Bugs will rule the earth. There is no doubt in my mind. They are just waiting for the right time...the right conditions and then they will conquer all.
A week or so ago I was in a one hotel town...too late to go ahead. I checked in.
I awoke in the morning to find a blood sucking critter hanging on, gorging his swollen body with my precious blood. He had dined all night I am sure. A row of red marks marked his passage. I took his life that morning. It was an easy decision.
I did not know his heritage. I did not know his name. I feared the worst and counted down the days as I watched his marks fester and swell. The color changed from red to purple. I used my medications but they had no effect. Then by the eighth day I started to experience physical symptoms. My stomach was unsettled, my head light. I salivated and felt like vomiting but didn't.
It was time to make a move. Time to visit the hospital. I checked myself into Emergency.
The first room contained the Cashier. Unfamiliar with the procedures I joined the line-up for the cashier. People pushed and crowded in front of me...they merged in from the sides. After half an hour I had not gained an inch. Agressively I pushed the interlopers aside. They gave me a dirty look. Why were they more important than me? Sure it was there country but I was in front of them. I deserved to be able to maintain my position.
A lady wider than I was tall squeezed into the 6 inch gap in front of me. I had visions of the bug whose life I had snuffed. I let it pass.
Finally I was at the Cashier. "I need to see a doctor," I said. "I have been bitten by a bug." Silently, she motioned me into the hallway beyond the room. I joined the growing crowd of disabled and injured.
I looked to be the true physical specimen in this mottley lot. A man stood limply against the wall, his head bandaged to his brow; the right side of his face purple. A man limped in wearing sandles, his toes wrapped in a red stained bandage. A woman breast fed her baby. A young boy on a gurney was wheeled up and down the hallway periodically to spread the growing crowd. I looked oddly out of place.
An hour passed...an eternity. In this numberless game I wondered if my number would ever come up. No one even looked my way. A doctor stood in the doorway of his office looking for business. He had none. He kibitzed with the nurses and orderlies. Why not me?? Why not do something productive?? Finally a nurse took me over to him. This could have happened an hour ago.
I explained my situation. I drew him a picture of the bug. I told him I thought I had Chagas. "No, no" he said. "That is not a Chagas Bug". He drew me a picture of a bigger and uglier bug...a cross between a scorpion and a spider. "That is a Chagas Bug," he said, "not your little bug."
I wasn't convinced. "We will do a blood test he said," and wrote out the request. He marked "URGENT" on top of the paper and underlined it. "Take this to the Cashier" he said, and waved me out the door.
Back in the Cashier´s room, the line-up had swelled until it filled the room. I joined the fray, agressively beating off any interlopers within reach. The games continued. Half an hour later I was at the Cashier's Window. I passed the paper across to her. She pulled out a giant ledger and tried to price it. She could not find the codes. Finally she totalled everything up. It came to 75 Bolivianos.
I handed across the money. She pushed it back. "You cannot pay now," she said. My computer is down. "Take this to the laboratory and come back when you have had your test." I had a bad feeling about this. I looked around frantically. "Where is the laboratory?" She waved her hand like a wand. "Over there" she gesticulated. "Where?" "There."
An orderly took pity on me and led me down the passageways, through closed doors, around corners and passed abandoned, dirty rooms. My spirits fell. Did I really want to be a part of this?
We arrived at the Laboratory. I was first in line. I had beat the rush. I handed across the slip of paper. The nurse looked at it and passed it back. "I can't do anything with this," she said. "You did not pay". "Come back when you have paid." I looked at the orderly, he looked at me and we headed back to the Cashier.
Same scene, same place, different time. Finally, back at the cage, I explained the problem. "Oh, my computer is running now. You can pay." The price was now 80 Bolivianos. I don´t care...80, 90 a 100. Let's get this show on the road.
The orderly had disappeared...given up...gone somewhere else. I wandered through the maze of halls but could not find the laboratory. Finally, in desperation I stopped a nurse in a hurry and beckoned her to take me to my destination. She did.
The Laboratory room was filled to capacity. More jostling, line jumping, pushing and shoving. I beat my way to the front of the line. There was only one more person in front of me. Suddenly a male nurse appeared behind the window, shouting and screaming like a lunatic. "There are too many people here...too much work to do. I quit. There will be no more tests today. Everybody go home." He waved his arms frantically and then he slammed the window shut and disappeared.
We looked at each other in muted silence. Nobody said a word. We just sat in the waiting room. Eventually the crowd thinned out. People went somewhere else. People went home. People just gave up. Half an hour later nothing had changed. No one re-appeared at the window. Nothing was happening.
I left the room. I couldn't find the way back to the Cashier. I wandered through hallways and closed doors. Finally I ended up at the back of the hospital, on the opposite side of the building. I walked around the perimter until I finally reached Emergency again. I went back to the Cashier. I joined the long lineup and worked my way to the front. The cashier smiled at me as I reached the cage. "I want a refund," I said. "I want my money back. The technician at the lab has quit. There will be no more tests today."
A cross look passed over her face. She looked at my paper. She turned off her computer. She locked her cash drawer. She took my slip of paper, exited the cage and locked the door behind her. She grabbed my by the arm and led me to the laboratory. Only a few people remained in the waiting room. She walked up to the window and rang the bell...she pounded on the sill...she bent through the window and shouted down the hall. A nurse appeared from somewhere.
"What's going on", the Cashier shouted. "This man has paid for a service and needs to have this work done. Can't you see it is URGENT?!!" "But, But." "Get this goddam work done and do it now!!"
The window closed and the nurse appeared in the waiting room through a side door. "Have a seat, sir," she beckoned. "I will be right with you." I selected a chair and lowered my haunches to it. Before they touched metal, the nurse reappeared. "Come on," she said. "Let's get going." I sprang to my feet. The Cashier smiled at me and returned to her cage.
In five minutes flat, the nurse had dusted off a new syringe, jabbed my arm, drew blood, squirted a little around the room to ward off evil spirits and sent me on my way.
