The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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Ride TalesAn easy way to post your ride reports, whether it's a weekend ride or around the world.
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In you first post there is a picture labelled Carretera Austral.
It shows a set of hairpins.
Do you remember if this section was about 45km North of a town called Mañiguales or about 100km North of Coyhaique?
This section is about 50 km south of Coyhaique going down into the Valle del Rio Ibáñez - you can see the river in the background.
The next settlement on the Carretera Austral would be Villa Cerro Castillo where the tarmac ends.
The section 100 km north of Coyhaique or 45 north of Mañihuales is probably the pass road over the Cordillera Queulat, which is still quite challenging to ride.
From the junction of Ruta 7 and SN 25 (to Puerto Cisnes/Piedra El Gato) the Carretera is almost completely paved now until Coyhaique. There is only a small stretch (22 km) of Ripio left, starting roughly 12 km after the Mirador Lago Las Torres.
We were two-up on a heavily laden R1150GS, and that section, as I said, was all road works and I found it extremely tough, given my crappy off-road skills!! Deep, loose earth and sand for the most part.
Regrettably no, we did not go to the end.
Time for us was running a little short by then. Early on in our trip (the second day) we had ditched our planned route and travelling style.
We had started staying for a few days in places we liked and so we did not do big miles everyday. The good side to this was that we got more of a taste of some parts we visited, but the bad is that we had to scrap some destinations.
We had heard that the conditions were even more challenging South of Lago Cabrera/Buenos Aires. If I am brutally honest, it was partly the fact that the long 45km section of road works had really worn me out, and I guess I did not fancy another rushed 500km round trip to O'Higgins!
Part of me regrets it, but I also know it was supposed to be an amazing trip (and it was) rather than a test of our mettle and endurance! So in that respect I think we made the right choice to head East from Coyhiaque.
Our two days travelling the Carretera Austral remain one of the road going highlights of our trip
To do more of what we wanted, another 6 weeks would have been ideal, then we would not have felt any need to rush either.
Glad you did it and enjoyed it: the pictures do give me very itchy feet!!!
For all of you who know John 'The Bede' it won't come as a surprise that he is also a fabulous tour guide who is more than happy to share his wealth of local knowledge.
First we went into the city centre to sort out the insurance for my DRZ. John had recommended ATM(Asociación Mutual para Conductores y Asistencia Total de Motovehiculos – Base Sarmiento 930 2º ”A”, Buenos Aires, Tel/Fax: 0810-3456-286, email@example.com) who provided the legally required third party cover for four months, for all the countries I was going to apart from Peru, all the necessary documentation within 24 hours, a smart little plastic card for my wallet and all that for 200 ARS (Argentina Pesos), roughly £32, which I thought was a great deal, especially as it would be saving me the hassle of organising insurance every time I crossed a border. ATM also offers protection against fire, theft and total loss through accident but that would be more expensive, obviously.
With the “To do” list completed, we went to tick the “Must See” boxes of Buenos Aires.
Plaza de Mayo – the heart of the city
At the eastern end of the square sits La Casa Rosada (The Pink House), the official seat of the executive branch of the government of Argentina and the offices of the president, Cristina Fernandéz de Kirchner.
And here’s John doing his best “Evita” impression in front of the very balcony from which the former First Lady Eva Perón once sang Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest hits – “Don’t laugh at me, Argentina…”
It had nothing to do with John's singing but due to the many protests and demonstrations in the Capital Federal, police and water cannons are a common sight on the Plaza de Mayo.
After a long “stroll” through the inner city John finally showed mercy, gave my still hurting foot a break and also took care of removing the vacuum in my stomach.
Photo courtesy of The Bede, as it was taken with his camera
The rest of the day was spent on the bare necessities – I caught up on desperately needed sleep for a few hours and then met John again to savour the culinary delights of the city.
A traditional Picada Argentina pleases everyone's taste…
The following morning we already met at eight o'clock to free my bike from Customs at the airport. Taking the Subte (Subterráneo – the tube) was an experience in itself: now I have an idea how sardines feel in their can...
The train spit us out at the upper end of the Calle Florida where the sun shines brighter on the rich and beautiful.
At Ezeiza International Airport we had quite a few procedures to follow before I was allowed to see my baby again: Applying for a visitor pass, finding the office of the airline to pay the airway bill, being let into the Customs area, starting the transaction in office 2, paying several fees in office 1, proceeding to office 3, back to office 2, etc, etc. John has actually posted an excellent write-up of the process on UKGSer* ::::* For BMW GS Enthusiasts which I would highly recommend to read if you ever wanted to ship your bike to South America – it is now updated with the 2010 figures.
The process may sound very tedious but when it transpired that we both could speak Spanish, the officials were instantly warming up, showed an interest in my trip and treated us with great friendliness. It just takes time going through all the steps, especially when there is a lunch break in between.
While waiting outside the cargo area, I tried to send my first SPOT message to the loved ones at home – it didn’t work but you can see that I made the effort...
Photo courtesy of The Bede
Finally we were allowed to enter the sacred customs grounds – it was a bit like Christmas:
Photo courtesy of The Bede
The following pictures are all shamelessly nicked from John, as I was too busy packing and getting the bike ready.
Due to my injury, I hadn’t actually test ridden the bike with all the gear and luggage on. That's why my seating position may seem a bit awkward - which it was, actually…
The last stamp
And then it was off into the chaotic traffic of Buenos Aires – yippee!
