Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Train to Tucuman

There was a time when the first dance on a long trip, the first hop from provincial capital to Central hub, would be a cramped affair. A short bump in a commuter plane, crushed by the tribes of power suits. You were prepared to thole the momentary sufferfest; after all it was only for an hour. The next jump would be considerably longer, but so too would be the leg room. That's all changing. Only it's in incremental centimetres. I'm convinced there was a point, a mere half decade ago that I could rest my head in my arms on the seat-back table in front, to ease the cramps and a dearth of circulation. The fellow sufferer ahead could recline and not snap my spine in twain. Not anymore. Don't drop that portion controlled butter pat, for it will require the gymnastics of Houdini to recover it. There is but one sitting position, one that would have a posture tyrant salivating; "sit up, back straight, no slouching, or you'll get yur knuckles wrapped". It takes a contortionist to to find a position that might just allow for some broken sleep. It's more 'transports' than journeys, as in an 18th century transports, of hulks, convicts and Botany Bay. It's termed cattle class, when in fact it's more 'cattle crush'; that iron crate that a veterinarian uses to restrain a soon to be non-bull, whilst he wields the scalpel. 

As can be gathered, Air France is not high in my comfort estimations. Yet what is easy to forget is the fact that we've traded comfort for price. So with this thought in mind, and the guide book's rather sniffy comments: '...a little like stepping back in time....that might appeal to those in no hurry...' We buy tickets for a twenty six hour train journey. Vinyl covered bench seats, open window ventilation, and a reputation for non arrival. For compensation there's the sense of adventure at a pace more akin to a cycle tour, with a fare structure that panders to the eternal thrift merchant. Buenos Aires to Santiago del Estero, Good Airs to St James of the Marsh all for the price of a coffee on Scotrail. Inflation is a fact of Argentine life, yet this is the quoted rate in our ageing guidebook, all the other suggested prices for comestibles are so antiquated as to be irrelevant. What amounts to a free ride, a 'get out of jail' card. Yet another hassle-free escape route from the Megapolis Buenos Aires. The shame is the near death of passenger rail travel in a country that at one time was dependent for it's development on the iron horse. A situation that is highlighted as we pedal away from the station. A brand new road that cuts a swath through one barrio, bridging roads and free of inconvienient intersections, terminating on the terminal concourse, all for the sole use by the Argentine bus services. A statement of intent: rail is dead. 

The promised delays never materialised, we won on the seating lottery, our bikes rematerialised at the other end. That, in my estimation, counts as a success. We score the three-seat bench, but don't acquire the third passenger, which gives us the possibility of one bed, and another on the floor. We're far from alone in these arrangements, walking the aisle in the middle of the night was an adventure trip avoiding the stepping stones of sleeping faces and prostrate lilos. Then, for a further bit of colour, as we enter Rosario, we get the local kids game: 'stone the train', and now realise why the windows are made of cracked Perspex.

It might not be fast, but what's time on a tour? It might not be smooth, but the motion memory will rock me to sleep the next night. It might not be modern, but it still works. It's another perfect way for a cyclist to circumvent the torc that strangles a capital city.