"Now what?", I said. "Come back at 3:30 and we will give you the results. "Today," I queried, not believing I had heard correctly. "Yes." "Where to, the Cashier?". "No, come here." "OK. Bye. Thank-you." I left in a daze. Almost 3 hours had passed.
I went downtown and bought an ice cream cone to cool off. I ordered a double.
3:30 appeared quickly. I returned to the hospital. They were in lock-down. A guard stood at the barred gate. "We are closed," he said. "Come back at 5:30." He spoke through the bars. "But, but, I had this work done," I sputtered. "They told me to come back at 3:30." I showed him the slip of paper. He opened the gate and let me in.
I now knew the hospital layout by heart. I took a short-cut to the laboratory. I was back at the cage. A stout, brusque lady looked up from her work. "What are you doing here?", she seemed to shout. "I was told to come here at 3:30", I responded meekly. "Get out. We are closed. Come back at 5:30 when we are open." She returned to her work.
I left muttering to myself. I really don´t give a fiddler's f--k when I get the results. Why, just why can I not get the same answer twice in a row?
I returned at 5:30. The hallway was jammed with people. The place was locked up tight. No one was around. The clock counted down the minutes. An orderly appeared and rang the bell. Nothing happened. Finally at 6:00 the same woman who threw me out earlier appeared at the side window with a box of test results. She began calling out names like bingo numbers. I never heard mine. At the end of the stack she said "That's it. If your name wasn't called come back tomorrow. Maybe we will have them then."
The crowd surged forward. Only a few had had their names called. Many remained, I among them. She pawed through the pile again. More papers were passed out. I looked at the recipients. Were they all medical students? They studied the test results and charts intently. They acted like they understood. I pushed close to the window, hoping she would find my paper before she got angry at me again. She pulled it out of the box and handed it to me.
I looked at my blood analysis with the percentage breakdowns. I looked at the graphs and charts and the spiked curve. It didn´t mean shit to me. Who were these people kidding anyway? They couldn't make any more sense of this than I could.
Now what? In a daze I staggered down the hall. I know. I'll go back to the Cashier. At the front of the line I handed her the paper. "What do I do now?" I asked. "Oh, you need a doctor," she said, and led me down the hall. I walked into the doctor´s office and we went through the results.
They have confirmed "NEGATIVE ON CHAGAS", he said. I already knew that. I had read that much. "What about all of these sharp spikes? What are they?" "I don't know you," he said. "I can't say if that is good or bad."
"Let me have a look at the bite. Where did the insect bite you?" "On my right testicle." "Where?" "You heard me." I dropped my drawers. The door to the Consulting Room was pushed open. People peered through the door. The doctor turned to close it.
He prescribed a cream and some antibotics to be taken over a period of four days. I hoped he was right.
The road east from Tarija to Villamontes was total tierra...ripio...gravel...dirt. You get the picture. 300 kms of slow and twisty mountain roads with corner upon corner upon corner as the road moved up one mountain and down the next. I must have crossed twenty ranges with a dozen or more river crossings and one mudpuddle. I had expected a traverse down a valley but it was not to be.
They said it would take eight hours...it did. Three hours to do the first 100 kms told me I would have no time for lunch. It would be a double "Snickers" day. I had provisioned myself well.
I pulled into the service station to top-up. They had no gasoline, only diesel. I had anticipated this and had stuffed my tank in Tarija before leaving. Gas was not going to be an issue. At the speeds I was travelling I was getting 75 mpg. My total distance should not consume more than 1/2 tank, but I like to be on the safe side. I motored on...180 more kms to go.
I was moving off of the mountain...down into the tropical zone. I entered a hairpin corner. I heard the bus coming, but it was too late. I was already into the corner. I had just passed the turn-out lane for passing, on this one lane road. We met nose to nose. The bus going uphill, me going down.
He was in the center to the road. I was in the right track. He motioned me to move over so he could pass. I looked at the 'V-Notch' ditch that greeted me. The soft, wet clay would suck me in and leave me there with no way to get out. I shook my head and motioned to him to back up. He pointed to the ditch. I pointed to him to reverse. We glared at each other through our respective windshields. He gunned his engine. I motioned for him to back up. All I needed was three feet so I could turn around and return to the passing lane.
For minutes we stared each other down. I was not going into the ditch for the asshole. All he had to do was release the brake and roll back a few feet. Finally he did just that. I spun around and returned uphill to the turn-out. He crawled by in a cloud of black diesel smoke.
I came through a one mule town. It was 4PM. The exit road was blocked. I could not believe it. The gate keeper told me there was construction ahead and the road would not open until 7PM...after dark. I still had almost 100 kms to go. I could not ride these roads in the dark.
A truck driver came up and talked to the gate keeper. He agreed with me. I should be let through. A bike can probably get through the construction he said. In less than five minutes I was mobile again.
They were doing a fine job on the upgrade. My expectations rose as I shifted into third gear for the first time in the day. My GPS counted down the kilometers. I was expectant about my fresh fish dinner in the shadow of the gorge which was the terminus of the road before it joined the pavement. A pleasant resort would await me there too.
It was not to be be. I came into the active construction zone. They had blasted the walls off of the side of the cut. Twenty feet of debris blocked the road. There would be no passage...not before 7PM.
I dismounted to review the situation. A truck driver came over to talk to me. "Where are you going?" he asked. "Villamontes and Yacuiba" I replied. He intoned that to mean I was passing directly through to Yacuiba. He did not know about the fish dinner, the resort, the relaxation, the cold beer and the naked women. "Less than a km back there is a detour," he said. It is a good road. You won't have to wait. I looked at my GPS. Yes the road was there. It looked like it bypassed the construction and moved on to Villamontes. I thanked him, spun around and headed out.
The road headed south. I wanted to go east. There was an intersection about 15 kms to the south, that turned around, headed north and then east to Villamontes. The GPS tracked the road to the pixel. I arrived at the intersection but it was not there. I rode further south and then turned back thinking I had missed it. It simply was not there. I tracked the road I was on. It went south. It went south to Yacuiba, on the Argentine border. I had no option. There would be no gorge and no fish tonight.