I got back to the hotel in one piece but on the way from the airport I had noticed that the bike was leaking fuel; probably down to the new fuel filter we had fitted and which was not quite the right size. So it was already time for the first roadside repair.
Fortunately, Possu had given me some slightly bigger filters at the last minute and a short while later I had fixed the leak - with my bare hands!
Now there is a happy bunny!
That evening John introduced me to two of his best friends who run a pub which was closed by the magistrate back then for some updating and refurbishing. We had a great time at their etablissement but for obvious reasons I can't provide the photographic evidence...
Thank you for all your help, John! Getting everything sorted on my own would have been a lot more complicated. I still owe him a few drinks - but he didn't let me pay...
The next day would take me to Sandra and Javier of Dakar Motos fame. Little did I know that the road to the district of Vicente López was a rather rocky one...
Sorry, Tobi, the DRZ is already home in the UK - after all the work Steve has put into the preparation and the four months of team building exercise I couldn't let her go. I will probably ride this bike until it falls apart...
Your Africa trip report looks great - good luck with the planning of your next adventure!
With the bike out of customs, the next day was dedicated to sorting the paperwork. Looking for stationery shops and having photocopies made of all the new documents gave me the opportunity to meet more of the helpful inhabitants of San Telmo.
Then it was back to the headquarters of the bike insurance company to receive the policies for the other countries I was going to travel to; not only Argentina but also Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Chile were covered by the same contract. ¡Fantastico!
On the way to the office near the Diagonal Norte I came across one of the many demonstrations that happen in the Argentinean capital. Taking photographs is usually frowned upon but John had told me that tourists are exempt from this rule - phew...
Buenos Aires is a fascinating mixture of beauty and decay which I personally like very much - here you see colonial architecture…
… and there ruins just at the next corner
Parking in the city centre is difficult and not particularly safe, so there are lots of guarded car parks about. I was lucky to have one of these places right on the other side of the road from my hotel. This is Miguel who looked after my bike (and a few other cars, I think...) and who invited me to the first Mate of my trip. Mate is the Argentinean national drink and you should never decline if you are invited to share it.
Finally packed and ready to leave downtown for Vicente Lopéz, I entered Sandra and Javier’s address in the GPS - et voila: only 14 minutes to Dakar Motos apparently. Right, on the eight lanes of the Avenida 9 de Julio I already missed the first turning to the left. A local bus driver pulled intimidatingly close, opened the door and helpfully suggested that I should just ride over the traffic island. Mmm, with a fully loaded bike and my foot still weak and hurting, that might not have been a wise move...
So I let the GPS recalculate and took the northern loop along the sea front and the Aeroparque, the national airport of Buenos Aires. Of course, it was just around five o'clock and the rush hour in full flow. As mentioned before, even the cars are filtering in this city, so there was no chance of slipping through with my big panniers. Coming to a hold was struggle enough, as I didn't dare to put sudden weight onto my left foot.
While waiting in the stationary traffic I suddenly noticed a familiar smell: fuel... Oh no, not again! It didn't help in this situation that I hadn't filled up since releasing the bike from the airport (you are only allowed to leave less than a quarter of fuel in the tank). So I could only hope that I would still make it to Dakar Motos. Whilst crawling along together, many friendly drivers and riders pointed out that I was leaking - but what was I supposed to do? I was on the outer side of the road because I had to turn left soon and after that, stopping on a fast five-lane motorway without any hard shoulder in sight was just not an option.
Literally on the last drop and one hour late I finally arrived at Calle Carlos Tejedor 1379 where I received a very warm welcome from Sandra and Javier. They introduced me to the already resident RTW travellers Adrian (from Australia) and Mick (from Denmark) and after a few hours of lively chat I decided to stay not one but two nights at this friendly place.
Mick, Sandra and Adrian at Dakar Motos
The local supermercado nearby was open all day every day and sold everything we needed for a hearty breakfast the next morning.
This photo I took especially for my beloved Possu who swears by the original...
Life is good at Dakar Motos
Breakfast in the sun
The day was spent on bike maintenance and little adjustments. The previous evening Javier had stated that he doesn't work Saturdays, so here he is probably just enjoying himself fiddling with Adrian's KLR 650.
To avoid future fuel leaks once and for all, I replaced the old fuel pipe with a new one (which Possu had thoughtfully advised me to buy prior to departure) and fitted another filter from Javier's workshop. This bigger version would certainly be better suited for filtering dirty gasolina sold from rusty oil drums in the more remote areas of South America.
Dakar Motos seems to be a popular meeting place for the local biker community. We were introduced to a wide spectrum of the moteros of Buenos Aires.
Amongst them was Fabrizio who rides a restored 1949 Norton with all the trimmings.
He is also a very nice and helpful guy, here siphoning a spare litre out of his tank to enable me to reach the nearest filling station.
Then, as the icing of the cake and to make my bike ready for the South American roads, Javier added his personal signature. Been there, got the sticker...
We really had a brilliant time together and it would have been so easy to stay another day and maybe another one after that - in the company of like-minded motorcyclists and in the comfort of this home-like place so far away from Europe. After all, I had already made the first step and travelled to a different continent; so what was another day which would give me some additional time to build up a bit more courage before venturing into the great unknown?
“Don't be such a wuss”, I told myself off, “that's what you have come over here for and four months will be shorter than you think!” Alright, the decision was made and I went for a last dinner with Adrian. Nice guy, really, but you have to watch your olives - we shared a pizza and I dropped one of my olives. In a fraction of a millisecond Adrian's fork swooped down and before I could say "Oi!" it was gone. How we laughed...
