Friday, April 29, 2011

Bus Magic

By Alex Mehlin

Our bags had just been stolen. Our bus was filled with emerging Gypsies. Horns honked as I glimpsed back, dangerously weaving through traffic while watching Zach’s awkwardly skinny body disappear in the morning smog.

We drove out of Mendoza, a new chapter was underway.

It did not start great. I watched as the temperature gage climbed, it gave me the far too familiar sour feeling in my gut that has been recurring ever since our first major break down in Ecuador. I knew what was needed to be done but we had new people onboard and I was embarrassed to share with them that the bus was not perfect.

A truck sped past, honking and pointing at the roof-rack. It was the perfect alibi for pulling over. I quickly took the first off ramp. My muscle memory went to work; lift the sheep skin, open the engine bay, take off the radiator cap, listen in disgust and confusion as the engine spits and gargles fluids, pump by hand the radiator hose, replace the radiator cap, turn on the engine and watch the temperature drop. I climbed up on the roof-rack. Nothing was wrong so we got back on the road.

We drove from the land of roaming Gauchos into the vast wilderness filled by obscure towns dotting the map of Northwest Argentina. Seemingly ancient adobe buildings crumbled. Built around ancient Spanish colonial towns dating back to the 1600s, when North-western Argentina held all the wealth and Buenos Aires was little more than a fort, the towns now are quiet outposts.

Sunset at Puente del Inca

Our emerging Gypsies watched out the window as the mountains sped past. They gave way to deep canyons, monster cacti, snow capped peaks, red sandstone cliffs, dried salt lakes and empty valleys. Each day lead us to a new activity, star gazing, bush whacking up mountains, exploring slot canyons, drinking under the starts around roaring campfires and admiring outlandish rock formations.

Valle de la Luna

It was odd at first, with only Alaena and I being the sole remaining Original Gypsies. But as the days went by our cult like group behaviour began to morph our companions into true Gypsies. No longer did the girls climb onto the roof for clean clothes. Jonny gave up shaving and pondered the possibility for future facial hair. Structured camping became a luxury as did showers. We camped on the side of roads and everyone grew angry with outlandish tourist prices. I watched the metamorphism take place from my driver’s seat, an object I’m sure has twisted my back and ass so they perfectly line up to its torturous metal frame.

Jonny's lunch outside of Tafi de Valle at 3800 meters

The bus is like learning to drink beer, at first it is hard to digest and get down, but soon you learn to love it and you can’t think of life before it. It has forced three people to sell their cars, two people to deliberately miss flights home, it convinced one brave soul to buy a motorcycle without even having any idea how to ride, it has made love blossom, it has convinced people to stay on even though they have very limited travel time, it has made people fly around the world just for a short stint and most of all it has made everyone who has stepped foot on it fall in love.

I never expected that when we bought the bus it would consume so much of my life and the lives of all the people who have ridden on it. Every time we think it has been over somehow the bus has produced a way or reason for us to push forward.

Alaena and I have only a little time left on our visas for Argentina. From there we will drive into the poorest and arguably most corrupt country in South America. A country home to the “death rode”, a place where drinking and driving just became illegal to the disgust of bus drivers and truck drivers alike and the world’s largest supplier of cocaine.

We always said we were not going to even attempt Bolivia, but as always it seems the bus has a plan and we are only along for the ride.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hot Springs

By Alex Mehlin

Since we have left Valparaiso, The Gypsy Train has been on a search for hot springs. We have looked long and far searching the seemingly endless array of South American hot spring only to long for the perfect bath.

The idea bath is pictured in a remote valley, an underground river leaks scolding water from a crack in the rocks forming a pool. We drive up, park, our muscles cry out for relief from the cold night air and we long for a soothing soak after a day spent hiking. We undress crack open a few beers and jump in.

We have found everything but this idea situation.

What we have found are: Luxury spas, overpriced algae infested pools, empty pools, community bathing grounds, whore houses with hourly rates, cold pools, splashing children in municipal swimming pools with water slides and mapped out pools at the end of the world that don’t exist.

For a while it became a joke, every day we would promise all the Gypsies a night spent at the hot springs, Mike always grew excited only to be let down. Eventually the joke became old, but we never gave up our search.

We drove with our newest crop of Gypsies into the deserts of Northwest Argentina. The map promised a hotsprings. We expected very little. The surrounding country side was nothing more than an empty moonscape. I wondered how any body of water would survive a day in the heat.

We pulled up to an unsuspecting goat herding village. A small hotel sat amidst the dusty adobe homes. Alaena snuck around back and tested the water, a warm clean sensation rushed over her hand. She jumped back over the fence, her face tattooed with a smile.

