Hitchhiking with a Dog and a Bumblebee

I’m here in Tres Lagos

A one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. Probably the most remote barren place I’ve ever been in my life. Despite its name I haven’t seen one lago=lake, yet alone three, for several hundred kilometres.

The gorgeous Aussie spirits left this morning, and when they did I was ready to hit the road! My task today? To hitch a ride out of this landlocked ghost town to the promising shiny allure of ‘ciudad’ El Calafate.

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My Canine Sidekick

I find a place to base myself by the roadside at 9.30h.

The gorgeous young dog that slept by my tent last night has followed me here and continues his mission of sleep on the pavement. During the night I heard his shuffling and deep restful breaths through the thin membrane of my little shelter.

I didn’t expect company but am very glad of it.

I’m prepared today wearing my usual layers of calcinettas and thin wool thermals, hoodie, hat, boufanda=scarf… Thankfully, it’s a bright day and the wind is forgiving. These are things I’ve learnt to appreciate in Patagonia where El Clima is fully in charge. Here is an ocean of expansive pampa and sky. The dry strong winds greatly discourage trees to grow leaving little protection from the raw cheek-battering elements.

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A Sense of Freedom

I fire up my stove and brew some milky coffee. With hot drink, dog, sunshine and that wonderful mixture of freedom and independence this feels like an opportunity to literally stand still and reflect on my recent journey.

By 12.30h only a handful of vehiculos have passed through Tres Lagos. They’re all either full of vacationers or the locals going about their Sunday. Erm…yes…I’d lost track of the fact it’s Domingo. However, despite my initial panicky burst of ‘saudade’ last night to be in this nowhere alone, I’m in really good spirits.

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Rafal Kowalski comes into Town

My solace is interrupted when a lone cyclist arrives in town. Looking very travel savvy with a guitar and Polish flag strapped to the back of his vehiculo, we begin to chat. This is Rafal, a former Ikea carpenter who began travelling in 2005 and is still on the road having covered much of the globe. As I enjoyed his conversation my eyes wandered south to his Ruta-40-adapted combination of thick hiking socks and sandals. Nice touch Rafal!

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By sheer coincidence, I woke up one morning (3 days later) to see that Rafal was my immediate neighbour in the campsite in El Calafate.

Ooozing zest and a wide smile Rafal spun his tale of playing music on the street as he travels, to fund his travel. He almost took the words out of my mouth when he said simply that:

Street performance opens the heart of people. 

I share my street dancing experiences with him.

Recently, I’ve been feeling pretty feeble and domestic, craving my home comforts and wondering, sometimes, how to feel contentment without them. This short illuminating conversation with Rafal really put things into perspective for me.

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What a place to Be a Bee!

Enter the second highlight of this afternoon: a lovely bumblebee was bothering me a moment ago. His legs were heaving with pollen and he seemed to think that I might have nectar too. I’ve never had so much intimate attention from a bumblebee which gave me lots of time to study this tiny brilliant creature.

For a moment there I imagined windy cold barren Southern Patagonia from a Bee’s Eye View perspective, up in the air, looking down on wingless giant human hitchhikers who might have nectar.

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The Goddess of the Road looks favourably upon me!

There was a bottleneck of Backpackers in Puerto Rio Tranquilo

I kept bumping into the same faces. Many of us, with our Chilean $ pesos running low were staying in the ultra-ultra-budget campsite in town. What you lose in basic services you gain in camaraderie: the cheap places are always the friendliest 🙂

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The town’s popularity is the result of the beautiful Capilla de Marmol, the ‘chapel of marble’ caves out on a Laguna General Carrera. Whipped cream rock formations on transparently turquoise waters, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the Caribbean if it weren’t for the nippingly fresh wind.

 

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How to get to Chile Chico?

I had only $10,000 (£10) left in my pocket and still 165 kilometres left to cover before Chile Chico and the prized border back to Argentina. Chilean Patagonia had haemorrhaged my savings. I was feeling anxious and a little stranded.

