Alchemist of the Arcane Sea

“It's been months since I last wrote. I've lived in a state of mental slumber, leading the life of someone else. I've felt, very often, a vicarious happiness. I haven't existed. I've been someone else. I've lived without thinking.” - Fernando Pessoa

These mountains, vast Kingdoms of an ancient sadness, whose rivers, tumescent with tears and forgotten dreams upon which float the epitaph of expectation, from the cradle of purloined affections to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean where they become lost amongst all the other forgotten dreams of the Earth.
Dreams without measure, gauge-less, existing without indulging in the element of being. A melancholic primordial wisdom. Lost whispers tumultuously thrust against one another, dream against dream, hope against hope and we the dreamers permitted briefly to dream the same dream together in the depths of the arcane sea of humanity. Equally endurable yet unknowable the dreams of one another.
So essential to life as air or water that we spend almost half our entire lives drenched in sleep that so we may dream.
We could not abide living without it. The very verse and breath of life. Poetry does not exist because of man, man exists because of nocturnal poetry. The subliminal quatrains where all is lost & everything found. Without dreams we would witness the withering of the soul. The fruit of our happiness rotting upon the vines of life.

On the friday after the solstice I rode the 140 kilometres to the town of Bariloche to visit the migraciones office and pay my ‘Habilitación de salida’ of 300 pesos, my penance for the violation of overstaying my tourist visa by 5 months.
To my surprise it was a fast and painless process. There was no scolding or awkward questions as to why I had overstayed or how I supported myself through my transgression.
Pleased with myself I boarded the Bus south and home to Lago Puelo but disembarked at El Bolson to visit the open air market and indulge in the only pleasure afforded a now penniless vagabond, that of watching the other dreamers.
No one took any notice as I moved through the sea of timeless exotic faces.
I passed beyond the stalls like a ghost, invisible, scentless and sat in the shade of a nearby tree to smoke a pipe of rich Uruguayan tobacco and watch the world pass me by.
But as I filled the tankard I felt a pair of eyes observing me in my ceremony.
I looked up to see one of the dreamers watching me from her table of homemade crafts. Her lips betraying her discretion by offering an insuppressible smile and embarrassed she looked away for a moment, then continues to watch me even as she converses with her customers.
As I regard her through silver coils of anodised smoke my mind wanders.
I see her there in a few years time, with our two eldest children sitting barefoot at her feet playing word games, our third resting drowsily on her hip as she sings her to sleep with a lullaby in an archaic tongue, her marvellous brown belly swollen with our fourth.
The dream last as long as the tobacco and reluctantly I leave. The saddening joy too much to bear.
Returning to Puelo I change into my work clothes to continue my labours under the faint evening sun.
To turn a sod of earth here in the valley as I’ve done countless times, opens a rich black womb, pregnant with the anticipation of life that springs forth effortlessly and demands that you consider the possible existence of God.
As the sun goes down I begin to think of my imminent departure, across the mountains to a people whose claims of nationhood lie on a narrow strip of the continent  between the Andes and the Sea.
After 245 nights of Solitude I will be on the road once more, leaving the valley, the aoristic adytum that is Lago Puelo. The lugubrious gears of time slowly groan into motion as I prepare myself to bid a sombre farewell.
As I pack my bag I am comforted by the thought that though the past resides in our memories, the future will persist in our dreams.

Archangels & Thieves

We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us.
                                                                                                                                                                                                 Khalil Gibran

Hunger. It can drive you to do things you would be otherwise incapable of. Have you ever been truely hungry?
I have gone certain periods without nourishment, of an edible sort. Sometimes forgetting to eat, distracted by some thought or another. Sustaining myself by other means.
  Sometimes by forgetting that I was, in fact hungry altogether, hunger becoming a benign sensation on waking and carrying it like a calloused wound until sunset, that only sleep can remedy.
  But hunger itself can be a distraction, no more so than when you can do nothing whatsoever about it. Then it can become an obsession.