I dreamed that this could be it. We rang the door bell. No one came. Alaena, anxious to get in the water, rang again, this time for 15 seconds.

We waited. Finally an elderly lady came to the door. She whipped the corroded mascara from her tired eyes as she unlocked the glass door. I instantly knew we had awakened her from her siesta. A rush of Antique air passed us as we entered. She was dressed as if to meet hoards of customers at any minute.

A rosary hung from the full rack of keys to the vacant rooms. A tacky photo of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns hung above the seventies decor. It seemed as if this lady was preserving a business that was long dead.

Alaena asked in her most innocent voice. “Can we please pay you to camp in your backyard and use your pool?” Alaena’s charm usually pays off; I stood smiling anticipating a welcoming yes.

Through her cracked lipstick the words spilled out. “No, you pay and stay in the hotel or you do not use the pool.” The rock hard flatness of her voice left nothing to negotiate. She was not going to budge. It was if we asked to borrow her first born.

The prices were set at an exuberant 200 pesos for a single, 250 for double and topping the charts of luxury her ancient suites came in at 330 pesos.

We are poor travellers. There was no way we were going to pay these prices. With shattered dreams of cold beers consumed in a warm concrete pool gazing into the arid startlit night, we walked back to the bus.

The Gypsy Train drives on, continually searching for our romanticised perfect pool. We know that one day we will find it tucked deep in the wilderness, free of splashing children, angry old women and filled with sexy travellers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Beginning of a Fellow Gypsy's Writing Career

I think Mike might be a little shy about his newly found passion. But I think its great and I love the first installment of his new blog. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

When you don't want bus...

Zach W. Watson

This is a recant of my last blog entry, “When you have bus…”

I was caught up in the excitement of our successful trip to Iguazu when I had written the last blog.

The trip to Iguazu was our final trip with all the original gypsies. It had felt good being on the road again with everyone in high spirits. The future of the bus was uncertain.

We were on our way back to Buenos Aires from Iguazu falls when we stopped for the night in a little river town called Colon. We parked in a city park that lined the river Uruguay. We drank a number of beers that Matthias had purchased for everyone.

We all decided to commemorate Matthias and Ben’s final night on the Gypsy Train by sleeping like cowboys on our wool blankets in the grass looking at the stars half drunk on cheap booze, hidden in the shadows made by the bus and the street lamps that sat above the park. And we did sleep like cowboys, except for Matthias who got cold and went into the bus halfway through the night. But before Matthias became cold and while everyone was sleeping, I asked Alex and Alaena what they wanted to do.

“We want to keep going. We talked about it today and we want to get new people and Gypsy Train it to Bolivia.” Alex said and Alaena quietly agreed.

“Wow.” I said. “I don’t know what to say.”

“What do you think? We can’t sell the bus in Argentina. So we have to keep going.”

“I am probably going to have to decline. I mean. I want to live in Buenos Aires and learn Spanish. But don’t count me out, I guess.” I said.

“You should at least come to Mendoza. Free living.”

I thought of the idea all night and the entire next day. I made the decision to keep going with them, to find more people, and to continue to live life like a vagrant, stinky hippy. I never felt quite sure of my decision. I wanted to live in Buenos Aires, but I couldn't remember what life was like outside of this life that we had made. It scared the shit out of me.

So we found more people. This didn’t conceal the fact that every gypsy that had meant so much to me and the bus wereleaving.

The night before The Gypsy Train left for Mendoza with the new people, we walked Mike to the bus stop where he would catch the number eight to Ezeiza International to fly to Mexico.

“Now it feels so short.” He said to me as we stood waiting for the bus. A group of young Argentine kids were helping us sort what bus we needed to get him on.

“Thanks.” He said to me.

“Aeropuerto! Aeropuerto!” The young kids cried and Mike hugged the Canadians, Matthias and me and jumped on the bus.

He hung his head out of the bus window and said, “This is it. I’m really leaving.” And like that he rounded the corner and was gone.

I was leaving the next morning with the new gypsies. Matthias was flying home the following night. The Canadians were leaving in a week. So we got really drunk, and I woke up early with a hangover to lead the new people to the bus, three hours outside of Buenos Aires by public transportation. My eyes were barely open when I greeted them.

I had a fun trip with the new people on our way to Mendoza. They were great and fit in very well. I saw that they could love the bus like the others did.

I felt unreal, though, like a plastic robot shell of a man. My excitement was gone. I had done this all before. My actions and my jokes were mechanical. I felt like an adulterer, cheating on Mike and Matthias.

Buenos Aires called to me, “Zach. Zach. You need me. It’s time to leave. It’s been time to leave. Come to me, big boy. You have wanted me since Patagonia. Are you really going to go home without learning Spanish? The bus is over for you. It ended when the others left. It’s time to move on. You want a refrigerator. You want a bed.”

