Thursday, February 26, 2009

26 Feb. If up north it was beef, beef and more beef then down here it is sheep and more sheep. This country is no place for a vegetarian. We walked the town today and every second restaurant had sheep carcases splayed out on racks roasting round a central fire. Eating is obviously big here – the rest of the shops seem to sell tourist essentials like plastic penguins (bought one), stickers (yes) and other stuff (no).

I lost a day yesterday, the aftermath of a serious case of food poisoning, and am a bit tender today. I'm not the only one glad of a couple of rest days, there is at least one other in the same predicament.

It's around 9 degrees C outside and the heaters are on all day long. Anoraks are a popular summer dress item and suitably togged up the tourists shuffle on and off the boats that take them out into the harbour for the obligatory viewing of the seals, penguins and lighthouse and their own special Kodak moment. At around NZ$150 I will go to Dunedin instead.

We lost Jose our Guatemalan friend today. He picked up with a Brazilian on the biggest BMW you have ever seen and headed back north. Jose was great company despite a language barrier.

We finish the day with the two Brazilians accompanying us cooking up a BBQ Brazilian style which I think means a 3 hour dinner. At least they got beef. Tomorrow we head back north.

24 Feb – Ushuaia, Argentina

We are here at long last – it's been a bit of a mission. The days and distances have not been long but the endless featureless landscape has been a chore at 100 kph, not to mention the ceaseless wind. The ride from Rio Grande to here has been the one exception with towering mountains, alpine lakes and no wind. My initial misgivings over the bland pastoral landscape and the expectation of it lasting forever were misplaced but I suspect the flat will be back. For the moment there are signs of an indigenous bush much the same as you find around Horopito on the National Park side of Ruapehu. I presume this bush once covered the whole island and has been mostly cleared for pasture. The bush shows considerable die-back which a Dutch research student here at the hostel says is caused by changes in hydrology. The ghostly scene is aided by dead trees in their hundreds that have not rotted.

We also had a visit from a member of the 54 South Motorcycle Club, clearly the worlds most southerly, who was a great help in pointing us to various service agents – an auto electrician for a BMW starter motor and a tyre changing service.

Guzilia had her birthday yesterday, complete with cake and candle plus happy birthday sung in 3 languages.

23 Feb – Rio Grande, Argentina

We have reached what the map calls 'Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego'. There is a short hectic ferry ride to get to the island. If the landscape further North appeared barren then this place beats it hands down but for all that there are sheep grazing the paddocks.

We crossed back into Chile for a while then back into Argentina again which added to the days ride experience. The second crossing was later in the afternoon when the wind was at its peak and boy did it blow. The border post felt God forsaken when we crossed but what it would be like in winter I cannot imagine. The wind is so strong in the later afternoon it seems to me to be unwise to ride. Certainly the trucks attempt to be off the road by this time.

Some of the group are having tyre problems that will need addressing very soon. My tyres are holding up well and will see me to the end and my bike is also holding up well but the Scott Oiler died long ago. I've had to resort to washing items of clothing each night because laundry facilities are scarce and as a result have way to many clothes on board.

We are seeing other bikers on the road as we near Ushuaia, a German and a Dutchman yesterday and we seem to have picked up a Guatemalan who is going to tag along for a few days.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

21 Feb. Rio Gallegos, Argentine

There has not been much to report in the past couple of days because we have just been hauling distance through country much the same as in the past reports. One night was spent in a rather nice seaside town, San Julian, that had put some effort into improving the look of their space. There was a scale replica of the Nao Victoria, the only surviving ship from Magellan's armada of 1519, sent from Spain to search for a sea passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Of the five ships and 265 men only one ship and 18 returned to Spain. The Armada sheltered in the bay of San Julian. It is an extremely well done exhibit and we were pleased we visited it. Not so well done however is a tribute to the airmen of the Argentinian Air Force involved in the Malvinas (Falklands) war. In itself the old jet (Mk5 Mirage) is OK but the fuselage is emblazoned with the names of three Royal Navy ships presumably claimed as kills. A Google search shows all three ships survived the war.

Quote of the day from here: “this would be a nice place in summer” - er I think it is summer.

Today we attended a BBQ on a sheep farm. The wife is from Hastings and met her Argentinian husband while studying at Lincoln University. It is a huge farm and has been in the family for a number of generation – the ancestors being the source of sheep farming in Patagonia. Stocking rate 4 ha per sheep. It was a delightful afternoon.

