14/12/08 Rio Gallegos, Argentina
800 miles into the gale-blasted flatlands of Patagonia, there's a sign at the side of the highway depicting a tree bent over by the wind. So that's it! I wondered why I was leaning over at 45 degrees while riding in a straight line! So it's breezy then? Thanks very much, The Government!
I seem to have ridden 1000 miles this week, and it's time for an oil change, 3000 miles from Motoserv in King's Cross (the finest motorcycle shop on Earth). The Africa Twin handbook suggests not bothering until 8000, by which time I suspect the oil would have become black, gritty water with metal shards in it, so I think I might do it now. Or, you know, tomorrow. I'm in the pub now.
New Business Ideas 2: Male grooming for pets. After the rip-roaring success of Rabbit Mascara etc, how about A Razor For Rover? Shave your pooch a stunning moustache or enviable goatee! Tramline your tomcat! Sideburn your horse! Coming soon - Right Guard Parrot.
Next stop- Tierra Del Fuego, land (in 1981) of the mythical 2p-a-litre beer. Every Argentinian I've met has been friendly, with the single exception of a disgruntled old bastard in a cig kiosk in BA, perhaps because I attempted to pay the requisite 4.40 pesos with a 100 peso note. Or perhaps he was just a bastard.
New Business etc... Pine Scented Mouse Wipes!
Hey there Andy Bell! If you're reading this, there's an excellent article about the history of Bultaco motorcycles in the December 08 issue of Argentina's (rather scooter-heavy) Exclusivo Motos magazine. Well, the pictures are good anyway. The text is impenetrable, what with it being all in foreign and that.
It's 10.01pm and it's broad, read-the-newspaper daylight outside. Exactly how is one supposed to know when it's time to go home?
17/12/08 Rio Grande, TDF, Argentina.
It's 175 miles from the petrol station ("gas outlet" if you prefer) in Rio Gallegos to the next one, just over the Chile/Argentina border in San Sebastian, Tierra Del Fuego. My petrol tank goes to reserve at 165 miles - if I haven't been too silly and childish with my throttle fingers. All well and good if the station actually has fuel in it; reserve should give me about another 35 miles.
On this occasion, the attendant informs me, having stumbled back to the pump from the tin outhouse, pulling up his overalls and trailing lavatory tissue like a horrible bride all the while, it does not. And the next one's in Rio Grande, an impossible 65 miles away.
I decide to pull the old hollow-laugh routine, intended to convey a sort of darkly amused, "so near and yet so far" vibe. His face - such as it is - softens, and, looking furtively towards the border police hut, he unlocks the pump - and squirts me out a full tank! I can't quite make out the reason for his initial refusal to provide, but I think the place is simply low on juice (come on - it's TDF) and he's been instructed to save it for the police.
It is with a modicum of reluctance, therefore, that, 100 yards up the road, I take the following picture in the full and certain knowledge that, one day soon, I will be affixing a comedy subtitle to it and putting it on the internet.
In reality of course, like everyone else in Britain in 1982, I thought the Falklands were somewhere near the Shetlands, and I wasn't 100% sure where the Shetlands were either. I didn't give a bat's bum about them then and I don't give a frog's fraenum about them now. Thatcher was a witch and only escaped a war crimes trial on a technicality in 2000; Galtieri was a git and a failure. A lot of people died, the whole thing was shit, end of story. Shall we move on?
Last night I stayed at La Frontera in San Sebastian where I met Tim and Marco who are - if you'll allow me - clinically mad enough to be cycling through Patagonia. I passed them today, and I imagine we'd have met up as planned at The Galway bar in Rio Grande had it not been turned into a travel agency at some point between now and the publication of the current LP South America guide.
The pillows at the hotel in San Sebastian have provided me with a stepping stone to enlightenment. Let me finish. Last night I lay in bed and thought - My stars! These are the finest pillows I have ever used! And they were. And then I thought - Bollocks! I bet tomorrow night's pillows will be rubbish in comparison. A cloud descended. And then the truth dawned! The possibility of Wednesday night's pillows being inferior to these, the finest on Earth, was ruining my enjoyment of The Finest Pillows On Earth! So I threw aside the possible and began to embrace the actual - The Finest Pillows On Earth!
