Monday, 31 October 2011

Ruta 40 Argentina

Crushed dry and unreal, papiermâche mountains under a pinkening sky. And the billowing yellow grey clouds turn blue and dark, and the grass I see is golden. Though I see it as a small bright square in a blackened border.

I am sleeping under the road again. Though it is only as the full fat light of the setting sun shines through my shelter that I realise I am seeing for the first time today. I have spent 10 hours blind and pedalling - stoned tired eyes, not a grimace, not a smile, as slowly the gravel road runs below.

I will sleep as well under the road as in a bed. Better perhaps. And I won´t be scared as the motor of a truck slows and stops above me, nor excited by the dawning day.

For hours, like a desert, I have seen nothing but soup and risotto and garlic bread and salad. Close-ups, steaming and constant. And a vague notion of meeting up with Joe and seeing Debbie again in El Calafate. And then soup and garlic bread and risotto.

People say in the desert that, for lack of external stimuli, the mind turns in on itself and you can see some true essence of your soul. Well, I´ve seen it - and it´s soup. If I wanted something better perhaps I should have brought more food.

Now, in the sun, face golden, but unseen, soul of tomato and basil soup, stoned eyes and legs untired, I have reached it again; the rarely mentioned danger of travelling. I am used to it. The world changing every day. And now, and now, I don´t see it.

Chile

Soggy bark. Bearded moss. Dripping wet. Silver misty droplets. Squelching mud. Soaked hair, hands, feet. And the sky, a constant drizzle, grey.

Six days of constant rain and wild camping, and my fingers and toes and skin are wrinkled, as though I live in a bath.

After a month of no rain in Argentina, the dry harsh air had traced light dusty, spider-webbed marks all over my skin. Now after 6 days in Chile I feel like I´m becoming an amphibian. Only that I have less inclination to crawl back into a cold wet tent than a toad perhaps might have.

I stop at a shop in Mañihuales. "This may be a strange question," I say "But I´m looking for the ummm... the cyclist hunter?"

"Aaah, Jorge! El cazador de ciclistas! La casa de ciclistas!" And they draw me a map to his house, and I arrive on a bicycle laden with things dripping wet and soaking.

When the door opens I don´t say anything. Jorge smiles a real smile and hugs me and tells me that I´m the first cyclist of the year. And his wife Diana and daughter Nickole come to greet me. "Come in, bring you´re bike, this is the kitchen, there´s a shower and hot water - you can wash and dry your clothes. This room´s used as a church, but not until the weekend. Help yourself to cake. Do you want a cup of tea? This is your house - you musn´t pay anything. We´re happy to have you here."

And in such warmth, in the cold wet grey of the Carretera Austral in early spring, I make myself at home in Jorge´s house, and flick through the pages of messages left by the many cyclists who have stayed there over the last three years, and begin to write my own.

Patagonia.

To be clear, we were not talking about the necessities of farming, or those small places to keep out Old Killer Thomas More and Nasty Marx, but fences the length of small countries, stretching without end, and locking up mountains, and all the sky above, and the desert far beyond. Taut rotten wood and wire across rivers and streams, with the water always escaping and being caught again; owned to unowned to owned again, and always by the very, very few.

"There are just two things I don`t like about Argentina - the wind and the fences. And I guess you can`t do much about the wind." But always along the road the wire fences run, without public right of way, stuck in a world that moves. Like an international border that stops one walking because two hundred years ago an old man drew a line.

I spend my days riding parallel to wires, and thinking You´re ugly wires You´re ugly wires and wrong.

While all the world is blocked away, in a landscape so huge I feel contained and ordered in my movements, when movement has come to mean freedom. And I am one of the lucky ones in a world where the freedom of movement for all is a forgotten, ignored, repressed, basic human right. We were born walking and stopped. We survived because of our adaptability that we are slowly surely losing standing still.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Homecoming!!!

Just a quick entry to say... I´m almost finished and I´m coming home!!!


There will be a BBQ at St Aubyn Arms Pub on Saturday 12th November at 1pm in Praze-an- Beeble , Cornwall.

Would be great to see you there!!!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Sorry... very blurry, but lots of nice people in Argentina.  These guys gave me a medal!!!  ...it was a medal for 1st prize in swimming, but I was very happy with it ...
A less blurry ´after´ photo... some strong winds in Patagonia!
and me ...again...
A slightly blurry ´before´photo...
Volcán Tromen
Along Ruta 40
lots of space for wild camping in Argentina when the fences disappear...
Canyon Atuel
this photo is here because the cactus pictured caused 7 punctures ... in China I once had 8 in a day, but 7 is a new record for 1 second!
sunset
...reservoir, Valle Grande
Girls, maté and cake.... 
Roberto and Marta - thanks for lunch!
Valle Grande, south of San Rafael

Argentina

It starts with an absolute unthinking happiness. An effortless movement; more sailing than cycling. Carried through a sunny day on an immense and blustering wave, I feel its hands upon my back, and I am pushed all along the great flat road at fifty kilometres an hour, not even the light and ticklish touch of an air resistance on my face.

After Peru and Bolivia, I have fallen into a heaven of small and wonderful things. The bread here is fresh not chewy and stale, there is cheese that tastes of cheese, and olive oil, and apples that are not powdery deceptive lies, but apples, and meat that melts, doesn´t stretch and string and crumble as old worn out leather boots, and wine, cheap wine, that doesn´t make you grimace and wince and shudder at its scent.

Everything is good. Glossy, shining supermarkets, shelves piled high with food. Clear cold drinkable tap water and strong hot showers.  Signposts, cleanliness, order and receipts. Queues and politeness and priority seats for the elderly. Real coversations, interest and an understanding of what I am doing, and time to stop and talk and do nothing.  Everything is good. And the wind keeps pushing at my back.  The sun glints off windscreens, hands wave, horns sound and carry me easily south.

And then there is a change. The wind flails and twists around. And it is there in front of me, its cold breath fierce like a wall and fighting. And whipping up sand. And robbing happiness with an inhuman unkindness, and with a relentlessness slowly emptying me of everything.

After Peru and Bolivia, I have fallen into a hell of terrible things.  Food is expensive and markets have disappeared, to be replaced by cold impersonal fluorescent lights, and loyalty cards, and car parks, and queues. And billboards everywhere saying stupid things. And everything closes for four idiotic hours in the middle of the day.  And the countryside is a monotonous desert full of sand and nasty plants and barbed wire fences, and wild camping is a nightmare. And traffic jams and roundabouts and ring roads.

The wind sweeps me off the road, over and over, and I can´t lift my bike against it. I´m on my knees and screaming, furious angry words in capital letters, that tumble lost behind me, and I´m learning that the wind here doesn´t listen, even when you scream.

The wind keeps pushing and holding me down, and like a play thing, like a plastic bag, like nothing, I´m thrown all over the road.  The sun that glints off windscreens laughs, and the hands that wave and horns that sound smack only of schadenfreude, and I am fighting slowly south.
toward San Rafael...