December 06, 2005 GMT
On the road again

There's nothing positive to say about the coastal road from Florianopolis to Porto Alegre. If you expect beautiful sea-and-mountain views - forget it. It's largely a long truck queue through an industrialized plain with some hills in the background.

I couldn't do a long time without being on the road. Actually being on the road is kind of addictive. The island of Santa Catarina is a lovely place, the Pousada is really homely, every dinner was a feast and ice cold beer was always available - but with the weather not really being beach weather and a few thousand road kilometers waiting for me until end of January, I decided to hit the road again and move southwards.

Since the sun kept hiding behind the clouds I cancelled the beach 'do Rosa' and headed towards the mountains instead. After some 25 kilometers of ascending dirt road I reached the some 600m deep Itaimbezinho Canyon with a view of an impressive waterfall.

While I continued my way into the Sierra Gaucha, riding at an altitude of some 800m into the late afternoon, it was getting cold on the bike. So I was happy when I reached my destination, a small town called Canela in the middle of the green hills.

This town is mainly characterized by italian and some german and swiss immigrants. It is neat and clean with some nice bars, restaurants and a mix of architecture that makes you believe you are somewhere in South Tirol or Swizerland.

This is what actually characterizes the entire South of Brazil: You don't actually feel like being in Brazil since the infrastructure and the people are so European that it almost bores you: The asphalt roads are in perfect condition, the drivers have some respect for each other and for the pedestrians and rarely use their horn. The towns and cities are clean with asphalt roads and you find all comodities of civilization that you are used to. You do feel as safe (or even safer) as in any place in southern or central Europe.

So I was almost happy when I got into wild and untamed Uruguay - which is pure irony since Uruguay is even more European than southern Brazil - apart from the fact that it's very scarcely populated. The most shocking fact about Uruguay is that the drivers show a kind of aggressive kindness and consideration towards pedestrians: They already stop and wait for you to cross the road before you yourself know that you want to do so.

However, their attitude towards other drivers is not that kind - it might happen to you on a highway with one lane for each direction and within a no-passing-zone, that two cars overtake you in parallel, which means one in lane 2 and the other on the sidestrip - one at an estimated speed of 120 and the other at 150 with 90 kph allowed officially. But of course these are all Argentines ;-) - who have a very bad reputation in Uruguay.

Since still no beach weather showed up, I drove more or less directly to Montevideo - which turned out to be a real capital and not bad at all - in particular if you compare it to Paraguay's capital Asunción - the world's 'deadest' capital, the 'city of the living dead'. Montevideo has some interesting and impressive architecture, interesting bars, a lot of water around and restaurants and friendly people - apart from my hotel receptionist. However I only stayed two nights and then continued my way towards Colonia del Sacramento, which is a really nice, calm and friendly place with lots of beautiful colonial houses, long beaches (yeah, here finally the weather got kind of 'beachy') and loads of trees along the roads - so actually a place to stay.

Anyway, adventure is waiting for me - and for this I have to return to Argentina - so tomorrow morning I'll take the ferry to Buenos Aires.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 11:57 PM GMT
December 12, 2005 GMT
Buenos Aires

No, I don't want to die in a car - this would really be too embarrasingly uncool for a motorcycle adventurer like me. But I felt very close to this early end when returning from the asado with Jorge, Maria José, Juanjo and Beli in Mercedes, some 100 km northwest of Buenos Aires.

I had met them on the road on my way from Salta to San Pedro de Atacama, shortly after starting my trip through South America - and we kept in contact. I had to take the bus to Mercedes, since my bike was not yet finished with the chain and tyre replacement. I stayed at Jorge and Maria José's place some 3 km outside the centre of Mercedes. They have a small house and a big family with 5 children - just like my parents have 5 children. They are all great people and the asado was absolutely delicious. Mercedes is a nice, green, clean, calm and surprisingly rich town northwest of Buenos Aires. Many youngsters who grew up here now work in Buenos Aires and spend their weekends with their friends and family in Mercedes. So does Santiago who took me in his car back to BA. What was planned to be a 1 hour ride turned out to be a really nerve-wracking adventure, since I got a real feeling of argentine driving style. Sunday was the last day of a prolonged weekend (puente), so the road was packed and an accident with a truck involved led to the complete traffic collapse. So since patience it not an argentine driver's principal virtue, they converted the two-lane motorway into a 5-lane one, simply by using the emergency lane and - since the road is not delimited by crash barriers (Leitplanken) - they just add two dirt road lanes by driving though the dust and meadow (which we did for at least an hour). After we passed the crashed truck, the rest of the journey was a kind of roller coaster ride on a three-lane highway with a lot of lane-changing and overtaking from all technically possible sides at an approximately 50% higher speed than the rest of the cars. To my surprise this led only once to a dangerous situation, which I missed out, since I had the eyes closed most of the time.

