Archive | March, 2011
March 12, 2011

Day 96 -Tres Cerros to Rio Gallegos, Argentina

“Breadfast” was even worse than expected. We go to the restaurant but it’s closed, and we’re instructed to go acquire breadfast in the gas station seating area. So we go, and sit, and wonder how exactly this is supposed to work. How are they to tell the difference between people coming in to sit from the gas station and people wanting breakfast without… whatever else they’d buy?

We sit. Nothing happens. We watch others do the same. Nothing happens to them either. Eventually one ends up talking to an employee. He gets up, acquires his bread products from the glass cabinet that holds them, then goes back to his seat. Hmm… I must have missed something, because how does he get his coffee or tea?

I go to the cabinet. Noting that it contains the same bread products that it contained last night, and probably all day yesterday. I grab a selection for us, and stand in line at the cashier hoping that somehow he’s involved in the process because we’d be damn thirsty without some drinks.

I show him my receipt from the hotel, as instructed by the woman last night, and drinks are ordered.

The bread products are, indeed, from yesterday, and we only eat some because they all suck now. We’re not being picky… these are the light flaky things like croissants that simply don’t survive very long.

The weather, however, is beautiful. There were a few clouds when we got up, but they’ve burned off or moved on, and now it’s almost exclusively blue sky. The thermometer claims it’s 50 degrees although it feels more chilli than that. I’m hopeful that I’m just perceiving it colder than it really is. Dachary is convinced the thermometer is broken… she may be right. So we load up the bikes, or… start to.

Dachary loads her panniers and I decide that mine require further beating. So I wander off, find a brick, and begin to liberally apply it to the pannier. Last night we’d determined that the screws were still just fine, it was the pannier itself that required straightening where the screws emerged.

I beat it until my hands hurt, which wasn’t much, because bricks don’t seem to be designed with many shock absorption devices for ones hands. But, it helped somewhat. Now both top pucks make contact, although one only barely. I consider it the reserve puck… to be used in case the other one fails.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5521541334[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5521541334More LlamaDeer[/url]

The we ride for a bit, passing more llamadeer, and i start futzing with my mirror when I hear Dachary ask if i saw… something. I didn’t quite hear. “Ostrich” she says. “Ostrich?!” I think. “On the side of the road.” she says. Ok… I know I was focusing on the mirror but how the hell would I miss an eight foot tall giant blob of black and white against a tan tan landscape? Damn. I’ve got to pay WAY more attention… A little while later I see some grayish birds maybe two and a half feet tall milling about on the side of the road… “Ostrich!” I hear… “Those are emu” I reply. And they’re surprisingly well camouflaged. The gray isn’t a solid flat color like on a seagull. It’s got variation, and their legs and neck are a nice gray too.

Apparently Dachary has never seen an ostrich in real life, and she’s definitely never seen an emu. I can’t remember ever seeing an emu in real life either, but i’d seen them on tv. I inform her that an ostrich’s back would come to somewhere near her shoulders, while its head would loom over her, and that they’re black and white. I think maybe she assumed that these were just females. Looking at the pictures as I write this I realize that female ostriches do look a lot like really large emus, only with white tips on the wings. Also, I’ve no clue why there are wild emu running around in Patagonia.

More llamadeer, a few more emu, and not a lot else. Routa 3 is really flat and this part of it is one of the most boring roads on the trip. But, every time we stop for gas, or a pee I excitedly tell Dachary “Guess what?” “What?” she says. “I’m not frozen!” “Hooray” she says. I’ve decided that today is a wonderful day because I’m not fucking frozen like yesterday. It doesn’t matter that the landscape is lame. I’m not frozen or soaking wet! The temperature isn’t actually much warmer (if any) but the lack of rain makes a huuuuuge difference.

There was, however one notable problem, well… three, on the way to our lunchtime gas stop. The throttle got stuck open… three times. At least, that’s what I thought was happening. The first time the revs started shooting up and there was still some forward pull from the engine. Shit! I grab at the clutch. I try switching gears, because I don’t know what else to do, and … that seems to do it. It calms down. Of course, I was right behind a big truck when it happened.

Next time it happened I’m behind another car, just about to pass it. And again … I’m noticing a trend here…

My barkbuster had gotten shoved way up when I dropped it in the mud the other day (probably saved my clutch lever) and I haven’t bothered to fix it yet because we’re not going to be on dirt or anywhere else I’m likely to drop it again.. I’ll get to it… but now I notice that the top edge of the plastic is pressing hard against the place where the clutch cable starts coming in to the lever. Hmmm.

At lunch we find that the gas station serves real, honest to goodness food! Holy shit. How wonderful. I point to the food on other peoples plates “Look! Real food!” After we order I keep interrupting the conversation with “We’re going to have a real lunch!”

Today is a good day. Even the crazy engine shit can’t get me down.

After lunch I take the leatherman to the Barkbuster, loosen it up, then have to karate-kick it down into place because we can’t push it. After it’s back in place we notice that the plastic slamming upwards managed to break the tension adjustment screw / tube thing in half. So, no more tension adjustment for my clutch.

My theory is that the first time the clutch was only mostly in when it got stuck and thus there was still some engine power. The other times I was about to pass, and while, at the time, I associated it more with the hard twisting of the throttle rather than the clutching, which is totally on autopilot at this point. No more problems after the tweak though, and the tension seems to be fine.

Eventually we make it to Rio Gallegos, where we’ve decided to stop for the night because the border is close and we don’t think we can make it anywhere else with a hotel. We pull into the gas station, hop off for a desperately needed pee and the ATM that happens to be there. We notice that the gas station attendants are shooing the customers away when they come. Not good. We’re gonna need that “gas” stuff. But then, a tanker truck pulls up, and parks over by the holes in the ground they pour the gas into! Oh happy day!

I confirm that no, they don’t have gas, then ask how long? “Medi hora”… I can wait medi hora, even if that is probably a bullshit estimate. We go in, take off our gear, and some gas station snacks (empanadas and cookies). Occasionally people notice the truck and try to form a line to wait for it, but the guy shoos them off. I take a picture of the tanker truck guy because I’m so happy he’s shown up, and how often do you get to see one offloading its contents? But after that he gives Dachary and me the evil eye every time we try and see if there’s any progress.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5520951927[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5520951927This man makes us happy[/url]

The whole time he’s offloading Dachary is chomping at the bit to get out there, but we don’t want to gear up, get in a line, and then get shooed. So, we wait, until the tanker man starts putting away his stuff (an hour after we got there) and a line starts to form, but doesn’t get run off. We throw on our stuff hop on the bikes and get in line about eight cars back.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5526714509[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5526714509The station just got gas[/url]

It takes another half an hour, but eventually, we’re gassed up, and set off in search of a hotel, but drive past the whole city without seeing a one. Ok… Usually hotels exist where travelers can see them, because the locals tend to have places to sleep already.

We go in towards the center of town and see a building with HOTEL and contact information on the side. Pull up. It looks like a hotel. But there’s no-one at the desk, the desk is a bit dark, and the door is locked…but there are cars, and …. hmm. I wander around the corner to where Dachary saw another hotel sign. It points directly at a tiny house. That can’t be it. There’s a very large pink house looking thing beside it, which *could* be a hotel. I walk up to the door. This doesn’t look right. I ring the buzzer. An old lady opens the window beside me and informs me that no. It’s not a hotel. Not anymore. I apologize and ask if she knows where one is. “Centro” Which confirms, to me, that the one around the corner, is in fact, not a hotel… at least not anymore. While I was away Dachary deduced that it was now an apartment building.

Centro it is… We pass a fancy fancy looking place that we’re pretty sure we don’t want to pay for, but see nothing else. I go in, in hopes that either we’re horribly wrong or that they can lead us to somewhere more appropriate. I’m not wrong, but he does lead us to somewhere more appropriate. The Hotel Paris, which is only 225 pesos ($60 US) has good off-street parking, and WiFi. I say “Only” in the context of Patagonia where every hotel is “only” fucking expensive. But, the lady at the desk is nice and it’s not a town that looks to have many that haven’t gone out of business.