Outside the pizzeria we found a look-alike of the famous Australian Postie bikes which made Adrian feel a bit like home.
On Sunday morning I captured the last impressions of the empty streets of Vicente-Lopéz - Calle San Martin
Good idea: kill poverty - not the poor...
Then I packed the bike, waved goodbye to Adrian and Mick and hit the road...
By the way, if you want to know what these great guys are up to you can follow their trips on the following sites:
Mick started his RTW trip in his home country Denmark and has been on the road since 2009. He has travelled through Europe and down the west coast of Africa. From Buenos Aires he will ride his VFR down to Patagonia and then up on the Pacific side. ATWJ - MHoey.eu
Adrian was from Australia and just embarking on a RTW trip which would have taken him north from Buenos Aires to New York. From there he was going to ship his KLR to London and then head east to the next coast. Adrian's Motorcycle Diaries - Adriankemmis.blogspot.com.
Sadly Adrian was killed five weeks later in a road accident in Brazil. He was only 30 years old and such a nice young man – full of enthusiasm, open and eager to learn about the world, just starting to live his dream and having the time of his life. A terrible loss. RIP, my fellow traveller...
The Ruta 9 out of Buenos Aires was long and uneventful - but the fact that I had finally hit the road and was riding the Pan-American Highway was excitement enough. Industrial areas changed to wide open Pampa and the traffic ebbed away kilometre by kilometre. I joined the Ruta 12 north near Zarate and crossed the Rio Paraná Delta via two impressive bridges.
At Ceibas began the Ruta 14 and I stopped after exactly 100 miles to check the fuel consumption - due to my broken foot I hadn’t test ridden the bike properly and only had a rough idea how long a tank would last me. But hey, just under four litres per 100 kilometres or 72 miles to the gallon (fully loaded on the motorway) was a result I can’t really complain about.
The Pampa is mainly flat…
But if you look around you can still find things worth seeing - vintage, beautiful and still in use (I'm referring to the truck, cheeky!)
The GPS indicated a shortcut to Gualeguaychú and I had a quick look at a sandy dirt road. No, I was not ready for trail riding yet and so I continued on the highway until the official Ruta 136 branched off to the east. Over the beautiful Puente Internacional Libertador General San Martin I crossed the Rio Uruguay and arrived at the border between Argentina and Uruguay.
If you look closely you can spot the bridge in the background
Rarely have I experienced such an efficient border crossing: although having to pass through four different desks - pre-check and start of the procedure, personal details, vehicle documents, insurance and customs plus temporary import registration - everything was dealt with as quickly and friendly as possible. I think I needed less than 15 minutes and that included chatting about my trip, the bike and the origin of some of the officers’ German surnames such as 'Ehrhardt' and 'Schmidt'.
Whilst changing money and talking to Leopoldo, the nice chap in the tourist office straight after the border, I thought it would be quite appropriate for a vegetarian of 30 years to stay in Fray Bentos, the home of the Liebig Extract of Meat...
Leopoldo recommended the campsite at the Parador Playa Ubici and off I went to find an idyllic little hostel directly by the river. Hostess Antonela was just about to leave when I arrived but stopped immediately to show me the facilities and the rooms from which I could choose, as I was the only guest this Sunday evening. Well, for the equivalent of £8.00 I decided to leave tent and sleeping bag in the luggage roll.
Parador Playa Ubici in Fray Bentos
Antonela carried all my panniers upstairs and made me really feel at home. The travel guide hadn't exaggerated about the warmth, helpfulness and hospitality of the Uruguayan people.
After transforming myself into a civilized, nicely smelling human being again, I headed into town for dinner, allegedly just a short stroll away from the hostel. Well, I won't bore you with the details of my odyssey through Fray Bentos but it was at least a three-kilometre walk until I found the excellent Pizzeria 'Los Immigrantes' in the lively town centre. Not a big deal normally but I was still limping! When I finally returned to the Parador after another 3 kilometres my ankle looked like a tennis ball. Maybe I should have splashed out and taken a taxi...
However, I found Fray Bentos a nice place with friendly and helpful people. Although I crossed a few rather un-touristy corners I never felt uncomfortable and my greetings were always returned with a smile. I was looking forward to exploring more of this likeable country the following day.
The next morning I was greeted with this view of the Puente Internacional over the Rio Uruguay
The Pulp Mill on the banks of the river looked slightly less romantic than last night... These factories along the Rio Uruguay have been the cause of ongoing controversy between Uruguay and Argentina, although a series of constructive meetings between the presidents of the two countries have taken place at the end of July. If you are interested in more background information have a look here.
During my morning walk I spotted a lot of dead fish lining the shore, which was a rather sobering sight. Officially the fish mortality was caused by the freezing cold earlier that week, so hostess Antonela told me, but she thought it was down to the sewage of the manufactories further up the Rio Negro.
Breakfast in the sun
The cat kept me company.
After packing up I went for a sight-seeing tour through Fray Bentos to find out where and how far I had been walking the night before and to appreciate the home town of the Liebig Extract of Meat Company - founded by the German organic chemist Baron Justus von Liebig in the 19th century - in daylight.
Main Square of Fray Bentos
The former plant of the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, shut down in 1979.
Then it was back to the Ruta 3 and heading north. Leopoldo had mentioned the village of Nuevo Berlin the previous day and I couldn't resist to make a detour to this new edition of my hometown by the Rio Uruguay.
The city map looks slightly different...
… and so does the Kurfürstendamm….
