As if injected with a shot containing a little bit of everything, I feel revived, swimming in a pool of contentment, tranquility and a feeling usually unknown to me: at rest. After nearly three weeks inactivity, I must take a day off to reset back into camping, fires and bread baking.
After having tried to discover beauty in the heartland of Uruguay, I now simply take the main road, and skid on. Upon leaving a stealth camp where a dozen of men are cutting eucalyptus, no one raises an eyebrow when I emerge from the patch of oak forest. Instead, they help me push the bicycle on the road.
From Paysandu I move nicely along the quiet route 3 to Salto and Bella Union. The wind shifts, the sun shines, until clouds make their appearance.
Then rain blows vertically across the road.
I trespass, but only once out of 6 nights.
The fences don’t bother me, the boring landscape does not bring my mood down, the rain has little effect on my brain; I happily sail north with the wind in my back. Out of two choices I chose the better one.
When I enter the tax-free shop in the last town in Uruguay, I feel like a contemporary example of ancient sapiens. Shambling between rows of perfume, where I notice myself covering my nose. Shuffling between shelves of high-end priced creams, asking the lipstick lady with immaculate clean hands for help. Its lovely being in this upscale shop with stained clothes, smokey odor mixed with the faint fragrance of a week-long absence of a shower, greasy hair and feeling confident.
Irony has it that there are less fences to be climbed. Some patches are without, some entrances are open and some grazing pastures have thick undergrowth beneath a row of eucalyptus in front of the fence.
Irony has it, too, that once I am in Brazil, I have great difficulty finding a spot. I hear myself murmuring: ‘I miss Uruguay, it was so much easier there’. And it was, never did I get electric-shocked by fences, never had I to stop a one hour search for a spot and return to the roadside.
I camp underneath a telephone mast, of all places, while wondering why such vastness of land is dedicated to feed humans, and hermetically fenced off.
Late in the evening, when I am sleeping under a Milky Way adorned with fireflies, two men step out of a car. One comes over, shines his torch on the tent and wakes me up. He speaks Portuguese, says he’s police, asking for my passport and wanting to know whether I go to Uruguaiana or Uruguay? I am tired, but notice he’s not wearing a uniform, nor showing me his badge. Though I am sleepy enough to hand over my passport while he walks off with it. He makes a photo of my camp and asks if I need anything, then he is off again. Odd.
Arriving in Uruguaiana I use WiFi at a gas station to determine my ongoing. The little guy working there tells me ‘this is very beautiful’, pointing my finger on the map at Corriente Argentina, just above the river I’m at now. When I point my finger at the route from Uruguay to Uruguaiana and mention that this is very boring agricultural surrounding, he agrees. The other side of the river is Argentina, and perhaps more beautiful? ‘Yes, it is much more beautiful,’ the little guy says, ‘this is the most beautiful part of Brazil,’ he adds. Now I’m confused.
I eat my home-made bread in a lively park where the spring weather has everyone emerging from its cocoon, and decide to cross into the most beautiful part of Brazil: Corriente Argentina.
And although my spirits are lifted, I am in no mood to spend my time cycling between fences, where behind grazing pastures plunge into the endless distance. I can’t avoid fences in South America. If I want no fences I better move away from to the other side of the Andes. Instead, I change my mindset, and hope for more natural surroundings at the other side of the fenced river.
It’s sad, but I am triumphant when I find a man-made eucalyptus forest where the fence around has a gate which I can open. On the route which is very dangerous, according the immigration officer. In the most beautiful part of Brazil, according the little guy from the gas-station.
Sounds are not changing, a pleasant loud bell-like sound, like small bronze bells a dancing girl in the early period of Indian odyssey would wear.
What is changing is the temperature. The period after the winter which is pleasantly warm in daytime and cool at night, last too short. Now it seems I am catapulted into the sweltering humid tropics of wetlands around the Rio Paraguay. Humidity takes good care of bumps and pimples on my face. Insects like to bite my legs, horseflies bite pieces out of me, grass has the beneficial aid of allergic reactions. In the evening, when at last the humidity gives way to relative coolness, mosquitoes join the stage.
Sitting in a closed tent is making my new facial cream slide in drops along my neck, down my belly. Opening the door would only invite spiders, even small ones like baby tarantula’s.
Planning make sense. If only because the surroundings are not beautiful. People might say: ‘Corrientes is so natural and beautiful’, but where I am it’s only agricultural richness. I am advised to visit ‘Foz de Igazu waterfall’ but I like to see the state in its natural way, not the highlight which is not representing the being of the state. I am pretty sure the waterfall is surrounded by fences anyway.
I prefer to see the Argentina as it comes naturally, the occurrences in Corrientes, on my way from town to town. And so it happens I am a witness of gaucho’s with lasso’s. I get instantly excited, as gaucho’s arouses my, apparently deep, desires. I get off the bicycle, walk quickly over to the fence, trying to avoid sleeping snakes, am immediately welcomed by one of the gaucho’s and a minute after by two of his sisters: Claudia and Roxanne. Claudia has been to the Netherlands and loves our farm technology and polders, as she uses the Dutch word.
I love the gaucho’s, I tell her. One of them is authentically dressed, exactly as Gauchito Gill…. They are catching the calves, with a rope made of cow hide. The little innocent animals are caught with little compassion, pressed against the earth, a hand shut around their mouth, a single snap bitten out of their cartilage by the other hand. The sound is harsh, reminding me of my dad who would punch an extra hole in his leather belt.
I pick up the piece cut out of the calf’s ear. There is no blood. But from now on I see all calves as thoroughly traumatized. Perhaps the Dutch technology is ‘better’ for the animals, if you think away the cages, and the separation from its mom, and the general stress, and the lack of grass, and the machines sucking your nipples.