Winter was beginning to take hold in the valley, the occasional morning rains were becoming light snowfalls. One morning, not long after I arrived back in Puelo, Gustavo called me earlier than usual. “Kevin, lets go”, “Que pasa?” “We need to move the horses out of the valley today” “Why?” He handed me a cup of coffee. “We’ll talk on the way”
There had been a horse theft in the valley.
We followed the course of the river, down the back roads of Puelo, towards a neighbours farm, which boardered the Azul itself. On the way Gustavo told me that in late may before the onset of the winter snowfalls horses disappeared in Puelo. This happened every year.
We arrived at Enrique’s place as the sun was rising above the mountains. Enrique, a friend of Gustavo’s whose horse it was had been taken. 
The gate was already open, unusually for a homestead in Puelo, but it soon became apparent why.
The damage had already been done. That old saying of closing the gate after the horse had bolted became applicable except in this case the horse was still here, so to speak.
Enrique lead us to a grove at the back of the wood store, there it lay, a pale bronze coloured stallion, lying in a stagnant pool of its own congealed blood. Its hind quarteres cut away, butchered! its black eyes open, starring into oblivion, still filled with the horror they had witnessed.
 Its foaming mouth agape, distorted like I’ve never seen a horses mouth before. A trickle of blood running from beneath it’s outstretched tongue like an efigy of Geurnica.
 Nostrils flared, teeth still gnashing, sweat, reeking of terror from his damp mane.
Frozen in time at the moment of death, like a photograph.
The rest of Enrique’s horses would come no where near him, witnesses to the massacre, afraid to come forward.
Gustavo called Iván to arrange  to move the horses to the neighbouring valley.
Six we would take by truck, including the half tame mare and foal of Gustavo’s, which couldn’t be led. the rest we led on horseback through the pass.
 Along the way Iván explained to me that every year, with the onset of winter the Mapuche would slaughter horses, abandoned in Patagonia by the Spanish settlers, who retreated back to Buenos Aires when it got too cold.
A tradition which continued to be upheld for its own sake rather than hunger.
 There was a delinquent nature to the act these days. Youths, instead of taking horses, would butcher them in situ, and take a cut of meat, more as a trophy than anything else. Always just before winter, so as not to leave tracks in the snow.

We returned to Puelo. Every night thereafter I noticed  a police patrol pass by crux in an effort to thwart the horse thieves.
The whole affair had made me think about hunger. About the nature of it.  I sympathised with the horse thieves in a way. I’ve seen how they lived on the opposite bank of the river. No toilets or running water, central heating or electricity. They live as they have done for hundreds of years. Taking a horse as natural as us going to the supermarket.
Who could begrudge them.
You cannot reason with hunger, only Ignore it if you have the strength or obey it.
On the road you don’t have much of a choice, if fate throws you a bone, take it.
While hitching down from Santiago, 3 of the 6 guys who had given me a lift had furnished me with sandwiches and the like. One even bought me a bottle of ‘Dulce de Leche’ liquor. “por el camino” el me dicho. For the cold nights.
I awoke in Neuqúen to find the town deserted on holy day. Walking to the south side of town someone called out to me.
“Hey, are you hungry?”
A strangely well dressed homeless vagabond and his dog stood in a side street.
I hadn’t eaten in about 2 days so hunger stirred my curiosity.
“Wait here” he told me. A minute later a door opened and a man dressed in full chefs regalia came out from a restaurant side door carrying a tray of roasted meat. Too overcooked to be served to guests. But we could have it.
My eyes lit up, the dogs tale wagged energetically. My “host” took the tray and thanked the chef.
“Whats your name?” I asked him. “Ángel” he told me. “Ángel Gabriel”
 Hunger can play tricks on your mind. Making it not as sharp as it usually is. Kind of a dreamlike state, like your witnessing everything, your movements, your words without any control. A bit like being intoxicated. Or the vague memory of a movie you cant quite remember the title of.
What a beautiful name I thought. Ángel..... Ángel Gabriel.......
Then it dawned on me, as I had a mouth filled with succulent barbequed ribs, he was telling me he was the Archangel Gabriel.......
Two whole days with only water, and now I’m feasting with the angels. We chatted as we ate, he offered me some concoction from a dirty bottle, which I refused as he grinned like an Andean holy man who’d indulged in too much of his own payote.
Though hunger can be sated, thirst cannot be somehow truely slaked. When a stomach is filled you instantly know, a dullness draws across its sharp pangs, you could be lulled to sleep by its comfort. But thirst knows no limits. The skin, the eyes, the tongue know nothing of hunger after a good feed. But a thirsty man can drink enough water to kill himself.
You could drink four gallons and your lips would thirst for more, your nerves would cause your hands to tremble, your parched skin aches from the touch of a light breeze it is so dry, your head hurts like a climber suffering from altitude sickness. This is dangerous territory.
All in all it makes you appreciate food more than most.
The tastiest morsel of food I’ve ever tasted was an abandoned burger I’d swiped from a fancy rive gauche cafe in Paris a few years ago. It was the first time I’d ever procured food in this way. The sensation of the act was so strange. I waded through the crowded terrace to the vacant table and simply wrapped the food in a napkin as well dressed diners looked on in astonishment. It took me 20 minutes to work up the nerve to do it. Afterwards I felt exhilarated and humbled as I ate it by the fountain outside Shakespeare and co bookshop in the shadow of Notre Dame cathedral.
I never felt that way again until I saw Enrique’s horse lying there, motionless. The scene was both exhilarating and humbling. Life snuffed out to support life in one audacious act. A staged play. A tragedy and a comedy all rolled into one. Life resembling art, serving portions of mortality for breakfast.


