Chapter 5: El Bolson
Tuesday, March 2
A short stroll into town drew me towards a fine-looking guitar shop on Avenida Sarmiento. I tried out several instruments but the Fonseca guitar had a lovely tone and hold. A Hawaiian guy at the hostel picked up a second-hand Fonseca in Buenos Aires for just 180 pesos. They were fairly light instruments and easy to carry around. I decided to pass this time but felt sure of a future rendezvous with the Fonseca.
At the busy feria artesanal (craft market) around Plaza Pagano, there were fortune tellers, musicians and lots of healthy food stalls. Wafts of spicy chicken and smoked trout enriched the breezy atmosphere. A folk trance sound drew me to one stall where I listened to a CD on some headphones. Javier Palma, noticing my interest, promptly burst into a live performance there playing his hang drum, a flying saucer-type bin lid contraption, to eke out an eerie yet entrancing sound. The blue sky and white mountain peaks in the background lent a dreamy atmosphere. I had no hesitation in buying Javier’s RA Hang Drum CD and thanked him for his playing.
Taking the bus back, the road turned into a loose gravel surface and the driver pointed out my stop. There was a free computer to use underneath the stairs at the hostel. An organic farm had replied. The omens seemed good. I wondered about the idea of busking in El Bolson. Previously, in Trevelin, Darryl saw no issues with going out to the Sunday market fair and no doubt picking up a few pesos, but he urged me to take seriously the more conventional routes to paying my way, as he stressed Lois had done with her Welsh teaching.
I enjoyed another fabulous meal in the evening. Those signed up for the homemade feast were treated to trout. We were called to the big corner table. The civilised nature eased and pleased me. It was a good chance to chat, break the ice, share ideas, and make new friends. Jessica from Holland sat next to me at the end of the table. I remembered her from the bus trip on Route 40. She laughed when I teasingly reminded her how she flaunted her Spanish speaking skills with the driver. Jessica was enjoying a two month break before heading back home to complete her medical studies to become a doctor. A pleasantly civilised New Zealand couple joined us and we shared lots of stories.
A festive atmosphere was brewing up in the hostel bar with increasingly loud music pumping out lots of heavy bass. The temptation wouldn’t sway me though. My tiredness soon took over and I opted for an early night
Wednesday, March 3
I introduced myself to roommate Ruben from Cordoba next morning. The cabin was full and rather stuffy with hiker smell. The Trapiche Merlot wine left me with a light head. The hostel offered a nourishing fruit, bread and cereal breakfast but I vowed to eat less butter. I was trying to reduce the fats in my diet. Checking the internet I discovered that Michael Foot, the former British Labour Party leader, had died.
I took another walk into town to buy something, perhaps a pair of shorts. I was going up to Reko, a mountain farm and ecological centre, in the afternoon. I booked a remise taxi from the tourist centre where one of the workers told me someone else was also heading up to Reko so she recommended I wait for her and we’d share the taxi ride and fare of 40 pesos.
Sari, a bright-eyed post-graduate from Holland, arrived a little while later, apologising if I’d waited for long and we journeyed a thousand metres up into the mountains. The taxi took us up along a loose gravel stone route past various ski resorts and we arrived in Reko in 45 minutes.
It looked a stunning place, perched high up in sweet isolation with lush, conifer surroundings and an almost Alpine feel. We were introduced to two of the three brothers running the farm and then joined the whole family and helpers for a vegetarian lunch including a delicious homemade pizza. Sari was there to stay but I was on a reconnaissance mission which slightly amused the hosts. Yes, there was no problem with me returning. I could have stayed there but my belongings remained in El Bolson.
Various characters sat around the table including the carpenter Juan, who spoke decent English and recalled his only visit to Wales and the wonderful town of Hay on Wye. I concurred on its beauty, recalling my Offa’s Dyke trek in 2005 which brought me down the Black Mountains and into the many book shops of Hay.
After lunch I looked around the place once more, admiring the efforts which had already produced a house built entirely out of eucalyptus timber, mud and straw. Further up the hill, two large holes were dug to accommodate water turbines to provide electricity and irrigation for a sustainable centre with enough capacity to hopefully become a community resource centre for this outlying area.
