25th October 2005 – Bound for South America
Here we go then! Our last day at home, lets hope none of you are Pikey's or that'll be the end of the house and contents! Mind, in a couple of days we'll be living like motorcycle gypsies anyway!
Straight off to the local tip?
Attached are our first pictures of the trip – but taken a couple of weeks ago at the shipping agents (misnomer there by way, they send cargo by any means, guess the terms an old one from pre-plane days). Our beloved bike boxed and being taken away.. We're hoping to a flight with Air France onward to Buenos Aires (BA).. and not the local tip! Costs are not inconsiderable, especially as there has been an increase with a fuel levy, but that's beyond everyone's control, and we only live once (well unless I'm proved wrong on that one!) We could have sent the bike by sea and saved considerably, but using boats
can add delays, and the costs at the arrival port are considered more than the airport. We wanted to start on time so knew we'd pay a premium (Thanks to Mike at Advance Forwarding for all his enthusiastic involvement over the last few weeks). Coming back we'll most likely use a boat as we can live without the bike for a few weeks at this end. Anyway, we haven't even left yet! The other big advantage was we only had to go to Melbourne Nr Derby to drop bike off rather than most shippers who are based in London area.
There are some nerves (distinctly at this moment !), but less than you'd imagine - it still feels like a dream - god help us when we fall out of bed in BA, there'll be a severe bump on head once we get to customs I think. We have opted to attempt to free the bike ourselves and save the cost of an agent. It'll be the first test of our 'pointy Spanish' - that's use of single words, at a slow rate, in the hope the missing bits will be interpreted correctly. I suppose the worst that can happen is that they think we want to scrap the vehicle :-0
We will be reporting back on this one so hang on with baited breath - we will be! At worst, if on let's say Tuesday 1st Nov (bike arrives mid-day Monday so think we'll write that off) we don't succeed then Wednesday we'll be talking to an agent I suspect. Fingers crossed.
Our first few days will be spent at some accommodation that is part of a motorcycle shop in BA; there is a community of like-minded bikers who offer assistance and services through a bulletin board on the web (Horizons Unlimited). Sandra and Javier run Dakar motos (www.dakarmotos.com) and are well known to travellers to this part of the world. They have already been very helpful to us from here, and so we could do no less than stay (as paying guests) in their new 'moto hotel'.
So we fly separately to the bike, in fact we leave tomorrow from Manchester (staying over with Bev's sister tonight) at about 3pm. Thence to Madrid – no sight seeing other than out window - and have quite a few hours at the airport there before flying out at 1am. Arrival is about 7.30am, so by the time we're out, Dakar Motos will be open for business, we'll be able to settle in and try to adapt to our new life.
Temps are currently around 20C over there (last night forecast showed similar for here - some Autumn eh!) as it'scoming into their summer of course, so that should be welcome if nothing else. We'll have about 4 days to adapt to a different pace and place. Once we get the bike out we will leave the city and head for the hills (well, south in this case).
Cities will be a necessary evil as there we will find the ATMs and other services we require, but otherwise we will most likely be delving into the smaller places, and hope to be off the beaten track when we can, but well on it at those times when we need to be - but I suspect that might not always be the case, few butterflies thinking about that! Anyway, we have no timetable or scheduled route that is absolutely fixed, we have aspirations (that's the modern word isn't it!), but we intend broadly to travel south towards Peninsula Valdes to see the Sea Lion colonies and our first Penguins (Yes!) and the Whales if right time. Remember David Attenborough and those Killer Whales beaching themselves to grab seal pups? Think this is where it was filmed. (Might be wrong mind) Further along we have more Whales, I mean Wales, as we go to Trelew (Gaiman) for cream teas - Welsh settlers literally had their own colony here, though it has been watered down over time, there is still a strong Welsh influence in the sighs and language, and food!
Further along we get towards the magical region so far as motorcycle (and most other) travelers go..Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego."the land of fire"! This will be outstanding I'm sure, but let's not talk of that until we're over there eh - don't want get carried away.
As an aside, though there will be emails - as and when - you can also track out progress by watching News 24! (I hope that joke doesn't backfire)
That's it for this episode I think, in my usual style I'd guess that once we are over there you will receive many more words and quips per mail as we will be recording our thoughts on a regular basis via my PDA. They'll be piecing into a journal that will be mailed on each time we get to the Internet, so watch out for 18 pages coming your way if the web proves elusive!
A final thank you for the send-offs we've had and messages of good wishes.
Very best regards, Love, Fritz and Bev
Wed 26th Oct 2005
Manchester - Buenos Aires
After a night at Marcia & Bruces it's a very leisurely start to the long journey over the water.
Not off to a great start after flight delayed from Manchester to Madrid by 2hrs, plane sent from London to get past whatever the problem was Occassional nerves, balanced by occasional smiles of realisation it is starting. The window seat I gained (looks all booked on next leg but who knows) was a corker - Paul mate, on the BA 737-300 try to get the seats A or F11 by wing emergency exit - no seat in way, fantastic leg room - Bev could lay out full length, shame this is only a 2hour flight rather than the follow on what 7-10hr one.
Flying out over - I guess Liverpool - in the evening, streetlights aglow due to delay, lovely sunset & a glass of wine to toast the trip. Most of the Brits in the airport were reading weekend guides to Madrid, never saw a title of "a very long time in South America" so made do with trying to suss how not to get ripped off with a taxi to town from the airport to Buenos Aires.....assume we'll fail - time will tell ! Madrid, just like any airport. Brazillian (I assume) iin front of us at customs gate wasn't allowed his helmet through - one guard was tryiing to say can''t he pt it in his bag ? but his colleague was having none of it - glad our's are in the crate. Strange logic - assume concern for robbery / terrorism ? Busy flighy out, including avery large party of Eire 'challenge walk' ladies, with about two blokes...t'be sure ! strange accents among the 'locals'.
Surprisingly struggling to tell the locals from tourists - not so different looking - not so worried about being a bit blonde and a bit pale - plenty of this lot are too - that'll change further down – well up - the route I strongly suspect. Luckily the AC is off at mo' so getting ready for the heat.
Changed the Palm to Madrid time (hour ahead) and now to Rio time ready for a.m. So now we're back from nearly midnight (11pm UK) to 20.00. AC now on thank god - getting hot with all these folk, the sound of the Irish laughing all around.(found out later their challenge is 10kms a day for 5 days, long way to come for a walk - Cancer Research will benefit though) Having missed the joys of "Bewitched" at Thirsk on Monday (but sensibly not the beer eh Mark), it looks like we've not been spared it as, guess what the in flight movie is ? Indeed you guessed it, that and "A Good Woman" (obviously a fictional comedy I guess - best not let Bev see that comment). I shall hang on for a bit of food, then I think I'll go for some medical help to assist sleep. I never manage sleep on long flights and it knocks me back a day least, so, this time I got private persription of Tamazipan (Sp) I may have just desribed a drug only issued to pychopaths - in which case I retract it ! But side-effects over-looked, cue me being bodily dragged off aircraft in 12hrs time still unconcious, ho hum. Only 10,000kms to go, and about 12hrs. Even the
radio's looking up with some great Foo Fighters, at this rate I'm in danger of staying awake........were did I put that tablet now?
Well the 10 minute chew followed by everlasting peace was like typical advertising....a little exagerated....after 10 minutes...nothing happened. Oh well, not a bad nights kip anyway, certainly had several hours worth, even if on off rather than constant, maybe two on way back - if I can find them in 6 months time. Bev as usual managed OK all on her own
Cool landing approach - tail-mounted camera showing whole plane on approach, round of applause on landing - always a poor sign of trust in my book, first time since taking a turkish flight to Istanbul.
Right hoe to explain thid one the, here goes. Arrived at airport to discover time is an hour different - nothing of a problem. Took a 'repise' (booked) taxi to the Moto Hotel of Sandra & Javiers, $22, it's a snarled up HUGE city and hence the airport is a way out and the traffic is HORRENDOUS. Arrive at the address and all closed up and no one home - it's adifferent address to Dakar Mot's so not the bike shop. Luckily I had the telephone number of the shop and the next door neighbour - a car garage - rang for me and the lady on the other end who spoke English asked to speak to me. The news wasn't good, unexpectedly Javiers father had passed away and they were away to deal with the funeral. This left us in a bit of a quandry as the area of the Moto Hotel is well out of town and there was not a thing locally, even by way of phone never mind accommodation or anything. The lady gave me two numbers to call in Sandra and Jaxiers absence. The first was engaged, the second a lady called Sandra, and a surname like 'aper' (Sandra's is Kaper - this is were it gets confusing) started to check for a booking. It was apparent she knew nothing of us but was helpfully saying send me an email and I'll try to book you something' I explained we were in BA and stuck, eventually after a couple of more calls from the garage I got them to agree to us coimng to that address. We still had the booked taxi, were still on the garage phone, so thought face to face was best. The garage wouldn't take anything for the calls and we gave the taxi the new address fearing a colateral hit on the charges. The new address was central BA and so a long busy rideaway.
Downtown Buenos Aires
At least we got to see the real centre of downtown BA - much different to what we'd seen so far. It's warm verging on summer in UK by way, but dry to start. We arrived at the address and sussed the way in afre paying a reasonable $12 on top. The Sandra I spoke to met us and took us up to a rather flash front dest of what looked like a posh office - we think for booking rather nicer appartments than we would be looking for. She looked at the four odd numbers we had, spoke good English and started calling them to try and make sense of it all.
There was obviously a mistake, but this Sandra was making serious headway on our behalf. We spoke to Facundo, Javiers son and he explained about the funeral and passed on there apologies for not being able to meet us - I said no problem, family first and not to worry. He gave us the number for Mirko – turns out another motorcycle traveller from Germany who toured here and two months ago settled with his Argetinian girlfriend to set up a tourism business. He knew Sandra & Javier and would sort us out. Another taxi that Mariela the girl who had taken over from Sandra and sorted us hailed, and we were off on another magical mystery tour to find Mirko. $5 more and we arrived. He spent a bit of time getting things sorted and suggested we booked somewhere for the night to take any hassle off S&J, and we said do two as they have enough to worry about. Sandra rang while we were there, from funeral, and apologised again - no need in circumstances obviously.
On the spot accommodation booking is never great but we could either have an entire appartment for 2 nights for 364 peso's, lets say 5 to £ so £70-75 more than we wanted but only other hostel was £20 for the two of us two nights but in seperate male / female 12 bunk dorms...oh well, here we are in our appartment...ho hum !
Mirko took us out to get some food but we bought in exchange for assistance, all of £10 for three of us steak sandwiches, soft drinks, then coffee.
Aha - I forget something ! Getting money...or not...went to ATM put in card keyed number, got number wrong, got it right, requested 300 Peso's, nothing more - nice receipt, no money ( no transaction) and no card...what is going on today ! Laugh...oh yeah ! The lady from bank said manager would get card out as they closed, and we could get it back tomorrow lunchtime. What next then eh. Bev used the other machine were you jab you card in and out - like a swipe - and continued to get the 300 out - phew - not the card then, the other ATM, caution in future me thinks.
Went back to the office and Mirko took us to the subway and explained about tickets and how to use them and sent us on our way to find our des res apartment at Anchrena 1714 - stick that in your Google Earth and smoke it !
After another bit of figuring out how to a) get in and b) book it we werehome and dry...bloody hell...what a day...not 24 hrs from home. Still, obviously in all this the folk you have a problem is not us, it's Javier, who has lost his father.
The thing to spring from this for us, is the fantastic people, I mean Mriela didn't know us from Adam, but helped get us sorted, and Mirko took it the next step to get us at least in somewhere.
Thank God we didn't have to collect the bike today! Somewhere in this city is Nik, a fellow Brit who arrived yesterday, and is to try and release his bike from the port tomorrow - if you're out there Nik, is our address anywhere near you ? Where for art though Nik ? Might be nice to actch up - we're here until Saturdy morning, thence to Dakar Motos to hopefully catch up with S&J if it's suitable for them, family first.
It rained today, as forecast, but not much. It's preety warm but not unpleasant...unless you were in full bike gear in this traffic...oh dear ! So we have two toilets, a double bed, AC if we want, a balcony view of the big city, TV, kitchen so we can cook in if we want and, and...a bath. We just need to perhaps have a shower for now, find an internet cafe to mail our adventures, find a shop that sells food and beer and chill out. That being said we have 8 goes on the subway left so I guess we should get out and get adventurous and see some of the centre with little baggage, and a small amount of money (safebox in room) Fear yea not, we're in good spirits and health, in the hands of very good people, and still having an adventure even on day 1....whatever next. More soon !
(And even this is a second attempt as I couldn´t get me Palm to read on PC, try two, card reader - sucess!)
Fri 28th Oct 2005
A day sight seeing mainly combined with meeting of'virtual' friend Nik. Spoken on web, and knew he washere, but paths not crossed.
Had some very nice cakes (not that they could match the Freddo Heladosof last night mind) for breakfast after a good nights kip. Best not get used to the luxury we have here though, it'll be a far cry for future reports of that I'm certain.
Popped up to the 'local' - that's the internet café you see, to read some mails and see if Nik wasaround. Sent a message to meet at Law courts as had to recover me card from bank.
Went first to the cemetry - well, you know how it is - and spent time examining the verbous to the plain crazy tombs the well to do erect to their honour – did they really pose for those heroic statues with angels on their shoulders - I don't think so. Eva Peron was the number one crowd puller but my personal favourites were the austere black art deco ones closely followed by the more grand vicoriana with all the angels and sculls and sad angels. Plenty to see and it's much much bigger than Highgate, and more compact and grandiose than Undercliffe. Quite the thing for a morning stroll. Buenos Aires is not so called for the fresh air (certainlt not with the congested and diesel spewing traffic of today) but because of the fair winds that brought the sailers and the trade. This morning was lovely day, but well chilly, in places fleece on, in others sunhat & shades on. The proffesional dog walkers give an air of New York with the pampered pouches being gang walked through the parks. Saw an amazing Hawk Moth on street with a wing span not far off a lolly pop stick - impressive, and a bird like a cross between a Shrike and a Blackbird, quite common.
Eva Peron’s Grave
Walked down to the court and there was Nik, he'd had a bad night with we assume mosquitoes at the hostel – he also has to suffer the young 'uns coming in at 5am from partying and laying in 'til 1pm - they love their culture the young 'uns.
Went to bank first and suffered the old what card bit before our very friendly helper appeared and we had the same conversation again, followed by her saying they were going to open it and retrieve it there and then. Great people, not surly at all. The card recovered their was enevitable paperwork and the girls were impressed with me speaking my passport number in Spanish - but not as impressed as I was with their helpfulness. Tried card again, in the easier machine, but failed again. I'm going to have to check very carefully my number but otherwise it'll be only Bev that has access to our account :-0
Was great to catch up with Nik and swap tales of getting here. Went off for lunch at the Ideal Café which used to be a High Tea type place for the British community and still holds some of it's charm though it's distinctly shaby shic now. All faded paint, but stillnice lights and fans and a nice ambience.
We decided to go loacl and have along lunch - it was, two and a half hours !! Great food though, big tuna mayonnaise starter that was piled high and some nice bread and a glass of wine. Mains were crepes / raviolli / Hake dependant on who it was and Nik had flan - good old creme cramel, and I had fruit salad - Bev had coffee. So two and a half hours, couldn't finish all the food and a coffee each to start and we had to pay 80 pesos, or about £!6. Bargain !
Having top compact the day as feeling tired, and so should go to 'local' and mail, then return for beer and bed, last night of luxury !
After lunch we went down to the docks - steady at the back there - to see the 'hasppening' place. As Nik put it, it could be Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool or anywhere really. Bit different, but quite flash, lots of developements and getting chic, but affordable...which we like. Had a great time wandering about before getting back towards town. Lots to mention but frankly I can't be arsed sitting here typing all nightas it's very unsocial.
Subway home in dark. Message from Sandra and Javier to say we're on to book out tomorrow and go to the Moto Hotel and sort ourselves out ready for getting the bike. Javiers father died very suddenly and they've had a right time of it - why they should even consider us just shows the type of people they are. We had to go to a shopo with phone bothes to spek but only cost 11p so not bad. Maybe try phoning home at some point, bit more I suspect. Mobiles of course are as available here as athome...in case you were wondering.
Bought two beers to try tonight, so it's goodnight from her, and it's buenos noches from me !
Sat 29th Oct 2005
This will be kept quite brief as it's been a tiring day, so don't feel like a lot of anti social typing.
Had to check-out of room by 10 so up after another great nights kip in our luxury. Left easily and tried to find a bank. Sussed that and got another 300 Peso's (£50) before getting subway to end of line as it doesn't go that far out of downtown. even that far out you are still well in the shopping areas. Took a wander along the road trying to suss whether to risk a taxi when a local asked us where we wanted to go and he said this bus takes you to that area and we boarded with him. Again it was friendly advice, and we left the bus as adviced but still in middle of nowherecompared to where we wanted to get.
Wandered again and found a 'remise' taxi office where you book a ride in advance, and a local driver took us to Sandra and Javiers place ( the bus was 1.60 which was well cheap) The taxi was 6 which was also excellent at just over a £.
A general note here. The prices are quoted in $, and that's how I'll start writting it, but it is peso's, US$ have to be written with the US in front – a mistake we made with a taxi before we knew – big difference !
We were warmly greated by S&J and a group of Leo's - two of them, and a third later! They were working to finish the details on the accommodation, we're the first paying guests I think. S&J really live up to their mantle of brilliant people. They must truly have helped a lot of people selflessly in their time.
