Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The robbery: half Europe in two days.

The fourth week started with a side trip to Wales which ended as a side trip to Cornwall when the driver of the Volkswagen van that gave us a ride said that was his destination. I know, we find perverse pleasure in obbeying to the sudden branches of the road. In that way we had a nice day in a remote fishing village called St.Ives, where low tide caused boats to seem abbandoned toys on the beach. We then went to London to collect our sirian visas. On the way we got a ride with a couple, she was english, he was maori, and they suggested we should all go and camp togheter. That’s how we ended drinking japanese rice wine (saki) with a maori in an english forest. Before getting to London we saw Stonhenge and traveled in the car of a former football manager of the Islas Malvinas team.
In London we collected our sirian visas and hit the road for France, taking the Channel Tunnel road. Once on the other side the idea was to reach Milan, where my sister Veronica lives from 1989. We talked to many truck drivers, but they were all afraid we would be trying to get to France ilegaly. We managed to get to the slipway to the tunnel, only to be removed by the Kent police. We camped in a soccer ground in the closest village.
It was the ferry to take us to France, on the following morning. As we had already hitch hiked across the sea from N.Ireland to Scotland the thing wasn’t a challenge at all, and we really wanted to leave England at once. In France there is no one to stamp our passports. Frontier Police stand is empty, they are sensible enough to lunch time as to forget their commitment with paneuropean paranoia. We walked to a giant Elf truck stop, what everybody’s plan there was to sleep. We met a couple from Etiopia, who were trying to cross to England without passports. We talk to them, we know how impossible is their plan, but they want to try it no matter how, so we don’t want to discourage them. We slept in a truck from Cyprus, whose driver had promised to take us as far south as Venice next day.
On the morning we found all of our camping gear was gone. Kitchen, tent, sleeping bags, and the list goes on. We had left our backpacks in the back of the truck. We were already on board the truck, bound for Venice, when we connect things and we discover we were traveling with the thief. We asked to be dropped off in a petrol station. It’s midday and the sun burns, we are somewhere in Belgium, we don’t know where, with no map, no tent and more than 1000 kms away from Milan. It’s the beginning of a road marathon against time. As a hitted ship that sets sails to a friendly harbour, in that way we headed for Milan. Three years before I had lost a tent on the first day of a long trip to Argentinian Nortwestern Valleys, and it had been the best trip of my life, sleeping in curches, monasteries and the ocassional hostel. Yet, Frankfurt promissed to be more expensive than Cafayate for lodging.
With that scenario we did a really technic trip, thus priorizing speed of the road chosen and their landscape value. Belgium lasted less than a cube of ice on whisky. Belgian hospitality deserves mention: a woman phoned all his phone list looking for a second hand tent for us. Around 5 pm we were near Koln, in Germany, thanks to a Ford Mondeo of a belgian army officer whose job during the Cold War was repairing atomic bombs. We move fast, in the autobahn there are no speed limits. A police inspector drove us in his BMW at 210 km/h to Montabauer, where the ICE train station is, and there a man who defined himself as a doctor for the soul took un in a Land Rover Discovery to Limburg. It seemed the man was just back from a conference in Montabauer of an argentinian shaman who couls see the future.
When Limburg turned up with its glorious gothic cathedral presiding the Lahn Valley we knew we deserved to stay overnight in a nice place.. We are in Hesse, one of the german 16 landers. Hesse was always famous for exporting mercenary troops, some of which were sent to soffocate rebelions in the american colonies for example. Veronica was worried, I promise her we will sleeo under roof, no matter how, to see a smile again in her face. We started to walk around town. Its beauty makes us forget about the situation for a while. The old town is plenty of fachwerk style houses from the 13th century. They seem to be about to fall in any moment.
Looking at those wonderful houses today transformed into pizzerias and beer gardens we realized that it’s actually plenty of italian establishments. I talk to some of them, and one gives me a hint: the priest at the church is italian. It’s night and the gothic cathedral shines in the distance. Fascinated with the possibility of sleeping in a place all tourists only see from a distance we climbed the steep streets, only to find the priest was on holidays. But we found an Italian Association. Dinner is on them, tasty pizzas with mushrooms and salami.
But we still don’t know where we’ll sleep. We go to down town again. Families socialize among mozarella and lagers. We talk to many other italian shop owners, but none of them gives a solution. Paying a hotel means spending the money of the next ten days. Italy seemed a star who had already performed its nefeci influence of the day. We had already decided to stay awake in the park, already used to that happiness style “lady and the tramp” when sothing happened. I asked for fresh water in an ice cream shop –naturaly owned by italians- to discover that Fabio, the owner, had backpacked in Patagonia three times and knew the place better than us. After enjoying excelent ice crems and talking for a long while we went to sleep, in a nice room in the first floor of the ice cream shop.
At the following mid day we were already crossing into Baden, the last of the german landers before Switzerland. It’s a land of inventions: automobile and coo-koo clocks were invented here. We got into Switzerland with argentinian passports without hassles. We quickly passed by Zurich and went for Luzern. Only afterwards the Alps turned up in the horizon and we started piercing mountains… Piero, a swiss from the italian cantón Ticino tells us proudly that his country is the homeland of direct democracy. The government makes a referendum for each law. The second pride of the swiss is their neutrality. Swiss hasn’t gone to war for 800 years. But the issue needs a deeper analysis. It’s easy to believe in the idea of a romantic and filantropic pacifism. But the country is armed to teeth and even women do militar service. Neutrality and highly trained army seem to me the 2 sides of a false coin, morover when you understand that it’s in the banks of the pacifist Switzerland where tyrans and multinationals have deposited the earnings caused by their wars and explotations. Piero assures may Switzerland be challenged, the population is able to self movilize. 700,000 Swiss keep weapons at home and once a year their skills to use the are tested. “Only when you are strong you can be gentile” –it’s the natinal moto- It seems the government took William Tell seriously.
We layed San Gottarde tunnel behind. On the other side the radio transmits in italian, we are in canton Ticino. Piero leaves us in Locarno, in a petrol station, around 9 pm. A man goes down his new 4x4 and takes the hand of the petrol pump. He doesn’t know what is gonna happen to him. He wears suit, tie and glasses, and due to statistics more than to prejudice we don’t trust it’s going to work. But when I explained him we were going to Milan I can’t hold a tear. I am emotionally tied to Milan for having lived one year of my childhood. Antonio must have perceived this, for he not only took us to Milan but left us in the door step of my sister house. During the trip we enjoyed a nice chat, he was always kind in spite of having a radically different lifestyle. We had made it, we were in Milan. They will need to do more than steeling our gear to stop us!!!

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