Thursday, 6 December 2012

Retreat from Iberá

It only takes a chance encounter to set our ever so tentative plans adrift. We’ve been stopped by a couple of joiners under an 'under construction' motorway bridge. We’ve passed the time of day, and yes, compared notes on the weather. Was Uruguay experiencing the same quantity of rain as Corrientes? As a parting shot they made the suggestion that we might like to try going north by way of the Iberá reserve, as the first 80km was now asphalted. This was news to us, as we had assumed the road was an earth one. It’s a route that registered on our radar two years ago, but we weren’t confident enough to take on such a problematic route. Get a shower and you might get stuck, get a storm and you will be stranded. Yet the temptations are high, it’s a route that takes in what one eminent guidebook describes as the best wildlife spotting area in the whole of South America.  Sorry Amazonia.  It’s a shot worth trying.

The distance under tar was, of course, a gross exaggeration.  A third is black topped, the remaining fraction is worse than an earth road, it’s an ’obras en construccion’, which my personal Spanish dictionary translates as a multiple-expletives ***** mess. Local road construction methods differ from those at home. Firstly in the distances undertaken as one project. The orange notice board that you see up in front is the first indication of trouble, but the depth of the problem becomes clearer the closer you get. ’Obras por 45km’. This paraphrases as: Render the existing consolidated surface to a soupy glaur for it’s entire length, then start to work on one single structure and one short distance at a time. Use the least amount of staff to make the job last the longest length of time. If, in the interim you can be blessed with a period of rain, say about two hundred mills, (that’s eight inches for the viejos), and  suddenly you have the recipe for a stranding. That’s my observational cynicism.
The once-daily bus has stopped running. To advance would be foolish, to wait will be expensive and we are stuck. Yet we’re far from being alone in our predicament. That guidebook claim, translates as ‘gringo trail’ and consequently channels European travellers this way. They too are stuck. It’s a case of finding a small group of like-minded people and hiring a pick-up truck. Ours were a South African couple; Bronwyn and Fred. The cynic in me had wondered if the bus’ procrastination was a means to enhancing the alternative transport economy, but as our truck slithered and slipped it’s way back to Mercedes, I was proven wrong. The vast width that might accommodate a multi-lane highway, has been reduced to a single tramline, two parallel trenches, one axle wide. There no place for passing the up-line oncoming traffic.

Estancias are cut off by new rivers, fence posts can barely keep their heads above water, the once step-over ditches are now a long jump wide. The troglodytic pylons, biblically stride across a vast new lake that has materialised where none existed before. Downriver the gauchos will have to enlist the aid of the fire service and the local police to shift a calving herd of Herefords off the floodplain, moving up onto higher ground, whilst we won’t be camping at the fisherman’s club site.

I’m glad we hadn’t been tempted into empiricism, and tested, probably to personal destruction, a cycle back out. That distance, riding down those two gutters, could only be for a circus trick-cyclist, and as for pushing, we would have been perfect fodder for a psychologist.

Another lesson in cycling touring. It’s liberating to realise that you can substitute, take another form of transport. The Navigator is already convinced, the Chronicler will have to surmount a few more parsimonious mountains first. With time, he’ll come around to the idea in the end.