It wouldn’t be easy to find transport back into town on this particular afternoon. I could walk down to the nearest road down the valley to my right and thumb a lift. But one of the wives rang someone she knew who was travelling down into El Bolson so I ventured up to the entrance for a lift with one of the Reko neighbours, Vivien. We picked up another jolly neighbour who enquired if I’d be returning to Reko. I certainly would be. She laughed loudly and warned me they were mad but in a positive way.
I finished Gandhi’s autobiography, a life reaffirming read but lots to digest in an intense account of his remarkable life. The hostel had a book swap shelf but Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia had a big ‘no exchange’ stamp on it. I later enjoyed another splendid hostel meal, this time salmon ravioli. There was much care and attention to detail in the hostel, a brotherly camaraderie about the place and a smoker’s rest. I shared some Sauvignon Blanc with an Israeli guy and his girlfriend but he soon kicked up a fuss saying learning languages was a pretty pointless exercise and that we should all be speaking English. A young American woman immediately took an objection and promised to return for what was likely to be a heated discussion. He seemed rather arrogant, as if everything would fall on deaf ears when speaking to him. The language debate started after I had mentioned how that afternoon I’d mistakenly left my phrasebook at the bus stop and when I returned to see if it were still there it obviously wasn’t. So, the Israeli guy encouragingly said it was time for a jump into the deep end in learning Spanish before his offhand comment about the point of it all.
The hostel was quieter and I enjoyed a nice evening at the bar and a friendly invitation to drink at a busy table. We shared travelling stories and any sticky moments we’d encountered when the Hawaiian guy laughed and recalled feeling rather inhibited after having a massive wet dream whilst in a packed dormitory! I succumbed to the temptation of a cigarette. Michael, an Essex lad, offered me a Marlboro Red, as he was telling me about how the bottom had fallen out of the Baltic States’ economies. He’d been running a bar in Vilnius for four years, and lamented the loss of the good times, and questioned the motive of his city worker friends back home taking the big redundancy package, drinking to excess, and expecting a market pick up in the next year or so. John wasn’t so sure and seemed to be looking for new ideas.
Another party night didn’t happen. The so-called regulars reckoned the previous night was a one off and one had to be there to appreciate it. One of the characters was a young Chinese-American woman, who I remembered from the Puerto Madryn hostel. I recalled her telling me she was dating a mid-Wales lad, a Welsh speaker from Llanfair Caereinion near Newtown. They’d met through university. When I asked how the long-distance relationship was going she nonchalantly replied it was all over, time to move on.
Thursday, March 4
El Pueblito was full. After breakfast, I departed for El Bolson in a remise taxi. The tourist centre’s excellent helpers found me a cheap place to stay for the night. I walked the ten blocks to the Edelweiss Guesthouse just off the main thoroughfare Avenida San Martin.
I later returned to the feria to see Javier and hear his strange drum yet again, and then an elderly Indian woman spotted me and came bundling over speaking in a very demanding tongue, rubbing a large thumb over her fingers and asking for money. She came up rather close and continued shouting and looked deep into my eyes. I felt somewhat distressed and helpless given my lack of Spanish but the lady soon calmed down, shrugged her shoulders and wandered off.
I felt a nagging remorse for taking my first cigarette in 10 days the previous evening. Alcohol, whether a good Cabernet Sauvignon or a pint of ale, weakened my resolve. I needed to be stronger and have faith in not smoking. Dwelling on it did dampen my spirits. For almost three hours I wandered aimlessly in and out of shops looking for a new pair of shorts, a small tent, boots and a new phrasebook. Prices seemed high and choices a lot less. Boots were particularly thin on the ground. There were plenty of Salomon boots, even a dedicated outlet, but they were far too expensive.
I returned to Edelweiss, a rather damp and dreary old house, and slept for two hours in my single bed. The rest transformed me and things began to happen. I started finding what I needed. The only item I’d bought before my rest was a rather wacky, tartan peak cap similar to something Liverpool FC legend Bill Shankly or Russ Abbott’s TV character CU Jimmy might have worn. That evening I found some inexpensive Oxigeno boots, a pair of shorts, a dictionary and some beer but later realised the label read sin (no) alcohol. Now where was that dictionary? Even my mobile started recharging. It was an incredible, if insignificant, turnaround where little things counted in the early stages of travelling. I didn’t bother with a tent, guessing I’d find some floor space inside Reko’s main house. I felt rather wasted and weak before falling to sleep.
