Friday, 19 November 2010


There never was enough time to reflect, never enough time to get things done, never enough of anything. I wanted this journey to be over before I had even begun it. I was willing the time away, pushing on it to pass, longing in some way for the strong sense of having a life that is actually moving forward. The romantic notion of the noble drifter, the compulsive traveller, the seeker exploring the far horizons were no longer attractive or desirable. A few days and a few nondescript adventures, some dust, some beer and bad driving had worn me out to the point that it didn’t really matter. Inside I smiled at the new maturity that had come upon me so quickly and unexpectedly. This feeling, this smug glimpse into the future and middle age would not last. A second smile eclipsed the first.

There were a selection of fine people in this town, working, walking, hiding and observing. I too a par time job in observation and headed down from breakfast. The chef cooked tinned sausages until they sizzled and split, hens eggs with golden yolks and blinding whites were added to the sizzling oil. Lastly a slice of rough and possibly ancient bread was thrown into the black pan absorbing the oil like a rusty sponge. It was served with a blizzard of pepper on china plates that clattered across the wooden table top as they were unstacked. Tabasco was added by some of the tougher and more valiant diners, I settled for a pinch of salt and black coffee. Fortified by the meal I began my exhausting duties of watching and waiting.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A day lost

I had that feeling that I was missing a day. Perhaps in my inarticulate descriptions f these bandit encounters, guns fights, kidnappings and other peculiar and unrelated badlands events I’ve given the wrong impression. One that says that Ernesto and I are quite familiar with the concept of being caught up in such shenanigans. Nothing could be further from the truth. We represent the young, lower middle class in Argentina, both still somewhere in our studies and likely to be life long at the present rate. Ernesto is still training as a doctor and is in his third year, he is most interested in tropical diseases and respiratory problems. This is due to his mother contracting TB when he was a teenager. He has decided that. As part of a year away from the college and formal studies he will travel the country, this great dusty landmass and reconnect with the people and culture(s) - for no fee or reward whatsoever. He is also, in his heart committed to Claudia but that’s another story for another paragraph.

My career plan is quite different, first of all I do not share any of Ernesto’s social concerns. The noble peasants, workers, administrators, politicians, students and passengers that make up this land are all the same to be (and not in a socialist sense). They are items and baggage passing along in some surrealist carousel known as “life”. I do not pretend to understand it but for no good reason I remain interested in observing and documenting some aspects of this absurd and dangerous sideshow as it trundles by. I also respect their noble path and their stoical determination to try to improve “things”. You may see that as an naive and selfish approach to living and knowing better would expect me to grow out of it. Well to be honest I wish I could but every time I think I’m about to turn concerned again I hear some self serving politician or arrogant General spouting forth on the TV and go back to my dismissive and defeatist views. So, in this self destructive mode I will observe, possibly document, marginally interact and occasionally have a good time bogged down in this Latin and European contaminated mire. Meanwhile Ernesto will fix it, if he can stay awake or away from Claudia long enough.

Our chosen mode of transport is a Ford Cougar, it was all we could find. Well; it was passed onto me in part payment for a longstanding gambling debt. I’d resigned myself to never seeing the money and the offer of the car seemed like a decent deal. I had considered selling it but at best I’d only have gotten a few hundred dollars for it and when the road trip idea was born one drunken night, the Cougar seemed (almost) perfect. We’ve done some maintenance work on it and had (well had almost) grown attached to it’s idiosyncrasy, lack of fuel economy and relatively high standard of comfort. It also seemed quite tough and I considered that it could be another valuable surreal experiment and challenge to see how long a highway car would last for in the rough terrain of the mountains. At the moment it is still with us and healthier than either of it’s regular occupants.

I had a beer hangover. That dry mouth, fuzzed head, concrete brow and bloated stomach thing. Mornings should be my time of creative mountain climbing, my rested brain in it’s strongest and most agile position of the day, ready to pour forth wisdom and document observations critically and pointedly interpreted. Sadly most mornings are dull affairs, trudged through in this pathetic and crippled mode. The sun pouring in through the slats of the blind only made it worse, tiny sparkling beams of solar brilliance alight with life countering my head’s dull, almost clockwork thud and the black hole of alcohol induced brain death I sat amongst. As I looked around I realised that we were still ensconced firmly in the bosom of the backpackers hostel. The good news was I was alone and could begin this day, whatever it’s name was, in personal slow motion. I resolved to do that and so became a time traveller in my own way.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


The tyres were drumming some relentless beat and the white line was running under the car like a conveyor belt. As the landscape on the other side of the glass grew into a grey desert I had a sense of the road and it’s welcome smoothness was coming to an end. Despite my expectation it was a shock when it eventually did. It ran into an small town but stayed their, refusing to leave on the west side and allowing only a poor imitation of itself to struggle against the rising ground that led into the mountain foothills. At that point I stopped whist Ernesto reminded himself of the local geography by folding and unfolding a map and thumbing across the road atlas. “We are here”, he pointed and grinned. I was tired and looking for a soft clean bed somewhere.

