I ended up spending more than two weeks in Rio Gallegos. As was to be expected in this Latin American culture, I got a series of “mañana, mañana” responses regarding my parts ordered from Buenos Aires. Luis, the mechanic, got as frustrated as I did when he continually phoned the Kawasaki dealer to prod them along. Five days after promised, the parts arrived and soon thereafter I had a redone water pump (complete replacement of the broken shaft would have cost $375 and three weeks wait), completely refurbished front suspension, and a few other minor improvements. Dieter was a guest of Luis during this time (he was nursing his broken collarbone), so at least I had a good drinking buddy in this otherwise very boring town.
One afternoon as Dieter, Luis and I were sitting around the shop, drinking coffee and fiddling with the bike, a local sheep rancher came in and started talking with Luis about a motorcycle repair for one of their sheepherding bikes. Luis, after stroking his chin for a minute, said he could take care of the problem for 100 pesos, to which the estancia guy said that that kind of cash simply wasn't available (Argentina still has enormous economic problems), but how about a sheep, would a sheep be good enough for payment? They agreed on a fair trade of a few hours work for a sheep carcass, which was delivered several hours later and promptly plopped on the kitchen table. No big surprise, later that night we all had cordero washed down with red wine, in typical Argentine style. Luis knows as much about asado preparation as he does the mechanics of motorcycles and so Dieter and I generally ate quite well during our stay in Rio Gallegos.
Having a beer in Rio Gallegos. That's me, then Luis, and Dieter. My bike is strapped to the operating table in the background.
Finally ready to roll again after too much time in Rio Gallegos. This is Luis and part of his family. Two other sons and about six kittens were not present.
When everything was finally taken care of and I said my goodbyes to Luis and his hospitable family and Dieter, I headed back up Ruta 3 toward Buenos Aires. Although winter was well on its way already, I was lucky to catch a warm, and more importantly windless, spell for my ride back up the Atlantic coast the way I had come a couple of months earlier. Out of Puerto Madryn I headed back into the Valdes Peninsula. I decided I really wanted to see elephant seals, which had eluded me the first time. I found a nice group and wandered down to the beach to snap some photos. There were only a few females, which do not have the big blubbery noses which give the species it's name, but it was a mission accomplished anyway. I slowly puttered back along the scenic dirt roads of this world-famous peninsula to Puerto Madryn, with animals silhouetted against the setting sun. Had I known that my mind would not be that worry-free for much longer, I would have made it a point to enjoy the feeling more!
When I left Puerto Madryn, I did not realize yet just how much my misadventure back on Ruta 40 was the beginning of the end of my trip. Two hours and 250 km out of Puerto Madryn that became painfully clear to me. The cooling system had been acting a little strangely since leaving Rio Gallegos, but I thought nothing of it. Having inspected Luis’ work, I had convinced myself that it would hold up and carry me as far north as I wanted to go. I don’t know if the engine running cool had anything to do with it, but all of a sudden I heard a horrible grinding noise and had an immediate loss of power, again in the middle of nowhere in the Argentine Pampas. I immediately suspected a ball bearing failure within the engine (which ended up being the problem). So I parked the dead bike inside a small, abandoned compound with an opaque wall surrounding a small yard. No people were around for many many miles. I rolled the bike inside, locked the disk brake, locked the helmet to the helmet lock, and took my luggage off to try to hitchhike to Viedma, where I knew a helpful friend named Oscar lived. I eventually got a ride the 250 km to Viedma, and in the afternoon checked into a hotel and set out to find Oscar to ask for help with the bike.
It was already around 7 PM, so I asked Oscar If he would help me arrange transport for the bike to Viedma in the morning (considering the drive would be about three hours round trip at least). He said no way. We have to go NOW! I tried explaining that I had put in considerable effort to conceal the bike behind a wall and to make sure it would not be visible from the highway. That doesn’t matter here, he said. In the morning it will be gone, if it is not already gone now, so we must go immediately. So we arranged a wrecker truck and rode out with the driver to the site on Ruta 3 (between Sierra Grande and San Antonio). Sure enough, when we arrived at around 10 PM, the disk brake lock had been cut, the helmet lock was forced open and the helmet was gone, and there were deep dents in the alu boxes where they had tried to force their way in. Fortunately those locks held up. The front axle nut was missing, and I got the distinct impression the thieves left to go and get a truck, take the whole bike, and work on dismantling it in the peace and quiet of their own garage. So Oscar was right! We got there just in time and had we waited until the next day it would have been gone, no doubt.
A quick inspection of the bike's innerds confirmed that it was indeed a failed ball bearing that had sprayed shrapnel all over the gears. The water pump had also failed again, and apparently Luis’ job did not hold up after all. I am still not sure if these two problems were related but it seems likely. Because of the high cost of repair of the water pump problem (again I was faced with the $375 part including counterbalance weights, shipped from USA) which would cause me to have to wait in Viedma for three weeks, as well as the dismantling and cleaning of all of the gears and basically everything inside the engine, I decided to sell my bike. And so half teary-eyed and half happy to be rid of a problem, I sold it for a little under $1000, still not too bad for a bike in need of major repair.
