Once passing for human again post our sliver in Bolivia, we casually made our way out of San Pedro de Atacama. Upon leaving, the three of us bumped into some bikers from Santiago ‘two up’ on two bikes. Briefly acquainted, their proceeding word of cautionary advice was, “Be very, very careful in Argentina, it is dangerous.” Eh?! Sorry, it’s what now? Surely it had to be about thee safest country in South America – of which we’d experienced its length and breadth around a dozen times. I was fast running out of passport pages because of our unremitting infatuation with the country. I shouldn’t have but out of earshot, I chuckled to myself on and off for about half an hour afterwards. What exactly should we be so afraid of, I honestly wondered as we rode into the familiarity of Argentina. Vicious vicuna?
(All images taken from Lisa’s mobile phone)
OH MY GOODNESS ME! The smile on my face was wiped clean when out of the yellow grasses, up a steep bank raced a vicuna, its coat harmoniously camouflaged in the same yellow. Across my path, at lightning speed. Time stood still even though I was zooming at 50 miles per hour. In what felt like slow motion, I severely slammed my brakes on and missed a nasty collision with the panicked creature by a hair’s breadth. A vicuna harbouring one of Karma’s unexplained vendettas – that will teach me to snigger and fail to read the sub-text in peoples’ well-intentioned messages.
Within the hour, dark clouds took on the shape and size of the Star Trek Enterprise. Argentina’s world grew grey as we drew closer to brooding rain clouds beneath slate skies and alongside pewter waters. We did nothing but watch from a distance as black stringers of rain could be seen where they whisked down from the closing storm bank in the south. A steady wash of rain fell in grey sheets up ahead; I clung to the hope that the rain would abate by the time we were beneath those dirty clouds. HOLY SMOKES! Lightning struck. Tendrils of spidery light flashed across the sky, illuminating it for a split second. Over and over, getting closer and closer.
Worryingly, we were still riding high up on a pass – a shiver of concern played down my spine. Such lightning strikes could splinter a man’s bones. I swallowed hard, fear began to squirm around in my gut. It prickled through me. The three of us didn’t take long to descend to the safety of the valley floor and rock up to a snuggery in Purmamarca for the night. Hah – yet another signal to stop throwing caution to Argentina’s wind. Two-wheeled travel can be as risky as it is rewarding. Bolivia’s barbarous adventures aside that had awoken my ‘inner-anarchist’, take heed Lisa, take heed.
A day or two later on the road, everything appeared well again having averted any further perils of Argentina. That is until Jason yells down the helmet’s intercom, “ARGH! ARRRRGH!” all but making my ears bleed.
“What’s up?” I enquired, frowning.
“There’s a bloody bee in my helmet! Or a wasp!” Jason exclaimed rather hotly.
“Oh NO!” I replied emphatically.
“Ouch! OOOOW!” Oh dear, he’s been stung. Jason abruptly pulled over and rapidly removed his helmet, Matt and I followed suit. I inspected for mortal injuries but only spotted a red mark akin to a pinprick just below his collarbone. The wound looked harmless, pitifully small even. By Jason’s taut expression, the little creature had made quite the lasting impression. The blighter had patently pierced Jason’s skin like a lancet, inflicting a white hot pain. I tried to be empathetic although had never been stung by a wasp or a bee before. I offered to retrieve the bite cream but wondered if it’d be like trying to quench a fire with a spear thrust. Jason declined, he was manning up to the bite of the bee. “At least it’s not a venomous snakebite even if it looks like one”, I added unhelpfully. The effect from the winged insect’s neurotoxins – coursing through Jason’s nervous system – manifested as a look that could boil cheese. I helpfully shut up. Another sting in the Argentinian tale…
KLR rider Matt, two weeks in was still in tow with us. Since our chance meet with him at a petrol station in Uyuni, we’d thoroughly appreciated his company and companionable conversation. He was gregarious, had an interesting maelstrom of ‘ideas’ – in short were mad as a box of frogs – of which we took great pleasure in both marveling and occasionally mocking. I liked that he introduced himself to Latin Americans with a Spanish name ‘Matteo’ breaking the ice and building rapport with the locals that much quicker. Enjoying a bit of banter over a beer, Matt casually mused over the word problema in Spanish, “Problema ends in an ‘a’ so by the rules of the language, it should be feminine. However, it’s irregular and consequently the definite article becomes el problema”. Matt made me laugh out loud when he then deduced, “That therefore means only men can have problems.” His sense of humour tickled me no end.
