With a big `puff` I put my backpack on the sight of the road. Three policemen curiously observe my actions from behind their pilot-worthy-sunglasses. With their hands in their pockets they casually lean against their massive police 4x4. Their curiosity reveals their happiness that there`s finally something happening at the gas station of the sleepy little, rural town of Daireaux. A small country town that, besides a notification on google maps, won`t receive a lot more fame. A little than 30 minutes before, we had been dropped off here by an overfriendly truck driver. He was out of the world excited that he finally met other hitchhikers on the route 65 than his local neighbours.
As usual Grant needs “just a second to go to the bathroom” and I start putting my thumbs up. We`re only 500 kilometers away from Buenos Aires. The weather here is much more pleasant than the cold, harsh winter in Ushuaia. All around the birds are singing their last song of the season. Big tractors are driving up and down to get the last harvest in. With a little smile I loosen the zipper of my jacket. It`s so nice to enjoy this last summer day.
The second car that passes, stops immediately. A happy chapper with a big smile on his face and sunnies that could easily beat the ones of the policemen (who are still observing the whole situation with their hands in their pockets, leaning on to their 4x4) steps out of the car. “Bolivar?”, he asks, while he pull his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose. “Yes please!” I answer while I already grab my backpack. “But we are with two.” I inform him, while I point to the one and only driver`s seat in his car. “Not a problem siñorita, if your boyfriend`s behind is just as small as yours we`ll all fit in very easily.” Stoked that we found a ride so quickly I start waving to Grant, whose trying to get a ride from an older couple. He shakes their hands and comes running over. “They`re full.” “Cool, no problem. We have a ride to Bolivar, from there it`s only 300 kilometers to Buenos Aires.” We all jump in the car and with a bit of Tetris-skills we all fit in. “Mate? Do you guys want some mate?”, the boy asks. Grant and I enthusiastically nod `yes`. After a short night sleeping in a shed that called itself a hostel we were more than happy to have some sips of this energizing herbal drink. After a round along the gas station to fill up the flask with hot water, filling up the mate cup with fresh leaves. After knighting Grant as the mate server, we were more than ready to hit the road. Cristian appeared to be a very good companion and after 10 minutes it was like we were catching up with one of our best friends. No more than an hour later he drops us off at a roundabout and stays a while to keep us company. Then it`s really time for him to go. We say goodbye with a massive embrace. “Chicos, please make lots of beautiful children. You guys are a beautiful couple.”, he says with a wink. “We`ll first keep on practicing.” I joke back. With a massive press on the gas he flies off. “Is that guy over there waving at us?” Grant asks and points his finger to some truck drivers on the other side of the roundabout, buying some snacks from a small kiosk. Their trucks a fully loaded with cows. “I think they`re just waving goodbye to the owner. They`re transporting live animals, so I`ll be surprised if they`re allowed to take hitchhikers. So far we`ve always been neglected by chauffeurs of special transport.” I say to Grant. Grant pulls up his shoulders; “I bet you he was waving to us.” To mark our `agree to disagree`, we give each other a kiss and then quickly continue hitching for every traffic that comes passed. The trucks filled with cows slowly pulls away from the other side of the roundabout. The first two trucks slowly drive passed. Politely we wave at each other. Just as I start to put on my victory face to emphasize my correct guess the last truck suspiciously slows down around the turn. I put my facial expression quickly back to neutral. The truck passes slowly and then parks the truck, a little bit clumsy, in the grass beside the provincial route. “Told you so.” Grant chuckles. Without any further argument we both grab our backpacks and run to the front of the truck. The driver opens the door. “Hablas Castellano?” (in Argentina Castellano signifies Spanish). “Si, señor!” we shout in symphony. “Bueno, get in chicos. These souls...” he points to the back of the truck we`re the cows are looking at us through the wooden barriers, “….will spend their last night in Buenos Aires. If you want I can take you there.” Without a second of hesitation we hand him our backpacks and climb into the cabin. Carlos was curious about everything that had to do with Australia and Holland. He asked us around a thousand questions. “Ow chicos, it`s getting late. The slaughterhouse of these buddies is in the middle of the slums. Very dangerous area especially at night! Shall I drop you guys off at the town before Buenos Aires?” Grant and I look at each other. After two long days of hitch hiking we want nothing else than just crawl into a bed in Buenos Aires tonight. “Could we maybe go with you into the slaughterhouse and then call a taxi?” I ask him. Carlos looks like a kid that just heard he won a trip to Disneyland; “Por supuesto chicos, of course! I`ll call a friend of mine. He`ll know a reliable taxi for sure. Then I can show you guys around at the slaughterhouse. It`s really interesting.” We give him a grateful smile. There was no doubt this would be an interesting night.