The room, however, is roughly 1,000 degrees inside. That’s ok, there’s a window and it’s already cool out. We track down dinner and luck out in that it’s 8 PM and thus we can find a restaurant that’s actually open.

I’m just pooped, and Dachary’s mentally pooped, so we decide to call it a night and get some sleep… with the window open.

March 11, 2011

Day 95 – Perito Moreno – Tres Cerros, Argentina

It was decided. Pavement was the way to go. From Perito Moreno we could cut east to the coast, then down Route 3 (the Panamerican). There’s a hundred kilometers or so of dirt towards the end that there’s no getting around but Dachary was willing to do that.

Before going out though we head to the hotel restaurant for “breadfast” They call it breakfast but no. Argentina doesn’t have breakfast as far as we can tell. The waiter brought us a basket of breads some jelly, some butter (this has been surprisingly rare) some coffee and tea. I thought when he went away that maybe he’d return with eggs, but no. Not even in the Hotel Americano.

While we eat they’re playing footage from last nights earthquake and tsunami in Japan on the TV. Dachary intentionally avoids watching it. I can’t not. It really affects me. As I commented on ADVRider when we got back to the room:

There’s something… *more* about seeing something like this when you too are far from home. When you’re home it’s happening “over there” but you’re safe “here”. Except, we’re not home at our safe “here” were “over there” too. Maybe not the same over there… maybe it’s “out here” but we’re out in the world, far from home where everything always feels so much safer than it really is. Anything can happen “out here”. We don’t have a clue what today holds for us… accidents, smiles, frustration, laughter, hardship?

I was almost crying reading the details of what happened… Everything’s so much more “out here”.

Bundled up like sausages, Dachary even put her thermal liners in her legs, but neither of us deemed to put on our winter gloves. Not far down the road we saw rain ahead, pulled over, put the rain covers on our tank bags and reached for the winter gloves. So glad we did.

The next couple hours were wet, cold, more wet, and more cold. It was about 40 deg F when we started but the wet gear just sucked the heat from us. When we finally got to the next town we tracked down the gas station pull up to the pumps, and wait… and wait… wtf are those guys doing? Finally a guy comes out. No gas. Only diesel. Why they didn’t block of the lanes to the gas only pumps is beyond me. “Where is a gas station with gas?” they gave us directions to another one which we found, with a long line… Lines mean gas. We like gas. We get into line and sit there for about forty minutes getting soaked.

Afterwards we go back to the first gasless station because it’s got a nice eating/seating area and hopefully food. We get in and disrobe as much as possible. Dachary goes and changes her shirt because she’d neglected to tuck in her t-shirt and the soaking wet bottom of it is slowly sending water upwards.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5519614572[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5519614572Dachary’s Cocoa[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5519028395[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5519028395Kay chills[/url]

We find some empanadas, microwave them, thank the gods for hot food, and decide that this whole Hydrotex / GoreTex thing is fucking bullshit. We’ve been good about keeping them clean, which seems to be the key. And they do keep us dry for a little while, but eventually they always reach their saturation point, and we end up damp. Our legs, which in riding position are pressed against the GoreTex and it against the shell, are soaked.

Fuck this noize. Fuck it in the ear.

It sucks to put them in and we just keep getting wet. Get yourselves some Frog Togs.

We also decide that while we totally respect Joe, and know that he’s done the pass before Ushuaia in the snow without electric gear, his claims that others can do so must take into account the fact that he is a motorcycle riding alien who never eats, drinks, or pees and obviously has a different metabolism. His kind is just more impervious to the cold than us humans.

If it weren’t for our electrics (and the huge help from Revzilla in getting Dachary a replacement) we would be shivering uncontrollably. As it is, we’re just cold. Dachary’s thermal skivvies are wet (under the Hydratex). My wet pants are sucking what warmth I can maintain out of me and we are NOT looking forward to going back out there.

Earlier in the morning I had pondered what the cars passing us must think, “… and they do this for fun?!” That bit kept going through my head. Just as we were about to head out Dachary started in with another bout of shivering and we found her some hot cocoa which helped.

We had a few minutes of simply overcast before catching up with the rain again. And then… oh bliss. Oh Joy. Dry skies! Without the rain we started to dry out, and while the temperature hadn’t increased, our moods had.

After a while we came to a curious desvio (detour). The curious thing about it was that the road continued forwards with brand new pavement, but they’d made a dirt mound in front of it and the desvio sign told you to go left OR right…. left was next to town, but right looked wider and flatter, although just as wet. So, we go right. About 100 meters in my back end starts fishtailing, I let off the gas to let it chill but no. I’m in the slickest mud I’ve ever encountered and there’s nothing for it. It’s going down.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5519627496[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5519627496Offloading[/url]

I hit the kill switch, get up, and look around. My left pannier is about four feet behind the bike. Shit. Oh well. Dachary has stopped way behind me, having barely gotten onto the road and not into the real mud yet.

This isn’t normal mud. This is wet clay. It is caking itself around the bottom of my boots. Each one is at least two pounds heavier by the time I’ve finished moving the pannier that ripped off to the side of the road. Dachary comes over and we try to lift the bike but we’ve got no traction with our feet and the bike is just too heavy without any. I remove the second pannier, but leave the yellow bag over the back of the seat.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5519639798[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5519639798Mud[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5519651804[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5519651804Mud[/url]

Second try it starts to budge but… no wait. Have to adjust my position. Ok. Try again. It starts lifting… half way… heading back down… keep going …. three quarterrrrssss… my feet are slipping out from under me. It’s that last bit, going up past the tipping point. I’m lifting as hard as I can and my feet just keep sliding out from under me. It starts to go back down. I think about letting it and trying again, but it’s not going to get any better… “keep going” I say… and we’re both pulling as hard as we can. I’m seriously worried that one, or both, of us is going to fuck up their back muscles doing this, and then…. past the tipping point… up to the…. shit I need to put the kick stand out, but holding it up is really hard even though it’s almost vertical.

I get it out, and we lean it down where our wonderful “big fat foot” takes the weight and doesn’t go plunging down into the mud like the factory designed foot would. Seriously, WTF is it with all these “dirt” bikes with skinny little feet on the kick stand? Is there any manufacturer out there who makes a dirt bike with a fat enough foot do handle real sand or mud?

Anyways…

I decide that fucking with the panniers here in the mud isn’t a brilliant idea so I walk them back to the part of the road where it was just wet gravel. Dachary stays with the bike while I get on and turn it around, very, very slowly. This stuff is horrible. The big problem is that even when you’re stopped totally still, there is a very good chance you’ll drop it because as soon as it starts leaning one way you’ll put pressure on your foot and it’ll start sliding out from under you.

Also, my rear tire sucks for this. Back at Lima BMW I asked them for a dual sport tire. They said “how about a Metzler Tourance?” Now, while it’s not my first choice, it IS the first choice of a lot of riders, and it’s good enough that there’s real debate about it. So I said sure.

The next day they have got the Tourance in and hand it to me… “huh” I think, “I don’t remember the Tourance having that tread, but it says ‘Metzler Tourance’ on it so I guess I must have been misremembering.” It’s not a tire I’ve done a lot of research on. But, a couple days ago we stayed in a hotel and when we went back to our bikes and there was a Dakar sitting next to us with a Tourance on the back tire. But that Tourance doesn’t look anything like my Tourance. THAT tourance looks like I remember the Tourance looking. I look at mine again. Metzler Tourance EXP. I’ve just looked it up and this thing IS marketed as a “dual sport” tire but it so isn’t. It’s got big fat patches of rubber with skinny little ditches in between. It’s like a “oh someday I may go on dirt” kind of tire. Fucking BMW Lima. They were nice enough, but they are NOT riders there. Better than BMW Santiago though…

Anyways… I get sidetracked this much in real life too….