The Child of the Moon -

"Solitude has soft, silky hands, but with strong fingers it grasps the
heart and makes it ache with sorrow. Solitude is the ally of sorrow as
well as a companion of spiritual exaltation."

                                                                                                                   Kahlil Gibran

Her name was Luz, but those closest to her called her Luna, so named by her grandfather who said she was the child of the moon. As an infant she had never cried, and from the time she could walk she would unlatch the door at night and wander outside by herself under the stars.
Her grandfather, Daijiro, a Japanese, who had been a fisherman before the war had emerged from the thick jungles of Palaui island, in the Phillipines in 1948, two and a half years after the war had ended. Returning to his homeland to find it devastated, he was treated as something of an odd curiosity and a folk hero. One of the last to surrender. Hounded by media as well as various Japanese and foreign agencies he fled, to Chile. 

Nobody knows what he was doing in the jungle all alone. His uniform in tatters, but his rifle oiled and in proper working order, his bayonet without a trace of rust, his Guntō cerimonial Katana as razor sharp as the day it was forged by the bladesmith in Toyokawa.
The general rumour was that he was guarding a cave filled with gold that the Japanese had looted from mosques and buddhist temples throughout South east Asia. He had been left there, then in the culminating throes of the war as the United States unleashed the catastrophic power of the atom he had simply been forgotten about.

 Unable to live peacefully and after an assault and interrogation about the gold as the sole guardian of the knowledge of the caves whereabouts he chose to vanish. He took a ship to San Francisco, working for his passage on a trawler he arrived in Concepcion. Then taking the summer of 1953 to walk the 600 kilometres to Puerto Montt.

In Chile he found a new life, in the southern fishing port which reminded him so much of his home before the war. He settled down and found a wife, Vanessa. The beautiful only child of a local fisherman and musician. A few years later they had a daughter, Isidora, Luna’s mother. Then at the end of the winter of 73’ in the midst of the junta, Vanessa’s father had been ‘disappeared’. Fearing for his Family Daijiro fled again, on foot across the Andes with his wife and young daughter.
That preceding winter had been a particularly harsh one, a thick blanked of snow lay in valley that would normally by now have melted and flowed into the manso and out into the Pacific. They made their way up the valleys from Cochamo towards Argentina. Daijiro did his best to keep them going, but sometime in the early hours of the 5th night, Vanessa succumbed to the cold and died. Daijiro carried her lifeless body two more days with Isidora in tow until they reached Puelo. Broken hearted he went no farther, and settled to raise Isidora in this peaceful valley within sight of Chile.

Luna first told me this story not long after we first met at a festival here in Puelo. A story so much stranger than fiction you couldn’t invent it if you tried. The summer had long gone, autumn too was ending, the hops had been harvested, these fertile valleys the largest hops producing reigon in the southern hemisphere, gave rise to countless artisanal breweries. Culminating in a harvest festival as the roan coloured leaves begin to fall from the trees with the onset of winter.

Winter. That season that knows your name, your greyness reflected in her shallow sky when nothing grows. You wait for the spring sun to rise above the ivy wall and penetrate your seasonal sloom, to awaken thoughts of lust and sow the seeds of want in your heart, to shake a foggy dew of depression from your otherwise joyous soul. The season of solitude. The season for lovers to wake from their gilded slumbers and pay the cost of borrowed passions. The burnt yellow sounds of summer giving way to that most beautiful of seasons, autumn, then that too subsides to the crisp cold black and white quietude of winter, as the arcane memories of past loves dance flippant in the wind.