I didn't fancy retracing my tracks and therefore took a dirt road leading roughly towards Paysandú, my next destination. The first attempt ended in a cul-de-sac, but as there was only a horse to ask for directions, I just tried another trail. It was bumpy, rutted and sandy but led me to a tarmac road which joined the Ruta 3 again after a while - voila!
To be perfectly honest - and I'd like to apologise to my Uruguayan readers - the Ruta 3 was not particularly exciting and when I spotted a sign to a 'Parque Histórico', I happily went on a little excursion to the Meseta de Artigas.
The road was lovely
Lined by orange groves
Supposedly it's winter over here...
I was even treated to a little trail ride when I entered the historical park.
... where I had a fantastic view over the Rio Uruguay
... then I returned to the Ruta 3 again. The GPS showed a campsite near the Reservoir Salto Grande and so I rode past the Termas del Daymán and the beautiful town of Salto until I arrived at the lakeside. Only then did it dawn on me that the indicated campsite was actually on the Argentinean side of the reservoir (I had downloaded the map software from an Argentinean GPS forum). But I still wanted to stay a night in Uruguay! There were still signs to a campsite on the eastern shore of the reservoir and so I followed a little trail further north into the woods. Nada - nothing. It was getting dark and I still hadn't found a place for the night.
Finally I pulled up at the Hotel Horacio Quiroga Spa Termal. “Lo siento, I'm sorry, the signs stand for day-camping only and the nearest campsite is at Termas del Daymán, 30 kilometres south from here,” I was told by the friendly receptionist. Mmm, that's where I just passed through an hour ago and I really don't like going back. “How much is a single room in your hotel? 139? US Dollars? Thanks very much”, - back to the Termas it is then.
It was really getting late; against my usual behaviour (I'm German after all!) I broke the speed limit of 75 km/h and still arrived at the Termas del Daymán only after dark. No campsite was to be seen. But there - "Hostal Canela" said a sign, that's where I will stay the night!
The land lady was welcoming and very interested in my bike. She helped me carrying all the luggage into my room and made sure I felt at home. For the equivalent of £16.00 I was given a whole apartment to myself. The photos are from the next morning but you get the idea how wonderful the place already appeared at night.
Hostal Canela at Termas del Daymán
And another picture - just to show off a bit...
Of course, when I walked into the centre of the village for dinner I saw the campsite I had been looking for in the dark and a lot more hotels on the other side of the main road...
However, I was really happy with the place I was staying at and if you ever find yourself in the area, Hostal Canela can be highly recommended.
The following day would take me into Argentina again.
The following morning the nice landlady at the Hostal Canela served breakfast in my room - did I mention my fabulous room? - with fresh media lunas (half moons - croissants), café con leche and zumo de naranja natural (freshly pressed orange juice) - hmm!
I thanked her very much, promised I would recommend the place to everyone I know (done!) and everyone I would meet on the road, and set off towards Argentina. But no, I couldn't leave this lovely country without a Uruguay sticker for my moto! So I stopped at the next filling station in Salto. The guys were really friendly, offered me a sticker of their fuel company but unfortunately they couldn't help me further. But the shopping mall three blocks further down the road would certainly sell the object of desire.
When I pulled into the car park, I was immediately approached by a security guard - of course, I had done a U-turn and was going into the wrong direction of a one-way system... No, he just wanted to point out that it would be much safer for me to park in the underground garage. Muchas gracias, Officer, and off I went into the underworld.
Again, another security guard came over straight away, reassured me that his colleagues would have a close eye on my DRZ and then he accompanied me through the whole shopping centre on the hunt for a Uruguay sticker. Unfortunately no shop was stocking such a thing. I tried the motorcycle shop across the street, another filling station, the supermercado - but nothing. My security friend was really sorry and sent me into the city centre. We parted shaking hands: suerte y buen viaje - good luck and a safe trip.
Great, I wasn't even aware that I had missed the actual centre of Salto the evening before. So a brief sight-seeing tour was on the menu.
I stopped at the Oficina de Turismo, the most obvious place you would think, but they didn't have any stickers either - a kiosco would probably be a better bet. So I looked for a parking space for my bike – “Over here, Señora!” and three young men busied themselves lifting and moving lots of motorcycles about that were already stacked in a tight row by the side of the road. But, oh wonder, soon there was space for my fully loaded DRZ. One of the guys, Nelson, offered to accompany me on my quest for a sticker and together we roamed the shops of Salto. Well, I should have come during the World Cup, then I would have been spoilt for choice but now? “Lo siento, no hay”, - sorry, we don't have it.
Then, I had almost given up hope; we found a small and pretty unlikely shop that sold stickers of Uruguay - hooray! Nelson was obviously proud of our success and back at the bike I gave him one of my London pens as a little thank you. You know, the ones where a tourist walks over the Tower Bridge when you move it. Nelson was really pleased and again, we shook hands like old friends when I left.
Then it was off to the Salto Grande Reservoir and the dam that connects Uruguay and Argentina.
The officials at the border didn't seem to know what they were supposed to do with me and the temporary import of a foreign motorcycle but after half an hour I was on my way again - not without asking this driver if I could take a picture of his peculiar truck.
Back on the Ruta 14 the ride was pretty uneventful. The countryside was still flat, the corrupt police at kilometre 341 (who even have a dedicated thread in the South America Forum here on this site) had taken a day off and waved me through, and so I turned right onto the Ruta 129 towards Monte Caseros searching for more excitement. The road was dead straight as well but now I could feel a strong side wind, which made the riding a bit more 'interesting'. Shortly before I reached the town I noticed a dirt road branching off to the north (which was my ultimate direction).