The accommodation is basic, in the manner of a hostel or bunkbarn, two sets of bunks, a kitchen area, a toilet and shower and a motorcycle workshop attached (of course that is the business area) The accommodation isn't really a business as much as something to help travellers.
S&J Moto Hotel
During day some curtains were erected to sheild the hotel from the shop and up at the window. With just us here it is great, tommorrow a German couple will be in too - lucky we have our beach towels on the lower bunks. We had pizzas and entranados together at lunch and then Marco from Switerland turned up after three weeks of riding up to Uraguay and around Igzuma falls and today back from Azul. he is 23 and has already been for few months before...having traveeled through Russia before SA. He leaves the bike here and returns for more riding in a while. well travelled man, as are most of the people we meet - and here we are not even having a bike yet and already so much adventure.
It is becoming very clear that our thoughts of riding round a large portion of SA are pure fantasy ! Unless we want to ride like Kevin and Julia Saunders who rode Alaska to Ushuaia in 37 odd days we won't be getting to half the places we thought. Still you live and learn I guess, and we'll see how we go on the road. Lots of advice and we'd be foolish to ignore it all.
Javier is fortunately in very good spirit after the loss of his father and they are still apologetic about the problems we had - simply no need to even consider us we keep telling them.
Marco has a flight at 1pm tomorrow and will be getting up at 9, but even after his several hundred kms today still has gone out to see friends and will not be back before we're in bed !
Even though we have done very little it has been quite a taxing day and we're both knackered and glad of a little bit of calm just now...if you ignore the dogs howling in the background. Apart from the dogs it is much quieter out here. Lets hope none of the rsesidents who share this place snore eh !
For our tea we had a fantastic fruit bread (Raisens and apricots) and bread a cheese spread and crisps - easy option. And found some more 'dark' lagers. The one tonight Brahman Bock, at 6.3% and very pleasant, a 970 cm bottle ( funny size, must be a SA imperial option) cost $3.30, in my maths that's only 66p.
A footnote for later - must mention mate - that's pronouced mat eh - it's a tea drink...ish !
Sunday 30th October 2005
As our fellow traveller from Switzerland, Marco, was off for his flight home today he was up earlier, and hence so were we, only 8ish mind. Their was a distinct high pitched whine in our ears during night, not something from the workshop or Marcos, but a dreaded Mosquito. Amazingly we didn´t seem to get bitten though so it must have been something else. Not a bad nights kip overall.
We managed without breakfast, and no bad thing, as it´s Sunday and a chance for a day of relaxation and here that means Asado, that´s a BBQ in our terms. Sandra and Javier invited the German couple Axel & Angela, and Mirko & Mikalle - the German who has settled here that helped us on day one, so with us and S&J´s son Juilo we were 9. Off to the butchers (obviously Sunday is a trade day for them) for meat and a quick calculation of 0.5kgs per person. The butchers was very busy and stocked just about every part of anatomy you could imagine. We ended up with some chorizo, and ribs of lamb, and loin? of beef plus some burgers for Axel who doesn´t really eat meat - mind neither did Angela, so it really was a meat fest ! Sandra tried a couple of times to get hold of Nik without luck, to join us here (if you´re reading this Nik, there is space here for you, 4 beds may be taken - though may just be the two of us, but they have two more camp beds and the parking is safe - inside – and S&J, and us, would love to see you here)
A trip to the supermarket for some salad things and wine and bread and we were complete.
Back at Dakar Motos the skilled task of preparing the BBQ started - as the meat cooks for around a couple of hours there is more to this than our regular BBQ´s. A very small amount of charcoal was used compared to the way we conventionally cook. Slow, steady, and wonderful.
BBQ on Sunday
I was very nice weather, though you could burn under the sun, but it was still quite chilly. All the attendees arrived including Axel´s Africa Twin with both of them on it - nicely sorted bike and much tidier than the other travel bikes we see. They have been around a lot of SA already, so know the score - this time north to Mexico. Bev was able to spend time with Angela pouring over the maps taking advice and comparing notes - particularly when mention of locations of the last petrol stations on long cross country sections was mentioned - useful indeed !
The cooking was a slow gentle afair which suited the day, and having skipped breakfast we were ready for a good feed which was just as well as there was quite literally a heap of meat to be consumed.
Was great just sitting and soaking up the tales. Once the food was ready it came across in tray fulls, as and when, and we served ourselves onto wooden platters. With the meat a salsa type of splash on sauce which was great and the salad and bread as a distraction. The wine was from Mendoza - Lopez – and cracking stuff, especially as under $7, or under two quid. And the carne, the meat ? How to tell? It was cooked to perfection, and the cuts were as good as you´d get anywhere - not sure you´d even get these cuts easily from butcher at home - and even if you could, we´re really not sure you could match the quality. It was simply fantastic! And remember here that Bev is not someone who would normally eat Lamb at all. It would be rude not to just stuff yourself which we mostly did, but there was still some left at end - though not as much as you´d expect at 4kgs of meat. Very strange being here at start of Summer and having strong sun, dry earth, and shivering - then I guess it´s like May or June at home, though they say it should be warmer. As long as it´s dry we ain´t complaining !!
We were well sated by the end of an hour or so´s eating, I don´t think I would hesitate in saying it´s the best BBQ´d meat we´ve eaten, especially when you consider it was just striaght meat with no fancy preparation or marination, just excellent meat and lots of it. Argentinian´s can hold top spot on the beef stakes, and dare I say lamb too.really ! The chorizo was excellent also, but British bangers are better, but I guess they´d think them too subtle a flavour. And on the wine front? No question!
Even though I have no spell check on my Palm, I think there may be more than the usual number of errors here as I´m typing on S&J computer and it finds most of these words alien! That´s my excuse!
For the bikers out there this place is like a hub that travellers pass through. If you´ve been on the road, or are planning too, the names in the guest book are legendary. Even the bikes in the workshop that some travellers have left temporarily belong to people who are folk heroes in travelling circles. Gregory Frazier (4 times round the world!) has his bike here awaiting more travels and the guest book is like a list of who´s who in the motorcycle travellers community. Names that I´ve heard of so often are here with photo´s and friendly comments. But then S&J are legends themselves too. So far as our UK Gsers go there is Simon and Lisa (here recently, and hopefully we´ll meet on our journey at some point), Mick O´Mally, Joe, then there are other well known travellers like Bob, Dan Walsh and Simon Milward.
Everyone has slipped away now and we have the place to ourselves - and very kindly S&J have let us use there PC to send this mail as not sure if internet cafés open tonight (there are a few even here in the ´suburbs´)
Tomorrow will for us be a very important day. The bike arrives just after lunch if all goes to plan, and we will attempt, on our own, to liberate it from customs and then ride back here. Not sure which will be worse to be honest, getting it out, or finding our way back here. Everything is in grids and mainly one-way streets with cross roads every block. It´s a mine field of obstacles even without the difficulty of finding a needle in a hay stack - which is what this place is to us. There are hazards everywhere, and most vehicles look like they last saw an MOT at construction ! Care, Caution, and no rush should be the answer..and remember to drive on other side and not wrong way up streets.
PS soz for lack of pics with post, technical difficulties at café´s, hopeful of some later.
A bapism of fire !!! Suerte !
1st November 2005
No entry for yesterday as too bleeding tired the now, basically a trip into BA and the fantastic lunch at Tortoni´s (if I remember correctly) The hot chocolate was the best !
A late night last night, not off top sleep ´til nearly 1am by time people had left - it's such a great place here with nationalities changing from English to Spanish to German without catching breath. Nik, our fellow Gser from England looked just like we did the previous day with his mind completely messed up after so much advice and contemplation of the sheer enormity of this country - thought of the continent as a whole being beyond conception at present. Anyway, we could sypathise and swap the info we're received on big gaps between the petrol stations in patagonia and the like. Axel and Angela are off by boat to Uraguay tomorrow early so a last get together.
So anyway, today. Once S&J arrived they booked us a remise taxi to airport, about eight quid, and we had a last run through what problems we might encounter in getting the bike liberated.
The following is a pretty accurate account of the formalities as I'm passing the details on to other travelers.
Clearing a bike at Buenos Aires Airport
We arrived about 11am, the Air France office opened at 9, but customs not ´til 10 so not so late, with hindsight should have started an hour earlier I guess, but what the hell. Firstly at Air France Office we took our freight papers from England to the counter and then were issued with the airport equivalent of a ´bill of landing´and a whole stack of copies of passports and bike reg (3). If you have a good professional outfit like Mike´s at Advance Forwarding the copies will already be attached to both your, and the plane Co´s copies meaning you don't need further copies. There is one thing more you need though – a copy of your passport page with the entry visa from your arrival - best to copy that, though one was done at airport for free, just saves walking office to office. Don't worry though - you will walk from office to office to office in an incredibly confusing manner, a real paper trail. You wait you time, and I mean wait, and lots of folk seem to come straight in ahead of you while you wait - you'll find out soon enough that they aren't ´pushing in´, but returning (for umpteenth time).
So you get to the customs office after some considerable time and they say, Carnet de Passage ? to which you say, not needed, temporary import (in best Spanish of course), and the whole circle of fun begins. After much consternation the magical name ´Rita´appears and you go over to the building set aside from the Cargo Hall - were you have been for probably an hour.
Rita understands and takes you upstairs for a form that you will carry for approximately an hour or so wondering if it has any purpose, she is great and very helpful and the person that got things underway for us, and not only is she typically very attractive, but also very friendly. Now this IS what you need to help negotiate the blokes in next stages.
Anyway, I don't know what transpired but that got us - via a few run arounds and other visits to close-by offices to the customs that frankly I don't understand the purpose of - to Luis in customs who started the filling in of the temporary import form. He was a bit stand-offish at start, but very helpful later and speaks good English. Obviously you get a lot further using some Spanish, even if basic.
I´ll struggle to get all this right, but, you appear to have to have a section filled in one at a time, do something, or go next door - after waiting – before returning to fill another section in. It looks a very simple form, but I must miss-understand. The only thing we needed to show was my driving license, the original bike log book (V5), and the entry visa - which needs copying as above, you could get in advance, otherwise they'll send you to get a copy, but hey, it's free which is good.
At some point obviously they need (but not as much as you !) to see the cargo. The cargo hall is quite large but the new arrivals are near by. You don't have to pay for the opening of the crate separately - it's in your price. They will open it for you - thank god, as a screwdriver is not the way to do it, power drivers are required unless you want to spend all day – and the cargo handlers are also great and even better once they realise what is inside. They won't rive things apart unless you ask, they will listen to your advice - and a good company will have marked the crate for you so you know what screws to remove, and were to start etc etc. (Thanks Mike, and thanks ´L4arge one´). Once you are in, Luis needs to confirm the chassis and engine number, and will then return and leave you to
assemble the bike or whatever.
You will need to connect the battery also, and if you have planned ahead you will have a fuel can – thanks Javier - to collect enough fuel to get you out, see below for more.
You return to office, and fill out more of the form. You pop next door (I really can't explain why), then back to Luis then to first office with girls in who are cashiers. I don't think we were charged for the fact we collected the bike about18 hrs after it arrived (said we couldn't the afternoon of arrival, then said we could when it was too late) and don't think we incurred any charges anyone else would escape, but the final bill was US$ 123.50. They would have been happy with Peso's, but we didn't have that many Peso's on us, so as we'd allocated $ we used them.
The temporary import is for 3 months, if you want to stay longer you MUST get either an extension, or if I'm right, a new temporary import on re-entering the country from an adjoining one. This paper with the entry details is very important.
Now you need petrol. Bev walked over to the pumps about 500m away and returned with full can, and we had enough juice to at least get the bike underway.
That's it, you are now free to leave. I don't know if you would be charged for leaving the crate or not as we are re-using ours, you can get transport for it from airport easily, Luis arranged for us.
The Carne de Passage is NOT a thing you need to enter a vehicle here, though they are quite committed to asking for one. You DO NOT need an agent, it would only cost a probable considerable amount to get the same things done, maybe faster, but maybe not
The above are our practical experiences, but without the help of Sandra and Javier obviously we wouldn't be able to do any of this, credit most certainly due to them for there continued fantastic support of motorcycle travelers.
All this being said the staff came out to watch us set off so they can't exactly be unsympathetic to self importation of Motos, it's just that it's out of the ordinary for the general business.
We had arranged through Luis to have the crate taken to S&J so we can reuse it when we come home. It cost best part of 250 quid, and Mike guessed not much less over here, so worth keeping if we can afford too. I've suggested to S&J we pay $100 to store it here, if we don't return, they can use it for future travelers. We got charged 150 Peso's to get it delivered, bout 30 quid, which isn't too bad when a taxi is 8 quid. We also had big advantage of being able to follow truck to S&J´s place, which would otherwise have been a nightmare, only took 40 mins.hours under own directions I'm sure.
As we needed petrol we had to get to gas station in airport, but it was other side of all the one-ways. The security guards simply let us go the wrong way, and opened the barriers ahead of us - imagine that at Heathrow..exactly..they are really, really, nice folk. Got juice and returned to truck and set off for S&J. The motorway varies from OK traffic wise, to mad and suicidal, glad we were following someone. The roads I assume are like the grid system very easy if you are used to the states, but completely mad in extreme for us. Cities will not be good news on this trip, not 'til end will we suss them I expect.
As we came to S&J´s we came a different way through a real rough neighborhood, and I mean rough, armed guards with shot guns at warehouses. It's amazing here nearly all stores in town have guards, and there's loads of armed police, but everyone seems to be very friendly.
Got back to here and unloaded crate and were able to shower, Christ it was hot, hotter today, and it's really not hot at all for this place. Imagine my amusement when we set off from airport and }I realized my heated grips were on - I was frying ! Gonna take some getting used to that's for sure.
Nice simple tea of lettuce tomatoes and cheese and bread and beer to unwind. We've been drinking the local water all week with no ill effect, but I'm not sure Id do it everywhere, Argentina, well here, is like a cross between Europe and say Mexico, odd !
And so to our future plans. We think we might team up with Nik for the first few days just so we're all in it together, thence we'll be on different paths, so we will stay here tomorrow, and maybe leave day after.
For now, that is it, we have the whole family here now!!
Wednesday 2nd / 3rd November 2005
Today the first day with bike, but we had no plans to go anywhere. we decided last night to wait for Nik and see if he would like to travel together for a couple of days. It's his first time abroad - real adventure eh - and our first 'significant' travel.
So to be together for a couple of days wouldn't be a bad thing. Nik's happy, and so too will we be. He plans to go south after the falls to get to the travelers meeting at Viedmar, then to Patagonia and Ushuaia for Christmas and New Year. We plan on going NW towards Paraguay and then Bolivia and across to Peru and south then north back to BA. To say our plans are fluid would not be understating it though. The Viedma meet is at wrong time for us though, and in wrong place, so I can't see us changing that. We'll probably meet everyone coming north when we're going south.
The cops to the NE of BA are a bit corrupt and famed for trying to extort cash from travellers by claiming you need a fire extinguiser, or a blanket to cover a body, all of which are not required for m/c.
Hence quite a good reason not to go too far on the Argentinian side, though we'll have to stop before Uraguay for the night perhaps, or not, looks close enough to get toin a day. Other option would be a boat across the Rio Plato (River Plate - the one of the Naval battle) but that would take us into the another capital city and I think we've had enough of cities for just the now.
The crossing is by bridge with customs either side, unbievably 50kms long. And the first town ? Fray Bentos - yupp the famed pies and Corned Beef factory set up by the British.
And so to Maté, the drink of choice for many here, but much more popular in Uraguay. It is a herbal mix of sorts, like tea mixed with herbs. Hard to describe, but it comes as dried powder looking liked a mixture of dried grass clippings / green tea & herbs de Province. It is put into a small pot, a Culha, often metal or wood and decorated, to the point of brimming and then hot water is added (from a flask so it can be constantly topped up) and a Bombilla metal straw with a perforated bulb end stuck into it. You can drink plain as is, but most folk add suger which makes it MUCH more palatable. It's still a hell of an aquired taste. Hard to describe, quite sharp and sour, but not in a nice citrus sort of way. It's claimed to be all things to all, a stomach easier, a refresher, and mild buzz, but mainly it seems to be a social thing. The cup is filled and you take a few mouthfulls before passing on for more water and the next person.
There are different varieties of the brew but we've yet to find one that suits us, but on a social level it's a fine activity, not sure we have an equivalent.
And the Moto Hotel, and our hosts Sandra and Javier, how to describe further? They are definately the salt of the earth, diamonds, any term that expresses the same sentiments. I'm amazed poor Javier has any opportunity for work as there are forever people calling by and drinking Mate and chatting. The fact we are here can only be a further distraction to business as they spend so much time with us. When the come into the shop on a morning they creep in in case we are asleep. Hell, you couldn't ask for better. we have allways been awake I'm pleased to say, as I'd be very embarrased if we stopped them working. Mostly, in fact I guess almost entirely, Javier works on Honda's, Africa Twins and Dominators and Transalps, all of a 'certain' age. There are not many new or even newish bikes here that I've seen.
Nik's bike creates a considerable amount of attension - I can imagine people coming round just to see it.
It is apparent - even after the 50% clothes reduction - that we have too much stuff, and probably many of the wrong things - a failing of all first time travelers I guess, live and learn ! or not ! We'llfind out.