I get the bike turned around without falling, and backtrack over a part Dachary has discovered is a bit firmer than the rest. Plus it all gets better as we head towards her.

Back on firm ground I find a large block of concrete to scrape off a couple pounds of mud from each boot, and a smaller piece of concrete which I then use to beat the part of the pucks that hang onto the panniers. The pucks are ok, they don’t need bending. It’s the aluminum sides of the pannier itself that have been bent so that the L shaped thing now comes out at an angle.

*Wham* *Wham* *Wham* *Wham* *Wham* *Wham* *Wham* *Wham*
*Wham* *Wham* *Wham*
*Wham* *Wham* *Wham* *Wham* *Wham*
*Wham* *Wham*

“good enough”

I’ve beaten the top two into submission. The bottom two are still angled out more than they should be, but they’re still firm and even if they rattle the weight of the pannier will keep them in place. I start screwing it back on. The bottom two don’t move around really (yay) but only one of the top two actually pulls close enough to engage the frame. The other one is all “I’m tight! I’m good! I can do it!” but isn’t actually touching anything but the pannier itself.

Dachary thinks it needs more banging. I think back to the many days we’ve gone to take the pannier off and found that one of the top two had come unscrewed while riding. I KNOW I’ve screwed the one that made contact quite tightly and decide “fuck it. One has been enough on many other days.” Mostly I don’t want to deal with taking the fucker back off, with everything covered with mud and whacking it with concrete, putting it back on, and repeating as many times as are necessary to get it mostly flat. “I’ll deal with it later.”

Dachary is skeptical but says “It’s your pannier…” I think she’s convinced it’s going to rattle off the bike at 100kph and strew the contents across the road. She may be right about the rattling off, but I think it’d keep the contents in…

We come to the conclusion that it’s fucking stupid to deal with this mud OR the other mud when theres nothing between us and that beautiful new pavement except a little dirt burm, especially when part of it has obviously been ridden over by others. So we go for it. We ride up onto the beautiful new pavement that the desvio is avoiding. It’s glorious.

We watch trucks go past us in the mud we’re now avoiding. Haha WE ARE MOTO!

The road goes around most of the town. Eventually there’s a desvio on it… on the road you’re not supposed to be on in the first place. We go around it. They didn’t make the dirt pile big enough. Just past this, in a part we’re pretty sure cars aren’t allowed on, is an old gray bearded hitchhiker who jokingly pulls up his pant leg to show me some leg whilst giving me the hitchhiking thumb. I pull up and smile. I totally thought he was a tanned American hitchhiker and started speaking English, but no, he’s a local. “Where you going?… Ahh… where you from? ahh..” Same questions back at him. Then because we’re unsure about which way we’re supposed to go here we asked him which way and yup, keep going…

Then we come to a place where there’s a significant pile of dirt with road signs and other debris shoved in it. There’s a spot in the dirt that we might be able to get over but it’s a bit high in the middle and there’s mud on the far side. To the left is a road that goes down a ten foot wet clay / mud slope to about 100 feet of more wet clay shite then up to the road we’re on on the other side of the pile of dirt. To the right it goes nice and gradual down over what looks like wet semi-packed gravel, around a ditch thing, then back up the other side… That looked like the way for me, and I said as much and proceeded to walk that way to show just how nice this gravelly stuff was and watched my feet squish down through the gravel into more mud… at least it wasn’t clay mud.

So…

We pondered. By this point we could have definitely just gone through the mud and up the other side, but, with it as slippery as it was there’s a pretty good chance that either, or both, of us would have dropped each bike twenty times.

Over.. yeah, over looks good. I go first and have Dachary stand close to see what I do, or fail to do, in my attempt. Up and …. stuck. The mound was high enough that the bike is now just sitting on the engine on a pile of dirt. I start rocking it back and forth sideways to flatten things out a bit, but the wheel’s just spinning. Dachary offers to push, and I’m afraid a rock is going to go shooting out from under the tire and hit her leg at 30mph, but what choice do we have? She pushes and uppppp over I go, front tire into the slippy clay shit on the other side.

I feel like I’m in one of those cartoons where the character is all “whoa… whooah” tipping back and forth carrying something absurdly heavy across a beam that’s curiously suspended over a ravine. I have to turn about 60 degrees with the front tire as soon as it hits the clay and then up a little incline to the road again.

This all sounds much more dramatic than it is. Really it was a small mound and a tiny bit of mud.

I hop off, come back, kick at the dirt that I got stuck on to make it lower and wider. Hop up and down on it. Kick it some more, and gave Dachary’s bike a go. Hmm. I haven’t sat on this bike in a while. She’s mentioned that she thought it was lower. I thought it was just one of those “is this lower or is it me” kinda things, but no her bike is definitely lower. I can totally flat foot it now and we weren’t able to when we stared this trip.

Last time I looked at her rear shock (when the gasket was going) it didn’t look like it was particularly compressed so I don’t know what’s going on with that.

But, this time going over the mound was much easier. I guess my kicking did some good. Wasn’t sure if I was wasting my time or not.

At the gas stop earlier we were all “we may want to stop early.” because… well… we were cold, wet, and miserable, but now, with the glorious weather we were all “stopping early?!” Nah, we can totally make the next town before dark. I’m fine! We pull into the “stopping early town” and there’s a minor problem: no gas.

Shit.

We had to decide. Go on, and possibly get stranded at the very end of the day, or stay here at the hospidaje across the street, hope they got gas in the morning and if not take the same chance but at least do so in the day. We decided to go on now.

It worked out for us. We were running on fumes when we got into the station (still had our spare 1.5 gallon tanks though) and the station had gas, and there was a hotel… but I think it was the wrong decision. Better to stick with a known place to sleep then potentially having to be forced to camp in near freezing weather with pouring rain, because… on our way to the next town, that’s what we got. Ok it was probably 40 degrees out, but it felt like near freezing the way we were soaked.

But, there was gas. And a hotel. We went for the gas first, because we weren’t going to risk there not being any in the morning, and as we’re in line an adventure bicyclist pulls in. We love the adventure bicyclists because they’re the most bad-ass of all, but we were all “That fucker better not be going to the hotel and get the last room.” We fill up, and pull into the hotel ASAP. I go in, can’t figure out where the reception is, and can’t understand a thing anyone is trying to tell me because of the helmet, earplugs, and balaclava (Cyclone Buff). I take it all off, and try again. Ohhh… wait here for someone. Ok.

I do. My teeth start chattering uncontrollably, then stop, then start up again. Dachary’s pacing outside, probably just as cold as me. Eventually a woman is summoned, who tells me the outrageous price (270 pesos about $48 US), informs me that there are only rooms with twin beds, but they do have internet and “breadfast” is included. Before coming in I’d said to Dachary “we’re taking it whatever it is right?” “Oh yes”

So, I took it.

We came in, unpacked, each hopped in the very warm shower and just sat in the beds twiddling things, poking the net, and mostly just warming up before heading to the restaurant for dinner.

We asked for the menu and were told they had carne (beef) with rice. …. Ok We’ll take that. Now, it should be noted here that it’s not at all uncommon for us to come to places with one fucking item available and no actual menu to speak of. We thought it a bit odd here but… whatever.

The carne was essentially a big roast beef meatball in a pile of saffron rice, both of which tasted odd. Some other folks came in and were served soup. Hey… how come we didn’t get offered soup?! We’d totally have taken soup. The bread, in the bread basket (ubiquitous down here) was at least a day old and had been sitting out on a table somewhere since its birth.

Dachary didn’t finish her weird rice and went to the gas station store to find something to supplement dinner. The cold had obviously affected her brain because she chose more gas station sandwiches. I tried to suggest anything other than them, even a variety bag of cookies, because I was convinced we’d be spending far too many of our future days eating ham and cheese gas station sandwiches. She didn’t listen.

The sandwiches were worse than the weird rice.

We spent a good amount of time experimenting with two bodies and discovered that that these really were the smallest “twin” beds we’d ever seen.

