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Istvan Szlany, Canada

Alaska to Ushuaia

Al Fin del Mundo, Ushuaia

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Argentina Tao

April 21, 2001

(I'm sure that the symbol of the TAO is well known to everybody, the good and bad symbolized by black and white droplet shapes inside the universal circle, where the good and bad also has a dot of the other. Sounds familiar? You'll find this symbol all over in the lines below.)

Here comes my - more or less - regular trip report. Last time I e-mailed I was in deep sh**. ... no, not quite ... Comodoro Rivadavia is the official name of that place. Anyway, I have to add $15 to my last report. that was the extra charge on the rim when after 2 days delay has arrived.

Nonetheless they dared to call it "urgency surcharge" ... whatever, I had to pay it. I was happy for the rim that I got it, not so much for the price of it. Actually, they asked for $20, and I asked for a "descuenta".

In Laurita there was more Tao waiting for me: the rim has a shallower "V", and mounting it where it doesn't really belong was very difficult. I did manage, but the series of problems were not over yet, there was more heavy-duty work for me: mounting that damn 6ply Cheng Shin C858 tire. Is it the shallow "V" or the narrower width of the rim or the hard tire or all of these, but I could barely put it on even with the help of two strong guy .

As I said that earlier, this report is about black and white, good and bad, ups and downs, … and how the turn into each other. Guess, where is the bad in finally mounting a new tire? Yes, we pinched the tube. Oh, God, what have I sinned that you are punishing me so hard? ... the second trial was luckier but the whole process took up my entire day and I crawled into my tent completely soaked in sweat and dead tired.

Riding the RN-40 in Argentina - that was in my mind initially, but the winds blew it out from there, … and me with the bike off the road. I got into a sandstorm, something I have never experienced something like this before. (Absolutely direct experience of the so often mentioned Global Climate Change and Desertification!) I could not open my eyes, because the wind blew sand even under the sun glasses, the bike was pushed off the 5 m wide road, then as I forced it back, stalled, almost fell over, and as I tried to ride straight forward, ... hehe, ... I just zigzagged from side to side.

Finally, exhausted, with sand in my mouth, ears, nose, eyes, … I gave up, and took the first road east. Riding WITH the wind was ... a breeze. Bad things can actually help you if you think the aikido way: don't fight it, go with the flow, but the wheel of the Tao turns, and as I rode fast on those gravel roads, and … ran over a tatu, that looked very much like a rock. I did avoid the rock, but in the last moment moved. I could avoid the little animal with the front wheel, but the rear ran over it on the back side. I stopped and ran back, the tatu was still there, alive. No blood, but seemed to be cracked on the rear shield plate. All I could do is to move it to the safety of a very spiky bush, hoping that will recover.

Riding on the east coast paved highways was easier despite the winds.

 

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Szlany's Home

Travel Stories

October 2000,
Leaving
Calgary

November 2000,
Nevada and
California, USA
via Singapore?

December 2000
in Mexico and
Central America
Screw-ups in
Mexico,
nightmare
roads, malaria
pill blues,
feeding fish
the hard way

January 2001,
in Ecuador,
South America
An Ecuador
customs saga,
the Galapagos

February 2001,
Ecuador,
Peru, Bolivia,
Chile
Beetle
showers,
dealing with
unfriendly dogs
border
crossings and
lessons learned

March 2001,
Hitchhikers
guide to
Argentina
Wherein our
hero's tire
reduces him
to hitchhiker
status

April 2001,
Argentina to
Hungary
Tao and more
bike trouble

More to come...
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These straight stretches were incredibly boring. If you plan to ride there do speed (cops seem to have only the signs "radar", but not the device) or have some music to kill down the wind noise. As I got closer to Tierra del Fuego, the number of motorcycle encounters have dramatically increased. I guess all travelers converge here, and makes me think: all roads (in S. America.) lead to Ushuaia.

At the end of the road on Tierra del Fuego, there is this little town, very attractive, Ushuaia. Fin del Mundo, End of the World. ... ??? ... it's a destination, true, but not the final. Like diamond on a gold ring, can be the source of a new beginning as well.

I spent some time here, despite of the high prices for anything (did not know at that time, that north from the 40th parallel everything is even more expensive) in the forest I found the same peaceful solitude I always enjoyed in the Canadian bush, and I made one more very honest friend: a horse, a very curious and intelligent animal. Life is full of surprises, and I was very surprised when this horse bit me in the back trying to graze off my green fleece coat.

