A friend recently enlightened me to the fact that the science behind everyday life does indeed lead to human progress. Christmas is a pertinent time of year to combine these merits with the festive holidays. While currently in South America, personalising greetings cards online – comforted in the knowledge they’ll be delivered on one’s preferred date to the front door mat of anyone worldwide – has been a breakthrough.
The era of instant gratification has revolutionised the emotional management of our ties back home whilst overseas, thus reconciling the traveller’s conscience a little. FaceTiming family and Skyping friends to any corner of the globe is priceless, compared to the face of technology back in the day. Especially when on different continents if not in opposite hemispheres to our loved ones. Cherishing my young Aussie nephews jabbering away in real time on the webcam is as good as it’s going to get this year but I’ll take that over the more traditional means of postcards and pipped payphone calls any day. Keeping abreast of the minutiae of everyones’ lives on FaceBook can be a blessing and a curse – I’ve somehow accumulated over 3,000 friends and sure hope they don’t descend on us for a cuppa at the same time. I wouldn’t have enough teabags.
Surviving our nomadic lifestyle owning nothing more than the contents of our panniers and a roll bag somehow brings it all home; the unconventional science of being in the outside world more than indoors, zooming through space astride two wheels on unexplored territory and living out an adventure beside each other is well, as close to liberation as it gets. Certainly for us. We want for nothing on the road but are forever absorbing what the world has on offer.
But more than just motorcycling, which is empowering as much as it is our transport, I watch Jason indulge in his passion, honing his craft through an exact science. I see him shooting his camera, considered and focused only by the task. Heuristically learning more creative knowledge by every exposure generated. Every time I hear the click of the shutter followed by that faint rustle, it reminds me when I used to catch grasshoppers as a kid on holiday, trapping them between my cupped hands to take a closer look. I thought it was the same with photographs, only now Jason seizes time and fixes it in digital, capturing it halfway through its jump toward the next moment. It immortalizes special moments and preserves our memories, this one life. He was in his element – don’t ask me which one of the 92 found on Earth but he was fervently in his.
Boom! We’d fallen off lenticular cloud 9 with a bus-banging jolt. Goodbye Antarctica, hello Argentinean bus ride from hell. Alas, it was time to head north proper. Something we’ve been threatening to do for the last nine months. What can I say? Argentina is an awfully distracting place.
Our experience of Andesmar buses in Argentina to date had been sound enough. Four-wheeling us from collection point A and depositing us a day or two later at our desired destination – Iguazu Falls and Ushuaia’s port. Freedom and autonomy out of the bus-window but at least without hassle or hindrance. That is, until our latest bus-going epic occurred, which was as tedious and uncomfortable as one might imagine. It was so snug and stuffy, a hibernating squirrel might become ill at ease. I hunkered beside Jase, feeling sorry for every canned sardine out there. What started as manageably dull morphed into: tuneless music blaring around teenagers, whining children and crying babies. How could such little creatures make such unbridled, incessant noise? It pierced the ears like a lancet, almost painful.
Every half hour the bus’ air conditioning kicked in, just to ensure everyone was getting their fair share of snotting, coughing, wheezing and sneezing circulating – akin to a doctor’s surgery during peak flu-season. I clocked a guy next to Jason lying down horizontally in the aisle, erupting goodness knows what all over us from his spittle-soaked mouth. It wasn’t a mere frog-tickle but a whole-hearted-with-both-lungs devotion in emptying the contents of his throat. My jaw was working overtime in a mute fury and it demanded a colossal effort of will not to scream “HAND!” in Spanish at the insufferable chap. “Give us that small boon, I’m begging you”, I muttered under my breath as he spluttered.
One mother took to feeding her toddler milk until the poor mite could stomach no more. The little girl went wide-eyed, heaved every bottle of the bitty lactose substance back up, after which rolled as a sea of white – up and down the aisle for the duration of the journey. Befuddled to the roots of her hair, the mother proffered yet another bottle of milk to the child. The erratic and deeply unnerving behaviour of humans begs belief sometimes. Pure chaos seemed to reign; it was the bus ride that just kept on giving. Including a constant judder to my seat from the kicking legs of a bored-out-of-their-box child behind me. With every ear-plugged mile, I pulled any semblance of quiet towards me but pushed away a growing conviction that I needed to be heading out of Argentina, not settling more deeply into it. I quietly nodded at that rather discordant thought.
A grand total of six buses, six days and 147 hours of eternity later, we arrived back to our starting point. Mendoza was the temporary resting place for our bikes while we’d got down to four-wheeled bus-iness. Bodies started shifting suddenly from their seats until every person was fleeing to make a mass exodus, like ants from a stirred nest. My body had aged a couple of decades in the past 48 hours; I stifled a groan like a much older person as my shoulders returned to their proper angle with a crack felt in the bones. Within a couple of days, forces of inevitability had conspired when Jason went down with the flu (not man-flu), while I developed a raspy breath with the gravelly voice to match. Prone to countless dry coughing fits, it felt like I was swallowing broken glass pushing saliva past tonsils the size of tennis balls. Ah, the joys of an acute throat infection attached to a body spiralling into hot and cold sweats.
