There was a time change at the Argentine border. I would lose an hour before I even got started.
It turns out I lost more than an hour. The border was shut down for some sort of celebration. People were lined up forever.
I waited patiently. What choice did I have. Finally about 10:30 all of the singing and dancing was over and the Aduanas were back at it.
It was a fairly straight forward procedure except for two minor snags. Argentina now requires Insurance for a vehicle to enter. They asked for it. I produced it. It was a copy of my Insurance Certificate from home. They folded it and unfolded it, they turned it upside down and inside out. They had not seen one like that before, but they could not refute it. He asked his "heffe" if it was acceptable. His heffe asked someone else. Every time someone walked by, the certificate was presented for authentification. No solid conclusions were drawn. Meanwhile the paperwork progressed.
With the bike processed I crossed the street to get myself legalized. They did a good job. They checked to see if I had signed out of Bolivia. I had not. Somehow I had missed the Aduanas on the way to the border. I had checked the bike out but not myself. I walked back to correct that error. They had been waiting for me. When I entered the man said "Oh, you're the man with the moto. We have been expecting you." Stamp, STAMP and I was done...legally cancelled out of Bolivia.
When I returned to the Argentina Aduanas they continued with the paperwork. I talked with one of the free agents. We talked about all of the paperwork required...all of the forms...all of the time. What did it all mean? What happened with all of those logs? He had been to Cossovo as part of a Peace Keeping mission. "It is the same problem all over the world," he said. "But it has to be done. We have to keep track."
With my passport in hand, he followed me back to the bike. The Vehicle Aduanas guy was there too. One more time he asked about the insurance. I was asked to present the document yet again and show it to this other agent. He looked it over; read the front and the back. I reset the clock on the bike. I busied myself with nothing. Finally, he handed the certifcate back. "It is OK," he said. I was free to go.
What a difference a border makes. The mountains and the tortuous roads melted away into a broad agricultural valley with good pavement. Subsistence farming disappeared, replaced by large Estancias and modern farm machinery synonomous with that used in North America. The suspension replaced its normal staccato action with the slow undulating movement associated with smooth pavement. The RANA received her first drink of premium fuel in over a month. We all felt better for it.
Salta!! What a vibrant city. The people seem happy; contented even. There is a "je ne sais quoi" about their lifestyle...easy going...prosperous...a "joie de vivre" that comes with disposable income. Coffee shops and restaurants abounded, occupied with a steady ebb and flow of clientele. There was a relaxed feeling in the air...a "laisez faire" attitude. Life here was different. Gone was the hand to mouth existence so evident only a few hundred kilometers to the north; replaced with that "joy for life" which the Argentinians express so well.
The women dress expressively, not just covering their bodies but adorning them. They are proud of their figures and carry them well.
The tight jeans...the form fitting garments...the revealing blouses, the gently curled lips. All add to the package to complement the total.
A young lady walks by in skin tight jeans. I watch her moving down the street...through the crowd and then finally out of sight. Her tight buttocks undulating in a gentle, rythmic motion as they propel her forward. Only a thin layer of cotton separates the outer world from the inner. The eyes follow the movement...the gaze is arrested...the mind pre-occupied with the motion. In her wake lingers the sweet aroma of her passing.
..."Don't Cry For Me Argentina..."
I returned early to my room and had an afternoon shower. It was normally important to catch the non-peak periods to ensure you had lots of hot water. This was not the case here.
I had lots. A veritable deluge crashed upon my body...hot, steamy water the temperature and quantity of which I had not experienced for several weeks. I languished in the extravagance of it all.
I towelled off and placed my parts on the table. Things were not looking so good. The Bolivian antibiotics and cream were having no effect on the bites. The first day had shown a dramatic change but after that nothing. In fact, things looked like they were regressing.
I played a quick game of marbles and then put everything back into the pouch. It was time to go see a doctor.
