FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19
I eat an excellent grill and stroll back passed the Liverpool Pub. The cops remain in occupation. The kitchen at the Hotel Argentina is welcoming. The coven and the students slope off to watch a couple of rented horror films on TV. Graciela and I sit and chat of this and that. Hotel Argentina is the best budget option in Rio Grande and Graciela gets the travellers. Most are good and easy. Some are weird; some have chemically recalibrated their brains; a few suffer from tangled wires in their heads. A young Frenchman stayed two months. He believed that Graciela was the Virgin Mary reincarnated. He was John the Baptist. He tended to stare at Graciela; this put her off cooking. Imagine attempting a mayonnaise with someone gazing at you, someone with such expectations. Virginal is a tough demand when you have three grown kids and have suffered a recent divorce.
I sit there in the kitchen utterly content while Graciela tells me of her life. She is both extraordinarily youthful and very adult. She has humour and she reads books.
I have been biking five months and have enjoyed no proper (nor improper) female company apart from those few days in Nazcar. I prefer a womanís company. Men donít do it for me. I miss Bernadette. I miss all four boys. I want to cuddle my grandson. And I want to visit with my daughter. Yeah, yeah, yeah...Get to bed, you old fool. It is 1.30 a.m. and you ride to Ushuaia in the morning. Thank you, Graciela.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19
I have gained a day. I had a Friday yesterday. Now I discover that today is Friday. One day in six months is no big deal. I ride out of Rio Grande with regret. The Hotel Argentina has been good for me. Losing the bike documents dumped me into a deep depression. Graciela dug me out. Wind is standard in Patagonia. So is the cold. I ride across sheep country, cross rivers, pass by ponds, see the occasional farmhouse tucked into a clump of trees, wave to a Hereford bull (he ignores me).
The tail end of the Andes squeezes in from the west. Snowcaps march across the horizon. A forest of strange conifers trails moss. A huge lake opens to the right. I enter a World War One battlefield. It is a scene of grim devastation in which shattered trees are tumbled one on another. The few trunks that remain standing are stripped of branches; their peaks are shared and ragged and resemble the rotting teeth of some huge prehistoric animal. What happened?
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19
Honda and I are on the final climb of our journey. Snow closes in. Sun-lit peaks shimmer. I stop for lunch at a restaurant on the right of the road. The owner quizzes me. Where do I go next? Where will I leave my bike? At the Honda agency. I, in turn, ask what happened to the trees. Beavers did the killing. The beavers were imports from Canada.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19
I cross the final mountain pass to Ushuaia. A few specks of snow sting my cheeks. Snow turns to rain as I dip into town. Ahead lies the Beagle channel. I book into the Hostal Cruz del Sur. The owner, Luca, is Italian. He is a friend of Gracielaís. This is his birthday. He is thirty-three. Luca shows me to a bunkroom. Bunkrooms are unsuitable accommodation for an old man. How will I manage the climb to an upper bunk in the middle of the night? I cross the street to a hotel with rooms that have private baths. I look back over my shoulder and see Luca watching me. Argentine friends are preparing the barbecue on the sidewalk. Luca has invited me. I feel a traitor. I circle to a grocery and buy three bottles of red wine.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19
I share the bunkroom (four bunks) with an absent Japanese. I unload the bike and ride out of town to the Honda agency. The owner of the restaurant where I stopped for lunch has called to announce my impending arrival. The manager expects me. The owner of the agency also owns a warehouse and cold store. The bike is to be garaged there. I ride back to town and park on the waterfront. A passing tourist takes my picture.
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