Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Buenos Aires

The guide tells me that a quarter of the total population of Argentina live in this city and its immediate surrounds. Buenos Aires, as we know it, is actually Capital Federal which is why the damned place would not appear on my GPS. Buenos Aires is a Provence not a city. It is what Washington State is to Washington DC which, if you don't know, is in Maryland. Yea it confused me as well.
After spending weeks in dusty and broken Argentinian towns this place is like a breath of fresh air. If nothing else the streets aren't paved in dog shite and you can walk on the footpath without fear of dropping down a hole left by some sloppy worker. I'm staying in Recoleta, one of THE suburbs in the central city so the streets are lined with trees and flowers and expensive cars. There are tons of restaurants and high end "high street" shops. I seems to be the in thing to have your signs in English so you see the likes of 'London Shop', 'Gracious Living', 'Kitchen and Bathroom'. In the evenings the polite society walk their dogs. There is still the seedy aspect too. Last night I got lost coming home and walked past a couple and a small child bedding down for the night on the pavement. Least they won't be cold - overnight lows are currently 22 degrees.
I've parked the bike for the 5 nights I'm here so I just took tour packages of the city and surrounds. So with no stress on my part I got to see all the important places (buildings, squares, monuments and the like). A couple of things stand out: they still revere Ava Peron and her likeness appears everywhere, Papa Francisco rates highly and his former parish Cathedral is a must see and on a Sunday there is a 'market'. It's eight blocks of artisan ware and if there is a group of people and products I cannot identify with, here it was - all eight blocks of it. There was a group of guys banging on drums and making a hua of a racket - I think they were football hooligans with no game to go to. At another place there was an elderly chap (see photo) standing on a box, guitar in hand, singing songs of a lost era. I thought he was quite nice actually. And the highlight, in a city renowned for its Tango (which incidentally is pretty much confined to pay for entry establishments/shows), was a couple demonstrating their skill to an appreciative audience.
No city tour would be complete without a visit to Caminito, the old port area where the houses are painted in garish colours. The tour guide was a fan of La Boca fut bol (soccer) club so I'm not sure whether it was the stadium he took us to or Caminito. I had my photo taken with a mannequin of some soccer dude. I almost had to line up, he was so important, and I haven't a clue as to who he is. There were wall to wall tourists and with good reason; the place is quite special.
Done with the city, the next item on the agenda was to tour the 'islands', as they are called, on the river Parana. The bus took us out to Tigre where we caught the boat. The high points of land in the river delta have houses built on them. They have no services such as electricity, water etc but every thing they need comes by boat. So there is a supermarket boat, a rubbish boat, a doctor boat and so forth. It all looks quite idyllic but the day was hot and humid and I bet the mosquito's at sunset would be hellish. Judging by the number of houses for sale and those abandoned I gather the novelty soon wears off.  However there were huge numbers of day trippers picnicking at every vantage point along the rivers edge. It was a splendid afternoon.
So ended  a few days of rest in Buenos Aires - a really nice city.
Our street

The petals open and close at the beginning and ending of each day

Papa Francisco was plucked from here to be the Pope

Who is this dude?


Rio Parana, Tigre.

8 blocks of 'stuff'

"I was popular once you know".

Tango in the park

Not to be out done. No I don't know who the girl is.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A $500 Tyre and a Little Bother

Our little group of four split after Puerto Varas with Robin and Di heading north in Chile while Colin and I headed back into Argentina but not before we all visited the BMW dealer in Osorno. I need a new rear tyre and Robin needed a replacement tube for the one he used earlier on. I fitted a Heidenau as recommended by the dealer for its longevity and at $365 fitted with them removing the wheel I thought it a reasonable deal. Against my better judgement I got talked into leaving the front tyre alone even though it had done 16,000 km and was looking a little worse for wear. That afternoon Colin and I set off for the Argentine border (the same border we crossed on the way south) to overnight in the nice little resort town of La Angastura. Beer, chicken nibbles and a none to startling pizza for dinner.
Next day, 10 March, saw us in Nuequen and the fruit basket of Argentina it seems - there was over 100 km of orchards. The ride in the morning from Angastura was a pure delight and a testament for why we ride but the afternoon got real hot and the lovely scenery of lakes and forests of the morning made way for dust and dirt. Colin dropped his bike off to the BMW dealer for an oil change. His bike had been suffering an intermittent miss for a few days and the dealer "thought" it might be the fuel pump; an $800 USD item. Colin was much relieved the next day to find out that it was just a dirty electrical connection. But the town had not finished with us just yet. Eighty kilometres out of town my front tyre starts to delaminate so it's back to the BM dealer who because it is siesta for his staff sends me down to the Bridgestone dealer. Well $500 later I have a new front tyre. I should have stuck to my guns in Chile and saved myself $150. We eventually hightailed it out of town at 4:30 and stopped for the night at around 8pm. It sounds a bit late but in Argentina many of the workers are heading home from work at 8pm so it's no big deal. Actually riding in the long evening twilight proved to be rather nice (except for the huge number of trucks on the road) and we were rewarded with a nice hotel with secure parking and a restaurant next door. The restaurant even had a resident dog that went from table to table looking for tit-bits of food.
Because we were behind schedule we decided to make a big push the next day. We were just out of Rio Corroyo and within 200 km of our destination when the BMW shat itself again. This time it was terminal and the bike had to be recovered by a truck. In one way we were lucky because one of the kids driving the truck was also a motorcyclist and took us to what must have been the only repair shop whose owner knew what he was doing. He diagnosed a fuel pressure sensor at fault and next day rewired things for a temporary solution. The guy turned out to have a considerable background in dirt bikes and speedway, having ridden all round the world. He also knew the common faults of BMW's.
This delay put paid to our planned visit to the Fangio museum because I had accommodation booked for Friday night in Buenos Aires and it was not going to be until Friday that the bike would be repaired. We left Rio Corroyo at 1 pm and rode the 500 km to BA only to catch the 8 pm rush hour traffic. What a hoot - there were cars everywhere and in places 2 to a lane and the motorway was already 6 lanes wide. Oh and by now it was dark. We made it in one piece and had beer and empanadas to celebrate our survival.
Next day, Saturday, was wasted because the BM would not start but this time it was an error on Colin's part, the outcome of which was that he did not make it to the dealer here to get the replacement part. We had dinner together that evening and I won't see him again for a week while he visits relatives and heads north in advance of me. In the meantime I have 3 days left to enjoy the sights of Buenos Aires.
Truck and trailer roll-over between Chile and Argentina.

