AT BREAKFAST THE next day at the Santa Maria Hotel, the rain eased back to a soaking translucent grey mist and I packed and loaded the bike in the soggy hotel garden. The sky still clung to a thick blanket of cloud but the sun seemed to be quietly slowly burning off the layers above turning them from grey to white and eventually poking through holes of cobalt blue.
The smooth, dry, yet unspectacular run southeast was punctuated by a detour through a couple of cobbled towns to see what was left of the Jesuits, not too much I have to say but the break from the endless conveyor belt of asphalt and the hum of the little engine broke up the hypnotic state it tends to induce. I passed a sign to San Cosme at a modern junction that looked arrow straight to the south and decently surfaced. Maps.me had routed me out of Coronel Bogado 11km further down the road so I blindly followed that to discover a 24km dirt track recently doused by rainstorms turning it into a long, slick, bruising and laundry hazard. I doubled back to the junction I had passed earlier and enjoyed the straight dry road into San Cosme y Damian, once more, promising my eyes that I would trust them more than the phone app.
Santa Maria de Fe to San Cosme is a relatively short leg of 115km so it was still early afternoon when I arrived. San Cosme had little sign of life on my arrival but the cafe opposite the Observatory on the Plaza was open and had WiFi. iOverlander reviews said that the Observatory no longer permitted camping in their grounds but I crossed the road after lunch and asked anyway. One of the guides pointed over at the Plaza and said it would be OK to camp over there. It seemed a bit public to me with its swings and roundabout but it was a large spread-out area with plenty of trees and not many people. Proportionate enough to be able to remain inconspicuous.
I bought a 3-day ticket for G20,000 (about £2.50) that covered the Observatory and mission here plus the other two at Trinidad and Jesus de Tavarangue. I thought it best to wait until dark for visiting the observatory and followed the staff’s recommendation to return at 8pm.
Having 4 hours to kill, or make use of, I decided to ride down to the ocean-sized River Parana. the road led south of the plaza, past the Jesuit Mission, down a gentle slope about 15 blocks to a large riverside park of scattered trees with picnic areas beneath. A few families were relaxing and splashing in the cool blue water. This looked like an ideal camping spot if it wasn’t for the fact it was a Saturday. Saturdays bring out the boom boxes and families that tend to party late into the weekend and this looked a prime venue for that sort of thing so after chilling in the hot shade of the riverside trees, I coasted back inland a block or two to probe the grassy, less-travelled lanes between the fields to the southwest of the town and happened upon a perfectly remote spot a couple of hundred metres down from the marina. I marked it on the GPS to find after the visit to the observatory in the dark.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in the cool of the cafe catching up on the Wi-Fi and admiring the immaculate looking mission over on the opposite side of the plaza, without the worry of where I was going to comp.
As luck would have it, some Peace Corps members entered the Observatory at the same time as me and offered invaluable translation to the non-English speaking guides. On the other hand, it was a full moon on full beam, drowning out the interstellar backdrop in a cloudless indigo sky so the only constellations I could see were indoors inside the Planetarium and we used the telescope only for looking at the surface of the moon. The guide mentioned if I came back in the morning I could look through a filter in the telescope to look at the sunspots. Looking through at the blood red disk through the filter the next day I said I didn’t see any sunspots and they said it’s because there weren’t any…
San Cosme y Damian is the place that Buenaventura Suárez studied, researched and published The Lunario de un Siglo (1744) predicting the exact times and phases of lunar eclipses. “What a great name,” I thought, I wondered if he would have achieved as much if his name had been Dave or Colin. The observatory is also the place I learned how the indigenous Guarani used the appearance of constellations throughout the seasons as signals for planting and harvesting since they didn’t use man-made calendars. The Guarani call the milky way ‘The Trail of the Tapir.’ Tapirs tread repeated paths until they become visible on the ground. Much more poetic than ‘The Milky Way.’
The full moon illuminated my path along the cobbles, dirt and grass track back to the camping spot and pitching the tent was just as easy as if it were day time. The reflection of the moon danced on the river reminding me of my time on Glee moored in Sint Maarten. The only thing lacking was someone to share this moment with. Lying back staring at the moon framed by the tent door, the lapping of the water on the bank sang me to sleep.