Tomorrow we fit tyres to a couple of bikes and make our way further south. With two border crossing in store I think it will be a long day. It is also generally much colder now to the extent that our hostel has the heaters going during the day. The farmers told us that the coldest they ever experienced in winter was -27 degrees. Ouch.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

18 Feb – Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina

The rain is back but as they say in the trail bike world, at least it will keep the dust down. Thankfully the wind has gone also so the ride back to the tar seal was much easier than yesterday – that is until we got to one of the dreaded Desvio. These are bulldozed diversion 'roads' next to the one being built/repaired. They are often as rough as guts and today being wet the dirt sections were as slippery as hell. There was not one of us that did not take a temporary unintended direction and in one case with hilarious results.

As we neared Rivadavia it was clear by the number of oil wells that this was Argentina's Texas. Petrol prices have also declined.

Com. Rivadavia is on the East coast of Argentina so we have effectively ridden from one side of South America to the other. From here it is straight south until we get to the end.

It would be nice to report the ride as having gone through majestic mountains and great forests but sadly no – at least not yet. In general the country is dry and baron save for tussock and the odd bit of ground hugging scrub. Now and then we will pass a lake. We have been told to expect this sort of environment all the way down.

The roads are hit and miss. The newly surfaced ones are nice but many are badly patched with pot holes. I'm not sure they are well made in the first place – the seal is just to thin and they are being patched before median etc lines are painted on them. Maintenance is not in the Argentinian vocabulary so they tend to build things and then leave them to slowly fall apart. The sidewalks are simply dangerous – broken surfaces, protrusions and open man holes and drains. Eyes down and looking. As a pedestrian you also take your life in your hands crossing the road. Never a dull moment here, everyone is alert and wide awake – your life might depend on it.

Next day - 19 Feb. There is an old man sitting here having his breakfast. He has the tanned look of a man who has seen many a year in the sun. He is brown but not craggy. He stoops slightly and shuffles to his seat with well considered steps. His gray baggy trousers are tucked into his perfectly clean black high-healed boots. They are the sort of boots you see country horsemen wearing, the kind that have been worn for generations by traditional Argentinians. His blue shirt is open at the neck and he wears a crevate and over the top of the shirt is a green blazer with a handkerchief in the pocket. To finish off he wears a black beret. He looks dapper in the Perot style and in age he has not lost his pride. I am tempted to take his photo but as usual my camera is not to hand and besides it would probably be seen as an invasion. Unlike Perot he now spreads the butter on his bread using the handle of the teaspoon, then a little jam and noisily slurps his tea. I wonder what stories he could tell. My friends come clattering into the room and the moment is lost and he is temporarily ignored by me and completely by my friends. When I look up again he has gone.

Today is another of the rest days built into the schedule and tonight the other group join us. The hotel is managed by a Frenchman who is a top class chef and he has agreed to cook for us tonight. He also promises to include lots of vegetables, something we all sorely miss. Funny how we are all hanging out for a good Chinese. Oh and he used to own a Harley Davidson. All is well.

17 Feb – Alto Rio Senguer, Argentina

Two words, ripio and viento (gravel and wind). Words of horror to some of our party. It's not as if the gravel was overly bad but combined with very high winds from the side made the journey perilous. Two of our party bit the dust and one turned back. Ruta 40 is living up to its reputation again. Anyway a local farmer was kind enough to load one of the bikes on the back of her pickup and carry the hapless rider to our nights accommodation.

Which incidentally is an old hotel (Hotel La Tradicion) on a dusty road in a back blocks town. Ranchero's in traditional dress ride their horses past the front door. The rooms are lovely and right now the proprietor is firing up the asado for a traditional Argentinian BBQ which is largely just heaps of beef and bugger all else.

We are riding down a huge valley at the foot of the Andes. The Andes, which is now much lower than up north, to our right and a set of high rolling hills to the left. The horizon at one point was so vast you could almost see the curvature of the earth. We seem to be in open range country – no fences but with the odd cattle stop across the road. Not much sign of cattle though.

The cold of yesterday has gone and the temperature is rather pleasant. We have ridden just on 3,000 km so far.

Monday, February 16, 2009

16 Feb -Esquel, Argentina

Yesterday was a lay day which we used to do a bit of maintenance on the bikes, laundry etc. A small ride in the afternoon around the lake. The other group arrived late afternoon. During the night a storm went through – wind and rain and a major drop in temperature. Sunny this morning with a light dusting of snow on the hills (actually the Andes).