With so much competition, hitchhiking out of here felt almost impossible. The season was almost over and only a trickle of vehicles were passing through.

Nevertheless, I chose to wear my bright pink tight that day in the hope that I might stand out from the crowd of roadside thumbs.

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The Pink Tights worked magic!

No sooner was I concocting rescue Plans B & C when two twin-like Aussies pulled up in a white Chevrolet. I loitered like a street dog drooling for a bone. As they bid their previous hiker ‘adieu’ and I blurted out,

“Van a Chile Chico? Hablan Ingles….? Hello! Where are you chaps headed? …..Do you have space for me…..pllll….ease?!”

I stuttered in disbelief  

…when I heard their affirmative response – really? Really? “Are you sure?!” Miracle workers! they agreed to have me aboard in that relaxedly Aussie drawl I love. We were on our way to Los Antiguos, the first town after the border crossing and I felt like I’d won a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonker’s Chocolate Factory!

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Ruta 40 goes on and on and on….remote plains of pampa and family groups of Guanacos pose by the roadside

Road Tripping

What began as a ride across the border turned into two days of travel with Francesca and Anthony, sister and brother scientists from the Blue Mountains of Sydney. They shared their love of canyoning and mountaineering in remote places all over the world that left me yearning for more.

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Francesca in Grotto Canyon, Apiring National Park, New Zealand

I heard about their father’s backpacking travels across India during the late sixties – a man I’d love to interview! what a dude.

From the unique ecology of New Zealand and the national parks of the United States….to the recent time they found a young woman gravely injured from her car crash in the Californian desert and rescued her back to safety.

Over humble meals of bread, tomato and cheese (‘Backpackers’ Delight’) we enthused about our favourite flavoursome foods from Asia.

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The words of Marie Curie (pioneering Polish-French physicist and chemist, 1867-1934). She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and, the first and only person to win it twice.

A conversation highlight was Frank’s animated description (in layman’s terms for me) of the wonder of Proteins, a subject at the heart of her phD research. Wonderful images grew and duplicated like cells in my imagination as she described their place in everything within our bodies, our organs, the systems that govern our physical function and outside of us, all around us, in everything! Marie Curie’s words came to mind.

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From Los Antiguos to Perito Moreno to Bajo Caracoles to Tres Lagos….we covered 704kms together. That feeling of good fortune never wained thanks to their familial company and all the fabulous stories.

‘Dedo’ – Hitchhiking along Ruta 40

Pointing the finger / Pointing the ‘dedo’

In Spanish the thumb is also called a finger, hence to ‘thumb a ride’ is to ‘dedo’.

It may sound silly but hitchhiking is there amongst my childhood dreams. As a young whipper-snapper in sleepy town Suffolk I envisioned true travel as sharing the back of a pick-up with local farm workers in a far away land.

In Argentina ‘dedo’ was something I was ready to try.

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La Peatonal Pasarella, the wooden foot bridge leaving El Bolson

Nevertheless, all the reasonable anxieties of una mochillera sola extrangera / single female backpacker kept nagging away,

  • What if my ride turns out to also be a charismatic psychopath?
  • Do I speak Spanish well enough to hold a long conversation?
  • What if I get robbed or lost in the middle of nowhere?

“AaaAAaarrrrrrggggghhhhHHHHhhhh!”

It wasn’t until I reached the hippie town of El Bolson, south of Bariloche and met Andre, that I was ready to get started.

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Tent living is made all the better with a constant supply of tea 😀

Mi Maestro

We met in budget $60 (£3) camping across the river. I was the only extrangera within a camping community of South American bohemian travellers escaping the cities for summertime work, selling their ‘artesania’ or touring in bands.

Two days of relentless rain storm left all us seeking dry refuge in the rough wooden cabin that served as a kitchen. The innate desire to share —COMPARTIR!!— meant that food was busily prepared and bubbling away on the stove for everyone who was to join the congregation.

It was such a toasty night of macrame and drawing around the table, bottles of beer and wine passed like mate, from one to another along with songs and stories. We ate steaming hot comida under one dangling bright light bulb suspended above a long wooden table.

