15 December 2012, Banquil del Norte, Mendoza Provence, Argentina.
The day started so well. We could hear silence; a rare thing, as the relentless wind which had been with us for nearly two weeks finally abated.
We were the only guests of a little municiple camping area. Hard-baked earth formed our bed, someone had thoughtfully grown mimosa and hollyhock hedgerows to form little rooms and turned a trunk of wood into two child-sized chairs and a table. Perfect. We collected water from a campinero; “country man”, who shone with warmth and we trotted off up the hill, under wonderful clouds. For once our skin wasn’t being fried by the sun. A guinea pig dashed for cover and then we saw a snake; whoppie! The terrain wasn’t so bad, although the knees were still painful. We knocked on the doors of the only three adobe houses we found during our 23 miles in search of, “carne de chivo” or goat’s meat, as the most local and readily available protein in the area. Apparently they were too thin!! Plus without freezers it was deemed difficult to keep them. We were out of luck. But we did met the lovely eighty-year old “Meterio” who was making a gate with a huge knife to add to his wonderful thorny coral. He asked us to inspect his earthen ovens and yard and talked of how much traffic there was today as the schools had broken up- even though we had only counted 10 trucks in the last 4 hours!
It wasn’t until the last couple of miles when we could see the canyon of the river we had been running towards all day, that we spotted a cluster of trees (over 80!!). These are rare things here- a small oasis of green in the larval dusty landscape. Indeed, this patch of poplar and willows stood as the only sentinels between 18 miles of nothing to the south and 20 miles of nothing to the north. Our river was a mile or so on, but in comparison was flanked by low thorny scrub, void of shelter.
Relief swept over us. We plucked up the courage to walk the track and speak to the owners to ask if we could camp under the shade and protection from the wind that their trees provided. A small badgery looking man was sitting under a partially made brick house. He looked up as I approached with a guarded expression.
I began, “Hello, I’m sorry I don’t wish to bother you, but please could we take refuge under the trees for a night, as the wind is so strong here?”
He quized. “Whe re are you from?”
I inhaled, “Chile, 60 miles south of Punta Arenas” (where we started the expedition).
“No, no, what country?”
“…. We’re British.”
He shook his head and stuck his thumbs down (he wasn’t joking).
I remonstrated, “It’s our governments’ problem, not ours” (or something to that effect)..
This didn’t seem to matter, but he did manage to grunt,
“Well I am human, you can stay, but for how long?”
I explained that we were due for a “rest day” and would just sit in our camp. He grudgingly agreed, but seemed unable to see where he could put us in his huge estate to least offend his sensibilities. I hailed Dave over. Dave added (who had no idea what had been discussed)
“We really don’t want to bother you, we’re Ecologists, we won’t leave rubbish, you won’t know we’re here.”
He didn’t answer, instead, called the dog whom Dave had been petting, as if to prevent it from being contaminated and shook his head and fists,“But you are botherin g me, because you’re British”…
I motioned to the trees in the distance of his estancia and we retreated, not relishing the thought of staying with a bigoted, prejudiced “oik”; instead choosing the wide open spiky plain. So here I am now tapping from the tent with wind whipping at its sides and sand and goat droppings piling in. We hunted and stumbled through the thicket of scrub and finally Dave spotted a little hut and a corral for goats. Better here alone where we can’t be judged. Today reminded us of the tyranny of prejudice and how thankful we should be that we are not usually in its spotlight.