In Monte Caseros the tarmac disappeared and I ended up in front of some military barracks - probably not the best point to stop and look at the map. The road was so curved that I couldn't bring the loaded bike to a safe halt without risking falling over, and therefore I didn't consult the map at that point; otherwise I would have known that I should have searched for the Ruta 47 towards Paso de los Libres... But so I turned back to the gravel road that I had spotted earlier, the Ruta 25.
There I had my excitement - ruts, gravel, sand and corrugations... But the countryside was nice and everyone greeted each other when meeting on the road, which I liked very much.
After 25 kilometres I joined the Ruta 14 again and decided to stay in Paso de los Libres that night. As it would become a habit during this trip, I did a little sight-seeing tour of the town for orientation purposes and for finding a hotel. I asked a nice lady with her tiny daughter on a quad at the traffic lights and she pointed me to the Hotel Alejandro. Mmm, it looked pretty expensive - and so it was indeed: 180 Argentinean Pesos, which is roughly £30. Are there any cheaper hotels around? Yes, said the friendly receptionist, the Hotel Imperial two blocks from here. And he was right, bed & breakfast were only 80 Pesos (£13.30) there and aparcamiento seguro (safe parking) was available as well.
Now I have to confess that I rode to the car park without a helmet and on the wrong side of the road (well, the entrance was on the left!) and of course, at that particular moment in time a police car came round the corner. Fortunately, they didn't even bother to give me a reproachful look...
Showered, shaved and changed, I went searching for an internet café in order to upload photos, write an email to my one and only Possu and catch up with my blog, where I was still stuck in Buenos Aires… It was just before midnight when I left the place, realised that I had forgotten to eat dinner, that the streets were deserted and that I had lost my sense of direction.
But I didn't feel uncomfortable at all in this friendly town. At a corner I saw two men standing around and when I approached them asking if they knew where my hotel was, they were very helpful, chatty and pointed me into the right direction. Tired and hungry I got back to the Hotel Imperial, hoping that next morning's breakfast would be plentiful...
In the 16th century, priests of different religious orders set out to evangelize the Americas, bringing Christianity to indigenous communities. The colonial governments and missionaries agreed on the strategy of gathering the often nomadic indigenous populations in larger communities called reductions in order to more effectively govern, tax, and Christianize them. Reductions generally were also construed as an instrument to make the Indians adopt European lifestyles and values, which was not the case in the Jesuit reductions, where the Jesuits allowed the Indians to retain many of their pre-colonial cultural practices.
San Ignacio Mini (minor in Guarani to distinguish it from its bigger homonym San Ignacio Guazú - great) was one of the many missions founded in 1632 by the Jesuits near present-day San Ignacio valley, some 60 kilometres south of Posadas, Misiones, Argentina.
In the 18th century the mission had a population of around 3000 people, and a rich cultural and handicraft activity, which was commercialized through the nearby Rio Paraná. Nevertheless, after the suppression of the Society of Jesus of 1767, the Jesuits left the mission a year later. The ruins are one of the best preserved among the several built in a territory today belonging to Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and one of the most visited due to its accessibility. (Source: Wikipedia, slightly edited)
San Ignacio Mini was my destination that day, some 250 miles / 400 kilometres away, but first I had to find my way out of Paso de los Libres. The bigger towns in South America have a sophisticated one-way system, i.e. in one street you can go west and in the next, one block further, you can ride east. The same applies to north and south, with some roads being two-ways thrown in for good measure. This concept helps to avoid congestion, makes it easier for vehicles to stop and for pedestrians to cross but it doesn't necessarily assist the navigation for the foreigner.
After several involuntary sight-seeing tours circling around the centre of Paso de los Libres, I finally pulled over and asked an official looking señor in uniform for directions. He sent me a completely different but actually straighter forward way which led me to the Rio Uruguay again, from where I could see the city of Uruguaiana in Brazil on the other side of the river.
The Argentinean-Brazilian border post ahead...
... but Brazil would have to wait until the Iguazú Falls - today I wanted to go to the Argentinean province of Misiones. On the Ruta 14 I passed the town of Santo Tomé, another Jesuit reduction
... and then the notorious Ruta 40, which runs along the Andes through the whole of Argentina from La Quiaca on the border to Bolivia in the north down to the Atlantic near Rio Gallegos in Patagonia.
Of course, here in Corrientes we were too far east and the Ruta 40 was only a provincial road. The real thing would have to wait until I crossed the Andes from Chile into Argentina again...
All over the country you can see richly decorated shrines by the roadside, most of them dedicated to Gauchito Gil, a legendary character of Argentina's popular culture.
Inside the shrine
As John had warned me in advance, the landscape within a radius of 500 miles / 800 km around Buenos Aires is mainly flat Pampa but once I had passed that mark, the countryside became hilly and more colourful.
At some point I turned off the main road to have a closer look at the Tierra Colorada – the red earth.
Near San José I finally entered the province of Misiones and left the Ruta 14, joining the Ruta 105 north towards Posadas. Only 325 kilometres left to the Iguazú Falls...
San Ignacio Mini lies 60 kilometres north-east of Posadas on the Ruta 12. I soon found the Campsite ‘La Familia’ and pitched my fabulous tent (a present from John as well as my MSR fuel stove).
My activities were closely watched by two little kids, Mati and Dante, who were asking lots of questions about my moto, the tent and why I was doing what in that particular way.
