I’m not a city person – far from it in fact – so living in a city the size of Buenos Aires, where the pace is quick, the traffic relentless and the noise and smell at times unbearable, I’d often find myself longing to be somewhere rural and remote; I certainly got what I wished for on this particular occasion. It was August (winter time in Argentina) and I was itching to do something different with my weekend. I began browsing the BsAs weekend getaway section on Couchsurfing and spotted something about a bike trip to a small town in the provinces, where the plan was to camp and enjoy some time out of the city. Without hesitation, I got in touch with the guy organising it all and he said I’d be more than welcome to join. My next step was to try and obtain all the things I didn’t yet have but needed for the trip, such a tent, sleeping bag, roll mat and bike (everything basically). I borrowed a sleeping bag off a friend, a rather dodgy bike with no gears from one of my colleagues and a tent from Julian, the guy at my local sandwich shop, who I bought my lunch off every day. After packing a small bag, stuffing a Tupperware box full of sausage pasta and buying a few other snacks and drinks, I was ready to go.
It all started well, as the sun was shining and everyone appeared to be in a good mood. I knew nobody, but then quite a few other people were in the same boat, so it didn’t really matter. We first boarded a train with our bikes from Retiro, Buenos Aires’ main station, to Lujan, which is approximately 60 miles away. It was my first time on a train in Argentina and I was amazed at the way they functioned; the doors didn’t close, people would just hop on and off without the train really stopping, and everyone was drinking and lighting up cigarettes and joints- it was awesome!
Upon arrival in Lujan, we all took a few pictures of the town and its impressive cathedral, before hopping on our bikes and beginning the journey to our destination. It was a beautiful bike ride, but on this useless, gearless bike and with all my stuff on the back, I found myself getting rather tired. Hours passed and we’d barely taken a break, but we had to keep going, as it was beginning to get dark and we were worried we wouldn’t make it to the campsite in time. There was another minor issue – we’d lost Lucas, the guy with all the maps and information, as he’d gone back to accompany a friend who was struggling with the pace. Unsurprisingly, we got lost but, by some miracle, we stumbled across another campsite in a town called Capilla del Señor and were told there was enough space for all of us to crash. Once we’d all put up our tents, we lit a big fire, made some mate and laid all the food we’d brought with us out on the table, which got shared and passed around (my sausage pasta went down a treat). There was whisky too, naturally, and plenty of weed to go around. I was beginning to relax and enjoy my surroundings as, even though it was freezing cold by this stage, we were in a peaceful spot beneath a star filled sky, which was about as different from Buenos Aires as I could have hoped.
My mood changed for the worse though when I eventually went to bed, for I was exhausted but knew I was going to get no sleep once it occurred to me that I’d brought along a lightweight sleeping bag and forgotten about the mat. I can safely say now that it was the coldest I have EVER been, colder than when I was camping along the Inca Trail, colder than the tiny room with a broken heater beside the Great Wall of China, where the conditions were also fairly frosty. I spent the entire night shivering and checking my watch every five minutes, simply waiting for the sun to rise so I would finally return to a normal temperature. To make matters worse, my muscles were aching like crazy from all the cycling.
The following day, the majority of the group wanted to continue cycling but Lucas and his friend, who’d finally shown up, said they’d prefer to spend the day relaxing in the sunshine. A guy that I’d been chatting to a fair amount, whose name was Gaby, also decided to stick around, so I thought I’d join them. Besides, it was Sunday so I had to return to the city that night. After much walking, talking, sunbathing and meat eating, we slowly made our way to the train station (if you could even call it that) to catch a train back to Buenos Aires. This is when the picture of an idyllic weekend in the countryside that I had in my mind started to turn sour… we waited and waited, only to be told that all trains departing from the station that day had been cancelled because the conductor simply hadn’t shown up. None of us had the money to pay for another night’s camping, or to buy a proper meal, so we sat at the station eating crackers with cheese and drinking box wine. I began to see the funny side, and suggested we took all our stuff and cycled round the town, thinking it could be quite entertaining in our tipsy states (and it was). We stumbled into a bar at one point, scrimping together the last of our pennies to buy a beer each, then eventually made our way back to the station to set up ‘camp’ at around 2am.
The next morning was even worse than the previous one; I woke up tired and achy once again, this time with such a bad hangover that I was sick all over the train tracks. With no food, no money and no idea when a train would finally show up, our only option was to remain at the station and hope for the best. Finally, after approximately five hours, Lucas spotted the unmistakeable outline of a train in the distance, slowly making its way towards us, at which we all began rejoicing. We had just boarded and slotted our bikes into place, when the conductor marched up to us and insisted that we get off immediately, as bikes were not permitted on this particular train. I could hardly believe my ears and began protesting in my broken Spanish, but he clearly wasn’t in the mood to argue. At first we refused to move, but the other passengers began to complain, so we reluctantly took our possessions and disembarked the train. In a moment of blind rage, I threw my bottle of water at the conductor and yelled something rude at his back, as the train gradually pulled away. We were screwed.
The only way to get back now, or so we believed, was on our bikes, though it was already getting dark. However, just minutes later, we managed to find a man with a truck and, after a small amount of pleading, he agreed to take all of us, plus our bikes, to Lujan- it appeared our luck had changed. The journey still seemed to take forever, mainly because we were all hungry, thirsty (should never have chucked that water) and desperate for a shower. We made it back to Retiro at long last though and I cycled home through the city on my dodgy bike in the dark, struggling to keep my eyes open. Thankfully, I made it back in one piece and, after a decent meal and shower, I crawled into my bed, with a newfound appreciation of the city.