March 10, 2011

Day 94 – Sarmiento to Perito Moreno

Routa 40… what can I say about Routa 40? It’s wonderful, glorious and wild.

And today, it totally kicked my ass.

We knew that today we’d hit dirt. And we’ve been warned (in this thread, even) that Routa 40 is gravel and sand, and would be outside our comfort zone (mine, that is). But that warning didn’t prepare me for the reality of today’s riding.

Let’s be clear – I’ve done very little riding on unpaved surfaces. Before we left, we did some dirt rides in New England, but the dirt we rode back home was mild and well-behaved. And it was just dirt. Mostly hard-packed.

I’ve never ridden in deep gravel. I’d never ridden in sand before this trip. In fact, I’d never really ridden in anything loose before we got started.

My first real experience with loose stuff, aside from riding on beaches a couple of times which I actually kinda enjoyed, was riding the road to Tierradentro in Colombia. It had pretty much every kind of road surface; paved, hard-packed dirt, rocky dirt, deep-ish sand and loose soil. I rode it and didn’t drop the bike once (or maybe once when stopping – don’t remember) but I was terrified and far outside my comfort zone there. The bike kept sliding all over the place and doing all kinds of crazy things, and it was worse when I’d be in a corner and traffic would be coming the other way and I wasn’t able to get out of the way or move quickly and had a few uncomfortable encounters, including one what I was convinced at the time was a near-death encounter with a truck.

So that introduction to loose stuff did not go well.

Since then, I’ve kinda been dreading any kind of non-paved surface we’ve encountered (even though I had ridden dirt before and didn’t mind at all – now even a little dirt could set me off). Luckily for me, because of time constraints, we’ve mostly stuck to the pavement. There have been a few roads that have turned to dirt for a while and then back to pavement (particularly in Colombia, but also in Ecuador) and that was ok, but if I saw a segment of the map that was dirt, I went to dread before we ever saw the state of the road.

With that in mind, I was not looking forward to encountering the unpaved sections of Routa 40. But I know it’s something that Kay really wanted to do, and there are some things off it that we’d like to see, so I figured that when we got here, I’d just suck it up and deal. I figured I could ride a bit slow until I got comfortable with the road surface and just take it as it comes.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5516244828The start of the dirt[/url]

So when we left Rio Mayo, where the pavement ends, I actually wasn’t dreading it. I just kept telling myself that it wasn’t too bad – just 120km of dirt before Perito Moreno, where it’s paved again before it goes back to dirt – and just to take the one section of the road at the time. We rode up a bit of a hill that had gravel on it, and as my first encounter with real gravel, I was a bit unnerved by the way my bike was acting. The front end kept trying to go all over the place. We made our way to the top of the hill and I found my way into a rut (without ever knowing anything about driving in ruts, really) and found it was much easier going.

Only one problem: the tall piles of gravel between each rut.

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For a bit, I was keeping up with Kay – going 40+ KPH, thinking that as long as I could stay in the rut, this road might not be so bad. Not bad at all, actually.

Then, without warning, the rut ended.

Oh shit! Front end starts going all squirrely. It feels like the bike is suddenly trying to go sideways and the combination of gravity and forward momentum demand a terrible toll. Bike almost goes down on the right, and my right foot hits the ground, running on instinct, and I manage to keep the bike up. Hit another rut, and suddenly the bike has traction again and starts going forward like it had never tried to unseat me, or threatened to go down. Nothing to see here, just a well-behaved moto going forward on an unpaved road. A bit bumpy, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Adrenaline racing through my veins. “Holy shit, did you see what my bike just did?” I ask Kay. He didn’t – he’s riding ahead of me and didn’t happen to be looking in his rear-view mirror just then. I told him the bike almost went down and I just managed to save it by putting my foot down, and he warned me that while that was my instinct, I shouldn’t do it – I could get hurt by trying to put my foot down and would rarely save the bike from going down. I tried to keep this in mind, and hoped I wouldn’t need to.

A few minutes later, the rut I’m riding in ends again. This time the bike goes squirrely to the left, and then to the right – bumping across a rut and threatening to throw me off. I think I’m down for sure this time, but my foot goes down instinctively, the bike keeps moving, and when the front tire hits the new rut, the bike straightens out like nothing had ever happened.

Riding along… oh shit! Swish! Swish! Bam! Nothing wrong at all – nothing to see here.

Adrenaline redoubled now, and I’m suddenly very aware of how dangerous the thick gravel is. It’s fine as long as I’m in a rut, but the ruts end. Without warning. And when the road was in shadow, it was easier to see the ruts – now that the clouds are breaking up and the sun is coming out, it’s lighting the road quite brightly and it’s more difficult to make out the ruts from the piles of gravel in between them.

At this point, I think I had lost the mental battle. I just wasn’t prepared for how the bike would handle in this deep gravel. The ruts were ok, but when they ended, it scared the shit out of me.

A few minutes later, Kay suggests that I cross to his rut, because it seems wider and better than the rut I’m riding in. He says I should slow way down to cross, because when I try to plow through the gravel between them, the bike will go squirrely. So I slow way down, but apparently not slow enough. I try to cross the gravel between the ruts and the bike goes down.

It happens almost before I can react, and I’m thrown off but manage to avoid falling. I reach down to hit the kill switch and yell to Kay “I’m down.” I could maybe get the bike up again without help if the road was flat and paved, where the tires had traction, but not like this – not in piles of deep gravel where I barely have traction. So I stand helplessly by my bike and wait for Kay to come back and help me… and “I’m down!” I hear in my headset. I look ahead – way ahead, as Kay had gotten ahead of me at that point – Kay had tried crossing the ruts to turn around and ride back to help me with my bike, and his bike went down, too.

“Do you need help?” I ask. “No, I’m fine,” Kay says, and starts trying to get his bike up. And trying. And trying, without success. Because of the way the bike has fallen, he can’t seem to get it up without help. I ask if I should go to him to help him pick up his bike, or if he’ll help me pick up mine first, and he comments that his bike is further in the road so I should come help him get his first.

Kay’s note: Dachary fell at probably 30kph she told me she wasn’t ok, that she hurt her leg, but then I dropped mine as I crossed the ruts turning around and totally forgot about her being in pain. I should have totally gone to her bike so she could ride to mine but I’m a forgetful idiot sometimes.

I walk up to him, nursing my left shin (somehow it got hit when I got thrown off the bike) and it takes a few minutes to get to his bike because he’d gotten so far ahead. When I do, we try to lift the way we normally pick up his bike – him on the front and me using the luggage rack to get leverage on the rear – and nothing. The bike will barely budge. We try again, and still nothing. This is new. We’ve never had this much trouble getting his bike up. When we tug on it, the whole bike just slides in the gravel – there’s no traction at all. Every time we try to lift it it the handlebars seem to rotate into Kay’s crotch.

I suggest that Kay keep pushing up on the front of the bike, and I’ll go to the other side and try to pull on the handlebars and pannier to help get the bike up. We can’t rely on traction so maybe equal forces on the opposite sides of the bike. Plus I can use my weight to try to counter-balance the bike when pulling on it and hopefully we can get it up. On three… one… two… three! And the bike lifts up. Yay! I hold it while Kay gets on, and stand nearby while he tries turning around to ride back to my bike, just in case he goes down again. He doesn’t, and I walk back to my bike while he rides back to it.

We get to my bike, and go straight to the same method to lift mine, since the normal way didn’t work on his bike at all. My bike has fallen on my right pannier, and Kay can easily lever the bike up onto the pannier, so it’s at a better angle and doesn’t have as far to lift. One, two, three – and my bike comes up much easier than his. I put the stand down and climb on, and we start heading forward again.