I checked into Emergency. They had three (3) cashiers...no waiting. A lovely lady sauntered up to the window. I explained my problem. She exited the cage and guided me to Consultation Room #4. "The doctor will be with you soon," she said, as she exited.
The room had a small 4 ft desk, 2 chairs, an examination table, a sink whose faucet spewed water at an alarming rate and a few bottles of disinfectants. I settled in behind the desk and looked around the room. Then I realized I was on the Doctorīs side of the desk and reversed positions. No sense pissing him off before we get started.
An orderly came in to see if I was comfortable. I was. The cleaning lady stopped by to say hello and see if I needed anything. "No thank you. I am just waiting for a few minutes," I said.
I waited and I waited and I waited. After half an hour I had finished correcting the city map I had picked up at the Tourist Office and was reading my book. The cashier returned and was surprised to see me still there. She hurried away. The cleaning lady returned and flooded the room with an inch of water. I stood on the chair as she squeeged the water out into the hall and disappeared around the corner. "Are you closed?" I shouted after her. She half turned and smiled as she chased the water down the hall.
I settled into my book. Suddenly the room was full of people...two doctors and two nurses. I non-chalantly gazed up from my book, wondering what all of the commotion was about.
The doctor sat in his chair and leaned across the too small desk. I leaned forward only inches away from his face. The other doctor crowded in with the two nurses. They pressed closer in order to be better able to catch every word. Between them they had assumed that their limited English would allow them to understand what I had to say. My life was in their hands. How could they cure me if they could not understand my problem? The strain showed on their faces. The blood drained away leaving only a pallid, sagging complexion. My eyes traced their faces and sensed their concern...
I began to speak. They pressed in closer, into the ever tightening circle...like a football huddle on the last down of the last game.
I addressed them in Spanish. I told them about my family, my friends, my desire to continue living, my trip through Bolivia, my meeting with the insect and my desire to return to my friends and not meet with those who had pre-deceased me. They began to relax...the color returned to their faces. They breathed a collective sigh of relief. They could understand me. They could help me.
As I finished my dissertation I leaned back in my chair and surveyed the crowd. The doctor spoke.
"But, where were you bitten?"
"Over here, on Harry."
"On Harry. On my right testicle. Don't you name yours?"
He figeted. The other doctor twiddled with his stethoscope. The nurses giggled.
"We will have to have a look."
"Of course." I stood up and unbuckled my belt.
"Stop! The nurses have to leave."
I shrugged my shoulders. "Perhaps they will have some Input."
"No! They must go."
Nobody moved. All were interested in a look at the gringoīs equipment. The doctor moved to usher the nurses to the door. They were gently urged in that direction. There was a slight scuffle at the door and then it closed behind them. I dropped my drawers.
"There is a lot of swelling, No?"
"They are normally that size."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, they are in the dormant state now. You should see them when they are active."
"You should put ice on it. It will reduce the swelling."
"OK. Is that all?"
"No, I will give you an injection and some antibiotics. Do you have any allergies?"
"No. Will you be giving me penicillin?
"No. It doesnīt require that. I have something better."
"Are you sure I don't need penicillin?" "What about this medication from Bolivia?"
"It is not right. Do not take it anymore. This will fix the problem."
I packed my equipment away. I raised my pants. A orderly came in with the injection. I dropped my drawers and leaned over the examination table, exposing my white buttocks. The needle was poised for penetration. Someone leaned on the door, from the hallway. It swung open. The needle entered. The crowd peered through the opening...
I like a good Piece of Ass but this is not fair. I dressed and the door closed.
I shook hands with the doctor and limped out into the street. My right buttock was beginning to harden up....
I had several options to obtain a Visa for Brasil. However, since the alloted time starts counting down from when the Visa is issued it was reasonable to try to obtain it as near to my entry date as possible. Perhaps that thought process was flawed...
My first option for a Brasil Visa was in La Paz. I discounted La Paz because I was there, easily a month in advance of when I needed the Visa. I moved on.
