Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Treasure Hunters

Perfect makeup, immaculate coiffure, dressed out of the city's nicest stores. She wouldn't look out of place in Edinburg's Morningside or Glasgow's Kelvinside and she isn't out of place in Buenos Aires' Niceside. The doña, the grand dame of San Isidro. She's doing the daily shop at her local supermercado, possibly it's the maid's day off. Passing the bakery, she takes to a bit off quality control, snaffling a factura; those sugar encrusted two-bite morsels piled high, so invitingly, in the self-help trough. The treasure huntress. More evidences will be found later, at the verdura cabinet, where the vegetables wither under the dehydrating influence of air-con and the predation of the free pickers. Like the winter robin of a Glasgow childhood, that has already fat-tested the cream line of your school milk, so the styrofoam has partially been disrobed of it's clingfilm and sampled. Free looters on the loose. Requesting the purchase of a pack of batteries in one store resulted in their incarceration in a security bag, to be released at the checkout. Thwarted treasure hunters. We met one French cycling couple who had been accused of 'poverty', for picking wild figs. On that occasion we too had watched overripe fruit dripping on the branch, covering the ground with windfalls. Nobody was interested in them. Funny Foreigner treasure hunters. Which might explain the carpets of crushed, sticky mulberries that we've ridden over of late. Of course it's not just an Argentine trait; consider all the apples in the gardens in Haddington that never make it to the fruit bowl in the house.

What has triggered these thoughts was the disappearance of a certain kilometre post. Route National forty, Ruta Cuarenta is iconic in the Argentina psyche, in a similar league to the U.S.' Route 66, or the A939 Cockbridge - Tomintoul. It runs from the Bolivian frontier to Tierra del Fuego. Over 5000km. We've played on it before, we're back here again, but only for a few days. However, we do pass one of the more significant 'k' posts. Last time I liked the alliteration of numerals...RN40 4040, photographing and blogging the evidence. So it was somewhat disappointing to find that others had been attracted by the same significance and poached it. Souvenir treasure hunter.

If you've ever wondered where some of these liberated signages end up, try checking out Watson's Lake, North Western Territories, Canada. They have a forest of acquired place names. Unofficially commissioned by inebriated students, it's expanded to become the community's main, well....only tourist attraction.

Anybody who knows our stair in Scotland, will realise that I too am not immune to collecting a certain type of physical trophy. Car number plates. One for each country explored. There's but one single rule: roadkill only. Morally treasure hunted. Or as can sometimes seem to be the case: scalp hunted, taken from the not unfriendly driver but the enemy motorcar. Of course its at this point that my pinprick conscience reminds me; that incredible road, with it's tunnels and bridges, its slick surface and two hour free-wheel, that's saved over three hundred kilometres of deviation, wouldn't exist without the infernal internal combustion engine. We're all hypocrites at some point.

The real, lasting treasure that's there to be hunted are the lasting images from a trip. The Sunday that we get hijacked and force fed asado steaks with chilled red wine. The presentation of a bottle of frozen water as the thermometer cruises around one hundred degrees. That short time between first light and sun up, when my world is cool and crystal sharp. Images storable only on memory.

Still I hunt a camera image that can encapsulate a place, a time, a trip. To be in the right airt at the right time, with the presence of mind to notice. To capture not to steal. That is my kind of treasure hunt.