This mornings ride was through the majestic mountains of national park Nahuel Huapi. Beautiful scenery but with overcast gray skies with black clouds threatening rain. Fast dropping temperatures soon had the thermals out. Hard to believe a couple of days ago we were sweltering in 30 degree temperatures. Once past El Bolson the wind got serious. For the most part it was from behind but when it came from the side it was a major effort to stay on the road. I think this might be an indication of what is to come as we go further south.

A couple of us arrived at our accommodation first and had the battle of the language. Check-in spoke no English and our Spanish was no better. We (the group) met another biker on the way here and despite the keenness of both sides to communicate, it largely proved hopeless. Somehow smiling like retards and gesticulating wildly just doesn't do it. We are strangely mute in a land of wonderful lively people with a zest for life. We pass through their world as if in a bubble.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

14 Feb - San Carlos de Bariloche, Agentina

A 400-odd km ride today for a total of around 2000km to date. At the start it looked as if it was to be another boring desert ride but in the end it turned out quite nice. We even had corners, hills and clouds. We have revisited Ruta 40 but this time it was all tar seal and we seem to have left the Police checkpoints behind. We were stopped three times recently, each time all the documents were inspected by police seemingly just going through the motion. Political checks they are, so I don't know who they are looking for. Not us old farts.

The boys were good to me today – they insist they did my laundry in the middle of the night. This was because the town water supply was shut off in the middle of the wash cycle and I expressed intense displeasure over it.

The traffic is getting a little lighter as we head south but the driving manners have not improved. At least wannabe bikers in automobiles still wave like mad. We thought we had met some kindred spirits today in the form of another group of bikers. Germans – oh well.

Very little wild life except a couple of Rhea.

We have arrived in a cool little town on the edge of a huge lake – it's sort of like Queenstown – and our hostel is a stones throw from the lake. The other group join us tomorrow so we get to swap notes. If we plan things well we will crank up the BBQ (asado).

Sight of the day: a guy in the middle of the longest road you can imagine with a bucket of paint and a roller painting the dotted centre line by hand.

Friday, February 13, 2009

13 Feb – Neuquen, Argentina

In the last couple of days we have knocked off around 900 km through exceedingly boring and hot country. It has actually been unbelievably hot and to think I planned for a winter-like ride. The roads are long and straight and generally speaking, hard work on a trail bike.

This is the first country I've been in where ordinary motorists wave and toot at motorcyclists. Kind of nice really.

Neuquen (new keen) is quite a large city and we arrived just on the afternoon rush hour traffic only to find our booked accommodation had been cancelled. Got it sorted OK and now we sit under a canopy of grape vines tucking into olives, cheese and sausage while the wood fired asado is heating up. Like I said, these Argies sure know how to live.

Quote of the day: "I've got enough for the beer - not so sure about the rent"

12 Feb – Chos Malal, Argentina

A long 500km day with a large dose of gravel to make it interesting. There was a time when the road was sealed but years of neglect has taken its toll. The country is high plains desert so it is largely featureless and the wind whips up clouds of dust. Boring would best describe the days ride. The one exciting moment was nearly pole-axing a couple of donkeys standing in the middle of the road. They certainly weren't impressed by my presence and just stood there. The gravel did not suit all of our party but nobody bit the dust.

We had lunch in a delightful little tree studded town after about 200 km. None of us filled up which was a big mistake. The towns on the map were more like dusty two-house “villages” with horses, dogs and donkeys – and no gas. Three of us made it to the next gas station and three ran out en route.

Tonight we are in Chos Malal, a dusty desert town with a blast furness wind blowing. Spent the early evening at a cafe with the usual round of cervezas then off to a BBQ (asado) restaurant. The Argentinians certainly live well.

Quote of the day: “No problem, I'll fill up at the next town”.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

11 Feb – San Rafael, Argentina

The usual confusion getting out of town but we managed to find the correct route and a gas station. The clue seemed to be to follow the signs to San Rafael.

It's hot as hell here. My guess is around 30 – 35 degrees and getting to sleep at night is a mission.

The ride to San Rafael was not very long but it was sure boring – thank God for an MP3 player. Off to the right are the Andes and off to the left are low hills and we are in this baking plain in the middle. It's like Texas with hills. The road has become a standard dual carriageway and some of the vehicles are pure POS. The Argentinians drive like Kiwi's – they drive fast, pass on yellow lines, blind corners and generally take no notice of the road rules.