TDF Lager News: Prices have escalated since 1981. In a quite-nice cafe-bar, a litre of local draught lager works out at about 1.98 GBP a pint, 2p less than Margate's cheapest pub. Fags, however are untaxed in TDF - huzzah! - so that 20 Camels come in at 1 USD. I'd love to report on the local cigs, but the Argentinian ones are pretty bloody grim.
Brilliant motorcycle products:
1. Rukka "Silver" jacket. Light, warm, subtley groovy.
2. HG "Tuareg" boots. Feel like a train could hit them without rendering the shins unto meat paste. Amazingly comfortable if you buy 1 size too big.
3. Giali armoured trou's. Comfortable, just feasible as a street trouser.
4. As always, the Shoei Syncrotec II. The king of flip-up helmets. Get it in black - the fastest colour. Silver ones cost you 5 mph.
19/12/08 Rio Grande, TDF, Argentina.
None of your rubbishy Japanese TV's in TDF
One of the things I miss about Britain - the You of Kay - is the opportunity to watch "Withnail & I" at least once a month, preferably with someone who's seen it at least 30 times. If the phrase "Breakfast in fifteen minutes!", uttered in the right way, is enough to make you burp with glee, you are In My Gang. Are you able to read, without honking up a chuckle, the following innocent words; "Where did you schooool?" Then you are not In My Gang.
My sister Vicky and I are currently spending a terrifying amout of cash texting each other lines such as "It won't be the first time I've been left with the couch" and "We're coming back in here!". I can't see how anything could amuse me as much as sitting in a bar in TDF and getting a text that reads "He told me of your arrest on the Tottenham Court Road". Bruce Robinson is the perfect artist - one immaculate, timeless work of genius, followed by a retreat into wine. Better than God.
22/12/08, Rio Grande
May I put forward a suggestion? The next time you're in TDF, don't plan on staying 8 nights in Rio Grande. There's nothing desperately wrong with it. It's got 2 quite nice cafe/bars (La Ruega and Epa) and a cheap hotel with English-speaking movie channels. But - oh Gawd - eight nights is seven too many. I have no choice. I got here too early, partly because I thought a week in the (long-gone) Irish pub sounded good, but I can't push on to Ushuaia because my hotel is only booked from the 24th, and I doubt I could get another room there without a reservation this close to Christmas.
Anyway, if you do get stuck here, the Carrefour supermarket is way better than the Anonima, and La Ruega does excellent litres of draught, while Epa has cheap bottles of Isenbeck. I really am done here though. Finally, try not to be here on a Sunday, and if you are, be sure to hand your shoelaces in at reception.
Las Lagrimas del Rio Grande
Oh Rio Grande, Rio Grande
You are making my legs go bandy
Surrounded by sea, and thus not landy
At least I'm not reduced to shandy
The electronics you sell are made by Tandy
Your kiosks stocked with 3rd rate candy
Everything shuts on Bloody Sanday
I'll get outta here, please God, wan-day
No mountain views - not the smallest Ande
An Irish pub woulda sure been handy
Your tourist infrastructure is so not dandy
I wish that I had better planned-i'
23/12/08, Epa bar, Rio Grande
If you know anything at all about me, you'll be aware that I'm a huge fan of personal hygiene. My jeans may currently smell like a failing bakery, due to having been worn unwashed for 32 days, but my body - from hairline to toenails - is like a brushed whistle.
I am generally all in favour of lavatories that are regularly bleached, fumigated and sand-blasted of course, but to close the toilets in the Epa bar for cleaning for 45 minutes, while I'm clearly drinking litre bottles of Isenbeck strikes me as an act of criminal madness. I can write this only now, after they've been re-opened, with the aid of a kidney massage and an oxygen mask.
