“Even the stupid tent resembles vaguely your own home. Anyway, all my possessions seem to me as if they were alive. You could call it a taste of equipment.” A. Bobkowski
I move slowly, groping, immersed in all of that as if in dense fog, still being invited, invariably endowed. Without a deeper purpose I indulge in all of those everyday, warm, friendly occurences, looking at them with sincere amazement. I still meet up incredibly caring and hospitable people. There are so many of them, that it begins to be embarrassing. The man on the road who gave me a big loaf of bread and refused to get paid, a professor Luisi in Taco Ralo, who invited me to dinner, and then took to thermal springs, Marco, whose incredible hospitality I experienced for the second time…
How difficult is not to have a probably distorted vision of the world, which is exaggerated and perhaps deceitful; the vision not often shared with others, that the world is good. That people are good. And that I contribute to that vision. That I create the world day by day, in every moment of my life. Opening myself for other people, for their cultures, having time to talk with them, showing a desire to understand them. Even if I only conjure up something that is not there, I’m not going to change it. I feel good here. I feel good on that road. The wheels are spinning, the stars are flickering in the sky. The head is full of colors. Warm, bright, cheerful. I put my hand into the pocket. A pebble whispers gently. The sun warms, the wind blows, the leaves rustle, the birds talk. And I will stick to it.
“How many hours a day do commuters lose to go to work and return home? Subway rumbles under the ground, where people crowd around and push and jostle, spending long hours breathing the stench and stuffy air. The same happens at the stations and on suburban trains. Then, people return to their homes, where with the exception of furniture or a few small personal things, nothing is theirs. They get up in the morning and rush to work, for which they rarely display any affection, and in which they do not leave any part of themselves. And a gray veil of anonymity spreads above all of that” A. Bobkowski
Gabriel came up to me at the gas station. He got out of his car and asked if I would like to visit him and, if occasion serves, to meet up a few other cyclists. The man looked very friendly. He was a sort of a guy who in an instant commands respect and wins confidence. Nevertheless, I resigned from an enticing prospect of a comfortable bed and good food. It was late, dark, I felt very tired and I was not in a mood for cycling even a mile more. Gabriel suggested, therefore, that we try to cram the bike in his car, but the trunk was too small, and the car far too clean. We agreed that I would come the next day for lunch.
So I came and spent two days in General Pico. I met several people for whom I seemed to be a strange creature, a sort of cheerful puppet creating his own worlds. Maybe I should not deny but confirm that indeed – I am such a puppet, who often pretends to be a man, and only sometimes tries to live like other people. And when a hairdresser (who rides a bicycle with his family, dragging a trailer with tools and making haircuts in exchange for accommodation and food) asked me to lend him some of my time – I stopped pretending to be a man and sang a melody for those who can not sleep. I pulled stories out of the hat and recited cycling fairy tales.
And how can you not believe in fairy tales? How can you not believe in that you may create your own worlds, when everything around seems to be so warm, close and delicate? Even the horns of passing trucks do not bother me anymore. Let the drivers honk, they are totally right. Who cares that the roadsigns say – “mind the cyclists”. The roads are narrow and there is very little space on them. I can easily pull out into a ditch instead of expecting the drivers to change several gears or to use brakes.
I celebrate old places, I sleep near the trees, and every morning I meet impoverished dogs. The dogs with incredibly sad, manlike eyes. They lay next to me and wait. I eat breakfast with them, and then they leave. Sometimes they run next to me for some time until they stop and disappear. I go further as if I had never met them. But they were. Just for a moment, but they were.
I look at everything, still wondering how long it will last. I spend this night in Cordoba with Natalia and her sister. How different is that Argentina, how different it seems to me from the country I had been experiencing several months ago. And how can you not believe that we create what we see and that the world around is just our creation. We do not see things as they are, but we see things as we are.
How little in life you need to be happy. A few friendly words, a hot cup of coffee in the morning, light breeze, the stars overhead – everything you need could be expressed in just one sentence, in one hand, or in one wrinkled pocket. We should appreciate little things. Then big things come more often. So simple advice, yet so difficult to follow.
Writing about Twardoch’s pastels, Maja Wołosiewicz mentions that the painter “is trying to save from oblivion not only material objects living their own quiet life, not just fairy tales, children’s worlds, unrealized dreams, but also what is best in our hearts – love, gentleness and mindfulness to other people.”
Perhaps during any journey it is easier to put it into practice. It is easier to find a way out on the periphery of life to which we are accustomed, to get rid of those crucial forces that shape our lives. There are so many things to be seen on the road – things given for us to watch, taste, experience, but without the necessity of remaining. If I do not like it, I just leave it and go away. People are not like trees. They can settle down wherever they want. Take their home with them.
Someone recently asked me a question: “Isn’t that the essence of being on the road is more determined by where we are not rather than where we are?” And again: “Perhaps a journey does not exist and traveling is just taking your own home for a short walk”.
Sandor Marai once wrote that a person needs nine months to come into the world, and sometimes ninety to understand something from life. But what to do if you are just a puppet? Maybe one day a time seller will come and say or a organ-grinder will play a song – the song for those who can not fall asleep. Good night.
What do they feel? What are they thinking about? All those animals which come up so close … Guanacos, armadillos, foxes, ostriches, cats, whales, dogs. Especially dogs. Two years ago when I was cycling in Argentina, almost each day I was being accompanied by dogs. Nothing has changed. There are lots of stray dogs in here. And that deep, unutterable sadness expressed in their eyes. That longing. And wild joy when you look at them. When you whistle. When you come closer. First, they get up and want to run away. But as soon as they realize that nobody throws stones, they stop amazed, confused and start to stare. In the end they wag their tails and approach slowly, with caution. Then, they gently lick your hand. In turn, you touch their neck. And that’s it. Now, they will not go away. They lay down and you get their penetrating, yet grateful look. And you feel as if they always stared at you in that way and that they always were with you. And they will remain. They will always be close to you.
I get up and take my stuff – I can not linger here the whole day. Que fiaca! I try to shake off sloth and get a move on. I put my sneakers on. I found them the day before. Typically, there is only one shoe on the road. While cycling, one may find plenty of them. Large, small, for summer or winter, but usually there is just one. For the first time in my life I have found two. They have holes in the soles, but it doesn’t matter. Even their size is good. I saw them on that very day when I thought that I do not have a second pair, and it’s getting warmer. As if someone put them in front of me. Or as if I made them up. Similarly as I did with Mrs. Cecilia, her husband, their eleven cats and fish and chips for dinner.
The previous day while eating old sausages I was dreaming about having some fish. A few hours later I bumped into Mrs Cecilia in a shop, and after accepting an offer to visit her in Las Grutas, I was asked to choose the menu. Fish and chips and pancakes for dessert, I said. Not only did I get what I wanted, but in the morning I also got huge packed lunch – enough for me and the dogs.
I push the bike through the sand, the animals follow me. Then they start running when I start cycling, and in the end I lose them somewhere on the road. And I do not know if they still rush through the pampa, or on the streets, or along a ditch, or maybe they come back or just stay where they had stopped, because they no longer had the strength to move on.
I put up my tent in the same place I had done two years ago. And then the evening comes, and one can hear whispers in the air. “There is silence, every sound is clear, not distorted in any way. The fog hangs over the meadow, grass shines, huge mountains pill up around. Everything penetrates simply to the soul and delights it calmly, directly. It seems to me that an older, wise and beautiful woman speaks and tells something with her low-pitched and calm voice, and each word is full, sensed and lived to the end. (…) I turn myself into an instrument and let somebody to play on me.” Andrzej Bobkowski
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.”