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I don’t think the wooden walls of this little shack had ever felt such good cheer!

As well as the usual conversation comparing countries and languages we compared confusion at jazz music theory and listened to old cheerful tunes from the 1920s. Andre twanged a version of Durazno Sangrando, an Argentine classic by amazing Luis Spinetta. Common to the others but new to me was the strangely beautiful tale of a bleeding peach.

Leaving El Bolson

The next day, after lots of chat about the ‘what ifs and where fors’ Andre helped me find a good spot for a ride out of the town: by the gasolina station after the supermarket.

I was ready! and it was thanks to him and some encouragement, for giving me that —final—–gentle—–push——

Within 30 minutes Katia, a ceramicist from El Hoyo offered me a ride and I was on the road!

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‘Immigrant Way’, a name that made me smile as I waited for another ride

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El Hoyo, town abundant in raspberry, strawberry, blackberry farms

 

Dancing with Dario in Cordoba

Vacaciones de Navidad
Lunes, 28 Deciembre

Dario taught a swing dance classes in Parque las Tejas/ Tiles park. Despite now living in Buenos Aires, he’s sowing small seeds and nurturing a swing dance community in his home city of Cordoba. Some of those in the class are hip hop and house dance enthusiasts as well as Dai Zapata, an experienced Cordobes tap dancer.

As it was Dario’s last night we had to commemorate the occasion with a dance under the white bridge with the Christmas tree of lights in the distance.

Although barely audible we’re dancing to ‘Wham’ by The Hot Sugar Band.

“Making Mate and Whistling a Tango”

These are the words of Luciana as she reminisced to me about her Porteno Grandparents and times when she’s felt homesick for Argentina. She lived in London for a time. I stayed with her for just shy of a week and felt so at home in this big old bohemian 1930’s apartment. Within 5 minutes of being in the door, with my backpack heavily lumped onto the cool floor we were ‘sharing a mate’.

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Couchsurf car: Pina, name after the awesome German dance choreographer 🙂

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Another Couchsurf home. Luciana’s lived in a 1930’s residential building with gigantic proportions.

Tomar un mate!

=To take a mate (“ma-tay”). Much like black tea with milk in the UK – a.k.a. “a cuppa” – mate is ubiquitous in Argentine culture. Before the influence of American coffee shops took over the world, mate was even more embedded in daily life here. It’s not just a case of sipping this stimulating pick-me-up to revive yourself or to pausing for a thirst quencher – to “tomar un mate” is to share a conversation….to hang out….to be together.

Mate Drinking

Loose leaf: add hot water to your mate and enjoy. As you’d expected from Southern Brazil to Uruguay, from Northern Argentina to the South, mate varies in taste and preparation.

Fancy a Cuppa?

I feel this way about tea in the UK. In my family a cuppa is drunk almost hourly (my father’s influence), much to the horror and puzzlement of our French relatives. To my delight, that cup of tea is nearly always accompanied by a chat, an update or a longer conversation.

So the social contact and the drinking are interwoven.

Mate is drunk from a little hollowed out gourd. These were as little as 20 pesos (about £1).

Mate is drunk from a little hollowed out gourd. These were as little as 20 pesos (about £1).

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Mate is quite literally shared, the gourd and silver straw passed from one person to another.

If you’re feeling peckish

…other Argentine delicacies to enjoy before or after your mate……

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Not as tasty as the real thing: Empanada purses!

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Hotdogs! and other animal carcass things….plus chips: papa fritas.

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Bitza pizza everywhere – the ever-present Italian influence n Buenos Aires.

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Did I mention Dulce-di-leche…..? Confiterias everywhere, aaahhhhh! I have nightmares that Alfajores are chasing me down the street demanding I eat them!

An antidote to Alfajores.

An antidote to Alfajores.

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Gratuitous unrelated photo of an Upholsterer with a darn pretty frontage 🙂

Bahia Calling

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Casa de Yemanja. A meeting house for local fishermen and home to a shrine for this Sea Orixa (goddess) who is celebrated EVERYWHERE here!

