Saturday, 19 October 2013

City Escape, or Getting Stoned.


We've used the services of ferries, buses, our bikes, even the availability of a neighbouring county, to escape the confines of Argentina's capital city and it's surrounding province. All have their disadvantages, most notably the rammy that is the bus station at Retiro. To wit, the bung to persuade the handlers to load a cycle on a bus. So it's time try out an other escape route. At one time Argentina had an extensive passenger rail network, a product of C19th British imperial engineering and Hereford cattle. The tracks spread, web-like out across the country and it was possible to get to most places in the north at one time. Now there are just three routes left, and we plan to use the Ferrocentral service that goes to Tucuman. The booking clerk did query our intentions when we asked for singles to Ceres; I suspect that it's not a popular destination. Do some research and you find widely variable accounts of what to expect, varying from "only for the train enthusiast", to "don't bother". Encouraging stuff.. Seats book up quickly, it's also a holiday weekend, so we're left with little choice from the four grades available. It's 'tourist', it's bottom of the heap. It'll be an adventure. Only seventeen hours. It can't be as bad as some like to suggest. We arrive early, in plenty of time to fight over bike loading and graft compensation, to find a long snaking queue wrapped around the station . The trick to understand, is to watch the body language of those around you. Thence to equate the ratio of senders-off to travellers. Five to one is the general norm, even before sunrise. We've got our stash of small denomination pesos to sweeten the procedure, all tanked up and ready to engage battle. All to no avail. It could not have been simpler. The senders-off are winnowed out at the gate, a porter takes our baggage and cycles, tickets them and we head off to find our 'turista' seats. No expectation of extra remuneration. Okay, so the seats are three wide faux leatherette, with a swing back to allow for change of direction, but they are entire and clean. Not so the windows. Two panes of scratched and chipped Perspex, whose purpose was not immediately obvious. Slowly the compartment fills up, yet our potential neighbour fails to materialise; maybe we're going to be in luck and have an extra 'personal space', just like flying 'club class'. Pensioners settle down with their wicker picnic baskets, students with their yerba mate flasks, blankets and pillows, all are prepared for a long haul. Almost a degree of inevitable expectation. As the day warms up and the fug in the carriage thickens windows are slowly raised, it allows a nice cool breeze the drift in along with sticky dry dust, garbage burnt smoke and shreds of tattered leaves. For the secondary glaze acts like a cheese parer. The fecund shrub growth coupled with the thrice weekly train, means Nature is in a constant battle with the iron horse. Still this isn't the real reason for the extra skin of glazing. As we enter the outskirts of Rosario there's a clatter on the tin of the train, then another. We're being stoned. Davids with their gutties, slingshots and light artillery, a hail of railway metal. It makes for poor sport, a Goliath of twenty carriages can't return fire. Ceres at midnight. Ceres, where there's no platform. Ceres, where the museum's major exhibit is a maize peeler, 1929. Ceres where we're the only ones to disembark. Down onto the grass covered tracks and into the warm embrace of a sub-tropical night. Another successful escape from the congested narrow roads around BA.