The school gym in Puelo had been converted into what resembled a german beer hall. Stalls around the the walls, offering a degustation of the finest beer in all of South America. To say that I was in heaven is an understatement. The centre of the hall became a sort of arena, occasionally troops of musicians and groups of dancers would perform. I noticed the face of one of the dancers unlike those of everyone else in the room, not Mapuche, not Argentine, just different. 
She danced a traditional Argentine folk dance, after several of which, the couples broke off to accost victims of the opposite sex up onto the dance floor for a quick lesson in embarrassment. She had grabbed my hand and refused my protestations that I didn’t know how to dance. everyone thought it was hilarious, afterwards she linked my arm and walked me to one of the stalls to buy me a beer for being such a good sport.
“Your not Argentine are you?”, ‘claro!’ I replied. We spent the evening walking around the stalls talking, sharing our story’s with one another. She invited me to lunch the following day, where I met Isidora and learned more from her about her father, Daijiro. Though Luna knew little japanese, Isidora was fluent, Daijiro teaching her since she was a child and we found it a more amenable language to chat. Though my japanese is limited (teaching myself while convalescing after my motorbike accident in 1998) its a little better than my spanish at the moment, or so Isidora jested. In truth it was a melengé of Japespanglish. She showed me paper cuttings and photocopies of microfiche prints documenting her fathers life, his celebrity in Japan after the war, even his obituary printed in a local a newspaper in 1945 when he failed to return. These Daijiro had kept when he fled to Chile along with one other item. After we had eaten, Luna took me by the hand and led me into Daijiro’s old room. He passed away only in 2009 at the age of 93. Taking out a long wooden box and placing it on the bed she opened it. Inside was Daijiro’s katana. I would never have believed it had I not seen it with my own two eyes. A second world war Guntō, right here in Lago Puelo. It brought the startling reality of war, of Luna’s family’s story to reality. The blade unspoiled by use. Daijiro had never used it in acrimony. But it was the only thing he had from before Japan changed forever. I guess for him it was a symbol of the old Japan, a country he barely recognised on his return. 
Luna would come to visit me several times over the next few weeks.
When I wasn’t working with Gustavo or up in the hills by myself, she would come with me and Faluche the dog to the river, or to the weekend market in El Bolson. One afternoon I came down from the mountain to find her waiting for me at Crux.
“What do you do all day up there on that mountain?”
I told her that when I was here in summer Ed and I would walk up there occasionally. There was the ruined foundations of an old hut about a 2 hour hike up the trail. I’ve been spending my spare time kind of rebuilding it. ‘Really?’ ‘sure’ I said. ‘Take me to see it will you?’ ‘When it’s finished, theres no roof only an old canvas tarp to keep the snow out’, ‘You know you can see al the way to Chile from up there’, ‘ I don’t believe you.’
A week later we hit the trail, It was a little slow going, taking us three hours to get to the ramshackled hut. A little farther on there was a mirador.
‘See, I told you’ I pointed my finger out across the Lake towards the isthmus with lago inferior nestled between snowcapped peaks a mere 8 kilometres away.  ‘Thats Chile’
She sat for a while in a sort of stunned silence. Though she lived a stones throw away she had never been to Chile, never been up this trail to witness the glorious splendour of the Andes from up high. The sun was going down, painting everything with pastel shades from winters sombre palate. Pale pink clouds sailing across a yellow sky. I sit beside her. She takes my hand and looks into my eyes. She is crying. For the first time in her life she’s looking into the homeland of her grandmother. Down along the valley where she lost her life, the valley where her grandfather Daijiro carried the woman he had so loved only to bury her in an unfamiliar land. So he could be near to her. 
‘Gracias’ she says.
I have no response, her eyes are like that of a muse from an Audrey Kawasaki painting. Dark pools, nothing can escape them not even light. Im transfixed by the child of the moon.
“When the winter ends, will you take me to Chile?”..................


The Gambit of Patagonia

“So of old we’re alone in a car at night bashing down the line to a specific somewhere, nothing nowhere about it whatever, especially this time, in a way- That white line is feeding into our fender like an anxious impatient electronic quiver shuddering in the night.......

