Monday, 29 October 2012

The Comfort of Familiarity

Gullibilicus’ Fourth only works if it’s a new acquaintance that’s being met for the first time, and the airport management haven’t anticipated the issue. Ezeiza provides us with both. First off, we’ve been here before, and second the authorities have provided an exclusion zone where you’re screened from the taxi touts,  the baggage hustlers and the mellée of waiting extended families, the meet and greeters. A place to find onward ground transport from approved providers, where the tariff is fixed, displayed and you pay before you climb aboard. Spendicus’ First applies, however Parsimonius scoticus will just have to grin and bear it as there’s not a great deal of alternative in the evening and after two days of sleepless travel.

At the block, the same faces are at the concierge’s desk, the same tea bags are in the same jar, the bikes are hanging just as we left them, even the boiler starts first time. The German panaderia is still around the corner, the Bazaar Plastico is still at the bottom of the street. Fresh chipas for breakfast, new boxes for the dry goods.

It’s these familiarities, these same old acquaintances that displace any semblance of culture shock. We know the rules, we’ve got our breathing space, and a place to regroup. The camp stove is overhauled, the tent zippers replaced. The Lambeg drum is dismantled to reveal it’s smuggled contents. Tyres fitted, wheels mounted, gears replaced, then cursed the manufacturer who has altered the spec., bike maintenance completed, now for a road test. Climb the garage ramp: the steepest ascent this side of the Andes, turn left onto the ripio-like cobbles and a spin north to Tigre and the Delta. No jumping gears, no grinding brakes, no squealing hubs. All is as it should be. The ride is just right.  This is my bike. It’s been a year and a half, yet it feels like meeting an old friend. We simply pick up where we left off. A short break in a longer journey.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Parsimonius puritanicus

Experticus’ Law: “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Gang aft Agley”

There are just a few laws and theorems that pertain to the initial  moments on a journey. The most pertinent of which are:

Spendicus’ First law of Travel: Your first and last two days of travel will be the most expensive.

Muchas Extremicus’ Second Law, a corollary of the first, states  that the airport, station or port that you arrive at or depart from, will be at the furthest extent from your first or last nights accommodation.

Optimisticus’ Third Theorem suggests that if you have an excessive lay-over on a multi flight itinerary, your baggage will be first off the carrousel. If you have but moments for a transfer, the lottery belt will break down.

Gullibilicus’ Fourth Law postulates that a traveller is at his or her most vulnerable to exploitation in the first moments upon arrival at a new destination.    

Has the airport  left your boxed bikes on the forecourt, to be rendered down to papier-maché, so they can deliver them four days later? Are they anxious to persuade you to return home to an already rented out house? Do they have issues with your dirty shoes?  The common denominator to many of these hiatuses is not difficult to extrapolate: a certain national carrier and a particular airport that serves the south-east of England. So from experience comes enlightenment. Fly with the Franco-Dutch. Over-engineer the packaging. 

Our worn out cycling comestibles, the gears, wheels and tyres are up for renewal, and their replacements are packaged in what looks like a big bass drum. Parading along Edinburgh’s Princes Street, I feel like a refugee from a Drumcree march. Parading suggests organisation, rectitude and order, when the reality is a dodgem shuffle between tour bus touts and Asian tourists with cameras. Just how many pictures does one need of the Garden’s pigeons? 
Fact, not theory: bicycle panniers are the most unwieldy of packages when not attached to a bicycle.

As to why we’re partaking of public transport, that can be blamed on a collusion between  Parsimonius Scoticus and Puritanicus Albas. The latter has argued that, as a trip relies on self propulsion and independence, then it should start at your own front door; but as our bikes are stored in an Argentine garage, we can’t cycle to the airport, so the next best option is the X6 and the Airlink. The former’s contribution was to suggest that we fly the first leg the previous day, on the grounds that a bus in the middle of the day would be cheaper than a taxi in the middle of the night. Anyway they’ve got recliner seats airside at Schiphol, it’s only a 13 hour lay-over, and who can sleep soundly when you know that you’ve got to rise at 2.30?

It’s only at check-in that we encounter the first challenge to Parsimonius’ Law: they only hold in-transit baggage for 12 hours, would we please recover and recheck-in our kit. Unfortunately there’s no comfy recliner ground side, there’s no Rijksmuseum to peruse, but more crucially, there’s no tax-free coffee and waffles. Parsimonius decides that he had better downgrade his law to theorem status, with the excuse that ‘it was a good idea at the time’

It’s at check-in time that our quasi-Lambeg drum looks less out of place, as it appears to have moved off of the street and into the concert hall, it’s been joined by an orchestra of cellos and double basses. Which makes for an interesting baggage reclaim hall at Ezeiza, and it certainly interests the customs fraternity when it passes through their x-ray machine. Argentina have imposed an imported goods limit of USD300 per family, and a tax levy for excesses that would make the French premier blush. We had spent some time revaluing our replacements, and wishing that we had actually spent what we are claiming. But this is Argentina, and they didn’t even ask for the document. The ‘good cop’ even suggested that we looked like ‘cycle travellers’, which was odd as we had yet to acquire our burnt noses and earlobes.

Through officialdom, now for Gullibilcus’ Fourth Law.