The 7 lakes region of Angastura

Fabulous sunset.

Argentina still have a few of these cottage gas stations.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The End of the Carretera Austral

It was our intention to make Puyuhuapi (yea I don't know how to pronounce it either) by mid afternoon. We were aware that the road closed at 1 PM south of Puyuhuapi and if we missed the cut-off we were stuck until after 5 when it reopened. Well we missed the cut-off by 13 minutes because one of our group had a puncture so spent the afternoon lounging in the sun chatting with other riders as they turned up. One was a German fellow who had been on the road for over two years and with whom we had dinner that evening. We stayed the night in a delightful character Cabana and listened to the rain pounding on the roof. Next day was overcast and threatening rain so we took the chance and managed to catch a glimpse of the Hanging Glacier - from a distance. It would have been nice to get a little closer but we were mindful of the road north of town closing at 1 PM also. We probably need not have bothered because roadworks held us up every five or so minutes, it seemed.
There is a huge amount of road reconstruction being undertaken between Coyhaique and Chaiten. It's probably in preparation for sealing but right now the road surface makes for a challenging ride in the wet.
Chaiten or at least Chaiten volcano was our nemesis back in 2009 when it erupted, wiped out the road and pretty much the town also. The town was eventually evacuated and post recovery many buildings remain abandoned or destroyed. Again we stayed at a nice place. Because there are four in our group we find it better to stay in Cabanas which are a kind of family unit with kitchen etc. We are at last able to cook for ourselves.
From here we were faced with a number of boat trips in order to progress north. The longest of these was for five hours and dumped us at our overnight stop of Hornopiren. Another rainy day and wet feet. The last day of the Carretera`Austral was also wet and the last ferry journey was so rough we had to stand by our bikes in order they did not topple over.
And so ended our journey along this great road. The northern end is by far the best in the way of scenery and we did it in overcast or rainy conditions which added to its appeal. The gravel is in a pretty sorry state and beat our bikes mercilessly. It is however a marvelous piece of surveying and construction and the Chileans should feel justly proud of their achievement.
Heavy rain has forced us to spend two nights in Puerto Varas so tomorrow we will endeavour to wash a months worth of grit off of the bikes before heading to Osorno and some sorely need bike maintenance. We have traveled 8,000 km to date.
Another day on the ripio

Getting interesting

Robin gets a puncture

Waiting, waiting - for 4 hours

The hanging glacier - at a distance

Pretty as a picture

More waiting

The sign everyone photographs

Chaiten or what's left of it

Volcan Chaiten and its aftermath

The last boat on the last day of the Carretera Austral

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Cathedrals of Marble
By March 3rd we had made it to Coyhaique on the Carretera Austral in Chile. We are still in Chilean Patagonia, having left the Magallanes region a little while back. The weather for the most part has been fine if a little cold and the roads dusty. They are still quite rough and our bikes are taking a pounding. Our first stop after leaving Cochrane was Rio Tranquilo where we intended to take a boat trip out to view the marble caves. However a slight navigational error out of Cochrane mean't we arrived too late in the day so booked for the next morning. It rained and blew all night but next morning the sun was out and though the lake was a little choppy we had an excellent time visiting the caves.
The rain came back in the afternoon so it was a slightly damp and cold trip to Coyhaique where we caught up with Robin and Dianne. It's been four weeks and 7,000 km but we finally connected. Just as well as it turns out because they had stumbled on information about the ferry sailings we will need in a few days time. Seems that in March the services are drastically reduced and we could have been stuck on the wharf for days just waiting.
I'm going to need tyres very soon.
It's nice when the sun's out

Views to die for everywhere

Rio Tranquilo

Cathedrals of Marble

How cool is this

The road to Coyhaique