3 Nov Travelling to Meliquina, Patagonia, Argentina
My friends Paula and Ana in Buenos Aires recommended I go and stay with their friends Maria and Yuan in a place that is 45 km from San Martin. They live in the wilderness near a small town of 100 people called Meliquina.
I caught the bus around 11.30am. Fortunately the worst of my cold passed during the night. It was really bad and I was coughing non stop. So with relief I got on the bus. I saw Monica from the Hostel. She was travelling on the same bus it turned out. We are allocated seats and I sat with an older woman called Grace. I asked this lady if she was asked to pay a tip to the baggage handler, turns out she was. This was the first time I was asked and initially said no. I thought maybe he is just asking me. When I found out this is normal I went and gave him 2 pesos. I don´t know his financial situation.
Grace was an attractive Argentine woman who had just been visiting her son in Bariloche. Her two children were both professional but no grandchildren yet. I could see the twinkle in her eye at the prospect. I told her about my work in peace and my world trip. She told me she felt it was a gift and I don´t disagree. I am fortunate to be able to see the world, so many imagine it, the reality is far different. I looked at the lakes and mountains with awe as they are so grandiose and commanding. I love seeing the snow and tree cover. The lake or river at Bariloche is the largest in Argentina. It is clear fresh water, so beautiful to see pristine.
The bus drove along winding roads and I saw farm land, apparently cow´s are farmed here. I didn´t see many animals but Grace said there are Puma´s in the mountains and peacocks, apparently they shoot them. I am not sure if the translation was right there but that was the message I got.
Grace pointed out a scientific research project, she then went on to say it was nuclear. I was surprised and did a double take. The framework of the building was close to the lake. That seemed incredible to me. I spoke to her of the danger of nuclear energy. We had debates in Australia, particularly under the Howard Government as they tried to make it digestible and clean. I know for a fact that the depleted uranium, spent fuel in reality is not depleted, is highly radioactive with a half life of 4 billion years, takes the life of the planet to break down in half. This depleted uranium is used in the nose cones of missiles for heat penetration of armour in warfare. The arguments for nuclear is that it is clean energy, it is cheap to produce and replaces fossil fuels such as coal. The problem is that if there is a melt down, note Chernobyl in Russia and 3 mile Island in US, you can end up with radiation in the environment e.g. water supply (underground), it can be a target for disenfranchised militia groups, radioactivity is spread and lethal. The problem is also human, they make mistakes which may cause a meltdown or it may be converted into military armaments such as nuclear weapons. This is not unrealistic as India and Pakistan armed themselves with nuclear weapons to join the Security Council and to gain power on the international stage. The nuclear weapons were considered a bargaining chip to gain regional hegemony in South Asia. So there are many complex issues around nuclear. The use of this material in weapons or it escaping into the environment makes me shudder. Depleted uranium has certainly been spread over Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. The information I received from the former Head of the Depleted Uranium Project at the Pentagon (Major Douglas Rokke) many years ago was 1,000 tonnes of depleted uranium dropped in each place, I am sure that today it is higher as we don´t seem to have learned or faced fear in truth to find our own reflection staring back. I sense some real hope today as Obama is a peacemaker. My hope is that more will appear in the US administration as this is what will create real security and stability in the world. I also remember Kabir my ex partner, an artist from Afghanistan, stating that there was no cancer in this country prior to the Russian occupation in 1979. A few years ago his mother died of cancer at 53 with both breasts removed. She was one of the sweetest people I have met, I never knew a person with no ego, but she was one of those people. Very humble and kind but she felt bitter towards men and she was talking politics more to other women as her country and family had been destroyed. She also had to contend with the repression of the Taliban. This group were the product of the war, they were the orphan children raised in religious schools and my understanding is they had no idea of ordinary life and were thus open to suggestion by Mullahs, the outcome is evident today. Her daughters suffered as they were doctors and had to wear full cover, even when conducting operations, very impractical. They had to be escorted by men in public, their windows blackened, no freedom but to look at the sky, as kabir painted. Very difficult for women. That is what war and ignorance breeds, yet those perpetrating it feel justified, and in their world it seems right. I could see a lifetimes pain in her face. I found myself being very kind to her and trying to show her there is compassion in this world and unconditional love. The women were so neglected and silenced. When you connect with people from a wide range of cultures you find we all are the same, and warfare conducted in urban settings is devastating, and terrifying it is in any setting, but particularly as civilians become targets. The statistics used to be 90% fatalities in the past century were soldiers, now it is civilians. So innocent people are often the ones experiencing the side effects or direct effects of munitions and war. I find it incredible that given the impacts, there is no hesitation to use this material (or any weapons actually) when the effects are so dangerous and counterproductive. Fear generates more fear. That is why violence increases. You can´t create peace with violence, it does not work. No war has ended all wars, it is used as a power leverage it has no goal of conflict resolution. You end up with people trained to not react to feelings but to be rationale with no feeling so they can be effective or automated. They become desensitised to another´s pain, how else can you be involved. Those involved in war no longer see the human beings there are other words to objectivise. The reality is you can´t get rid of depleted uranium out of the environment, so it becomes the problem of generations, not just the immediate future. So you can imagine my sorrow seeing a nuclear facility being built in this idealic place and so close to water. I hope she is wrong. I always remember a very pivital moment for me when I was travelling in France. I was on the train and looked at the window to see a large nuclear reactor. It had the picture of a baby in the fetal position on it. I was so surprised at the promotion of new life given the release of this toxic material promotes the opposite. Yet it would have been interesting if a graffiti artist painted two heads, more realistic I feel. What a world some people live in. Yet another world is possible when you live in love and peace as your example. All war should be on paper and nuclear is the geni in the bottle we can´t control in truth.