It was almost 5PM now. This road to Yacuiba was over 100 kms long. I doubted if I could make it before dark. I picked up the pace...3rd gear and 4th when I could. I rode like a desert racer, skidding around corners. River crossing after river crossing greeted me. Finally I came to an intersection which would take me directly to the pavement. I confirmed it with the "street watchers" in the small town. "Yes," they said, "it is not far."
I sped off. I had about 50 kms to go to the pavement. I might just make it before dark. 50 kms of pavement would be OK in the dark, but not 50 kms dirt and mud.
10 kms down the road my spirits fell. The road was blocked for construction. It would not open until 7PM. I talked with the gate keeper. "I cannot ride this in the dark" I said. "It is not safe." The lady in the kiosk agreed. It was 5:30 PM. Dusk was falling.
He phoned ahead to the construction zone. "You have to wait", he said, "until at least 6PM". I counted down the minutes...they seemed like hours. Would I get stopped ahead if they let me though early. I had no choice. I had to try it. At 6:10 he let me through.
This was rough construction. It was getting dark. My low beam had shaken itself to death sometime during this day or the day before. I only had high beam which was too high for this kind of driving. I moved on. I wended my way through construction vehicles. The road was passable...at least so far. Dusk blended into night. My GPS showed 20 kms to pavement but with this tortuous terrain you had to double that number...it was 40 kms.
I was in first and second gear again, dodging rocks, ruts, roots and debris as I crossed yet another mountain range. Some sections were soaked from underground springs, the dirty clayey material like grease...sideways...my foot kicked out and righted the bike...a save. Deep gravel a foot thick, not yet spread. I ploughed into that with rocks and dirt flying as I did a tank slapper...another save. A cliff wall on one side...a drop-off on the other.
I cursed these people. How could they close the main road and the detour too. What were they thinking?
Then I could see traffic moving perpendicular to my direction of travel. It was the pavement. I moved on, dodging bicyclists moving out of the dark, riding blind in this near black environment. Just what I need...a moving obstacle. Suddenly I was at the pavement. I turned south to Yacuiba.
100 meters down the pavement the road was blocked. It was a police drug check. More delays. "Where do you come from?". "Tarija". "Where are you going?". "Yacuiba". The standard grill. If he decided to search the bike it would cost me another half hour. I was in no mood for this. I volunteered only what he asked, no more. The bike was ticking over impatiently...waiting to go. I never stop the engine. It is my signal to them that I am busy. I have no time for their games. It is time to go. He stared at me. I stared back. It was a Bolivian stand-off. I was tired. I was late. It was time to go. The seconds seemed like minutes. The minutes like hours. He turned away from me; in profile; watching me out of the corner of his eye. I waited. Finally he motioned me on.
Yacuiba was still half an hour away. My high beam was a constant annoyance to the oncoming traffic. I flicked on my low beam and drove in darkness to show them my predicament. They were not amused.
Finally I was there. I was in Yacuiba, but it was a town with no end...no distinguishing features...no street signs...no directions...just mile after mile of houses. Every few blocks I asked for directions to the Centro. "Further ahead" came the reply. Finally, after my 10th try, the lady said turn left here and go three blocks. I was close.
The first hotel was a new, deluxe hotel. I took it. It was a waste of money but what the hell...it had a hot shower and a bed. The full American breakfast which was included in the fare turned out to be a Continental...bastards, they cheated me out a a lousy egg and a piece of toast...25 cents worth.
The steak dinner down the street, however, was not a disappointment. My two Snickers lunch had long since disappeared into oblivion. I can say I have never had a steak like that anywhere. In these Latin countries it is common to serve fish with the head and tail attached. In this steak, the only thing missing from the cow was the head and tail. The rest of it was there, on my plate. As thick as a Black Forest cake and just as tender, it was strictly a meat and potatoes meal. It disappeared. It was $5.
There was a time change at the Argentine border. I would lose an hour before I even got started.
It turns out I lost more than an hour. The border was shut down for some sort of celebration. People were lined up forever.
I waited patiently. What choice did I have. Finally about 10:30 all of the singing and dancing was over and the Aduanas were back at it.
It was a fairly straight forward procedure except for two minor snags. Argentina now requires Insurance for a vehicle to enter. They asked for it. I produced it. It was a copy of my Insurance Certificate from home. They folded it and unfolded it, they turned it upside down and inside out. They had not seen one like that before, but they could not refute it. He asked his "heffe" if it was acceptable. His heffe asked someone else. Every time someone walked by, the certificate was presented for authentification. No solid conclusions were drawn. Meanwhile the paperwork progressed.
With the bike processed I crossed the street to get myself legalized. They did a good job. They checked to see if I had signed out of Bolivia. I had not. Somehow I had missed the Aduanas on the way to the border. I had checked the bike out but not myself. I walked back to correct that error. They had been waiting for me. When I entered the man said "Oh, you're the man with the moto. We have been expecting you." Stamp, STAMP and I was done...legally cancelled out of Bolivia.
When I returned to the Argentina Aduanas they continued with the paperwork. I talked with one of the free agents. We talked about all of the paperwork required...all of the forms...all of the time. What did it all mean? What happened with all of those logs? He had been to Cossovo as part of a Peace Keeping mission. "It is the same problem all over the world," he said. "But it has to be done. We have to keep track."
With my passport in hand, he followed me back to the bike. The Vehicle Aduanas guy was there too. One more time he asked about the insurance. I was asked to present the document yet again and show it to this other agent. He looked it over; read the front and the back. I reset the clock on the bike. I busied myself with nothing. Finally, he handed the certifcate back. "It is OK," he said. I was free to go.
What a difference a border makes. The mountains and the tortuous roads melted away into a broad agricultural valley with good pavement. Subsistence farming disappeared, replaced by large Estancias and modern farm machinery synonomous with that used in North America. The suspension replaced its normal staccato action with the slow undulating movement associated with smooth pavement. The RANA received her first drink of premium fuel in over a month. We all felt better for it.