I rode north on the roads where I planned to ride south: Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, El Calafate, Los Glaciales, Cueva de las Manos, Perito Moreno. I didn't go to Torres del Paine, because it was damn cold. Winter was coming fast, and although the winds are very cold and strong, they blow from the Antarctica, now they sort of helped me on my way north.

For the past few weeks I noticed, that my chain is getting very stretched out, and the sprockets are also "sharpened". One morning I made the chain just a little tighter, and as I started I heard some kkkrrrrr noise ... the chain broke the front sprocket teeth in half! If you have a loose chain, don't tighten it to the normal specs - now you know what could happen.

I was in the middle of the nowhere in the pampas riding towards Los Glaciales. I started to ride with the broken teeth sprocket. 100 more km, and started to jump. The only thing I could do is make the chain tighter, so it will not jump that often. Aha, but I was at the maximum ... I got to El Chalten, and as I looked around for a mechanic to shorten my chain, I got a rear flat! &@#$'~*!!!!! ... you translate this as you wish. ... I gave the wheel to the mechanics to fix the flat while I did the chain.

Do carry a chain cutter/breaker tool! I don't have one, yet, but that will be the first item I'll buy. Even with the master link I spent 80 min. to take the chain off. Then I had to wait, because it was lunch and siesta time. 2 hrs 30 min later the shop reopened and I could use the grinder. 2 hrs before sunset I was ready and so anxious to see how Csardas works that I started to ride although I planned for a cold night near my favorite peak, Cerro Torre. It is so great when the bike is all right, it is so bitter when there is something wrong, and this is so Tao - just like any other relationship.

Oily chain lasts longer, but - according to the Tao philosophy - will jump.

Dusty chain will stick better, but will it last to Comodoro Rivadavia? It did. Front 15t + Regina chain = 75 USD, Rear 43t = 30 USD. ... Mounted, and … gee, what a difference, this is a new bike!!! I cannot believe it!

 

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I road towards west in the Rio Negro area. If you read this report for advice, I have one for you: Avoid this area. It is not particularly beautiful, the whole valley is fertile farm land, millions of trucks transport fruits, veggies, boxes, organic manure, … the road is very narrow, and traffic is slow. Whoever wants to go faster, needs to pass in very short distances - risky business! 4 times happened that one truck was passing another not even minding that I am there in the incoming lane. This is a 400km section road that might lead you directly to God! Choose a different route.

When I got a flat in the rear tire, all I could say was: … I'm not going to tell you, what did I say. Then I had to figure out a way how to raise the bike in the middle of a sandy desert. Easy: drain the recently filled gasoline tank into the spare can, then find a small hump and lay down the bike. This way the rear wheel can be easily removed. Don't forget to loosen the nut on the axle. So far so good, but I have a Cheng Shin tire.

No problem, it is very hot. Right? … nope!!!

I bent my tire iron, and the damn thing still didn't come off. Along the road everywhere barb wire fence, no way I can hide my bike in the desert.

Yet I have to get to a "gomeria" to get it fixed. So I hide everything I have, placed in some scary bushes, and … when I was almost ready to leave with the first hitch, an 18 wheeler truck stops, looking at my bike. I walk back from the bushes. "Todo bien?" asked me the driver. There is no point trying to make up a story at a moment like this, so I told him how deep is the manure at the moment. "Goma de moto, no hay problema!" and in 5 min. he and his XXL size son helped me to take off the Cheng Shin. (This is a Chinese tire. Chinese people are tiny, I wonder how could they deal with a tire like this??? If it would have been made by a nation whose people are wearing XXL or larger clothing, I would understand, that for me, a Medium size guy this job is hopeless).

In about a half hour of heavy sweating and cursing on all kinds of languages, we managed to take off the tire. One shredded bolt caused the flat, and quickly made 3 holes on the inner tube. Cool, I fixed it with my spare tire patches. Another half hour of sweating for all three of us, and the tire was back. Inflate, … oh, nooooo!!!! Leaking! We looked at each other desperately, exhausted, … neither of us had the strength to do this again. Solution: Hugo Gonzales, the driver will take me and the rear wheel to the nearest town with a tire-shop to be fixed by rested professionals, while his son and daughter -in-law, Hugo and Marisa, will guard my bike.

The professionals were rested, but still took them 20 minutes to get the Cheng Shin tire off the rim. "Hm, goma dura" - said the old tire-master about 20 times. Then he discovered about 9 holes on the inner tube, so all together there were 14 on it. I think there is a fair amount of patches now on the tire, there are patches even on the patches. All was done in about

1 hour, and the price: 3 Argentine Peso (=3 USD), and Hugo Gonzales paid it, he just wouldn't let me pay! … see this little white dot of absolute goodness from Hugo Gonzales in this whole black tire torture? Nothing is more Tao than this.

