1/21/20 – 1/29/20
After a rest day of swimming in the reservoir of Villa Union, we got back on the road. Ruta Provincial 49 detours from Ruta 40 and cuts through a steep sandstone canyon that feels like an ancient sculpture garden. Kissing rock, bird rock, mushroom rock, cloud rock, and my personal favorite, old man sleeping on a rock rock. Steep walls provide some extra morning shade. Cauquenes Reservoir on the other side. Smooth downhill into Jàchal for resupply and juice in the park.
Old washed out railway on our right. Sagging tracks over dry river beds. Very little wind. Abusive heat. Maybe the hottest we've seen in eighteen months. Constantly dehydrated. Waking up at 5, riding until one or two, breaking, then one more leg before sundown. My shirt was becoming stiff with dried sweat. This was a new phenomenon that intrigued me. We were going through close to two gallons of water each per day.
Latin American superstition and devotion to divinity our only saving grace. Throughout the desert there are little concrete monuments along the roadside. They look like graves at first. As people drive by, they stop, make a little sign of the cross, and then leave a full bottle of water. It is an offering to a woman named Difunta Correa who, according to Argentine folklore, wandered through the desert with her child searching for her husband. At some point she ran out of water and died of dehydration. Some mule men found her body. Her infant son survived by feeding on her breast milk after she passed. Some of them have hundreds of bottles piled up around them. They appeared often enough that we began assuming we could find one every thirty kilometers or so and carried less water.
We came across a military outpost and they let us hose ourselves off. Across the street there was flat ground in front of an abandoned railway station. We made camp. Interestingly this part of the desert is full of mosquitoes. They're as thirsty as we are and we're forced into the tent as soon as the sun drops. You have to be careful not to let your skin rub against the tent walls or the bugs will bite you through the fabric. The mesh walls do a remarkable job of keeping the heat in. Despite the hosing off earlier we're soon sweating. Soph soaks her sarong and covers herself. Occasionally a car passes on Ruta 40. Their headlights would flash over the tent as they turned and occasionally I would confuse it with the heat lightening in the distance.
One of Friedrich Nietzsche’s contributions to the world of philosophy was the concept of Übermensch. This could roughly be translated as “Superman,” but many would argue that the obvious visions of or misreference to the comic book character would cause this interpretation to fall short of its essence. Generally speaking, the Übermensch is one who transcends the rest of humanity in some form to the point that the world should make special accommodations for them to exist and thrive. Mariana, our host in San Juan, is the perfect embodiment of this concept.
She had only recently discovered WarmShowers, and we were her second guests. She stayed with a friend and gave us her apartment to ourselves. She arranged tours of museums, theaters, cathedrals, and towers overlooking the whole city. She insisted that we eat the olives in her fridge and drink her wine. She was saintly. She did it all with no sense of needing anything in return beyond knowing that we were happy.
We were only a day or two out from Mendoza, but had a package that was scheduled to arrive in a week there. We decided to hop a plane to Buenos Aires, Mariana let us leave our bikes with her.
With only a few days, we did the usual tourism activities of walking, eating, visiting museums and parks, and aimlessly riding public transportation to get the lay of the land. There is music everywhere in Buenos Aires. Tango dancers work for tips on the street corners. Bands set up in front of every restaurant. Impressively they don’t lose the beat from the group next door or the marching band in the street.
Evita Peron’s tomb is located in Cementario Recoleta. It is a modest pile of marble in an otherwise immaculate display of disposable income and wealth. Spectacular concrete busts of people that seemed to have no remarkable impact on the world; but there they are, bushy mustaches and fine collared shirts, forever cast in limestone until the slightly acidic northern Argentinian rains dissolve them. It's the aristocratic version of somebody wanting to have the hardest hitting bass in their 1995 Chevy Impala. Useless monuments that could today fund several dozen college educations but instead those funds were employed so somebody could walk by a hundred years later and say, “Wow, Dr. Esperanza must have been a swell guy.”
Most employ nothing but fine stone, but a few give nod to design aspects of the eighties and have a few key features constructed with wood paneling, AstroTurf, and fake gold. Some families appear to have stopped paying their dues. Exotic Amazonian wood boxes gilt in gold falling over the top of one another with planks rotting to the point that you wonder if the body will fall out. Some running low on space and having to get creative.
"Seems a bit disrespectful, just chucking bodies on top of each other."
On one of our last nights, Soph went back to the apartment and I continued wandering the streets on my own. I happened across an old tango bar and was waved in by a man tuning his guitar. It had a certain old world charm to it. Dusty bottles of ancient vermouth, empañadas dropped on the neverwashed floor and still served, tired barteners with baggy eyes and cigarette stained teeth, chairs reupholstered with reclaimed vinyl from billboards. Mine advertises the 2018 Olympic youth games.
Musicians with tattoos to match paintings on their guitars. True troubadours. All sad songs. The building shakes as a garbage truck rolls by and they all pause in unison so as not to be drowned out and then pick it all back up perfectly after clapping.
“Ladies and gentlemen please thank your elected officials. For despite their many fine achievements towards the plucking of every sweet grape from this exquisite vine we call Buenos Aires, they have yet to take the jobs from the fine men and women of our sanitation department notwithstanding their many arguments that these hardworking patriots could be replaced by rats and worms and the sweet summer winds.”
They stamp their feet in unison along with a hard a-minor chord to mark the end of a song. A small chunk of brick falls from the ceiling. The local cat sits and watches with occasional lapses in attention to chase a dog away from the door. I whisper with the woman next to me and we're shushed by an old bearded bald man in sleeveless shirt who turns back to sing along.
I appear to be the only one in the room that doesn’t know the band. They treat me like the guest of honor. Everyone wants to buy me drinks and before I know it I’m singing in perfect Argentinian Spanish. The old boys pat me on the back and all six of the patrons sit around a rotting wooden table in an otherwise empty bar on a dark and empty corner. Right hands raise drinks to the sky and left arm embracing the stranger to our side. All huddled together under an old flickering Edison bulb. Winds pick up, blowing the door open and shut while we toast with the madness of a boat full of drunken sailors which has fatally hit an iceberg and rather than pretend there is any hope of life they raid the bar and decide to go down remembering the good times.
“Argentina is that sinking ship my friend.”
“Our government robbed us and now our money is but confetti stained in old vinegar.”
“But they can’t have our wine, our beef, our music, or our souls.”
Everyone cheers, glasses clank; the cat gets hit with a splash of whiskey. The woman to my right began to cry and the man on my left kissed my forehead and screamed something toward the ceiling that seemed like "To hell with the bastard politicians who dishonored our beloved Argentina." I had no idea what was happening, but suddenly I felt a part of it all.
Like what we're doing here? Throw us some bread. It keeps tires on the bikes and food in our bellies! Better yet, share us on social media or send a link to a friend with a message that says something like "Hey, I consider you a person of refined taste and culture and think that you would enjoy this."