The two were the sons of Claudia, a Historian, and her husband Matias, an artist who makes jewellery and objects out of natural products such as seeds, potter's clay and semi-precious stones, and sells them to the tourists visiting the Jesuit ruins. The family lives half of the year in the province of Buenos Aires and the other half in a cabaña - a cabin on the campsite in San Ignacio Mini.
Some of Matias's work
They invited me to drink Mate with them and I learnt a lot about the Guarani culture, environmentalism in Argentina and the living conditions of the rather underprivileged people in the country.
At some point I had to leave for the centre of San Ignacio to get some dinner and visit the internet café. Unfortunately I found the latter before the restaurant and when I had finished all the usual updates (Route-log, SPOT message, photos, emails to the loved ones, etc) I realised that the village had closed down in the meantime and it was going hungry to bed again!
At least I got a photo of the Jesuit ruins by night on my way back to the campsite.
Tomorrow - at the Iguazú Falls - I would eat a whole piglet on toast, so I promised my growling stomach...
The next morning Claudia invited me into their cabaña for a coffee. So I went to one of the little kioscos on the corner that sell (almost) everything to buy bread, butter and cheese for breakfast. We talked a lot about the current economic climate in Argentina, the education system and her career perspectives as an academic with two young children, and then I suddenly realised that I was late for another appointment –
Arriving at the campsite the previous evening I had arranged for my clothes to be washed and dried overnight by Carola, a lovely local lady who runs her business 'La Lavanderia Suave' a few blocks away from the main road. She had asked me to be at her place for 9.00 am and when I remembered it was already 9.20. So much for German punctuality…
And right, Carola already waited for me on her doorstep and asked if I could give her a lift into the town centre on my bike, as she was late now due to my delay.
No problem at all, just that the road was slightly curved and muddy and of course, the inevitable happened: Carola didn’t swing her leg over the seat, as I was expecting, but used the footpeg to mount the bike, putting all her weight onto the left-hand side of the DRZ where I had only a still weakened limp to hold the load. Well, after a fruitless attempt to save the situation, my foot gave way, all three of us went over and Carola, not wearing any protective gear, was buried under the bike – oh my God!
Fortunately, she was unharmed and just laughing about our stunt - but I wished the ground would open up and swallow me… And my foot hurt like hell again! Anyway, after dusting us off, I pushed the DRZ to the bank, asked Carola’s boys to hold the bike upright while she was getting on and off we went into San Ignacio. You bet that I used all the kerbs and stones I could get hold of every time we stopped on Carola’s round. She was obviously proud to be seen on such a ‘big’ moto and still laughed when we reached her final customer. She even gave me a pair of nice earrings as a token of our new – yet already tested – friendship.
Still utterly embarrassed I returned to the campsite, packed my stuff, said goodbye to Claudia and the chicos and hit the road.
I have to confess now that - as it was already late, very hot and still 260 kilometres to the Iguazú Falls - I gave the famous Jesuit ruins a miss. Even though it meant that I didn't see Matias again who was already at his stall offering artesania to the visitors of the World Heritage Site. If you want to have a look at some images , please click here – otherwise you will have to go there yourself or wait until I return to Argentina one day…
Heading north on the Ruta 12 I saw a lot of trucks carrying the main ingredient of the Argentine national drink – Yerba Maté
Stopping at a filling station near El Dorado, I met the third motorcycle traveller on my trip: Hans from Chile on his 650 V-Strom. He was roaming for four months as well and invited me to visit him in Viña del Mar when I would be passing by in a few weeks’ time. We exchanged tips about accommodation, services and sight-seeing and then headed off into opposite directions. I didn’t meet Hans again, as he was still on the road when I finally came to Chile.
Mid afternoon I arrived at Puerto Iguazú and did the usual city-tour for orientation purposes and to find somewhere to stay. The South America Handbook had recommended the campsite 'El Viejo Americano' (the old American) on the road to the waterfalls but I found that the camping fee was no longer US$ 3.00 as stated in the travel guide but a whopping US$ 15.00!
However, the facilities were great and in immaculate condition: clean and spacious bathrooms, hot water all day, swimming pool, supermarket, restaurant, internet, tourist information and a safe at the reception, the bus stop right at the front door, and the people working there were all very friendly and helpful.
In good spirits and full of excitement that I was going to see one of the most amazing natural wonders in the world the next day, I started to pitch my tent. Oh no, how could that have happened?
In the morning all had been fine still! No problem, I thought, for situations like this I brought the right tools:
But for some strange reason, things didn’t work out as they were supposed to – maybe because I had never used ‘Chemical Metal’ before or completely misunderstood the term ‘plastic padding’ or just didn’t get the proportions of the two components right or maybe the temperatures were just too tropical for the chemicals to bond properly. The result looked like this:
In the end I had to take drastic measures and smash the piece that was broken off the line, thereby shortening the pole considerably, and bandage the rest with duct tape…
Apologies to John for such an abuse of his generous present. Still, the tent was holding up well – if a little asymmetrical – for the rest of the journey.
That evening I broke the rules of my vegetarian regiment of 30 years for the first time of the trip: starved after having missed dinner the previous evenings, I went to the campsite’s restaurant and ordered the Menú turistico with all the trimmings. I think the only dish that didn’t have meat in it was the dessert… No photographic evidence though, as I still felt a bit guilty at that point and didn’t want to tell Possu…
Despite my cardinal sin the sun set beautifully over the land…
... and full of anticipation I slipped into my sleeping bag - tomorrow I would spend the whole day at the Iguazú Falls...