Sunday, 21 October 2012


Urbanisations breed suburbs like a tapeworm spawns proglottids, a canker that self-replicates unhindered. Or, at least that’s my jaundiced view, borne from a sleep-deprived brain and a taxi transfer between the airport and our adopted flat. Barrelling along multi-lane highways gravid with evening traffic, lane-louping and undertaking, sweeping flyovers and plunging underpasses.  A roller coaster. The rictus grin of a bus’ grille leering in the rear window, the front window of a converging car that appears to disappear under the windowsill, as we both debate the ownership of a single lane. Yet this is BA, so both vehicles happily coexist as we spiral around a slipway. Only it leaves me pondering: we’ve got to get back out of here, hopefully on a bike.

BsAs, like many cities is a conglomeration of barrios or villages that seem indistinguishable under the homogenising street lamps; that are veined by streets and connected by an arterial tangle of roads; that can, in this place’s instance, engorge into the Avenida 9 de Julio: possibly the world’s widest street, at least until China collects that accolade as well.  In effect, only one route leads from the capital  to the country’s north-eastern provinces, a direction that we would like to head off in. The paucity of roads is due to the immense barrier of the Rio Paraña’s delta, a tangle of canals that’s a days ride in width, and that hollers: mosquito.  Previously we’ve re-entered the city this way, and even from the bus at sunrise, you could see how narrow, how congested, how fast, how unappealing a city escape this might be.  There’s little point in starting a trip on a downer.  Salvation is available.

There are a few options for escape. Tar, iron or water. The former involves dismantling your trusty steed, bagging and surrendering it into a bus’ luggage hold.  The next relies on the service being available, not always a guaranteed commodity.  Which leaves the river.  Now any city that has a ferry connection, in my estimation, sets itself at the head of the queue.  Auckland, Wellington, Seattle have all been accessed by water, so could New York, but we can’t quite justify Cunard’s tariff.  Last time we used a service that deposited  us in Coloñia, from where we cycled north, camping one night in Carmelo. From our tent site we watched a catamaran ‘lancha’ arrive.  It had the eminence of a rich man’s toy, but there were too many plebs standing at the rear rail.  It transpired that this was the Cacciola service from Tigre.  On that occasion we speculated on the possibility of cycle carriage, and maybe on another occasion we might try this escape route. That occasion has arrived, and yes, they do take bikes.

A ten mile cycle along quiet cobbled streets, from flat to port. Collect two tickets and a surrender of cycles and panniers to the boat’s crew.  A three hour speed boat race through the Delta’s canals and a roar up the Rio Uruguay, to arrive in a warm, dark and sleepy Uruguayan town.

From jaundiced prejudice to yellow sodium lights, another new escape from an other metropolis.

Note from The Navigator: that one photo just took 10 minutes to upload.  We'll try again later to get more to you.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

In Trouble Again

Just our luck to get hauled up in front of the old coot for the afternoon sitting, for his post-prandial assizes. Both Apocryphus and the sages on the street suggest that he enjoys a good lunch, a few stiff Gordons to chase down the tonic. 

I seem to be in the box, yet I don't remember being led there. I'm perched like a specimen, exposed to the indifferent gaze of twelve bored and fidgeting fellow citizens, at least two of whom seem to be surreptitiously interrogating their 'phones. The usher has stood all of us up, and they've all sat down. The wig and gown gives me the silent stare over his half-moons, then a confirmatory perusal of his notes and I can clearly read his thought processes: ' I've had you in front of me before', 'Many times before', 'Yes, a proper wee recidivist'.  Somebody, I guess it might have been the Fiscal, has intoned a litany of charges, in which the phrases 'dereliction of duty' and 'avoiding Christmas' seem to have prominent exposure. 

Then things go vague. I don't seem to have been asked to plead, yet I find myself producing excuses, not so much the claim that 'the big boy dun it, an' run away', more 'couldnae help it, it's ma fate'.  Citing extenuating circumstances beyond my control: to wit, that we've been driven from the middle of town, away from Haddington, by the early autumnal appearance of Pink-Footed geese and Christmas Card sales, of  ice-encrusted kale and a brochure entitled 'Endless Vacation'. To add some corroboration to my justifications, I seem to be asking the jurors to consider some evidence. That there's a drip on the end of my nose, I can't feel my fingers and the card's picture is of slug-free, un-nibbled  Brussels Sprouts in all their brassicated glory. The latter can't be organic, the former most certainly is. 

The old beak in the wig doesn't seem too impressed, probably because he heard the same defence last time, and the time before that, so I throw in a last piece of desperate mitigation, some more arguments that I feel vindicate our actions: Migration and Amnesia. That several thousands of swallows do it, why shouldn't we?  And anyway, we inadvertently left our cycles in Argentina last time, we really should go and retrieve them. The Procurator's eyebrow rises; specious argument, plausible but erroneous. So I turn my attention to the sherriff, who looks bored; frankly he might be asleep. Maybe the Gs and T are going to be the only winners in this case.

Then I come to, saved by the flight deck's ding-dong announcement  which has broken into my reverie with the news that 'we are now at cruising height and crossing over Santiago de Compostela and are heading south, out over the Atlantic'.       

The aforegoing is a rather long winded way of saying that 'Sorry, we are out of the office' and yes, the Navigator and the Chronicler are off  to Escape the Winter. Yet again.