Outside Jill Kwan's home - which is about the size of a cottage or a bus, little larger than the lounge you were just in - you are talking to some young people on semi-self-propelled Gu bicycles. They have some extra Gu with them, currently morphed into the form of a small burro. It is quite lifelike, and if it weren't on rollerblades and standing entirely still you might think it was real.

"Yeah, we're a band," says Jorge, the oldest-looking one, who is perhaps 19. "We're on tour, heading up to Brasilia, maybe further."

"Why Brasilia?" you ask.

"My girlfriend Luisa lives there. I met her on the net."

"Is she Brazilian?"

"Yeah. She sings with us, by gupe at the moment. We were a virtual band - Carlos is from Chile, me and my brother Alvaro are from Argentina, and Adriana" - indicating the only female member of the group - "is from just down the road in Uruguay. But we've connected up and we're going to tour together for a while."

"So you're tumbleweeds too?"

"A kind of tumbleweed. Tumbleseeds, perhaps." He laughs. "We see people like the Gu-Lady here go through all the time, sooner or later we start thinking, right? Why don't we do that too? And we don't need a big lot of Gu like her. Some of the people who come through, they have just their little bicycle with maybe some more Gu on the sides. We don't want to be that uncomfortable, though."

At this point, the front part of the donkey morphs into a slim young woman, and the back part into a large dog.

"Luisa!" says Jorge, and they kiss. "This lady is making a dex about the Tumbleweed Trail."

"Hey," says Adriana suddenly, "you're that lady. You made the dex, what was it, Through the Americas."

"Throughout the Americas," you say. "My first dex. A trip from Alaska to Argentina with no equipment except 100 kilos of Gu per person. You've experienced it?"

"It was one of our inspirations," says Adriana. "That's about what we have. Of course, we don't plan on being in the polar regions with it. We might not get north of Brazil. Or we might. We don't know."

"How do your parents feel about you going off on the Tumbleweed Trail?"

"They are too worried," says Alvaro. "My father, he has hardly ever left our village, or his father either. They don't know, everyone travels now. Yesterday we met a couple from Toronto, that is in Canada. They have traveled ten thousand kilometers, a quarter of the way round the world. She said the worst thing that happened to them is he tripped coming out of a museum in El Salvador and hurt his ankle."

"Besides," puts in Jorge, "we call them each night when we make camp. They can track where we are, even, we set up a map before we left, and they can see on their netphones. Our little brother knows how to work it, he helps them out."

"What kind of music do you play?" you ask, and they grin. They have clearly been waiting for this question or one like it; they step off their bicycles, which morph into a keyboard (Alvaro), a drum set (Carlos), a traditional Uruguayan accordion (Adriana), and a guitar (Jorge).

"We call ourselves Los Lejanos, the Distants," says Jorge, and they begin to play. It's a fusion of styles, unsurprisingly, incorporating both local and world influences, but somehow it works, and works well. Luisa's voice soars and dips over the music, singing of young love and hopefulness. They finish with a flourish.

"Will you make us famous?" asks Jorge.

"Of course," you say, smiling. (There is a sidebar: Los Lejanos have distribution through their own site, and are making a living from their music. They are still touring, and have reached Bolivia. They plan to continue north.)

Cut to a village in Uruguay. A middle-aged woman who looks strikingly like an older version of Adriana is talking with Halwaz while cooking. This is Adriana's mother, Beatriz.

"Well, you can't stop her, can you?" she says. "I worry, but young people think they are made out of diamond. At least I know where she is and I can talk to her. If I had gone off as a young girl like that, my parents would not have heard back from me for months sometimes. And that Carlos, he is all right, he will take care of her, I suppose." She sounds like she is trying to convince herself.

"Are many of the local young people traveling now?"

"Oh, yes, we see more and more of them. They come through here all the time. Perhaps one in ten, even, of the travelers we see are local now. People are a lot more mobile."

"And what do you think of that?"

"Well, I wouldn't want it for myself. I like the place where I was born, you know? I don't need another place, or a hundred other places. People are the same wherever they come from, there are good ones and bad ones, and places I think are like that too. But what do I know? Nothing, according to Adriana." She laughs.

Now you are interviewing Adriana's father, who wears a uniform with the logo of the Tumbleweed Trail. He is a general troubleshooter and local point-of-contact for travelers, something like a sheriff or ranger but less official.

"I would stop her if I could, but if I told her 'no' she would just go anyway, and then she would not talk to us and tell us where she is. I learned from the experience of my cousin, he tried to stop his daughter from going away, that is what happened, for a year. Of course, she talked to Adriana and so we knew she was all right, but it was very bad for him."

"You work on the Tumbleweed Trail, don't you? Do you see many problems?"

"Oh, every day there are problems. This is what I try to tell Adriana, but she will not hear me. But we who work on the Trail, we know when trouble is coming. We keep in touch. We know the people who will try to cheat us or who cannot be trusted around the girls, you know? The people who start fights, the people who dump their waste where they shouldn't - we have pictures, names, full descriptions from the other towns along the Trail before they even hardly have left. And most of the smarter ones know this and behave. A few, they are just bad, you can't fix them. All you can do is watch and try to catch them so you can lock them up."

"Wasn't there a murder near here in the early days of the Trail, a few years ago?"

His face closes up. "Not all that near. It was over more towards Fray Bentos. Nothing like that happens here."

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1 Response to Tumbleseeds

  1. Mike Reeves-McMillan says:

    I’m reasonably sure that Los Lejanos is not only grammatical but also does actually mean “The Distants”. It may have some additional implication that I’m not aware of, though, and if there are any Spanish speakers tuned in, I’d appreciate reassurance or correction. You know, if it means “the invading aliens” or something I’d like to know.When picking a Uruguayan city to mention I just had to use Fray Bentos, because of the canned pies of that name referenced in a recent Scary Go Round story arc. I’m not sure why, but that webcomic has just the right amount of surrealism to tickle me on a regular basis.

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