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.