Saturday, 15 November 2014

Peck of Dirt

You've got to eat a peck of dirt before you die. An old wife's Bon mot. A truism to rank along side the 'five second rule': if it's off the floor inside five it. One way to acquire an inoculation of germs and avoid the repeated trip to the bathroom medicine cabinet. A peck being a dry volumetric measure for feeding oats to horses, a quarter bushel or its metric equivalent of around nine litres. A not insignificant amount that could easily be ingested whilst sleeping out the night under a bridge in an Argentine wind storm.

We're crossing the Campo de Arena and as the name suggests, it's a plane of sand and low scrub. A place of little shelter, offering poor tethers for a tent. A place of beautiful austerity. We've been this way before, we've been caught out in a hot wind storm and needed to find some sort of meager shelter. This time the wind is sitting square on our backs, we're being pushed along and are near to the finish. Then it drops away and returns with a vengeance, full frontal, stuck on our nebs. There's little point in fighting it, it will only result in a sufferfest. Time to investigate the culverts under the road. There's good shade and a cooler sand that's not been baked all day. The downside is the wind tunnel effect, that picks up grit and hurls it along the surface, at much the same height as a sleeping face.

Culverts, bridges and road cuttings are useful accoutrements for the cycle camper. The last can be exposed to the sun, but has the advantage that most humans have an inordinate inability to look upwards. It's easy to find a hidden place away from headlights and the black-time thoughts of crashing vehicles. The former two have the shade advantage but come with a particular South American trait. Garbage dumping. Fling the the black poly bag over the parapet, nature in the form of rain storms will sweep it out of mind. More often it's the wind that does the distribution, draping the thorn country with a flowering of polythene. Lay-bys are to be avoided, most are alfresco loos. Yet this trip has already disproved some of these assertions. A mirador, a tourist stop-off and lookout in the Valle Tafi gave us a jungle camp with screeching parrots and a dawn chorus, with the added thoughts about the night time creepy crawlers.

If you set to to construct a meal out of a can of corned beef, a few rolls and that wind, you soon learn why it might be termed a sandwich. It helps to keep up your quota of ingested dirt. We zip up the bivi bags and listen to the prattle of grit with a sense of security, yet still the talc-like dust insinuates its way through the zip. By morning there are ripples of sand formed around me. I'm scraping crud from my eyes and contemplating the tonnage of earth modelling that can be achieved in just one night.

Nine litres of dirt, one lifetime, I think I might be eating for my country this morning.