I had a spectacular view; each mountain taller than those in front of it, winding paths arriving at isolated farmhouses, and a clay-colored river cutting through the valley far below.
La Plata, the last city I passed through was sixteen miles back. Belén, the next town was some undetermined distance ahead, and beyond that were only two small towns over the next sixty miles. The coming days would be isolated walking.
“Doesn’t get any better than this, eh, Savannah?”
Savannah paused to look back at me, likely waiting for some command. No need for many commands where we were though. The dirt road was a little wider than a single pickup, but cars only came about once an hour and I could hear them coming minutes before they arrived.
Ahead of me the road turned between two towering walls of stone. Off the road just before the turn was a small clearing with an unfinished brick house.
“Let’s check this out.”
We walked off the road and I parked my cart. If the house ever had a front porch it’d have one hell of a view. Mountains rippling far into the distance and the river finding its path straight through.
I snatched my camera then scaled the unfinished house to stand a wall and take a picture of the river valley. I jumped back to the ground and Savannah darted out of the way.
“Now that’s a view.”
We strolled around the turn and the road continued upward. The rocks and divots on the unpaved road jostled the cart relentlessly, avoiding them was simply an impossibility but I did my best anyway. The smoother the path the easier the path.
But in an arbitrary instant the rough road exacted its toll. My cart suddenly limped to its right, giving way like a torn ACL.
I knew without even looking something was severely wrong.
I lifted the right side of the cart then spun the tire to see where the problem lie.
The tire wobbled madly and I could see what happened. The outer part of the axle sheared and now all the weight rested on the flimsy inner axle which was about half a centimeter thick.
The inner axle was already bent too. Anymore walking with the full weight of the cart on it and the axle would shear completely.
I wasn’t angry, problems were inevitable when walking around the world and to imagine I’d walk five years without incident would be delusional. The axle breaking was just a pain was all. And I was pretty far from any help.
I rested the cart off the side of the road on a narrow patch of grass before a three hundred meter drop-off to the churning river below.
What were my options? I had duct tape and parachute cord, but nothing I could imagine using to jerry-rig the wheel, the axle bore too much weight. I could walk back to La Plata, it would be downhill at least, but that would be going in the wrong direction. Belén, the town ahead, was probably small but there might be a workshop that could come up with something.
I held the right side of the cart so the tire was suspended just off the ground then started uphill again.
The rough road wasn’t easy before, but now it was a test. Nearly all the cart’s weight was held in my arms. My typically unused triceps burnt fiercely. And though it was cool in the mountains, I was dripping sweat within minutes.
I sat the cart to a rest, then opened it and dumped out all the water I had. I probably had a gallon so that was eight less pounds I needed to carry.
Maybe a car would come that could drive me to Belén.
How far was Belén anyway?
To my right was a single-room home perched on the mountain with a woman in rocking chair out front.
“Excuse me,” I said. “How many kilometers to Belén?”
She looked down the road to consider the question. “Four.”
Four? I could do four. With four hours of daylight that meant I only had to walk a kilometer an hour.
“Is there a workshop around here?” I asked.
So four kilometers then in Belén I could get the axle repaired, maybe walking in a day, maybe even tomorrow afternoon.
I walked another five minutes before sitting the cart down again. Anything more than a couple minutes at a time wasn’t happening. The cart was too heavy and at my slow pace the wheels were constantly being stopped by rocks.
But I’d chip away, fifty meters at a time.
I did this for a little while until a truck with a huge covered bed rode down the road. I waved the truck to stop then went to the window.
“Are you going to La Plata?”
A boy looked to his father in the driver’s seat.
“Then La Plata?”
“No. Only La Argentina.”
“But that’s near La Plata isn’t it? My cart is broken. Do you think you could give me a ride to La Argentina. From there I could get another truck to La Plata.”
The father, a man with pale marks on his face from acne scarring, stared at me blankly for a moment. “Sorry,” he said, eventually.
“There’s no room?”
“La Argentina isn’t near La Plata.”
I could think of no rebuttal. There was no reason for them not to give me a ride other than their own suspicion. I could see through a slit in the cover that they weren’t carrying more than a few crates. I’d sit in the back with the cart and not be any trouble at all.
“Sorry,” the man said again.
The truck’s brake released then rolled downhill at a careful speed.
I stepped back to my cart and heaved it up, digging my elbows into my stomach to transfer some weight to my legs.
After another twenty minutes of stop-start, I stared down the road forlornly. I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it four kilometers even if I was only walking a kilometer an hour. Holding the cart was incredibly taxing. It’d only been forty minutes and the muscles in my back felt like they’d been shredded apart by a werewolf. My forearms throbbed and were swollen to twice their normal size from the exertion.