The famous Falls of the River Iguazú define the border between Argentina and Brazil and can be visited from both countries. Two thirds of the waterfalls lie in Argentine territory where a well developed infrastructure gives access to the majority of the 275 falls.
The previous day I had already ridden to the entrance of the national park to see if I could catch a glimpse of the waterfalls, but the only road available took me to a big gate where I was told that the entrance fee was AR$ 85.00 (at that time approx. £15.00), they would only be open for another hour and I should rather come back in the morning, preferably by public transport, as they couldn’t guarantee the safety of my bike in their car park. I agreed, it would also be much nicer to walk about in civilian clothes than in motorcycle boots and my relatively heavy suit.
So after a delicious breakfast in the campsite’s restaurant, I just stepped outside to the bus stop and caught one of the colectivos that run every 30 minutes between Puerto Iguazú and the national park for AR$ 5.00 (£0.90). The park is open daily from 8.00 to 18.00 (8.00 to 19.00 1 Apr to 31 Aug) and the South American Handbook 2010 stated that the entrance fee can be paid either in Argentinean pesos, Brazilian reais or US$. Relying on this information, I had already reduced the amount of Argentinean cash to just a few pesos, as I was leaving Argentina the next day and could pay campsite and food with my credit card.
But – when I finally reached the top of the queue, the guy at the ticket counter told me that they would only accept Argentinean pesos – no US Dollars, no plastic, which was all I had. Mmm, what can I do? There was a cash point inside the park and the rangers even let me in. Unfortunately the machine was out of order… Arrrgh, I had made such an effort to get up early and be here at 8.00 but now it meant that I had to go back to either the campsite to change money there or even to Puerto Iguazú to find another ATM. Hang on, didn't I see a MasterCard sign on the door of a souvenir shop? Could I buy something and have some cash back? No problem, señora, but you have to spend at least AR$ 40.00. Mumble, mumble, mumble, alright then. So I bought postcards for AR$ 40.00 (which I had to do anyway at some point…) and received my AR$ 85.00 for the entrance ticket. Phew. In.
Due to my little mishap the previous day and all the limping around at speed, my foot had started to hurt again, and so I went into the visitor centre to enquire about the best routes through the park that were accessible for the handicapped. I was expecting some rough directions or scribbling in my map from the friendly advisor but no – he made a phone call and two minutes later a sort of electro mobile stood in front of the building, ready to chauffeur me to the station from which the train leaves for the waterfalls. Not that I really felt that bad but what a superb service! I chatted with my driver about self-inflicted injuries, our beloved hobbies – in his case it was football that had given him a damaged knee – and what a wonderful workplace he had.
The ecological forest train took us to the Estación Cataratas first, from where the Upper and the Lower Circuits start, but I wanted to see the largest of the falls, the Garganta del Diablo, the Devil’s Throat, before it got too crowded. From the Garganta station a one-kilometre catwalk leads to the park’s centre piece – you can already spot the spray in the distance.
The national park is home to an abundance of wildlife – which can easily be watched from the walk-way
Of course, everyone who was on the train had overtaken me by now – but there it must be:
The Devil’s Throat – La Garganta del Diablo!
The mandatory tourist shot…
And then I was just standing there, looking at the overwhelming power and beauty of the waterfalls and the tears were running down my face. How lucky was I to be here and see this wonder of nature with my own eyes…
A heron on the way back to the train station.
I have to say that the park’s infrastructure is well developed – each train is used to its full capacity (and they run every 30 minutes), access to the facilities like bathrooms and restaurants is nicely organised and sign-posted, but you also pay for it. Not only the hefty entrance fee, but for some strange reason I had forgotten to take water with me and had to hand over AR$ 12.00 (US$ 3.50) for a half-litre bottle! So if you go to the Iguazú Falls yourself, bring your own supplies…
After returning to the Estación Cataratas I first walked the Upper Circuit (Circuito Superior) which takes you along the top of the waterfalls.
Just see the tiny people at the bottom to get a sense of the scale.
And the wildlife...
The flora isn’t bad either.
The butterflies seem to be used to humans around here.
To be continued in the following post - too many pictures...
On the way to the Lower Circuit (Circuito Inferior) I came across these little fellows – Coaties:
They are not shy…
… and for the protection of both visitors and animals, feeding the latter is strictly forbidden (as you can see in the third pictogram).
Then the stairs went down, down, down…
Along more waterfalls...
From the bottom you can spot the Garganta del Diablo in the distance – and the walk-way on the Brazilian side…
The crowd had spread out by now and I had the place almost to myself.
… and the butterflies, of course.
Then I reached the platform that you have seen earlier from the Upper Circuit.
I carried on to the riverbank and the jetty for the boats that take you to the Isla San Martin, an island that lies right in the middle of the action.
Unfortunately and due to the low water level, the recommended tours were suspended for the day but I’m not sure if I had met all the criteria anyway…
It was nearing closing time when I made my way uphill to the train station again. I had been limping about for at least seven kilometres and ten hours that day but the pain was only a small price to pay for this awesome experience.
If you ever get the chance to visit the Cataratas del Iguazú then go. If you don’t – well, then you will have to make it happen one day...