But by now I’m *really* not happy about the gravel on this road, and it’s not far before I hit another squirrely patch and just break down into sobs. I was *not* prepared for this. Kay tells me to stop the bike and take a break but I think that if I try to stop I’ll go down again, so I ride like that for a minute, trying to see the rut through my blubbering. But soon I realize he’s right and I have to stop, but by now I’m well past the point of reasoning, so I just grab the clutch and let the bike slow down, and then grab the front brake and hang on and sob like someone just died. I don’t even put the bike in neutral – I just stand there holding the clutch and brake and hang on while I sob.

Kay has stopped and gotten his bike a bit further off the road, and has walked back to check on me. He tells me to put my side stand down, but I can’t even manage that. All I can do is hang on and cry. He stands there helplessly, wanting to do something (I’m guessing) but not able to reason with a woman who won’t even put her side stand down. After a couple of minutes, I’m sick of holding my bike up and want to go sit down on the side of the road – away from the bike – so I put it in neutral, put the stand down and manage to kill the engine before dismounting and walking away.

I’m not going to lie – this was my darkest hour since starting to ride a bike. Even when I crashed my first bike, I never thought of not riding. But here, now, stranded on the side of Routa 40, I was half-convinced I’d never get back on a bike again. I yanked my helmet and gloves off and sat by the side of the road, sobbing my lungs out, crying harder than I’ve cried since my grandma died 9 years ago (my grandparents raised me, so it was pretty much like my mom had died). Kay sat down next to me and tried to talk to me, but all I could say was “I can’t do it.” Over and over again. Sob. “I can’t do it.” Sob. “I thought I could but I just can’t.” Sob.

Variations of this went on for probably a good twenty minutes. Every time the sobs just about petered off, I’d think of letting Kay down, or ruining our adventure, or having to turn tail and be defeated by a stupid *road* and I’d just start sobbing again. It felt like I had absolutely no control over my emotions and I felt defeated by the entire thing. It was just too much.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5515757615Despondent Dachary[/url]

Eventually, I said “You’re going to make me get back on the bike and ride it somewhere, aren’t you?” Kay didn’t understand, so I clarified “We can’t stay here.” “Well, I can ride the bike back, hitchhike back here, and ride the other bike back, if you really can’t ride back.”

The thought of having to hitchhike back to town and make Kay ride two bikes back was too much. I felt bad enough about breaking down like this, but it just felt wrong to make him ride two bikes back to town when I was physically capable of riding mine. If I’d been hurt or injured, it would have been different – but I worried about Kay riding by himself, and what would happen if he’d drop one of the bikes without me there to help him pick it up? Or what if he got hurt and had no-one to go for help or even perform basic first-aid on him? Worrying about him seemed worse to me than trying to ride the bike somewhere, so it was clear I’d have to ride it.

The obvious choice was to ride back to Rio Mayo and regroup. I asked Kay to check my trip meter because that would tell us how far we’d gone since we got gas, on the edge of Rio Mayo. (I reset the trip meter every time we get gas so I can keep track of how far we’ve gone and when we need to start hunting gas again.) A little over 18 miles. We were less than a third of the way to Perito Moreno.

And yet… in spite of my meltdown, I’m not a quitter. I’m very stubborn by nature. I hate leaving things undone, and admitting defeat to a road just seemed… weak. Turning around seemed like the coward’s way out. Plus, from a very practical standpoint, the road forward at that point looked relatively flat with wide ruts, while the road back had deep, narrow ruts that made me cringe to think of. So, in spite of the fact that it was more than twice the distance we’d already come… I wanted forward. I wasn’t at all sure about my choice, but it seemed like the right thing to do. I had to at least try.

And then there’s the whole falling off the horse thing… the idea that if you don’t confront your fears when they’re large in your mind, they’ll just get bigger and bigger and eventually become this massive THING in your head and you can never really get past them.

I don’t always do the best job of it, but I do try to confront my fears. I try not to let them rule my life. (Hence a woman being afraid of heights climbing around in rafters 150 feet above a stage, or climbing small mountains… I generally try to confront the things that I fear.)

So. Forward it is.

This time, I went in front. I wouldn’t try riding at the speed that Kay set – I’d ride as fast (or slow, as the case may be) as I damn well please. I’d have preferred to have warning of ruts ending, which was an argument for having Kay in front… but the speed issue was more important for me, and I had more control if I led. So I did.

When we first got moving again, I went *very* slow. So slow I had to use some clutch to keep from stalling the bike. Luckily, not far after I had my meltdown, the road became a bit easier – the ruts were wider and flatter. I picked up my speed a bit. I was going 20KPH. At this rate, with 80 kilometers to Perito Moreno, it would take us four hours. I was ok with that. It was around 1:30PM, I think. And I felt a rather serene sense of calm come over me. It would take as long as it took. I would go as slow as I needed to go to feel like I had some chance of controlling the bike and reacting to the road conditions.

At first, it was grim. I hung on, gripping the bars so hard my hands hurt, until I heard Kay say in my helmet (I swear sometimes he reads my mind) “Don’t forget to relax your muscles a bit, and relax your grip on the bike.” I did. It got a little easier.

More forward. I found a good rut that seemed to keep going, and noticed my speed creeping up a bit more. I was near 30KPH at points. I know it was painfully slow to Kay, and crossing big distances this way would take a very long time, but we were moving forward and that was the important thing to me. 30KPH (around 20 MPH) seemed like a fine speed.

Kay’s note: honestly I didn’t care. I was just happy that she hadn’t given up. Although I still contend that the bumps are a lot easier to deal with at speed, I really didn’t mind just chilling behind her. I’m in no rush to get anywhere.

And then we got to a cattle barrier thing… these metal grates in the road that Kay said prevent the cattle from crossing from one field into another. Apparently they don’t like to cross them, for some reason. The road gets narrower at these grates, and the ruts vanish as all of the cars make a different line to cross the grate. Luckily, by this point I knew that the ruts would vanish, so I slowed way down and just kept moving forward through the deep gravel. The front end did move around quite a bit but I was going slow enough that I could have easily stopped if I needed to, and put my feet down, and that gave me the confidence that I needed to keep moving forward. So I crossed the cattle barrier, found a good rut again not far down the other side, and kept going.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5515736429IMG_6849[/url]

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I have no idea how far things went on this way. I kept my eyes on the rut, and seemed to have a knack for picking the best rut. It was ok. Going this slow, I had time to see a rut ending and react appropriately.

The only thing I couldn’t control was the wind. It had been blowing steadily since yesterday at some point, but it had picked up while I’d been sitting down, having my breakdown. It was a constant pressure, but the wind speed varied, so the angle at which you’d have to compensate varied. As a result, the wind would regularly blow you across the road. Just a little bit – just a foot or two – but with the need to stay in the rut, even a foot or two could be a serious problem. That could put you in the gravel burm between the ruts.

So it wasn’t just “stay in the ruts and watch what they’re going to do ahead of you” – it was “fight the wind to stay in the ruts and watch what it’s going to do ahead of you.” It required constant concentration and careful attention, and even so, the wind pushed me into the gravel once or twice – but I was going slow enough that I was ok, I just let the bike do what it wanted to do and drifted with it. No more squirrely stuff that I’d encountered earlier when I was trying to keep up with Kay’s 40-50kph.

At some point along the way, we passed a sign for road construction. We laughed. This was a gravel road in the middle of nowhere – what kind of road construction could it be? And then, magically, there was a whole wide gravel road beside us. A second Routa 40, which they were preparing for pavement. Kay joked that maybe we should ride up there and try using that one, because there weren’t any ruts. But at this point I had gotten attached to the ruts – they were Good Things as long as they didn’t end suddenly and dump you into a gravel pile.

Kay’s note: not long after this the road got a little skinnier at another cattle grate with an approaching truck. Dachary decided to play it safe and pull over rather than try and fit beside the truck. I pull over behind her and as I am almost fully stopped, crossing a rut of course, the bike starts tipping down to the right. Dachary is talking over the headsets about how she wanted to play it safe and not drop it beside the truck and my face is heading for the dirt. I’m simultaneously wondering if my helmet is going to impact, and pondering the irony of what she’s saying as I head for the ground. She goes on for a second or two and then I hear something like “oh my” as she notices what’s just happened. The guys from the oncoming truck, and the one behind us, all hop out and the bike is righted in seconds while I’m trying not to break out laughing from the situation…

And then, magically, there was pavement.