                                                                                                                                                                                      Jack Kerouac

Im not a gambling man, By that I mean I’ve never bet any of my hard earned on the off chance of loosing it. I’ve never felt the need to risk something I’ve worked hard for in a game of chance. It only indignafies your efforts and all you’ve accomplished to earn it. And for me that holds no excitement whatsoever, win or loose. 
Thats not to say that I don’t take risks, don’t gamble a different kind of asset. Indeed I was about to enter the greatest gambling den in all of Argentina, the inhospitable deserts of Patagonia.

30 or so Kilometres south of Senillosa there is a junction, not a ’T’ but a huge, enormous roundabout which enables cars, trucks and even the gargantuan oil tankers that ply this route to maintain their speed whether heading north towards Neuquén, west to the oilfield and Zapala or south the the great wilds of Patagonia.

5 months previous me and Ed spent 2 days trying to hitch out of Senillosa to go south towards Bariloche. We eventually picked up a ride to this desolate junction in the desert from a guy heading west to Zapala. On reaching the oversized Roulette wheel in the scorching summer sun we were horrified at the thought at being stranded there. It shimmered inhospitable, it disappeared and reappeared like a Saharan oasis. Trucks rose silently through a desperate milky haze like ships over an azul horizon, and all around three- hundred- and- sixty- degrees- of- nothing but rock and sand and Death waiting for you with his indiscriminant scythe.
 We decided not to risk it and reluctantly but relieved, continued west to Zapala and the long way round towards Bariloche and spent 2 more days in the doldrums there before getting another ride.

This time I decided, I’m not going west. A young oil worker took me those 30 or so kilometres arguing all the while that I was crazy to get out here, in the middle of nowhere. Why not come with him to Zapala. But I told him I knew what I was doing.
He slowly pulled away. I watch him as his eyes glance back at me in his rearview mirror, until I can’t make out the detail anymore. 

I was alone in the desert, no money, little food, but plenty of water. I turned to face the junction. The road reels off almost endless until it touches the sky. A giddyness comes over me and quickly gives way to calm. Silence. Not even a bird. My own inner voice the loudest sound in the wilderness singing songs of joy without utterance. Its so beautiful I could weep. My heart pounding in my chest with the intoxicating rhythm of a shamanic prayer drum. I hear the voices of my grandfathers grandfather and all his before him, all those countless generations, who lived and fought, who made love, who built homes for their families, my family, who taught their sons now long forgotten ways. Their sons, my countless fathers all whispering to me simultaneously, their blood coursing through my veins, all their collective wisdom and knowledge written into my genetic instinct. Through my lungs they breathe. I take a step and my foot comes down upon the dirt with the weight of a thousand Red Branch Knights, those noble Celtic warriors of lore, my ancestors. all their feats, their lives, Everything they’ve ever done leading to one moment.One man.The child of endless orgasmic ecstasy, Standing. Alone. In the desert.

Hitch hiking is an art, but it is also a science and in a way a form of psychology.
I was about to put all three to the test.
As in playing an instrument hitching is about timing, rhythm. there’s an aesthetic nature to it as well, you need to appear interesting not vagrant, welcoming, not desperate.
Timing is everything, nightfall is out of the question.
Science. You need to pick the most favourable position. Edge of town, never in town, junctions, gas stations. I’ve heard toll booths work well, but have never hitched a motorway. There is no art, there is no honour in riding the tollways. For me it’s about the going, not the getting there. The more interesting people take the byroads, the conversation is richer and the views more pleasant. 

Psychology; well thats a combination of art, science, and a Jedi’s ability to read people and project the voice of Alec Guinness into their head’s saying-These are the hitch hikers you are looking for. Knowing, when, where, and why someone will pick you up if at all. You generally get to know by sight of a vehicle if they will pick you up. You can definitely tell in advance who won’t give you a ride. I made a decision early on not to be selective in when to put my thumb out. I do it for each and every vehicle. Those who pass get a slight wave of acknowledgement. Oil trucks here cannot pick you up for safety reasons. These kings of the highway I usually salute or offer a wave out of respect, they also generally but inadvertently slow down all the traffic behind them, to a good hitching speed, by which I mean it gives me enough time to make eye contact with the following drivers as I pace backwards slowly with my arm outstretched. This eye contact is what converts a passer to a ride. Use the force, so to speak.

