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A Close Thing

- fact? or fiction? - You decide...

by anonymous...

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Translated from the German original 10.12.1987

Edited by the secretary IMC (International Motorcycle Club) 4.4.1994

I had left Buenos Aires on the 4th January, and was now in Comodoro Rivadavia buying gas and food for the trip across to the hippy village at San Martin de los Andes, which I had heard so much about.

My motorcycle was a BMW and it received a lot of attention in Comodoro. The result was numerous invites back to peoples' homes and an extended stay of four days in this rather depressing place, although the view of the long coast stretching away south and north was very interesting. Comodoro is an 'oil' town and the surrounding low hills are studded with rigs and 'nodding donkey' pumps but despite the wealth of oil in the region, the people do not seem to have benefited greatly.

Anyway, I enjoyed the hospitality of the wonderful Argentine people of the place and then set off for the big ride across Patagonia and into the foothills of the Andes where I was told, I may find the famous hippy village.

The weather could not have been better and as I settled into the ride and I looked forward to seeing the small towns and villages that one may come across out here, in the 'forgotten' part of this beautiful country.

My mind began to wander nicely as the road ahead stretched into the horizon and I began to think on the stories of this place (Patagonia) that a friend in BA(Buenos Aires) had the kindness to tell me.

Many of Argentina's problems have been buried in this great scrubby desert and even today, there are riots in the south. There was trouble in Comodoro while I was there - and the prison that is hidden away in the depths of this place, is once more full of Argentines, many of who are probably thinking that they may end up buried out here somewhere despite their country now being a democracy.

I came up to the remains of a small town. It was just a few houses really and had most likely been part of one of the big ranches that had now closed down. At the road edge was a wood sign and on it somebody had scratched something in Spanish. My Spanish was very poor but I am certain it said something like, 'The worst place in Argentina' and it was after seeing this cursed place and that sign that I believe my luck changed, for it was only a few kilometres further on from this place that I found my worst nightmare.

He was sitting next to his bike at the edge of the road. At first, I feared to approach in case he was part of an ambush team. Patagonian roads at that time had a reputation for banditry. But I observed him carefully and he looked in a bad way and there was nobody else to be seen in the flat countryside surrounding him, so I approached carefully.

He looked up and saw me coming. He did not seem surprised and he made no move to rise from his position and greet me. His motorcycle was a Yamaha XT350 and did not appear damaged so I asked him what the problem was.

"Petrol", he replied - his reply betraying him as an Englishman.

"How low are you"?, I asked - I could not believe he could be empty.

"None", he replied "Do you know where you are"?, I asked.

"Argentina", he replied.

I looked away and tried to think. I admit I was tempted to just ride away and forget this moment in my life as just a daydream, but how?

I looked at him and he was staring off into the distance. "There'll be a truck or something along soon and I'll get some petrol or a lift off it, so don't worry about me", he stated flatly.

"But this road is not used much now. There might be nothing for hours, maybe days," I replied and then continued, "do you have food and water"?

"No"

This was a terrible situation. If I filled his tank from my own reserve I would also be short of fuel and there were many hundreds of kilometres to go before the next gas stop.

"There's a town about fifty miles further up the road", he said - as if he knew what I was thinking.

"I don't think so", I replied. "In fact", I continued, "There is no town for exactly five hundred kilometres."

He just stared at me before almost growling, "well have you got any suggestions then?"

I looked at his machine. It was brand new and had no modifications for riding in these conditions and there was no provision for carrying extra fuel. His personal possessions were just as few and from what I could see, he had only a large soft bag strapped onto the rear of the machine's seat.

Which is all very peculiar and annoyed me a little when I considered the expense I had gone to in order to prepare my machine and myself for this long trip. And I also had a schedule to keep.

"Do you need my help,"? I asked him, before adding, "because if you don't, I think I will get on my way."

"You do what you think fit", was his only reply before casting his stare off into the desert somewhere, so I offered him my good luck and once more continued my journey.

