Monday, 23 December 2013

Up the Delta.

I can hear his sales pitch, long before I see him, "Chipa, chipa, chipa", lost somewhere through the forest of swaying passengers. "Chipa, chipa, chipa..". It's the gingham cloth-covered wicker basket of manioc bread, weaving through the tangle of rail hung arms that appears first, followed by his unLatino height.

I've watched these circus acts before. In Asuncion they bus-hop the never stopping collectivos. Maybe our Chipa man honed his skills there, for he has complete hands free control, even when the train judders and jolts its way out of San Fernando station. Strangely we don't purchase. His basket is near empty, which suggests that his wares are ageing. Chipas need to be eaten fresh and warm. A few hours old and they offer excellent jaw exercise as they assume the texture and the tooth squeak of rubber.

We're riding the commuter train up to the Delta. A Saturday morning in early summer, the goods carriage filled with traders' trolleys and cycles festooned in carrier bags. The aisle a trip hazard of cardboard crates and plastic coolers, water carriers and tool boxes. Downtown Portenos are off for the weekend to their chosen retreats up on the Rio Parana. We're off to purchase ferry tickets and to sit dockside and people-watch.

Organised chaos. Like a manic taxi rank, only on water. The distinctive wooden collectivo launches surge up the narrow channel that is the Rio Tigre, turn on half their length, side slip, shunting into the kerb, double, treble, multiply parked, and start to take on the next cargo of passengers. The dispatcher at the top of the gangway controlling the apparent chaos, the loaders stacking up the baggage on the roof. The clip-boarded, uniformed member of security wanders through the swirling throng. A taxi hoot, the launch sidling out into the river, negotiating around the sunbathing octogenarian in a rowing boat, a class of canoeists and the racing scullers. A throated growl, a whiff of reek, a surge of power as they take off into the twist of narrow canals that create the delta system. It's a busy hectic scene, full of colour and story.

Returning on the train, our bread selling circus act has been replaced by a lady vending 'Kirby grips' and 'Alice bands', competing for carriage space with a gent flogging home-pirated music. Stay on the train to the terminus and you're just as likely to be offered religious tracts and alfajores, serenaded by guitar and lectured on poverty. Just another trip on the Mitre Line.