Bed, Bugs and Ballyhoo

BEDTIME as an overlander can rely on many things.

The prospect of an early start the next day – and breakfast later than 7.30am would be classed as something of a lie-in – is likely to curtail many late nights. Not all, especially with the chance to catch up on sleep on a drive day.

Nights out or access to bars when staying in hotels or hostels – a rarity over the last week or so before reaching Santiago, which came with its own dramas but we will get to that – will have an obvious impact on what time people roll in to bed.

While camping, conditions and access to alcohol (usually red and straight from the bottle since stocking up in Argentina, to the extent the truck has a distinct clink when it goes round corners) will dictate.

At bush camps, bar those who opt for one more bottle before bed, people tend to head for their tents early.

But for two successive nights under canvas, the decision on what time to head to bed was rather taken for us by the local, buzzy wildlife and the weather.

Hiding under canvas was not always enough for some of us.

Let’s roll backwards a bit first, something we needed a bit of help to get Spongebob to do after a night listing in a dried river bed.

But freed from our Bolivian shackles and, eventually, through the first of several crossings of the Argentinian border (we bounce in and out of Chile in the next few weeks) we crossed into the fourth country on the trip and an almost instant increase in temperature.

And an increase in the consumption of red wine, starting with our night in the quaint hillside town of Purmamarca which we sort of explored in between trips to the off licence, empanada stall and town square to use the free WiFi.

Our cook group had rather more things to buy as we reached the town of Salta ahead of three nights camping alongside the most enormous swimming pool, easily bigger than two football pitches but sadly devoid of water.

Somehow, had managed to only cook once up to this point and managed to forget how long it can take to make a white sauce while camping after suggesting it as the best way to make a macaroni cheese.

Arm muscles given a work out, the evening’s choice of activities was watching The Goonies on the side of the truck or downing a few more bottles of red. While getting chewed by the local insects.

The start of two recurring themes.

With the temperature rising, sitting by even an empty pool seemed a good idea the next day so while others headed off into Salta, several of us hung around camp, sorted our stuff out and fell into a long game of Monopoly Deal (same thing, just played with cards) and some suitable refreshment.

Breaking only for some shopping for Halloween onesies before heading out for an evening with the third recurring Argentinian theme, great slabs of steak cooked to perfection and washed down with a nice soft drink.

Or a nice bottle of red, you choose.

We went even more Argentinian the next day, heading out with gauchos for a spot of horse riding – well, some did, no poor animal deserves that fate with me.

Reunited, we tucked into the piles of barbecued meat and wine which flowed onto the table, all while dressed in a variety of bizarre onesies and Halloween costumes.

Still to work out whether mine is a moose or a reindeer, but it is likely to come in very handy when it gets cold further south and is already doing sterling service as a tent pillow.

After a few days of gluttony and relative inactivity, it was time for some action to work off some of that steak and we headed a few hours down the road for an afternoon rafting.

Not the toughest river – harder challenges lie ahead for those who want it – but a fun afternoon which involved more splashing the other boat than serious threat from the churning water.

But our visit to Salta Rafting will be remembered not for the challenges on the river but those buzzing around the campsite, especially as dusk and dinner approached.

Regardless of the temperature, we dug out hoodies, long trousers and socks to keep out the nasty, still unidentified little buggers.

Should really have gone for gloves as well before diving into the protection of the tent immediately after dinner and refusing to come out – even with the offer of a couple of bottles of wine in an adjoining tent – until nature dictated.

With just my hands exposed, the right one took the brunt with a string of pin prick bite marks- 26 at one count – which as the race to get out of there the next morning intensified, began to bubble up into something rather bigger.

As did my hand.

By the time we had rolled into our next stop in Cafayate via some spectacular scenery, it had swollen up considerably and could not form a fist so rather than head into town, spent much of the afternoon crashed out on the truck – partly the effects of some tablets, mainly the impact of feeling rather sorry for myself and fearing another onset of the cellulitis which dogged my Trans Africa trip.

But snoozing was cut short by the heavens opening – supposedly for the first time in nine months in this part of the world – to apocalyptic proportions, turning the campsite and much of the town into a lake.

Not the best time for two of us to spend half an hour waiting at the entrance for a taxi to hospital – one to check on the results from a scan following a coming together between head and truck door, the other convinced cellulitis had returned.

Thankfully, seems we both got lucky.

No idea if it was cellulitis, but one quick injection later and was dispatched back to the campsite to wait on the truck for a brief cessation in the downpour to make a break for the tent and a night listening to the rain and thunder which drowned out the music on my iPod.

By morning, the rain had stopped, the tents were still dry – bar the person who opened his to check on the surrounding water and let the torrent in – and my hand was on its way down to the point where it could grip normally.

Which was handy, considering how much gripping of wine glasses it did throughout the day as we headed out on a tour of a the local wineries.

Well, we toured a couple of them, grabbed lunch which consisted of huge piles of empanadas and then headed back to one of the wineries to check our original assessments of the wine in their rather nice courtyard.

We were still assessing and discussing, rather loudly evidently at one point, until well into the evening with a takeout order which somehow came accompanied home by the winery’s dog.

She just had a better idea of when to go to bed than the rest of us.

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