Standing by the lonely Roulette wheel at the southern end I await. Im gambling in the hope that not everyone will leave you stranded and alone in the desert. Although most will. You hear a car coming, put out your thumb, you make fleeting eye contact with the driver, In a fraction of what to you feels like an eternity theres communication, an understanding between both of you, of the consequences of where YOU are. Your eyes betray to them your thoughts, they don’t see a man standing there they see a soul laid bare and vulnerable. They pass at a hundred kilometres an hour and in a moment you are alone again. Sometimes you can see guilt in their eyes, sometimes fear. but nothing in the world, no feeling can beat the swell of emotion, the enamouring sense of humanity that comes over you when they stop. Not long after as dusk begins to fall, a Jeep slows and pulls over. Maybe the 20th vehicle to pass my way in an hour. amigo! what are you doing here? get in! Some people gamble and loose. I win the lottery every day.


Highway Kings

For in tonight I pondered wearily,
mixed with the richest potions, 
and other fearful notions..........

                            Thomas Eames

Two days out of the Chilean town of Los Andes, I was nearing the boarder crossing known as Pasa de los Liberatores. The road climbed steadily towards Aconcagua. I could have hitched it, but, chose not to. Seeking the solace that only shoe leather on bitumen can lend. The freedom of the road. Salty residue deposit in the armpits of my shirt, dirt in the neck collar, creak in my bones, the oily excretion of toil oozing from every pore.  I allow my mind to wander through fallow fields void of thought, the transcendental plough turning the soil of inspiration to await the seed of new ideas.

Trucks and pickups laden with bewildered faces passed on their way to the mines high in the Andes. Pilgrims going to worship at the coalface of capitalism in a hole two miles deep, with sweat dripping from their brow. Families to feed, mortgages to pay, penance for pesos. Their look of indifference towards me on their ascent exchanged for an envious smile 8 hours later as they descended after their shift in the mine. In 8 hours I could advance 12 or so miles at a leisurely pace.

 On the morning of the third day a truck pulled over in the layby ahead of me. It’s sole occupant had observed my progress since los Andes and told me I would be unable to proceed on foot much farther. Road widening projects had put a halt to all pedestrian traffic. Only those with a permit could proceed to the international boarder during work hours. I climbed in and he drove me towards Argentina. A few miles before the boarder we were stopped by the Carabineros and told we would have to wait until 8pm when the traffic flow through the tunnel dividing the two nations would be reversed and we could proceed. leaving me by the outpost at 2pm my ‘chauffeur’ continued with his permit as a road worker.  

A steady line of trucks formed in the hard shoulder to await the opening of the boarder. By 7pm the line of trucks was over 2 kilometres long. I decided it was time to plead for my passage, but one after another the truckers turned me down. I returned to the head of the queue where an old man was sleeping in his 4X4. 
I politely tapped on his window stepping back as he slowly rolled it down. My heart sank, he appeared as though he’d never heard of the art of hitch hiking before. But on hearing of my plight he said get in. Enrique was his name, a 69 year old retired Argentinian. On his way to Neuquén, about half way to Puelo. Sure, he’d take me. Lets go.
the last of the traffic from the Argentinian side passes us and after a half hour wait the Carabineros raise the barrier and wave us through. 

In the night we wind our way up the switchback road, I look back and see a trail of lights behind us about 2 miles long. The headlights of cars and trucks in a steady stream down as far as the eye can see in a mesmerising display, the likes of which I’ve never seen. A giant elongated serpent with us as its head making its way up the western slopes of the Andes. A mechanical Dragon all smoke and deafening din, with fire and lightning emanating from its shimmering scales, an unstoppable armored beast that is part man and part machine. Simultaneous engines of a hundred vehicles roar, snorting toxic fumes. The sequential compression breaking of the trucks echoing in the valley, trumpeting like Hannibal's elephants heralding our arrival. Everyone feels it. We are highway kings.

