"Sailed not as a seaman, but as a traveler..."

"Sailed not as a seaman, but as a traveler..."- Sir Thomas More's Utopia

Thursday, May 9, 2013

His name was Miguel.

View from inside the carriage, Miguel as el Capitan


"So, what's your name?" The question felt oddly out of place. We had been sitting in his truck, sharing mate, and making small talk for some time already.

He quickly took his eyes off the road to look at me, slightly confused, "What?" He asked.

"What's your name?" I said almost sheepishly, having been forced to repeat the awkward question.

"Miguel," he simply replied.

I sat askew for a moment, waiting for the usual follow-up question, "And you, your name?" Nothing. He said nothing. He just kept on trucking.

"I'm Erick," I finally offered after a sufficiently long awkward moment had passed. Miguel just nodded.

"Lyndon," Lyndon offered from the back seat.

"What did he say?" Miguel asked me.

"That his name is Lyndon."

"Lyndon," Miguel sounded out the syllables as if his mouth had never had to produce such strange sounds.

"Are we still in Buenos Aires Provincia?" I ask. After arriving almost a year ago, I have never left the Province of Buenos Aires. Granted, it's hard to leave, not at all in the poetic sense of not being able to resist the pull of the magical city that is Buenos Aires, or whatever. Rather, it's physically and geographically difficult. It's a huge province, it takes hours of travel in any direction to reach its borders.

"No, this is the province of Entre Rios," Miguel said and I looked out the window with more amazement than the moment before. Nothing changed in terms of landscape, everything still looked the same. It was just the sudden knowledge that I had crossed some invisible border only outlined on maps. Finally, I was outside of Buenos Aires. Suddenly, the trip began to sink in.

After such an awkward start, we quickly learned that Miguel was quite the character. He was born and raised in a villa, a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. He has since moved to another slum outside of Quilmes, a city a few kilometers outside the capital. He's been working as a truck driver for over 20 years, has seven children, and really loves beer.

Once he opened up, Miguel did not stop. He is a man with stories, many of which should not be shared. But, share he did. It also probably didn't help that he would stop every dozen kilometers or so to piss and buy more beer. At one point, Lyndon and I started skulling the beers in an attempt to syphon beer away from Miguel. He was driving a fairly large truck, and we really weren't in the mood to die.

"I wish I didn't leave my parrilla at home," Miguel looked genuinely disappointed. "You see, I normally bring a parrilla so I can grill my own meat. And in case I pick up hitch-hikers, we can have a roadside asado, drink beer and shoot the shit." At the beginning, Miguel's Spanish was proper and very easy to understand. After a few beers, he began to loosen up and the slum Spanish started to creep out and it became increasingly difficult to decipher what he said.

You travel with a full on grill? Where the hell would you even put that? I wanted to ask Miguel, but at this point, nothing he said would have surprised me. He went on to talk about a hitch-hiker he'd picked up recently who was an escaped convict. He outlined, gesture by gesture, in excruciating detail, his reaction to this hitch-hiker's sudden revelation. I had a mini-heart attack everytime his more than slighly enebriated hands left the steering wheel to make a gesture that was apparently crucial to the telling of this tale. The story ended with Miguel dropping off the hitch-hiker less than two kilometers from where he picked us up. Hence the tension when we first hopped on. He was wondering if we were also escaped convicts.

There was also a story involving the sale of cocaine and marijuana. I won't go into further detail. Just know that illegal substances were discussed.

At nightfall, Miguel pulled up into a petrol station in some rickety town that looked like some strange hybrid of an old Western and an old Mexican movie. I kept looking out the window, expecting to see tumbleweed role by, or at least a man named Juan Ramirez in a poncho, leading a donkey. Nada.

We didn't have a tent so Miguel let us sleep in his truck. He had a friend in town who runs a resaurant/bar/inn so he spent the night there. The night was cold. The wind blew hard against the truck, turning every crevice and lip on its steely surface into whistles.