Two friends from the club in UK, Simon & Lisa, that are very experienced travelers (42 countries from across Russia to through Africa) have reported in on a horrendous journey they are currently taking. In Brasil, from Manaus south through Amazonia. A notably atrocious road - if you can even call it that, as basically it's a trail through the jungle. Not one for our trip that is for certain. They encountered Jaguars, have puss filled bites, Simon fell 10 feet off his bike off a bridge onto his head, and is recovering, but not well, and his bikes is basically in terrible condition, wiring welded, battery knackered and frame broken in two places, they are truely having an adventure, but a very testing one. Fortunately they are hardened and appear to be taking it in their stride, let's hope so. They have 800 miles to get to San Paulo were they can get repairs from BMW, that's a long way in their condition.
Friday 4th November
Buenos Aires - to Fray Bentos, Uraguay
Mileage - 165
It was wet to start with, but only light drizzle, easy to get out of BA. Sad to leave S&J. Pampas is very flat, roads very straight, driving nott too mad and dull apart from wildlife. Lots of plover type birds, green budgie type birds, kites, hawk like a Karra Karra, and storks, spoonbills and the odd Rhea (South American Osterich)
Took now time to get to Border town. We dodged the corrupt police checkpoint by riding close to an incoming truck - Javiers tip.
Stopped at cafe and a local came for a chat, he worked there and was a local biker, gave us their website and warned about police, quite a problem up here obviously. The coffe was good, the burgers not as good as you'd hope. But cost $19 Arg so less than £4.
By border, on far side of very long bridge very high over Rio Uraguay. Three desks for Arg, one for Urg.
Got through it very nicely with my Spanish, and did even better on Urg desks. Temporary import (Arg) taken away - new one when we come in. And the Urg one is for a year so no worries. The guy on the Uraguayan side explained he was of English ancestry from the days of Fray Bentos, and his colleague gave me a recommendation for a restuarant if we were going to Montevideo, a little spanish goes a long way Poor old nick struggled through and we had a good laugh that I had done so well. In fact when we finaly got out, to the actual border, he had to go back as the bloke dealing with him had missed a stamp. The Arg guys were in official looking uniforms, the urg guys looked like bus conductors or green grocers. The Urg guy at border even had some banter with me in Spanish by saying it wasn't a good day, too cold. In all of this Bev wasn't in building once and they did her passport without even checking she existed. All in all 45 mins spent very enjoyably ! Excellent ! Great border. Had to nip back to get money, funnily enough the cashier was just a bloke with his own wallet...hmmmm...locals used him too though. Changed 450 Agentinian Peso's at border to Uraguayian and got 3350, so say 7.5 Uraguay to 1 arg, so assume 38 to £
So we mamaged to miss any corruption on the road.
Contiued over the border and into Fray Bentos, rolled into town and found the Colonial (in our guide book) straight away and for Room was 390 for the three of us, so just over £10. Bargain, and we just managed to squess the bikes ibto a corridor with a door on, no point camping at that price. Nice enough room with 4 beds bathroom hot water and ceiling fan. Building is colonian in style with central open courtyard.
Fray Bentos – Exactly what it says on the can
Just been for a blow out Asada for a grand total of 520 Uruguayan Peso´s for three, say 13 quid with tip (and two litres of beer) Stuffed ! By the way, it was in the Fray Bentos Jockey Club, really. We are like martians here, everyone just openly stares - and we´re without bikes and in ´noraml´clothes. The strange thing is a lot of the starring folk look distinctly to me as if they´re Welsh....maybe that explains it !
South America is not what you expect. Many indigenous looking people, but many are obvious descentants of western countries, lots of Brits were here in the past, but seemingly not now.
Mate is an absolute obsession here, people in cars filling the cup from flasks at lights, people on streets with flasks and cups...bloody éll, that´s it...we have no mate....right ....things to buy, mate cup, bombilla and some grass cuttings, we´ll blend in. Sussed. Off to Brazil tomorrow...think we´ll need a trim then.
ciao the now (must be those two beers) Adios, FyB
Saturday 5th November – Dog Day Afternoon
Mileage - 300 miles
Breakfast at the Colonial wasn't included, so we got for 105, say £2.50, for 3 of us. Up earlier, 7am, for 8.30 off.
Nice enough roads to start, unil about Salto, with blue skies and puffy solitary clouds. Linings in jacket but not tousers, and just right, so not as tropical as it appeared. Quite a lot of palms appering, but it looks as if the whole area was de-forested to create the 'Pampa's' for cattle rearing. Saw a few Guachos either at side of road in their typical Gaucho style hats, or on horseback along verge. Often waved givingthat nice traveling feeling. Roads were very good, very good surface for most of the way, and the sections of peage were free for bikes - fortunately enough room at barriers to squeeze through the usused bar and not go over counter.
Not too far out of Fray Benton we could see flouresant jackets and cones on the roads....bugger....here we go, either a police check-point, or we've been nabbed for speeding (think speed limit is 90kms/hr, but so good roads, and so little traffic, that 110-125kms/hr was easily possible, in fact with Nik's bike he could easily do 100mph...assuming you don't hit an animal - and obviously you wouldn't do that speed here). So we pulled in, passed the time of day and asked if passports, or bikes ? If was just a standard check and the 5 policemen odd, including one with rifle, were completely sound. They checked the passports and the temporary bike import papers and that was it. I asked if I could take a photo and they initially said no, and then relented, so got a great shot. We like Uruaguay, in fact, with reflection, we would have stayed longer and gone to Montevideo and the coast if not pressing on for the falls with Nik - maybe we'll head back this way at some point. Only downside is cost of fuel, about 70p a litre.
Beyond Salto it got tediuos with very long slighty rolling countryside, A five degree bend was idicated by a bend sign, that's how straight. the road was, lots of heat haze on the long straights, but green in the manner of the border counties of England, like Otterburn with hills flattened to virtually nothing, hell, there were even occassional roak outcrops, first we've seen, not like tors, just boulders above the grass, loads of rivers and lakes too. Many estancias (estates)which must cover absolutely huge areas of cattle grazing, but for nearly all afternoon we saw no properties, no towns (on road side) and no sign of life other than occassional trucks and lots of wildlife, mainly birds. Range from large Rheas -fortunately not on road ! to multi-coloured parakeet type things to bulbul type birds those tails are three times as long as body to hawks and a bird we see a lot that is like a hawk but has a stange beak - I think it's a snake eating bird, must look up birds oninternet.
The lack of traffic must be due to fuel prices, our tank from reserve to almost full was just over £30, Uruagauy imports all it's oil. Hence very little personal traffic, just goods. Traveling as we are, at a reasonable speed, and with the aerodynamics of a porpupine and the weight of an elephant we use the juice. At times the bike judders and coughs as if overheating, but think it's actually slightly starving of fuel. It's happened more since fitting tank so perhaps at some point I'l reduce the pipe length so less of a 'bend' in lines...though I assume it'll suck it through if it needs it until tank lowers, then start to be restricted. Anway, I'm not going to bugger about with it unless it gets worse. On changeable roads, or when doing a bit of over-taking, ie going through gears it's fine, just long consistant running. Not going to concern myself with it for now. Only other issue is the outside threads on the knobblie on the rear are rubbing on the swing arm. I guessed they'd wear off fairly quickly, but they are still fouling, and ith the wet and the grit it could gradually get to be a problem - not enough bends to get far enough over to wear them on road...think it'll be a few dull hours this afternoon - should rain allow - with a Swiss army knife. Wish I'd sussed that at home, could take a while.
Anyway post Salto was just on, on, on. we'd sais we'd carry on to next petrol station for a
coffee...well...great idea that was eh ! You guessed, nothing from there all was up to the Brazillian border. If it had been the usual upper 20's or 30's that is normal here concentration would have been extremely difficult....as itwas it was hard to stay alert, or even interested if I'm honest.
So we were following the Rio Uruaguay that creates a natual border between Argentina and Uruaguay, and thence Brazil. All along are the recognised bridges over that are suitable for frontier paperwork. We were wanting to cross to Brasil so kept heading north.
We reached Bella Union, and the border and passed through Uruagua cutoms with little problem, especially as the two border guards were a pair of jokers. I thinkone was winding his mate up for thinging Nik's surname was English, ratherthan that being his nationality,they didn't seem to be laughing at us per say anyway. They are all impressed with the size of the bikes, especially when I say Nik's is 1200.
A short bridge and we were on the Brazilian side. And now for the fun (ahem) part of the day. We were struggling (bloody hell, why did I put the Portugese phase book deep in the pannier) to follow what was going on. Basically it seemed that thet couldn't stamp our passports, and certainly couldn't do the temporary import licence for the bikes...bugger ! now in this situation aywhere, and I'd particularly have thought in South America it would be a case of 'no way jose' back you go - to another crossing point.
Looking at the map I could now see some of the crossings had bigger squares on - the official crossing points.
So, what to do. It seemed that we should just continue to Urugaiana and do the paperwork there. Hmmmm....and what if we're stopped, and have diffficulties ? Surely if would be very bad to be travelling in Brazil with no entry stamp, and more importantly no docs for the bikes. And if we got delayed overnight in that 50 miles surely we'd be knackered ? The exit from Uruguay would be a day earlier...ho hum...
Anyway the guy seemed by all the gestures to be suggesting we could ride from there to the official point and get necessary paper work and then travel freely anywhere in Brasil. anyhow, we had no option, if we turned we'd have all the questions on re-entry to Uraguay. With our only Portugese we extressed gratitude and left.
Again we had become martians and the whole brazilian town stopped and gawped as we rode through. I understand it on the bikes - we do look like aliens - but still can't get used to the looks when out of bike gear. Bev thinks it's our blue eyes, Nik has very pale blue eyes and it's true that we have only seen one or two other residents with anything but brown eyes. Maybe that's it.
Once into Brasil the people change markedly, much, much darker. Sadly the road and the weather changed too. The road was apalling, having to swap from side to side to avoid some significant potholes. ANd you had to watch fo traffci coming other way – no guarantee that truck heading towards us wouldn'y veerontoour side to avoid potholes on his side. Still, there was little traffic.
We also saw our first Capabara - worlds largest rodents - like a cross between a pig and a beaver, odd and very large. Also there were lots of rodent type thing running across road, like Guinea Pigs, strange how wildlife and vegetation honours borders - changed
just like that !
The weather was getting quite grey, spitting, and thunder....not looking good. All we needed was the potholes to fill with water and we's struggle to avoid them. On with waterproofs, a wise choice as it did start to tip down. As if we weren't having enough fun
already it was becoming a long journey and it was getting later in day (only 4, but in Brasil 5pm now)
We reached Urugaiana in the pouring rain and were immediately on the outskirts in distinctlt 'the wrong end of town' when I say rough I'm not exaggerating, the road was like surfaced odd size cobbles and the environs disitinctly shaty town. Can't say I felt any threat, but not a great place to be. Deciding which way was the bridge and the border, another guy, a local, pulled up on a Yamaha 650 Tenere. He knew the way and took us along to the customs area. He was a member of a bike club up here and pointed to the club stcker but we were at a loss to understand to with a shake of hands he was away. It was now raining heavily.
The customs guy listened to my attempts to clafify our siuation as I was concerned we might be in for trouble, before we realised he was saying we needed to cross the bridge and do the paperwork on the Argentinian side. God this was getting difficult, or so it seemed ! Nothing is simple, but surprisingly it wasn't the paperwork that was the problem, there was more to come.....insert advert break her in the mini-series (like yeah )
On reaching the bridge there was a rather long backlog of HGV's, and cars, we could get past the trucks where the cars couldn't. In fact that was part of the problem. The cars were on the return side of the bridge and when we got to the bridge itself there was the problem ! The whole things was fouled up totally, gridlock. It appeared that either cars had attempted to overtake the line of trucks, or, as was the case, one of the trucks had broken down and cars had trie toovertake - but there ere oncoming vehicles.
Effectively the bridge had a queue of vehicles going same way on both sides ! Frankly I could see no way that - in Latin America - anyone could organise their removal. Pleased to say I was proved wrong...I love these countries for proving just how wrong our preconceptions are.
Within quite a short time we were able to park up on a footway under cover and wait with other bikes whilst the traffic backed, turned, and was relegated off the bridge. Of course it was really chucking down now to add to the fun. Theusual advantageof the motorcycle is that you can get off quicker and I'm pleased to say we weren't dissappointed on this occassion either.
A hop a skip and a jump, OK a brief putt across and we reached aour expected nightmare. We had to go to the Brazilian customs first which was very relaxed and the young guy spoke good English - first time so far. We explained where we had crossed and our concern that we had no entry stamps in our passports and he just waved his hand and said it's not a problem. Deep breath and sign of relief. Only down side was we never got stamped out either, so passed through 50 miles plus ofBrazil without a stamp in passport...oh well....small price to pay. I would never have beleived that was possible before this trip. The guy was wowwed by the bikes and said nexttime he was born he'd be born 'under her majesties wings', nice guy. On to Argentinian customs, after some discussion to ensure that was where we were.
We had considered staying in Brazil, but thought our knowledge of Argentina - and the language, none of us speaks Portugese - made returning to Argentina the easier option. We had changed our Uraguayan Peso's to Argentinan ones in Brazil...still following this ? so we just needed to get beyond customs to get out and find a hotel before dark - at least we'd changed time zones and gone back an hour, god today is confusing !
So we were now about to attempt country number three in the day Argentina was no problem but instead of getting a nice piece of paper for the temporary import of our bikes they wrote the registrarions in the passports. Not sure that is the greatest idea, but we'll be crossing in and out again so should get 'correct' papers again at some point. Not sure that
having your registration in passport amounts to a formal import document, we'll see. Anyway, quite apart from that they put Nik's reg in my passport, and mine in his. luckily I asked the Brazilian customs guy if this was right and he said not and got it changed for
us. Perhaps we will experience problems leaving Argentina for say Brasil, but better to encounter them there than when we try to ship bike home. No worries the now.
Out of customs in rain we avoided being sprayed down - anything to do with Foot & Mouth, had an outbreak just before we left UK - before heading into Paso de los Libres to find a hotel. Bit of a dive, but after few drives around we found one that looked preety good and did have rooms and they were 25 Peso's a person. We had a double for us, and Nik a single. The garage was an open doored garage in a garden behind locked gates. Sufficient, but not brilliant.
Took some clothes off bikes and went up to rooms. Bit untidy, but brilliant for a fiver. Had a shower and changed, had to get some more stuff off bikes, and then went out to find place to eat. No bar or food here so had to go out to find food, were desparate as nought since breakfast in all the chaos. As everyone eats so late here there was nothing open. Eventually found a small bar that did pizzasand we went in. All in all we had two litres of beer, artichoke hearts and bread, and two big pizza's and three coffees for 40 peso's, £8, exceelent and stuffed. Absolutely knackered and off back for some shut-eye
The place is a bit run down, to say the least, and not a stop of choice, but it's fine after a day like today.
South American Handbook says of this town "The town is not regarded as a safe border crossing" ho hum ! maybe the weather was on our side.
Sunday 6th November
Paso de los Libres, Argentina.
Mileage - 0 miles
We had a night of pretty heavy rain, with occasional very heavy downpors and thunder so not great.
We'd set alarm for 7 in hope of an early breakfast (7.30 - 10.30) and on road and away early - 300 miles to falls, anda cross into Brazil for best views.
As the rain was consistantly heavy, and we realised it was Sunday and not sure what's open, even petrol station, though pretty sure must stay open, decided better to stay put. At £5 each a night, in a hotel with breakfast, it's better than getting soaked, potential for problems and resolutions being more difficult on Sundays, and trying to find another place as reasonable in pouring rain. Seemed unlikely we could ride out of this to north, easpecially as first hills of trip ahead, and 'jungle'. Annoyingly, though 10's of channels on TV, we were unable to find weather on any - typical.
Little to do but catch up, hence the lengthy mail, eat some cakes, maybe some bike maintenance, bit of internet research and the return quest for food before a hopefully good nights kip and off in morning. Enough happened yesterday to leave today skimpy. Hope to down load some pictures to send with this mail.
As an aside, for those of you who are concerned on my grammar and spelling there is no spell check on my Palm and I just can't be bothered checking it allonline, so there !
Monday 7th November
Mileage - 625kms 403 miles
Up at 7am for breakfast of couple of dodgey buns and coffee before the off.
Much better weather thank goodness. Although this place was a little rough round the edges,and didn't really have many redeeming features it did offer us rest and respite from some awful rain so we should be grateful for small mercies I guess.
It also gave us time to explore a little of the local way of life. Few shady characters around, but no different to home from that perspective. The evening seems tobe cruise time, everyone and their parent put around very slowly, like a evening stroll, but by car. One or two interesting ones, but generally complete sheds. I've not mentioned but the state of some of the vehickes here takes some believing, a whole wing missing doesn't make it unroadworthy, or the fact it therefore doesn't have a light on one side doesn't rule out night use. At least the road manners are generally pretty good.
Leaving for the day involved crossing lots and lots of fairly flat, OK almost completely flat, pampas. Crossed the dry pampas arears first, with corressponding strong side-winds (what will Patagonia be like in comparison then eh ?). As we flew along at about 110-120 you would see occassional things crossing the road, the most memorable being a spider husteling along that would easily have been the size of a childs hand....and it had a big round red body...didn't stop to look closer. Bit conserning these things are about on the pampas never mind jungle.
As we moved further up, and the road changed direction easing the wind, we were into much more flooded areas, very marshy. Saw our first pink flamingoes, seen them in Tanzania last year, but these were really bright pink, like in cartoons. Guessed we'd see more but in that strange way of the world they were a one off.
Another surreal moment occurred as we were blasting long a straight (OK, OK, there are no bends) there loomed out of the heat haze a strangley familiar sight....a bright red double decker London Routemaster bus ! Quite what that was about I have no idea, but he obviously woundered why two bikes gave him a friendly wave.
