Grant and Susan in Argentina
We're back into travel mode! We arrived in Buenos Aires on Sunday after an uneventful flight. Monday morning, we took a taxi to the airport cargo area, and started the proceedings to retrieve the bike. First part with SAA Cargo was easy, then we took our documents to the customs office marked Particulares, which was quite up to date and computerized.
But, here we hit a potentially major snag. The folks in that office had not encountered a Carnet de Passage before, and after several consultations with someone in another office, the official kept insisting we had to find an Argentine citizen to guarantee the bike. No, we explained, we're tourists here, we don't know any Argentines that well. And, see, we have a carnet to guarantee we won't sell the bike. Luckily the Canadian Auto Association had provided us with a letter in Spanish to the Ecuador government which stated this explicitly, as the carnet itself is only in English and French. So, we gave them a copy of that letter (hoping they wouldn't notice it didn't say Argentina), then I very politely explained how the carnet was supposed to work, which stamps went where, etc., and the light dawned for them. Whew! By the time we were all done, they were experts on carnets, so we've blazed a path for the next poor buggers who come in with a vehicle.
After that, things moved along according to a routine which we're very familiar with now. As usual, lots of interested bystanders as we uncrated the bike, questions about how long we've been traveling, and advice on where to go in Argentina. By the time we got everything rearranged for riding out and got to the exit gate, the customs official there said "Ah, si, la moto", like this motorcycle was now very well known to them all! The entire process took about 3 hours, which is par for a combination customs/border + air cargo retrieval. Do I sound blasé about this now? At least this time I could be of use chasing the paperwork trail in Spanish, as nobody minded dealing with a woman, not like in north Africa! After Africa, it also feels so nice not to be always aware of your skin color and feeling guilty about being born white and privileged.
Unfortunately, we only spent a couple of days in Buenos Aires, mainly because our hotel stay couldn't be extended - they informed us that it is now high season and they were full up. From what we did see it reminded us of Barcelona, lots of nice old buildings and some very wide streets, plus many statues and monuments. The people seem quite friendly, more so than Spain, which was a bit of a surprise to me. Even the customs officials were very helpful, (once they got over the embarrassment of not being familiar with the carnet), suggesting places to visit and hoping we enjoyed Argentina.
We left Buenos Aires late on Tuesday, drove inland on Ruta 3 about 300 km, a fairly boring run of flat fields and straight roads. Although it was hot and sunny leaving B.A., it cooled off quickly and we ran into our first rainstorm since Tunisia back in March (bummer!). After putting on our rain gear, we drove about an hour through it. Around 5:00 p.m., we stopped for the night in Azul, a town of about 40,000 which is not much of a tourist place. We stayed in a hotel in the centre of town and parked the bike in front on the sidewalk. After having an early supper (by Argentine standards), we went to bed.
Around 11:30 p.m., the phone rang. All in Spanish, a man's voice apologized for waking us, went on to say "you understand Spanish, right?", then said something about "blue motorcycles", to which I responded sleepily "Tenemos una motocicleta blanca" (we have a WHITE motorcycle). When we met them the next morning (the club President and Secretary came by the hotel while we were having breakfast), they turned out to be G.A.M.A., the Grupo de Amigos de Motos de Azul (literally the Group of Friends of Motorcycles of Azul), Azul being the name of the town as well as the Spanish word for the color blue!
Grupo de Amigos de Motocicletas de Azul
Anyway, they were very disappointed they hadn't found us the evening before (we weren't too disappointed, as who knows what time we'd have gotten to bed if they had found us), but invited us to come to a cafe where the secretary, Roberto worked, a few blocks away, so we could meet other members of this club.
Around 10:00 a.m., after we checked out of the hotel we went over, and didn't get out of town until 2:30. In the meantime, we met at least a dozen of the club members; took and had numerous pictures taken of us, the group and the bike; answered lots of questions; tried the local variant of tea (and got given a pound bag of it to take with us plus a gourd to drink it out of); were interviewed and videotaped by the local cable TV company (boy, try responding in Spanish to questions with somebody pointing a camera at you!); got a certificate signed by all of them commemorating our visit as well as an Argentina flag decal (we gave them a picture of us at Cape Agulhas in Africa, and our last Canadian flag decal); exchanged cards and ended up good mates all. We got invited to their motorcycle rally in April, but told them it was unlikely we'd still be in Argentina by then. We were sorry to leave, but pleased to meet such nice friendly people. It certainly has given us a pleasant start to our Argentine travels.
They told us that about two and a half weeks ago a group of German motorcyclists had come through on their way south to Ushuaia. Two men and a woman, all riding their own bikes, and the woman, Birgit was riding the same bike as us! Of course, she was about 6 feet tall, per Roberto. Still, I was impressed. She is a computer consultant and the guys (one is her husband) are engineers, and they were planning to be in Ushuaia for Christmas, as the girlfriend of the other guy was flying over from Germany to meet them. So, we may encounter them along the way, as they were planning to take 5-6 months just for Argentina (and you thought we travelled slowly!)