My next option was Santa Cruz. I was there on a weekend, and it was still early so I erased that option. My book said I could obtain one in Sucre. Sucre was on my travel plan.
In Sucre I approached the Embassy but I was saddened to hear that they did not issue Visas. They were not allowed to do that type of work. The man assured me I could get a Visa in Salta, Argentina.
Salta was a couple thousand kilometers away, but I was heading that way so I was not alarmed. In Salta the Embassy had the same story as Sucre. They were not allowed to issue Visas. Doesnīt anybody know who does what anymore?
I emailed the Consulate in Buenos Aires. They assured me Cordoba could issue a Visa if I did not want to go to Buenos Aires. Cordoba was a thousand kilometers to the south. What the hell. I was going that way anyway. I might as well go to Ushuaia, now that I am here.
I checked the phone book. Yes, the Consulate was listed. I was very certain this would be the end of my quest.
For those who have not had the exerience, getting a Visa can be a challenge at the best of times. Down here in Cordoba it tested more than your patience.
The address was in the phone book. I copied it down and located it on the street map...615 Ave. A. Almos. Mistake #I overlooked the A. I went straight to Almos. I followed it as far as it went. There was no #615. The neighbourhood became rougher. This was not a Consular area.
I asked a man passing by. "You must go the other way...about fifteen blocks." Had I gone the wrong way? I couldnīt believe it. I turned around and walked back...I counted the numbers down. At #0 the street name changed to Colon. I was befuddled.
I asked the man at the kiosk. "You must go the other way, fifteen blocks," was his answer. "I just came from there. The number doesnīt exist." He shrugged his shoulders.
A delivery man walked in. I asked him. He looked at the address for a minute and then said, "Oh, thatīs A. Almos. Thatīs about twenty blocks away, that way. I had wasted two precious hours. I hailed a cab.
The neighbourhoods changed. It didnīt look promising, but then suddenly there was the Brasilian Flag hanging over the door. The mirrored glass prevented me from seeing in, but as I approached the door opened.
"Yes?" the magnum packing guard queried. "
I need a Visa to visit your country." I wasnīt even sure if they could issue one. I was testing the waters.
"These are the requirements. Do you have all of the necessary information?"
I nodded in approval. He went to get an Agent.
The needs of the Agent were slightly different than those listed on the posting.
1. Passport (Check)
2. Passport Photo (Check)
3. Title for the Moto (NO!, at the hotel)
4. Photocopy of the Passport and Title (NO!, at the hotel)
5. Copy of Bank Statement showing I could afford to visit their country...no deadbeats allowed (this one bothered me)
6. Completed Application Form.
"Do you have all of the above?"
"Not with me."
"When you have it come back and see me."
"What time do you close?"
"How long does it take?"
It was 11AM on Monday. I had two hours or I would waste a day. I did not want to spend more than 3 days doing this. If I ran into the weekend I would be here for over a week. I had to get it started today.
Out on the street I hailed a cab and headed for the hotel. There I gathered up my paperwork and went to find an Internet Cafe. I wasnīt sure I could pull a Bank Statement off of the internet, since I had not set that up before I left, but I had to try. An ATM receipt was not adequate.
I signed in, created an account and retrieved the balance. The amount was less than I had expected. Sandra had not transferred the money yet. Would it be sufficient?
I printed it off and hailed another cab. Back at the Consulate I greeted the guard once again. He hailed the Agent and I passed the documents across. He verified my Original Title against the copy. The same for the Passport. Then he looked at my Bank Statement.
"How long do you want?"
"This may not be enough. I have to divide the total by $80 per day. I can only give you that much time."
"I am transferring money today," I said.
"Show me the statement when you come back."
He handed everything back to me. I looked puzzled. Why did he hand it back?
"You must take this form to the CitiBank and pay 139 ARG Pesos. Bring back a stamped receipt and then I will start the Application Process."
My heart sank. I looked at my watch. It was 12:00 Noon.
