15 January 2011

Coronel Pringles

The roosters woke me at first light. I lay in my tent and heard the cows moo-ing and being driven out to pasture. Then the geese began to squack in the dirt beyond the trees. The dogs started barking. The white and brown cat came to my tent and meowed. He wanted to eat. A trucker gunned up his engine and pulled out. I got up. It was time to get on the road.

I had no pesos to buy breakfast at the bar so I packed up. It was cool with the sun just up over the horizon but I would be visible on the road to traffic. It was 35km to Krabbé, where there was said to be nothing, and another 64km to Coronel Pringles. I hoped the banks there would have money as across the country the news was reporting that cities--some of them large like Cordoba--were entirely out of cash in their ATM machines. A former central banker had said it was an attempt by the government to control inflation.

I took my first break and ate some cookies at a bus stop and I was encouraged that the mosquitoes did not attack. Maybe this mosquito epidemic had passed. It wasn't much further that I saw the sign for Krabbé. There was nothing more than a dirt road back into the fields. Krabbé was only a name on the map.


Coronel Pringles was another 30km and I felt the energy of the cookies and banged out the mileage and it was before the heat of the day that I arrived at the city and rode down the tree-lined avenue towards the centro. I stopped two men on the street and asked where I could find a bank with a tarjeta de cajero. I spoke with them both about my travels and then one man told me to follow him in his car.


The streets near the centro were cobblestone and it was slow going and he stopped in front of two banks, got out of his car and shook my hand and wished me luck and he gave me two pens. It was the sort of helpfulness and generosity I have received often in Argentina.

The bank had money and I took out enough for a few weeks and then began to push my bicycle along the sidewalk looking for something to eat. 2 men approached me followed by 2 young guys wearing aprons. I asked about somewhere to eat and the 2 men sent the boys to get me a sandwich and a Coke. In fact they all worked at a bike shop on the corner and were very excited to speak with me and to examine the folding bike. I ate the sandwich and lectured on the features of the Bike Friday and tried to make clear that this bike had changed everything and that oneday many would tour through their city on Bike Fridays or some other make of folding bicycle. I thanked them for the sandwich and soda and believe I convinced them to stock a folding bicycle in their small bike shop.

I found a café and had just put my bike up against the window from which I could best watch it and had begun my rigorous security protocols to protect from thievery, when I looked up and an older man, grinning, was standing at my side. I thought at first he owned the café but he was something of a town promoter and had many questions for me. In fact, he said, my appearance in Coronel Pringles merited the coverage of the press and he was going to call them. I followed him into the bar and he insisted on buying my café con leche. The press was on its way, he said. 

I had just been delivered the coffee when a man arrived with a camera and microphone. We spoke a little and then he asked me outside to stand beside the bike and to be interviewed. The interview ran about 10 minutes and my Spanish was good throughout and he thanked me and passed me along to the newspaper man who wanted to do a story for the local paper. The town promoter asked me if I wanted a new coffee--certainly mine had gotten cold. No, not a problem. Argentine hot drinks are served too hot anyway.

I sipped at the warm café con leche and told the newspaper man much of what I had just told the television reporter. It was still early when I said goodbye to the press and the town promoter and I sat the rest of the afternoon in the café. I had another coffee and later I ordered a beer which, if you are not specific about the size when you order, you will be served a 3/4 liter bottle. A near liter of beer was enough to put me to sleep and I left the bar sleepy and looking for a supermercado on my way to the campground on the edge of town.

There were dark clouds in the south and I bought a sandwich, water, chips and crackers and rode the 10 blocks to the balneario. The campground was overrun with mosquitos and I got the tent up quickly and got inside with my food and killed the couple mosquitoes that had come into the tent with me.

Then the storms began. The rains and wind battered the tent and the lightning lit up everything inside. I lay on my back, warm and dry in my sleeping bag, listening to the storm and watching hundreds of mosquitoes gathering inside my rainfly at the top of the tent. I was already covered with bites from these large aggressive beasts and I did not want to think about how I was going to deal with this problem in the morning.

Later I was awoken by a man outside the tent. He said his boss had sent him to invite me to join them at a barbecue they were doing among the campground staff. I was half asleep and had already eaten and politely declined, but I also did not want to go outside where I knew the mosquitoes would swarm me and eat me. I looked up and saw the mosquito population massed between my tent and rainfly had doubled. There must have been 300 now. I went back to sleep.


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