I’ve now been in Argentina a month and a half, and it amazes me how time flies. It also amazes me how behind I get on connecting without consistent internet connection! Here’s a bit of a catch up.
Although I left Asuncion, Paraguay on the 27th of January, I didn’t really feel like this trip began until I left the country I’d lived in for three years and crossed into Argentina, in mid February. I’d been biking well and felt strong in Paraguay!- albeit completely humbled trying to exist in temperatures passing 110 F.
Then, I cross a river and enter into Argentina. That moment, that day- all of a sudden- my bike got really heavy. I started biking reaaaaallly slow. At the end of the day, my bike buddy at the moment, Kim, said that he’d been surprised because he thought I’d be faster.
The next day was a completely different story- phew! I was strong and fast again. I talked to Kim about it after, as he is a well versed , four-years-and counting cycling tourist, and he said it’s just like that sometimes. It’s the weight of leaving the friends you just made, going into a new country with its new social norms, currency, and new new everything that is heavy.
Biking is such a mental exercise. I had been warned by some, the hardest part of cycle traveling is not the weight or the hill, but working with your mind to accomplish it. I will eventually write a blog on this, so keep your eyes peeled.
Crossing over from Paraguay, we followed the Rio Parana and the southern border of Paraguay/the northern border of Argentina. It was very scarcely populated, mostly small little towns set up to support their pine stands, which was the primary job.
We met some really sweet people, like this woman on the bike. It was such a beautiful old bike! As I was taking her picture, she told me her story. With her husband standing next to her, she said she wouldn’t trade her bike for gold. Her and her husband purchased it before they got married and it was on this that he took her home on their wedding day,. Every day after, she would sit on the handle bars and he would peddle, taking them both to a near-by town where they both worked, about 5km away. Ahh!
Things got much more interesting after entering into the Chaco. Crossing the Rio Parana, we left what is often considered the rich land of Corrientes and into the barren sparsely populated land of the Chaco. After what we’d just seen, I was worried about finding water in a land with even less houses.
Kim and I arrived into Resistencia just in time to see the end of the Carnival for the kids. They were all dressed up and practicing for the day that they can join their older counterparts in the actual Carnival of the town and have seen this in several towns now. I’ve heard people, mostly my American friends, say they are not happy with young women dressing up with makeup and showing their bellies. I have to say that I disagree. It would be so much fun! You practice and prepare for MONTHS with all of your friends, at the end receiving your share of attention and lights.
To put it another way, there is a sense of it being a coming of age moment, waiting for your time to come when you can leave the kids version and join the beautiful women in their glorious feathered outfits. Why not? In Villa Angela, the teachers dance along side their students. In Quimili, my friend said she danced to have fun with friends, but also to follow in the footsteps of her mother. Even her brother also participated- maybe dressed a bit differently but still…. I do like me some Carnival…
In one little town in the middle of nowhere Chaco, we had a hard time finding somewhere to stay. The local adults seemed to be totally shocked by us for the most part, foreigners! No one stops. It was the kids that were fascinated and fearless that helped us find a place to stay, in the God-father’s garage. Look at the grapes falling from the inside of this structure, I want this.
It had the feel of a ghost town, which is why I was doubly fascinated by a mural art-poetry project that covered the town’s empty walls. This one caught my eye. “Give me wings to fly and motivation to stay.”
I liked the below mural, it very concisely showed all that is Villa Angela, a town in the middle of the Chaco. Built by the wealth of cotton, this little town had money. Do you notice the faces? Eastern Europeans. The Chaco was not populated by Italians or Spaniards, but much later by Ukranians and Polish peoples, as well as a good sprinkling of French and Germans. As I’ve seen in several places, many small and mid-scale producers have followed a similar path, even in the Chaco. The immigrant farmers cut down all of the trees on their newly acquired property, planted cotton until the soil was depleated and didn’t produce as much, and now many have turned to growing a few grains and raising cattle. Large scale farmers bought their land and are continuing to grow the crops but with the use of major investment in technology and chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
But not this man! Ricardo is a man with a vision, and he wants to offer another option for people. I was surprised at how many people think of the Chaco as a place without a purpose or function. For Ricardo, he sees a fertile soil and rich potential to diversify. So much so that he has started an Aloe Vera cooperative. He grows the aloe vera in the rich cover of his woods, making it a great Agro-forestry project, and is harvesting it to make a marmalade and a syrup for various ailments.
He took us to visit his property that also had gone through the long process, purchased by immigrants, cleared, then to cotton, then to cattle. Then the land fell into his hands, and he decided to let it go back to woods. In a land as dry and considered veyr barren, I was so impressed to see the growth of the forest after only 20 years. The diversity is rich! It is with his sense of thinking out of the box that impressed me the most, to have a vision and continue forward in a new direction with his community in mind.
This tree, the Inti, is officially out to get you….