Friday, March 5
I’d caught something and it curtailed my enthusiasm and energy. The dampness in Edelweiss didn’t help. I also felt a deep melancholy. An unsure feeling gripped me. Was Reko going to be what I expected? Perhaps hoping for too much was the problem? I arrived at the stunning mountaintop farm to help with lunch. Sari was already settled into the place. She’d taken a tent with her but decided to crash out in the house.
I prepared my first ever bread. Sari was astounded I’d never ever made bread before. In the hustle and bustle of the kitchen I determined to make myself useful, constantly asking Sari what I could do next. She encouraged me to ask the wives and practice my Spanish at the same time. There were lots of things to do all at once. It was quite an exciting environment.
All the WWOOFer volunteers arrived for lunch around the long outdoor table. There were too many for the size of the place. I was the only Brit there but I wasn’t overwhelmed. Following lunch we all rested on some large logs in the warm sunshine before an afternoon work shift. Richard from Colorado had been at Reko the longest and seemed to go with the flow. There were a couple of guitars and we played about for a while picking out some nice notes. There were a few Americans, and quite a few French staying at Reko.
The three brothers and their wives were very accommodating. They had a real development going on and packing in the work before the winter became a priority. In the afternoon I helped dig trenches for the water pipes, putting my back into it as the rest of my body faltered. The heavy work ceased as the sun slid behind the western mountains around 8pm.
Back at the house, one needed considerable consideration in such a cramped space. I bagged a spot on the first floor which was divided by a slim partition. I found a couple of sofa cushions and then returned downstairs to the main room and kitchen to enjoy a vegetable soup dinner and lots of water. Solar power ran the sole shower, supplying only a limited amount of hot water. The cleansing cold water perked me up before an uncomfortable night’s sleep. I had a rare sore throat.
First impressions forced out to the fore the issue of how long to stay in such a place. I became preoccupied rather than seeing how it turned out. The people were very nice but we were a bit squashed together. I felt rather worn out and increasingly ill. With one shower at the back of the house and just a single dry toilet 50 yards up the track in the bushes I felt an inconvenience. There were others not feeling too great including an Italian guy called Andreas sleeping opposite me and a French couple in the corner who were under the strain.
Saturday, March 6
So there I remained. The weekends were free. Work was Monday to Friday. For 25 pesos you had board and lodging for the week. For an extra 25 pesos you could stay on the farm over the weekend. I sat up after a light sleep and decided to stay on the farm while most of the others ventured out trekking and the Burrillo family went to a lakeside retreat.
Reko is in an amazing location and I embraced this whilst trying to put aside my heavy cold. The sun came out and I walked up the footpath to where all the work was happening on the construction site for a new community centre. Loads of carefully stacked dry timber and several roof trestles signified the progress being made. I made my first proper use of the dry toilet and enjoyed the space of the place.
Only three others remained at Reko. Andreas had the flu but was coming through it. Pierre from Paris and an American lad were about. We had rice, chocolate and water for breakfast. I also enjoyed three oranges from the fruit and vegetable store in the barn. By now my cough was hurting and I felt the worst health since arriving in South America. Perhaps the digging made me ache but a headache set in and a mild fever. I experienced spells of restlessness and went for another walk, taking a closer inspection of the roof trestles for the community centre. Along the forked paths I admired the surrounding wildlife, spotting a tiny lizard and many beautiful birds.
As the night descended I sat on the veranda with Pierre, watching the flickering lights of El Bolson way down in the far south east valley. My illness curtailed so much purpose. I’d be a hindrance when the week’s work began again. I needed to chill though. There wasn’t a rigid set of rules. Everybody wanted to make sure everyone felt up to it. If not you weren’t compelled to work. You could just rest. But a need to make the right impression spurred me on. I wanted to go elsewhere and then I didn’t, because if I could shift this virus I could learn lots at Reko, given the space and time. Andreas kindly gave me a strip of penicillin tablets and I slept for most of the night.
Sunday, March 7
I awoke feeling extremely weak, took a penicillin tablet and managed a couple of oranges from the barn. It was quiet. The guys who remained were on the watch over the farm. The dogs were missing though. We weren’t sure whether they were the hounds howling in the distance for much of the night. Then Pierre panicked as he realised the dogs hadn’t been fed.
Reko, a fascinating haven in a mountain forest, furnished a dream of resilience. I wondered what the winters were like. They obviously experienced heavy snowfall for the nearby ski resorts.