Alex and Alaena already knew when I told them. I had mentioned a few things about leaving.

I signed the roof, as is the custom, and left.

Good Bye and Good Luck A&A, from Buenos Aires. It was a great adventure. Thank you. I love you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Siesta Blues

Cobble stone shakes the Gypsy Train as we drive down an unknown deserted street. The sun is high, we are hungry, thirsty and in need of filling our provisions for the next two days. Nothing moves, the sole sound of a dog barking echos out from behind tightly closed shutters.

I drive on in hopes that at least one store owner in the town understands the concept of capitalism. I drive, nothing moves except our empty stomachs. An eerie calm fills the air, the town is thatched down tight. I wonder if there is a tornado alert.

We pass children playing in the park, their mothers look on, a line of stores offer a beacon of hope but they too are closed. We pass an elderly lady strolling the street I slowly pull up to her.

Alaena leans out the window, “we are looking for a grocery store,” she explains. With a few hand gestures and the sense of direction finely tuned after years of afternoon strolls, we are directed to the town´s grocery store.

I pull up, park, the lights inside are off, the sign on the door indicates that the proprietor will return from his afternoon spent hidden from the light of day and open his store at 5. He will then proceed to close at 8.

I look down at my watch, it reads 3:30 we still have 200 km of dusty desert to cover, yet we have no food and will be forced to wait out Siesta. A flurry of well rehearsed swear words drain out of my mouth. Every one looks around wondering what to do.

Some people venture off to find an ATM, toilet or a hidden corner store containing sweet bites of chocolate or even better an empenada. I open my book read a few pages and fall asleep.

Time crawls on and we wait.

Slowly the town begins to come to life, a group of teenagers begin to make noise in the street. A team of electricians begin to repair a light post. Stores begin to open and the once sleepy town now seems to have life. We watch and wait in preparation for the glorious opening of the grocery store.

We watch a man dressed in white casually smoking a cigarette as he walked up to the caged doors. We salivate at the thought of spending all our Pesos on meat, cheese, pasta, veggies and cookies. He takes another drag of the cigarette, looks up to the clouds, throws his cigarette out and slowly turns the key.

Zach and Mike rush in I yell behind them, “make this fast we need to move.”
Soon the cash register is ringing as we dance out of the store chewing on snacks and sipping cold drinks.

I prepare the bus for the return of bags of food and get ready to leave. Zach comes back first, “They didn't have good meat, Mike went over to the butcher.” We pack the veggies away and wait.

Mike comes running back to the bus, I start the engine and we drive back into the desert.

Authors Note:

When we first entered Argentina we struggled to figure out the culture of Siesta, after spending months living with Siesta we have it worked out. If we need anything we go shopping for it before noon or after 4. The smaller the town or hotter the enviorment the longer the Siesta.

It could be argued that Argentines are nocturnal. They eat late, stay out dance late and go to bed even later. Siesta is their time of rest and also family time. Most people go home to eat lunch with their whole family and take a nap.

Friday, April 1, 2011

When you have bus...

Zach W. Watson

I thought the Gypsy Train was over. But I am bus.

I thought, after we met our goal of reaching the end of the world in Ushuaia, we would sell the bus and the next phase of my life would begin, one where I would have an apartment and a refrigerator that I could keep orange juice in. I would teach English, learn Spanish, and maybe buy a new pair of pants, living a quiet life in some quiet place in Buenos Aires.

After finding out the impossibility of selling a foreign car in Argentina, we have decided there are two options. One would be to kill the bus, blowing the fucking thing to smithereens. Two would be to continue gypsying the South American continent, visiting the places we haven´t seen.

As much as I talked, over the last few days, about filling the gas tank and strapping sixteen sticks of high grade Bolivian TNT to the undercarriage, I knew, in all reality, we couldn’t explode the bus.

With Mike leaving to Mexico next week to see his family, we will be without a cook. With Beanie and Tegan leaving for the vaginally rhyming Saskatchewan capital of Ragina, I will no longer have an audience for my seemingly endless barrage of tasteless potty jokes. With Matthias having to return home to the Deutschland, where he will be forced to speak a language he has almost all together abandoned, we will be without a scapegoat.

Ben´s gone. Jake has a motorcycle. Marta left to study chemistry.

We have bus, A&A and I, but we have no people. They are all gone.

So long, dear friends, my gypsy family.

Now we are back to the way we began. Like in Quito, we are three searching for others to join us. I hope we can find people that are at least as good, hopefully better, as those we became so close with over the last six months.

It´s our only logical choice, to run the bus into the ground, to get every cent of worth out of it, to destroy the axels, the transmission and whatever other part could break on the bumpy death roads of Bolivia.