Salta!! What a vibrant city. The people seem happy; contented even. There is a "je ne sais quoi" about their lifestyle...easy going...prosperous...a "joie de vivre" that comes with disposable income. Coffee shops and restaurants abounded, occupied with a steady ebb and flow of clientele. There was a relaxed feeling in the air...a "laisez faire" attitude. Life here was different. Gone was the hand to mouth existence so evident only a few hundred kilometers to the north; replaced with that "joy for life" which the Argentinians express so well.
The women dress expressively, not just covering their bodies but adorning them. They are proud of their figures and carry them well.
The tight jeans...the form fitting garments...the revealing blouses, the gently curled lips. All add to the package to complement the total.
A young lady walks by in skin tight jeans. I watch her moving down the street...through the crowd and then finally out of sight. Her tight buttocks undulating in a gentle, rythmic motion as they propel her forward. Only a thin layer of cotton separates the outer world from the inner. The eyes follow the movement...the gaze is arrested...the mind pre-occupied with the motion. In her wake lingers the sweet aroma of her passing.
..."Don't Cry For Me Argentina..."
I returned early to my room and had an afternoon shower. It was normally important to catch the non-peak periods to ensure you had lots of hot water. This was not the case here.
I had lots. A veritable deluge crashed upon my body...hot, steamy water the temperature and quantity of which I had not experienced for several weeks. I languished in the extravagance of it all.
I towelled off and placed my parts on the table. Things were not looking so good. The Bolivian antibiotics and cream were having no effect on the bites. The first day had shown a dramatic change but after that nothing. In fact, things looked like they were regressing.
I played a quick game of marbles and then put everything back into the pouch. It was time to go see a doctor.
I checked into Emergency. They had three (3) cashiers...no waiting. A lovely lady sauntered up to the window. I explained my problem. She exited the cage and guided me to Consultation Room #4. "The doctor will be with you soon," she said, as she exited.
The room had a small 4 ft desk, 2 chairs, an examination table, a sink whose faucet spewed water at an alarming rate and a few bottles of disinfectants. I settled in behind the desk and looked around the room. Then I realized I was on the Doctor´s side of the desk and reversed positions. No sense pissing him off before we get started.
An orderly came in to see if I was comfortable. I was. The cleaning lady stopped by to say hello and see if I needed anything. "No thank you. I am just waiting for a few minutes," I said.
I waited and I waited and I waited. After half an hour I had finished correcting the city map I had picked up at the Tourist Office and was reading my book. The cashier returned and was surprised to see me still there. She hurried away. The cleaning lady returned and flooded the room with an inch of water. I stood on the chair as she squeeged the water out into the hall and disappeared around the corner. "Are you closed?" I shouted after her. She half turned and smiled as she chased the water down the hall.
I settled into my book. Suddenly the room was full of people...two doctors and two nurses. I non-chalantly gazed up from my book, wondering what all of the commotion was about.
The doctor sat in his chair and leaned across the too small desk. I leaned forward only inches away from his face. The other doctor crowded in with the two nurses. They pressed closer in order to be better able to catch every word. Between them they had assumed that their limited English would allow them to understand what I had to say. My life was in their hands. How could they cure me if they could not understand my problem? The strain showed on their faces. The blood drained away leaving only a pallid, sagging complexion. My eyes traced their faces and sensed their concern...
I began to speak. They pressed in closer, into the ever tightening circle...like a football huddle on the last down of the last game.
I addressed them in Spanish. I told them about my family, my friends, my desire to continue living, my trip through Bolivia, my meeting with the insect and my desire to return to my friends and not meet with those who had pre-deceased me. They began to relax...the color returned to their faces. They breathed a collective sigh of relief. They could understand me. They could help me.
As I finished my dissertation I leaned back in my chair and surveyed the crowd. The doctor spoke.
"But, where were you bitten?"
"Over here, on Harry."
"On Harry. On my right testicle. Don't you name yours?"
He figeted. The other doctor twiddled with his stethoscope. The nurses giggled.
"We will have to have a look."
"Of course." I stood up and unbuckled my belt.
"Stop! The nurses have to leave."
I shrugged my shoulders. "Perhaps they will have some Input."
"No! They must go."
Nobody moved. All were interested in a look at the gringo´s equipment. The doctor moved to usher the nurses to the door. They were gently urged in that direction. There was a slight scuffle at the door and then it closed behind them. I dropped my drawers.
"There is a lot of swelling, No?"
"They are normally that size."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, they are in the dormant state now. You should see them when they are active."
"You should put ice on it. It will reduce the swelling."
"OK. Is that all?"
"No, I will give you an injection and some antibiotics. Do you have any allergies?"
"No. Will you be giving me penicillin?
"No. It doesn´t require that. I have something better."
"Are you sure I don't need penicillin?" "What about this medication from Bolivia?"
"It is not right. Do not take it anymore. This will fix the problem."
I packed my equipment away. I raised my pants. A orderly came in with the injection. I dropped my drawers and leaned over the examination table, exposing my white buttocks. The needle was poised for penetration. Someone leaned on the door, from the hallway. It swung open. The needle entered. The crowd peered through the opening...
I like a good Piece of Ass but this is not fair. I dressed and the door closed.
I shook hands with the doctor and limped out into the street. My right buttock was beginning to harden up....
I had several options to obtain a Visa for Brasil. However, since the alloted time starts counting down from when the Visa is issued it was reasonable to try to obtain it as near to my entry date as possible. Perhaps that thought process was flawed...
My first option for a Brasil Visa was in La Paz. I discounted La Paz because I was there, easily a month in advance of when I needed the Visa. I moved on.
My next option was Santa Cruz. I was there on a weekend, and it was still early so I erased that option. My book said I could obtain one in Sucre. Sucre was on my travel plan.
In Sucre I approached the Embassy but I was saddened to hear that they did not issue Visas. They were not allowed to do that type of work. The man assured me I could get a Visa in Salta, Argentina.
Salta was a couple thousand kilometers away, but I was heading that way so I was not alarmed. In Salta the Embassy had the same story as Sucre. They were not allowed to issue Visas. Doesn´t anybody know who does what anymore?