The most I could do for them is to invite them all for a big dinner, and when we departed, we were as close to each other as we would have been friends for many-many years.

 

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Inca Bridge and its cool (not very) hot springs are excellent photo opportunities, just like Cerro Aconcagua with its 6960m (or so). Best time to see them is early morning time.

Mendoza and Cordoba are nice places, and in total contrast with the country side of the pampas. As I was riding westward, and reaching the Pampa Umeda, it rained. Constantly. In Cordoba I arrived completely soaked, and from then on I have not succeeded to dry myself. Csardas was choking from the water, I was shivering despite of the 20+ degree temperature. That's how I arrived in Buenos Aires. … yeah, rain-man is my middle name.

In Cordoba I have seen in the TV News that in Buenos Aires there are heavy rains and floods. Still! I have seen the same thing in Comodoro as well one week earlier. What's going on?

I rode to Buenos Aires for hours in rain and could not put a proper smile on my face. I looked around in the city while I searched for airplane ticket agencies. Beautiful city!!! Unfortunately the only info I could get was that bike transport info can be obtained from the airport. Okay. I rode there, but by the time I got there it was late afternoon, everybody left from their office. I decided to stay at the airport overnight (I had very little money left, so I had to save on whatever I could, like darn expensive hotels).

Next day morning shopped around for air fares for me and Csardas. Around noon I decided to go directly to Frankfurt with Lufthansa, because they proved to be by far the most helpful and also the cheapest among all the available companies. I got a flight reservation for Monday with Lufthansa at 14:50hrs departure time, and a Swissair for Tuesday at 10:35hrs. I booked Csardas for Monday to be wrapped and to be sent out on Wednesday with Lufthansa (no flight on Tuesday) Cool, so I got everything done until about 7:30pm. I started to cook and bivouacked one more night at the airport because I did not feel like riding for the evening to the city centre while it was pouring.

Next day, Saturday it was dry weather! What should I do? Go to downtown or do the 60,000 km overhaul on the bike? Because it was only 6am at that time, I decided to work on the bike. Another advice: do go out whenever you can, an overhaul can wait 100 more km. Why do I say that? Think Tao, but a' la Murphy! If something can go wrong, it will. I stripped a thread in the aluminum engine body with an engine-top bolt, @*^$% !!!!!. I was so careful, and I am quite sure that I didn't even reach the specified torque when it happened, yet it happened.

The only thing I could do is to clean the hole from leftover aluminum shreds, oil lightly the bolt with WD-40, and put it in with a proper mix of WeldBond. But this thing needs 24 hours to set completely. Therefore my whole Saturday and Sunday is busted! …. And I have barely seen anything from Buenos Aires, and Monday I'm flying away.

 

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Most of this report I typed on Saturday and Sunday at the airport, because there was nothing else to do. Internet can be accessed there on TeleCom communication stations for free (versus 4-6 USD/hr everywhere else) but the touch-screen computer will cut you off after 15 min.

Monday morning has arrived, and I took Csardas to the warehouse to check her in. I learned something during these MC shipping processes: There is a predefined weight-to-volume ratio, when you get the cheapest price on shipping something. If you are lighter than this weight-to-volume ratio, you pay the shipping fee based on Volume. If you are heavier then this ratio, you are charged by weight. So shipping a fully inflated hot-air-balloon or only a bucket of mercury could be the same price.

Therefore: I dismounted the three Pelican boxes, the front wheel, the mudguard and the handlebar, so the volume of my motorcycle was at the possible minimum, and reduced the weight of it to 160 kg, by removing the battery (later on, I have put that back, because one of the workers from there reminded me - not knowing why was removed at the first place o)

Guess how much did I pay for shipping Csardas from Buenos Aires to Frankfurt? 399 USD! Compared to the price I have paid from Panama to Quito, 461 USD (am I correct?), this is not a bad price! A word of caution: You need to get some wood (something cheep, 2x2 light pine is perfect) to build a crate around the bike, so they can put all kinds of other things above the bike. Cardboard will be provided by the warehouse as well as "thermo" - the plastic sticky foil, like the household cling- wrap, to wrap up the bike. I did the job myself, so they have not charged for that either. Senor Manuel and Christian both speak perfect Spanish, English and German, too. I will enter all the details about this and the Panama-Quito shipping into the database on www.horizonsunlimited.com.

