It was a day of false hope and unexpected cake.
When staring down the barrel of seven hours in the saddle, I break the day into manageable chunks – looking ahead to the next turn off, the next town, or if we’re lucky: the next shop and cold Fanta hit. Yes, my name’s Anna, and I have Fanta problems.
Two days have passed since getting myself in a dehydrated pickle on Christmas day, and I begin the morning in an excited state (most unusual). I am excited because we have reason to believe, nay are sure, that there is a petrol station with a shop just 20km down the road. Alas we are misinformed. Within those 20km, hopes are shattered and dreams are dashed. There is an empty patch of dirt where the petrol station should be and an empty void in my stomach where the Fanta should be. We trundle on.
I am at least buoyed by knowledge that there is DEFINITELY a small town at the end of today’s ride – Niquivil a mere 80km away.
We roll through yet another national park – the second this week which is rumoured to have dinosaur remains within it’s grounds. And so I pass a few hours travelling back through time. Both in the park, and also on my iPod – giving Phil Collin’s greatest hits a good airing and asking the petrol station: “Take a look at me now. Well there’s just an empty space. And me scoring a Fanta is against the odds. And that’s what I’ve got to face…”
The park is followed by a journey through the vast canyons of The Lunar Valley. We duck in and out of man-made road tunnels. Tunnels just long enough to be scary but short enough to be safe for two cyclists. Tunnels which we whoop and cheer loudly within, enjoying the incessant thrill of voices bouncing off walls. It’s a game that never gets old, and one that I will never be too old to play. Of course this whooping descends into making whale noises (because whale-song echo sounds just fabulous off those walls) and leads us further into fits of giggles.
We reach Niquivil (AKA: The gateway to Fanta) at 4pm. I immediately approach three boys hanging out on stone steps on a street corner. I’m not wasting any time here – experience has taught me that asking is always the best way to find out where the shop is in a small town. I whip out my usual limited Spanish repertoire and ask if there is a ‘tienda’ nearby. The boy looks confused. ‘No. No Tienda.’ He says. My heart skips a beat, before sinking through my body down into my toes. I want to clasp his face between my hands, to fall at his feet and weep dramatically at the loss of my beloved amber liquid. I am at a 10 point zero on the screw-the-world-o-meter when he interrupts my train of thought. He says the word ‘kiosco’ and points to a house opposite with a small battered Coca Cola poster on its outer wall.
Now, I have gathered in the last week that words which work in one country, do not work in others. For example Lemon meringue pie in Chile is ‘pie de limon’. In Argentina you can throw your phrase book out the window, because it is… ‘lemon pie.’ Trust me, I have eaten many a pie in the name of linguistics research. And so, here in Argentina, from what we can gather, small shops in people’s homes are ‘kioscos’. Not ‘tiendas’.
I catch sight of a woman carrying a baby on her hip, going into the house that the young lad pointed at. I leave Bernard the bike at the side of the road and chase after her – asking if we can buy drinks or food there? ‘Yes!’ she says, before disappearing inside and shutting the door, leaving me rather confused. I wait outside, like a prize lemon (pie). There’s some shuffling and the sound of something heavy being dragged across a floor, followed by the distinct sound of some unlocking. A second white door to my right swings open and behind it is the same woman, with baby on hip and now two other children at her feet (has she been breeding in that time? I wonder.)
Faye and I enter a small room, which is adjoined to the kitchen of her house. At the kitchen table sits a woman I assume to be her mother. We greet her, and bid her a ‘buenas tardes’ before setting about surveying the snack landscape. All the while, the children look on, and the toddler is transfixed. His unmoving dark brown eyes like a world of galaxies, watching intently as we shuffle around the three small shelves that make up the shop.
Having selected some wafers, biscuits, crackers and an odd looking vegetable, Faye asks the woman if she has any water. We’ve been drinking filtered river water today and it tastes unmistakably of arse. ‘Yes!’ she says, opening up a large horizontal freezer unit.
We peer over the top and are surprised to find an unidentifiable dead, skinned animal inside. She shoves its leg aside and pulls out one 1.5 litre bottle of water. ‘Any more?’’ we ask. She rummages further behind the carcass and presents us with a litre and a half of grapefruit juice. We shrug and take it, noting to clean all the outside of the bottle thoroughly before drinking. I am, of course, sad that there is no Fanta, but carcass flavoured grapefruit juice will do for now.
Thanking the woman profusely, we pay for our wares and sit down on the curb outside her kiosco to inhale some of it. Five minutes later she emerges from the ‘house door’ with a plate. On it are four slices of cake, and it’s cake for us! Sponge base, cream around the edges, triple layered, stuffed with jam, mango and then banana. It is moist enough to make Mary Berry proud and packed with enough flavour to make Greg Wallace give an almighty ‘Phwooooaarrr’.
There we sit, happily munching and reflecting once again on how ruddy lovely Argentianians are. Even more so when they present us with cake.
In the video: Two mysterious whales 🐳 on bikes 🚲 wind through another tunnel in the Lunar Valley.
See where we’re currently resting up for a day, here: http://z6z.co/AndesAdventure
It was a day of false hope and unexpected cake.