Friday, January 21, 2011

Nitty Gritty

The endless flat

Camping under the truck

Big tent pegs to hold back the wind.
Today I cleaned my fingernails with a baby wipe.  I can’t tell you how happy this has made me. 

We’ve been back to bush camping the last couple of nights as we drive the long multi-day trip north to La Buitrera.  Bush camping is a romantic term that conjures images of cosy tents scattered among shady trees, far away from the hubbub of urban living.  What bush camping actually means is pulling over to the side of the unrelentingly straight road through country of unrelenting harsh sameness.  The Patagonian steppes are flat, featureless plains, sparsely vegetated with low, scrubby clumps of tough, thorny belligerence, just itching for a bathroom stop encounter.  And then there’s the wind.

Wind is such a small word.  It is blindingly inadequate to describe what we have experienced in Patagonia.  The wind here bullies you constantly.  Always with the shoving and the jostling.  Always trying to tear off your hat, snatch things from your hand, steal your breath.  It’s like a physical weight that you don’t realise you’re carrying until you stop, sheltering in a shop, tent or truck, where you’re able to straighten up, pull your shoulders back and again experience verticality and breathe easy.  I wonder about the kind of hardiness that the people who live here must possess to just get on with life despite the conditions.  And this is the summer.

Last night we camped in a quarry by the side of the road. We opted to sleep under the truck after our tent surrendered to the wind at 4am the previous night. Our starlight view was replaced with a gearbox and transmission ceiling.  The wind ganged up with the rock-hard ground to make tent erection a near impossibility.  Tent pegs bent, tent flies escaped across stony ground, dust again wedged in every conceivable place.  Eyes are constantly gritty, fingernails constantly dirty and we’re constantly covered in a layer of dusty grime.  And yet….

Small things become sources of joy.  Hence the fingernail cleaning; the hilarity when Vicki heroically outran the gale to rescue Gareth’s tent bag, thereby proving that she is “faster than a Patagonian wind”; the bliss of actual butter; the lift you get from “dressing up” in a clean pair of khakis to go to the local cervezeria; the camaraderie as you eat sweetened rice cooked with vaguely lemony-detergent-flavoured water for breakfast for the upteenth time and reminisce good-naturedly about crumpets and fresh-roasted coffee.

Breakfast on the go.

Camping in quarry
Mmmm, Real Butter!

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