The completely vegan diet at Reko drastically cut out most of our dietary needs. Juan the carpenter said it took most visitors a week to acclimatise. But we had no milk. I managed to eat more rice and vegetables for lunch. Andreas recounted his travelling times including a stint as a postman in Iceland where he lost all his savings following the banking collapse. I played some guitar and people straddled back. It was frustrating to feel so unwell in such terrific company and surroundings.
I started reading Paul Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express, gliding through 110 pages of great storytelling. The afternoon rain eased and the eldest brother Gabriel returned. We were all encouraged to speak Spanish but so much went over my head. I listened to phrases. Reko was a great place but I felt ill and restricted in such a confined space accommodating too many people.
Monday, March 8
I had a comfortable corner space to rest in the previous night but a busy house resulted in me returning to my former spot at the epicentre of a quaking room. New people kept arriving, and why not? It was such a beautiful place. But a room the size of 10 metres by 10 metres for 15 people, all sleeping on the floor, felt rather crammed.
Manon from Belgium seemed a sorted girl and picked me up with Spanish words as we worked away, digging and filling trenches beneath the late morning sun, occasionally stopping to tie the dual pipes and checking the depths. I realised it was all too much for me. The seriousness and conformity of the tasks also seeped into Reko’s atmosphere. I really needed to check my health so I was encouraged to take the afternoon off and not worry so much. But acting on impulse, I then decided to pack my bags and hit the road.
As I passed an old Renault 6, parked near the track entrance, I stopped to explain to Gabriel who showed bemusement and concern. My sudden departure caught him unawares. He was working on the new garage roof with a young French lad who nearly fell through the structure when he turned round to see who Gabriel was talking to. I wanted to feel better, and buy a guitar.
Returning all the way down the valley to El Bolson with a backpack and rucksack wouldn’t be easy. Entrade Blanco, four kilometres away, was where a daily bus service could be passing at any time. I thumbed along the way and three youngsters in a Dodge pickup stopped to give me a lift in more ways than one.
The bumpy, rapid ride along the rocky track inspired a new rhythm and thoughts and we thundered down into El Bolson. I held on to the sides in the open top back trailer looking back and reflecting at the churned up dust and dry dirt. My journey was to be about this, a liberation to venture into many situations and only stick around when and where I felt happy. The driver Mathew, a law graduate from Buenos Aires, told me about a hostel he worked in and suggested I stay there. I thought about it and rang through from El Bolson. Mathew then returned from the Quem Quem hostel to the tourist centre and took me back to an idyllic setting over the river on the southwest edges of town.
I noticed a guitar and our conversation steered through music and we watched some music videos on the reception television and I enjoyed some Charly Garcia numbers. I was later introduced to Dicky Ponti Harvey, the owner, who warmly invited me into his house. Dicky spoke English but I had to speak slowly. He eagerly told me about the reverence for the Welsh and their peaceful 19th Century arrival in Patagonia but said many Argentines weren’t aware of the history surrounding the settlers.
I thought about my return home for the first time. Health had put paid to immediate hopes and plans to work on a farm. I had a return flight in April but I wanted to stay in South America for much longer. There was a tantalising feeling wherever I visited and surely I’d find those places, spaces and new faces to become more familiar with. I reflected on the day and how, or if, fate worked. If I hadn’t left Reko at that very moment, that very minute, would I have had my lift and a subsequent place to stay for the night? Suddenly, I had my own room in a family house with a father and his two sons. Travel was often about recommendations but again, choosing the suitable time, place or route, that was my decision.
Tuesday, March 9
I slept alone in the spare room of Dicky’s half-finished refugio. I still felt rather ill but my spirits were lifted. Dicky gave me free computer use and kindly let me play his 1981 Alvarez guitar. A newly married couple from Mendoza arrived in the afternoon and I gladly offered them the spare room. Dicky told me I could take the tent which was bizarrely pitched on the unfinished section of the first floor where I had to mind the flooring gaps and five metre drops! For just £3 a night I gladly agreed.
I took the footbridge over the River Quem Quem up to a laundrette then bought some bread, jam, yoghurt and orange juice from a local store. I later sunbathed by the river, struggling to eat anything due to my sore throat. Stopping at reception I played some guitar. Dicky’s attractive daughter ambled over with a big smile and offered me some freshly picked blackberries. She was gathering the autumn fruits from a nearby bush in the middle of March.
