If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. L. Frank Baum
No sooner had I got off the ferry, than two ginger cats came up running to me. Funny, because I almost forgot all those cats I would meet on my way. The last one I saw in Peru. In Bolivia, and especially in Argentina, I was haunted mainly by impoverished dogs. And now, barely did I set my foot on Tierra del Fuego – a big, red-haired cat loomed, alongside with a sleepy, yet even more cute red little kitten. Not to mention three others, albeit not rude, but as charming as the ginger ones.
Being accompanied by that feline escort, I came to a small restaurant that suddenly popped into view. I thought that before I go to have a steak and a cup of coffee, first, I will feed these staring at me animals. I sat down on the stairs, took out my provisions and soon, the cats and I were gobbling some Argentinian canned food.
Looking at empty cans, the intestinal combo suited the cats’ taste very much so. I was about to fetch a second helping from the panniers, and I would probably have spent more time with the cats, if it hadn’t been for the abrupt appearance of the Argentinian tourist, who got off the restaurant and asked why I sat with the animals throwing litter about. I looked around but apart from my bike, three empty cans and the cats (which soon ran away after a kick from the man) – there was no trash on the ground whatsoever. Even the crumbs were inside the plastic bag I held on my laps.
I didn’t feel like talking nonsense, and I would be fighting a losing battle, anyway. Moreover, I wanted to maintain my beachhead that protected me from the wind, and within a radius of several miles I would not find a better place. I pretended I did not speak Spanish. But when I was asked why I ate cat food, I snorted with laughter, which unfortunately betrayed my poor, but still good enough ability to communicate in castellano.
As it turned out, the man was sitting in a cozy, warm room at the window just above me, and the view of a cyclist eating cat food and allegedly throwing litter really pissed him off. Dear Polish patriots! Do not worry that I tarnished good image of our country and that I fueled in that Argentinian tourist the belief that the Poles enjoy having cat food on their holidays. I interrupted and said that I was a German (for whom, actually, I am very often mistakenly taken), then I apologized that I desecrated the view from the window and stood up to collect licked out, empty cans.
While I was collecting my stuff and all, the man kept talking. I do not know if it was my servility that changed his hostile attitude towards me into something smooth and friendly, but I accepted an offer to have a cup of coffee in the company of his friends. Two handsome men I met inside the restaurant did not express any wild enthusiasm once they saw me, but nevertheless, they tried to maintain some interest in my presence, even if they seemed not to be fully convinced about aforementioned nutritional preferences of a German cyclist. To make matters worse, Germany beat the pants off Argentina in the World Cup and one of the man said, that it was unfair, and that Argentina would take revenge one day.
Just not to let the Argentinians “take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, I changed the topic of our conversation and began to talk about my trip. When I answered the question how long I was on the road, Jose interrupted and said that I am a jammy devil and – what really surprised me – I have time but they do not. I nodded, but then I thought: who took your precious time? Who was it, and who possess it now? A boss? A wife? Your job? After all, whatever we do – it is a matter of our priorities, isn’t it?
“What you expect from the future is just a box full of illusions, empty. Who will guarantee that it will fill up? Now work, then retirement and then you’ll go fishing. Who will guarantee that they will still exist? Life is (in) that moment and that moment you should enjoy” T. Terzani
The day before, I met two French people, Michel and Dominique, who had been cycling for almost three years. In Panama I met one Argentinian, who was on the road for nearly four years. Adela Tarkowska from Poland has been cycling with his man for over five years now and it does not seem that their journey is going to end soon.
Along the way, I meet quite a lot of similar people who do what they do, and they do not consider it as something extraordinary. They just live like that. Although who knows, maybe they have another point of view? And everything they say is just rubbish? But it seems to me that what they say, it is precisely what they think. They just chose such way of life, neither worse, nor better, simply their own. They have time. They have it in abundance. On being together, on cycling along, on watching sunrises and sunsets, on mutual conversations, and on doing what they feel like doing each day.
But most of the time they do not do anything. And it does not matter whether it rains, whether they push their bikes against the wind, it is absolutely unimportant. The important thing is that no one tells them what to do, when, where, which, why, that no one possesses their time. That no one tells them how to live, what to do with the following days, with approaching hours, with every moment of their lives.
And that’s all I wanted to say to my new Argentinian friends, who may have felt down even more, cause they lost the World Cup with a country whose inhabitants devour cat food, but it probably would not make any sense. After all, they clearly indicated that I have time, and they do not. And I myself, with my silly rambling, would certainly not restored it to them, and by the way, I would lose my very own time, indeed.