 We passed through the tunnel under the mountain and arrived at the Aduana. With the formalities of entering Argentina complete Enrique asked me where I would sleep. It was already after 11, He had a rendezvous with a lady friend in a town just over the boarder. He could hardly show up with a vagabond in tow. He let me out by an abandoned service station, its bowsers rusted and bent and he told me he would pick me up the following day around 9am.
I climbed out into the freezing night air, delicate snowflakes danced in the night breeze. I shuddered. the air was misty, the sky starless, I looked for a sheltered  place to camp for the night. I found an out of use playground. The roundabout squeaked slowly clockwise. A swing swayed childless in the wind.
 Its a strange eerie feeling you get from somewhere or something thats out of context. A children’s playground at witching hour playing the part of a murderous clown in my imagination. Harmless by day but ever so creepy at night.
On top of a climbing frame sits a small wooden castle, I climb up and peer inside. Perfect. I roll out my bivvy and slide in fully clothed save for my boots. 
I’m awake again around 5. Too cold to sleep. I wait for the sun which doesn’t arrive, 6, 7, nothing, then a dawn of sorts prevails. The mist wasn’t a mist at all. At this altitude I was in the clouds.
At 9 Enrique showed up, refreshed from his night of passion. he was more talkative than the night before. But I was jaded. In the shadow of the great Aconcagua he allowed me to sleep silently, until I awoke somewhere south of Mendoza to the sight of spent vines, rusting in fields of golden sunshine as far as the horizon. We were passing through Argentina’s wine country on a late autumn morning.
Another hour later we were in the desert, travelling on a straight featureless road with the snowcapped Andes to the west of us.
We talked about life, about mine on the road, and he about his women. It seemed as though he was spending his retirement visiting various women throughout Argentina. It kept him quite busy and by all appearances it was doing him no harm. He was clocking up 50 thousand kilometres a year, more than when he was working. Just then he got a phone call, he had to let me out at the next service station. One of his lady friends required attention so he wouldn’t be able to take me to Neuquén that day.
About 80 kilometres north of the town he let me out and I picked up another ride in a matter of minutes. 
The following day is a public holiday, the roads a deserted, so I decide to walk the road south out of Neuquén. I pass through Plottier and head for Senillosa. As night falls so too does the rain and I take refuge in a roadside hermitage dedicated to one ‘Gauchito Gil’. An Argentinian folk hero, worshipped by those on the road.
The hermitage is brightly decorated with red prayer flags like a Tibetan stupa. Inside the hermitage the is a statue of the man himself surrounded by red candles burning bright. There is just enough room inside for one tired pilgrim.
The next morning a light frost was covering everything. I decided to make a small fire and cook damper. Someone had conveniently dumbed a pile of wooden latticed fruit boxes by the hermitage. It made excelent firewood. I warmed myself by the flames and as they died down and the thin wooden panels became bright orange embers I prepared the masa in my hand. A fist full of flour slowly adding water till I had a firm ball of dough in my hand. These I shaped into disks and placed them one by one on a small metal grill I’d found.  I ate one right away as a form of central heating and to stay any pangs of hunger. The remaining three I wrapped in a tea towel and put them away.
I said my thanks to Gauchito Gil and walked the last ten kilometres into Senillosa.



Santiago de Nueva Extremadura

Santiago, quiero verte enamorado                  Santiago, I want to see your love
Y a tu habitante mostrarte sin temor              And your residents show no fear
En tus calles sentiras mi paso firme              In your streets feel my firm steps
Y sabre de quien respira a mi lado.               And know who breaths with me

Santiago friday the 26th april 2013. Im standing on a balcony, the same I’ve stood on for the past three months and gaze out across the city. The setting sun gives way to a toxic brown soup which is the spectacle of dusk in Santiago de Nueva Extremadura and it is terrifyingly beautiful.  The air is thick with bewailing anticipation ignorant of those coveting a semblance of solitude. It oscillates, it heaves, salient with the very essence of expectation. It is both nauseating and thrilling.

We had made it a thousand kilometres from Puerto Montt to the Chilean capital in a single night, a single hitch with two eccentric roadworkers, for 15 hours in the driving rain. Leaving around 8pm, and entering the outskirts of the Chilean capital at eleven the following morning.
At times we had swerved out of our lane, almost coming to a premature end,  blinding headlights, horns honking, rain, so much rain. I decided to sleep through it as best I could. At times waking and starring down an oncoming truck within a hair or mortality. Another time I awoke to find everyone asleep and the traffic speeding by as we rested in a layby.
There was no point in worrying about it, or I was too tired to worry about it. Death is just another adventure I convinced myself in order to sleep.