Although generally the rodas are very good you have to watch for hidden surprises. Today's stretches had a few, out of nowhere a section just a few metres long suddenly loomed that you'd guess had been dug up. From warp speed to no speed very quickly or else a very nasty surprise. We met two oncoming bikes at one point which are the first two 'real' bikes we've seen on the road (locals).
It warmed up through the day and by later we were up to 30 degs. We had our liners out of our trouser, but still in jackets. As we were moving along the breezemad it OK, but when you stopped it was well warm. Strangley we had hot chocolate and empanada (small pasties effectively) at first garage stop, even in heat, but a very sweet ice-creme by the time we got further up. They have very sweet toothes over here, mind, surprised they have teeth they're so sweet.
By afternoon we were into the slender thread of Argentina at top right of country, bordered on all sides it's a strange peice of land to be part of Argentina, but obviously there is some hisory there. Looking at the people there obviosly is too as again I was surprised to note how many were very pale and so obviously at least of eurpean descent. The area is called Misiones and there were a lot of Jesuits here 300 years ago, so mayb that's it, or maybe it's the fact this is a huge mate and other tea growing area. This is were most of it comes from and hence the scenery took a greta leap forward ... the hills are alive and well..at last some scenery. The earth was a bright orange to deep red, almost the colour range from oranges to blood, amazing. In fact, you'd swear you were in Africa, so much like Tanzania with the fertile soil and verdant green foliage.
This would have been an area worth saying in, but we wanted to push on to the falls for some down time Definately somewhere we'd return, though by Marxh or so I assume it will really be baking.
We are looking to return south with Nik for the Horizons Unlimited meeting so will need to take some strides southwards in a few days to make the for mid-December, thence Xmas and New Year at Ushuaia, about as south as you can get !
The road we took, a smaller one that followed the spine (though not a narrow) ridge of some hills was definately beautiful. Nik sought out some fuel before we took a small road back towards the main road up to Iguazú. There were loads of over-filled wagons piled high with mate leaves, and occassionally they passed with a confetti like cloud of escapee leaves following.
Petrol found we were onto, wait for it, a twisty road ! It took us from up on the hills back down to the main road. It had some good down hill spirals and we were right enjoying it until we got to some speed hunps and an unexpected raised section that wasn't marked and really thumped the bike and both our spines...that hurt ! Still, no damage done.
The temperature was well up now and it was hot and getting moe jungle like all around, the road was a very gentle rollercoaster that you could seestretching for miles ahead. anythime we stopped, just to stretch the legs, we'd come a long way today, you could here that typical jungle racket coming out of the undergrowth, we were obviously getting closer now.
Sounds of the forest
We got to Iguazú town quite late, a bit dusty, and pretty sweaty. Lots of people willing to help us find a hotel and we tried a couple before Joe Bloggs on his scooter took us to some appartments that we settled on. 90 Arg
Peso's a night for a split level room with fridge, AC, and breakfast, three nights would work out about £54 so £6 each a night. A blessing after the heat and the long day, and a chance for two days to explore the falls.
A brief raid to a restuarant down the road ensured we knew we were in tourist central, everywhere were people eating, at this early hour, and even a band - oh no - to serenade us as we ate. Had a set prce meal that was a bit disappointing compared to recent findings, but hey, first time.. Very cold beer and bed, long but interesting day.
As an aside our biggest cost and expenditure is definately fuel, but three fill-ups cost about the same as one in UK, the mileages mean it's easily more than food or accommodation, just as well it's still cheaper than UK. The cold we've had for aboutv 4days looks like on way out at last, we'll all be pleased to stop sniffling.
Tuesday 8th November
Iguazú Falls, Argentina.
Mileage - 135kms
Breakfast was self service in a breakfast room and consisted of some quite nice cake, Papaya, water melon, Pineapple and a 'coffee like drink', and 'orange juice like drink' too. Bought time they got on the ball here with coffee...too much mate drunk I guess.
Our ride out to the fals - they're not exactly on edge of any town in any adjoining country - was eventful as we tried picking up a small jungle road, but it turned out to go the opposite way. Not that that stopped us doing over 100kms all round off road just for the helll of it. It had a police station but when I enquired if we could go down it they said yes, and there was a sign with indications of settlements down it. No idea were they were though as we never came across any signs.
What we did however find was much more spectacular. Never seen so many butterflies in my life. Amazing. The road was compacted orange red earth with occassional stoney sections. It was intensly hot, and we had no water or food which was a little remiss. Still, we enjoyed it ver much.
The number, size, and colour of the butterflies was extraordinary. In places it was like it was snowing there were so many. I have seen so many naure programs showing the sort of things we were no experiencing first hand. Small puddles had hundreds of butterflies crowded around them andas we passed they flew up creating multicoloured clowds of flapping wings. There was yellow and orange, black and red, surreal blue and patterns on wings that varied from like home to huge swallow tails to dazzle patterns the like of which I have never experienced.
Stopping and taking shots at these gathering points was magical, just like the things you see on TV. You could get in close and just wonder at natures beauty and variety. We couldn't tire of the range and beauty on dislplay.
We were almost as impressed by the fantastic hues the bikes were taken covered in the dust of the road. Poor old Nik was taking on the same demeaner as he was riding behind us so much as he'd never been off-road before. The roads were god enough to be able to ride at up to 70kph. But you had to be careful. nik fell turning his bike around but no damage was done, hejust stepped off. But no place for an accident. Nik was also dissappointed to discover the 1200 is a bit 'plasticy' as several of the scrrews holding on his screen dissappeared never to be ssen again, he's lost some on thw handguards even on the road. Time for some lock-wire and that wel used look. So far we're fine, but you have to check.
Riding off road I can occassionally stand to ease the hammer onm the bike, but it's harder for Bev, we can do it, but her footrest mountings are also those for the panniers and I don't want to overload those.
Along the way we also came across a 1m lizard and saw some toucans in the trees. Some disturbing sounds in the undergrowth occassionally too led you not to want to linger at some points, should be fine in daylight hours though.
Riding in shirt and light trousers (helmets and gloves of course), very very hot. Never got to end of road and Niks GPS (handy thing as it turns out since he got some more detailed maps from Javir) showed it was a long way saw no sign of human life - except two cars on return, we'd been out 2 hrs. nota good thing to do on your own, but a fun little miniture adventure for us
Got out and went falls. Train not running to end point dssappointing. (next day we could see that the end point must have been out for 10s of years so creative advertising) Falls stunning.
Initially ou don't see much - except the clouds of spray in distance - looking more like smoke from fires. But when you get closer - along well constructed walkways - you realise their magnitude. It was Roosevelt's wife who said on seeing the falls for the first time "poor Niagara", and how so. They are immense, apparently 275 in total and with drops ranging from 10s tp 100s of feet. The water pours over the top toffee brown, in split seconds foams and frothes as into white as it plummets down and then crashes to the bottom and some returns as spray reaching out hundreds of metres. It truely is a specatular sight.
The whole vista gradually unfurles as you move further along the walkways. There are points were you bridge chasms that water plumes down right next to you, there are walkways and miardores that exxtend out above the top of the falls and there are those points were you almost feel you can walk into the falls themselves. It is not a place to go if you don't want to get wet....but in a sweaty jungle who wouldn't relise a soaking ? We certainly enjoyed it. It takes several hours to walk around the Argentinian side and to be honest I think it's the best side, though Brasil has the better overall views.
You can't escape the fact this is one of South America's main tourist points though and prices are premium which is a shock after out recent explorations.
I can't do the falls justice by word, only photo's can go some way to explaining the majesty and magnificence of the place, but otherwise nothing else.
Other exciting things apart from the Orchids and jungle fauna were the Racoons that have adapted pefectly to going through the bins (easily rectified, easier than stupid don't feed the animals signs) quite a few lizards like the ones we saw in jungle, a hyrax like thing, and lots of lavish birds you got but glimpses of.
It's a shame not to be able to lavish more words on sucha spectacle, but it just won't work
We had locked the bikes together by the entrance, and locked our lids on a cable. Theyalways atract quite a bit of attension, and here it was from people surprised to see fellow Eurpeans, but on their own transport....feels good I have to say....but prefer to be 'out there' rather than with the tourists. There is always somethiong new to see and experience here which is the treat. Feels great com,ing to these places and riding our dust bedecked bikes through it all.
It was also great to get back to accommodation and have showers and clean our clothes - theye certainly dry quick here!
Our simple tea of bread and a particularly poor cheese and tomatoes was fit for pupose and the cold beers slipped down great. Not before I had a small mishap when I cracked my head on a beam and nearly knocked meself out. I said "flip" a few times before realising I was bleeding profusely. Blody hell there's folk out there having epics in the Amazon and struggling on through and here's this idiot nearly hospoitalising himself in his swish accommodation ! Idiot Q
Needless to say Bev's first aid training came to the fore through I got a hint of dissappointment that it wasn't an injury that could be stiched. After a bit of a clean up I was relieved to find I hadn't scalped myself but just incurred a 2" slash. Ice eased the pain and the blood eventually stopped (scalps always bleed too much to my mind). Just a bit of a stain on the pillow caseby morning. No harm done, ajust need to keep the flies away from the injury, don't fancy any incursions.
The town here is a bit of a dump, poorest yet, but ironically very, very touristy place, guess most folk go to the falls and then their plush hotels.
Wednesday 9th November
Iguazú Falls, Brazil.
Mileage - guess 45kms
I don't suppose those of you working will sypathise, but it's a real struggle to no what day it is here ! Keep getting my diary entries confused - take that in account please !
today we were off to Brasil (god that sounds good doesn't it...still can't take it in, even after however short we've been here) to see the falls from that side.
Being old hands at the illegal entry to Brasil we weren't expecting problems, and we weren't wrong. Straight through with bikes and off to the visitors centre. We had to pay for parking - £5 for both, bit steep I thought as free on other side. Then US27$ for the three of us into falls as not enough local currency to hand. You have to get a bus for several kms before the start of the boradwarks and we were rewarded by a brief flypasy by a beautiful Toucan before climbing down the stairs for the views. as I've said I can't do the falls jsutice in words, but the only real difference from the Argentinian side - apart from the costs - is the walks are shorter and there is more scope for buying extra trips and add-ons. The views overall may be more spectacular, and you get nearerthe Garganta del Diablo, or the big central chasm and falls, but otherwise I perfer the other side. It wasn't as hot today, and we were glad we took our cagoules against the spray.
We couldn't even go for a walk without paying, so left after the tourist bit.
On return to town we finally found a place to buy some stickers for out panniers, it's been quite a quest, with littl sucess until today.
Off to mail this, return some empty beer bottles and get some new for tonight and see waht we can rustle up from the spuermarket for tea. Pay accommodation but save on food. Not keen on eating out here as bit tacky.
As Nik travels with a laptop we are able to see our pics which is brillaint. Taken a few hundred between Bev and I. Nik has offered to burn us a CD so we can post home and clear cards ready for some more.
Blimey, just realised we've been here two weeks....feels like ages...think we need to slow down a bit ?
Tomorrow it's into Brazil - will we ever get a passport stamp ? And thence to Paraguay for another mini aventure. Maybe spend a few days there and check out some Jesuit ruins. Hopefully we'll get some more offical 'temporary import' documents for bikes, not keen on just having then writen in passports, can forsee problems in 6 months if not retified - might just have time to resolve :-)
Thursday 10th November
Mileage - guess 250kms
Well back to the road today, and wets a bit before south towards Argentina again.
The idea was to do a little less riding and spend some time off the bikes, best laid plans of mice and men eh !
We started a bit late - seeing as it was obviously going to be a hot day. The skies cleared last night and it was forcast as hot. Have I mentioned all our hotels have had TV ? And they have tens of channels, and many UK progs - in fact even Changing Rooms with sub-titles, and no end of big name films. Not that I want to watch TV, even if it's Orange County Choppers. Handy for news andd weather, but the weather only comes around about once a flood.
So, by the time we set off it was hot. The Che Roga was a nice spot to stop a few days. Nik and Bev gor mosquito bites, I onl managed to half knock myself out, but otherwise it was really excellent. The owner was a top bloke. also had the fastest computer we've had access too and he was very accommodating. Did all our emails and pics from there for free. Recommended. As we didn't have enough cash, and they didn't take Visa he even got someone to drive Bev to an ATM before we left.
Leaving argentina was a dodle. Entering Brazil was too. We got our entry stamps and waited for the bloke to come regarding the bikes. when we explained we were on our way to Paraguay he said we didn't need any docs for the bikes and was most apologetic about delaying us, excellent !
Once in Brazil we wanted to go to the worlds largest dam and hydro electric plant -- Itaipu. we foolishly though we would be able to ride up and have a peek. But considering it is a 4km concrete dam with a total of 14kms holding back a phenominal amount of water they do have quite tight security. It was Siesta time an no tour (free) until 2pm so we had to give it a miss. A guy gave a quick tour via the model though which was really kind. 1 turbine of 18 provides all the power for Paraguay, the other 8 (Brazil and Paraguay share the dam) provide electricity to Brazil in exchange for construction costs, and with Brazils other 8 that provides 75% of their total energy. Now that is one big engineering feat. It couldn't happen now of course, mostly done under dictatorships in 70's even though only completed in 90's.
Anyway we had to leave it at that. Two observations though. When we arrived there was an 1150 in car park, a Belgian one. The guy blanked us, even when I spoke, and his wife wasn't much better....unbelievable. Had a Horizons Unlimited sticker on too. Hopefully he's going to the Veidmar meet and we can blank him in return. Absolutely couldn't belive their insular approach. Opposite side was two Vietnamese who were also travelling and were very friendly and we had a good chat. Had an ice-cream before leaving.
We now had to negoitiate the Paraguay border and that was a nighmare. Floods, and I mean floods of mopeds streaming across the bridge meant we missed out exit stamps from Brazil. But luckily no one at the Paraguay side cared. It was like riding into North Korea. Very very odd. The border guards were less than friendly, wanting to see in the panniers - but lost interest once we went to customs.
Only figured out what it was all about much later - it was the foot and mouth outbreak in Brasil - like when we had it France etc wanted to know if you had food in your luggage, so that's all they wanted.
So it was into the Paraguay customs where the bloke wasn't too interested at all, stamped the passports (getting busy in there now !) and said there was no need to get a temporary import for the bikes. This is all getting much easier than I ever expected before we came, so simple....just wait.
It was absolutely mad outside, and the town was crazy town. No badness, just very bust, lots of folk hoping to make some business and chaos traffic. It all works though...I just don't know how. We left shapish before the army militia looking guys returned and tried to get some air flow. It was a steady, and very humid 32 degs everywhere, but hotter in town. quite exhausting on a bike.
The scenery, in that way I just cannot comprehend chnaged over the border. Lots of strip developement with quite nice shack type houses set back from the road, and chaotic little villages like in India. The bugger was they don't have signs saying how far it is to anywhere except at junctions, and there are hardly any.
It was vry hot and again we weren't prepred so where flagging. We got to a peage and of course we had no local currency, too busy at border. They took it in Arg Peso's and the huge queue behind us was relieved.
We pulled into the next service station and I explained as best I could our predicament in hope someone might chnage the money. All got sussed and a local driver changed 50 arg Peso,and no one batted an eye so rate must have been fair.
It was certainly hot here, not a lot of shade around and it was self evident both Nik and I were feeling the heat. I could feel my concetration slipping, and Nik wasn't entirely there when we stopped to talk so we needed a break.
we got soon enough, a police check point. The guys were a bit more official and it wasn't possible to get a smile a chat and an off. I wasn't able to figure out the problem, they checked the docs and kept us there. One took Bev by the arm and took her to the side of the oad away fom us. It wasn't looking good. he said something about my front light and small, so I turned it on and he feigned being dazzled. Funny bloke (no fun).
He kept on about the panniers, but I really didn't really want to open them so feigned stupidity (easily done some would say) and then it clicked....ah...no comido, no food in panniers. He realised we weren't undercover Brazillians with stashed dodgey beef and we were released. One of the guys had an automaic rifle slung bandolier style across his chest and wearing his aviater shades he obviously loved himself. I asked if I could take a picture and little Hitler said not. obviously his collegues liked the idea though as a conversation broke out and he relented. Queue another shot of us with police...that's the way we like it ! these guys in addition to their pistols also carried a cosh and a 'bloody big knife'. Anyway, got away with it again so no worriss.
We were aiming for a place that sounded like it should be in Essex. (a V is a B in Spanish) Once we arive dwe looked up one hotel. Was a bit basic, but a single was 40,000 and a double 70,000. Those paying attesion will know that's a grand total of £11. Decided to check around though, and at that point tree lads on mountain bikes turned around and came to speak to us. Much shaking of hands and the usual questions of where from, were going, how big the bike, how much, etc. They mentioned a place further out of town so we went that way.
The Palace Hotel was out bed for the night. A palatial pile of granite and chrome and a hint of dodgey money about it. It was £21 for the three of us (one room, we're quite cosy now) and was so flash we decided to stay - pushing our budget out terribly (not). There were young ladies in bikini's in the pool an fat men in shades and suits getting out of Merc's. Very odd.
We unpacked and made home. decided as we'd gone upmarket we'd go downmarket for tea and wander into town. It was a long way though so no realistic chance of getting there. It was dark, it was still over 30 and we chanced on our arm on a walk down the road past some dodgey looking establishments, and you know what ? It was no problem, and two of our three heads had gone. Paraguay was lookinhg good.
We found some old Enpinadas, some polystyrene snacks, some super sugary cakes and some soft drinks. We were sorted, just beer to get. nighmare. Recycling fascism gone mad. Without an empty you couldn't get a bottle of beer. I guess something to do with bottle return. We treid a couiple of places but no joy. The only solution was cans, never as good, but beggars...