"Where is the bank? Close to here!"
"No, it is downtown on the Plaza."
"Where, on the Plaza."
"I donīt know. It is there. All of the banks are there."
Why didnīt you tell me this before, I fumed to myself. I was just there.
I hailed a cab. The streets were packed. Lunch break was in effect. Gridlock reigned supreme.
I paid the cab and jumped out to walk the last 4 blocks. It was quicker. There were at least 100 banks in and around the Plaza, but no CitiBank.
I stopped and asked directions. The man with the cell phone thought for a moment, turned this way and that, peering up and down the streets.
"Go left for 2 blocks. It is there."
"Are you sure?"
I walked two blocks. Nothing. The clock was ticking. The sidewalks were packed. There was a mass of humanity everywhere.
I asked again.
"Go back to the Plaza and turn left. Go one block. It is there."
I headed out. A few minutes later...no bank. I walked further.
I asked again. A businessman with a briefcase.
"Go back one block and turn right."
"Are you sure?"
I was just there I thought to myself. Could I have missed it. Reluctantly I headed back. I had covered half a block when I heard a voice behind me. It was the businessman. Initially we had been walking in opposite directions, but he realized he had given me the wrong directions. He had turned around and chased me to correct his error. INCREDIBLE! SIMPLY INCREDIBLE! Who in this world would do such a thing? Only a human being with a conscience. Now there were two of us...not many in 6 billion people.
His new directions were correct.
The line-ups were long. It was well passed noon. I waited patiently, I paid my dues, I collected my receipt and headed for the street. It was 12:25.
There are 1.5 million people in Cordoba and 2 millions cabs. Every one was full. People were fighting one another for a cab. I joined the fray. "I'll pay double," I shouted above the din. I waved a fist-full of dollars, reminiscent of a scene that had played out in another country and another land twelve years ago.
In the company of Ole and Garry, we had been in Dubai on a business venture. It was time to return to our hotel. I suggested we walk back. The hotel was but a distant glimmer on the horizon. Ole had had enough. He raced out into the street brandishing his money. "Here, take it all. I don't care what it costs. I am not walking back to the hotel!!" Gales of hysterical laughter followed this event and persisted for days, whenever we re-lived the scene.
I had a cab. We bumped along. Mostly we didn't do anything in the near gridlock conditions. At 12:49 I asked the driver how much further it was.
"The Consulate closes at 1PM."
He glanced at his watch. He was not impressed. His non-committment to the program was his signal. You see, he lived here. He was on the streets everyday. Today was the same as yesterday...yesterday the same as tomorrow.
He simply said, "It's Monday."
At 12:54 the mirrored door to the Consulate opened and I walked in. The guard looked at his watch and smiled.
The Agent too, smiled when he saw me. "You made it," was all he said.
I filled out the Application Form and slid it under the opening.
"Come back at 12:00 Noon on Thursday."
I was frazzled. What a lot of commotion. It could easily have been reduced to a few organized steps. But, of course that is not their business. They play a game. They are in control of your life for but an instant and they play the game out to the end. They give you one piece of information at a time so you have to make 10 trips instead of two. But, I had made it. I had beat their odds. Barring the unforseen, Thursday should be a good day.
I hailed a cab. Three blocks away we were gridlocked. I got out and walked. I needed a double ice cream...
I asked at the hotel if there was a good restaurant nearby.
"Do you want fish?"
The Rio Paraguay went right through the city, separating Santa Fe from its sister city Parana. I had not even thought of fish.
"Yes, I like fish. Is there a good restaurant?"
"It is not close, but with your moto it is no problem."
"I don't want to ride at night. I could take a cab."
"Sure. It is the best fish restaurant. It is Quincho de Chiquito. It is about 7 km from here. The restaurants in town offer fish but they do not compare to this."
It had better be good I thought to myself, as he wrote the name on a piece of paper for me. I didn't know what I was getting into, as I stepped onto the street and hailed a cab. 8 pesos later I was at the restaurant. Any earlier and I would have been too early for their opening. It was 8:15 PM.