This was very tempting. The pavement ran along side the gravel Routa 40 for miles.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5516369990IMG_6870[/url]

At some points, we passed construction workers doing stuff on the pavement, but for the most part, it just looked deserted and pristine. I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to be riding up there on the smooth, beautiful pavement instead of down here in the miserable gravel, but the other cars and trucks on the road were using the gravel, so I figured we should, too.

Kay’s note: the pavement, like the beautifully graded dirt, was separated from us by a very large ditch, or raised above us by four feet. There was, occasionally, a rough crossover that was probably for the construction workers. I’m sure we would have switched over if it was trivial to do so.

And then, eventually, after we’d been riding alongside the pavement for so long I thought it was just going to follow us all the way to Perito Moreno, the gravel Routa 40 had a desvio (detour) onto the pavement.

Yes, that’s right. We went from deep gravel Hell to beautiful, smooth, firm, traction-y pavement. And it felt WEIRD. It almost felt like there was something wrong with the bike, because it wasn’t bumping and jouncing along anymore. It was almost too smooth.

We had traveled about 44 miles from Rio Mayo when we ran into pavement. We’ve got two maps of Argentina – mine is a Michelin map we bought in the States (widely regarded as one of the best maps you can get, Kay says) and Kay is using a map of Argentina that we bought in a gas station, because we thought it showed gas stations. It doesn’t, but Kay decided he’d like it in his map pouch since he never knows where we are – I’m always the one with the map. Kay’s map seems to be more recent than mine, because it shows more stretches of Routa 40 as being paved than my map. But even his more recent map showed this entire stretch of Routa 40 from Rio Mayo to Perito Moreno as unpaved.

And yet, here we were, a little over halfway there, and we had magical pavement.

I felt extremely lucky and gratified to be riding pavement again… and yet also, peevishly, a little disappointed. I had resigned myself to riding all this way on the crap gravel, and had made a weird sort of peace with the idea. But here I was on pavement, after all.

Still, the pavement enabled us to ride so much faster. And I was also able to look around me, for the first time since we left Rio Mayo. The entire way, I’d been so busy staring at the ruts and the gravel road that I’d barely had the energy or attention to spare to look up. But now that we were on pavement, I could see that we were riding through beautiful country. Everyone says that Patagonia is flat and empty, but it isn’t. There are small hills and curves – just enough to give the landscape an interesting symmetry for the eye to follow. And there’s scrub and small bushes to break up the barren terrain. The sky is oh-so-blue, and it feels like you can see forever to the horizon. I’d been missing all of this while we were on the gravel, but now on the paved road I had the leisure to appreciate the beauty of the country we were traveling.

On the nicely paved road, we made speedy progress toward Perito Moreno. It was around 4PM when we hit the police checkpoint outside of town, where the female officer asked me about where we were from and where we were going. She was not satisfied when she asked me where we were going. Ushuaia, she knew, but she wanted to know where we were going *right now.* I didn’t know. I wanted to sit down and look at the map again, because it showed 500km of unpaved road before me, and after the hellish breakdown I’d had on this stretch of road, it seemed like a bad idea to venture further afield. So I told her we wanted to go to Perito Moreno for a restaurant and a gas station, and then we’d decide where we were going.

That wasn’t a good answer for her. She asked again – were we going to the border crossing with Chile, to Perito Moreno, or where? I said again that we wanted Perito Moreno and then maybe Routa 40 or maybe we’d return to the Pan Americana, to Routa 3. But that we didn’t know. She didn’t seem to like this answer. She asked me something else, which I didn’t understand. Then she asked for my bike papers and my passport, which I handed over.

More questions, which I didn’t understand. (I think at one point she asked me how old I was? But that question always confuses me – why does she need a record of that? – so she calculated it herself before I could answer. And then wrote it down on her record, along with my name, my passport number, my destination, and my moto’s license plate number.)

Back to Kay for a question he didn’t understand before giving up and asking for the passport and bike papers. She took his information down, and then ignored us. Kay asked if we could go, and she waved us on, almost as an afterthought. Definitely the weirdest police stop we’ve had here in Argentina.

Kay’s note: she’s writing this down on a side of a sheet of blank paper. I can appreciate that she’s being diligent about her job, but really. No-one is ever going to see this information and I doubt she’ll stick it into a computer anyway. If it were that important there’d be a damn form for it, or at least some lined notebook paper. Not a blank sheet with random information written here and there on it.

Down the road to the gas station, where we gas up (we need over two gallons each, even though we’ve only gone 80 miles since our last fill-up – riding the gravel used a LOT of gas) and ask the gas station guy for a restaurant recommendation, as we’re cold and hungry (lunch was a lame ham and cheese sandwich at the gas station in Rio Mayo). He sends us into town. We follow his directions and find a decent-looking restaurant. Which is closed. So back to the main street.

Where every. Single. Restaurant. Is. Closed.

No idea why. It’s shortly before 5pm – after 5 by the time we check the last restaurant in town. A couple of panderias are open (bakeries) but no restaurants at all. So back to the gas station where we eat yet another stupid gas station sandwich (over half our meals here in Argentina seem to be gas station sandwiches) and contemplate the maps.

Kay is for going forward. There are only a few unpaved stretches of Routa 40 left, according to his map – a bit over 300km in total. He says that I proved I could ride this road after my breakdown. I point out that it took us four hours to cover 44 miles. He points out that we were stopped for a while… but I was still averaging 20-30kph at best and 300 kilometers at 20-30kph is days of riding (plus the paved stretches in between). So I’m in favor of crossing over on the paved road from Perito Moreno to the Pan Americana (route 3) and riding the last few hundred kilometers there. But that has the unfortunate side effect of taking us away from the glacier we want to see on the way down. There is a paved route from the Pan Americana to the glacier, but that’s essentially an extra 500km of riding (round trip). I still think an extra 500km of pavement would be faster than 300km of dirt, but I know Kay wants to go the rest of the way down Routa 40 and doesn’t see it as a big of a deal because I’ve proven that I *can* ride it…

Thinking of routes makes me want to cry again. I’m still emotionally wrung out from earlier and don’t want to make a decision. Plus I’m cold and feeling battered from the unaccustomed bumping and bouncing around. My forearms are sore from gripping the bike too tight, and from the bouncing around the front end did on the gravel. My left shin is sore from where I banged it when my bike went down. I’m cold and want a good meal, still – gas station food isn’t cutting it. So I ask Kay if we can go into town and find a place to stay (and yes, pay for a hotel instead of camping – I’m already cold and think it will be too cold at night for me to be comfortable) and he’s willing to accommodate me.

So back into town, where one of the restaurants we checked was also a hotel and advertised wi-fi. Kay asks about the price (more than we want to spend) and then walks down the street to ask at the other hotel. Even more. So it’s pay more than we want to spend, or camp. I’m still really cold in full sunlight, so I opt for pay more because I want to be warm. And I feel in need of a comfy bed after the battering I took on the road.

So we book the hotel, pull the bikes in, unload stuff and get down to updating the ride report. When Kay asks for the password for the wi-fi, he also asks when the restaurant opens. Apparently it doesn’t open until 8:30! We assume she meant PM. So now we’ve killed enough time that we can hopefully go out to the restaurant and get a warm meal, which I am very much looking forward to. Who knew it would be this difficult to find a restaurant for food in Argentina?

Kay’s note: this is a recurring problem. So many restaurants just aren’t open. Our South America book noted that Argentinians typically eat dinner around nine. What it failed to mention was that none of the restaurants are open until just before then. So frustrating. While we ate our sandwiches at the gas station this evening dachary noted that she never thought she’d be somewhere where there was so frequently a town and a main road and nothing to eat.