So, rather than engage in a futile, agonizing prattle, I went to Porvenir to snoop on the penguins. I turned west, straight in the mouth of the gusty wind. Three days of a murderous way, and then, the last day, the wind almost stopped, and I felt as if I was invited to be inside of its chamber. Tierra del Fuego is filled with ghosts. And with the presence of those who were there before us. Before me. And before a big, red-haired cat, the last ginger feline lady that came up during my last day on the island. She crawled, brushed against my stretched arms, and then she disappeared. She did not even finish her canned food, or maybe I ate it for her, and I was only dreaming about something, well, but she is in the photo, enjoying the sunshine next to the chair where I was lulled to sleep by her purr. And when I woke up, she was gone.
So then I went to see the penguins. The royal ones. Instead of Ushuaia. Instead of the end of the world. Please do not ask me why I did not go where, perhaps, I should have got. I did not want to end that trip. The trip, which however, has to be completed. Or does it have to really? Yet, I thought, that this journey, that ten-months struggle with my thoughts somehow could be fooled and it would last forever. Without my taking part in it any more, or only with my small engagement. Without cycling. Even without my presence.
So the last morning finally came. It came on time, after the last night in a tent and before the last portion of cereal with raisins for breakfast. At the crack of dawn I walked to the rocky beach. To the shore of the Strait of Magellan. It was cold and quite windy. I was looking for a proper stone. It took a while, but finally I found what I was looking for. Round, gray, almost ordinary, but still unique. Because in that stone I decided to put my journey. I close it in my hands, clench it tight and entrust everything I encounter during that trip to a cold, precious object. And then I throw it away into the water. It falls with a splash.
When the sounds of dreams falling to the bottom of the sea subside, I lean down and listen intently to the lapping of the silvery waves. And finally, all those much long-for words appear. I can almost feel them. They smell of the spring, meadow and hope. One would like to dip into them, to let them touch and cuddle. Whoever has ears, let them hear. So I listen. The waves murmur, the gray pebble amidst the waves gently whispers:
And remember, I’ll be here. I’ll be here in this water, I’ll be here in the air. If you ever want to stay for a while, close your eyes and look for me. It’s possible to talk to each other without any words. It’s possible to be together, through the silence.
We are asleep. Our Life is a dream. But we wake up sometimes, just enough to know that we are dreaming. Ludwig Wittgenstein
At last, I managed to get closer to guanaco. So far I was unsuccessful in my efforts to approach them closer than a hundred yards. When they saw me from the distance, they would scare me with their characteristic throaty calls, and then, realizing that it does not produce any effect – they used to flee, sometimes leaving on the lookout the largest male from the group to defend the herd. Guanacos’ voice is a sort of neigh – it is a high-pitched, bleating call, resembling loud, persistent hiccups with simultaneous, rhythmical barking. If you want to practice, remember, than all those sounds must be done on the inhale.
So, one afternoon I found myself very close to a herd of guanaco, or, I should say, the guanacos were very close to me. I woke up from a short nap, and getting up from the mat I saw the animals – no more than fifty yards from me. I got up slowly and grabbed the camera, being sure that my movements in an instant would send the herd scampering away, but it turned out that I was very much mistaken, indeed. Not only did the animals escape, but they slowly began to approach me. First, a great male, definitely the biggest I’ve seen so far, and then the ladies.
I did not know what kind of intentions those animals had, so I shouted a few times, and then started hiccuping and barking, of course, on the inhale. The herd finally stopped. The large male replied with a bleating call, being accompanied by the ladies. I hiccuped and barked again. I got the answer. And so we chatted for a while, until the herd had leaped out from that strange standstill and ran away in sheer panic. And in place of that disappearance, the silence came back.
The next day the wind was blowing fifty miles per hour. It didn’t stop, and later the weather conditions took a turn for the worse, because it started raining heavily. After such a night, an early morning turns into a pool, a few handfuls of sand, and swollen eyes from the lack of sleep. Despite of that however, or perhaps – because of it, a person willingly stands up and quickly gets down to carrying out all those morning chores. Defecation, changing clothes, stretching, hot breakfast, packing, then stretching again, sometimes taking a few pictures, and finally hitting the road. Cycling with the wind that blows fifty miles per hour – it is just pure poetry. It is poetry in motion, poetry devoid of any words, created without spiritual guides, maps and signposts. Is it poetry without poets, because it is a poem itself.