From Argentina to Paraguay through a tiny bit of Brazil
Before I set off on my epic journey, I didn’t know a great deal about Paraguay - apart from: the country is sparsely populated (6.3 million inhabitants in an area of 406,752 km² / 157,048 sq miles – as a comparison: the UK has 62 million in 243,610 km / 94,060 sq miles), 30-50% of the population live in poverty, and it is more likely that the people you meet speak Guarani than Spanish. West of the capital Asunción towards Bolivia spreads the hot and semi-arid Gran Chaco which is rather remote and potentially dangerous but also home to a number of German-speaking Mennonite communities. Well, I travel to learn, so bring it on.
To be on the safe side, I stock up on vitamins before leaving Argentina by devouring embarrassingly vast quantities of fresh fruit at the breakfast buffet - you never know when you get the next opportunity. Then I enquire about the border controls that lie ahead, as you have to cross a corner of Brazil if you want to go from Puerto Iguazú in Argentina to Paraguay.
I am a bit nervous because I don’t speak Portuguese. No se preocupe, señora, don't worry, say the nice people at the campsite, it’s all very straightforward. While packing my stuff on the DRZ, I chat to Javier, gardener, 24 years old and soon father-to-be of a little daughter. Motorbikes are such a great opportunity to start a conversation - wherever you are. I love it.
The Argentinean border crossing is busy and efficient: I hand over passport, bike registration and temporary import documents – buen viaje, have a good trip, and through. Of course, I must stop on the bridge over the Rio Iguazú and a nice elderly señor takes pictures of me with one foot/wheel in Argentina and one in Brazil.
Welcome to Brazil
At the Brazilian border post I just say that I want to go straight to Paraguay and get a simple transit stamp in my passport – without any further questions or fuss; it’s usual practice here. Shame really, as the rather handsome officer I’m dealing with is an absolute pleasure to look at (hope Possu doesn’t read this too carefully… ).
Then I am in Foz do Iguaçu, the 4th largest city in the Paraná region and a rather hectic place. Mmm, there is no time limit on the transit, no one has explicitly told me that I have to go straight and immediately to Paraguay – and I would really like to see the Marco das tres fronteiras, the landmark where the three countries and the rivers Paraná and Iguazú meet. No one is looking, so I quickly turn left and ride down to the Triple Frontier:
Zoom into Argentina
Then I’m battling my way through the heavy traffic towards the Paraguayan border. Many people try to stop me but they don’t look official enough to get me hesitating. Hundreds of motos are whizzing past, I just follow the herd and then suddenly the lanes split and I find myself in a 20cm wide groove that leads the motorcycles through the border installations. There is no opportunity to stop and ask how this all works, if and where I have to show any documents and so I keep drifting along. We reach the bridge over the Rio Paraná where the two-wheeled and the four-wheeled vehicles meet again and I instantly become a mobile chicane – with my panniers I can’t just filter through and a massive queue of beeping bikes forms behind me. Fortunately the cars are moving a bit forward and I can slip into a gap to let the other motos pass. Phew.
Right, are we there yet? This looks like we are already in Ciudad del Este (City of the East) in Paraguay.
But I surely need an entry stamp in my passport and temporary import papers for the DRZ? Ok, in Germany we have a saying: the police, your friend and helper, and so I head straight for the next officer who’s trying to install some law & order into the traffic chaos. Although busy, he takes the time to welcome me to Paraguay and point me to an inconspicuous white office block on the other side of the road – in the meantime, the local motorcycle taxi drivers will look after my bike and luggage.
An impressive female officer governs over the crew in the immigration office; we chat about my trip, she stamps my passport and sends me off – enjoy your stay in Paraguay. What about customs and the temporary import of a foreign motorbike? Not necessary in Paraguay, even though I ask several times because I find it hard to believe. When I come back to the DRZ, there are even more moto taxis and their owners, we chat and laugh and I have to answer many questions about the bike and my journey. Oh, and I need money but as it is Saturday, all the exchanges are closed. No problem, my favourite police officer speaks to a few locals and introduces me to a moneychanger who gives me a very fair rate for my US Dolares.
But then the culture shock of this giant shopping centre called Ciudad del Este becomes too much - I want to get out of this hectic place and into the countryside as fast as possible. It is hot and again, a lot of people try to stop me and shout their latest offers at me. I’m sure, if I was after cheap electronic goods I could grab some bargains here, however, I only have a small bike with limited luggage space – so which part of no gracias don’t you understand?
Finally I reach the city limit and join the Ruta 7 which leads to Asunción. The land is plain, grassy and pretty flat. For a long time the only hills around here are the termite mounds along the road.
Occasionally I pass a toll booth, but motorcycles are exempt and even have their extra lane to go round the barrier.
After a few hours of uneventful riding, I spot green hills in the distance and decide to turn off the main road, heading south-west towards Villarrica. Immediately the journey gets more interesting when I run into the Paraguayan rush-hour…
That’s more like I expected the roads to be…
Arriving in Villarrica, I first do my usual sight-seeing tour and look for accommodation. The capital of the Guairá department is pretty big, boasts some beautiful architecture, plenty of parks and a university and is considered to be the second most important city in Paraguay from the cultural point of view. I stop at the Hotel Rowil which I instantly like - not only for the colour scheme…
I think there are only two other guests in the house and I get a lovely en-suite room in the attic...
... with a nice view onto the garden – including breakfast for £9.50.
It’s a Saturday night and the whole town is in party mood. Cars are promenading up and down the high street with huge booming stereos in the boot; drivers and passengers are laughing and cheering at the people in the streets. Everyone is friendly and greeting me; I haven’t seen any other gringos here so far. I walk around until midnight, savouring the atmosphere and the balmy air, chatting to the locals - and just enjoy being here in Paraguay. What a charming country; I can't wait to explore more of it!
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