I emailed the Consulate in Buenos Aires. They assured me Cordoba could issue a Visa if I did not want to go to Buenos Aires. Cordoba was a thousand kilometers to the south. What the hell. I was going that way anyway. I might as well go to Ushuaia, now that I am here.
I checked the phone book. Yes, the Consulate was listed. I was very certain this would be the end of my quest.
For those who have not had the exerience, getting a Visa can be a challenge at the best of times. Down here in Cordoba it tested more than your patience.
The address was in the phone book. I copied it down and located it on the street map...615 Ave. A. Almos. Mistake #I overlooked the A. I went straight to Almos. I followed it as far as it went. There was no #615. The neighbourhood became rougher. This was not a Consular area.
I asked a man passing by. "You must go the other way...about fifteen blocks." Had I gone the wrong way? I couldn´t believe it. I turned around and walked back...I counted the numbers down. At #0 the street name changed to Colon. I was befuddled.
I asked the man at the kiosk. "You must go the other way, fifteen blocks," was his answer. "I just came from there. The number doesn´t exist." He shrugged his shoulders.
A delivery man walked in. I asked him. He looked at the address for a minute and then said, "Oh, that´s A. Almos. That´s about twenty blocks away, that way. I had wasted two precious hours. I hailed a cab.
The neighbourhoods changed. It didn´t look promising, but then suddenly there was the Brasilian Flag hanging over the door. The mirrored glass prevented me from seeing in, but as I approached the door opened.
"Yes?" the magnum packing guard queried. "
I need a Visa to visit your country." I wasn´t even sure if they could issue one. I was testing the waters.
"These are the requirements. Do you have all of the necessary information?"
I nodded in approval. He went to get an Agent.
The needs of the Agent were slightly different than those listed on the posting.
1. Passport (Check)
2. Passport Photo (Check)
3. Title for the Moto (NO!, at the hotel)
4. Photocopy of the Passport and Title (NO!, at the hotel)
5. Copy of Bank Statement showing I could afford to visit their country...no deadbeats allowed (this one bothered me)
6. Completed Application Form.
"Do you have all of the above?"
"Not with me."
"When you have it come back and see me."
"What time do you close?"
"How long does it take?"
It was 11AM on Monday. I had two hours or I would waste a day. I did not want to spend more than 3 days doing this. If I ran into the weekend I would be here for over a week. I had to get it started today.
Out on the street I hailed a cab and headed for the hotel. There I gathered up my paperwork and went to find an Internet Cafe. I wasn´t sure I could pull a Bank Statement off of the internet, since I had not set that up before I left, but I had to try. An ATM receipt was not adequate.
I signed in, created an account and retrieved the balance. The amount was less than I had expected. Sandra had not transferred the money yet. Would it be sufficient?
I printed it off and hailed another cab. Back at the Consulate I greeted the guard once again. He hailed the Agent and I passed the documents across. He verified my Original Title against the copy. The same for the Passport. Then he looked at my Bank Statement.
"How long do you want?"
"This may not be enough. I have to divide the total by $80 per day. I can only give you that much time."
"I am transferring money today," I said.
"Show me the statement when you come back."
He handed everything back to me. I looked puzzled. Why did he hand it back?
"You must take this form to the CitiBank and pay 139 ARG Pesos. Bring back a stamped receipt and then I will start the Application Process."
My heart sank. I looked at my watch. It was 12:00 Noon.
"Where is the bank? Close to here!"
"No, it is downtown on the Plaza."
"Where, on the Plaza."
"I don´t know. It is there. All of the banks are there."
Why didn´t you tell me this before, I fumed to myself. I was just there.
I hailed a cab. The streets were packed. Lunch break was in effect. Gridlock reigned supreme.
I paid the cab and jumped out to walk the last 4 blocks. It was quicker. There were at least 100 banks in and around the Plaza, but no CitiBank.
I stopped and asked directions. The man with the cell phone thought for a moment, turned this way and that, peering up and down the streets.
"Go left for 2 blocks. It is there."
"Are you sure?"
I walked two blocks. Nothing. The clock was ticking. The sidewalks were packed. There was a mass of humanity everywhere.
I asked again.
"Go back to the Plaza and turn left. Go one block. It is there."
I headed out. A few minutes later...no bank. I walked further.
I asked again. A businessman with a briefcase.
"Go back one block and turn right."
"Are you sure?"
I was just there I thought to myself. Could I have missed it. Reluctantly I headed back. I had covered half a block when I heard a voice behind me. It was the businessman. Initially we had been walking in opposite directions, but he realized he had given me the wrong directions. He had turned around and chased me to correct his error. INCREDIBLE! SIMPLY INCREDIBLE! Who in this world would do such a thing? Only a human being with a conscience. Now there were two of us...not many in 6 billion people.
His new directions were correct.
The line-ups were long. It was well passed noon. I waited patiently, I paid my dues, I collected my receipt and headed for the street. It was 12:25.
There are 1.5 million people in Cordoba and 2 millions cabs. Every one was full. People were fighting one another for a cab. I joined the fray. "I'll pay double," I shouted above the din. I waved a fist-full of dollars, reminiscent of a scene that had played out in another country and another land twelve years ago.
In the company of Ole and Garry, we had been in Dubai on a business venture. It was time to return to our hotel. I suggested we walk back. The hotel was but a distant glimmer on the horizon. Ole had had enough. He raced out into the street brandishing his money. "Here, take it all. I don't care what it costs. I am not walking back to the hotel!!" Gales of hysterical laughter followed this event and persisted for days, whenever we re-lived the scene.
I had a cab. We bumped along. Mostly we didn't do anything in the near gridlock conditions. At 12:49 I asked the driver how much further it was.
"The Consulate closes at 1PM."
He glanced at his watch. He was not impressed. His non-committment to the program was his signal. You see, he lived here. He was on the streets everyday. Today was the same as yesterday...yesterday the same as tomorrow.
He simply said, "It's Monday."
At 12:54 the mirrored door to the Consulate opened and I walked in. The guard looked at his watch and smiled.
