Planned and constructed during the industrial revolution, (minus the industry!), Argentina’s rural towns are planned on the low rise, American grid system connected by now mostly-redundant train lines. What initially appears to be a haphazard arrangement of one ways streets, a sense of order is appreciated once you remember to; one – drive on the right, and two – give way to the right. The latter being particularly difficult to remember on roundabouts! Each town includes a central plaza with its lush green triangles of grass, a fountain and a monument or two. To save on using the GPS, make for the spire and you will be sure to find the Church and grand civic buildings surrounding the central plaza.
Each small town is linked by a ‘camino de tierre’ (road of earth) making each journey an adventure in itself.
Heavily rutted, it take only a little rain to convert each road surface into a muddy paste. Navigating the bikes the sludge can be tricky, but what’s even more tricky is trying to navigate our way by use of the road signs.
Where the road signs are lacking, the local people make up for in their generosity and willingness to help in either Spanish or English, the former of which we are still hopelessly trying to understand. The bikes draw a lot of attention and there is always someone keen to talk to us about our trip. People go out of their way to make sure we make it safely to the best campsite in town and our escorts leave us with a smile and a ‘buen suerte’, (good luck), as we set up camp for the evening.
In Tandil we met a couple of locals who stand tall and proud over the town casting down their steely eye, while the wildlife down on the campsite took a particular interest in our latest technology.
All of which are there to entertain!
The Navigation Manager, although small in stature, never fails to miss a deadline or a rendezvous.
We made it to the small town of General La Madrid, set up camp and feasted. Chloe was thankfully warmed by the immense puffer jacket given to her by the generous Liz, who she is eternally thankful to, and it’s not even cold yet!
Our first trip into town to buy supplies and go about our exploration quietly and innocently brought us only mayhem in the form of Oscar, the local radio presenter. Fascinated, (via pigeon English & terrible Spanish), by our trip, we were forthwith invited to the radio station so he could take our picture that would accompany our mini and rambling interview from the street via Dictaphone. Oh if only it had been so simple! Before we could say empanada, we were in front of the microphone facing questions about the Malvinas, Margret Thatcher, Carlos Tevez, and whether we found Argentinean Men & Women attractive, (what?!!) . . . ‘Que, fe fe fe fe Ozi Ardilles?!’
‘Si, muy bein’ (Yes, very good) was the common, all to frequent response. Rescued in the latter stages by the local English teacher, (who abandoned her studies and legged it over to the station after hearing us on the airwaves), we recovered the situation sufficiently enough to be invited to a family’s house that evening for an ‘Asado’ (Argentinean BBQ) and more Spanish lessons!
Charmed by the slight glimpse of an abandoned 18th Century adobe house over a solid panelled fence, we roped in our fellow radio presenter to help us ‘let ourselves in’ to the premises. With the help of a step ladder and a generous helping of man power we had the gate open and access to the house was ours. The oldest house in the village and former residence of an original Gaucho, Chloe ducked and dived through the tiny rooms, went crazy with the camera and smiled for the rest of the day – bless! Recently bought by a local land owner, plans were underway to move (!?) the house elsewhere so the site could be made free for new apartment buildings. The new development a certainty, we only hope, (with great doubt), that its relocation is successful and it reacts kindly to being lifted after 200 years of relative peace. Hmmm.
The following morning brought with it sunshine and the anticipation of a new journey. Safely escorted out of town by our host from the previous evening, Pepe, he guided us through the gridded street pattern on his own motor bike, readying us for hitting the road.
Like the old Western Movies, we were escorted to the end of the road on the outskirts of town where we were then faced with 100km of ‘Camino De Tierra’ between us and our next campsite.
“ . . erm . . . Ladies first!”
Tired yet relived, we arrived in Carhue mid afternoon where we made a whistle stop tour of the central plaza and other sights before setting up camp.
Returning after a quick look inside the church, we found Pedro had taken up residence on a bench next to our bikes. While walking her dogs, Pedro’s wife had seen our abandoned bikes, felt sure they should have a guard, so had sent him to look after them until we returned. Speaking an ounce of English, Pedro explained his guardianship and then invited us to join him for some Maté. Yet again we experienced the kindness and generosity of the Argentinean people.
After a night in the tent we were invited back to the Pedro household the following day for lunch which we subsequently missed, turning up at 5pm following some Spanish-English mis-translation – ooops.
Our late arrival was due to, in part, our visit to the ‘once was’ Tourist Town of Epechuen. Over whelmed by the unexpected rise of the waters of Laguna Epechuen, the village was flooded to a depth of 10m and, over a 20 year period of very slow decline in the water levels, has been reduced to rubble. The result is an apocalyptic sight of destruction. The laguna’s water levels continue to rise and fall every few years, reclaiming the land for a short time. We managed a short visit to survey the destruction; coming to the conclusion the village could not be mass-repaired!
Although a tad later than expected, Pedro and Maria never batted an eyelid, and we spent the evening with them instead, also joined by a family friend, to then crash out at 1am in one of their spare rooms that they had generously offered. By jove! We were ready for bed at 10pm but supper, (empanadas), had only just arrived!
Pedro was quick to justify the quantity of food as energy for his regular game of football that was to take place the following day. Chloe, in her selfless wisdom recommended Chris as a star player, securing him a place in the team for the fast approaching game!
Full of trepidation and uncertainty, Chris joined Pedro and the team in the blazing heat the following day. Five minutes in and things were proving difficult for our talented hero – it was like Kenny Dalgliesh had been signed by the Boca Juniours. However, disaster struck as those pasties and cakes began to take their toll!
Six minutes in and it was time for a rest!
Re-energized with more cakes and Maté, we settled into an evening with Pedro and Maria for a second night so Chris could recover from his gallivanting on the pitch – he was a broken man! The first full game of football in over a year ended in Chris & Pedro’s side losing 2 – 8! The evening brought more friends over, including Ricardo who, having travelled extensively across the world on his bicycle (crazy man!), lent us his prized Argentinean road map and showed us the best routes – thanks Ricardo!
We said our goodbyes to the lovely Pedro & Maria on the third day and made for the hills of Sierra De La Ventana for our first taste of the mountains of Argentina.
Cold Showers – Chloe 2 v 1.5 Chris
Near death experiences, apparently! – Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Nutmeged (football speak apparently, ladies!) by a middle aged Argentinean – Chloe 0 v 1 Chris
Radio Interviews (woohoo!) – Chloe 1 v 1 Chris
Books read – Chloe 0.5 v 0 Chris
Trousers ripped – Chloe 1 v 1 Chris
Rucksacks lost (with new camel back bladder, doh!) – Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Hasta la vista! x