Oh handsome land, I’m pleased to meet you!

I’ve arrived in ‘Little Africa’ as my Manchester pal Nuradin calls it. The bountiful fruit basket of Brasil. Archetypal images of Brasil depict Bahia first and foremost – palm trees along big white sand beaches, seafood, colourful sweet fruit, hibiscus flowers, lush jungle and beija flors (hummingbirds), statuesque people with black skin and green eyes.

Bahia map Collage

Even Brasilians go all misty eyed upon mention of this region which is thirty hours by road north easterly or a three hour flight.

Back in Sao Paulo, Bahian Ayume played me this music video by Salvadoran superstar Creole. The imagery says it all 🙂

 

The City of Salvador

Perhaps it because I’m finally in the swing of my travels, stringing together the lingo, feeling less like a stiff European but there seems SO much to explore here. I’m over-excitedly-whelmed – there are good vibrations on the Baiano breeze – it’s a melange that I looking forward to truffling my snout through.

I Couchsurfed with Luciano and his kind family in Salvador during my first week. Their apartment, a stone’s throw from Praia (beach) de Piata is where I walked the family pug and ran across the sand into the sea.

Formerly known as: São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos meaning City of the Holy Saviour of the Bay of all Saints this historic hotpot of a cidade was the first colonial capital of Brasil and the city is one of the oldest in the New World (founded in 1549 by Portuguese settlers). It was also the first slave market on the continent, with slaves arriving to work on the sugar plantations from Angola, Benin, Nigeria.

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Mosaic is also everywhere here. And graffitti. All in all: a visual feast.

 

‘Futebol’

The beach is buzzing early in the morning when local people are there enjoying the cool air. Men and boys play football right up and down the beach. The ball bounces towards the sea, they tackle in the waves. Some teams are more ’official’/organised that others with coloured bibs.

Lots of beach dogs, laying spread eagle or randomly barking. Their seem to hang out with the fishermen who, like others live on the beach as far as I can tell. Simple homes can be seen in amongst some of the ‘coqueiros’ (palm trees). I’m reminded of the equivalent fishermen huts on the Black Shore in Southwold, Suffolk where I’ve wandered since childhood.

Discovering Pelourinho and Santo Antonio

I take the bus to the Centro Historico and meet Monika in Pelourinho. It’s a happy coincidence that we’re both in Salvador at the same time. We worked together in Rio and became firm friends.

And oh—oh—OH! —this is a stunning place. I feel as though I’m suddenly in renaissance Europe,…..Italy or Portugal. This is one of the best preserved old towns in Brasil and it really does take your breath away.

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Decorative features at every turn and a sweet shop palette of colour to boot. Is this place real?!

The name Pelourinho meaning Pillory, comes from the central whipping post “where slaves received punishment for various infractions, as well as for disciplinary purposes” (- Wikipedia). Crikey, this place is STEEPED in history and poignancy. It’s both an awe inspiring and thought provoking place to be.

Monika and I wander the cobbled streets through this neighbourhood on to the sleepier more residential yet equally colourful Sao Antonio. Sipping a couple of 4R$ (£1) cans of Schin beer the two of us perch in a Praca outside an old church with children playing and local families relaxing all around. Dreamy!

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Salvador criancas

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Salvador edificio antigo4   IMG_3192

 

Lost and found: In Search of Cachoeira Magic

Before we left Lencois Monika and I set out on a path to find the mystical Cachoeira Sossego, one of the prettiest most majestic waterfalls in this area. We asked around in the town, cobbled together some directions and off we went. We had such an adventure navigating our way through a kingdom of gigantic rocks but in truth: we were LOST.

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On our way home we met Pablo, son of a Parisian toymaker and young musician spending time in Chapada Diamantina on an eight month Walkabout,

Walkabout (noun) – A nomadic excursion into the bush, especially one taken by young teenage Australian aboriginal boys in certain ancient-custom honoring tribes.