As I walked through the door everyone was busy setting tables, getting ready for an evening of business.
"Are you open," I asked the waitress.
"Yes, why do you ask?"
"It looks like I am too early. You are not quite ready."
"We are ready. Sit where you like."
I picked a table for 4 and settled in. I ordered a drink and waited for the menu. It did not come. It was a fixed menu. I did not know that. It was strictly fish. That was their business...fresh fish.
Presently the waitress returned with the first course. A bread basket, fish balls, a hot fish empanada and two salsas. I silently wondered if she was taking the liberty of ordering for the gringo.
When the plates were emptied she returned with the second course...a lightly breaded and fried piece of Surubi. That elusive fish that I had tried to taste "On the Road to Villamontes."
Soon that was gone and the third course arrived...a Chubuci...a sort of fish soup with large chunks of tender fish, potatoes and fish broth. I struggled through that large bowl but finally completed the task.
I settled back in my chair for a well deserved breath. The fourth course arrived... a thin filete, lightly breaded and pan fried in garlic...excellent.
I was close to the limit. I had eaten my fill and more. I relaxed and perused the city map of Santa Fe. There was movement at my table. I glanced up. I was shocked. The waitress had returned with an 18 inch platter. The fish that accompanied it, barely fit within the edges. I looked at her in amazement. Surely she was mistaken. Surely this was for someone else.
"No," she assured me. It was for me.
"But, but...How much do you think I can eat?"
"Eat what you can," was all she said, and then she left.
I didnīt finish it but I made a darn good attempt. "WALRUS DREAMS OF FISH," was foremost in my mind.
I paid my bill and ordered a taxi.
Every now and then you meet someone who has a real appreciation for what is happening here. A taxi arrived for me at the fish restaurant. We started talking and he opened with the standard question.
"Where are you from?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Travelling around South America."
"Travelling around South America. I started in Santiago Chile." I am travelling by moto.
"What!!!" He turned around in his seat to get a better look at me. The car continued forward at a reduced pace. He studied my face for a few more precious seconds and then extended his had to shake mine. He could not believe it. We talked some more.
"I have been travelling for just over 2 months...northern Chile, Peru, Bolivia and now Argentina. In a week I will exit for Brazil. I have come 15,000 kilometers so far."
He slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand, then turned around and shook my hand again. We both laughed. He just shook his head in disbelief.
"I have another 25,000 kilometers to go, more or less."
We both laughed again.
It was fun to finally meet someone who appreciated the gravity of the trip...had some respect for what was happening...had a feel for the magnitude of the project. It wasnīt like reading a comic book or a $2 novel. It was a project on a grand scale, and he knew it.
As I exited the cab he shook my hand one more time and wished me a safe journey. We laughed together one last time and then he was gone. He disappeared into the darkness of the night.
Did you ever wonder why there is so much wrought iron in Latin America? Balconies, window grills, door grills etc. etc. Just as I thought...No you hadn't. Well what would be the point of answering a question that was never asked? It would just be a total waste of time. There is no curiosity, no interest, no desire and therefore no answer...class, Class!, CLASS!!
Out of the 8,765.34 followers only one person was interested in the wrought iron question.
Can you believe it! Only one person stepped up to the plate and asked the question! My hat is off to her, who shall remain anonymous, with her inquisitive mind. I mean, really people. Are you that focused on deciding between cereal and eggs for breakfast that you cannot ponder wrought iron. Wow! I am simply astounded.
I was going to pose the question of "Who were the Jesuits?", but that is a more complicated and involved answer and I can see it would be truly an exercise for naught so I will save it for myself.