And where were we? At the point of no quick return; out on an off road trip miles up into the Mendozan mountains with our biking friends. As Juan-P’s good friend Jeff had flown in from the States specifically to ride, Jason was committed to finish filming a promotional video with them all for their moto-touring company, Argentina Moto Tours. I should’ve stayed put in Chacras de Coria and instantly regretted my lily-livered decision of not wanting to ‘miss out’. I had just enough of an incline beforehand to leave Pearl behind and ride in the truck. That’ll teach me to ignore the health warnings flashing like a lighthouse beacon from my body.
As if birthed by the sudden awareness of my illness, a dull pounding began crawling up the back of my head. I gingerly inched my way toward every opportunity to lie down and sleep, humbled by the powers of a weakened immune system and an acute virus. About as fun as a funeral, I disappeared into my shell like a turtle protecting its soft underbelly from anything potentially dangerous. I didn’t want to start spewing my pain and anguish on everyone around me. A significant throbbing continued, emerging like a humpback whale breaching the wild waves of my thick hair.
The views from every location chosen for the remaining 45 seconds of footage required were stunning. Yet I still wanted to curl up and vegetate. My head was thumping more than ever, like little trip hammers beating to the rhythm of my heart. Had you have thrown a bag of $100 bills at me, I wouldn’t have batted an aching eyelid. Armed with prescription-strengthened Paracetamol from over-the-counter and throat lozenges instead of antibiotics, I placed all the healing power I could summon into fighting off the wretched infection coursing through my veins. Thankful that I hadn’t been sick all year, I had to stay in full agreement with Yazz, a singer from the ’80s, “The only way is up, ooh baby…for me and you now”.
Feeling my sprightly old self again just in time for the festivities, I started to relax and enjoy the run-up to an unconventional Christmas. Our budget for gifts this year derived from an entirely different currency – the heart. We presented Juan-P and Toto with the polished short-film promo video, watched with baited breath and awaited their response. Result! Fraternity brothers couldn’t have pawed each other with more affection. There were glassy eyes, big man-hugs and so much gratitude mingling with immeasurable pride, I all but became a sobbing mess. Back in the net, Jason!
Argentineans start their big-scale, family-oriented merriment on Christmas Eve, enjoy a big celebration dinner with extended family while fireworks sparkle and fill the skies at the stroke of midnight. No Brussels sprouts, Baileys or bread sauce this year, we consumed a veritable feast in a buffet-style banquet. The delights on the table left us feeling decadent and satisfied. Washed down with a Juan-P’s family vineyard Malbec as opposed to mulled wine. And instead of getting toasty before an open fire from sledging in the snow, we cooled down in the swimming pool before slapping on sunscreen and sun hats. Surrounded by four generations of family, it was a rare and precious moment that catches you by surprise. As Christmases go, ours this year was strikingly alternative.
Taking a full day to adjust back into the swing of munching miles on the road, initially I felt torn in leaving good people who’ve become lifelong friends. There were ribcage-squeezing hugs with heartfelt promises to meet again, gifts of wine and tea bestowed on us and a plethora of pictures taken for good measure. After killing more clock with fond farewells, our wheels finally started to turn; my vision a little blurred and bottom-lip out. It was as though I could feel a sadness slowly tightening around my chest and heart like the crushing coils of a constrictor, squeezing liquid from my eyes until there no longer remained a reservoir.
Under iron-grey skies, my face was a study in storm clouds and my mood was bruised; black, vermilion red and a deep shade of purple. Irritation radiated off my shoulders; I didn’t want to leave but couldn’t stay either, risk outstaying my welcome on top. My stomach was a ball of motion and turmoil so I simply rode in an emotionally-strung stupor. Stop blighting your own day, Lisa. The pair of us had to deviate back to the Two Wheeled Nomad plan; Argentina to Alaska! We began to trace our way millimetres then eventually centimetres up the map. The first 100 kilometres were always going to be painful. It was Boxing Day. All I could hear was the excited racket of cohabitation where every household that day was open to family and friends. Many childrens’ voices fought to be heard amongst one another’s houses. Christmas is definitely for children to maximize being a kid. I thought of home and hoped everyone was having a ball.
While some folks back in Blighty were battling with inclement winter weather and praying for a solid smattering of snow for the kids, we were bubbling to boiling point in white hot temperatures. Summer in northern Argentina soared up to a skin-blistering 39 degrees Celsius making it more than moist between the motorcycle gear and me. I was having my own personal summer inside the suit; like an unending gentle rain pouring down me. Had I removed my Gore-Tex and armour-reinforced ensemble, you’d have seen me sizzle like a sausage. Granted, I’d rather be on the warm side astride two wheels as opposed to riding through a torrent of rain for example but motorcycling in temperatures hot enough to melt lead made the sun an executioner and the roads a furnace. Suck it up princess, I kept reminding myself.
Jason’s bike loathed the sweltering heat as much as he did; a suspected failing fuel pump making it intermittently conk out on the spot. The sullen wet heat sapped more than his bike’s strength, we’d leap into the nearest shade every few hours to take refuge and fall asleep in a soggy heap. What a pair of pansies! Furiously hot rapidly became our new norm but at least we were cruising northward through pretty places in Argentina’s wine country such as Cafayate and Cache in hairdryer heat as opposed to pedaling through it. That would be extremist behaviour and helmets off to anyone that has or is doing just that.