The Agent too, smiled when he saw me. "You made it," was all he said.
I filled out the Application Form and slid it under the opening.
"Come back at 12:00 Noon on Thursday."
I was frazzled. What a lot of commotion. It could easily have been reduced to a few organized steps. But, of course that is not their business. They play a game. They are in control of your life for but an instant and they play the game out to the end. They give you one piece of information at a time so you have to make 10 trips instead of two. But, I had made it. I had beat their odds. Barring the unforseen, Thursday should be a good day.
I hailed a cab. Three blocks away we were gridlocked. I got out and walked. I needed a double ice cream...
I asked at the hotel if there was a good restaurant nearby.
"Do you want fish?"
The Rio Paraguay went right through the city, separating Santa Fe from its sister city Parana. I had not even thought of fish.
"Yes, I like fish. Is there a good restaurant?"
"It is not close, but with your moto it is no problem."
"I don't want to ride at night. I could take a cab."
"Sure. It is the best fish restaurant. It is Quincho de Chiquito. It is about 7 km from here. The restaurants in town offer fish but they do not compare to this."
It had better be good I thought to myself, as he wrote the name on a piece of paper for me. I didn't know what I was getting into, as I stepped onto the street and hailed a cab. 8 pesos later I was at the restaurant. Any earlier and I would have been too early for their opening. It was 8:15 PM.
As I walked through the door everyone was busy setting tables, getting ready for an evening of business.
"Are you open," I asked the waitress.
"Yes, why do you ask?"
"It looks like I am too early. You are not quite ready."
"We are ready. Sit where you like."
I picked a table for 4 and settled in. I ordered a drink and waited for the menu. It did not come. It was a fixed menu. I did not know that. It was strictly fish. That was their business...fresh fish.
Presently the waitress returned with the first course. A bread basket, fish balls, a hot fish empanada and two salsas. I silently wondered if she was taking the liberty of ordering for the gringo.
When the plates were emptied she returned with the second course...a lightly breaded and fried piece of Surubi. That elusive fish that I had tried to taste "On the Road to Villamontes."
Soon that was gone and the third course arrived...a Chubuci...a sort of fish soup with large chunks of tender fish, potatoes and fish broth. I struggled through that large bowl but finally completed the task.
I settled back in my chair for a well deserved breath. The fourth course arrived... a thin filete, lightly breaded and pan fried in garlic...excellent.
I was close to the limit. I had eaten my fill and more. I relaxed and perused the city map of Santa Fe. There was movement at my table. I glanced up. I was shocked. The waitress had returned with an 18 inch platter. The fish that accompanied it, barely fit within the edges. I looked at her in amazement. Surely she was mistaken. Surely this was for someone else.
"No," she assured me. It was for me.
"But, but...How much do you think I can eat?"
"Eat what you can," was all she said, and then she left.
I didn´t finish it but I made a darn good attempt. "WALRUS DREAMS OF FISH," was foremost in my mind.
I paid my bill and ordered a taxi.
Every now and then you meet someone who has a real appreciation for what is happening here. A taxi arrived for me at the fish restaurant. We started talking and he opened with the standard question.
"Where are you from?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Travelling around South America."
"Travelling around South America. I started in Santiago Chile." I am travelling by moto.
"What!!!" He turned around in his seat to get a better look at me. The car continued forward at a reduced pace. He studied my face for a few more precious seconds and then extended his had to shake mine. He could not believe it. We talked some more.
"I have been travelling for just over 2 months...northern Chile, Peru, Bolivia and now Argentina. In a week I will exit for Brazil. I have come 15,000 kilometers so far."
He slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand, then turned around and shook my hand again. We both laughed. He just shook his head in disbelief.
"I have another 25,000 kilometers to go, more or less."
We both laughed again.
It was fun to finally meet someone who appreciated the gravity of the trip...had some respect for what was happening...had a feel for the magnitude of the project. It wasn´t like reading a comic book or a $2 novel. It was a project on a grand scale, and he knew it.
As I exited the cab he shook my hand one more time and wished me a safe journey. We laughed together one last time and then he was gone. He disappeared into the darkness of the night.
Did you ever wonder why there is so much wrought iron in Latin America? Balconies, window grills, door grills etc. etc. Just as I thought...No you hadn't. Well what would be the point of answering a question that was never asked? It would just be a total waste of time. There is no curiosity, no interest, no desire and therefore no answer...class, Class!, CLASS!!
Out of the 8,765.34 followers only one person was interested in the wrought iron question.
Can you believe it! Only one person stepped up to the plate and asked the question! My hat is off to her, who shall remain anonymous, with her inquisitive mind. I mean, really people. Are you that focused on deciding between cereal and eggs for breakfast that you cannot ponder wrought iron. Wow! I am simply astounded.
I was going to pose the question of "Who were the Jesuits?", but that is a more complicated and involved answer and I can see it would be truly an exercise for naught so I will save it for myself.
Wrought Iron, my dear people came from Spain by the boat load. You see, the Spanish plunderers, Pizarro and Cortes, were sending back galleon after galleon to the Old World, laden with gold and silver riches from the New World. Bullion, melted down artifacts from the Inca and Aztec empires. Treasures melted into gold and silver bars...almost everything melted...the artistry destroyed for the Greed of Empire. Additionally, newly mined riches from the mines of Potosi and others were transformed into the same bars. The wrought iron was simply a logical choice to get the ships back to the New World.
Two things were happening. There was a building boom in the New World and the ships coming back from Spain carried much lighter cargo, but mostly the cargo was one-way...Americas to Spain. Ships need ballast to maintain stability on the high seas. The logical conclusion was to send Wrought Iron to the New World. It provided the necessary ballast and additionally it provided a much needed building material since iron foundaries were almost non-existent at this time.
Argentina has a "Zona de Missiones" which they tout as being an exceptional experience. They advertise it; they promote it. But, what they have to offer pales by comparison to what is so discretely advertised in Bolivia. The missiones here in Argentina are mere skeletons. The most complete one is simply a few building shells with a partial building for the Missione itself. None of the structures is complete and all of the structures are roofless.