I few moments later I spotted a man brushing his teeth in the combo laundry room/bathroom of a home settled on the mountain’s edge.
“Excuse me?” I said once reaching the border of his property.
The man turned, then spotting me sat down his toothbrush and stepped outside.
“How far is Belén?”
He spit to his side. “Eight kilometers.”
“No. Eight, I think.”
I groaned. “Thanks.”
No way I could do eight. No freaking way. I’d be camping for the night.
As I moved back onto the road a truck came up from behind me so moved to the side. I inspected my tire, the thin piece of metal keeping it attached to the cart. As the truck passed I watched it absentmindedly, then snapped out of my thoughts and realized I might be able to catch a ride. I ran into the road and waved at the driver’s mirror. A passenger seated in the truck bed slapped the side of the truck to get the driver to stop.
I ran to the driver’s window.
“Are you going to Belén?”
“Could I get a ride?”
The driver hopped spritely out of the truck and went around back with me.
“I have the dog and the cart too. My cart’s broken…”
The driver looked into the truck bed. Two woman, one younger, one older, were seated on a bench to the right. But the left side of the truck bed was free. The driver lifted the bench on the left side so it was flush with the wall and suddenly there was plenty of room for my cart.
We lifted my cart together and wheeled it onto the bed. It was a perfect fit.
Then I picked up Savannah and climbed onto the bench. The young woman beside me shifted her things to give me space.
“The gringo and the dog!” burst the old woman.
I slipped my backpack between my legs and the young woman let out a small cry as Savannah craned forward to smell her.
“She doesn’t bite,” I assured her.
“And the gringo speaks Spanish!” hollered the old woman.
The woman beside me tentatively pet Savannah then smiled to me once she realized Savannah really was quite friendly.
The truck lurched to a start.
“Your Spanish is very good.” The older woman smiled to me in a matronly way, now more poised than a minute before.
“I’m trying. I get a little practice everyday.”
“And where are you from?”
“The United States.”
“The dog too?”
“She’s an American.”
“Two gringos! I bet the dog only speaks English!”
“Of course, she’s an American.”
The young woman pulled her purse to her chest and made herself small as the older woman and I had our exchange.
“And you’re going to Belén now?”
“Yes mam. My wheel broke, I need to find a workshop.”
“There’s a German couple in Belén with a very beautiful finca. Do you know them?”
“No. It’s my first time here.”
“Find the German’s. They speak Spanish. Maybe they can help.”
“I’ll will. Thank you.”
The older woman sat back with a satisfied air about her.
I turned my attention to the great mountain range unfolding behind me. A waterfall hundreds of meters in height fell from one of them.
“Look at that!” I said to the women. “The waterfall!”
Neither looked, surely having seen the waterfall hundreds of times already.
Savannah clung to her little space of bench. Her two front paws were over my right thigh and her butt was sliding as the truck veered. I put hand on her to keep her somewhat steadier.
After a much longer drive than I was expecting, they guy who said eight kilometers was right, we arrived in Belén.
“Are there hotels here?” I asked the driver after we sat my cart down on the now paved road.
“Right there.” He pointed to a vertical sign which read Hospedaje.
I figured my first act of business would be to get a room for the night. That way I could drop my things off and take my cart to a workshop empty.
Belén was high and the air was cold so I put on my down jacket. The buildings were all flat and painted bright colors. Two kids played soccer in the side street behind me.
The hotel had a room for nine bucks a night and it just so happened the owner’s brother owned the best workshop in town (or so she claimed). Before paying for the room, the owner retrieved her brother and outside the hotel he looked over my cart and told my he couldn’t fix the axle. He said on a bike he could fix anything, but my axle was too unique.
I was somewhat expecting that. The axle was made specifically for Thule. It wasn’t a normal axle that ran from wheel to wheel, but only a pin from the tire to the cart. That pin was complicated, with two ball bearings for a push release and grooves at one end so it could be screwed into the tire.
“They’ll be able to fix it in La Plata.”
“Are there trucks going there tonight?”
“At five, from that corner there.”
“Okay, thank you for trying.”
I walked to the small outdoor cafe on the corner where the truck would come. It was only three so I ordered a plate of rice and pork.
After finishing my food and turned on my stool to look out at Belén. School kids passed with white shirts tucked into green track pants. The occasional motorcycle bounced over the yellow speed up. The broken axle would set me back, it already was. Ideally, in La Plata there’d be a workshop well enough equipped to help me out. I doubted it though. I was already eager to continue walking, but had the feeling I’d wouldn’t be back on the road anytime soon.