The air was full of dust and we couldn’t see the mountains surrounding us, so decided to give Valle de la Lunar a miss and ride on towards Mendoza. We took a wrong turn in the village of Huaca and ended up on dirt. It wasn’t too bad and the small river crossings cooled us and the bikes down. We were soon back on tarmac, but it was so potholed, the dirt was preferable. Two lights came towards us, bikes with metal panniers and lights on - must be travellers! KTMs in fact, ridden by Austrians in search of some good dirt roads and on the way up to Bolivia.
Off the beaten track and still bumping into other travellers.
Chatted for an hour or so then they went north, us south towards San Juan. It was getting late and it was still 70kms to San Juan and the next fuel station, but we only had enough fuel for half that distance. How did that happen? Something to do with taking that wrong turn, bypassing the last fuel station and riding against a strong headwind for the last 100kms.
We stopped at a campimento by the side of the road and asked if they had some spare fuel. They had a couple of litres for the XT, and some gasoil, a sort of diesel, which Arno put into the Beemer. We made it to the next fuel station, Black Betty not suffering at all from the strange fuel.
Camped behind a fuel station next to the Ruta 40 (now smooth tarmac and 4 lanes wide) just outside San Juan. The next morning we took it easy, only 150kms to Mendoza and I thought we would be there for lunch. The Argentine police however had other ideas.
At the provincial border between San Juan and Mendoza, there is a check for fruit and veggies, then 50metres on, a police check. Had to show our papers as usual, then they asked us for our insurance. Arno got out some German papers, I did the same, we handed them over and crossed our fingers.
The police were quite happy with my insurance papers, however the date on Arno's had expired, Uh Oh. He was hauled into the office and told he had to pay 300 pesos, about U$100. We tried showing other papers, but they weren't having any of it. They gave us the option of riding back to the previous town , on one bike, to buy an insurance, decided to sit it out and see what would happen.
Were busy formulating a plan, when after an hour or so, a guy came over and asked if there was a problem. We explained and he went in and talked to our tormentors. After a few minutes and raised voices, he came out and was explaining that he couldn’t do much, when the policeman came out of the office, shook our hands and wished us good luck - our cue to get out of there ASAP. Thanked Rubén and arranged to meet up later.
Arrived in Mendoza and were greeted by traffic chaos and demonstrations. At a major intersection, tyres were burning in the middle of the road, the police standing around watching.
Tyres burning in the middle of a busy Mendoza junction.
We managed to squeeze past and find the hostel we had booked for Christmas. Mendoza is a lovely city plenty of shady streets, tree filled plazas and open spaces.
A few days of rest and it was time to head over to Santiago for the New Year. We stopped briefly at Puenta del Inca to test out the hot springs there. The wind was blowing a gale, so decided not to camp and rode over the border to Chile. After the border post, the road dropped down into the valley in a series of about 20 hairpin bends stacked on top of each other, spectacular.
The road of many curves, Chile
Got to Santiago in the evening and booked into Scott’s Place, a hostel a little out of town but with parking and a good atmosphere. Met up with the Swiss guys and also Claudio, one of the Africa Twin riders we’d met in Bolivia, and went for a meal out in the trendy Providencia district of the city.
Together with Alex, a Dutch rider also staying at the hostel and needing parts for his F650, we took a bus and visited the BMW dealership where Arno was expecting to pick up a starter motor under warranty. Unfortunately the person he has been dealing with wasn’t there and they refused to let him have the thing unless he paid for it.
Arno with his hands almost on that starter motor at BMW, Santiago.
Frustrated we left with no spare parts, no starter motor but lots of muttering about BMW and their ever declining customer service for riders of older bikes.
Mendoza was calling, pleasanter and cheaper than Santiago, we hot footed it back over the Andes in time to see in the New Year with Rubén, Marco and Cornel and in true Argentine style we were still eating at midnight.
We did eventually tear ourselves away from Mendoza, albeit reluctantly and rode south through San Rafael and the first rainstorm since we arrived in Argentina.
