On Monday, I took a 6 hour bus to Tacuarembo, what you might call the gaucho capital of Uruguay. I drank Paso de los Toros, a fizzy grapefruit soda, and tried to train my eyes to see land - what’s pasture, what’s cultivated, what’s dying, what’s rich. All I saw from my window was land, other than a refrigerator factory and a big meatpacking plant as we neared Tacuarembo.
We pulled in to the station an hour and a half later than promised, and an hour later than the pickup time for the ranch where I was headed. Juan, the ranch’s owner, had suggested by phone that I take a taxi, 30 km, to kilometer marker 189 on the Rt. 31 to Salto. He’d pick me up there at 8 pm.
After a brief consideration of hitchhiking (too time-consuming//too chicken shit) this is what I did. The taxi driver told me about people’s shopping habits in this part of Uruguay so near to Brazil (food across the border there, household goods here), and what Mujica, the current president, has not done well (education, income security).
We slowed to marker 189, next to a bridge and a whole lotta empty fields, and he let me out and drove off. An invisible cow mooed. I felt very alone and very aware of the fact that I was in a place I did not know.
Te ubicas? Is something that they’ll ask you when giving directions. Do you locate yourself? Every time I hear it I imagine myself as the pulsing dot on a GPS. Y la verdad, right then, I did not ubicate myself. Not as the tiniest dot.
I got there at seven thirty and waited. 8 came and went - 8:10, 8:15, 8:30, 8:35. I tried to be patient to the fact that time is different in this hemisphere. In hindsight, this was not a long time to be waiting, but it felt endless.
(Above: Hoping to survive and Instagram this lovely selfie).
Just as the sun was approaching its nice little hill beds and I was beginning to scout out the right place to create a sleeping bag from a backpack rain cover, quick-dry towel, and bag of bathing suits (pillow, duh), the yellow truck that had looked parked up the road maybe two running minutes away moved as if to turn around. I RAN. What if it was Juan — who not only had seemed very organized but also has a Swiss wife — and he had been waiting, and given up on me?
It was him, and he had seen me, and he directed the truck to me. I felt foolish and overjoyed. I climbed in and babbled to him about my reporting as we drove the 10k on dirt roads to the ranch house. The clouds were turning an absurd shade of sunset purple as if they, too, were thanking the Peruvian taxi driver’s gods for delivering me from feeling lost. I asked him if he had always known he would stay on the land where he had grown up. Absolutely, he said. Es mi lugar en el mundo."