Latest Update (as at 30/1/11):

Location: London. Back.

Total Distance Cycled: 10,325km
Days Biking: 140
Longest Day: 174km (2/12/10)

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Small town fun, facial hair and The Fuzz

General Alvear seemed to us like a pretty big place. A pretty big place before yet more 'Nada´.

It really doesn´t though to the teenage son of Ana Maria and Nestor, our physio and her husband, who so kindly had us over for dinner. In the midst of what was a wonderfully homely evening - joining the family round the table for homecooked dinner, great chat, maps out for our route ahead, three lovely sons messing about and hovering around us very politely and proudly showing us their World Cup planners, pets barking and meeowing, Facebook glowing away from the computer in the corner -they were describing just what a tranquil a place it is and just why they chose to settle there, when their middle son chimed in ´´s WAY too tranquil´! with the gusto of one who can´t wait to get out.

Well, he would have just loved the places we´ve been since.
We plotted our route ahead carefully. We´re getting good at nothingness, at scouring the map and teasing out what human life might be there despite the claims of total emptiness from all we meet. We made a plan to bike distances which meant that each evening we´d hit what looked like a small town or some form of habitation, totally unsure of what we´d actually find.

And so we said goodbye to Alvear very reluctantly. We had started to know faces. On a trip like this it is amazing how quickly places feel familiar. We arrive and settle in very quickly, to leave again just as soon. We seek out bank, laundry, decent eatery and of course ice cream shop, within minutes of arriving. We call places ´favourite´and ´best´ within hours. When we waved a cheery farewell to Angel, the lovely waiter at ´Don Ramon´ restaurant, it was goodbye to a ´regular´ haunt, a final coffee there setting us on the right road and into the unknown.

Not for long. We did a short day and were in the Metropolis of Monte Coman two and a bit hours and a tailwind later.

Now, this was a tranquil place. A place where dust kicks up in the hot afternoon sun, where people sit on corners, where its main feature is the disused railway station at its heart. A heart that has been unceremoniously torn out. We have seen several towns like this in the last few days. 19th and early 20th century colonising enthusiasm built an extraordinary railway system across Argentina. Monte Coman was the Crewe of its day. A place where 800 of its 3,000 inhabitants lost their jobs on the railway when they were largely shut down during the presidency of Menem.

And so it was with La Toma, Beazely, San Luis and Concoran. We look out now for the tell tale grass covered tracks, the well preserved, beautifully built stations, the black and orange signs announcing places that the train does not pull into anymore.

Those that remain in Monte Coman all know each other. Phil and I sat on a street corner for an hour waiting, on the advice of the lady in the small shop, for the owners of the only place to stay in town. They did indeed appear an hour later. In that time we´d met several town dogs, watched a group of young men gather on a corner and hang out comparing noisy motorbikes (having a noisy motorbike being a pre-requisite for having ANY kind of fun somewhere like this) and been stared at by a local man who was very worried that Phil had not rung the bell to the hotel enough times to be quite sure there was no one there. Once installed, we wandered the town and discovered that apart from taking photos of paint faded buildings and old steam engines, biking about without holding the handlebars, and of course riding a noisy motorbike, sitting on corners was about as exciting as it got. There were even concrete seats designed for this purpose. The purpose of sitting on a street corner. My favourite though were the set that just faced a wall. A guess you kill for a change of view.

This is where making your own entertainment comes to the fore. Phil and I have brought a few games with us, and we have a book each, and an ipod and a lap top that comfortingly played us programmes downloaded from Radio 4, but these were nothing compared to game Phil invented. In a moment of entertainment deprivation he decided to attack his beard. To remove it in fact. But not in one fell swoop. Oh no. I was treated to a hair removal spectacular and several hilarious phases of beard. Even more hilariously he stopped at The Moustache. And this item of total horror remained on his face for two whole days. He looked like a cross between Kevin Kline and a 19th century MP [but oooh so dashing - Ed.]

Most distressingly he took The Moustache out in public where we met People. The lovely teacher at the small boarding school where we had lunch one day, sheltering from heat and monster insects, the People we passed on the road. And then the Police.

