Heading north on Ruta 14
Street kids in Monte Caseros parking their horse and cart
The past week has been spent slogging along Ruta 14, the main road heading up through the northeastern Argentinian provinces of Entre Rios and Corrientes towards Misiones. The idea was straight-forward enough. After several days of rural Uruguay, we were wondering if there was something other than flat green fields and cows across the River Uruguay in Argentina. Of course, there isn't really. Once across the river and heading north we were faced with the option of braving the busy and narrow Route 14 or slogging along deep-gravel backroads. We tried both and neither were particularly enjoyable. On Route 14 a dual-carriageway is in the process of being built and for the most part we were able to ride on the new scar that tears its way alongside the existing two-lane highway. This at least kept us well away from the endless convoys of sixteen wheelers ploughing north and south along the shoulderless highway, but with holes where bridges had yet to be built and mud where the unsealed road was wet, it made for tiresome riding.
Horses in the swamp
At night Paul would read aloud from his Philip Larkin anthology and, as I cooked another delicious dinner of pasta a la julian, he would explain the rationale for combining hitching with cycling. It sounded pretty sensible really but I was going to stick to the bike and Paul was going to stick to hitch-cycling, two stubborn idealists. By the evening of day four on route 14 we were sharing a much needed bottle of beer in a petrol station and Paul was preparing to stick out his thumb in the morning. In fact, he didn't have to wait until morning as a New Yawk-accented lady asked if she could help as we poured over the map. She had grown up in the US but lived with her Argentine husband in a town up north and they were on their way home. She looked exhausted and had apparently just lost the senatorial election for the province. Half an hour later Paul and his bike were going northbound in the back of the lady's car and I was pitching my tent up behind the station.
From The Tattooed Desert by Richard Shelton
I must have been almost crazy
to start out alone like that on my bicycle
pedalling into the tropics carrying
a medicine for which no one had found
the disease and hoping
I would make it in time.
I passed through a paper village under glass
where the explorers first found
silence and taught it to speak
where old men were sitting in front
of their houses killing sand without mercy.
brothers I shouted to them
tell me who moved the river
where can I find a good place to drown.
Azare, Misiones Province, Argentina
Trip distance: does it really matter?