This afternoon we got rained on again, but not too much. As we had gotten such a late start, we only did a couple of hundred kilometers, and tonight are in Tres Arroyos, about 200 km east of Bahia Blanca. The weather so far is not wonderful, and as usual, the locals blame El Niño. Oh, well. That's why we have electric vests and rain gear.
Kids cheer us on in Argentina, as everywhere!
We've come through from Buenos Aires to Rio Gallegos, 2600 km of nothing - this is the longest stretch I've ever seen of so little - Namibia comes to mind for a similar desolation, but there was much more variety in the terrain there. Even Australia was more interesting, the different colours of the Red Centre providing visual interest.
Here, there is scrub brush followed by more scrub brush, thousands of kilometers of it. It's flat, endlessly flat, occasionally punctuated by a gully or a small hill. Somebody here said you can tell somebody who has just driven through Patagonia by the glazed, vacant look in their eyes. I can understand that, I feel stunned and blank after a days ride, a small town is exciting, interesting food for the eyes. During the day, we call out "Look, sheep!" or really exciting, "Horses!". Sad when you're relegated to sheep and horses for your only excitement.
We had noticed that a number of the road signs seemed to be losing a lot of their paint, then I noticed that the paint was missing in spots - bullet holes! Lonely Planet Argentina called Argentina "Wyoming by the sea". Now we see why. Guess the locals use them for target practice. We stopped and photographed one for fun.
Locals use the roadsigns for target practice, Wyoming by the Sea, Ruta 3, Argentina
Hard to recommend driving down Route 3 through Patagonia to anyone you liked. I can see why people fly to Ushuaia rather than drive there. Not only is eastern Patagonia incredibly boring, but it's also very expensive. Gas ranges from $US 0.45 to $US 0.80 a litre (depending on how captive a market they have - when it's the only gas station for hundreds of kilometers, the price is much higher). Restaurant meal prices are extortionate - $15 for 2 plain hamburgers, no fries, and two diet Cokes. They call hamburgers with garnishes (lettuce, tomato, etc.) "hamburguesas completas", as opposed to "hamburguesas", which is just a bun with meat, period. Lunch has been averaging $20+ for food which in Africa you would pay $5 for, and in North America you would pay $10 for. And (not untypical) a hotel costing $45-50 in Comodoro Rivadavia has no phone, no TV, no fan, no breakfast, and no window! And that's mid-range!
We're in Rio Gallegos waiting for parts for the shock absorber parts. Our timing was good, as the day after we arrived they had torrential rains, to the extent that the intersections in the city center were under a foot of water! The next day the rain stopped but the winds are strong enough that they have ripped down telephone wires. Neither of which is much fun when you're riding a motorcycle.
On Monday morning our shock parts had still not arrived, and the Santa Cruz hotel was full so we had to check out. We had found another hotel over the weekend, so we moved in to the Nevada Hotel, and went off to try to track down where the parcel had got to.
Still we're not complaining about the delay, for as fate would have it, on Monday afternoon when I went out to the store for groceries for supper, parked in front of our new hotel was a BMW touring motorcycle with Montana plates on it, much more beat up and grungier than ours. On inquiry at the desk, I was informed that the gentlemen was resting but had expressed interest in meeting us.
I went off to the store, and on my way back I saw this very tall guy in a European style motorcycle suit who definitely didn't look local and was kind of wandering around looking for something. On impulse, I walked up to him and asked "Excuse me, are you from Montana?" He looked totally bemused, and responded "What, am I wearing a sign???" So, that's how we met Greg Frazier, a travel writer (focus on motorcycle touring), who has spent more years traveling by bike than we have, and probably covered more territory. Very interesting guy, we stayed up late into the night sharing stories, and we gave him info on Africa, which is one of the few places he hasn't been.
Of equal interest to us, he has just driven down the Pan American Highway, which is the route we plan to take north from Chile. He spent several weeks in Colombia only a month ago, including Cali, and liked it so much he's thinking of spending a few months there on his way back. Needless to say, he didn't put much stock in the US State Department Advisories warning people against traveling there.
We also learned from Greg that a whole slew of serious motorcycle travelers is planning to be in Ushuaia for Christmas this year, so that should be a lot of fun. Wow, all these people who don't think we're crazy! Mostly Germans, from the sounds of it, but maybe some Canadians also we were told. Since many of these folks have driven all the way through South America recently (as opposed to us who just landed in Buenos Aires), we'll pump them for information about Colombia and Peru as well, and that will sway our decision on Colombia - Yes or No.