Buenos Aires itself is a nice and surprisingly lively place with really friendly people and most remarkably (I think I said this before) with the highest density of the most beautiful women in Southen America up to now. The difference to Brazil (Sao Paulo / Florianopolis) it that here even without all the standard weaponry like push-ups, high-heels and make-up you get caught by these amazingly beautiful fine-lined faces and glaring dark eyes.

Apart from that Buenos Aires has an inviting restaurant or bar with huge windows virtually at every street corner - and between them, it has (supposedly) the widest avenue in the world (with 11 lanes - in each direction - delimited by some green strips), loads of nice 1920s architecture, fine squares and load of green spaces. However the poverty is more obvious here than in Sao Paulo, many walkways are full of dogshit and in some areas it is only too obvious that money is missing. I was surprised to find that air pollution in BA seems to be much worse than in Sao Paulo and that in general Sao Paulo seems at least as safe and a lot richer than BA. But BA has one striking advantage - I understand the people and they understand me (at least languagewise).

So hopefully this afternoon my bike will be equipped with new tyres, chain and sprockets, so the journey can continue tomorrow morning, heading south for Bahia Blanca (close to Viedma). I am not yet sure wether or not I want to stay there for five days until the motorcycle traveller meeting starts. I have only some 6 weeks left before going to Mexico and if the decision would be either Ushuaia or Viedma - I'd opt for Ushuaia.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 01:54 PM GMT
December 17, 2005 GMT

The first 500 km were the worst. The second 500 km were also the worst. And then I slightly lost my enthusiasm... This is probably how Marvin the paranoid android would describe the long ride from BA to Bariloche.

Cordasco Motohaus had finally finished the tyre and chain replacement on Monday (as promised), including a (free) thourough cleansing of the bike - and they even had removed the rests of the transport stickers from the windscreen and polished it. The bike looked gorgeous, standing on the workshop's assembly rack. She remained that clean only for a few km, then the scott oiler and the short rainfall made her look again like a man's bike ;-))

I got the bike back on Monday afternoon and it seemed I had to spend the night from Monday to Tuesday in a different hotel, since the Marbella's reservation told me that a prolongation was impossible since it was fully booked. However Daniel, the great helpful and friendly reception guy, magically found a room for me. So I did not have to move my hundreds of heavy boxes and bags to a different hotel.

With Daniel's instructions I easily found my way out of BA, heading towards Bahia Blanca at the Atlantic coast. The plan was - as the weather would allow it, I would stay at the beach there for some days and then join the traveller meeting in Viedma. Petrus decided differently and the weather was rather worsening - so the next day I headed directly towards Bariloche. In Bahia Blanca I had a drink with Adriano who's mother is Italian and who had spent a few months working in Italia. Adriano really startled me when he told me that he would not like to work in Italy since the peope there (Ancona) are working too hard and too much. Well this does not really conform with the German view of Italy ;-))

The roads south of BA are mainly straightforward and any slight bending of the road (which may occur every few hundred km) is advertised like a hairpin curve. So just not to fall asleep I kept telling me stories I didn't know yet (ok, old joke) and even started to sing a couple of songs of DIE AERZTE, since these are the only songs I know by heart (apart from the first strophes of HOCH AUF DEM GELBEN WAGEN, which I refused to sing. Finally out of pure boredom I even started to hail truck drivers going in the opposite direction by turning up the headlights. Up to now I had got used to being hailed by every mabe 5th truck on the road, becoming more frequent the further you get south. In Germany only bikers hail each other, you don't ever hail a truck. Now I did and got almost a 100% response. The drivers seemed really glad to be hailed (and woken up?) by a martian like me and apart from responding with their lights, happily waved at me when passing by.

Finally I reached the Andean foothills at Zapala and headed southwards through a landscape that got steadily more impressive: The snow capped vulcano Lanin with the beautiful lake and forests around and then the 7 lakes road from Junin through San Martin and Villa la Angostura to Bariloche. Bariloche itself is one of the most touristy places in Argentina, but in December it is still bearable.