As we returned we came across an internet cafe and decided to call in. Had a bit of a search to find out the currency rate, about 11,000 Guarani to one pound. Thought it was about 10 so good result. The lad running tha cafe was a character and showed us some pics of why his arm was bandaged. He's got caught in a comprsser failure and lost two toes and a finger alonge with some holes right through...charming.
Home and a beer from bar, served in a ice bucket by very polite staff. Have to say it's nice staying in the sort of place that would turn it's nose up at us at home. Or is it a case of what the pistols said "cheap holidays in other peoples misery" I like to think not.
Friday 11th November
Villarica to San Ignacia
Mileage - 436kms
Today was one of complete bafflement and confudion, our first real one.
We left the hotel after a hearty breakfast and with the heat already blistering - only 32, but with no shade on the bikes it's much hotter. we rode south on a clerly marked surfaced route 8 to Ceezapá, and then wasted an hour or so trying to find the road out. We simple could not find it. How come ? it remains a mystery.Ever road out was a cart track, and probably much to the amusement of the locals we went past, past, and past again. It was an absolute nighmare. There just was no road, and we couldn't suss anything from locals. We had to face going back way we came. Wasted half day and ended up at hotel again at 12.30. The heat built up in afteernoon even more and we re-routed. Leaving - again - we were stopped by a policeman. Luckily it was just so he could tell us he was a biker too and had a Yamaha 650 and was going to Brazil for a few days from tomorrow. He wished us all the best shook our hands and we were on our way again, hlf a day behind !
Found some hills like old small volcanoes not far from the capital, Asumsion, and enjoyed some nice views if a little dull dead straight roads again. Couple of very bad patched roads, constructed of hand laid 3 foot patches it seemed, but otherwise good roads. We get through all the peage free (cept that initial one, often the way at big cities) vis narrow lanes we just fit through, designed for mopeds really, so that's good. The petrol stations rarely take Visa unfortunately here, meaning our cash dissappears on juice. 'bout 50p a litre, but still out largest expense.
Nik was onto reserve, and we had a serious weather pattern sweeping across out path and it was really touch and go if we'd get ahead of it or not. Not good temps for waterproofs, but not good to get soaked either. We got right on the edge of the incoming rain, few spots and dusty smells but we just, and I mean just got ahead.
Nik was down to 18 miles on his reserve so it was touch and go whether the weather would have the last lauigh as we attempted a road side syphon.
We got to a sservice station with Nik having all of 4 miles left - jammy bugger! Aheda was a mother of all weather fronts. time to sit back and wait. We put a fivers worth in each bike and parked up to wait.
The wind was picking up, it was obviously raining a few kms further down and thubder was rolling in., There were forks of lightening and the trees were rustling and the dust a blowing. definately time to stay put. The garage didn't mind us waiting and Nik took advantage of the fact that the service stations not only had huge ice stores, but also hot water gysers - presumably for the insessant Mate drinkers...ie everyone - and had a nice cup of Earl Grey. We waited a good one and a half hours in total, few people chatting about bikes, but no concern about our loitering on forecourt. The rain absolutely lashed down and floded all over, but we were dry and enjoying the coolness.
Eventually we left and apart from spray it was dry enough. 20kms done the road it was dry ! We certainly wouldn't have been if we'd set out though.
Just ouside town we found a cheap hotel, that was a bit shabby, but cheap. 40,000 us and 20,000 Nik, so less than £2 p/p.
The owner was a gut who had been a cabby in New York for tyhree years so spoke pretty good English and we decided we could eat there too.
It went a bit downhill after that. A group of attrcative young ladies moved in next door and the place achnged from a simple hotel into some kind of eastern block nightclub withladies of the night. Still not sure if we had ovr-active imaginations, but it certainly went well weird.
The order for food seemed confused - rememmber the guy spoke pretty good English...however he was an ex-cabbie I suppose. Suddenly from upstairs music started playing at a volume that I can honestly say was extreme...people in the next town would have been right to complain and the guy never batted an eye. We were literally have to shout. The 'ladies' seeemed to appear, pay something, and dissappear with some blokes. Now, me being a naive soul I imagined they were arranging a party, but Bev was convinced in the worlds oldest trade. We'll never kno I guess.
Eventually we got our Steaks with chips, salad and bread. It wasn't bad and not costly in the remotest. Hadconversation with a few people passing through, very nice folk, allways shaking hands on meeting. Wer qffed several beers and were ready for our beds. The music levels had dropped, but by the time we lft the place was hardly even alive...well us old folk have to get our beauty sleep. Amazingly we did.
With much amusement we read in the guide that in Paraguay "Tuberculosis, typhoid, dysentry (be very careful over salad and tap water) and hepatitus are eddemic. Hookworm is the most common desease, and there is much VD, goitre and leprosy."
We don't even know what some of those are...hookworm...hmmm was our choice of steak and salad wise... time will tell I guess. Travel guides are such amusing reads.....
Saturday 12th November
Villarica to Sa Ignacia - Trinidad
Mileage - 200kms
After the hellish strange evening we had not a bad nights kip and we were up early for a very poor breakfast, basically just coffee.
Went into town to change some money, Western Union place couldn't do it, but the staff were very helpful and were very interseted in the bikes, as were a fewother locals. Everyone would say hello and shake our hands, whole families were introduced. Such friendly people the Paragauyans.
We took some pics with them on the bikes and promised to email them. I asked one of the blokes if we could get any stickers anywhere and another one ran off and returned with a nice Yo heart Paraguay for our bike and a local football club one for Nik, all free. Then the bank also got us a sticker and we left. Great people. Instead of having three heads durin our stay in Pargauy we have been a focus for friendly interest and lots of genuign waves from all sorts. The horse back riders nearly always wave, must be that connection of being riders.
As we were riding a shorter distance today to get to Trinidad, we at least knew we'd finish riding shortly after it really heated up. It really is very warm here, especially if the sun is out - which it often is, 32/34 is the norm.
We didn't have too much exitment during the ride, no really bad roads, and we made it down to here for around 1.30, which really is how we should be planning to do things.
The place is famous fot the jesuit communities that thrived here fropm around the mid 1500s through to, I think, late 1700s. Thete were rare as missionaires in that they brought a shared community and equality, but they didn't explain all the details to the local indians, and once they were forced to leave the whole system collapsed and went back to fuedal wars and slavers from Brazil. The Mission was based on this area, sadly not seen it.
Our guidebook recommeded a German run (more on that in a mo') hotel by the entrance to one of the ruins and we found Hotel Leon very easily. Very, very odd speaking in German after Spanish. There is a huge population of Germans wo have settled here since turn of the century. In fact the German philosopher Nietcher (sp) who was mis-appropriated by the Nazi's, had a barmy sister (think she went out with Wagners son) who came out here to set up a German colony of arayan supremasists (sp).
Not sure if that is Honengau, but that is an entirely German settlement just 12kms from here. In fact just net two lads from there and had a chat, and if it is that place then it's all gone wrong for sure !
Anway, after arrival we were able to shower, get sorted and have a cold drink and wander up to the huge ruins just a few hundred metres away. They are on a spectactular scale, and mushave been very impressive, they are even as ruins. Some stunning relief work, and the walls are immense. must see the Mission and get some more details, I know from something that was on TV just before we left that some of the local indians were used in the film too. The currency here is named after the indian tribe which is good.
There are two big sites here and the other one was 12kms down a very interesting side road. The side roads are made of stone blocks laid like cobbles - bit rough, but strong, and must take an immense amount of time to build. We had to go a long way and this one was half done and half work in progress. Thank god it didn't rain is all I can say as although they term them 'all weather roads', I think in the wet they would become very demanding. anyway though it looked threatening it never actually started so we were safe.
Naturally we had thought the site was nearby so we rode off without lids or gloves, and only light trousers and shirts...you'd think we'd learn wouldn't you - no you're right ! No water either. Mind all along this track were ssetllements and houses and people everywhere.
The 'Jesus' site was also specacular, not as large as the first, but very impressive sclae and some more fine detailing. Very, very warm, especially with sun out. Even came across a large butterfliy that had just emerged from it's crysalis (?) and moments after we saw itit opened it's wings and was off.
A very interesting timber plank bridge too that made us think of Simon and Lisa, luckily this one was dry and a lot safer. Even better news that Simon and Lisa are back to the living and getting sorted. tough Buggers.
Once back we had a good long lounge catching up on diary, and taking it easy. 'bout 8 we went off for tea and continued the surreal experience. Every one n the place was German, speaking German, an the music was chessy umpah type stuff. Very, very weird. A chance to try and remember some German language, really screws your mind up with English, Spanish and German all vying for space in your mind, crazy. Schnitzel and potatoe salad with nice german white bread....it was just like being in Germany. The other thing was the size of the toads here, big enough to need two hands to hold....not that we did.
Sunday 13th November
Mileage - 340kms (guess)
Well just about the hightlight of the day was breakfast. Boiled eggs, now there's a surprise ! also nice white bread, and jam that was recognisable as having come from fruit rather than being a colour and very sweet. A little bit of Germany set us up for the day.
Today was I suspect a taste of many days to come...dull, hot...and boring. It's the same anywhere when you have to cover the ground. North to South France in a day is dull indeed, and if you look at a map of Argentina it is fairly obviously long and thinner the further you get down. There is the promise of a huge mountain range down one side...but first you gotta get there.
We followed the Rio Parana most of the day, the border between Paraguay and Argentina. It would have been nice to have crossed from Paraguay somewhere most west, but for the lack of bridges.
The river itself is immense, the occassional views fromit's south side made you think it was the sea, no sign of the other bank.
It was scorching, regulary 36/37, and up to 42 in town. So imagine the effect sitting on a bike for hours with no clouds in the sky, and hardly a tree to been seen. Pretty unpleasant whatever gilding you try to put on it. I don't like riding in the heat, don't mind it off the bike, in fact when cycling the hotter the better, but on the motorbike, it disagrees with me. Strongly. Hopefully a few days will acclimatise me, in the interim it;s be bloody awful dry skin on me face making me look pretty grim....well grimmer than usual anyway.
It actually quite hard riding too, an absolute falicy that it nice and cool, no roof, no cool air, all the gear and a helmet. You boil.
If the roads at least had a few bends it would help, as it is there is nothing, and I mean nothing. Roll on a few days time...we hope.
Riding along with Nik your mind wanders through all sorts of day dreams, riding a staggered side by side it's like flying with a wing-man. The real benefit of course is covering overtaking moves, holding you space of the road, and particularly providing two headlights when viewed from further down the road for oncoming vehicles. One light might suggest a small bike and vehicles will pull out to overtake thinking it's moving slower than we are.
The only hotels we came across were what is titled as 'Love Hotels'. Not entirely sure if the origins are as innocent as suggested, but they say they're set up for couples who live with their parents due to families living together and no privacy. But suspect there is a big business with prostitution as well, if not mainly. We came across a hotel sign and pulled it.
It was a bizzare combination of safari lodge and eastern block themed camp site. It was also last looked after at least 10 or 20 years ago. The rooms had been dusted a little more recently, but only just. 75% of the bulbs didn't work, or more, and the place was dank and musty. And the best thing...in the pictures it will look great ! Little round houses like a safari themed park. The safari connection went further - there were bloody monkeys in the trees...what...yes monkeys. It was our worst accommodation yet, £4 each, so not even cheap compared to other places.
A new form of casino game has been discovered, frog fruit machine ! Surprised me, I flushed the toilet and two frogs jumped onto the rim...really...need three for jackpot ! So no prize, must try harder. Theye were tree frogs too so very capable of running across vertical tiles and the ceiling. Weird !
Had to get food as bugger all of anything on site. Everwhere was shut, until we stunbled upon one supermarket open. It was still baking, near 40 and I stayed outside with the bikes. The security guards came across and offered me some of their iced water which was very kind.
Tea was simple, cheese, bread, salami's beer etc. It would have been preety hideous camping in this heat, so grateful for small mercies. At least the AC worked in the rooms and made it bearable.
If you'd care to relive the experience, put your oven on full, chuck a cup of ants into the kitchen, half a bucket of frogs, a buckets or two of water and settle doen for a few hours...no...thought you might not fancy it.
We're very lucky that we don't have to eek out cash and camp all the time. If we can get accommodation for £5 I won't even entertain camping, no point. There will be places where we have to camp, or we choose to to be 'in' the scenery, but apart from that we take rooms. Most of the time we share with Nik as that helps his budget and it's not a problem for us, but sometimes we can get two rooms as cheap.
Sunday 13th November
Resistencia to San Fransisco
Mileage - 414 miles
boring, boring, boring
hot again, but lower 30's
Very little to recount. Too much travelling yesterday and today, but with pupose, we want out of the heat, and into some scenery. It is so blood flat and featureless in general. Only highlights today were palms growing in a field on sunflowers- you don't see that in France, and an huge area of scrub that was identical to the Serengeti last year - hence the monkeys I suppose.
At one point there were Indians selling a pair of Lovebirds and also monkey at side of road...very odd. the indiginous people have changed again in this area. A truck Nik was overtaking ran over 1m lizard, luckily not him, bit messy
Continued assesment of Shell stations, buy stopping for drinks and ice-creams, would be nice to try some of the 'local' stalls, but to be honest too bloody hot, and the AC at the petrol stations is very welcome after 3 or 5 hrs riding.
An upturned truck was an interlude. Only accident we've seen to date. Vehicle standards are pretty appaling at times, but driving standards are fairly good.
The best condition vehicles are the long distance buses, and security vans ! Interesting. There are more newer vehicles here than the other counties, but still a fair share of wrecks on the road.
Found a hotel (Canadian) in San Fransciso, and that's wre we are now. three single beds, big cooling fan, £5
each, and quite what we needed after a couple of long hard days.
boring, boring, boring I'm afraid. Tommorrow a very short day to hopefully get to a place near the hills of Cordoba that is an entirely German. Was set up by the survivors of the Graf Spee aparently...from which I assume it sank near South America...which I never knew. but I'm adviced it scuttled aftercthe River Plate. A chance for more German language practice.
Wednesday 15th November
Mileage - 186 miles
Oh for hindsight. Spent two days complaining about the heat, and now here we are room bound in our German alpine lodge....I kid you not, more later, with hail bouncing off the ground and a huge thunder and lightening storm raging.
It all started with flowers in our hair, umm I mean San Francisco. We had out tea in the hotel there - following our tradional ride all day on a breakfast of a coffee and coupla cakes and a lunch of an ice-cream. Sense indeed. So anyway, we're eating in the restuarant when suddendly outside all the plastic tables and chairs dissappeared ! A gale had blown up from nowhere and there was trouble on the way. We stayed later than planned, and therefore had too much beer whilst we watched the incoming storm unleash itself.
The lightning was visible from a long way before it hit town, and we finally gave up and crashed out to the sound of crashes and bangs all around and car and shop alarms wailing.
After a fairly reasonable nights sleep over all it was a bit dissapointing to see the rain was still with us. Had anexcellent breakfast next door with cakes and coffee for all of a quid each. Packed and getting waterproofs out when the first of the blue sky appeared.
Nik had put his liners in, we had opted for liners out and cags on top and ex-army overtrousers. Much a better option for these climes where the weather changes down the road - easier than having to take everything off to get the linings out again...particularly with the trousers ! Anyway that meant Bev and I could easily get our gear back off, just my overboots on - the tank panniers protect most of my legs anyway. Poor old Nik wondered if he was ging to drown on the inside - he needn't have worried.
By the edge of Frisco, just as we passed over the Golden Gate bridge...oops...away with the fairies again, as we left town it was obvious we were not riding away from the storm.
We were lucky in that we got about 100kms without needing waterproofs, but it was a close call al the way. Bev was in a little discomfort, think the litle scone type things at breakfast were a little leaden. The villages have now changed from uninspiring agro complexes back to places with heart and soul. The locals also changed again, a cross between andean features and Mexican, quite attractive, and I talking about the ladies here incase you're concerned. One or two villages even had collections of old tractors in the plaza, and another a train, nice tobe able to slow down and see things.
In general on the road everyone, and that includes us, openly flaunts the signs, regulations and laws. If you were to follow the double lines for no over-taking the place would grind to a standstill. On the bikes we can easily overtake on corners etc as they are so shallow. A lumering truck can be passed in no time. In towns, larger ones, people often run the red-lights, in which case we do (and that can be adviced at night in unsavioury neighbourhoods by the locals) The speed limits appear to be simple decoration, if you slow to within 50% of the adviced limit through town, you will be overtaken or risk rear-ending from a truck. saw a coule of accidents today, not really seen any so generally the system seems to work, but I don't entirely know how.
More nice police
Anyway, the skies were dark and the wind was rising, so it was obvious we were going to get caught so on went the waterproofs and we continued. We bypassed Cordoba - Argentina's second city - and saw our first sight of true hills since we arrived.
As mentioned previously on this station we had found in our guidebook (South American Handbook) a German colony based on the remaining interned survivors of the scuttling of the Graf Spee. I have to say at this point that the guide has been a god-send. We've compared notes with Lonely Planet etc and none are a patch on it, and it's very nice to know the book is British and has been published annually - virtually - since the 20's. Reccommended.
Anyway, our liitle (not so little) stadt is quite remarkable. If you were lead in blindfold you would swear you were in Bavavia. It's just like southern Germany or an Austrian tyroil town. It's not a little disturbing too. There is almost too much of a teutonic current to be healthy. There are some very dubious T-shirts in a shop across the way along the lines of the US "the south will rise again". But the folk are friendly, and it is very nice that the place is spotless and has such good services.