Matt possessed an insatiable thirst for both life and liquor. He was fresh blood to our biking ensemble and could not have descended upon us at a better time. A lust for living lay behind his blue eyes, he often spoke with a certain erudition and his stint in Afghanistan had proved more than useful in removing Pearl and me out of the Venus flytrap that can be Bolivia. Not to mention his fluent grasp of Español. For us, it was a pleasure. Matt was making his way down from his hometown in Canada to Ushuaia and conceded with my observation that travelling most definitely appeals more to him through western cultures. Fair enough, old sport.
Matt had become somewhat jaded through the less desirable parts of Central and South America but was buoyed up by the home-from-home comforts of Chile and Argentina. In fact, his whole persona blossomed once we left Bolivia and entered Chile; I think shedding a ‘travel weary’ skin revealed an energised, fresher version of himself. Post a month with us, Matt had decided to rapido his route through the Americas in order to fly out and reunite with his newfound girlfriend. Namely reignite a three week old face-to-face relationship with her in Australia. Young love..!
Paying no attention to my hands that were pulsating like tuning forks – doubtless from the high-speed vibration incurred on a long five day ride from San Pedro de Atacama – I rode through Mendoza beaming. Exulting in our arrival, the yellow panelled gate parted like the opening to Oz revealing not the Wizard but Toto’s lush green grounds. We were at once ensconced in the fine comforts of Toto’s gated mansion Posado Olivar, our Argentinean amigo’s place. I craved to undergo a renovation in the form of a hot power shower, fresh clothes and ascertain a smear-free face from the road’s miasma of emissions. We didn’t need asking twice to lap up every luxury.
Ancient trees perforated manicured lawns, the thick trunks from which cast welcoming shade effortlessly luring me and a good book. The trees were gowned in olive, emerald and lime greens, the gentle breeze making the branches writhe and whisper. The flower-rich gardens that bloomed in as much colour as they were kempt were also home to a pristine swimming pool. The chirring of insects, chattering of jays and trilling of songbirds fought in direct competition with one another. It was a melodic cacophony. Woodpeckers
perched on a protruding branch were unconcerned by a human presence as they sunned their wings under a golden afternoon sun. Brightly feathered birds flitted among the trees enjoying the secluded spot as much as me. Spring had sprung and totally entranced, I thought my being would all but burst into beams of sunlight.
By no means our first time in Mendoza and goodness knows it wouldn’t be our last, it was wonderful to be re-established with our Mendozian friends, reinvigorated by their hospitality. We took timeout to tinker on the bikes, blitz through some books and feast like kings in merrying the nights away over Malbec and mouthwatering meat. We both indulged in some SwáSthya yoga at a DeRose class, I sipped the best steaming hot cuppa I’d supped on since England at The Tea Company and relished preparing some homemade nutrient-rich meals. We dined in and out with Toto and his family as well as Juan-Pi and his spirited clan. My appetite was satiated once more after being less than fond of Bolivia’s culinary offerings; I’d been pushing food past my teeth to simply fulfill the function of having to eat.
I still marvelled at our guest bedroom – bigger in square footage than our old one-bedroomed cottage and a super-king bed larger than our previous bathroom. Taking the time to mindfully floss my teeth, indulge my almost ‘ginger dreads’ with a deep conditioning hair remedy and document our recent escapades on the road were a cathartic release in equal measures and well, to ‘simply be’ was as much a tonic as it was a treat.
Toto celebrated his birthday, the first one with his recently newborn son Gasper and the same day for which four shiny new Honda 250ccs were delivered, six months after haggling relentlessly with Argentinean customs, producing trees worth of documentation to satisfy the bureaucratic regulations. His party went well into the wee hours enlivened further by a vivacious set of people from various facets in his life. Needless to say we marked the occasion in true Argentinean style; as former vegans, we relished the asado-driven consumption of what felt like half a cow to our
somewhat under-practiced stomachs. As Peter Kay would say, it was a taste sensation.
That night with the company we found ourselves keeping, there was nowhere else I would have rather been. A truly sparkling evening and privilege to have been invited. Before leaving the UK, a good friend of ours Sam Manicom had gifted us the profits from the sale of one of his travel books. He looked warmly at me and gestured with the English note, “Lisa, when you’re on the road and find yourself in a perfect place, with like-minded people and look around thinking, ‘My goodness, it doesn’t get much better than this’, have a drink on me.” Muchas gracias Sam. At the end of the night, I just smiled at the glorious ache of happiness.