The clean bed was in a trekkers boarding house. Dirt brown and slightly shambolic, boots and walking sticks in racks outside, no obvious threat of anything being stolen. Chalk boards advertising cheap meals, continuous soup and stew options, local guides, buses to places and woollen hats help onto wooden racks by paperclips. The bed was two dollars, the soup was one and a bottle of beer was two fifty, a hunk of stale bread was free or buried in a simple but confused pricing structure. We did the eating and drinking and regardless of time or the sun’s errant behaviour slept.

Dreams are far more interesting than reality and reality is far less real than dream. I stayed in the dream for what seemed like a long time and then left it, showered and walked out in circles around the straight streets of the anonymous village. Rucksacked students sat smoking outside the one and only café, desperately growing beards if they were male, desperately pleating hair if they were girls. Each one sucked coffee and blew blue smoke and sprouted more wool garments. The car had been parked at an odd abandoned angle next to a waiting donkey and a bicycle. The primitive line up was completed by some straw bales, a clump of battered beer barrels and a pile of rubble. From a certain viewpoint this band of items and materials formed into a linear composition that was pleasing to the eye. I took numerous photographs and joined the students for banter and caffeine in no particular order.

Ernesto joined us as we discussed the mountains and routes, walking strategies as opposed to driven ones and alternate travel plans built precariously around irregular brightly coloured buses and their parrot passengers (we never did see any despite an intensive search). We then speculated about a journey in which we stumbled upon a witches coven (or was it oven) and Indian burial grounds blown over by great sandstorms. I ordered two fried eggs and they duly arrived, Ernesto was hungrier than me and breakfasted on a large steak of an unknown origin. I couldn’t help but notice the donkey was missing.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Hellcat v Zero

And so it was that after a surreal pillow and gun fight we fled the premises whilst the remaining bandits snoozed or discussed philosophical matters to the nth degree. I for one was happy to be back behind the wheel and quickly fell back into by rusty driving style using a larger than usual font. The rev counter never lies and soon it was time to move through the various options afforded by the slick gear box. We were cruising in every sense of the word except the oceanic kind and the miles melted away and as usual I resorted to my normal bad habit of day dreaming while driving. This time I was making a rather nicely coloured coloured, spicy curry from scratch or at least minimal processed ingredients. The story goes like this:

First I took a large saucepan and poured in oil and turned on the flame. Then I began chopping up the onions, two large ones, I chopped them crosswise and unevenly so they were rough and as I finished the first I added it to the hot oil, then the other, the onion pieces curling and sizzling as I stirred them into the bubbling oil. I patted them with a wooden spoon a crunched pepper and rock salt into the mix. Then I picked up the chillies and cut and crushed them deciding to add them seeds and all to the pan, more stirring and a few moments waiting and appreciating till it was time for the curry paste. I couldn’t resist dropping in a glug of wine just to lubricate the ingredients into a thinner consistency and filled a glass for myself as a brief accompaniment to the cooking chores. The chicken breasts were then removed from the fridge. As the pan steamed and spurted I snipped the meat into small pieces, sprinkled them with oil and herbs and spooned the chicken into the onions and paste, stirring and binding the mix and watching as the meat turned from pink to white and then took on the browns and oranges from the paste and the herbs. I placed the lid on the pan and turned the heat down to allow a simmer to take place, looked up at the clock and noted the time, as a reward I finished the glass of wine…

The daydream petered out and once again the dry strip of road ahead took over. Around then I became aware of a 1982 Lexus Soarer in the rear view mirror. We were on a long straight at the car was quickly catching up, it was gold and the sunlight flashed across it’s front grill and bonnet, dazzling. Soon it was right on our tail as if attracted by some kind of giant magnet in our boot. It did cross my mind that it might be driven by and contain some of the bandit types we had encountered a short while ago and now following a hot pursuit they were upon us and seeking some terrible revenge for whatever it was we had done or not done - perhaps. As I observed in the mirror (and Ernesto slept on) I could see that the driver was female and alone. A good combination and vastly preferable to the other possibility that I had considered. She sat on our bumper, it was like a Spitfire versus and Messerschmidt.

It was like a Spitfire versus and Messerschmidt apart from no hiding in the sun or machine gunning or any of that sort of thing, the unsafe but more civilised practice of tailgating. I though about the situation a bit more and decided that it was more like a Hellcat versus a Zero due to respective marques being driven and their countries of origin. She was still hooked onto the back of my car as we zipped along at a steady 75mph over the shining desert road. I sped up a little and so did she, I caught a glimpse of a smile as she pulled alongside and then the Soarer soared by in what I thought to be a rather disrespectful manner. I often feel disrespected when overtaken. I couldn’t be bothered to follow her and settled back in the seat, lifted my foot a little from the accelerator and settled back to the steady 75.