16 December 2012, Goat Corral, El Zampal, Argentina.
The wind tore at the tent during the night. The dead thorny branches used to form the corral around us was powerless against the mini twisters that shook our home like a leaf, dumping sand and dried dung pellets all over it and us.
Needless to say, sleep was sporadic, as we lay eyes encrusted with dust, waiting for the next blast, as if we were at sea, with roaring waves crashing over us. We must have slept for a time as the burning sun scorched down upon us in the morning. We shook sand from our bodies and scanned the tent. A film of ochre dust and parched goat’s poos coated everything. Black patent leaf-cutter ants ran over our belongings grabbing shards of sticks and leaves. Spiders and an odd tick-like bug scuttled under things. Flaming man, we could have been in the shade of the trees and have slept.
Instead, we abandoned the thought of a rest day and stumbled out of the tent, with shocks of pain piercing our knees and ankles and contemplated another long day running against the wind, under the sun, with aching, tired limbs. We decided to run just 12 miles and hoped to find decent shelter by the river to reclaim the much needed rest day. But long after mile 12, there was no sign of trees or shelter and the river meandered further from our reach. The thick gravel surface of the road hooked the trailer and our feet backwards. It was torment. Our spirits descended to a new low. Knee-high spiky bushes, eroded hillsides, parched earth, black jagged larval flows and a hideous endless horizon were hostile and repellent to us. Goats, horses, sheep and cattle had left only spikes. One of which I had sat on as I emerged from the tent! Then Dave sat on one too, then one went through my trainer and pierced my foot and finally we found hundreds of them studding the trailer wheels!! Even the soil was making a bid for freedom and danced in dust clouds around us. Someone had stopped us the day before and offered us a drink. He said how beautful the landscape was?!! What?! Any life that it had supported had been stripped from it by humans and their domestic grazers. Most of all, I think it is a landscape for driving through at speed, perhaps then you can experience the vastness and grandeur of it, but at our pace, all I can thik of is, “Hell”.
Then suddenly a jeep stopped; two faces popped out. Suddenly heaven opened its door and buckets of apricots, plums and peaches were being pressed into our dusty mouths. Incredible kindness. Our two young German friends were offering us everything: potatoes, eggs, beers- BEERS!! We quizzed them about their travels and the route, drank water and trotted off smiling. The route prognostic had not been great, however and so we relented to running on for over 20 miles where hopefully a little dot on our map, Buta Billon, would provide shelter. We sat by the road side, a thin track snaked off behind us- we had seen the trees it supported, but it would mean at least a 2 mile (4 mile in total) diversion. Not a happy prospect.
A van stopped. The lady was motioning to me. I was so deflated I could barely hobble over, but soon found myself at her window. For the next half an hour we were entertained by the intriguing French occupants of “Wicked” van. Mary-Anne and her husband were extraordinary and beguiled us with stories of living in Venezuela as anthropologists-economists meeting remote villagers and dunking their children very rapidly in the piranna infested rivers! With fresh stories in our head we shuffled onwards and finally at mile 23 we found trees. A “kiosko” sign filled us with hope, we bought drinks and goat meat (yay!) and on asking for camping were marched to the trees. The site was swiftly brushed, the bathrooms gestured to and two mini chairs and a wee table (where I am tapping now) were dusted off. The most delightful Argentinian family regailled us with their tortoise, dinasoar bone and us offered mate’ in their oasis filled with their 5 related familes.. Even though I did at first meeting say I was from Zimbabwe (I was born there! and we were desperate!) and will have to explain…..In the meantime, roll on rest day!