I reckoned if I could hold on in El Bolson and recuperate for a fortnight, I could look at October for going back home. Quem Quem seemed the positive, friendly place to properly readjust to Southern Hemispheric times. Even the family Rottweiler-cross barked his approval whenever I passed reception. He often came over with a friendly nudge to my legs.
Wednesday, March 10
A non-descript kind of day, but momentous in some ways. I encountered a rude woman working in an internet cafe who gave me a gob full for not understanding her sharp instructions. I wondered if she were some sort of fascist! Well, what different types there were, wherever one went. A local guy intervened and reproached her and told me she was completely mad and out of order. He struck up a conversation and told me about his Irish roots. He then introduced me to his father, whose own father came from Galway. An Australian woman started raising her voice on Skype so I decided to leave the cafe for a bit more peace. The young woman from the tourist office passed by on the pavement. She smiled and asked how I was doing. I explained what happened up on the farm and she reassured me I was doing the sensible thing and implored me to take care of myself. There was a general earthiness in the local people, often open and welcoming.
After some shopping I checked my emails back at the refugio and replied to the Daily Post Wales features editor Sarah Batley, regarding her request for a landscape picture for my Patagonia travel article. I progressed with a John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers piece on Dicky’s guitar. I was slowly adopting a vegetarian diet and fried a load of vegetables for dinner.
There was a cold autumnal feel to the late afternoon. I reflected on the sun’s northern aerial arc and got talking to the honeymooning Mendoza couple in the kitchen. What a special time it was for them. Our pleasant chat in slow Spanish invited long thoughts about Mam and Dad for a long while after. Relationships are wonderful. What can be more wholesome than two beings becoming one.
Thursday, March 11
After a night of really bad dreams, including a mysterious family tragedy, I woke up feeling traumatised, almost to the point of crying but I gradually came around. I put it down to the effects of the virus, and possibly the penicillin which I continued taking.
It was a crystal-clear day so I found my spare pair of sunglasses and went for a pleasant rest by the river. On the stony riverside bank, with a cool breeze from the south, I felt a real southern hemisphere reality with much around me to take in. I was really enjoying Paul Theroux’s book. It was charming and portrayed an unassuming sense of curiosity. Some boys came by with a huge fish on a gaffe. The after-school activity by the river increased as more families gathered for a relaxing time.
I felt very tired and weak so decided on an early night in the tent. Despite being awoken by night-time cats fighting I appreciated such cheaper options as a way of extending my trip.
Friday, March 12
I experienced more strange dreams. This time I appeared on ITV’s X-Factor. I hit the stage but the song’s backing track had already begun. I was an unknown quantity not singing the intended I Believe I Can Fly but I Believe I Can Die instead. All very bizarre. Nevertheless, I slept in until 9.45am and the early nights and late mornings were restorative. The cat was prolific according to Dicky, a Professor de Education Fisica. In his precariously half-finished structure, there were many mice getting inside and nesting beneath the discarded belongings surrounding the tent.
Down river on the Quem Quem I spotted fish jumping. The river flows south to Lago Puelo and west down through the border into Chile and out into the Pacific Ocean.
The couple from Mendoza left and I happily returned indoors as the nights were becoming very chilly on Parallel 42 in the Southern Hemisphere. Dicky reminded me that Madrid in Spain had a 42 degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere. I spent the evening indoors as Dicky ventured out with Mathew to see his sons performing in a rock concert. I would have liked to go along but offered to look after the refugio in case of further arrivals. There was further noise late into the night, a prolonged cat fight. I gently and slowly practised the blues on Dicky’s guitar, read a little and eventually fell asleep.
Saturday, March 13
Dicky stayed away for two nights. He was out and about in the reception area, down the track from his main abode. I had time to reflect and make decisions on money and a return flight. I also needed to contact Mam. However, I felt a lot better despite a deep cough and thick phlegm. I walked down to the feria which reaches its crescendo every Saturday. The feria was wonderfully busy but I felt very weak and struggled to walk. The virus had taken a lot out of me.
Pierre, the French acquaintance from Reko appeared and we slowly ambled back to Quem Quem. Pierre had a fortnight left of a long trip. He had the camping gear to pitch up for a cheap night. We took an alternative and shorter route back to Quem Quem, across an old suspension bridge and alongside the river.