I was welcomed very warmly in Viedma. Many people in the town are of German descent and still speak German very well, so they were excited to meet me and hear my story. One of Oscar’s friends, Walter, invited me to march in the “German group” of a local parade celebrating the anniversary of the founding of Viedma. It didn’t matter that I am quite removed from Germany because I have lived a good part of my life in the USA, what mattered is that my appearance fit the stereotype, I spoke the language, and never mind the rest, they said. The fact that the United States is extremely unpopular was certainly forgiven in my case. Up and down the streets of Viedma we marched as a group, Kurt from Hamburg (an elderly man who fled Germany during WWII) proudly carrying the German flag at the front, with spectators waving, clapping, and cheering. Had somebody told me the day before when I was still in Puerto Madryn that this was going to happen I would have really had to laugh. Yeah whatever! They were really excited to have me, and as a result I enjoyed myself immenseley there. Well off the gringo trail and not very exciting at all as a town, Viedma left a deep impression on me because of the wonderful people I met there: Oscar and his family, Walter and family, Amerigo with his fine asado, Kurt, etc etc. Thank you all! When I continued north to Buenos Aires by bus, a dozen people came to see me off and sent me off with gifts of wine ("drink it on the bus, amigo. It'll help you sleep") and little souvenir trinkets from their town.
In Buenos Aires, I met up again with Dieter who had flown up from Rio Gallegos. Poor Dieter still had to wear his cast to straighten out his collarbone. It was obviously a huge hindrance and kept him from riding and working on his motorcycle, and kept his shoulders pulled back in the most awkward chest-enhancing position as if he were showing off pecs to all the Buenos Aires ladies, but did not keep us from exploring the city and thankfully he could still raise a glass to his lips. We took a three-day trip to Iguazu Falls in the north (hard to believe it's the same country as Rio Gallegos), where we briefly dipped into Brazil for a day, then returned to the capital. In Buenos Aires, we hit tourist sites like the Recoleta and La Boca during the day, and gringo hangouts like Kilkenny's at night (where by chance I ran into Ulf and Anke again, two German moto travellers with whom James and I were in Quito). The time just flew by. Another two deep etches in the memory bank were from Delfina and Fernanda, two local Buenos Aires girls that I met in Mendoza. We had good fun and for some reason I now have the funny feeling that I haven't seen the last of them.
Two local Bs As girls I met in Mendoza, Fer and Delfi. We had a good time going out and bumming around the city. There's no way I could ever keep up with their nocturnal habits- 7 AM is an early night in Argentina!!!
So now I am back at home and can think about the last eight months, very likely some of the most action packed and fast paced of my whole life. Prior to my departure, I knew already that real experience, experience that would genuinely benefit me and not just look good in black and white on paper, lay out in the great blue yonder. After a few weeks of reflection after completing my trip, I have to say: boy was I right. I fully concur with the widely held beliefs that travelling teaches cultural sensitivity, gives valuable geography lessons, broadens personal horizons and most importantly teaches one about oneself. “Teaching one about oneself” is often said loosely about many experiences and Peace Corps volunteers tend to use the phrase liberally, but it really is true. In adventure travel, you learn about personal limitations, overcoming of fear, your place as a world citizen rather than just a rich member of the insular American society, and so on and so on. Also, it cannot be overlooked that to some people adventure is simply like an itch that needs to be scratched, and I count myself among those. I do feel content now, but probably just temporarily, as the next trip ideas were gelling in my mind even long before my return home.
For me the motorcycle was the perfect escape vehicle. Most tourists and travellers go to “places of interest” and sleep on the bus or plane to get there, but to me points of greater interest often lie on the stretch between these “points of interest”. They may not be as beautiful, scenic, or historically significant, but they certainly constitute the fabric of the country, the specific landscapes and people that give each region its own unique flavor. Leaning into the curves and with the wind in the face, there is no better way to experience this than by motorcycle. Travelling by motorbike provided a culturally and geographically fascinating continuum that linked my home in Colorado with Ushuaia and in that way was supremely rewarding and interesting well beyond my expectations. Plus, it was just plain FUN to ride a motorcycle.
Many of my friends were buying houses and expensive cars and getting married when I left on this big adventure. I have none of what they all have now, but what I do have can never be taken away from me and will always leave me satisfied about my behavior in my twenties. I can always catch up to the others later if in the end I do decide that houses with car-filled garages are valuable. I have always subscribed to the “one life, live it” modus operandi and wonder why more people don’t. Maybe the ones that do dream about big adventures let excuses get in the way. After all, it IS easier to stay home and just DREAM about experiencing the world.
So now, as I am preparing to go back into the working world (as a graduate student in Boston, NOT in a cubicle!), I am refreshed and will always be excited about the future knowing that Walt Disney was right when he said “if you can dream it, you can do it”.
I have added a few miscellaneous photos from this trip. Have a look.
An early morning scene. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
Antigua by night. Antigua, Guatemala
Geography lessons. Guatemala highlands.
I was extremely lucky to get this shot at the EXACT instant that the giant falling jug hit this woman in the head.
Todos Santos Cuchumatanes, Guatemala.
Exploring Costa Rica. Nicoya Peninsula.
"Si, Señor, we have parking at this hotel!" Trujillo, Peru.
Just like the uncooked ones pecking away at my feet, the chicken I am eating was fattened by scraps off the plates of other travellers who were also eating chicken fattened by the scraps off the plates of... and so on and so on. Maybe it was the desert heat or the intense boredom of northern Peru that got to my head, but at the time this struck me as a deeply fascinating cycle. Piura, Peru.
Exploring the Peruvian highlands.
Toro Muerto Petroglyphs, the largest complex in the world. How to get here? Endless hitchhiking or dual sport motorcycles (duh!). Southern Peru desert.
Grouping up with Fabien and Thomas of "Team Panamericana 2002", camping on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni. Bolivia.
James cruising the Salar de Uyuni at 120.
Salt mounds on the Salar de Uyuni.
One of our many camps in the altiplano. Southwest Bolivia
This is nowhere, and we're right in the middle of it. Bolivian altiplano.
Laguna Colorada, Bolivia.
James trekking under the massive Cerro Aconcagua. Near Mendoza, Argentina.
A great ride near the Towers of Paine, Chilean Patagonia.
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