When Koen squeezes his fists together, he comes to an abrupt halt in front of the door I sit behind. We meet at the Shell station, a person I have never seen before, with a twinkle in his eyes, moving with the ease of an adolescent youngster, one of 45. He’s having a bright smile, and when I see him I jump of my chair to greet him. Funny, not to know a person except by typed words over Messenger.
The delights of meeting people from your homeland, it occurs to me, is extraordinary. Suddenly jokes are understood, sharing the same time frame in where we grew up, even the same city where we lived, does make it easy to marvel. Things such as looking back at the heights of the eighties and to travel to places in our mind we’ve both visited.
The easiness of sharing the same language makes communicating so much more natural. If only I knew the words to be quick of tongue again, I seem not to remember certain words. The same background, same culture and same age makes it easy to laugh and talk freely, and in a few days my Dutch vocabulary grows again.
We stay 4 days on 2 different soppy drenched agricultural fields. I had hoped for a sunny, cozy camp spot, preferable with trees, to start a fire, and sit around a warm pit. Instead we have much rain and no camp fires, but each morning, upon waking up, Koen his smile is warm, genuine and happy, I can tell he is overflowing with an eagerness to cycle the vastness of Patagonian Argentina. If only he knew.
Of course, I keep my negative experiences to my myself but Koen get several proper one’s of his own.
We start with cycling to town to buy supplies where we have a thorough wash at two separate water taps in a park, skills I copy from Koen. I am now able to wash myself fully without getting undressed.
We are having fun and we both find it easy to adjust, and to make it effortless for each other, perhaps because we know one won’t grow a want to stick to the other. Koen is going to Ushuaia, and I am going to Uruguay.
With a new set of Rohloff oil, and a batch of unusual spices to make my own masala mix, both brought by Koen, we part on a partly sunny day at the same Shell station in Mercedes where we met.
With the wind in my back I sail once more to San Antonio de Areco. I buy the remaining spices to make a bold, rich masala mix. On Juan Carlos his rickety bicycle I tour through town, in each shop am I advised, assisted with translations and pointed out ideas on how to get what I need.
In the evenings, back in the restaurant, the cooks Celeste and Gaston listen to freakish Mormon sermons on the radio. I have come upon new music too; Libyan Omar Suleiman in combination with Icelandic Björk and music made by street-artists, where reggae is mixed with a sitar will rock my route, for as long as I have battery power. A clean washed tent and with new granny-alike underwear (bought at the woman below), I am ready to start the journey anew.
I feel alive and comfortable. I pedal through town, sing softly and watch the clouds shaped as symmetrical turtles, running wild like young sheep. Gaucho’s dressed in crisp white trousers wave to me before I have smiled at them. Dogs tally through the streets, chatty parrots hovering in pairs of three or more. Everyone knows the other in town, and I know each shop which matters. It occurs to me I feel remarkable well at home.
And a home I have. ‘Remember, when ever you are near, this is your home,’ says Juan Carlos, the brother of my friend back in the Netherlands. His wife weeps when I leave, and perplexed by her tears I stay longer, until she won’t have tears flowing down her cheeks when I am about to leave. ‘Any time, you are welcome, and this is your home,’ she tells me when we keep hugging and kissing each others cheeks.
Speaking of kissing; the first camp along the hard mud route is where I start frying and pounding the masala spices. Without having a mortar, I have come upon a technique, I imagine, used since the stone age: stones.
After dry frying the spices they’re put in a cloth, lay on a flat stone, where I bang a smaller stone onto. My first masala chai, after more than a year, is like an epiphany! Like the first and immaculate French kiss by someone made up in your mind, better than anything you thought of. Like sééing the sun as a miracle shining onto your whole being. Like an orbit where all 7 minty and sharp tastes mingle and whirl deep in an ocean taking you with it. Like the perfect, moist and textured piece of hashish, I imagine, never having been into this stuff. Its like finally tasting authenticity.
The excessively sharp shrieks of parrots, the crashed down limbs of a huge eucalyptus, the nests fallen out of them, my washed and spotless clean tent, and the overflow of love, attention and friendship since my flight out of Patagonia has me back in a grid of happiness and contentment.
The mornings have me waking up earlier, the loss of my cycle-computer has me ripped apart from my rather strict regime to stop no later than 4 o’clock, the spiderweb-grid slowly growing wider the farther removed from Buenos Aires has it made more comfortable for me. The weather, although very humid, is still reasonable pleasant, for me and the mosquito’s sticking to my sweaty skin.
I pass many stinky, rotten animals along the route, but none when I am on farmer tracks, where rain has made a mud bath not to navigate without tractor. I peddle over two huge bridges, covering the vast Delta over the Parana river. On the less than one meter broad cycle path, every one gives way to me, shake hands and wish me well. One man, in Zárate, tells me a girl in town has been killed, she was alone too, just like me, he’d seen it on television.
Cycling through the Pampa, the humid and dry part of this large area of Argentina, I notice sensuality, especially in the eyes of the men. The way they look, up close, and talk to me, a sweaty, pimpled 45-year-old, it’s obvious as the desire shown in the Chacarera dance.
But not always.
‘There are thieves at night, ladrones,’ he says, a guy with a mouth filled with three-quarters of teeth and emerald dreamlike eyes. I am setting up my camp, less than a minute ago I stood half-naked, changing cycle short for normal underwear. ‘Here? You say that it is dangerous here?’