Also, don’t stay in Perito Moreno. $65 US was the cheap hotel (Hotel Americana, with somewhat functional wi-fi and good parking). There are a couple campgrounds here which probably aren’t expensive. Dachary was exhausted from her breakdown, and cold (probably from spending so much energy on the same), and stressed, so I don’t regret the decision to take the warm hotel room, but Dayum!

March 9, 2011

Day 93 – El Bolson to Sarmiento

Because we have internet the morning takes longer. We’re figuring out when the cheapest day to fly home will be (still haven’t purchased the tickets), checking on the stocks that are funding this (plummeting since the day we left), and e-mailing our dogsitter. Checkout time is 10:00, or maybe 10:30, depending on which sign you read but Dachary read the 10:00 one and starts stressing and getting a bit grumpy about not going over (since we’re getting close). I’m not sure why since the guy won’t care about a few minutes over, and even if he was an ass about it he can’t do anything because we paid in cash.

We leave, go to the Seguro place we saw. They’re open! I go in, stand in line, interrupt the lady when she starts in on the next guy “Excuse me a moment.” They ignore me. I loom a bit more, and wait for the next paragraph to finish. “Excuse me a moment”… Ah, I have your attention. How nice. “do you have insurance for one month for my moto?” “No” “Ah. goodbye.” We go to the bank and see a huuuuuge freaking line out the door. Fortunately the line is for the bank itself not the ATM. The ATM though is out of cash. Damn. But I learn something because two people used it before me. I was wrong about the machine with no buttons before. Just because it’s an ASCII art terminal with arrows pointing to nonexistent buttons doesn’t mean it isn’t a touchscreen. I prodded it experimentally and yup, pressing on the arrow or the words works sometimes.

There’s an ass-hole at the gas station who not only tries to line-jump us but blocks the people who are at the pump from leaving. Then someone does line-jump us from the other direction. I ask the guy if the road we came in on is Routa 40 south, but no, it’s jumped to the other main street in town without any signage. Dachary’s hunch was right although I haven’t a clue why she suspected it.

While waiting for gas we see a break in the clouds where a shaft of light maybe 50 feet wide shoots down like a spotlight from God and starts moving across the hills. It’s pretty amazing. Dachary though, is not having a good morning with the check-out time stress, and the assholes at the pumps and gives an official “fuck-it” to getting water across the street at the minimart and suggest we get it later. So we take off.

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The scenery’s not as amazing as yesterday, but it’s beautiful in a rolling hills of scrub brush and grass kind of way. There’s nothing to eat though and we didn’t have “breakfast” at the hotel (more bread probably). The rain liners we put in at the start of the day (tops and bottoms) are helping with the cold but we’re starting to feel the legendary Patagonian winds (and see the signs) and it’s getting rather chilly. The hunger and the chill do not help with Dachary’s mood. I nommed some of the leftovers from the roll things I picked up last night, so I’m not starving, but Dachary eschewed grabbing some bites because of time and stress.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5516188290Half llama half deer things[/url]

Finally, it’s 1:30 and we come into a town that… oh look a sign for an ATM… we follow it. There’s nothing down the road except a police station. We go back… I hope there’s at least gas in this … YES. With a minimart with tables even! We pull up. We go in. The lunch offerings are… minimal, but better than nothing. Two Ham and Cheese on wheat sandwiches (one piece of ham and one piece of cheese each) and two small beef Empanadas.

While Dachary’s in the bathroom I noticed a map of Patagonia with gas station icons… that’ll help. So we got that too, but as we eat we find it’s only the part of Patagonia we’ve already traveled through… shit. I fold it back up and ask if I can exchange it for one of all of argentina. The girl walks off and sends the other girl. I try again using more words… oh, yes, sure. Great… map of Argentina with…. shit this one’s by the same manufacturer, and has lots of icons, but no Gas icons. WTF. Oh well, at least now I have a map for my tank bag so I can see what Dachary is talking about when she’s asking me my opinion about the road choices ahead.

I’m not as good as her at reading it while riding, but I find it’s very nice to be able to have an idea of what’s ahead, and the distances to towns and such rather than just having to blindly follow someone else’s instructions. The GPS isn’t much help as I can only see about 10k ahead of me on it unless I switch to a different mode, reorient it, and zoom out … which is a pain (nigh-impossible when i have winter gloves on) and steals too much attention from the road.

We’ve found the GPS is good for the “where am I now?” question and the Map is good for the “Where are we heading?” question. A great combination.

Anyways, our crappy breakfast / lunch does wonders for Dachary’s mood. We go out, put on our electrics and our Cyclone Buffs and Dachary switches out of her mesh gloves which were freezing her hands. After filling up we make one more attempt to find the ATM, and do. I then proceed to break it. I think it failed be able to call home to do the transaction, gave me my card, and then gave up and said it was out of service.

On the road the warmer layers have made an incredible difference. Neither of us have turned on the electrics, and we don’t for the rest of the day, but now the wind is just a physical force pressing against us. It’s not this negative thing that comes and chills you. Before it was “arrgh wind!”. Now it’s “hmm the wind is blowing me around a bit”

At one point the road takes a sharp turn and we get the wind behind us. We’re riding about 60Mph and it feels like standing still. So, I’m thinking the wind is somewhere near to 60Mph… maybe I’m wrong. When the day is done we encountered some pretty strong winds, and spent quite a while leaned over, but nothing worse than we’ve encountered on the trip before.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5516191768Rider takes a break[/url]

We stop opportunistically for gas, because we’ve passed towns with literally 1 and 3 buildings and have no confidence that anywhere on the map will have… anything. Just before another gas station Dachary spots something that might be a bank down a side street. The gas station attendant confirms this. The ATM however claims i have a zero dollar balance and won’t give me money.

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We drive on, and are starting to get concerned about the money thing. Yeah we’ll probably pass more ATMs before Ushuaia but who knows if they’ll give us more money and it’s been the same Fail bank at the last two small towns. We decide that since Sarmiento is the biggest town on the map for a while (possibly the rest of the way), and everything else is dinky town it’s worth going the extra 80k there and back. Plus Dachary is still physically feeling the need for a hotel, and that’s our best chance for one of them too.

When we’re there I pull over and ask a guy where to find an ATM. He tells me about the one ahead, and then says where the other one is if that one isn’t working. Yay for backup plan. We go down the road just a smidge and there it is. It’s the same bank. We’ve named it the “Bank of Stupid”. I go in and yup. Zero balance. I’m not stressing about the balance because it’s almost impossible to have a balance of exactly zero. Negative sure… but what are the odds of accidentally withdrawing exactly the amount within your account? We go to the backup bank and thankfully it’s the branch from this morning that was out of cash, but seemed to work otherwise.

Yes it’s work… no. Zero balance. WTF?! Just for the hell of it I try the business account and I get money! What the hell? Ok. Now, I’m stressed about the Zero balance. There was a hotel on the way into town, and we see another while waiting but it’s across the street from a politician’s office who feels the best way to attract votes is to blare music very loudly from speakers set up outside the front door. It’s worse than a nightclub and the hotel is across the street.

We go back to the first one. From this side it looks abandoned. But there are lights on so I try anyway. The metal bar gate in front of the front door isn’t locked so I open it. The glass door behind that isn’t locked so I open it … er the handle fall off… I put the handle back on, and open it more carefully. I walk in… There’s no-one around. “Hola?” … no response “HOLA?!” … no response… There’s a light on in a room just off the hall that has what appears to be someone’s lunch fixings (bread, soda, etc.) on the counter…. weird.

Back to the hotel across from the not-nightclub. 150 pesos for two twins or 200 ($50 US) for a double. Internet in the lobby but it’s on a main street, there’s no parking, and it’s across from the loud politician. Dachary’s not happy. She sends me back in to see if the woman can recommend another place that has parking, but refuses to tell me if she’ll take it if she says there’s nothing else. She’s been hungry for hours now… The woman says no, she doesn’t know one. I think she also says there aren’t any other hotels, but I’m not sure. Then she says something I don’t quite catch about parking on the other side of the block.