My host recommended me the "Aerosilla Cerro Campanario", which is a chair lift up to a small hill, situated some 15 km west of Bariloche. This lift isn't indicated in my guidebook but the view from above is absolutely gorgeous. My host claimed it's one of the world's most beautiful views and I think he hasn't been exaggerating: Chains of snow capped peaks in the background of a landscape of blue lakes and lagoons and numerous green islands. Just incredible. Again: Forget photographs, go and see it yourself. However the most important feature of Bariloche was the lavanderia (Laundry) just around the corner, since I had run out of underpants... ;-)

My way from Bahía Blanca at the Atlantic Coast to Bariloche at the foot of the Andes is an example of perfect project preparation and strict implementation: First I wanted to do the trip in one day. Then Adriano told me that it's 1200 km and I decided to go to Neuque first (500km) and then to Bariloche. Then, when having lunch in Junin de los Andes and leafing through the guidebook while waiting for the lunch to be served, I realized that I probably had to visit the parque Lanin and see the volcano of the same name. I quickly checked at the (very helpful) tourist info for the best place to go and then returned some five km to take the 100 km gravel road through the park. When passing through Junin the 2nd time I realized that it was already time to look for a place to spend the night and stayed at the Hotel Milla Piuké, which was one of the best Hotels with the best value of the entire trip. So finally instead of one it took me three days to get to Bariloche - but I saw some great places. I am here to enjoy and that's what I did.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 07:08 PM GMT
December 27, 2005 GMT
El Chaltén

Driving from Bariloche to El Chaltén and Perito Moreno you have pass - apart from some beautiful national parks of lakes and mountains - some 700 km of dirt road through the steppe, with only very few villages on the way - and even less filling stations and hotels. The landscape is partly impressively beautiful, partly so amazingly boring that it fascinates you and urges you to stop and listen to the absolute silence, smell the air of pure and apparently virgin nature.

Having in mind the amazing distances to the next telephone, you take extra care for your tyres and the entire motorcycle, since it would be rather inconvenient to have to camp hundreds of km away from civilization, not knowing where to get a mechanic and how long this would take. The dirt road is partly in very good shape, so you can go at some 60 to 80 kpm or even more - depending on the risk you are willing to take. However it seems that Argentina is going well - all along the way huge streches of the road are being paved and it won´t take too long until all major roads in Argentine's south are covered by a perfect asphalt layer: The time for the real adventurers is running out...

But still there are some real adventurers - you might call them heroes or just lunatics - people who cover these endless distances on bicicles - fighting hundreds of kilometers meter by meter through rarely changing and mostly uncivilized landscapes, on difficult gravel roads, sometimes with rain and nearly always against strong winds always coming from the wrong direction. I overtook four of them and they did not look very happy nor did they look like willing to have a light conversation. I talked to one of them who had to walk and push his bike due to the strong winds - he was so fed up that he wanted to throw his bike into the ocean when he would arrive in Ushuaia - but he was still able to smile :-) I don't know why they do this but there must be a really strinking reason for punishing oneself so severely.

Leaving the beautiful solitariness of the Patagonian steppe I approached the impressive massif of El Chaltén, the "smoking mountain". The last 100 km on the road to El Chaltén are really impressive - if you are lucky with the weather and the time of day. I was - it was sunny with a few clouds around the mountains and the whole scenery was immersed in the amazing light of the setting sun. Perfect conditions for beautiful pictures. Now it just depends on the photographer :-)

The village of El Chaltén is situated in the Glaciers National Park (Parque Nacional los Glaciares) and is one of the most touristy and most expensive places I have seen in Argentina up to now. Since I arrived lately and did not have the energy to look around a lot, I ended up in a nicely looking but quite expensive hotel with good beds but a very poor quality in detail.

Usually you come here to do some trekking. However this would mean backpacking and spending some nights in refugios or on campgrounds - of which I am no great fan. For camping you need to carry huge backpacks with heavy equipment, which really diminishes the ability to enjoy the landscape. In refugios you have to stay in damp dormitories with several other sweating and snoring people and stinking socks and without oxygen - and you have to do a reservation in advance. Apart from that I was quite pissed off with the contrast between the price and quality levels here, so I left the next day, heading further south, to the famous town of Calafate, with the much more famous Perito Moreno glacier.

Posted by Winne Lichtblau at 01:47 AM GMT

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