So, let’s start again… The thirteenth of July, at five o’clock in the morning local time, the plane belonging to Aerolineas Argentinas lands at Ezeiza Ministro Pistarini Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There, I have to change planes and take a flight from the capital of Argentina to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. Establishing where the next terminal is, I pass the baggage drop-off point and, after a short while, I am waiting in line for passport control. It surprises me a little that there are only four people queuing. I was one of the last people to leave the plane but it seemed almost impossible that all of them were already checked in. I’ll go back and ask what I should do with the luggage, I thought. Neither in Warsaw or on the plane had anyone said anything about picking up things and checking them in again (as often happens during transfers in the United States), but it didn’t hurt to make sure.
I don’t even get to the information point before, on the luggage carousel filled with suitcases and boxes, I notice a green sack. It’s my bag, I think. I go closer and grab the heavy bundle. Yes, it is my bag. So, I decide to wait for the bicycle box too. There are fewer and fewer people left waiting by now, but the anticipated cardboard box does not appear.
Before long, I am left alone. I go to the information point and ask if there is any other place at the airport where my oversized baggage might be. There is not. So, I go back to the now stationary luggage carousel. I look at the remaining suitcases which perhaps will never be reunited with their owners.
There is no bike box. I’m tired, I feel sleepy and my brain does not work very well. Perhaps that is why I do not feel very nervous. I go to make a complaint. A nice-looking man checks the system. There is nothing. He says that it looks like the bike arrived. But there is no trace of the box. I ask if it would be possible to talk to the baggage handlers who may have taken the box off the plane. The man explains that he cannot give out such information, and that the bike may possibly still be in Rome, and that it will arrive the next day. I ask how he knew that it will arrive, since he does not see it in the system, and who will take the bike from one terminal to another. He says that somebody will do it. I look at him suspiciously. No, on second thoughts, it appears that he is not particularly attentive and nice, he is just as tired as I am and he wants me to go away. He has a polite tone, but his eyes show enormous fatigue and mild irritation.
I’m getting angrier now. I am angry because this is the beginning of a typical Latin American ‘locura’ (craziness). But hey, it’s Argentina. There has to be someone who can help me. I find the second baggage claim point, but another tired man says exactly the same things. I go back to the luggage carousel and stare vacantly at the remaining suitcases. I walk over to the black hole in the wall and part the rubber straps, thinking maybe the box got stuck somewhere in the tunnel? I can see darkness and nothing else. I sit down and pull a crumpled slice of bread out of my pocket. I bite and chew slowly. I have to make a decision. I have four hours until my next flight. Maybe I’ll try to do something more, but what?
Two people emerge from a nearby toilet. They come and ask what I am doing. I tell them about the mishap and, just in case, I ask if there is any other place to collect oversized baggage. They say there is not. We look once more into the tunnel. There is nothing. They also do not know where I can find the handlers who unloaded the plane from Rome. No hay drama, manana. Threre is not any drama, it will fly tomorrow, I think to myself as I walk to the toilet.
As I come out from the toilet, I see smiling faces. At first, I do not quite understand what they are saying. “Your bike is on the ground, it is lying on the ground”. I come closer and look. Yes, the box is on the floor. It must have fallen off the conveyor belt and onto the ground.
No hay drama. How many times I have heard this so far. I have been cycling only for three weeks, and it seems to me that I have been here for at least two months. How different Patagonia seems from my previous trip. Hospitable, warm, safe. Nobody refuses a request for putting up a tent, and quite often I am offered a cosy room for a night, as happened in Comodoro Rivadavia, where I stayed with Diego and Natalia. They invited some of their friends who prepared the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. Or maybe it’s just my impaired taste buds reacted in such a way, after continuous consumption of pasta? Maybe the pizza was not so good at all? And the hospitality is exaggerated too? Maybe it is not so delicious? Only the cold, the wind, and those hundreds of kilometers of empty countryside cause me to react enthusiastically at every manifestation of tenderness, even the slightest smile, the shortest glance?