Hoy salí a caminar, y me puse a cantar, porque tengo que tolerar, todo lo que me hace mal, tatarali tatarala, me puse a cantar, tatarali tatarala
So I cycle and sing and perform my mating dance, because I am glad that, in principle, I got where I wanted to, and despite of that, I still keep going. I am glad that my journey does not want to come to an end. That, perhaps, it will never be finished. Although, I do not know it yet. Nobody knows. Maybe there is something, some sort of energy that knows. Maybe guanacos knew and wanted to say something to me. They tried to pass me some understanding, but I, totally deaf to their words, did not understand anything.
In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still P Yier
I met another armadillo. It came to the crochet fox. The fox was sniffed, nudged, but finally it must have been taken as an inedible creature, since the armadillo reluctantly minced towards nearby bushes. I followed the animal, hoping to see another mating dance, but nothing of the kind happened. The armadillo just glanced at me, then it hid in thorny bushes and did not come in sight any more.
Then I met three ostriches. Two of them were alive, leaned over one dead comrade. They stood almost symmetrically on both sides of the unmoving body. Their bowed necks almost touched each other, forming a black heart-shaped outline that clearly fitted in that brownish background of the scorched landscape.
I stopped pretty close and took out my camera, but then the ostriches raised their little heads and began to flee. Not in such an ordinary sort of way, to which I got accustomed, but there was a kind of madness in their run, desperate frenzy and wild excitement, contrasting with that calm stretch of the Patagonian desert, which remained at a complete, virtual standstill.
One of the birds finally stopped, but the second jumped over a spiky fence and ran away, as if it was performing a demonic dance. It was running like crazy to the west, towards some misty mountain peaks, until it faded somewhere far away, surrounded by the remote rocky hills, undulating on the horizon.
I went to that dead ostrich. I took it from the road, wondering if I should dig a hole and bury it, but then I thought about another birds, and about armadillos, cause the latter do not mind carrion either. So, I left the body. I always felt sorry for ostriches. That they are birds, but cannot fly. Even if they try, they look like a running clumsy trunk without hands. And there was that ostrich on the road, no longer able to fly, nor even run. Nothing.
I was cycling south, enjoying the landscape and the wind, still pushing me forward, enjoying the last, several days, which remained to finish the trip. It did not even matter that the wind changed its direction and started blowing so hard that it took off my cap and although I instantly turned around to catch it, I could not see it. As if it had gone forever. Literally, the wind took my cap away, and I could not find it anywhere. It flew away.
The most interesting thing about that cap was that I found it in very similar circumstances, but on the other side of the world. I saw it on the roadside, picked it up, put it on my head and so it stayed. Or maybe it was the cap that found me? The wind placed it at my foot, blew it in with a blast, or perhaps its breath was enough…
I took a fancy to that cap very much so. It protected me from the sun, it hid my ears, and suddenly, the wind took it away and although I was walking around for a long time (which, after all, did not have any sense, because there was nothing but desert around me) the cap disappeared.
And then it occurred to me that maybe there was a purpose in it. The cap hid itself deliberately. It spent well over fifteen thousand miles on my head and then it thought: I’d like to dwell in that new countryside. In Patagonia. And who knows, maybe a hairy armadillo will find it and will take the cap to its lair. It will pad its burrow with my cap and then they will live together to the end of time. Or maybe another traveler (one of those who cycle north) will find it and take it back to the States? Such a simple cap, and, you see, what the high life it is living! It seems to have more life in itself than many human creatures on earth.
I’m not going any further, I feel cold on my head, I do not want to rummage in my panniers in that biting gusty wind, looking for another cap. Truly, I feel somehow weighed down and dispirited. Although it will certainly be possible to substitute it for another one. And anyway, it wasn’t me who got rid of it – it was the cap itself, who ran off. Or the wind took it. Or maybe its breath was enough…
I put up my stuff, eat dinner, stretch out the sleeping mat in front of the tent, lie down on it, look at the stars, fall asleep. A small ostrich came to me in my dream. I dreamed of a flying ostrich, which was wearing my cap. I ran after it and tried to catch it. Give it back to me! – I yelled, but the bastard was fast and agile, and although I tried hard I could not snap it.