I reached my fuel stop safely at a small town about 200ks before the beginning of the Andes foothills.

I filled-up, washed the machine and checked everything was lubricated and tight before checking into a small hotel and spending a night in a proper bed. I always stay one night in five at a hotel. All other times, I camp.

The next morning, I collected my machine and visited a restaurant and took the meal outside, at one of the sidewalk tables. I remember the day as being very sunny and warm. Perhaps a little too warm but there were plenty of people and vehicles around.

I suddenly heard somebody shouting in the distance. I looked down the road to where the traffic lights are and I saw a number of cars and people collecting. As I watched, I could see the situation becoming agitated and then I saw two policemen arrive and the shouting increased.

I decided it was time to go and so I paid my bill, climbed onto my machine and rode away from the worsening dispute at the other end of the road.

The town was perhaps five kilometres behind me when I looked in rear-view mirror and saw the most amazing sight. A motorcyclist was coming up on me quickly and behind him was a police car which itself was being chased by other cars and a small truck.

I acted stupidly; instead of slowing and then pulling off the road, I opened the throttle and soon found myself flying along at a terrible speed, but at least the pursuing convoy was fading into the distance. At last I came to my senses and pulled off the road and after driving into the desert for a few hundred metres, awaited the arrival of my pursuers. And they were not long in arriving. The Motorcyclist had been doing well until he came abreast of me. A dip in the road and then some missing tarmac put paid to his flight and he crashed headlong into the sand and scrub at the side of the road, his race ending in a vast cloud of dust.

Seconds later, the police arrived, the officers rushing from their vehicle to the now prone cyclist and yelling loudly at him, their guns drawn and pointing at his seemingly lifeless body.

The rest of the convoy was quickly upon the scene and the mad crowd milled and dashed around the policemen all shouting and yelling at the same time.

They were unaware of my presence and in order to ensure that they did not become aware, I lay prone upon the sand, the scrub and gorse helping to conceal me and my machine.

The cyclist was brought to his feet and although I could not see what was actually going on, I guessed he was being bundled into the police car for the trip back to town. His Motorcycle was bundled onto the back of the truck.

The scene became quiet for a while before exploding with more yelling and shouting, another sudden pause, then the slamming of car doors, the revving of engines and finally, the squealing of tyres as the convoy raced back to town with their prize.

I lay on the warm sand until I was certain the scene was safe for me to appear upon and regain my journey to the mountains, which were now only a couple of hundred kilometres away, but it was not to be.

I had been seen, and although the convoy had seemingly moved away, a car had remained, one of the four occupants of which was a policeman - and he was now looking directly at me.

Now, I had a choice in this situation. I could wait where I was until the arrival of the policeman and be taken forcefully back to town to face the consequences of whatever it was they suspected I had done.

In a town that small, there would probably only be a couple of policemen, and they would most likely be untrained, locally elected representatives of the law. The town's judicial system would most likely comprise a locally elected magistrate and a few of the local pillars of society.

Enquiries would be painstakingly slow and the town jail, awfully uncomfortable. I would most likely lose a good part of my equipment - maybe even my motorcycle - to bribes: an extra blanket maybe, perhaps a little fresh fruit -a little tobacco. And then there was the possibility of being framed for a crime or an involvement in something of which I was totally innocent. Then there could be hard time in the Patagonia 'Hilton' and a small cell shared with four sex-starved ex-gauchos for company.

I feared for my machine's drive shaft as I flew across the sand and onto the tarmac, the rear tyre screeching for grip as I held the throttle wide-open, my foot struggling to find a higher gear and more speed.

In my rear-view mirror, I saw the car throwing up dust and scrabbling for grip on the sand, but within a second, it had gained the road and was accelerating after me. I went up a gear and held my speed at 140. I prayed the road ahead had no breaks in the tarmac surface, no hidden holes, no sudden corrugations. I knew I could escape the car easily by driving into the desert, but by doing so, I would be entering a huge area of land for which the map did not refer and up ahead, was a good sized town of sophisticated people who might be more interested in establishing the facts of the situation rather than the emotion and an opportunity for self -enrichment.