The night starts to impose itself. The endless grass planes exchange themselves for houses, tractors exchange themselves for cars and grazing cows made their way for crowds of people. The simple one-lane-route has transformed into a massive 4-lane-highway with on-and off rems left, right, up and down. There is no doubt about it, we are back in Buenos Aires. “Sanneee, please close your window. We`re about to drive into the most dangerous neighborhood of Buenos Aires.” I wind up my window as fast as possible. The houses are badly maintained. Some of them don`t even have a roof. The better houses have bars in front of their windows. In front of a kiosk is a long line of people waiting to buy some necessities. The owner serves them through a small opening in the front door. Sometimes he walks to the back to collect the orders and then hands over a plastic bag via the same opening. “We`ll now pass the hospital of Evita Perron. There`s nothing left of it. Former politicians stole everything from these people.” As in a movie about the end of the world, a sky high, mass of around 12 stories high rises above the intriguing neighborhood. There`s no windows left, not a single one in all the 12 floors. The whole building is pitch dark. Only on the ground level there is some light. Some youngsters are playing some music and trying to make some atmosphere in this haunted place. “Around the corner from here is the slaughterhouse.” Carlos says while he points with his finger over the steer wheel. His colleague in the truck in front of us turns his truck and guides it thru the massive gates. A guardian friendly waves at him. “The cows here are worth a fortune, especially the young ones, they`re worth thousands of pesos. Quite regally a truck is being robbed. That`s why there`s so much control.” Grant and I look at each other with a concerning glance. We drive along a high wall with equally high gates. Every gate has his own number. “We have to go to number 12.” It`s dark and the few lanterns that give some soft yellow light are like notifications of the death that is awaiting. We pass some trucks that are parked in front of the gates. A man with a cattle prod walks on top of the trucks shouting loudly to push the cattle through the one-way gates. My stomach starts to churn. I look into the sidemirror. One of the cows curiously gazes back at me through the wooden barrels. Carlos parks his truck at the final destination: gate number 12. His colleagues give us a warm welcome. They invite us to come and take a look on top off the wall, so we have a good view of everything that is going on. The area behind the wall is around the size of a soccer field. Every group of cattle is perfectly organized in their own coral, small ones with small ones, vet ones with vet ones, breed, etc. `Gauchos` (Argentinian cowboys) are galloping on their horses between the enclosures, moving the groups from one place to another. The gauchos wave enthusiastically shouting some explanations here and there and inviting us to make pictures. Despite the deadly atmosphere, there`s lots of laughter and lots of thumbs being raises into the sky.
“So chicos, what do you think? Did you guys like it?” Carlos asks us when we return to the truck. We give him a smile. “Gracias Carlos! That was interesting. Thanks for everything.” Fueled with sadness in what we had just seen taking place, I wanted to say otherwise. But who am I to judge? Who am I to voice my opinion when all these workers are doing is to earn a dollar to put food on the table for their family and in turn feed millions across Argentina.
As we jumped in the taxi I could still hear the moo`s from the cattle. Wiping away a tear or two I had a mini epiphany, as sad as it was to see the cows pushed and jabbed by the sharp cattle prod, this is their country, their culture. Sometimes to respect somebody else, you have to put aside your own opinions.
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto