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A vehicle slows alongside me, maybe a car, maybe a motorbike. Oh no, please PLEASE don’t stop and talk to me, can’t you see I am trying to ride a fully loaded bike up a steep and rocky dirt road right now? I really REALLY don’t want to have to hold a conversation in Spanish at the same time….

“¿A donde van?”
Where are you going?

It’s the typical question, asked of every traveller, and I groan inside – in part because I am tired of this daily repeated conversation but mostly because as always, I find it so difficult to answer.

Shall I say Patagonia? But that sounds so fancifully far off, I may jinx myself. Best to just mention the next town.

Hints of a "destination?" Photo Tom Walwyn

I fumble with my map, looking for a town name to satisfy my questioner. Sadly my memory for place names is about three and a half minutes long. He probably thinks my spanish is so rubbish that I don’t understand the question. Sigh. It’s not that. It’s more that, well, I don’t actually know where I’m going. We rarely start the day with a destination in mind. We just ride. Then when we are ready to camp, we stop.

I’m not going anywhere. Just travelling. South. It’s about the journey, not the destination…

Not going anywhere. Just riding. Photo Tom Walwyn

But this is all too abstract and complicated to explain. I throw him a place name instead.

Concern fills his eyes. It’s too far. You’re not going to get there today.

Sigh, again sigh. It was you who wanted me to name a destination! I have no intention of getting there, and no need to. I enter the next phase of this so predictable conversation, explain that we don’t have to arrive, we have a tent, food, water….

Won’t you be cold? Again, no. We have more clothes, sleeping bags – I indicate my panniers.

The twin question is equally predictable, and equally difficult to answer: ¿De donde vienen? Where are you coming from?

What does this question mean, in any language? Where did we come from today? Where did our journey start? Where do we live? Where were we born, brought up?

As usual I hedge my bets, give a composite answer that covers most of my bases. Though the part about where we have come from today is perhaps the most challenging aspect. I’ve been through too many towns, can’t remember the name of any of them. And somehow explaining, oh, somewhere in the bushes on the side of the road about 20km back, just seems too complex for my still limited linguistic skills….

The reason I find it so hard to explain where I have come from today. Photo Tom Walwyn

They are the obvious questions, I too ask them of people I meet. Just wish answering didn’t make me look quite such a half wit.  More often than not, the question is being asked of me in Spanish while I am short of breath and concentrating on riding my bike up a hill. The questioner is invariably puttering along on or in his motorised form of transport, does not struggle with his verb conjugations and is not in the least short of breath.

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