Back to my journey, we continued on our way, I put the above out of my mind to just live in the moment. Grace informed me that the first settlers in this region were the German´s. That explained for me the European style architecture. The German´s are great engineers and their houses are very spectacular. They understand snow country and this part of the world is similar to Germany.
I arrived at the crossroads and saw Maria my host standing there. I had the option of hitching but have no idea where I am going nor speaking the language, could end up in timbucktwo. Anyway, we jumped in her pick up and headed to Meliquina. We arrived at her partner´s parents place and were met by two big german shepherds. They were howling and carrying on, but very gentle. I wondered if they may bite but was more in danger of being knocked over by them jumping up on me. I smiled and spoke english (may as well have been chinese) to them. Maria asked if I wanted to go to the construction of their new house. They are working 9.30am to 9.30pm, really hard to open it as a cafe and cultural centre. They are staying at the parents house which overlooks the lake and mountains. It is a priceless view, many restorts would love to pay for. The place is very peaceful and I am needing the silence to be alone and recover my energy. I have done too much over 5 months and feel very tired. I am also unwell, so I have to knock over the cold.
So I stayed in the house, made some lovely pasta and coffee. I propped the rocking chair in front of the glass doors and took in the snow capped Andes Mountains and the crystal blue lake. It was deeply peaceful sitting there in silence. I started to nod off then heard the dogs bark. I got up and decided to try and sleep. I felt a little cold but with a water bottle, I started to warm up. I feel a sleep. Then awoke to a strange dream where I was with someone in a kitchen and saw water pouring out on the floor. I remember thinking about electricity and found myself trying to jump away from the water and the jolted awake. Perhaps in the dream I didn´t make it, I just laughed as I was awake.
Maria, Yuan and his brother turned up after dark. I was sitting in the dark staring at the mountains. It was deeply peaceful. They came in and we had a chat. I told them some of my story. Maria lite the fire and made me feel welcome. Then to my surprise they said they had to go to San Martin tonight as they have an apartment there and can go shopping in the morning for supplies for the building project. I also have a broken computer and they suggested seeing one of their friends.
So we drove in at night, it was beautiful and dark as we drove along a dusty windy road with sprinklings of rain. The night was fresh. We arrived at the town and it is a quaint little town, much wood used in the construction of buildings, a lot like Germany. We stopped to get chocolate and I said to Maria, I feel to hug that tree. It was huge, 100´s of years old. I was half joking and she laughed. There were girls sitting on a bench next to the tree. I thought what the heck, just hug it, so I smiled at the girls and gave it a hug. I pointed out a hump on the tree, like it was pregnant and the girls just laughed at me. I said to Maria, they probably think I am loco. Oh well that is fine. I love the connection with the ancient forests, I feel them as dinosaurs. They are remarkable and very rare in Australia. So to see more than a few trees has been very exciting. They are truly magnificent.
We arrived at the apartment. A very nice apartment with carved wood table and chairs. The apartment was warm. I was tired but listened to music for a few hours. I really loved it then finally I slept.
The next day Maria and Yuan came for me around 10.30am. We headed to their shop, Yuan´s parents owned it and now it helps pay for their project. We went via the IT guy and he had no spare parts, we tried another and the diagnosis is that the hard drive is dead. That was not good news, it means I have to turf the computer. In some ways that is good as it is heavy, in other ways it may cut my trip short as I have to spend money to buy a new one. Anyway, it has to be done. I had hoped to maybe stay a week more and start my book but unless a computer materialises, that is unlikely. So I will have to get one in Chile.
So we drove back to the parent´s house along some of the most magnificent landscape I have seen. Truly breathtaking. What a world we live in, it takes my breath away. I feel a sense of responsibility, to pre-serve it. That is precisely what I will do. I will be a good steward, even if the world wants to trash it by continuing on the destructive route of consumerism. It is a road to nowhere.
However, I won´t finish on doom and gloom, we will find our way, perhaps at the 11th hour, but eventually wisdom will prevail or the love for our children will become the new beacon of hope.