After 36 hours of various forms of bus travel from El Chaltèn to El Calafate to Rio Gallegos–that’s, Rio Ga-che-gos for you non-Argentine speakers–all the way on the Atlantic Ocean, the complete other side of the continent, entirely the wrong trajectory, a whole 12 hours away, to, now, Esquel, our final destination, finally, finally in sight.
Twenty-four hours is a loooooong time to be on a bus, and between yesterday and today, it all feels like one big jumble of hours and sore butts and hips and knees and feet. How we ever sat for eight hours a day, five days a week is beyond me, because my body no le gusta.
Yesterday, we emerge from our disconnected depths in El Chaltèn to the rainy and all-too-connected boulevard of El Calafate to announce our news to the world and officialize, Graham on the Skype to his fam dam while we munch a morning omelette and coffee, all the while, the TV wails that Hugo Chavez is muerte, muerte, muerte and we wonder if we understand, really, because well, it looks like the fearless leader is looking a little stiff.
So, I make the international sign for death and slit my throat while pointing to the front page announcement with Chavez’s face, and my cross-the-restaurant mates nod solemnly.
Strange what happens while one frolics in the forest and gets engaged.
Back on the bus to continue our journey north, a spry prick of a baggage handler rubs his digits at me and spits, propina, propina, propina, so I open my wallet and give him all I got, a fat gold coin worth less than a dime, which I think he wishes he could throw back in my face, but well, you asked, dickhead.
Our across-the-aisle neighbor eats her psoriasis–literally, she gnaws it with her teeth–and our bus driver announces “no caca!” allowed in the servicios this entire trip, something they should have maybe thought of before dishing up trayfuls of iffy carne empanadas sure to come out as chunky as it goes down.
At least breakfast is wholesome–pre-sugared coffee, crackers, and dulce de leche cake–as well as our introduction to god-knows-where-Argentina:
Circling a round-about, I spy dudes in black ski masks waving sticks, odd, and I press against the glass to see that they burn piles of tires and menace passer-by cars, freaky, and I think how lucky we are not to exit where they are until I notice that, the horror, they are everywhere, including right in front of our bus, and for a second, we slow, and I flash to us having to confront these deranged, angry monkey men, revolting against something completely noteworthy, I’m sure, but oh, god, now?, and I do as any photographer does mid- fright and try to capture it but fail in my fumble.
“Maybe we’ll see them again,” says Graham.
I freaking hope not.
Whatever these scary banded men protest, relief to be far from their distress washes over me as the bus picks up speed at its earliest convenience, driver equally eager to put as much distance between that and us as me, for this ignites tales of South American violence, specifically of our buddy DJ PJ and his travails running through the Bolivian plains when bus and passengers find themselves engulfed in protest, the price for trespassing the driver’s safety, he promptly removed from post and beat to a pulp while everyone flees, duck-and-cover like James Bond through remote village.
Dear Hey-Zeus, please don’t let that be us.
But, it’s not all shits, there are giggles, too–before leaving, we hear news of baby Thomas Tuturea born to my dear old pal Markle Sparkle, my hop-the-wall-partner-in-neighborhood-crime, a friend right through our college days at CU.
Quite a ride, this venture north.