Tuesday, and there’s been so much rain overnight that the fields look like rice paddies. The road slips away before us like something falling from your pocket. Purple dirt, purple light from the clouds. Paraguay’s thick pelt creeping over the border, wrapping its shaggy tendrils round that dotted line and hanging on like jungle vines. This is the Chaco, endless grasslands ironed out into the distance, carved out of what was once vegetation. The skies out here are enormous, but somehow closer, more intimate than the great arched emptiness we get back home. Everything grows blue and gold as the sun dies out ahead.
We’ve driven 1500 km – two days and nights from Salta to Iguazu Falls, a multi-kilometre monument to gravity. This is nature getting serious. Diving skyscrapers of water faceplant into the river below. There’s an unrelenting guttural roar, the violence of such epic volumes of matter shifting large distances in quick time.
The grandeur of the spewing brown torrents, though, is somewhat compromised when we realize how reminiscent it is of our recent digestive issues. The three of us have been alone for over a week now, and are communicating almost entirely in jokes about bodily waste, penises, and The 12th Man. The waterfall also reminds me of one of my all-time favourite dick jokes, in a conversation with my old housemate the Space Cowboy. Can’t remember how we got onto this tangent, but I do recall him saying, “So, does that mean your erection is like Niagara Falls?” And me replying, “If by like Niagara Falls you mean that it’s raging… foaming…. torrential… several hundred metres from top to bottom… channelling megalitres of fluid… millions of people come to see it every year… and a guy once went over it in a barrel… then yes, my erection is very much like Niagara Falls.”
We drive another 1300 kilometres to Buenos Aires. Taillights, roadworks, gravel cutaways in the weak beams of headlights, truck stops, and endless convoys of transport vehicles chewing through the night. At a petrol station three hours this side of nowhere, the most beautiful girl ever to be wasted on country roads brushes my hand nine times as she counts out change. She holds my eye the whole time and we both know it’s deliberate. We’re probably the only under-fifties she’s seen today. The truckers are a stream of greasy whiskers and sweat-stains. There’s nothing else to set any two moments apart. Through the darkness the light of Brazilian border towns is a sickly pulse on the sky. When we get out to piss the highway closes blank around us, sword-grass scraping on itself in air that’s thick and hot enough for cane toads to swim through. Everything bleeds into whatever’s next. Through your eyelids you can see the dark-light-dark of your life flicking by, and hear its metronome match up, the clickety-clacking hypnosis of movement and photons, like the train scene in Risky Business. Only once do we wake up.
“Where should we drive next?” The Fox asks.
“I don’t know. Want to go to France?”
“Hey, yeah! We can drive to France from here, can’t we?”
There’s a long silence. We tell ourselves he’s joking. Then he’s back. “Yeah, we can drive to France from here!”
“Would you like to explain how?”
“Yeah, we go all the way up through South America, then through Mexico, then through North America, then Ca…” …
There is a silence long enough for Buddha to attain his divine revelations. Then we laugh so hard we almost fall out of the car.
Then a shitty motel and a joint and concrete sleep, and a morning as indifferent as any other. And closing down the distance, BA waits crab-legged in the distance like a Super Mario boss. The sky is an angry slate grey threaded through with electrical wires. Just as we hit a twelve-lane outer highway, the lightning that has been threatening all afternoon finds its mark. By the time we reach the inner freeways, the clouds open in a way that even a year in Malaysia never topped. The rain seems literally solid. Chunky knuckles of ice pound the roof in a drunken rage. Wankers in BMWs stop under freeway bridges to protect their paint jobs; the resulting wet scaly snarls are like sea monsters chewing themselves to death. Traffic crawls and slews and howls around the edges. The Doctor drives like grim death, unshakeable, his white grip on the wheel the only thing between us and sinking. We have a shitty line map torn from a stolen guidebook and the vague hope of a sense of direction. But somehow we make it to the suburb we’re seeking.
It’s not over, though. There’s the airport, but the rental car counter is closed. Then there’s the address in the city, but round there is nothing to be seen. Turns out Europcar in BA has a different name. But we don’t know this. So we drive around for three full hours trying to find it. For three full hours it rains as though God were trying to compensate for volcanoes. Three hours of Buenos Aires traffic in a stormfront. Three hours of phone calls that won’t connect. Finally we get through, to the guy way back in the office at Salta. “We’ve been up and down this road a dozen times. There’s no Europcar sign anywhere,” says the Doctor.
“Europcar sign?” says the guy. “No, you have to go to Buquebus.”
We’ve been to Buquebus. We pulled a dodgy u-turn in the driveway of Buquebus after a fifteen-minute attempt to turn around ground into stalemate. We turned around in their entrance and drove slowly and painfully away. We nearly died several times. We are now about thirty hard-fought minutes from that same driveway. “You…didn’t….mention…that….” says the Doctor, the words somehow escaping from the closed portcullis of his gritted teeth. I have never seen a man killed over the telephone before, but I’m definitely interested to see what happens next.