The cap was too big for the ostrich. It covered the whole of its head. Then the other ostriches ran up, all in caps – thousands, millions of ostriches in the same peaked caps, and I was wondering which is the real, which is mine.
I set my sights on one small bird and ran after it and I almost had it, almost grabbed it by the neck. But when I was really close and nearly felt the bird, the ostrich flapped its wings and soared into the air, along with the rest. And millions of ostriches in peaked caps flew into the sky, flying, winged ostriches, soaring creatures from my dreams, Patagonian dreams of endless road – the road full of sunshine and millions of birds, doing their mating dance above my head. Performing their dance to which one day, a lost, soaring bird in a baseball cap will ask me to join.
Loneliness is glaring obviousness. It is a natural way of moving away from illusion. It is awareness of illusion and a natural rejection of any illusion whatsoever. It is like facing a black hole. It is the horror, and liberation from the horror. It is the tunnel to life. Edward Stachura
I decided to rest for a while in Caleta Olivia. I was on my last legs. I woke up in the morning, unable to get up. As if something crushed me to the ground. I lay on my back and felt a sort of strange form on my belly, too heavy to get rid of. I was able to move my arms and legs. The head seemed to be fine, too. I turned around and spat some red-green phlegm, which was accumulated overnight. I looked at the dense liquid. Definitely far too much red. Well, today, I would not go any further, I thought, and as soon as I got over a bit and was able to get up without Moomins’ help, I took my stuff down and went to the hostel. I spent one night there and then I came back to my previous lair to pitch my tent in the vicinity of the gas station.
Tonight I will be off again, I feel a little better. I’m itching for the road. It will be the night of the full moon. There will be another ostriches, guanacos, rabbits, and who knows, maybe under a huge, red cloud I will run into an armadillo. Or it will run into me. As it happened a few days ago, when a strange creature sniffed me when I was dozing off in the evening, after eating an enormous amount of not exactly fresh hot dogs (please, do not worry, I still have dough for chops, but it’s not so easy to buy them in the middle of nowhere).
So, I was dozing off in the cairn of stones – high enough to offer a saving shade and to protect me against strong winds, when something soft smacked my cheek. Not quite awaken, I waved my hand, thinking that it was just an irritating fly, but I touched something far greater and far more substantial than a green abdomen of an entomic comrade. I got up immediately. A big armadillo was running away. Maybe it took me for carrion, or a snake, it’s hard to say. Anyway, as soon as I moved, its desire to deepen our superficial acquaintance apparently passed away, and the creature decided to flee to its burrow.
I took my camera and ran after the fleeing animal. It disappeared out of sight. I was looking for it a long time, maybe fifteen minutes, maybe longer, and finally I found it close to its den. I lay down in front of it and waited. The sun was sinking towards the horizon. I was looking at a playful, vibrant snout. The armadillo came closer, it was almost a few inches away from me. It was glancing, waving its tail, sniffing something in the air. Maybe it wanted to capture my scent, maybe it was that scent, which intrigued the animal, or maybe something completely different, it’s hard to say. After all, armadillos do not need anyone to be happy. They live alone.
So, I was looking at that dancing creature, watching as it rotated. I stared at its strangely transparent claws, its vibrant snout, that mating dance, performed only for one spectator. I could not get over all that magic. The air was heavy with the approaching ghosts, while the armadillo was trotting, sniffing, twitching in a rhythm of silently stamping sounds, inaudible to anyone but itself. I cycled both Americas just to see a dancing, hairy armadillo.
The sun finally hid behind the horizon, and the blue clouds gathering above us turned into red. And it seemed to me that the armadillo also began to change its color and that it was not moving, but just stared at me, as if it had wanted to tell me something which could not be expressed by its dance. If god is who you feel, he’ll slowly disappear into the red cloud.
Finally, It got completely dark, the armadillo disappeared in its burrow, but I could not get up. I could not move and preferably I would crawl into the burrow to touch the creature’s snout, to curl up and go to sleep.
I was lying there until I was cold. Then, I put up my tent under a canopy of twinkling stars. And when I was falling asleep, just a moment before I welcomed new, nightly dreams, it seemed to me, that among the rustlings of the tent, quietly flapping in a soothing wind, I caught the whisper of unintelligible sounds. The sounds, which some hairy armadillos tried to sing in their desperate dance. Silently and in fact – vainly. Because neither the melody of that song nor the meaning of its words is understandable any more. Unless for a dreamy armadillo. Under a canopy of red clouds.