We are booked into a room for three for £12 a night with breakfast. The German owner who speaks good English and fluent Spanish is a nice old guy, and just possibly, old enough to be one of the original survivors - certainly, most certainly - there are people here who are members of that original colony. Now how weird is that ? There are some indigineous faces amonst the inhabitants, but virtually evertone is western, well German, looking.
It is the most amazing place, a tyrolean village in the Sierra's, and I mean Tyrolean. I can't image Trelew is as Welsh as this place is German, we'll see. How manyu more surprises will this journey throw up.
As another kick in the teeth as we left the plains and climbed up here (few hundred metres altitude) the road became more sinous than almost any we've been on. i was actually grateful for the fact the roads were still damp otherwise I may have over egged it and got into difficulties.
The bends took on preposperous tigntness and the cambers aren't eaxactly favourable, tis a mad road. Oh for no luggage ! We hope we can explore some of the area roundabout with some of the luggage off, but this mornings weather has not been good. It'll take until this afternoon before it dries off, if it does, and the dirt roads will be well dodgey, and the weather is likely to be worse higher up. It's actually cool enough for liners in jackets and trouser, then the skies willclear and we'll burn up !
I have developed an intersting sunburn, the glove to jacket relationship is falling short. Hence I have half inch red strips on my wrists, must be 20hrs on unadulterated full sun, luckily doesn't hurt, but looks weird.
And in summary for now - photo's to prove the extreme suprise element of our temporary home to follow - who's bright idea was it to set up a colony of German survivors of a sunken battleship, and then name it Belgrano. Someone was having a laugh surely...not ?
Belgrano high street
Thursday 16th November
Villa General Belgrano
Mileage - big fat 0
Shame I woke everyone up, by accident, at 7am this morning, thought folk were awake when it was only me. We were up 'til past 12 trying the local whiskey (OK but not too sophisticated) and black Warsteiner beer, Bev on Cognac to settle her stomach. Not enough water though.
Well the big storm stayed put on and off from 10am so no riding today. As tomorrow is better hopefully we can get some in. At £4 each a night we can afford to stay a while and wait, and chill. We have a month 'til the travellers meeting at Veidmar which is quite a way away, but considering how far we've been we have the time to spend a few days in different places, though there's plenty of nice places to visit on the way. We have a cunning plan, a train from Bariloche over to Veidmar, Sandra and Javier mentioned it and we're trying to get details...a chance for another adventure, and saves some dull miles.
Just been out for a traditional local lunch, Knackwurst and Saurkraut (sp) and water and coffee, all of three and a half quid each, bargain.
There is obviously not much we can do as the weather settles and then it changes to chucking down again. Bit of catching up on internet, may test the brollies lightning conducting capabilities with a walk up the local hill, Bev and Nik watching Shawshank Redemption. Kinda nice to do so little - we have the time. Still rushing too much I say. There are a coule of weather fronts moving up the country and I guess we're suffering from effectively being on an island here. A couple of hundred miles to west or so are the Andes, to our east flat pampas, so the weather effect is like UK I guess, the Sierras aren't big enough to avoid the weather and so we get the lot. . Bummer.
I'll attach some pics from yesterday showing the hills, and some from today of the town and the Graf Spee connection. The sky is darking again, so looks like either the walk is delayed, or I just go and to hell with it.
This is just such a crazy place.
Friday 18th November
Villa General Belgrano and back via Cordoba, Villa Carlos La Paz, Los Gigantes, Tala Canada, Salsacate, then 14 to Alta Gracia.
Mileage - 250 miles
RIDING STRAIGHT TO THE GATES OF HELL !
Well this is going to be one long read, and I'd urge you to stick with me, today was a riding experience hardly matched, and I think I can honestly say the best ride we've had overall for a mix of adventure, danger, fear, thrills, spills, and extremes of weather....so hang on in there....or go straight to the end.
Firstly a rant ! Digital SLRs and why you shouldn't get one.
All of a month ago a spent neck end of £600 on a body only (ie no lense, storage card, spare battery, case etc) Nikon F70S digital SLR. I thought it was the answer to all my worries regarding carrying, protecting, and storing slide films that I usually shoot. I seemed an ideal, if costly, solution.
When I first got the camera I had a couple of spots appear on some shots, bit miffed, but I did manage to blow them out.
They reappeared, in fact if you look closely at the pictures of the falls you can see them. The problem is, unlike a film where scratches or dust appear and are then generally cleared on one roll of film, with digital a spot stay there forever if not removed. And to remove the spots....ummm well.
Without getting too technical, a comapct digital camera has a sensor card that is well protected, and as you don't change lenses there is little likelyhood on dirt or dust getting into the camera. I love compact digital cameras - though I don't have one, Bev does and it's brilliant, and the work ones are stupendous. So I don't have any isssues with digital cameras as such. On the SLR digital camera you can change lenses and this means the body is 'open' for a short time. The sensor card is not protected in the way film would be in an 'ordinary' camera, there is no shutter that would keep muck out (for those in the know, you can lock the mirror up and the card is exposed with no protection).
So cutting to the point, when I discovered the crap on my pictures I opened the camera and tried to blow the 'dust' off.....unfortunately....I blew some phlegm onto the card ! It wasn't going to remove itself, and I had no option but to try reomove it with a slightly damp cotton bud. And from there on we're in trouble.
I did some reseach, the internet is a wonderful thing - thanks to the UKGSers you helped there too - and discovered that dirt on the sensor is a common fault, and that often (as mine) they come with dirt on. Now being that I bought this thing about a month ago and all the packing and paperwork is in the UK (have handbbok) I'm knackered from a warranty perspective (and it isn't honoured internationally apparently)
So all I could do was contact Nikon to seek profesional cleaning. I did a search and in all of Argentina there are 4 shops. 3 in BA, an luckily 1 in Cordoba, only 55-65kms north.
We decided to ride straight tehre after breakfast and try them.
Riding into Cordoba was a bit surreal, Nik and us riding close to hold the road space looking for all the world (OK, OK, I have a rampant imagination) lik the good old US police series CHIPS. The folk were not used to seeing large bikes, and particulalry not Nik's rocketship GS1200, quite surprising for the countries second city. Some nice areas, but a big sprawl, though not comared to BA. Great fun riding with all the taxi's and general road chaos.
And know for another aside. Mind like a goldfish.. GPS. I was never such a strong believer in GPS for South America as the base maps are extrememly limited, however ! Javier had much more detailed maps - the base ones really would be fairly useless compared to the number of roads there actually are - and they are really good. Riding in to the Nikon shop was a lot easier than ever it would have been without GPS. We couldn't route street by street, but Nik could flag the place we guessed it was from the address and we knew if we needed to left or right to get closer, and with the grid system it makes it easier too. And as for trying to find your way off a mountain in the dark in an extreme thunderstorm then it beats the map hands down...more later....you really will have to be patient !
So we roll into downtown Nikon and I explain my problem in very poor Spanish and lots of obvious camera action. They get the guy who speaks superb English to assist. Yet again, as at the customs post coming back into Argentina, the guy is an ex English teacher, but this job pays better (madness, the customs guy said three or four times more, what future schooling if that's the case ?)
The guy is sympathetic as this is obviously a common problem, and handbook says take to Nikon dealership for cleaning (barmy). I would stress at this point I would not ignore advice like that lightly, but being in the middle of nowhere at the time of first occurance you have to decide whether to risk self fix. Anyway he says he'll try, and pops around the back, too effectively gently blast the CCD with compresssed air. This does improve things, but on closer inspection of pictures all marks and smears are still there. Bugger !
The guy recons you should only change lenses inside if the slightest risk of dust, or under a cover or in a bag. Bloody hell, can't see the Digital revoluion catching on witheveryone then. I know they work for thousands of folk and I've been unlucky, and obviously bear responsibilty for some of the damage, but my last Nikon was hard as nails and bombproof.. The guy was extremely helpful and when I picked myself off the floor when he asked if I could wait three weeks for it to be cleaned in BAsaid he might be able to speed things up.
His boss was in town, and returning to BA that day. He could take it, get it assessed, contact me on Monday, and see what happens. It would be 90 pesos for a clean if they can, or 1500 to replace the CCD. So, that's £18 for the 'simple' option, or worst case £300. Bleep, bleep, bleepin' how much ! So, I would pay for the cleaning, but to replace the CCD would be half the cost of original purchase only a month ago. I'm struggling not to swear at this point I must confess. The guy has been brilliant and I'm very grateful but I'm feeling a little dissappointed in the product.
So the upshot is I have to wait 'til Monday and see what the damage is, what to do if the CCD is knacked. I can afford to change it I guess, but I'll then have paid nearly £1000 to record the photo's of the trip. Bleep. After time I think I've decided I would have to breath deeply and pay. He mentione I could buy a none digi SLR new for the same money, but I suppose I should stick to the digital options now. And a compact would not suit my purpose - but if I were to advice anyone undertaking a trip like this I'd say take a good digi compact unless you really are a photograhy enthusiast (hello). And even then I'd question whether a film SLR might not be best, though it's a tough call if you ignore the costs (if cost is important then digital isn't an option compared to film)
I had hope I could get the camera DHL'd to say Mendoza so we could continue, but, "for your safety" it has to come back to the shop. I am going to try and get the shop to send it to the accommodation here if possible though to save mucking around.
So we are staying in our lovely accommodation here for another week, and all for a camera ! The inercom started playing up yesterday too - the lead I bought a month before leaving is playing up. Common thread. That is also a GREAT dissappointment as I swear by Autocom. will try to sort while here, otherwise we're buggerd for the intercom too which would be a greater loss. I have some spares so may be able to swap leads with some inventiveness.
And yet there has been no mention of satanic rites or auld Nick himself....why so...
OK, OK, just a few more pages and we'll be there.
On the map there was a wonderful loop road that statrted a little NW of Cordoba and climbed the Sierra's before descending the other side to the plains before an ascent and a return to the plains this side. looke fairly innocuios and not too distant for a nice ride out and with the cloud lifting there was the promise of an excellent day out....
he first adventure was finding the starting point of the road. We left Cordoba and picked up the road to Villa Carlos Paz, big touristy place at foot of the 'real' hills. I headed north on a 'feeling' (the GPS shows the roads, but not the very small villages shown on my map, Nelles, recommended) but after a whilke thought I better check, so pulled into a garage. As everywhere the folk were generous in their help. The guy did a fantastic map, and when he'd finished it turned out basically we turn left in 500m.......
Off we popped and after all of a km the road ended and dirt started. I asked the the open mouthed saucer eyed kids if this was the way to Los Gigantes and they confirmed (can you ever trust kids though ?)
So began our epic journey....haven't I said before will we ever learn ? hmmm indeed
The dirt road was generally one of the best I've ever ridden on, certainly the best one Nik had ridden on, as no off roading before this trip ! Luckily Nik was undaunted and we were off on our voyage of discovery. There was a bit of dozing work (well in was nearly siesta o'clock) near the start, but otherwise the road was fantastic. Well built, setts at side, blocks in between, an they enough gravel and sand to create a generally near perfect surface. And with the cloud lifting it looked fine, but if damp the surface wouldn't be slippery.
The route twisted and turned and climbed steadly and always upwards and onwards. There were smells of honeysuckle lower down and herbs as the landscape became more parched. We had glimpses of beatiful birds, one black with the most sumpcious of orange-red chest. Would have made a great shot, a) if I'd had me SLR, and b) if it was possible to change to me long lense without dust getting into the camera....OK...OK...I'll try to drop it now. Further up were kite type birds with brown plumage with white stripes and then some Stork type blighters with lovely yellow beaks and red faces.
We did have water in the bladders in the back of our jackets, but no food. The plan was to stop for a bite to eat on way....miraculously there were a few places on route. All litlle habitations of the sort that shepards or the liek would have. A guy was mending his windows at one such withan abrierto sign outside so I pulled in and confirmed it was ndeed open. Greta place, like a Russian or somesuch post office, all sorts of strange things on a small set of shelves behind his counter on which were sandwiches, the only not packaged food. The sandwiches were either salami or cured meat and at 2 Pesos each a genuign treat, bloody marvelous, and three coffees. He was a great bloke and looking at the shelves we were intregued by the collections of new horse shoes in three sizes and some excellent gem stones. He joked about football as England beat Argentina 3-1 last week. It was great spot to stop, and even Nik thought it outdid even his favourite of Shell Petrol Station Cafes. The views outside were glorious of the distant, but getting closer, crags and rolling platea with cattle, and occassional Llama and cranes grazing. One way was the Mournes, which would please my Mum, another Gallicia, another Crsica and also Northumberland, the Dales and Scotland. Supendous.
Onwards, with occassional oncoming vehicles, in fact we'd met a double trailered wagon early on. The track was good enough for up to 85kph two up, sat down, bike working well. Nik was enjoyng the riding and the 1200 was coping fine, just odd plasticy bitss like the mounts for the screen and handgaurds proving a little less than robust.
Further on we noticed Nik wasn't behind us. Probably taking a pic, after a few seconds thought we better check. as we rounded a corner, there was Nik, phew, hang on, were's his bike. Then he bent down, and oh my god, his bike. Off the road on it's side wrong way round, ie rolled away from road edge....
It didn't look good. He was OK though so we paused before thinking the best way to right it and get it back on road. Nik had wandered too close to the edge and run intothe soft uncompacted gravel and sand and was thence forth on a clear path to derailment. He's narrowly missed a coule of rocks and bailed out without injury.
With a bit of care we managed to get the bike up, and pushed back onto the track for inspection. The resultant damage ? None. not even a scrath on the crashbars. Phew.
Nik was fine and happy to continue. Luckily his boxes were off and at accommodation.
Quick recommedation for Alpino Residencial, Roca y 25 de Mayo, Villa de Belgrano. Excellent place and at £4 each it's a gem. The owner speaks excellent Spanish and german and very good English too. Very helpfull. It's a quiet location, virtuallt next to all services including an excellent pasta take-away place that does amazing cheap food to keep budget down, place eat, private bathroom, TV and the room is kept spotless even with all our clutter. Very highly recommended.
We were nearing the top of the road and as we got there we could see quite clearly there was a storm front approaching from the south and it was a front not a passing storm. oops.
As we continued - it would turn out to be over 100km of off-road - it was obvious we were not likely to get away with getting off the mountain, travelling south 50kms and then passsing back over and eventually back to whence we'd come....hmmm
We met a local bus just before the road got rougher and climed som preety tight and tortuous hairpins, lucky, he'd need all road. You do have to be careful.
It was looking unlikely that we could get back before dark too. Another no no when travelling in less well developed countries. The cars and trucks with no lights still drive at night !
The track returned to a very good standard, only occassionally we came across corrugations on the surface which are a bit of a nightmare. Never ridden on these before really, can be tricky. There is an optimum speed to let the suspension work at it's best. Slow and the whole bike is shaking itself apart, but it doesn't seem natural to go fast, especially on gravel, two up. 85kph was ideal and the bike was happy as were we providng you could see far enough.
Quick word of praise for vern's panniers here too. They've done a sterling job over all this varied ground. I had to locktite the ressesed screws on the top rail Vern, but otherwise great. I won't complain of the fact one pannier leaks because I don't think it's a fault of Vern's work, combination of the welding we had done to alter them (again not Vern's fault) and the fact I sealed the lids and with probably an inferior product) Everthing is sealed anyway as I don't trust anything to be 100% effective. I had a fiendish plan to seal that one though - and in the excitemnet that follows it was not used - otherwise sure would have been sealed, a MTB inner tube looped around the sealing point on outside. I would recommend these to anyone who wants a set of quality panniers, they're brillaint mate !
So nothing fell off, we never, and were only miles from blessed tarmac again.
The skies towards where we were to go next were becoming inky black with a tell tale pale grey swirling mass just before them - that's our luck ended then !
The lightning was starting to zap to the ground in the distance, the heat had built up, and the wind was rising substantially. We were in for one hell of a storm, there was no two ways about it. As if it wasn't enough that we'd ridden over 100kms off road and it was virtually 7pm we were about to have the ride of a lifetime !
It was obvious we would get caught up in the storm really, but Bev and I had no liners for our jackets and trousers, just packed the cags and ex-army overtrousers and over-boots and nothing else, and Nik had his liners in his BMW suit but that was it. We'd noted that we'd left most of our spares, including tubes, tubeless repair kit etc at room, earlier in the ride with a bit of an oops again. Still we decided to ride onwards to see - oh like yeah - we could get to the road back over in the dry. We'd gone all of a mile before there was dustball coming towards us and the advance guard of substantial raindrops...time to turn and high tail it a mile back to stop and done waterproofs.
There was a small chapel that we dived to the lea side of and geared up. For a while we were in the dry as the wind was strong (too strong to ride intially). The lightning was absolutely outstanding, I've not seen it's like before. Not several forks, but several forks combined with horizonatal forks leading to a literal spiders web across the skies at times, absolutely amazing, and a little intiminating.
We waited a short while, then decided we had to leave whatever. It wasn't too bad to start, the wind was headon which is safer than side-winds and the rain varies. All around was flooded, getting close to road level and the lightening was still as stupifying, all around, but luckily not too close. The road was covered in grit from the dust and wind, or bits of branches, of any amount of debris. The occassional animals in feilds looked propoer miserable andthe odd small hamlets were taking a battering.
The skies darkened further as we came into another small town near our turning point, the roads were awash and the local wrecks were no match for the conditions, we took to the floods to get round them and it must have looked surreal to the occupants. Then we reached a cross-roads at a low point and the traffic was backed up either side as it was obviously quite deep. Bev dismounted and strode through the water to guage it's depth, bravely giving up dry feet for the rest of the trip. It was deep, but fordable so we rode off through hoping there was no hidden channel or kerbs. luckily not. This was a real adventure !