One of the ´habitations´we cycled 123kms in a day to (our longest day so far), was a provincial border post. We had hoped for a truck stop to shelter in or near, but this stop had only the police and the green jumper clad provincial fruit and veg control team. So, once the green jumpers had told us there was nowhere to stay, it was over to the police house. Here Phil and The Moustache launched a diplomatic offensive (I, the grinning loon in the background) that makes me think that the Foreign Office have missed a prime candidate for ´Our Man in Africa´. Phil was told ´No´, there was nowhere we could stay. He had cunningly failed to mention the tent, and so chatted on for a bit in his brilliant Spanish about the world and his wife, the horrors of political corruption, the wonders of the uncorrupt police.....and then....´wait one minute I will go and see with my colleague. He, you understand, is not nice like me.´ We waited consuming peanuts and Oreo cookies, we waited some more watching the sun go down and wondering what would happen if this didn´t work, we waited even longer whilst good cop told us that he´d woken bad cop up (I was worried that that would go down like a cup of cold sick) and that bad cop was thinking about it..and finally...´Felipe, do you want to be my friend?´ ´YES, YES, YES, we want to be your friends´, ´well in that case, follow me´. Following our new friend in our top secret mission led us to a building with several rooms. We luxuriated for the night in a basic but totally thrilling abode. Bed, one ring hob, cold shower and plastic table and chairs, cocaine testing kit slung casually on the side, police files piled on top of the cupboard. As the tones of Desert Island Discs rang out, it was just like home.

We had such fun here. And great chat. It opens so many doors that Phil can properly speak to people and here was no exception. I looked on enthralled as police, green jumpers and Phil launched in the following morning to a full blown Question Timesque analysis of Carlos Tevez´s transfer joys. This gave me ample time to inspect the interior of the green jumper´s hang out, decorated with lovely posters of ´Spiders of Mendoza´, pictures of their families and thick with cross provincial fag smoke. They had a gorgeous dog called Poocho who they had adopted when someone left him there. They were charming people, obviously excellent with all waifs and strays.

There is a great deal to DISCUSS in these places where people have time. In Alvear we happened upon Ana Maria´s father in the physio waiting room. He got hold of us and launched into a diatribe on the awfulness of the politicians in Argentina with a lustre that suggested it was either extremely well practiced or he´d been looking for an audience for a Very Long Time. On completing his thoughts he left us, only to comically burst back into the room two minutes later, gravelly voice booming, fingers wagging, to say that the ONLY thing that comforted him was that at least he didn´t live in Italy where, poor creatures, they have Berlusconi.

Italy came to mind though in quite the best way when we emerged blinking into the light in midday San Luis. The glam provincial capital is all narrow tree lined streets, central London stylee parallel parking, lovely squares and one of the most European places I´ve seen here. We had rolled in completely broken from 225k in two days, after dark and rather disorientated. We left revived by cafe culture, crap TV and FINALLY the death of The Moustache. Smooth cheeked and slightly chubby we were ready for more small town living.
And so we find ourselves in Concaran. We have passed through La Toma (only place in the world where they mine green onyx - oh yes) and seen the scenery change drastically. Good bye salt flats and endless thorny shrubs, hello golden fields, mountains, extensive evidence of humanity and ups and downs again. On an unbelievably brilliant smooth concrete road we are rediscovering the joys of slog and reward. Soooo good after two weeks of pedalling every single metre.

Don´t worry though. We can still play the desert game of ´Snake or String´. I scan the undergrowth obsessively making that distinction. This particularly because I cycled over what I thought was a bit of tyre the other day, only for it to have a head. It rather indignantly swung it in my direction. Eeeek. I can also enjoy ´Spot the Spider´, after my education in the green jumper office. I made Phil stop the other day so that we could both enjoy the sight of a sparrow sized, furry light brown, overly legged lovely, cross our path. I was hoping it wasn´t the Arachnida Homocida that I saw advertised on that poster.

Hey Ho. Back to the joys of making your own fun.



  1. I could have sworn I saw Phil's moustachioed twin outside the Coleherne Arms many years ago. Glad to hear he's had a shave since.....

  2. I need you to simply give your facial hair a chance to develop for 1 month strong, no trimming!beard oil