The Bus To The Clouds

Have you heard cumbia ?
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Those who have, know the pain that we have gone through but, for the uninitiated,Cumbia is a rhythmic dance music beloved in Andean Argentina.

 For me, it’s an ubiquitous weed that has spread wild and unwanted in my life for the last month, torturing me.

In a nutshell, all songs are the same with a loping, rolling rhythm like riding a horse.  There is always some clown playing it nearby and shouting out the four words that are in every song.

Cumbia!/ Cumbia! Cumbia! / Cumbia!/

Today, after 6 months, my second last day in Argentina,I am proud to say that I have made my peace with the weed.

My epiphany happened yesterday, on the bus to the clouds, during our trip from Salta to Cachi, a small village high up in the Calchaquies Valley.
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At 7am, our bus driver, cheeks stuffed with leaves, pulled out of the station,immediately blaring out Cumbia.

It was going to be a long five-hour climb on a twisty, steep mountain road; none of us were feeling well, already suffering stomach bugs.

On my right, Darragh sat green-faced,clutching a plastic bag, Nan next to him was pretty pasty-looking too. It was anyone’s guess as to who would vomit first.

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Sat beside me was a little old lady from Salta. She was a sprightly, eighty-year old who was going to visit her little farm house with her husband and eldest granddaughter.

She was lovely, offering me goats cheese and pears,and was really enthusiastic about the beautiful road ahead. Especially excited for me since it was my first time.

The first stretch out of the city was nothing special, except that after an hour I noticed something new. ..my foot was tapping to the cumbian beat,it had somehow got into my head.

The chuggy chuggy motion of the old bus and the clip-clop beat seemed to merge and make sense.

I was smiling and enjoying the music. I looked around to see if others were too and saw that everyone was asleep, their heads nodding to the beat. I looked at my friend, the granny and she too, eyes closed, nodded musically.

Darragh was the first to vomit, the plastic bag did its job perfectly and he soon fell back asleep.

Granny woke next and told me all about the road and the region.

´This is the good part’, she said ‘Mira! Mira’ as the bus huffed and puffed its way, over and back up the hairpin bends of Cuesta del Obispo,the Bishop’s Climb.
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Soon, there was nothing to see, as the bus was completely engulfed in clouds.

‘Now is Piedro De Molino, 3400 metres.’ My thrill-seeking granny informed me.

The bus blindly chugged through the clouds to the Cumbian beat, hooting regularly . I hoped our driver was warning oncoming cars, not accompanying the 4/4 rhythm on the horn.

Granny was smiling, loving the trip and my reaction.

‘You’ll have to come back in winter for the snow!’ , she said.

Soon the climb was over and we were in open plains, surrounded by candelabra cactuses.

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‘This is Los Cordones National Park,’ she said ‘this road was built by the Incas a long time ago.’

It was beautiful, one long straight road stretching through red-rock canyons and cactus.

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As we sat rolling along; our journey,the movement of the bus and the Afro- Latino Cumbian rhythm reminded me of Paul Simon’s Graceland.

I looked over at my twelve-year travelling companion and was glad to see him awake and recovered, taking in the huge vista of cacti, his head nodding and his feet tapping to the sound of cumbia.

I couldn’t stop myself from mouthing over

Cumbia!/ Cumbia! Cumbia! / Cumbia!/

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One thought on “The Bus To The Clouds

  1. hey guys! its giorgio! im here back at buenos aires from a full month at punta del este uruguay! i hope you’ve had a great time here in argentina (or the south if you will). also it’d be great if you guys sent me an email to giorgiomdn@gmail.com because i lost the paper darragh had gave me with your mail.

    Hugs,
    Giorgio

    Liked by 1 person

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