Built on the same grand scale as in other areas they were something to behold in their time. Providing services to communities of up to 4,000 people they became the nucleus of the Jesuit teachings. The offerings here obviously have historical merit but they are simply a "Ruin" when compared to what Bolivia has to offer. Bolivia has the best and has done the best job of preserving and restoring this heritage.
The "Tire Gods" seem to be doing their best to get me. I returned from a trek around Foz Iguazu to find my new rear tire almost flat. I turned it around looking for a puncture...nothing. I rotated it again, looking more carefullly...nothing. Had someone pulled a cruel joke on me and deflated my tire?
I tried pumping it up with my compressor. It would not hold air. I checked it again. Nothing! I pumped some more. Air was escaping from the valve stem. Had the valve failed? I had left my tank bag, with my spare parts, in the motel so I could not check the valve itself. 12 psi was about all the tire would hold. I was 20 km from town. It would have to do.
I packed everything up and headed out. The bike squirmed with the low pressure, but was rideable. I made it to town...barely. The tire was hot. I pulled into a service station advertising "Aire" but all they had was the sign. A boy on a bicycle spotted my dilema and led me to a "Gomeria" a block away. It was there we discovered the true nature of the problem.
The valve stem had failed...the brass insert that holds the valve and is covered with the cap, had separated from the rubber external part that fits into the rim. GIVE ME A BREAK! When was the last time anyone has ever experience a valve stem failure. I know I haven´t in my lifetime...not on a motorcycle or a car. As we put air into the tire the insert had had enough and flew out. This guy only fixed tires with tubes and did not have a stem. I was not out of trouble yet.
We found the insert and wired it to the rubber carrier. With 25 psig of air and the boy on the bicycle leading we went off to find another Gomeria. Two blocks away we found one. He looked at the stem and said:
"No, I don´t have one like that."
"What do you mean. It is the same as a car."
"No," he shook his head.
I was astounded. "What is different?"
"Your´s is shorter."
I looked at them. His was barely 3/8" longer than the one in my rim. I didn´t care if it was 2" longer. "Put it in. It is not a concern."
Ten minutes later, I was good to go. I bought a spare to add to my list of parts. I paid the man and tipped the boy before heading out.
Later I reflected on the event. With every stroke of bad luck there is usually some good...sometimes alot of good. If the stem had separated from the carcass at the falls, I would not have been able to get to town. It had held 12 psig of air which seemed to be its equalization point, but was still enough to allow me to ride. If, I had had my spare parts with me I would have tampered with the stem and the valve and I would most likely have provoked the separation and failure. If it had separated on its own at highway speeds the sudden depressurization (it would only take a few seconds) could easily have resulted in loss of control and an accident, especially in the middle of a corner. If it had occurred further away from town with my fully loaded bike 12 psi would not have been enough to carry the weight. I had been 3 times lucky. Suddenly my 'bad luck' seemed more like a stroke of good luck in disguise.
What a difference a border makes. I left Argentina at the Foz and entered Brasil. Immediately the country changed.
The land became more open. Gently rolling hills stretched to the horizon. A lush greenness covered the land. Farming on a massive scale was happening here. Corn, sugar cane, mixed farming, cereal crops, tea. It seemed that just about anything would grow in the rich, red earth. Grain elevators were stacked ten and twelve deep, fifty feet in diameter. Massive tractors ruled the land. The scale was at least equal to what is evident in the mid-west and west of North America, if not greater.
Of course, not everyone is happy in Brasil...or perhaps something is lost in the translation of this Billboard.
The road carved its way through the valleys and over the hills. It was a motorcycle rider's delight. It went on forever. It lasted all day and into the next and the next...would it never end?
Thousands of good paved roads went seemingly everwhere, like spaghetti on a plate. Massive bridges spanned the rivers. Large scale interchanges were stacked where the roads approached cities. The cities, even out here were on a grand scale. Hundreds of high rise buildings, offices and apartments. Nothing was small about Brasil, least of all the size of the country. Larger than continental USA it would take some time to traverse this land and get a feel for what Brasil was all about. That was my mission, not to be confused with the Jesuit Missiones, which we are not going to talk about any more.
Being in Brasil is like travelling in a foreign country. Gone is the familiar language I had grown to understand and use. It had been replaced with Portugese. Initially, I had thought that Spanish and Portugese shared a lot of common words. Now, I think they are all different. Even the numbers which appear the same in the book are spoken diffeently. It is hard to make sense of the numbers as uttered...sometimes I can...sometimes I can´t. They speak fast and with a different inflection than I was accustomed to in Spanish. Everything is a blur.
"How much is a room for one person?"
"OK, let´s move on. Can I see the room?"
"Why didn't you say so before. I´ll try another hotel."
And so it goes. One word at a time.
I was 4 kilometers from the coast as the cuckaburro flies (wrong country but it´ll do). Perched on the Brasilian altiplano at 2235 ft ASL I looked down upon Caraguatatuba and my first view of the Brasilian coastline. Just one of many resort cities and towns that provide the type of relaxation and entertainment Brasil is famous for. I nudged my front wheel over the edge. 24 kilometers later I was at the coast.
I purposely planned my entry to Rio de Janeiro for Sunday. I assumed there would be less traffic than on a normal day. I was not totally prepared for what I experienced.
I entered from the coastal south. The two lane coastal highway fanned into an eight lane divided carriageway. It was simply deserted. There could not have been more than a dozen vehicles occupying the space in both directions. It was like a scene from Mad Max or War of the Worlds. There was little evidence of life.
Occasionally a vehicle blurred by me at twice the normal speed. Other than that I enjoyed the weird sensation of travelling alone in a megatropolis. I moved into the city centre. Still no life, except for a few street peddlars. The city had an untidy look; an unkempt feel. I moved on with trepidation. How could a place this large be empty?
I longed for the small towns I had spent the last week with. I longed for the beaches and the green of the countryside. I longed for some sign of life...