I go and close my eyes. The wind envelopes me. Suddenly a fox appears. He sits nearby and doesn’t leave. I meet him almost in the same place where fifteen months before I met an armadillo. We talk. Ghosts fly over us, like swallows before the rain, low, no more than one meter above the grass. They almost rub against me. The next day I encounter a big Patgonian sea lion. On an incredibly steep slope, on which he had no right to be. He walked in and moved his head, saying something in his lion’s language, and then he left.
A mí manera, despelucado, en una bici que me lleva a todos lados. On the bike that takes me everywhere.
I left Tierra del Fuego behind. Not a single trace was left behind after the cats I had met at the harbor two years earlier. I cycle along the same paths as I did before. I find my own steps hidden under a thin layer of mud. I look at the same stones and hide myself from the wind in the equally empty sheds. There is a can on the ground, and a twisted timber on which I was eating pasta. A stamped tread of my shoe in the mud. As if I was there yesterday. Or maybe I did not move at all? Maybe I’m still there? I was dozing on a wooden bed, dreaming about returning, and then I was awakened by the wind. I got up, went outside and saw a familiar shape. A strange siluette, like a glow in almost motionless reality, plunged in the twilight.
And then I’m going. I feel their touch. As if I was being carried by them. Those transparent forms. There are so many of them around. I go, listen and look. I feel good here. Meaning? No, I’m not looking for any meanings.
Apparently, there is nothing here. Peace, emptiness, silence. But how much that reality intensifies everything around. In that place where nothing is left, and maybe only darkness remains. And silence. Then, however, something. “Why there is something rather than nothing?”
“The sky got darkened and the sun was still pale-blue just over the mountains. It was windy. I sat on a stone, looked at the sky stroked by the wind. (…) I felt that life intensified in me to extremes. I felt my youth, I experienced it in those few moments (…). I grabbed life, for a moment, but clearly. It was great. At night, the wind ceased.”
Do you remember a story about a magic pebble, thrown into the water on the last day of my last cycling tour? The pebble, which was supposed to flow through the Straits of Magellan around Tierra del Fuego until the end of the world? Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, that pebble no longer floats. Now it lies nicely in the pocket of my down-filled jacket. Where did it come from? From the beach. I took it from a cold, rocky shore, where it lay among thousands of other gray pebbles waiting and longing to be picked up by someone, who could put it in their pocket and warm it up in their hands.
I had a dream. I dreamed about that place. It was cold, cloudy and windy. There was a penguin walking along the beach. It had something in its beak. A small pebble. I ran to him, and perhaps even shouted something. The penguin flapped its wings as if to rise above the ground, but instead moved awkwardly, bent his black and white body and, trudging ridiculously, moved quickly towards the sea. I shouted again. Something small fell to the ground. The penguin jumped into the water and disappeared beneath the rising wave. I walked closer. It was the same place. I looked down. It was the same pebble. I bent down to pick it up and throw it back into the sea, but I could not move it. I knelt down, I tried to push and finally I got up and kicked it, but the pebble did not move an inch.
The wind intensified. I heard bird voices behind me. I looked back. “I saw a transparent tree full of migratory birds, in the blue, cool morning, because there was still some snow in the mountains”
I returned for a pebble. I’m taking it back. Where? To home. To close the tangled thread of the road. Confusing, jagged. Perhaps the end of it was somewhere in the middle and I missed it? And maybe I will have to go back to Alaska? Who said that one always needed to go forward? This time I will try to go back. I do not believe in the linearity of time. A great space lies before us, a paradise often lies behind. And once we get there we will get drunk. On a green meadow, under the blue sky. Where the happiness waits, where a gift is waiting for us.
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” T. Terzani
There is a silence where hath been no sound. There is a silence where no sound may be Thomas Hood
We are asleep. Our Life is a dream. But we wake up sometimes, just enough to know that we are dreaming. Ludwig Wittgenstein
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.