Onwards towards the hills again, and in the bizarre way of things off to the right a good few kms away it was glorious sunshine and the low sun was actually blinding. What a contrast from the rain clouds we were under.
The road climbed slowly but teadly upwards and was well surfaced, all matter of scrub was flying past, and there was little traffic. Thank god we weren't on dirt at this point.
As we climbed the rain eased for a while and the suns slowely setting rays created some of the most stunning views we've ever witnessed. Rainbows doubled across the mountains tha skies, everything, waterfalls ploughing off the highsides and cascading in huge plumes off rock faces, and light a photographer (I know, I know)would kill for. It was stunning beyond words. All three of us were wet, getting cold, but totally in awe of our surroundings and unable to prevent stopping and jabbering intently about e magic of the ride.
Ancient rock art?
Even with leaden kies and blinding flashes directly were we were aimed the light from where we were leaving was creating the most sublime of images. My personal favourite I think was riding past the Aires Rock cloured cuttings with the sillouette of the bike riding ghostly along to our side, truely sublime.
We knew we were to be wet and cold, and we knew we would be in the dark soon so we had to push on as much as we wanted to stay and consume the beauty.
From here on things could likely omly get worse....oh yes... As true darkness fell and we reached the long summit plateau the winds built, the rain lashed down, and it was cold. We all thought at some point we'd have to abandon and find space in one of the hostels should there be room - there were mant stopped vehicles, not an average storm this one. All we needed was a burning bush at the side of the road and the scene would be complete.
The wind was frightening, pitching us left then right and our pathetic headlights only picking out the centre line and edge lines for a few metres. The oncoming vehicles would dazzle you and we'd have to virtually stop when the wind gusted. Occassional flashes, and I men Flashes, not just one, lit the whole sceen in hellish intense white at an alarming rate and we just gritted our teeth and battled on, the down must come soon surely.
We were praying for no wild animals, cattle or dogs, or unlit vehicles to appear from nowhere at this point. Driving was by six sense more than sight as we continued.
at long last we were on the way down, as if it would never come. The GPS again saved the day - I would not have liked to mapread at this point, and Nik lead. We descended on the twistiest and quite steep road towards 'our' side of the Sierra's.
The sunset seemed a long time defore, a lifetime, as we were now wet and getting colder, just in time we were down to warmer ground, and with great joy we still joyed by the storm, blimey !
Nik took us through towns and back to the recognisable roads though there wasn't much to recognised with one candle power of front headlight, it was getting scary until we hit the new road with those wonderful new white lines. a vary scarey ride up o that point as the traffic was local and quite suicidal.
On the last leg there was construction work in progress and two sections of dirt diversions. we were dreading these, but after the earlier riding we drove straight through them in the wet like it was best quality tarmac, unbelievable.
The weather started to ease and shadows of dogs appeared at the roadside regularly, but fortunately without incident. A final surreal image was a midget walking down the road....at least that's what I thought it was in my punished brain. There were two minute eyes reflecting back about 2 foot off the ground and slumped shoulders and legs walking directly towards us. For a second I was convinced...then the rest loomed into view and it turned out to be a trick of the light and a dog carrying a pheasant or similar in it's mouth !
The rediculasly twisty road that lead to our temporary home was not at it's best now. In the morning it had been a joy to ride, even though the BM islike a battleship, with some of the weight off it handeled the curves like a sportsbike...well...to me, but know it was a bit different now.
We arrived back at 10.30 and raced to chuck off our wet gear and get to the bar for a drink and some food. No woories ther, goulash all round, Cognancs to calm racing minds and then to be to sleep jus like you'd expect to after this day.
In a couple of days we'll be celebrating birthdays, in the UK, and here for Bev, so we'll have to have something nice to do !
Well don't expect many mails of this magnitude as I've been here hours, but it just had to be written ! This is
like my job now, but like any job you mustn't overdo it, so I'll recon on either doing less exciting things or writting less about it I guess.
Mind, it's a great job ;-)
Saturday 19th November
Mileage - 105kms
It was someones birthday today, by name of Bev, so Nik and I had managed to find some cards in town for the ocassion and I nipped to a florist and got some flowers as we'll be here a few days yet. Nice surprise for the birthday girl. The florist was a nice guy and we discussed camera's and film's. The recent hit film (Argentinian) The Dog, which had garnered much critical praise in the UK was filmed by a cameraman from just across the street ! Would like to see it but no cinema here, in fact our host ran the only cinema in Belgrano for 36 years and claims that's how he learnt his English.
Saturday 19th November
Villa General Belgrano and back via Los Reartes, nr Cumbrecita, va. Berna
Mileage - 105kms
It was someones birthday today, by name of Bev, so Nik and I had managed to find some cards in town for the ocassion and I nipped to a florist and got some flowers as we'll be here a few days yet. Nice surprise for the birthday girl. The florist was a nice guy and we discussed camera's and film's. The recent hit film (Argentinian) The Dog, which had garnered much critical praise in the UK was filmed by a cameraman from just across the street ! Would like to see it but no cinema here, in fact our host ran the only cinema in Belgrano for 36 years and claims that's how he learnt his English.
Our host let us hose the bikes down in his garden, so they are de-gritted at least. It was a sad loss to lose the orange jungle dust as it looked well cool !
Decided to go out on the bikes for a picnic and took advice of the book. Sadlyit let us dwn as it was a very poor ride around some nice but not inspiring enough scenery. The curse of Paraguay hit as the roads were half built, crap, or none existant diversions, and all the route was dirt of very mixed quality.
The road to Va Alpino promised much, delivered nought and was as rough as I would like to ride two up, even with most of gear now in room, but do carry tools and water !
The picnic itself was lovely with food from the take-away, tort, and salad etc and whilst lounging we found some spectacular flowering barrel cacti which seemed a little out of place.
To make up for the poor ride out we will drink some of the specialist beers brewed here, floral, barley wine, porter and a Mendoza pink champagne (got an expensive one, £5). Will report back on beers as we missed the traditional camping w/e at Blakey with being here, so no gallon of Old Perculier. Wonder if it was cold ? It ain't here folks !In fact 30 and promise of another thunder storm.
Sunday 20th November
Mileage - 20kms
Well last night upped the weirdness levels. By the time we went out for a few bevvies for Bev it was dark and the sound of umpah (sp) was wafting around. Not so unusual these days, but the display of Lederhosen and swirling petticoats outside the town hall was a little unusual. The traditional dances were being reinacted to a responsive audience and they were getting a fair sweat on in the heat.
Since we've been here a while we've had more time to asses the place. though is definately weird the people are very friendly and all speak Spanish and are only really using German because they think we are German tourists I think. Unlike, I suspect, many of the British enclaves on the Costa's of spain were English would be the language of choice I guess. The - obviously German descended - locals all speak Spanish and are adapted to their new home, but yet retaining nearly all their original identity too. Quite a hard balance, but they may have got it right.
Anyway the dancing was good (OK, OK it was cheesy, but respect to them for keeping it alive). Three of the four couples, of all ages, were distinctly latin looking which was even weirder. It's a very strange place, but has a lot of good things about it.
There was also a collection of Model T Fords, probably 10 or so which I would have thought was a good turn out antwhere never mind here.
One of tthe good things is beer ! normally for Bev's birthday we'd be drinking good Yorkshire ales while camping out in the cold on the moor, with friends. Luckily there are some great beers available here, some local. I bought Bev some for her birthday, and we had one, a 'Floral' beer, was cracking, like one from a beer festival.
Anyway we had a bit of a - considerably restrained - pub crawl. Quite difiucult when you don't pay up front, delays progress. We had our most expensive beer, tourist price, bout £5 for a 3 large steins. Everything else has been very reasonable.
By time we'd had about 4 we were nearly home and ready for bed, it's getting quite warm again.
So today we had a rest day, again. Tried to fettle the intercom which has been playing up for a few days and is sorely missed, but without success. Have emailed Autocom to try and resolve, as we really need it.
Our host mentioned a good place to go swimming just near the next village and we took the bikes up there. As the sea is a considerable way away, well, lets say 700kms at very least, river banks are popular bathing haunts. We found the place easily and it was very popular. We found somewhere that only had a couple of people present and waded, very carefully ! to the otherbank for shade.
The water was wonderfully cooling without being freezing and we greatly enjoyed our lounging in and out of water. Had to be careful of sun, temps over 30 and little cloud cover. Not much in way of wildlife in river, but family of woodpeckers was a nice distraction near by.
Beers in town later proved that this community is very healthy and shows no sign of diminishing. Never seem so many rounded tums in me life. And no, we're not talking beer guts here, we're talking pregnant women. Sunday night is obviously proof of fertility night. Literally about every other women was pregnant. Good sign for community .I guess
Monday 21st November
Villa General Belgrano
Mileage - 0kms
Starting to get stir crazy one and all now. It's nice to chill, but we are all feeling ready to move on or be consumed by the madness of boredom.
Rang Claudia at Nikon to hear he had heard nothing and would ring them, could I call at 3. At 3 there was still nothing, left him hotel telephone number nd he said he'd ring tomorrow. I know I'm in part to blame, but I really think Nikon have a poor camera with no protection such as a mechanical shutter to prevent dust ingress. I know I can't expect - necessarily - urgent service, but I did expect they might have got back to me by now. We can't stay here for ever, and it will be very poor publicity for Nikon if we have to go withouit receiving my F70S body back. They appear unwilling to post it to me, we'll see. I'm hoping the manager from BA will return with it sorted on Friday otherwise I'm buggered from a picture perspective and willl be one unhappy bunny. After one month of ownership I'd expect more.
Anyway, we are all getting bored now. Internet drives Bev barmy though it fills Nik and my time, Bev gets the option of a film on TV, but none of them are things we want to be spending time doing. Obviously not adapted enough yet, in a few months a week of downtime might be welcome !
Tuesday 22nd November
Villa General Belgrano area, dirt road to San Agustin, south to Emblase and back here
Mileage - 110kms
To prevent insanity in th corp we decided a morning ride out was the cure. Just outside town a track lead over the hills to the East and looked well twisty.
So, day three of out Ripio for beginners course (Ripio being course gravel roads, and frequent in the south).
The road had a number, an S category mind which must be lowly and a three figure number so not exactly a main route. Within half a mile we came across a three hundred metre stright at about 1 in 6 or 1 in 8, steep enough when rocky and loose sand and a fine line to dance between the two.
Got half way up before Bev had to hop off and Nik came to rest in a rut. No damage and it actually looked parked, managed to get up the last bit each one up. Decided if another section like that we'd turn, though neither of us fancied riding back down it to be honest.
Steeper than it looks in the photo – honest!
Shortly after we met and Landrover, and further 4x car, so it is used (saves about 80kms of tarmac).
The hairpins after were less severe but it was still necessary to exhurt extreme caution. Some lovely smells...aside from spinning tyres and gearbox oil (a one off with my gearbox breather...I hope) and some nice Vultures, medium sized with white under wings, red heads and yellow beaks. Also the eponymous, wish I had a speel check on me Palm, brown small kite like bird with white stripes on wings and tails. Also some wonderful flowering prickly pear type cacti.
The heat was oppressive yesterday, and the last two nights. just a fan in the room, and you can feel sweat pooling on you in your sleep, lovely eh. Hence reason for ride before lunch. The wind on the other side was very strong and intense, temps climbing towards 40 again. Even with just lids, glovs, shirts and light trousers instead of full bike gear there was no respite from the heat. Even at 50 plus mph on the real road there was no cooling. Too hot.
So, one question, what on earth are we trial riding rough roads whilst also being concerned about our tyre wear and where we'll get replacements ? We're hopeful in Mendoza of a BMW dealer, though it my be cars. The concern is whether we'll getntubeless, and whether a reasonal 'cross' tyre is available. Our tyres of choice, TCK 80s, are not available here. Brazil manufacture some reasonable off road biased tyres, but it's finding them. Anyway, we have maximum of say 2000 miles left, or 500 legally in UK !
So, will Nikon come up trumps, or will things go from bad to worse ?
Wednesday 23rd November
Mileage - 5 kms...on foot !
Warning : virtually no motorcycle content !
Well the relaxed pace of Nikon Argentina is starting to get a little frustrating now. Latest update (Tues evening) is that the camera is being worked on, and therefore it's assumed the Sensor (CCD) is not completely knackered. Assumed that is, not confirmed. Blimey, it's like extracting teeth. Very lucky someone there speaks English, and lucky it will hopefully take a week and not two, but still no absolute confirmation I will get the camera before we leave. ho hum.
More success on minor bike repair front. During our stormy ride we lost one of the pillion footrest rubbers and I've been trying to sort a replacement. Whilst walking around the other day we found - jammy - a footrest rubber off a moped. was perished, but cable tied it on and it has lasted a few kms. Yesterday when returning from the supermarket we spotted another whole footrest in the road, and that has now been made to fit. What are the chances of two footrest finds in three days, remarkably little resource-ridden town this place.
Looking good on the intercom front too. The replacement parts will be sent from US to our good friends Sandra & Javier in BA and they'll bring to the travelers meet at Viedma. In mean time we'll shout at each other in traditional married couple manner. Wasn't time to get the leads here even via UPS or similar (at our cost) but this is an excellent result and all praise to Autocom for that.
Finalised details with a call to the US, nice to talk to Meredith who I've been mailing last few days. To guarantee getting the parts they'll go UPS to S&J so still £40 odd, but that's a good deal to be able to stop shouting at Bev !
Last night Nik got a good contact, a guy who's father was German and settled here, he was brought up Argentinean, and now lives in Denver (on Nik's route to Alaska) and is an airline pilot. Double whammy as Nik has a love of all things with engines and wings, like us but ours is flora and fauna. He has a place to stay, and a host with the mostest. Great bloke, bought us a beer, gave us forecast of a bad storm coming in early in morning and gave us a little more of the history locally. Apparently, as detailed earlier, the Graf Spee crew set this place up (failed in finding a local history book in English, would love to read one, internet search on return), but La Cumbrecita was set up by fleeing Nazi's. I don't think he would have said that if not true. He said they're all dead now though. We narrowly missed visiting the place on Bev's birthday, I think an official visit is calling. Apparently "it is just like a German village", blimey so Belgrano isn't !!
If we stay here any bloody longer I'll be writing that history in English of this area.....that would be OK mind.
Anyway a day of exercise today ! Whahey ! Took a walk from here to the Virgin Mary on the hill above town. It was a bright day following on from last night’s storm that I guess missed town by a short distance. Thank god for that though, as it has considerably refreshed the temps. Last night was the hottest night I've ever had in bed.... steady you there at the back...I mean temperature wise. We've been in some hot places before but I have never woken up (and you can stop giggling at the back there) with wet sheets. Unbelievably hot.
Bev below Virgin Mary
So it was blue skies and cool and breezy, ideal for a walk.
Only the other side of town, but up a steep path. Not unlike a walk in the Lakes on a hot summers day, but without a 40-pound pack. Invigorating day out. Great views from the top, and some corking flowering cacti, those impressive ones where you have to examine under a huge flower to find small cacti, wonderful. Also saw, very briefly, our first ever Humming Bird ! Fabulous.
Was nice to do something physical....now I've told you lot at the back....
The Nikon situation is improving, but still somewhat ill informed (like I'd stand the slightest if it weren't for my English speaking colleague there mind). At close of play today we have at least received confirmation that it will ONLY be 90 Peso's (£18). The camera is on the way, should be ready Saturday. Slightly wasting my breath returning to the fact we're on our way...oh yeah.. to Mendoza on Saturday. It'll be right in the end, but a little frustrating the continuing delay, and worse for Nik.
Fingers crossed I'll hear the camera has arrived tomorrow and we can collect it on Friday and we can scoot on Saturday for vistas new.....but don't hold your breath.
Mileage - 73 kms
[editors note – Here’s a map that Fritz and Bev sent through a week ago showing where they’ve been (in red) and where they intend to go (in green) – should make things a little clearer]
We have a fellow m/c traveller at the hotel, christain from austria on his monsterously cool KTM 950 Adventurer. Lovely machne, he's left it n BA whilst back at work and over for just a few days before returning home for two days and returning agin, sounds like he's got it sorted ! He rode here from BA yesterday, some 750kms odd, must be a keen traveller at that. Knows of Horizins Unlimited and may get back in time forthe meet at Viedmar.
Well our ride out today was much more sucessful. Up to the alpine village that was established, so our source said, by fleeing Nazi's. That's all history now, but it is quite a spectacle to see so many german sytled chalets in amongst the trees and rocks of the mountainside. Not as spectacular as we hoped, but certainly interseting, and most folk certainly look Germanic origin, though by no means all. The little bakery did some wicked cakes and I even had to go bck for seconds on one.
So queue another locak referance, Dulche de Leche. It's very popular (justifyably) locally. It's a extremely sweet and appears to be a toffee type goo made form evaporated milk. You have it one bread, in ice-creams, and in cakes, and it's very moor-ish.
Anyway, we've saved a fortune on the cost a BMW off-road skills course already in this trip as we are developing our off-road skills all the time. Why today we even had a front wheel lock-up in control on the dirt (there was about 1km of tarmac in the ride) and we;re well aquainted with gravel, sand and corrugations. £350 credit then.
We had a wander around La Cumbriecita but couldn't find any dirt, even the cemetry, though locked, didn't unearth (no pun intended) any dubious headstones of well known names form the dodgey past.