‘Yes. Very dangerous. You can not stay here.’ And so this becomes the second night in all these many months of South America that I can not stay. The previous disagreement was just before the border with Paraguay, a notorious drugs route. I am again not far from the border, but when I mention this fact, the guy tells me that’s not it.
‘You have to go, it is dangerous because there are snakes,’ he changes his tactic. I try to pursue the Emerald Eyed guy with telling him I don’t believe it is dangerous and that I am not afraid of snakes.
It turns out he is okay with me camping here, but his patron isn’t, ‘and he will surely alert the police. You can sleep just outside the fence,’ he continues in a pacified manner, when I mention this option to him. ‘Oh, and there it is not dangerous? There are no thieves? While here, a kilometer away from the road, behind a seemingly double locked gate, are thieves?’
He wants the best for me, because he adds another contradiction to his earlier statement of dangerously thieves: ‘It is really quiet at the road side, you won’t hear many cars passing.’
I again have trespassed a gate (in reality I have only opened it, as it was not locked) but of course I know I am wrong, but it is hard to leave because everyone is usually fine with me trespassing.
My eyes commonly focused on successful trespassing options, indications of neglect in natural surrounding around a patch of forest usually is a hit, I stumble upon a rich men farm abandoned years ago. The morning brings me two curious foxes, one of them jumps in surprise my way, to come to a halt, to seize its thoughts and to decide keep running is a smart move.
The moist wood is easily catching fire with the dry aromatic eucalyptus leaves around and I go for a huge fire, in which I test a new way of baking bread. It’s a success and I marvel at the beauty and taste of it. The act which makes me truly jump of joy is an idea I got in the night: aerial yoga in the limps of the trees around me!
In Argentina Entre Rios province trucks carried mostly sparkle clean pigs and cows, leaving a waft of odor behind them*. I had nowhere else to cycle, but on the double two lane highway to Gualeguaychu, a route which could not inspire me. The surroundings existing of swamps, indigenous settlements and messy villages, lakes and, again, an overflow of rainwater. When crossing the Fray Bentos border into Uruguay I am not allowed to cycle over the bridge and need to find a lift. I try with a truck but it takes too long before the driver starts his trip, and I jump into a pick-up truck and enter the country I longed to be in since Patagonia!
Only for those interested in my thoughts about meat (excluded fish):
* It had me thinking why people eat so incredible much meat in these countries? Or in fact, almost everywhere. These animals, it occurs to me, are victims. They haven’t done anything wrong. They have been born just to feed humans, since about the start of the Industrial Revolution. If there a God who created them for our disposal, certainly not in these quantities. And we do not need meat to live a healthy life. Back in the very early centuries humans ate meat because, as far as I know, besides that they had to defend themselves against animals who would otherwise kill them, they had no manipulated crops yet.
In most South American countries cows have a good life, they roam vast expanses of land. Many cows are able to spend time with their offspring. But there comes a day that they are collected, transported and killed.
I started to buy meat again while traversing the high altitudes in Argentina. Cows would roam freely, lama’s too, and that made my choice to eat meat slightly acceptable. Would I be invited I would eat what ever was served to me, something I still do, as a matter of value towards the host. But buying a salami is seeing the pig, its tiny round eyes, an animal with much emotions and brains. Buying any meat is killing an innocent animal, being part of the industry where I rather not be part of.
Eating meat is easy when you don’t meet the animal’s eye. Eating meat is without furthering pondering when you don’t see how the creature’s body is packed in a truck. When you see the animal going to a place where it will be killed, while it hasn’t done a thing wrong, is not easy. The look in the eyes of a cow on transport is knowing. A look which does not express excitement as if going on a little side trip to the thermal baths nearby. Can I not compare humans to animals? Maybe not…
I have eaten so much tinned tuna fish that this left a great disliking for life towards any tinned fish (save for seafood). I do without meat again, but eat plenty of cheese, eggs, butter and cream. These are cow and chicken products too, they may not be from a killed animal, they are from a tortured one. Being part of modern life, although avoiding much of it, where I cycle the world requires a mind set I would not have, was I living a slightly more self sustainable lifestyle, or would I live on a farm-like house. This is one of the greatest side effects I do not like about cycling.
Song text Mike Love:
I just can’t take no more. I gotta get out of this place. Cause the things I’ve seen have broken my heart, made me feel ashamed, just to be a part of this human race. If you could see their eyes while they were dying, if you could hear their cries while they were dying, would you still put them on your dinner table my friend? If you held the knife while they were dying, and if it was you who did the killing, would it be different, cause there’s no difference in the end. The blood is on your hands, the blood is on your hands, if you don’t make a change, if you don’t take a stand, the blood is on your hands. Oh my brother could you take some time it would mean a lot to me, and oh my sister would you make some time there’s something you have to see. It’s a little hard to swallow but the truth will set you free. http://www.nationearth.com/ If you felt the pain with every bite you took, and if you caught a glimpse with every bite you took, of all the misery and the suffering, just to feed your selfish craving, would you still swallow? Chorus. If you look the other way when they’re crying out in pain, if you wear fur, if you wear leather, if you eat meat, the blood is on your hands. Just because you have the might, it doesn’t give you the right, and just because you have more brains, it doesn’t mean they feel less pain, and if you choose to remain ignorant, the blood is on your hands.