Riding reluctantly towards a rainstorm on the pampa
At Bardas Blancas, we turned off the ruta 40 and headed towards the Chilean border. No, we hadn't gone mad and changed our minds, no, we were headed to the hot springs at Cajón Grande. It was a 12km ride along a track, through a beautiful valley, before we got to the campsite and the end of the road. Here were the hot springs, a meadow in which to camp, next to the river, surrounded by snow capped mountains, all for 5 pesos a person!
Campsite and hot springs at Cajón Grande
We were so impressed by the place we decided to stay there the next day. It was so peaceful, we walked up the valley then soaked in the hot springs for a few hours, before relaxing by the river and watching the sun go down.
We took our time leaving Cajón Grande, but we were still quickly back onto the Ruta 40, which according to our information, was paved but with lots of potholes. There were more potholes than tarmac in fact and riding in the gravel that lay at the sides of the road was preferable to the rim-wrecking road surface.
Volcanic landscape south of San Rafael
In contrast, the scenery was again spectacular, rocky desert suddenly gave way to a valley filled with lava, at one point the river, which had previously meandered, shallow and wide through the valley, was forced through a narrow gap in the lava which had all but blocked its path. In the distance, the source of the lava flows, we counted 6 or 7 volcanic cones, all now dormant, having spent their energy a long time ago.
We had hoped to reach Zapala, however the bad road had put us behind and a chance meeting delayed us again. Two bikes were coming towards us, loaded up with luggage – must be travellers! And so we met Bernd and Jörg from Germany on BMWs of course. Their luggage system was one of the largest I’d seen so far, aluminium panniers with extra compartments attached plus a huge extendable alu topbox. Plenty of room for all those travel luxuries!
Bernd & Joerg, with their large panniers
After camping the night at yet another friendly YPF fuel station we rode on towards the Lakes area and San Junin de los Andes. Stopped in town to visit the supermarket and internet café, two or three people asked us if we were in town for the bike meeting. Well, not intentionally, but as we were in the area…………..
Getting ready to leave for Lago Paimún, a couple of guys came over for a chat. One of whom turned out to be the president of the bike club organising the meeting and so we were formally invited along for the weekend.
We had time for our ride out to Lago Paimún, a good gravel road along Lago Huechulafquen then a narrower road through the forest towards Volcan Lanin and the campsite by the lake.
Riding by lakes and volcanoes
It was a beautiful spot and peaceful, despite the fact that almost every camping spot was taken.
We rode slowly back to San Junin, found the campsite and signed in for the 4th International Encuentro de Motos. No sooner had we pitched up our tent in a relatively quiet corner, than two other travellers rode in our direction. Jürgen and Sabine, from Germany but not travelling on BMWs, Yamahas in fact.
Juergen and Sabine arrive at the campsite
We all really enjoyed the meeting, everyone was friendly and wanted to chat. There were the obligatory bikes games and then the ride around the town, much tooting of horns, especially past the police station, and then by the main plaza everyone parked their bikes for all to see.
The last of the bikes to ride into the main plaza
Sunday morning and it was time to leave, we were all sent off with stomachs full of pastries and hot chocolate (supplied by the army in a huge 500 litre tank).
We headed south again towards Bariloche, via San Martin de Los Andes and the so called Seven Lakes Drive. It was a beautiful route, some of the road paved, some gravel that wound its way past lakes and mountains. There were several free campsites along the way, so decided to make the most of one of them and spent the night next to Rio Caleufú. The next morning we leisurely packed up and rode towards Villa Angostura.
One of the 7 lakes between San Martin and Bariloche
There was much more traffic this morning, a constant stream of cars making it a very dusty ride. Ate lunch on the banks of Lake Nahuel Huapi, then rode into Bariloche. Was strange coming back, there were a lot more people in town and we were lucky to get the last 2 bunks at the hostel we had stayed in the last time we were here.
We had planned to take the train over to Viedma, unfortunately, being high season, it was fully booked, for a week. Now the question which of the 3 routes over to the Atlantic coast to take. Most direct of course was the gravel road, two paved roads, one looping north, the other south, were also possibilities. We had ridden the northern route the last time, the southern route was much longer and so in the end we decided on the shorter gravel road – probably the last of this trip!
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