I was ready with the bike in time, and I got to the check-in counter at 15:25hrs. "A donde vienes?" - asked a totally bored old man who seemingly didn't even belonged there. "A Frankfurt con Lufthansa"

"Ahora? Now?" he asked me. Yes, the plane, but I don't have time to chitchat now, because the plane leaves in 25 min.

"Where is your ticket?" He acts like he is the check-in clerk, so I gave him my VISA card. "You don't have a ticket?"

"No, I want to buy it now, like I was instructed at the office where I have made my reservation."

"The ticket has to be bought at the ticket counter."

"Where is it?"

"Over there, but it is closed now, the clerk is having his lunch time and Mate break"

"Whaaaaat????? My plane leaves in 20 minutes, and I have to miss that because somebody is drinking mate?" … he just shook a shoulder, and turned away from me. What can I say, I was pissed off! I tried to talk to somebody there, a girl in Lufthansa uniform tried to contact that Mate drinking donkey on radio, but didn't work. 10 min. to departure, and I was about to cry, totally helpless, nobody gave a damn for my western ideas of how should one work when is in business hours … 5 min to departure I stormed into washroom, and showered from the tap. People around were looking weird at me, but I didn't give a damn for their ideas of how should one take a shower when there isn't one available.

 

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One more day at Ezeize Airport, in Buenos Aires, one more night spent on a hard wood bench, 20 more hours wasted. According to the ideas of Tao, something was good about it, but at that time I could not figure it out. I missed a plane, so on Tuesday I left from Ezeize with Swiss Air, for about 1000 USD (one way, and 100 USD more expensive that Lufthansa would have been).

In Zurich I was so tired, that I fell asleep sitting in front of the entry gate, and the plane to Frankfurt left without me. … at that moment I was very angry with myself. I quickly rescheduled my flight (100 USD more!), and e-mailed to my Friend about the change. Tao, I know, but what's good in all this? When I have arrived in Frankfurt, my Friend told me, that he was away, and just barely made it to the airport NOW. If I would have arrived yesterday or 4 hours earlier, he would have not been able to pick me up. Tao…..told-ya!

Next day after we bought a one month insurance from ADAC (German automobile club) we went to pick up the bike, but it wasn't there yet. Where is it?

Dakar. What? My bike went without me to Curacao, and now to Dakar???? I envied my bike. (You, too, eh?) … The following day Csardas has arrived, got it out from the warehouse, we have put together nicely, …. but the bike did not start. …. ???? …. I thought about starter relay fault or starter circuit relay fault, but as it turned out only the battery was dead, and the low voltage acted up like a relay problem. I think I will have to get a new battery, because doesn't hold the charge for longer time than a few days. There must be a short in one of the cells.

I spent a few wonderful days in Frankfurt, but I had to go, I had other Friends waiting for me, and my parents are extremely inpatient to see me again. I started to ride towards Munchen. That, too is great city, and meeting up with my cavediver Friend was again very good (I have planed one more Friend to visit, but I did not have the address. Sorry, Tomes, I'm really sorry!)

I heard some kind of grinding noise from behind, but I could not identify the source of it, until the morning checkup: the rear wheel "corona" got loose, and started to grind into the aluminum fork. Seems like a spacer is missing, that would hold the whole assembly in the rubber spacer. It was Saturday. To go? Or to stay until Monday? Didn't look very bad, so I decided to fix it in Hungary, when I will have some more time. Let's go!

Finally I have arrived into Hungary, then in Kecskemet. My Mom as she saw me, suddenly didn't know whether she should open the gate for me or just hug me and never let me go. Bogancs, the 5 months old Hungarian Puli puppy got scared from the motorbike, and didn't want to show up for quite some time. Later my father, too, have arrived and we all were overwhelmed by this indescribable joy of being together again, that you will never feel, unless you leave for a long time.

 

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I could spend only a week at Home in Hungary, because June was waiting for me in Singapore. I stored Csardas in the garage to be in good shape when I go back to fix her. We have traveled 6 months and 50ooo km together, suffered many falls, seen many wonderful things, soaked in swift and muddy rivers and rain, we know what is rock and roll, shake, waltz, and we learned about Argentine Ta(ng)o, we traveled for 6 months while we became friends for life.

Now I am in Singapore, but the Tao isn't just Argentine. Everything is all right now, … yet … when I'm alone for a moment, I can feel the engine vibrating under me, I can smell luring scents in the wind, and when I see an incoming big, traveler bike, my left hand unconsciously swings in the air:

"Hello Buddy! I already know who WE are."

See you on/off the Roads!

Cheers, Istvan

 

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Story and photos copyright © Istvan Szlany 2001.
All Rights Reserved.
Webmaster:
Grant Johnson

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