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?