Little things

By far the best toys so far have been the homemade walkie talkies, put together with Tic Tac boxes and disposable coffee spoons. Ruaridh came up with the idea. He’s always coveted empty boxes, toilet rolls and envelopes, and put them to good use on his next imaginary adventure. Neamh added the coffee spoons to make the antennas. Ishbel contributed stickers to give them key pads. The walkie talkies made time fly on long bus journeys and turned the cobbled streets of Montevideo and Buenos Aires into a spy thriller.

We’ve travelled almost 2000 kilometres from laid back Punta Diablo in Uruguay to the northern fringes of Argentina’s Patagonia, which are rolling past my bus window as I type. Uruguay fascinated me with its cool confidence and progressive politics. Buenos Aires was big and fast and bold. But my favourite times so far have been a whole host of little things, like watching the children play with their homemade walkie talkies.

Every house in Punta del Diablo, and our hostel was no different, was home to several dogs. (I know some of you reading this will wrinkle yours noses up at that, but I can honestly say it is the cleanest hostel you could ever visit). The dogs accompany anyone who leaves the hostel until they return. For my children, the dogs’ company on our walks has been a constant pleasure. Ishbel, Neamh and Ruaridh have talked at great length about the dogs’ personalities; tried to work out which is the boss; and sat companionably with them around the wood burner in the evening. Each of the dogs was proudly given a new name to reflect the personalities which the children had noticed – and because the Spanish names were too difficult to repeat at first. The pleasure of our pack (children and dogs) exploring the vast and empty beaches around Punta deal Diablo is not a highlight the guidebook told me to seek out, but it’s a little thing I’m not going to forget.

Today’s bus journey is a mere 6 and a half hours. But the one from Buenos Aires to Bahia Blanca took 11. I had blocked this from my mind until the day before we boarded because I couldn’t imagine it would be anything other than awful: quarrelling children, uncomfortable and boring. Yet it turned out to be one of my favourite days so far.

I am no expert on this, but like many countries, including my own, Argentina privatised and stopped investing in its entire rail network in the 90s. As in Britain, it was a dismal failure and has left Argentina’s rail network non-existent today. Everybody relies instead on a complicated privatised and deregulated bus network.

Settled in comfy seats on the top deck of the bus, we had the best views of the countryside we were travelling through. For 11 hours, it looked exactly the same. A clear blue sky beamed down on the flattest terrain that I have ever seen, all tufts of grass and shrubs (officially known as the Patagonia Steppe). There was a regular scattering of fat cows, their hides sleek in the sun. Horses gathered under the odd clumps of trees. As we neared Bahia Blanca, I spotted clusters of rhea, ostrich-like birds, nestling in the grass. To my children’s delight, small boxes of snacks were handed out a couple of times during the journey, but mostly they read and slept, like the rest of the passengers. I admit, I did have the odd snooze too, but most of the time I just watched the unchanging scenery out of the window, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Like the scenery rolling past, conversations, people and politics popped into my head and rolled out again. It was a far cry from the noise which usually fills my thoughts. The chance to sit still and quietly on an 11 hour bus journey had not been at the top of my to-do list for this year long adventure, but perhaps it should have been?

I guess the beauty of these little pleasures is that they come in simple and unexpected ways. In the midst of all the epic journeys, dramatic scenery and new experiences to come, I don’t want to overlook too many.

Polly Jones

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