I checked my emails. My sister Joanna had some great news. My Patagonia article was featured in the Saturday Daily Post Wales. It was Mothering Sunday the following day and I hoped the article would serve as a special postcard to Mam.
A gusty wind picked up during the evening. One of Dicky’s sons was back in the refugio and playing some good guitar with a subtle but exuberant touch. I had my first shave in 10 days and felt well refreshed. Looking at the next route I felt undecided about spending a few more days in El Bolson. I had another good night’s sleep possibly due to practicing the classical piece Romanza till midnight. My sleeping bag was also very snug.
Sunday, March 14
I was completely out of kilter and coughing up so much phlegm. Throughout the day I felt groggy and weak. After taking a shower I slowly considered an exact date of leaving and pondered over which towns to visit next. Perhaps it would have been better to just rest up and switch off.
However, I logged onto Dicky’s computer. I remembered to post a recommendation for Quem Quem to Lonely Planet. It was something I needed to do after all the kindness shown to me. I then enquired about a flight change with Iberia, received a car insurance cancellation notice via my sister and, with my sentry card, checked my bank balance and found a mysterious £432. 58 credited to my account. Not that I was complaining, but what was it for?
After three hours of continuous computer use I obviously felt a little more tired and boggle eyed but slowly walked into El Bolson.
I rang Mam, who sounded rather croaky and full of cold. It was brightening up back home though after a long, cold winter. My heart gladdened that people were asking after me. I was thinking of so many and emailed my good friend Wyn. In the supermarket I bought some cooked chicken. This would be my first meat in 10 days.
Dicky dined with me in the evening. He soon sensed my discomfort and lack of energy and insisted on taking me to the doctor the next morning.
Later in the evening I went to look for Pierre to catch up for a drink before his departure. I could only find Dicky’s daughter and the barking dogs. Mathew called at the refugio later and we chatted for a while. Night-time approached and I opened the back door of my first floor room to get some air. The door opened to a vertical drop down onto the yard, so I remained sat up there on the edge, legs dangling and staring at the rock face bushes, while intently listening to birdsong.
Monday, March 15
Pierre joined me after breakfast and Dicky drove us into town. After Pierre departed Dicky took me into the hospital, a bustle of busy bodies, hassled staff, baby noises and strange, muffled sounds. The receptionist relayed to me, through Dicky, to return at 8.45am on Tuesday for a 12pm appointment in the busy surgery.
A hardly momentous mood shrouded over me about having to stay longer in El Bolson. I needed to be mentally alert even if my physical state was dragging. My cough and phlegm wouldn’t shift though. It needed to, before I could budge any further along in my travels.
I later sunbathed on the soothing riverbank, occasionally skimming little stones in a contemplative gesture to the rapidly encroaching surroundings. Paul Theroux’s writings were lifting me though. I particularly liked his sentiment during his long rail adventure from Boston to Esquel – “I could handle strangers but friends require attention and made me feel conspicuous. It was easier to travel in solitary anonymity, twirling my moustache, puffing my pipe, skipping out of town at dawn; and South America was a problem in geography that could only be understood if one kept moving. To stay put was to be baffled.” It certainly struck a chord! I set my sights on a Thursday departure from El Bolson.
After taking a hot shower I walked over to reception for a chat with Mathew. He seemed in a rather cheerful mood. A gorgeous looking girl had arrived and pitched up in what was otherwise a deserted campsite. An out of season atmosphere dipped quite considerably in Quem Quem where people meditated in a quiet or silent solitude. The people were doing their own things. The warm atmosphere within the family itself was quite touching. Dicky and his sons had a very affectionate relationship and he happily encouraged them to follow their dreams. He never once spoke about their mother. There was a tender melancholy about him.
Tuesday, March 16
I walked down to the hospital in the 8am cold. In the large, busy waiting-room I sat until 10am when Dr Vicente Paparella popped his head out of the nearest side door and ushered me in. He quickly examined me and recommended an X-ray. After a short interval Dr Paparella confirmed bronchitis and showed me the vivid, shaded areas on the print. I was prescribed Budesonde and Amoxcilina tablets, to be collected from a nearby pharmacy at a cost of about 140 pesos. I was booked in for a check-up appointment on Thursday.
Health matters, as Dr Paparella pleadingly reminded me when I asked whether I could be fit enough to resume my travels. His expression corresponded that to ask such a question meant that I understood the priority of my health. But I really wanted to move on.
Back at Quem Quem I felt a brooding frustration. I liked being on the move. It liberated me. I didn’t even have access to a guitar anymore. Was I outstaying my welcome? Feeling subdued, I went to a secluded spot by the river where I watched a man fishing. Using cork floats and spinners, he soon took a bite but the fish got away. The temperatures struggled in the hazy, Autumn sun. I later finished reading Paul Theroux’s book and handed it to Dicky’s son Martin for Quem Quem’s exchange library.
There was the sound and smell of new build going on nearby where fresh timber was being cut. El Bolson was a town with lots of wooden structures. Later in the afternoon I checked the internet for Bariloche hostels and sought Dicky’s permission to phone Iberia’s Buenos Aires office. The call lasted almost 30 minutes and Dicky was a little bit concerned about the cost, but I promised to cover it. I acknowledged how he and his family had been so kind to me and I really appreciated it.
Important matters were now being taken care of, like my health and a flight date change to October 2nd which would cost me another 100 euros. Experiencing itchy feet I checked my luggage, clearing out unnecessary waste and found a couple of sugar pouches I’d collected in the Retiro Terminal de Omnibus back in Buenos Aires. A sweet end to a rather sombre day!
Wednesday, March 17
I had bold but unrealistic intentions to walk the 10 kilometres up to the waterfalls at Cascada Escondida. After following the river, the route became obscure and, with my health concerns, I sensibly returned down to El Bolson. I needed good rest until Friday morning. I slept well the night just gone and even dreamt of being on a cruise ship embarking from Liverpool. I may have seemed less edgy. The tablets were working and I was feeling stronger. Walking through the town I passed the Edelweiss Hostel, rueing the night there when these virus symptoms first flared up. It could have been a lot worse though if I hadn’t gone to the hospital. My prolonged stay had at least set my bearings and I sensed the northern direction of my next journey.
El Bolson could appear a bit rough and ready. There were lots of stray dogs running riot and there was a generous scattering of litter on the roadsides. On a cloudy but pleasantly warm, still day I admired the street life, the pronounced styles of Patagonia, men in their beret hats and the women dressed in colourful hippy gear. In El Bolson I soon noticed the ubiquitous English language slogan t-shirts. My pick of this day had to be I Love Nice People Who Make Cool Things on a bag belonging to a very pretty-looking young woman.
I sat on a park bench to rest awhile. An answer message popped up on my mobile phone and it took an age to top up so I could retrieve the call. The National Union of Journalists called, obviously unaware of me being in South America. It cost almost £3 to listen to the message about my subscription. I would text and email them with an update and request no more calls for the time being.
In the evening I checked the Bariloche pages in my Lonely Planet, studied my Buenos Aires Spanish lesson notes and finished off my vegetable rations. I considered splashing out on an almuerzo (set lunch) in a restaurant on Thursday.
Thursday, March 18
Rain showers dampened down the dusty streets of El Bolson as I returned to the hospital. There were even more babies crying. The very essence of life resides in hospitals. I registered my appointment and waited an hour till 10am, unnecessarily worrying about whether I’d be forgotten about in the very busy waiting area. Dr Paparella appeared again and signalled for me to wait a few moments. Minutes later he called me in. The check-up became an impromptu language lesson when I light-heartedly digressed about the correct grammatical translation of ‘Do you have?’! After an extremely amicable discussion, during which Dr Paparella frequently burst out laughing, he then announced his every confidence in me continuing to make a good recovery so long as I completed the course of medication. He shook my hand tightly, smiled and wished me the best.
At long last, I was ready to travel on. The previously terse internet cafe woman was a lot more pleasant when I called in later. The rain had dampened the feria spirit but still it sparkled as the little craft delights gleamed on the stalls. I took a midday stop at Las Brasas Restaurant to enjoy a 56 pesos almuerzo of trucha (trout) and wine and I felt a lot better (muchos mejor).
El Bolson’s other distinction was its road vehicles. Many old models from my childhood featured, including the old 1970s Peugeot and Citroen models. Fumes clogged the air over the valley. After a long siesta I sat at the back of the refugio and reflected on the high 50 metres rock face so close to the river. The surrounding lack of sunlight left a rather damp atmosphere over the place.