Monday February 16, 2015 was sure an interesting day that really captured some of the challenges of travelling but also the unexpected joys of living on the fly. In the morning, it was a bit of an emotional goodbye…ahem…see you later…to Mattias and Andrea in a jumble of half Spanish and half English and many hugs. We rode about 10km to the Rosario-Victoria bridge, a masterpiece of construction spanning over 60km long. The first bridge is the biggest crossing the Parana River but it doesn’t end there. After the tall first bridge, the road leapfrogs with bridges and roads over built up earthen dykes through the water filled swamp of the river delta. It was really surreal because the lines between land and water really blurred with aquatic plants forming a green bushy carpet over still water. There are small islands that on the closer look are some cows resting in the shallow cool water.
There is always a little trepidation, excitement mixed with a little nervous energy that births little butterflies in my stomach, when we start riding again after a long time out of saddle. Riding through Rosario was easy and the roads were straightforward but we got onto the bridge, rode one kilometre and the army stops us. We’re not allowed to ride on this whole bridge section to Victoria (and after seeing the busy, shoulderless two-laned highway filled with fast drivers, it would have been an awful ride anyways). We were in the middle of the bridge at that time and after a little discussing, the army guys put us and our bikes in the back of their truck and we made it over the first bridge in record time. The army guys drove fast weaving through traffic on the bridge and part of me thought it was probably safer for us to ride! They dropped us off at the toll booth on the other side of the first bridge where we promised to find a ride the rest of the way. We were very lucky and as soon as I stood by the highway and held out my thumb, a truck passed and stopped for us. Woohoo! The first bump in the rollercoster ride of the day passed.
We make it to Victoria a little afternoon and find out that it is Carnival and the second biggest celebration in the country was happening that night. Yay! Unfortunately, this meant that everything was full. We had planned on going to the municipal campground but then learned from the tourism office that it had closed down and in fact, there was no official campground in the city anymore and every room of all the hotels, hostels, hospedajes and people who just rent out rooms in their house was full. We left the tourism office with a little skeptic hope that was ground down and crushed over the next sweaty few hours riding all over the hilly old colonial city and indeed finding out that everything was full. We basically begged a hospedaje down by the river who had rooms the following day to let us camp in their grassy parking area for the first night but after a bunch of discussion, the answer remained no. Feeling defeated, we decided to go to the park by the river where the municipal campground used to be and have lunch.
When we got there, we found it packed with people and tents. I asked people what was going on – Yes, the campground has been officially closed but the city was letting people camp there for free over Carnival! We went from considering paying 500 pesos for a simple hospedaje room to free camping with lots of Argentinean families! People in Argentina camp close and we all become family. We set up our tent between two families, already thinking that we were crowding them a bit but then another family set up between us and the family beside us. Their tent, and it was a whole family in one tent and maybe a couple people sleeping in the car, was so close to ours that it was touching! We watched people fishing in the river and hung out with our neighbouring families for the rest of the afternoon, sharing Fernet and Cola and eating BBQed fish they just caught.
That night, we went to the glorious Carnival celebrations that went late into the night with fantastic costumes, beautiful men and women looking like exotic birds and fantastical angels and lots of families. It was probably the most fun day of the year for children as they had spray can shaving cream fights and the tipsy parents laughed away seeing their children turn into snowmen with so much shaving cream on them.
Our day, which started leaving Rosario in the morning, ended late after 3am. There were ups and there were downs but in the end, it was an amazing time where we got to experience the functioning chaos of Argentinean camping in a haze of smoke from all of the barbeques and a fantastic Carnival.