We took the metro the final 8 kilometres to the city centre and found lodgings in the bario of Bella Vista on the right bank of the Mapocho river.
It took a few days to adjust to the metropolis after our months in the countryside. Ed busied himself in preparation to leave by motorcycle. While I tried to find some sort of internal rhythm to life in the city.  
It was clear that Ed and I would be going our separate ways.
Ed had a slender budget and limited time before he had to return to England. While I had no money whatsoever but infinite time to ponder on how to make the means to an end. Yes I would need some sort of gainful employment.
Ed would complete our collective dream, of traversing the continent just as Earnesto Guevara and Roberto Granado did, 60 years ago. But he would be doing it alone.
Sitting in a cafe on a sunny afternoon I read of a call for submissions in a local english language magazine called Revolver. I called the only Chilean I knew, folk musician Nano Stern, to see if he would grant me an interview. Writing an article on Nano would open some doors I thought.
We met Nano later in the afternoon, in a German eatery, sipped beers and chatted. He had just returned from a 10 day tour in southern Chile and was about to jet off to Canada the following day, one day later and he would have been gone. A serindipitous happenstance. Nano is one of those souls who I’m convinced has the ability to see the world in slow motion as it whirrs all around him. He see the beauty in everything. His words have a wisdom beyond his years. I hadn’t met him in over 2 years, but we spoke as old friends. He took us to the banks of the Mapocho and sang for us a lament of his city written over two hundred years ago, about this Santiago on the extremeties of the then Spanish empire.
He gave us over an hour of his time before leaving us to spend his final evening with the woman he loves. He wouldn’t see her until the end of his next tour. That afternoon, we went to meet O’Car our host for what was to be a few nights , but in my case turned out to be 10 weeks. O’Car in many ways is similar to Nano, I was beginning to get an understanding of the Chilean people, very laid back, easy going and superbly hospitable with their time and thoughts. O’Car’s housemate would be away until may, so he invited me to stay until then if I wanted. This opportunity allowed me to see Santiago through the eyes of one of it’s residents 
 The following day I met Nick, the editor for Revolver. The magazine didn’t pay, but there were other benefits in writing for a magazine or so I was soon to find out.
Ed had managed to procure himself a motorcycle, a 110cc japanese fourstroke city bike. His adventure really was just about to begin. We said our farewells and Ed rode off into demented Santiago traffic, heading for the coast. The pacific ocean and onwards, to Bolivia.
That night, I had a some casual work in a bar downtown. Which turned into 2 nights, but nothing more after that. my limited spanish inhibited my ability to take orders correctly and on more than one occasion cocktails were served in place of beers, and spirits in place of wines. 
By day I wrote or shot film or photographed or did interviews for Revolver. By night we partied or rode bycicles to the top of San Cristobal with its breathtaking vistas of the city and rode down as fast as we could in the pitch black, no streetlights or headlamps. It produced such an intoxicating high, added to this was the risk of being caught by the guard de parque, the top of the hill is a military training centre. The whole mountain is off limits after dark.
Thursday night was the weekly Revolver night. We gathered, usually at Nicks apartment discuss possible stories, each others progress, organise production teams for shoots. But ultimately it was a drinking frenzy. This is what being a journalist was really all  about, or at least in my mind. No writer worth his or her salt was ever a tea totaler. Hard drinking makes a good writer better.  But it will make a mediocre writer worse. When the alcohol ran out we would catch cabs to Recoletta or Bella Vista and hit the bars and clubs. Dance, drink, talk about life, projects we were working on. It was the ultimate creative workshop intensive which resulted in requiring the whole of friday in bed. 
This was life for three glorious months. Perfecting the art of home baked  bread, writing, discovering a new city a new culture a new language.
By the end of april I knew it was time to move on. My visa was expiring and I had also told Gustavo I would return to Lago Puelo for winter. With only four days left on the visa I bade farewell to O’car and told him I would return in a few months. The Argentinian countryside was calling me, with its wild horses and snowcapped peaks. I would take the Pasa de los Liberatores only 3 days walk from the town of Los Andes just north of Santiago and a stones throw from Aconcagua, the tallest peak in both the western and southern hemisphere.
I just hoped I would make it before the annual snowfall would close the boarder for winter.