He was funny, kind and played a mean Flamenco guitar weaving in some unexpected samba rhythms.

He offered to guide us and so, the next day the three of us set out with with Sossego in our sights. ‘Sossssssssego’=’quiet’; we retraced half of our footsteps from the previous day of wandering. Ironically the correct route was easier than our previous of clambering and scrambling in a giant’s lair.

Monika and Pablo and Magic Mud.

Monika and Pablo and Magic Mud.

A Snake in our Path

All of a sudden Pablo lept back and gasped!! A Cobra Corale was slithering across our path. And my….by golly….he/she/it was pretty!

Like a kinetic necklace.

And….according to our young guia, very poisonous too. Having rarely been around snakes I felt no fear at all – a numbness – strange to me. Pablo and I loitered and gazed in admiration at this truly wild beast as it slithered away and coiled itself around a tree.

There she is....the pretty deadly serpent of the forest.

There she is….O Serpente da Floresta.

Onward to a green grey boulders lumped in the river.

We hopped—skipped—and jumped over them—. Momentum is on your side.

It’s a great feeling to be in this bouldered valley, a remote peaceful place, only the sound of the rushing water between rocks. Yes, serenity. The sun bounces off these noble rocks – it’s bright and warm. A light drenched chasm. We feel like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Apparently we’re only two minutes away from our destination and then, soon enough, SHE IS:

…a beautiful world——a circular Cathedral-like fractured flume——-a long and furious waterfall….

The still water below is so deep it is brown and black, like strong tea. We slip into the cool brew and swim around, rinsing the sweat of our well exercised limbs.

Egg & rosemary sandwiches for lunch.

Afterwards we explore the surrounding cliffs.

I dance Shaman style with Pablo’s colourful kanga. Shaman/xama – animal/animal – forest spirit/espirito da floresta – butterfly/borboleta – rainbow/acro-iris.

Carona 

At the end of the weekend the two of us packed up our tent and hitched a ‘carona’ /ride back to Capao…..

Truckin' for Jesus! - The charming view from our lift.

Truckin’ for Jesus! – The charming view from our first lift.

A strange shop full of compact disc decorations and two cats on leads....

A strange shop in Palmeiras, on our way home. It was full of compact disc decorations and two cats on leads….

Once back in the bosom of Rivendell….a-hem!….I mean Capao, we attempt to find Cachoeira Fumaca, the tallest/longest (how do your measure a waterfall?) in Brasil at 340m; ‘Fumaca’=’smoke’. It’s a wet day, muita chuva! – we are warned to turn back in these slippery conditions and without a guide, but, ….we stubbornly march on. Waterfall hunting can be rather addictive 🙂

We tie plastic scraps to shrubs, like Hansel and Gretel trying to keep track of our path. It’s surprisingly misty, much like the Peak District – a memory from home. After a couple of hours trudging I turn around 360 degrees: everywhere looks the same; another memory! call me dramatic but this is the Swamp of Sadness from Never Ending Story. We’re damp, disorientated, “let’s turn back…..!” I persuade Moni. Eventually the Polski ‘forca da natureza’ concedes.

Atrax the horse dies in the Swamp of Sadness, Never Ending Story :-( (image: www.sub-cultured.com)

Atrax the horse dies in the Swamp of Sadness, Never Ending Story 😦 (image: http://www.sub-cultured.com)

Fumaca

Where the heck is Fumaca?!

Back to the Big Salvadoran Smoke 

It’s time to go back to Salvador. Sam is driving there and we bundle into his trusty Defender along with his friend Daniel. The four of us set off around tea time.

Daniel has been living alone in the jungle for the past month. He’s an artist, tattooist, a Seeker of Truth, he has an enquiring soul and hates cameras. He paints fabulous t-shirt designs and makes etchings. I can feel a new friendship in the air.

Off we speed together, into the night along that same red track that led us to this precious green wilderness in the first place.

Some etchings (all details) by Daniel Emekin.

Some etchings (all details) by Daniel Emekin.

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Farewell Capao!