Wrought Iron, my dear people came from Spain by the boat load. You see, the Spanish plunderers, Pizarro and Cortes, were sending back galleon after galleon to the Old World, laden with gold and silver riches from the New World. Bullion, melted down artifacts from the Inca and Aztec empires. Treasures melted into gold and silver bars...almost everything melted...the artistry destroyed for the Greed of Empire. Additionally, newly mined riches from the mines of Potosi and others were transformed into the same bars. The wrought iron was simply a logical choice to get the ships back to the New World.
Two things were happening. There was a building boom in the New World and the ships coming back from Spain carried much lighter cargo, but mostly the cargo was one-way...Americas to Spain. Ships need ballast to maintain stability on the high seas. The logical conclusion was to send Wrought Iron to the New World. It provided the necessary ballast and additionally it provided a much needed building material since iron foundaries were almost non-existent at this time.
Argentina has a "Zona de Missiones" which they tout as being an exceptional experience. They advertise it; they promote it. But, what they have to offer pales by comparison to what is so discretely advertised in Bolivia. The missiones here in Argentina are mere skeletons. The most complete one is simply a few building shells with a partial building for the Missione itself. None of the structures is complete and all of the structures are roofless.
Built on the same grand scale as in other areas they were something to behold in their time. Providing services to communities of up to 4,000 people they became the nucleus of the Jesuit teachings. The offerings here obviously have historical merit but they are simply a "Ruin" when compared to what Bolivia has to offer. Bolivia has the best and has done the best job of preserving and restoring this heritage.
The "Tire Gods" seem to be doing their best to get me. I returned from a trek around Foz Iguazu to find my new rear tire almost flat. I turned it around looking for a puncture...nothing. I rotated it again, looking more carefullly...nothing. Had someone pulled a cruel joke on me and deflated my tire?
I tried pumping it up with my compressor. It would not hold air. I checked it again. Nothing! I pumped some more. Air was escaping from the valve stem. Had the valve failed? I had left my tank bag, with my spare parts, in the motel so I could not check the valve itself. 12 psi was about all the tire would hold. I was 20 km from town. It would have to do.
I packed everything up and headed out. The bike squirmed with the low pressure, but was rideable. I made it to town...barely. The tire was hot. I pulled into a service station advertising "Aire" but all they had was the sign. A boy on a bicycle spotted my dilema and led me to a "Gomeria" a block away. It was there we discovered the true nature of the problem.
The valve stem had failed...the brass insert that holds the valve and is covered with the cap, had separated from the rubber external part that fits into the rim. GIVE ME A BREAK! When was the last time anyone has ever experience a valve stem failure. I know I havenīt in my lifetime...not on a motorcycle or a car. As we put air into the tire the insert had had enough and flew out. This guy only fixed tires with tubes and did not have a stem. I was not out of trouble yet.
We found the insert and wired it to the rubber carrier. With 25 psig of air and the boy on the bicycle leading we went off to find another Gomeria. Two blocks away we found one. He looked at the stem and said:
"No, I donīt have one like that."
"What do you mean. It is the same as a car."
"No," he shook his head.
I was astounded. "What is different?"
"Yourīs is shorter."
I looked at them. His was barely 3/8" longer than the one in my rim. I didnīt care if it was 2" longer. "Put it in. It is not a concern."
Ten minutes later, I was good to go. I bought a spare to add to my list of parts. I paid the man and tipped the boy before heading out.
Later I reflected on the event. With every stroke of bad luck there is usually some good...sometimes alot of good. If the stem had separated from the carcass at the falls, I would not have been able to get to town. It had held 12 psig of air which seemed to be its equalization point, but was still enough to allow me to ride. If, I had had my spare parts with me I would have tampered with the stem and the valve and I would most likely have provoked the separation and failure. If it had separated on its own at highway speeds the sudden depressurization (it would only take a few seconds) could easily have resulted in loss of control and an accident, especially in the middle of a corner. If it had occurred further away from town with my fully loaded bike 12 psi would not have been enough to carry the weight. I had been 3 times lucky. Suddenly my 'bad luck' seemed more like a stroke of good luck in disguise.
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