Robyn Bell is a writer and traveller, currently based in Hong Kong. Although her work usually focuses on feminism and gender, she has crafted this series of travel stories especially for ROAM, based on her adventures over-landing in South America. This is part 1 in a 5 part series which we are very excited to bring to you over the next few weeks. You can follow her on Instagram and read her blog for more.
There was never a defined route. There were three words: come find me, there was a one-way ticket across the Atlantic, and there I was, walking out of Sao Paulo airport into his embrace. The vehicle, him and I: three wasn’t a crowd in this instance. We clambered into his new home, and off we went. A vague westerly direction in mind, a few wild camping recommendations pinned onto a map, and a lack of both time frame and destination. The nomadic dream.
The elusive itinerary was only encouraged by the van. Time swiftly became irrelevant and I surrendered to the earth’s pace, willingly. Rather than the chime of the hour, the days were marked by the spectacle of colour that washes the sky every dawn and dusk. Woken by the first rays, the burning horizon would transform the van windows into the stained-glass ones of churches and entice me from the warm blankets. The evening meal was often accompanied by the fading light and the edges of the world became silhouettes as I washed the pots. And then the ceiling of glitter revealed itself, high out of reach. There was so much glitter in this corner of the world. Sometimes home would be parked once darkness had fallen so, with the light of a new day, I also filled my eyes with a new view. Fresh and golden, and mine. Only one other soul knew where I was in the seemingly boundless perimeters of this land and, at a time in which it is increasingly difficult to disconnect digitally, this seemed something special.
These drifting days pulled the three of us into the dusty, desert lands of Chaco – a Northern region of Argentina. The sweltering heat enveloped me as soon as I met its borders. Structured highways became dirt tracks threading through isolated settlements. Lush trees and fields rapidly disappeared into a sandy sprawl of cacti. The air filled with clouds of butterflies, sprinkling the plains with a creamy yellow. It was one of those lands, harsh, unforgiving and largely uninhabited, that pulls every living soul into its scorching grasp until they become part of it. The sun beat down and seared my skin in the way I love. Dust filled my pores. The hot wind tangled my hair. We were blazing trails through a seemingly unexplored terrain. The taste of wild liberty tingled on my lips, colouring my eyes with a glow for more, unravelling conventions in my heads and permitting a fresh unruliness to take hold. Why had I never done this before, I wondered with eyes wide. Van life matched the pace I yearned to run. It emboldened my desire for spontaneity. Finally, every road could be trodden, rather than watching a tantalising trail pass by from the wrong side of a bus window. It was undoubtedly the one, I decided.
Yet, inevitably, the insatiable pursuit for adventure can throw us off course in a way that is not always desired. It was whilst following the perilous trails of the, aptly named, Impenetrables that the three of us collided hard with this region.
That day we were frequently parking up, my viewfinder documenting the cacti-filled skyline and dusty tracks into nothingness. I threw my hands up amongst the milky-coloured wings of the butterflies that owned these vast skies. Butterfly Road, we named this stretch.
Mere minutes later, we flipped into the trenches lining these roadways. Spinning, overturning, an explosion of dust, a shattering of glass and an ear-splitting crunch of metal. Suspended upside down, we were held by our seat belts. Blood dripped onto the windscreen below. A silence grew that felt big enough to swallow noises. With doors jammed, our home had swiftly become a cage. Few others had crossed our path throughout the day and the likelihood of finding help seemed slim. The former joy felt for the remoteness of this land vanished within seconds; we were at the mercy of the wilderness that had previously filled me with such invincible elation.
However, unbeknown to me in that moment, a village in the middle of the burning Chaco lands was waiting to claim me. Nueva Pompeya: a settlement that originally existed as the tiniest dot on my map, deemed insignificant, was yet to pull me helplessly into its charred quarters and become a heart-warming refuge.
This was evidently an adventure that would be plotting its own course, but aren’t those the best ones?
Part 2 coming soon.
Robyn Bell is a writer and traveller usually found tramping the road less travelled. She writes mostly about politics, feminism and gender, as well as crafting short stories and poetry. Her words have previously appeared on Elephant Journal, Gander Magazine and her personal blog. She is currently based in Hong Kong.