30/12/08. Porvenir, TDF, Chile.
The smell of freedom, on the glorious morning I finally get out of Rio Grande, is the smell of somebody else's B.O., thanks to the rarely-laundered towel I'm provided with at the hotel. It's not until I've showered and dried off with this hellish cloth that I notice a foreign pungency rising directly from my beard into my nose. I sniff the towel: regret is immediate and lasting.
Luckily there's the customary stiff breeze at play, and by the time Ruta 3 suddenly gets exciting (around Kilometre 3000) the wickedness of earlier is but a sour-gutted memory. Freezing and laughing, I squirt into Ushuaia, and the warmest hotel in the world, in the early afternoon. I suppose if you'd arrived here from the Andes rather than the east coast, the snowy, pointy mountains that surround End-Of-The-World-Town might not cause you to drool in wonder, but to me, they're - oh - like, rilly, rilly amaaaazing.
So it's Xmas Eve, I'm in The Galway and I'm literally starving. I ask about the menu and it turns out it's fleecin' time. 150 pesos (30 GBP) for a set menu featuring an assortment of things you don't want, and it's the same in every other restaurant in town. Price-fixing cartel ahoy! I ain't paying, so - weak with hunger - I chance upon a newsagent with foot-long hot dogs at a pound a pop. I swallow two of them whole.
Christmas Day! The sun's out, a bit, and that ever-faithful standby, the YPF petrol station has hot pies for breakfast. Full of cheer and pie, I scoot down to the TDF National Park. It's merry, joyous and wild. As I park up to take the traditional pic of the end of the road sign, a whole bunch of USA-ers gaggle up. Oh-ho-ho! The broads wanna sit on the motorsickle! Can do, gals!
Faint with Christmas glee, I trickle back to the hotel for a garage ham-n-cheese and a lie-down. Christmas night, and, having decided the Galway is A Bastard, I'm thrilled to find The Dublin open.
It's a proper pub, and draught Beagle - blond, red or black - is Argentina's finest. Two pints in, I overhear Jeff from Cheshunt, Herts - home of the biggest Tesco in the world - order a Beagle in an English accent. Hours later, we're still yammering on about how "Xanadu" is Rush's best song (or is it "Red Barchetta"?), and, in a joint act of seasonal goodwill exceeding the Anglo-German WW1 footer-in-the-trenches match, still ignoring the fact that one of us supports Arsenal and the other is A Bastard.
Events unfold in a similar manner for the next few days and shortly it's time to get the fook outta town. The Galway has decided to charge - for a cold buffet! - One Hundred United States Greenbacks on New Year's Eve. Exit me, laughing.
A spirited, gusty ride back to San Sebastian on the Chilean side of TDF, and I'm back at Hotel De La Frontera, the island's cosiest joint, and halfway to Porvenir and the ferry back to Mainland America. It's really fantastically breezy today. I meet several motorcycle people and we're all soiling ourselves over the wind and the gravel roads. Lamb chops and brilliant, brilliant Chilean red wine soothe the worries, and today, one day before New Year's Eve, I make the 90 gusty gravel miles to Porvenir, hopefully enabling my plan to be among the bright lights of Punta Arenas for the 31st. So! Those are the bald facts leading up to my current ensconcement in Club Croatia. If I can think of any lavatory jokes to ease the mood, you'll be top of my call-back list.
30/12/08. Porvenir, Chile
I have, for the first time ever, done myself up with a Lemmy beard and left the house without removing it. Now that it's here, much like a newborn infant, I don't quite know what to do with it, and I sort of want it to go away. If you are inclined to make personal remarks, you have my email address. I really like Kraftwerk as well you know. And Curtis Mayfield and Meg Baird and Uncle Tupelo* and Barry White and Buffalo Tom and Nick Drake and Midlake. It's not all about the UFO b-sides (not that I've ever even heard a UFO b-side).
Better than Quilmes but bottles too small
*"Still Be Around"; today, no better song exists.
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