting a lot more. Disconcertingly, even inappropriately, insensitively they show a picture of a spattered puddle right after live coverage of the tsunami pulverising the Japanese coastline.
Rufino on a wet Saturday morning is deserted, lakes of rain-wash flood across all the junctions, rivers flow from out of side streets. We're trying to follow the signs to the town's by-pass. Only we keep encountering soft soil roads. Instant clogged mudguards. It's a town that requires the luck and the skill to roll a 'double six' on demand, to escape it soggy confines.

Eventually we abscond and find another quiet road, quiet because it's not heading for the Capital Federal, quiet because it's not beach weather. A thick mist has strarted to clag down, one that smothers out all definition and scale from the landscape. The soft amorphous islands of shelter belts and the silent wind mills are the only silhouettes to break the the low, dank skyline. We're being gathered into a monochromatic world of wet grey, out of which the occasional car or grain truck will sudenly appear with their swirling clouds of spray. Visibility is reducing at much the same rate as the wind is increasing. Our steady progress gets slower and slower, our destination a near constant mirage away over the horizon. Nature is back to teaching us a lesson; that it can give out and take back blessings in eaqual measure. No Ameghino today.

We've sat through this class before, compared and contrasted the message and the conclusion: there's no point in challenging 'la profesora', she will only award a 'C-' out of wilfull cussedness. Time to give in, and find a place to sit out the storm.

It's almost as if, having accepted the inevitable, been humbled into humility, our 'god of cyclists' rewards our sublimination. I'm reduced to walking pace, peering through an opaque of spattered spectacles to front and rear, distortions and anticipations of the next apparition to loom out of the gloom, negotiating a wobbly passage along the white line. Hoping for a sheltering refuge. A bus stop would be a less than perfect start or even a drainage tunnel, yet both are in short supply; those that do surface are either urine or rain infused. There's a vague outline of trees up ahead, a potential source of shelter. On the other hand it could be a clump of eucalyptus that are now shedding bark, branches and 'widow maker' limbs. Those trees remain as obscure fantasies, remaining a constant distance out in front. Like the fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it seems we are destined never to meet, if only because there's barely enouigh light to build a rainbow.

Slowly some particulars are added to the washed out cardboard cutout, the details are filled in. First the long, tall trunks, next the thrashing branches. Then, dispiritingly, a definition of geometric and angular outlines, the profile of a house. We still find it difficult to ask for shelter in someone's front garden; silly, but we both treasure our sense of independence, the self deluding idea of self reliance. Closer still, and disappointment turns to hope: 'Escuela #21', a rural school standing aloof in an anonymous gray world. I know an oasis when I see one, and there's no way we're passing up on this one. It's Saturday: so no classes, no teacher, nobody to ask permission from.  However, it's not going to stop us, and anyway it's a chance to add another tick to the list of differing 'camped spots'. This register of possibilities includes: under the arches, in the wine storage room, on the gas station forecourt. Still missing from the catalogue might be a night in a police dungeon or monastery cell. We hunker down in the lee of the store room, and brew a celebratory coffee. Yet another refuge in a storm, another 'thank you' at the shrine for cycling saints. Sit and watch the tall gum trees being tossed and turned by the storm, long tatters of bark come clattering over the tin roof, twigs and leaves are shot across the grass. I think that we are out of range of any falling limbs or even trees.
Its a 'quid pro quo', pay back for the temerity of attempting an imperial century and the hubris of beliving we could cheat our way into stealing a day back from the calendar, and our supposed schedule. Lesson learned.

Then as the sun sets, shafts of warm light creep in under the retreating, depleted storm clouds. Now we can be entertained by the antithesis of this morning's pre-dawn light show. We also get a visit from the local constabulary. Once again, this land might look and feel empty and deserted but for the rolling expanse of cereal cropping, but somebody has noted our presence. Documents and pleasantries exchanged, the sergeant suggests that we pitch our tent in the teacher's car port, the unspoken supposition being that all tents leak. In the circumstances, probably a more congenial option than the local town's lock-up and it's also a neat way of gaining a permission.
If yesterday was about one extreme, about dreich, washed out land forms, about the dull roar of wind and rain, about the menacing threat from falling limbs, then today is about a new extreme: bright, dry and the novelty of cold. Similar to the vocabulary of proximities, this chill is relative, as any teenaged temperature here requires a clothing of furs and woollens. We're riding the same road in a different world. Shifting from summer to autumn, moving from a humid tent to an estancia bed.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

We of the Saddle and the Gutter

The city might be heading home, the long weekend crawling to a conclusion. The opiate dispenser, the television, scowling down on an empty room from it's perch high up on the wall, is chuntering away to itself. The pictures are of grid-locked freeways and autovias, the scrolling script claims 1700 cars an hour are not moving along Ruta 2. However our near-eternal weekend still has a few days to run, so we scout out a series of roads that are not part of the 'all roads leading to paralysis, immobility and Rome' senario. Sticking to the provincial routes that start to pass through, to link together a train of serial towns. Tancachal, Pamayasta, General Fotheringham, Hernando, Dalmacio Valez Sarsfield, Pasco, La Laguna, Idiazabal, Justiniano Posse. A history of Indios and immigration.

For we are back down on the flat lands. Where the upper deck of a long haul coach offers a degree of elevation , perspective and superiority, we of the saddle and the gutter must content ourselves with a vast panoply of sky and some immediate fields of cereals. And if the corn is near to harvest, then that immediate world becomes even more claustrophobic, more closed in. Our views refined to a dome of blue, a hem of yellow and a verge of green. On other occasions the road climbs up on a berm, just a few metres of rise, enough to clear the high water table, enough to let us see the size and extent of the estancia holdings, the small ponds and lagunas that dot and water the area. These now explain the long skiens of cormorants that arrowed, low, crossing before us at sunrise this morning. A bird that in Scottish terms, is a solitary hunter, roosting and wing drying in small sociable groups, yet here it's odd to see them behaving like migratory geese.

It's a landscape that has the potential for boredom; however the towns come at regular intervals, each has its common connection, it's tie to it's neigbour, it's origional progenitor: the railway line. You can follow the direction of it's development one hundred years ago, as each place advertises it's centennial celebrations. The shame is that the line now sits rusting, lost in weeds and disuse.

Each town is stapled by the candy pole tower of dishes and antennae, steepled by a lattice of elevators, staked out with nests of silos and clutches of corrugated bins. The mecanicals display their alegencies to their chosen brand of tractor, the reds, blues and greens alined up beside an array of contraptions and contrivances, many of which are new to me, yet are familiar, or are at least fathomable. A digger for peanut harvest, a high lift trailer for wagon loading, a device for filling 'silo bolsas',long white worms of grain filled plastic bags, that grace the edges of fields, close to our road. Adding to these emporiums of steel and grease, are the citadels of the banks, still the best renovated edifaces in town, and the glass and crome assemblages of the fertiliser, seed and agrochem merchants. Add in the other aspects of a down stream agricultural support industry, the pick-up salesman, the veterinary's clinic, the gomerias of tyre fitters and repairs, and you arrive at a solid, unpretentious cereal town.