We got our first sign of the famous (infamous?) Ruta 40 – and it was gravel. Today we turned off onto route 143 but we will meet Ruta 40 again soon.

Quote of the day: “don't worry I have the route memorised”.

10 Feb - Mendoza, Argentina

This is a very pretty city with tree lined streets and an alfresco dining culture. Our hostel is right in the middle of it all. Prices in the shops appear to be much the same as in NZ.

The other group arrived late this afternoon and we filled the evening Pizza, wine and beer and toddled off to bed for another 2am nap. A good local Malbec (as in Mendoza) at the restaurant was about $12 NZ .

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

9 Feb – Mendoza, Argentina

Today might well be the highlight of the whole ride for many – riding over the 4,000 metre Andes and the spectacular switchback road on the Chilean side. It's a busy road because it is the primary crossing between the two countries with end to end 18 wheelers and tour buses plus streams of cars. For all its height it was not cold at the top. We took a side trip at the top to visit a monument, Christo the Redentor de Los Andes, a Catholic must see. The road up was steep as hell and dirt. My trail bike got up OK but the determined Catholics were taking their cars up.

Crossing into Argentina was no problem save for the language thing. We filled out all the forms the best we could given we could not read the questions. Once out of the mountains the ride was slightly boring, not helped by the down pour that soaked us through. As you approach Mendoza you pass through endless fields of grape vines – this area is famous for its wine.

We sampled some last night along with the local beer at a BBQ put on by the daughter of Graciela, an Argentinian woman with our small group. It was a thoroughly enjoyable night and we arrived back at our hostel at 2 am. We spend 2 nights here as we wait for the group behind us to catch up.

8 Feb – San Filipe, Chile

It took us a while to navigate through Vina Del Mar and find the route to our nights stop. We never did find the fast route so ended up on a route that took us through all the back streets of the various towns and villages. There were many stops looking for directions and it was a very hot day. Some of these towns are pretty rough and many places look abandoned. One little collection of adobe buildings just down the road from us looked totally abandoned when we rode through them this afternoon but tonight we went past them again on our way to dinner. This time it was a busy little community with people out and about for the evening.

Dinner was at Restaurant La Ruca, an apparently historic Restaurant (based on the age of the photo's on the wall), with a dirt floor. Nice meal washed down with a can of beer.

Tomorrow it's off to Mendoza which is about 300 km away and in Argentina.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

7 Feb – Valparaiso Chile
We have been in Valparaiso for the past couple of days. Friday was devoted to dealing with the Customs people to get the bikes released. Then it was off to the wharf to unpack them. Two bikes would not start (flat batteries) and later two dumped their fuel all over the gas station forecourt (dry seals in the petrol pumps) and one had no fuel at all. Actually it wasn't bad. We had a shipping company rep walk us through things and she was a blast – a chubby good-time Gal who took us to the pub for lunch and was keen to organise a BBQ for the evening. Some people have great jobs.
Today (Saturday) a couple of us did the tourist thing with a bus ride around the points of interest including Vina del Mar which is clearly the up market suburb of this town. We are staying in a nice backpacker hostel in a very poor part of town. This is a very old city and buildings in our area are around 100 years old and a little run down. There are street hawkers everywhere selling everything from half used cans of of stuff to new clothing. They set themselves up on the footpath by laying out mats and wait for passers buy to be attracted. Further down the road it's more organised and that was impressive to say the least. Mostly fruit and vege, fish (which adds a most distinctive aroma to the mix) and flowers. It's wall to wall people and noise. We, more me really, had lunch there, a cheese sandwich and a bag of peaches plus we lugged a huge and heavy water melon back up the hill to home.
Sight of the day – a dog. There are hundreds of stray dogs here and they are tolerated by the local human population. This dog was sitting in front of the butcher shop sign all the world as if it was reading the price list prior to selecting its cut.
The last two of our group arrived from Santiago this afternoon and are now enjoying their first cerveza (beer) before we head off to a resteraunt for a bonding session. Actually the cerveza will probably be enough. There is a small hole in the wall bottle store over the road where we are buying the stuff from. I don't think they have ever sold so much beer and wine in one go. Beer is about $2.00 a can and the wine about $3.50 a bottle. For $5.00 you can get an excellent Cab Sav which right now the noisy buggers around me are giving a nudge to.
Tomorrow we move on.