After more than 15 years pedaling throughout all the continents, I arrived in Argentina totally excited, Finally my bicycle tour around the world was taking me back to my country, despite my very bad health condition due to the last trail pedaled through Bolivia.
There I pedaled more than 500 km, between 3600 and 5000 mt above sea level and temperatures that reached 15º below zero. Due to the food and the water I was carrying, the bike never weighed less than 90 kilos, and I ended up dragging it. The roads were terribly bad, a mixture of sand and stones, so I could not move along 30 km per day. Bolivia demanded me the most as if I had to pass a last challenge before returning to my country..
The cold had cut my hands, mainly the right hand, the one I use the most, I had more than 30 cuts and it bleeds every day. When I arrived in Jama, the border town between Chile and Argentina, I went to a clinic to get my hand cured, first disinfected and anointed healing cream, they put on rubber gloves that I had to keep all day. I repeated the cure for four days, first in Jama, and then in the public hospital of Susques, the first Argentine city where I stopped. The attention was always free of charge, because in Argentina there is public health, although sometimes the service can be complicated. Because there was not enough medicines and Neither of the two villages I passed, had a pharmacy, I had to buy at a clothing store as they suggest mentisan and mule fat to relieve oral herpes and the cough.
When I reached San Salvador, the capital of Jujuy, I went to the public hospital Pablo Soria. I arrived at 5.30 a.m. to make the line. At 6.00 am, I was given a number and at 7 they opened the counter to do the paperwork, in my case, for being the first time in that hospital, they open me a file. At 8, doctors started to receive the patients, half an hour later the doctor that was going to see me called to say he would not arrive. After 1 hour I was told that there was no substitute doctor. And at 9.30 am they asked us to make a new appointment for that afternoon or next day. Finally, I decided to buy another cough syrup and continue my tour.
Ten days later I went to a private clinic in Salta, and the doctor diagnosed me the beginning of bronchitis, so he prescribed me anti-inflammatory. As I did not improve after two weeks, I returned to a public hospital, but this time in Tucuman and at night. While I was out for a moment, an ambulance arrived escorted by at least 20 policemen, the patient was a prisoner accused of murder, who had been wounded someone with a knife. I don´t know how, but soon came the friends and family of the prisoner’s victim. The case was known throughout the country for the brutality with which the man hurt his partner. In a matter of minutes there was a scandal: a group of men and women trying to enter the hospital looking for the murderer, there were fights, shouts, aggressions so the police closed the hospital door, and I stayed outside. The scene turned violent and I had to leave. “Welcome to Argentina,” I thought. Although this happens here is not much less than what happens in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, or El Salvador. This is Latin America. With all my patience next morning I returned to the Padilla hospital and finally they attended me in an emergency room. The room was not larger than 12 square meters and when I came in there were already 10 patients, then a man with cardiac arrest, a pregnant woman in pain, and two other people who had to take serum. There was no space left but people were still coming in and the medical team was still attending all at the same time.
The greatest virtue of doctors and nurses, was not the scientific knowledge but the compassion they had for each one of the people who were there. That was a real demonstration towards vocation. I was totally admired and I congratulated them for their work. I understood that the recognition of their patients is what gives them strength to keep them going. Finally, I had an x-ray and a computed tomography; the doctor diagnosed me with bronchiectasis and prescribed me an antibiotic for the bronchi and bronchodilator; ten days later I was finally cured.
Talking to one of the doctors about last night’s episode he told me that they had to keep the emergency room doors always closed because in many times, the patient’s familiars arrived armed to threaten them. Because of this there are policemen 24 hs to assure the doctor’s safety.
Continuing my trip to the south, I visited the towns of Santiago del Estero, Catamarca and La Rioja. In December 2016 I crossed San Juan province when the Zonda was blowing, a dry and warm wind that at times took me at a great speed. Once at 1.30 pm I already had pedaled more than 110 km, I arrived Mayares, a little town with some houses and barely one shop where I bought some bread and ham to have lunch. My speedometer showed 44ºC. I was exhausted and so mad because I couldn’t find any shadow to hide from the sun. In the whole town there was not even a little tree. Suddenly some guys appeared with their motorbikes. I asked them about how far I was to the next town, but they knew less than me and I answered not a nice way to one of them: “If you don’t know it’s better not to answer and just say you don’t know”. If I hadn’t say sorry I could have been beaten or even get stolen. They were five and the place was land of no one: a real ghost town. The tiredness, the heat and the lack of a place to rest made me lose control. So, angry with myself I ate my sandwich and continued cycling for another 40 km in search of a shadow to rest.
At 15.30 I arrived Bermejo, another ghost town without trees. I stopped at a police route control and begged them for water and a place to rest. Temperature was 47ºC. The officer invited me immediately to get inside the control stand. The place was miserable: the walls were almost falling down, no fan nor fridge. I was told by the officer that they even had to buy and install their own mosquito nets because they don´t received enough from the transit central.“The food and water we receive during our working hours is not enough. We have to buy our own and many times share with neighbors because here water is not drinkable”, he told me. I felt sorry for them when asking for more water to keep on cycling. The officer gave me half the bottle. Pretty sure it was because I had already drunk a liter and a half. That afternoon I took a nap under the metal roof of the police control station It was a real sauna. Finally, I pedaled to reach Vallecito and completed 192 km in the day. The last 20 with a strong headwind and going uphill. I was destroyed and with a hard knee pain
There were no more than 500 people living in Vallecito but because there is the sanctuary of “La Difunta Correa”, more than 500.000 people visited the town every year. Here I had a shower and a nice meal. I couldn’t find a single room so I slept in the tent in the camping area, where there was only one family camping. Soon lots of cars arrived and the place turned into a club. Entire families drinking mate, talking, playing football and music. It was around midnight when I started to get impatient again. But this time I was smart, I counted till 10, took my tent down and went to sleep behind the gasoline station, where it was more silence.
During my journey in the northern part of the country I was received by people in every province, also some Hotels offered me free stay, like the Huacalera Hotel in Jujuy, Los Sauces Hotel in Cafayate, Cabañas No me Olvides in Tafí del Valle, Bristol Hotel in Termas de Río Hondo, Savoy Hotel in Santiago del Estero and the Punto Urbano Hostel in Mendoza. Also I contacted the press in every province. I was interviewed more than 30 times by the most popular newspapers, TV channels and radio stations. It is not what I am interested in, but I understand that if I get media maybe I can find a sponsor for the rest of my journey through Argentina. Still, this hasn’t happened yet.
I talked to several private companies, to the Ministry of Sports of the Nation and even the Ministry of Transport, whose Minister was the responsible of the transport area in the city of Buenos Aires in the previous government and in charge of developing the cycle track network fomenting the use of the bike. From all the doors I knocked, the most did not answer and the ones who did, said sorry and blamed the country economic crisis. Not to my surprise they are the same answers I have received for many years while trying to get support from Argentine companies.
And it hurts me. I have been sponsored in the poorest countries of the world: Mozambique, Ethiopia, Dominican Republic, and others. Here, finally back to my home land, I can’t find someone who wants to support me to close together this unique story in Argentina.
Is it really as the saying goes: “No one is a prophet in his land”?