So I sped on.

I looked back. The front passenger of the car had his arm out of the window and was pointing what looked like a pistol at my back. I heard two sharp cracks but felt no dreaded fist in the small of my back. Instead, I accelerated to 170. The car remained at a fixed distance behind me, its huge Detroit built frame sometimes bottoming out in the dips and bumps in the uneven road sending showers of sparks into the roadside.

The chase continued for one entire hour before the car slowed, eventually stopping and fading into the distance and it was with immense relief that I did likewise - lowering my speed to a sane 90 which allowed the engine to cool a bit, but all the time my eyes were fixed on my rear-view mirror.

The car had gone. Perhaps they were low on fuel. It was after all one of those huge 1960's American fuel gobblers. And I was free!

I never did stop at San Martin de los Andes. Instead, I kept going until Bariloche, where I re-fuelled and continued up over the mountains and into Chile, eventually arriving in Santiago where I finally stopped and began my preparations for the journey home - I wanted no more of South America and was only too glad to cancel all my expensively laid plans and expenditure.

Two days later, my machine had been re-boxed and was awaiting a flight at Santiago airport. I had a couple more days before my own flight and so spent the time wandering around the city-one afternoon ending up in the university district where I found a trendy little cafe.

I had only been in the place for a few minutes before a group of young student types entered, spotted me and - as usual in South America - asked if they could join me for coffee and 'Empenadas'.

They were desperate to practise their English and even though I rather tetchily reminded them that there are other languages spoken in Europe, I welcomed them and in my best 'English', entered into a lengthy discussion of just about everything.

 

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They immediately asked me how I was travelling. I told them of my Motorcycle and of my now wrecked plans. They were most impressed, particularly one of the young ladies, and after a couple of litres of quite good Chilean beer, my tongue loosened and I told them of my adventure in Argentina.

They became very quiet for a while before one of the boys, I think his name was Andrez, almost whispered to me that I had been very lucky because it seems the Argentine police had arrested a motorcyclist after a traffic incident.

The Motorcyclist had been searched and had been found to be carrying a large quantity of drugs. A second Motorcyclist had been seen in the area and although had at first been suspected of some involvement, he had escaped and is believed to have crossed the border.

"I could easily have been arrested at the border", I whispered to Andrez.

"Yes", he replied, "But the telephone system is very bad in Argentina so they probably could not 'phone ahead."

"But what about radio?"

"The police in the town you had the problem with probably only had short range equipment," replied Andrez.

"Perhaps the guy that was arrested told them that I was not involved," I suggested.

"Maybe so", answered Andrez, "But you have been very lucky anyway and I suggest you don't visit Argentina for a while", he continued.

I asked them if they had any further details of the guy that had been arrested. They knew very little and nothing had appeared in the newspapers. They were pretty sure though that the man was English - which could answer for the lack of publicity. You see, just a couple of years ago, Argentina had gone to war with Britain over a group of Islands called the Falklands or Malvinas, just 500 kilometres off the coast of Argentina.

Both countries were once more at peace with one another and in some way, most Argentines are grateful to Britain for freeing them of a dictatorship that had wreaked havoc with their economy and with their fundamental human rights.

Perhaps they thought that I also was an Englishman. Was I saved by the politics of the day, or by a simple failure of communications?

Whatever, I did not hear anything of the fate of the Englishman and I did not even get from him his name.

But what bad luck for me was our meeting in that empty place and what even greater bad luck for me was it that just hours after our meeting, a truck or bus came upon him and brought him to that small town.

Story copyright IMC(International Motorcycle Club), specifically Neil Rogers. 1999

Fact or fiction unknown - but it's a good tale!

 

Editors note: We accept no responsibility for any of the above information in any way whatsoever. You are reminded to do your own research. Any commentary is strictly a personal opinion of the person supplying the information and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any kind.

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All text and photographs are copyright © Grant and Susan Johnson, 1987-, or their respective authors. All Rights Reserved.