I found my hotel and went through the motions of checking in. I really wondered if I should be doing this. I felt like leaving town before I had arrived. I decided to give it a try. I could always move tomorrow. I had ridden enough for today.
The hotel was a delight. My spirits picked up immediately. The room was wonderful. The staff helpful, resourceful and reassuring. I hit the street. I did a two block loop. Incredible! I saw more remarkable architecture in that small space than I had seen in the past month. Sights abounded...parks, buildings, restaurants and people...yes, there were people here too. Wonderful. My spirits climbed exponentially. This was the right spot. I was staying.
How can you tell you are in Brasil? I know it´s another question and I am probablly pushing you all to the limit, but I pose it anyway. The breakfast decision should be over by now so your mind should be free to wander...but don´t let it go to far. It might get lost.
BRASIL...the land of beaches. Perched mostlly above the Tropic of Capricorn, it is a country where people enjoy being topless. Clothes get in the way down here. And why restrict yourself to topless when you can go bottomless too?
Yes, a heavenly delight. With all surface hair removed the body parts were tanned to an even, light bronzen hue and buffed to a mirror like finish. I gazed contentedly on forbidden fruit. Was that my smile reflected back to me or was I simply imagining things?
I had truly arrived at Heaven´s Gate. The door was open just a crack. St. Peter don´t test me now. I had but a few brief days before life would return to normal with the arrival of my wife. But wait...I was never normal. What would change? Nothing! I returned to reality...
Yes, that was my reflection..."Jesus, God Lucie keep passing the open windows."
There are a lot of Black people here.
"Say what, mahnn. Who youse calln black?"
In all of the other countries there was no evidence of a black society. Of course we already know that in the altiplano regions of Peru and Bolivia the blacks cannot survive. In Chile and northern Argentina I had encountered none. Here in Brasil evidence of the slave trade was everywhere. They formed a large component of society. Further north they would be even more dominant.
There are a lot of Taint people here.
Taint...taint white, taint black...Taint
"What did I tell you."
And...there was a token white guy...or maybe two.
Rio was just too big. It had outgrown the infrastructure and administration that sought to control it...to govern it...to create sense out of chaos.
With close to 9 million people the novelity of being in Rio wore thin in a hurry. The crush of people and traffic overwhelmed the senses and the sense of well being. We were seemingly the only two white people in town. We were overly conspicuous as tourists and foreigners. We were easy marks. It was time to leave and move on to some place more to our liking.
Homeless people abounded. They filled the parks and benches. They slept in the streets and doorways...anywhere they could find a patch of grass or a piece of concrete. The smell of stale urine reeked through the streets. The desperation that was Rio drove us out. The city was crumbling before our eyes. Structures and buildings that were once proud edifices to a time honored past were rotting into ruin. There was not enough time and money to arrest the decay. We left.
We headed west, into the mountains. Our target was not far away, because we had to get out of Rio first. We mapped our course and set out on a Saturday when traffic was less than on a work day.
It looked easy. A left, another left and then a right at the National Museum. The museum wasn´t there. We missed it somehow. We moved on, following the flow into oblivion. I could see the highway physically and on the GPS. I just couldn´t get there from here. Finally I pulled up beside a police cruiser parked on a side road.
I explained that we were looking for the road to Petropolis. He started to explain in Portugese and readily saw there were too many instructions. He turned on his flashing lights and beckoned me to follow. Ignoring STOP signs and RED lights we moved through the traffic. Only a few blocks away was our Exit. He stopped in the middle of the road and I pulled up beside. He wished me well. We shook hands and then we were off. The GPS tracked the road.
A few kilometers away, the road split. We didn´t see the signs...we missed the Exit. Suddenly, we were heading for Sao Paulo. Usually in Brasil there are RETOURNOs after an exit to assist the unfamiliar in recovering from a mistake. There were none. After a few kilometers I took an exit to a side street and crossed back under the freeway looking for an Access Ramp.
The signs were there. My spirits picked up momentarily. They directed me further away from the freeway and into a poor neighbourhood. The area looked rough. It became rougher. Still the signs encouraged me to continue...deeper into the ruins.
We moved on apprehensively. Enquiring eyes peered into our helmets. As long as we kept moving we should be fine. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity another sign appeared and we swung back towards the freeway. Minutes later we were on the ramp and accelerating...looking for the sign directing us to Petropolis.
The road continued north and west to Brasilia. Is was the main road link with the Capital. It was a four lane divided highway...two separate roads...one exiting Rio and one entering Rio, as it squirmed up and down the mountains that formed a barrier with the coast. The traffic flowed, but 65 kmph was a good average speed. The road had more corners than a pretzal. It was delightful.
Petropolis was jammed. It was too close to Rio. We could not escape the crush. They were having a beer festival. Traffic was backed up for miles. We took a room on the edge of town and enjoyed our solitude. To hell with Petropolis. It became unimportant...
We moved on to Saô Juan del Rei. We must have encountered a thousand motorcycles that day. Travelling in groups of two, four, five, ten or even a baker´s dozen, they moved on towards us. It was Sunday. Rio´s bikers had been out terrorizing the countryside all weekend. They were now returning for the work day tomorrow. Harleys, BMWs, Hondas, Ducatis and a solitary Yamaha. They were all there. Hundreds of Harleys, dozens of BMWs and more crotch rockets than you would normally encounter in a lifetime...some with their Pacha Mamas glued onto the pillion...others solo. Motorcycles dominated the road. It was a pleasure to witness...
Saõ Juan del Rei was where we first met Aleijadinho. He was Brasil´s Michaelangelo, living from 1730 until 1814. Christened Antonio Francisco Lisboa, he quickly earned the unflattering nickname Aleijadinho which he carries to this day and which labels his work.
You see, Big Al (as we came to call him) lost the use of his hands and his legs when he was still a young man. However, disabilities could not hold him back. He had a mission in life and he moved forward to complete it. With hammer and chisel strapped to his forearms and someone to move him around, he wrought art out of stone.
Aleijadinho...Little Cripple...as he became affectionately known went on to become Brasil´s most revered and respected artist...a Michaelangelo...a legend.
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