Anyway, interesting place, and the ride out was great, clocked 100kmp at some point on journey which isn't bad going two-uo off-road.
On way back we found a glorious spot for a swim. Though we didn't have a swim due to no gear with us. absolutely beautiful deep pools and waterfalls as well as shallows. we spent a pleasant hour skimming stones and chilling. Also saw what looked like a humming bird feeding at a flowering cacti. could have been a nectar feeding bird of another variety though, have to check the web.
Well, what of the camera I wonder, still no call, not sure what the esential nature of me passing on a contact number was, never rung once. Oh well, another day in near paradise so who's complaining. Well, we are, cause we want to be on our adventures and way again. This has been an excellent spot and I'd recommend the hotel warmly.
Friday 25th November
Villa General Belgrano - Cordoba
Mileage - kms
Well following on from the predictable no (promised) phone call from Nikon I had to do it myself. Unfortunately got the answer phone so that snookered us, as then it was siesta o'clock here and no phones (without some work) so waited 'til 3.
At last, finally, some good news. The courier would be there late afternoon so we can go in, collect camera, return and reload some gear and head off for Saint Luis in the morning.
We've been here for an unbelievable 11 nights...just for a camera, not an engine rebuild. We've all got to, and past, stir-crazy. Testing enough in itself being in one place so long, but rewarding too, if taken in the right light, which often it isn't.
Our hotel has been cracking and our host excellent...he wants us to stay, or return so he can further improve his English. He's given us recommendations for good reasonable price hotels in St Luis and Mendoza, as well as a very accurate - backed up by handbook - guide to things worth seeing in both places.
We have confirmed that our supposed humming bird was indeed a humming bird. Watching one while we had lunch in the garden today, and it returned and spent a few moments flying nearby. Beautiful metalic green and a remarkable flight as it darted flower to flower. A highlight indeed !
Finally got the camera back after a spirited ride into Cordoda including passing some demostration that consisted of local folk setting fire to tyres on the road, and the police just marshalling the traffic around them. Bizzare, and a hug plume of black smoke to contend with and no doubt a big hole in the road by morning...what fun !
Camera still marked, many apologies, no report from lab' either, but at least they agreed to no charge., It's better than before, just few small marks though. The final straw this evening, a right kick in the teeth advert on internet for Olympus SLR with 'dust filter'. Digital SLRs are not made for adventure travel, unless you only have one lense. Probably the reason they have long zoom ranges. More care required during any, unlikely, future lense changes, but basically not the tool for this form of travel. Must write a complaint to Nikon on return, poor product.
Saturday 26th November
Villa General Belgrano - St Luis
Mileage - 450 kms
Finally escaped. almost sad to go but great to be moving somewhere new
Said goodbye to Christain, may see him at Viedma, he was with S&J the night before the hotel in Belgrano, what's the chances he'd end up with us there - spooky !
Spotted the first (of many) dust devils whipping aroud in the plains, the heat was oppresive and the roads dull, when Javier had talked abouthow much he appreciated his cuise control on his bike I didn't understand....I do now, it's essential for these long boring roads, absolutely wished I had it, could fabricate with rubber bands around throttle grip but prefer not too.
Came across lots of convoys today with migrant agricultural workers moving home and plant in slow convoys. Huge new combines (costly !) and beat up converted buses towing 4x4s. Obviously work where the work is, and move from ripe harvest to ripe harvest. Hard life.
Not seen one jet trails since arival and only seen about two small planes and one large in air in all time here, amazing compared to the skies over UK.
Few suicidal drivers today. It's a common tatctic to slow and slew of road to right, no so bad apart from the dust, or left, which is dangerous straight in front of you with no indictors. Obviously they are for ornament only, even on all the brand new 4x4s. Not much use of horns here surprisingly. Not too dangerous driving, you just have to be very careful.
Also saw lots of bikes today, with the hours folk work I guess the w/e is the only time they can really get out and ride, siesta time being the hottest part of the day.
Arrived in St Luis and tried, unsuccessfully, to find hotel or last host had recommended. Went into the tourist info office and the lady was very helpful, though had a mildly disturbing aspect of being either half stoned or smitten and in love with this lost traveller, comlpetely doe eyed. I think it's just the fact people are so in awe of our travels, it's quite odd. She was very helpful though and gave us a map with hotel location on and some advice on things to see in area.
We did eventually find the recommended hotel and in comparison to anything else it was similar price. More than we wanted, and a bit flash, but about £7 with AC not goingto break the bank.
Recovered the cost with tea though with two litres of beer, and steaks each for the grand total of under £6. The displayed prices were higher than we paid for some reason, and the steaks were better than you'd ever get in the UK so were were back on track budget wise. Sound
Sunday 27th November
St Luis - Menoza
Mileage - 330 kms (est)
Well we left our refridgerator for breakfast. Nik and Bev complained of the cold, no pleasing folk. Nik wore his hat in bed and an extra blanket, and Bev covered here head with another blanket. And me ? Well of course being an ice-man I was happy with no extra blanket and just pleasantly warm. The noise was a bit of an issue mind, the price you pay for AC is a combined death rattle and jet engine warming up noises for the whole night, but can we really complain....why yes...bloody tourists. sadly by time we got to bike we were sweltered again as the garage was like a furnace.
The first thing we saw when we really got underway was one LONG and very striaght (OK it had a bend in it, about 30km long) road. Deep joy. As it was dualled and concrete there was noo escaping the heat and although only upper 30's the white surface and complete lack of clouds or any form of tree meant it was well over 40's riding temps, and you can forget about the so called colling of the air on the move...ha...you'll be lucky, like a well ventilated fan oven.
The only realistically close to route thing of interest was a salt plain not far off route, (30kms south of Balde), not that far into the day either so it was reletively cool, and there was no-one there. Being a Sunday meant in fact there was only the guard on the work access who waved as we passed (not into the depot, but into the works area). Taking this as a our que we had a ride around and I even rode to the top of one of the salt piles (it's a compact material, not like granulated salt you shake on food) which I think wouln't strictly be allowed on a working day, think the dozers might complain.
Made a slight error of route choice and broke through the crust into soft mud and briefly bogged down...oops. Not good to get salt all over the bikes as this stuff is stronger than road salt and causes considerable corrosion.
Weird place, flat as a pancake for 7000 hectares, and blazing sunshine just intensifying the whiteness. Nearest we'll come tothe weather back hom at the same time. Bizzare to think of folk stuck in snow on Bodmin, and yet here we were in what at times looked for all the world like snow drifts, but was far from similar. Now the camera is back I am able to share some pitures at least.
Snow or Salt?
So the search was on for a petrol station to wash the biks down. The stuff was white crusted half inch think on the front of the motor, so wanted it off soonest. The next station provided the tools, the watering cans from the pumps. No one minded us spending half an hour and copius quantites of water to wash the salt off, even though we only took coffees there (no choice really, it was literally a gas station ! Remarkable how many cars run on gas here, quite a surprise, and answered our query for why you can smell gas often on the road. Who'd have thought Argentina would have more LPG cars than the UK? On another aside you know those lovely blue LEDs that the boy racers put on their bonnets by the windscreen washers, they're here everywhere too. Funny old world. And don't get me started on Robbie Williams ....too late. His new single seems to be one of about four tunes available everywhere we go, as I find that particular one not so good it's lovely to hear it everywhere...in fact I think it's actually growing on me now !
So quite apart from the above this stop was unusual from another perspective. Squemish folk read away now, if you don't like creepy crawlies anyway. A pump attendant was trying to shoo away somehing quite large with his squeegy so Bev popped over for a look. A bloody great hairy Tarantula.
Now I have to admit I'm not the gretaest of fans of our eight legged friends (OK that's and understatement), but Nik is even less inclined to spend time with any of the wonders of the insect world here so it was down to Bev to investigate.
I couldn;t resist investigating further though, and in actualy fact I didn't find the big fellah as intimidating as I would expect. It was a large forecourt though !
Our friend escaped into the grated gully and one of the ladies from the cafetaria came out to try and catch and re-introduce the spider back to the wild where it belonged. It would take a slipper of some distintion to flatten this blighter. The simple solution a jam jar and a pair of sugar tongs ! We lifted the grate and tried to get our mate in the jar but he was having none of it and made a bid for freedom. By this stage the big game hunters were having none of it and the jar was placed on top of the beast....ah...slight problem, all his legs were sticking out ! a bit of coercing and he was in and the lid on. A close investigation, through glass suits me thanks, and he was off road the back and back into the wilds.
So were're no where near the remotest of jungles or the like and there are still parakeets flying around and things like this looming out of the undergrowth. How little we know of our habitat !
We knew we would reach Mendoza, in the foothills of the Andes today, so it was just a case of when we'd see them. In that classic way it was one of those fabulous moments when I suddendly realised the clouds in distance were to 'pointy'. It stops you dead when you see the great mountain ranges in the distance, still some 150kms hence and there they were, Fan-bloody-fanstic ! A rare occassion for me to spot them before my eagle-eyed pillion. There was no point stopping then as they would just not come out on film, but as we got nearer we had to pull in and consider their might with consideration.
Undoubtably the mountain landscape is my true love from a scenery perspectice, and like some people stare into fires, I can stare at mountains in awe for ages. Aconcagua was there to the right, an inpressive mountain from this perspetive, a real peak. Like many giants of the mountain world there must be many perspectives from which it just looks like a big snowy lump. Not from here though...it looks a fine peak. My juices were flowing juat at the thought of seeing it, but I know it will remain a feature of the horizon for we don't have the time, or preparation necessary for an assualt on that summit. A pity though, as it looks fantastic.
There are options to take the road towards Chile and really get into the mountain scenery close up, and hopefully the weather will last and we can do that. For sure the views from higher up, even though nearer, will not macth that first view though.
I think secretly we all had high hopes for Mendoza, but as a large city it was likely not to to match expectations, and so we found it not to our liking.
Though tree lined and shaded, and being a Sunday very much 'asleep' it was till a hard place to get what we wanted. The hotels were more costly, the cheaper ones not so good.
Right, I'll take a break at this point, to mention we have made the decision to use accommodation where possible unless it an area of 'oustanding beauty'. The tent remains firmly in the panniers, it's too bloody hot, and 's a bit of a chew on packing and unpacking. 25 years of bike camping leave me a little jaded I think. With prices like we've had there is just no point. Nik has a budget as he has jacked his job and needs to retain enough cash for the remainder of his trip, but Bev and I are lucky enough not to need to worry (the budget we're taking about here is £5-10 each max generally of course though, not £50) so it's afordable. Buying as three we save, and as while we're with Nik we'll be in Argentina were it is cheap enough, at least until Patagonia or the holiday season proper kicks in it's hotels.
Anyhow, that's as an aside for when I start complaining about hotels being 7 or 8 quid a night, or very poor at £5 p/p a night. And we will, how the might fall !
We all agreed after last night we'sd not use the featureless three or four star hotels and try and stick with smaller family run places with real people, but we were having real problems getting anything in Mendoza. A very busy spot, or maybe most people leave on a Monday morning rather than a Sunday night as I'd expected. Any way up, we were not having much luck. We tried a hostel just as the owner pulled up on his new GS1200, explains the prices. The hostels really are for the young, party central, thanks, but no thanks, still fiver each. I was surprised the guy didn't come to look at the bikes, but they must get a lot of tourists here, and this is obviously an affluent area (assume due to wines).
The only reason we're here is for BMW Mendoza as Nik's bike needs a service, and there won't be many places to plug a 1200 into. So a necessary evil. We are also after tyres though we both have some distance to go, recon on another 2000 from my rear. Nik was quoted well over £100 for a rear but mine under 50. Sure there are cheaper places to buy, but this is where we are now. Had contacted the HU community here but no responce, would've been nice to have met some locals, but people everywhere have pulls on their time, may meet someone yet.
In that fine way of things a guy pulled up in his 4x4 and asked if we needed help. Explained we were looking for a chepaer hotel and we got talking (limited of course). He ran a climbing shop and was a climber so that was cool. He took us to a little place locally and enquired for us. 45 for Bev and I and 25 for Nik, no triples as the owners quite old and reserved I think.
It was a lot run down, and no AC which is a pain in this heat, but it would suit purpose for now. We took it. it was pretty poor to say the least, and at £5 a head not great value, in fact poor. It was a bit last ditch really. There was little likelyhood of a good nights sleep with the heat, but it was less than the others, or similar ones had no room so no choice. Unfortunatel the parking wasn't adjacent either which is also a pain as you can guarntee you leave something on the bike you'll need, and it was 5 peso's extra.
Anyway like it or not it was home.
We had a senior moment tonight when we went to the local internet cafe. Wasn't the best of ones and you had to pay up front which isn't best. Anyway, I'd been typing for half an hour solid, saving it frequently as a 'word' document when the screen locked. Bugger. Asked for assistance and the guy came across, fiddled around and pushed the power button off. Greta, as in theses internet cafes when you shut down it clears the ocuments and desktop. Hence lost the bloody lot and I was not a happy bunny. Niether was Bev who asked for our money back (principle not cost) and matey boy was obviously unwilling, and gave no apology, but it was bobvious his girlfriend understood why Bev was annoyed, and another customer explained and he still was all deeaf ears. These things happen even at work, but losing all the typing from half an hour deserved an apology and things almost turned ugly. Anyway we left and poor old Nik followed shortly after. We've had some poor internet cafe's but generally they are run by really nice helpful folk, in fact in Belgrano I think we were their star clients, almost on name terms. Anyway that was that, but bloody annoying for the work lost, and probably not regained here now.
Yet again we managed to find a nearby restuarant that was empty when we arrive...well who eats as early as 9pm really ? but was heaving by time we left meaning it must be popular with the locals. We were all on pastas or crepes and even with wine the cost was pityful, but the quality certainly not. Nice !
Monday 28th November
Mileage - 40 kms
Well it was a poor nights kip due to heat, and we all concur we don't like cities (while we have the bikes) so decided to split city and try outside.
Spent too long trying to find somewhere ideal, when really the first 'cabaña' we checked out was excellent, we retururned here after 2hrs fruitless searching...we don't learn ! Nice place family run with pool and two levels and proper kitchen, fridge, etc. Also has internet - guess their PC, so hopefully sent this and pics. Still frustrated about the loss of yestrdays work, bloody annoying.
Hope to send this off tonight and a few piccies. Nice to have the camera back in action but I'm now completely paranoid about dust. I wanted to take a picture from the end of out street, nearer the Andes, but the cloud has built and they're obscured. Lets hope they don't stay like that or we'll be for a very dissappointing ride on one of the Andes most dramatic (book) roads !
Mileage - 152 kms
THAT CONDOR MOMENT...
Well the first job today was to get Nik's bike to BMW Mendoza for the allocated service. very dissappointing lack of fresh coffee, donuts or croissants...not like the UK at all !
I guess they must get a few travellers through as they plainly didn't have any interest in the bikes or where we had been. Mind, if you've got a garage full of BM M5's and the like they're clearly not going to get much from us.....well if you exclude the price they've quoted Nik for a rear tyre.
They had a nice range of bikes in the showroom, obviously an affluent area as there were two 1200GS's and an 1150GS in the service area too. Mind the 1150 was in bits, and the 1200 had been the day before for whatever reason. Seen a couple of old airheads around town too, nice old R75/5 particularly. Anyway, not an inspiring place to be really, just necessity. Nik tried to make sure he was getting what he wanted before we had to leave. I'm used to having Bev on the back but it's weird having a different pillion, it's not that Niks heavy, it's that Bev's light. But at least we're able to help each other with the two bikes and so we came back and had a late breakfast.
As Nik was planning updating his blog (see www.theadventuresofboz.blogspot.com for more piccies and tales of the three of on the road) we checked it was OK for Bev and I to pop out for a spin for a couple of hours. When you've ridden together so much it seems odd to go out alone, and it seems right to seek approval.
Anyway, part way up the road to Chile was an off-shoot that looked interesting. It was spied on a cartoon type map on the apartment's wall, not detailed on my map Although it meant we would cover some ground all of us will do soon, it was the only means to get to the side road.
Within 10kms we were back on the plains with the Andes looming high above through scattered clouds. The view was surreal, as there is a huge petrol refinery there too. So basically it was Teeside dumped in the desert with the Andes behind. Odd, flare stacks and snow capped mountains.
The road after the bit of plain wound round behind the closer lower hills and onwards towards the real Andes themselves. I have to admit to a touch of sentimentality at this point, as when the Andes loomed into view so close I could feel my emotions well up and my eyes dampen. Daft old fool !
Now, here, this was our adventure.
The plains etc are all well and good, but this was what we came for, and here we, and it, were. Such a good feeling riding on well (generally) surfaced roads winding upwards towards gigantic snowy mountains. The adventure is unfolding.
We took the minor road and gained some exellent views, and then took an off-shoot of that towards the ski slopes. The road got worse, the tarmac ended and the gravel track was quite hard riding. We stopped to drink in our surroundings and marvelled at the variety of alpine flowers blooming....well it is spring up there I suppose ! Many recognisable types, but many not.
Our final bit of excitement was Bev spotting two huge birds circling the sky ahead. They weren't too close but not too far away either, but plainly huge. With the binoculars they were clear enough to be confirmed as Condors. I'm sure we'll see more, and closer, but that was a sight to treasure as it was.
Back down to base as we didn't want Nik thinking we had either crashed, got lost, or buggered off. I took Nik down the road to show him the view, the one with the refinery. He grew up with his parents around Redcar and Saltburn so knew he's appreciate the contrast. I wouldn't tell him why he had to see the view - apart from in case the weather came in and it wasn't there again, but I knew he'd got the joke when I heard him laugh as the refinery came into view....
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