A friend recently enlightened me to the fact that the science behind everyday life does indeed lead to human progress. Christmas is a pertinent time of year to combine these merits with the festive holidays. While currently in South America, personalising greetings cards online – comforted in the knowledge they’ll be delivered on one’s preferred date to the front door mat of anyone worldwide – has been a breakthrough.
Back in Buenos Aires (BA) post a zippy 18 hour bus ride, it felt like we’d been dealt a second chance card. We had cheated ourselves on the previous breathtakingly scanty visit, eager to be at the world’s edge. Due to the onset of snow we hadn’t seen the city’s centrepiece, namely its colonial architectural elegance nor been enveloped by the ginormous jacaranda trees. November is one of the best times of year to be in the capital, not least for the splendour of the jacaranda’s blue trumpet shaped flowers, fluttering down on you like silky rain.
Before withdrawing from our haven that’s been Chacras de Coria these past halcyon weeks, Toto took us to a six day international enduro race at San Juan. Countries were represented from around the globe, flags on display from all corners of the world. A sense of excitement and racing fever gripped everyone, the place became an instant sand-churned hive of activity. The site was a furnace, the sun an executioner but that mattered little and less; we were there to witness what looked and felt synonymous to the Dakar Rally, one of the world’s most famous endurance races in South America where competitors cover around 500 miles off road per day for two weeks.
The boys: Juan-Pi, Matt and Jason enjoyed a ‘Lads day out’ (synonymous to No ‘Captain Slows’ allowed) up in Mendoza’s finest mountains.“No problema chicos, by all means venture out; I will chat and chill the day away”, I managed between a big grin, ushering them out of the door. With the freedom granted by an off-roading prowess of similar abilities, they chose a pretty technical route through the foothills of Mendoza. They rode hard. Tackled some steep inclines, pushed the bravado-fuelled envelope and go figure, dropped their bikes more than once – fun-filled hours after which the afternoon saw them sweat-soaked, bushed and does-my-belly-think-my-throat’s-been-cut ravenous! Juan-Pi admirably stepped up and treated the trio to an impressively large beef asado, prepared on an open fire in a rural spot, al fresco style. I heard it was tantalisingly good, yet another taste bud sensation.
The route out of Salta kick-started with a warm send off from our Hostel Salta Por Siempre’s obliging manager, after which wended us once again on the frilly edges that is ruta 9’s rah-rah skirt. Its snaking width narrowed down to four metres at best and three at worst. I intimately encountered three fly-sized hapless individuals that left a smarting sting after pinging straight onto my face. I think I swallowed one. That coupled with an all-consuming tortuous road, which when taken unawares by a speeding oncoming four-by-four kept any emerging hunger locked up til lunch.
Sometime during the trip, my nickname and I mysteriously parted company, ‘Captain Slow’ merely evaporated like a ghost out of my being. I hoped to high heaven that was indicative that Pearl and I had begun to finally get a ‘wriggle on’ as and when required. It wasn’t rocket science picking my preferred of the remaining ones, courtesy of Jason: ‘Snot dispenser’ – doesn’t everyone have a runny hooter in cold weather? ‘Afternoon shadow’ from all the dirt and dust clinging to my face after a day in the saddle like iron filings on a magnet. ‘Princess’ when I’m being told to “Suck it up” on the sand or ‘Mozza’, an adaptation of my surname Morris. I might have some choice alternatives for my ‘marvellous other’ too.
Departing San Pedro de Atacama for the fourth time funnily enough felt like the final time. We waved a fond farewell to a woolly band of domestic llamas, sauntering over the tarmac and grazing atop the hillocks against an arresting backdrop of Lickancabur volcano. It was Siberia, the wind was screaming at the top of her lungs and the air hitting us at punishing temperatures. Whether Mother Nature was ticked off at something, I couldn’t quite tell but she was determined to ‘get my knee down’ on the straight as an arrow desert ruta 27. I wondered if she was playing with me because the more I leaned into her, the more she pushed back. My grunts made those of Venus Williams during her US Open tennis tournaments sound like soft newborn whimpers.