I tell Dachary. She wants to keep looking although I’m pretty sure we have seen the whole town. I’m frustrated, feeling I’m in another impossible situation where there’s no acceptable solution. The woman said there’s no other hotel with parking, we’ve seen most of the town, and no other hotels so what else is there to do but take it? I tell her to lead the search since she’s so determined, but she claims she doesn’t know where she’s going… I counter that I don’t either but it gets me nowhere. So, with nothing else to head for, I go in search of the parking the woman was talking about. Turns out, it’s another hotel… with parking. I swear to you the woman said “no” when I asked her if she knew another hotel with parking. I was pretty confident she went on to say there was no other hotel too…

This one’s run by a much nicer lady. You can’t hear the loud politician inside, is twenty pesos cheaper, and has net in the lobby. It does, however, have Zebra striped bedding and only rooms with twin beds. Totally incongruous with the rest of the place. Whatever. We take it.

Theres even a printed piece of paper with the password for the net in the room. We try it since we can barely see it in the room. “Authentication failure” hmm.. we try again. No. I bring the laptop and go see the lady. “What’s the password for the internet?” Sadly, this hotel has one of the few secure passwords we’ve encountered, so she’s reading it off to me and yes, it’s the same one, and no, it doesn’t work. I can see what she’s reading from and confirm it. She keeps thinking I’m not getting it. I keep showing her the password I’m typing in. She writes it down and holds it up next to the screen. Yes, they’re the same. No it’s not working…. Repeat…. Give up. She’s not convinced her password is wrong because she’s elderly, doesn’t understand computers, and someone she trusted told her it was the right password. I’m assuming a lot here, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

We decide to find an internet cafe before we grab food, thinking the cafe will close first. We can’t find the one we saw before without way more wandering than Dachary is up for because she needs food, and if you haven’t noticed the trend here Dachary needs to be feed at regular intervals just like a diabetic and we’ve not been doing that. Anyway, we give up looking for net and start looking for a restaurant. I know there’s one near the hotel so we wander towards that. Along the way we pass another restaurant with a row of computers all populated by kids playing first person shooters.

I go in and ask if they have WiFi… they don’t but they’ll let me use an ethernet cable with my laptop. Excellent, because we need to check the bank accounts and I aint doing that on a public computer. Log in and … oh.. shit…. Negative over $1,000 (US). That’s um… That’s not good. Check the business account… Yup, that’s about right. Looks like the plane tickets from Panama just hit my account a week ago. I fucking hate that merchants are allowed to sit on charges like that. There’s also a $1000 transfer from my personal account to the business account that has gone into limbo. Same bank, but apparently they’re not sure if they’re good for the money because they took it out of my account and are now waiting to see… if they have it ? before they give it to our business account?? I dunno. But, of course about $300 of the -$1,000 is overage charges.

I tweak the stock sell price to sell it since I accidentally put it a dollar too high yesterday, where it would have probably sold, but didn’t, we read your comments and smile big smiles, then run off after about half an hour in the net cafe to find food before everywhere closes as it’s now 9:30 at night. Dachary doesn’t want to eat at the net cafe it was too loud, and filled with young teens blowing things up. Also, while they had hamburgers and pizza and things I’ve given up on ever getting a real pizza in Latin America. I keep bringing it up when I see it (habit) and then Dachary says “do you really trust it?” And I don’t, so we get something else.

The restaurant I’d seen earlier is there, and open… hours are 12-3pm and 8-11pm.. hmm. Inside the menu is painted on the wall, and the place smells somewhat of gas but when the proprietor comes over he’s all excited about his offerings. Telling us how the pasta is all hand made as is the sauce, that they don’t use any of that canned stuff, etc…. He goes over some of the options (with and without pasta) and recommends the beef pasta. We say “Beef is good” and there’s a little confusion about what we want with it and we’re all… “Whatever you recommend” because it’s rare to see someone so excited about their food. So, he brings us spinach ravioli. I’m not sure what happened to the beef. It’s… ok. The sauce is interesting, and hand made too, but also … ok.

On the way back to the hotel Dachary hunts for Coke Light (Diet Coke) but can only find regular Coke in the wine store next to our hotel, but in the process of pulling it out of the fridge causes three other bottles to fall (stacked by fools), one of which escapes the case, plummets to the floor, breaks the cap and starts shooting an arc of Sprite across the room. For a moment everyone stares at it. Then Dachary reaches down, grabs it by the cap and picks it up while Sprite continues to pour out through her fingers and onto the floor. I’m watching through the window from outside and laughing my butt off. People in the store are grinning at the chaos and running for something to clean up the growing puddle with. She’s apologizing… It’s excellent. She apologizes more, puts her coke on the counter and realizes that she only has a hundred (it’s what the ATM dispenses) for a bottle of soda. Then has to come out to me to get some small bills.

That coke was worth every peso.

Back in the room the mood is good, but tired. I write up a couple responses to comments to the thread on ADVRider, we watch a Torchwood, make love, and go to bed. Some days have their ups and downs.

The plan, with regards to money, is to sell the few stocks I have left, which should be just enough to cover the plane tickets and rest of the trip. We’ll try and store the bikes at Dakar Motos and have them ship them up north to us when we can afford it. But, when we get home we’ll be broke to the point that we won’t be able to pay the next month’s rent. So… that’ll be interesting. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be able to get another position at my old company, or anywhere else in Boston. But as a web developer who’s run their own business and has 15+ years of experience I’ve usually got a good chance at the jobs I apply for.

Side note: We forgot to mention that the other day I killed a bird. It was the first real death of the trip as the llama I drove over was already dead. That, and we don’t count the thousands and thousands of bugs we’ve killed. I was riding along when this bird launched itself from the side of the road towards the bike. I’m not sure if it hit the side of the bike and then my knee, or went directly into my knee, but at about 60mph I felt the thud of it bouncing off of me. Dachary saw something come off the right side of the bike and go flying off to the side of the road. She thought I’d dropped something, but when she passed through the same section of road there were still feathers floating in the air, and judging by the “velocity with which he was ejected into the ditch” there’s not much chance he survived. The next day I was pondering him and feeling bad that I hadn’t gone back to make sure he wasn’t laying there suffering. Put him out of his misery if needed…

March 8, 2011

Day 92 – Piedra de Aguila to El Bolson

The day started off, as usual, with us getting out of the hotel late because there was internet. Even though it wasn’t particularly *good* internet, I thought of a couple of things we should do/check at the last minute which of course took longer than it should have. In the end, it was after 10AM when we got out of the hotel, and I’d suggested that we skip the lame hotel breakfast (i.e. bread) entirely and get some sandwiches at the gas station down the road, so it was 11AM before we hit the road.

Still, in spite of the late start, I was feeling good. I had an actual sandwich for breakfast, and Kay and I agree that eating breakfast to start the day has a huge morale effect (as well as physical effect). AND! I got Diet Coke and some chocolates – which, since I’m suffering the effects of being female at the moment, is a vital infusion of chocolate to the system – so I was really in a good mood this morning.

One thing worth sharing: we’ve passed a TON of motorcyclists here in Argentina. Many of them have been adventure riders with panniers, etc. but a lot of them have also just been local motos with no panniers. And almost without exception, they all wave and seem happy to see us. It’s almost like being back in the States, where you wave to your fellow biker because you’re all part of a brotherhood of people who like to explore the world this way. It’s nice.

=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510035903[/url]
=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510035903Routa 40[/url]

Alas, the good start to the day didn’t last long.

After less than an hour on the road, I was saying to Kay “the next bathroom we see, I need to stop.” Kay pointed out that it might be a while before we found one… and he was right. We rode. And rode. And then rode some more. Until things got so desperate that I had to ask him to spot a good bush for us to pull over. Luckily, this stretch of the road had a ton of good bushes, so we pulled over at a likely spot, I grabbed my toilet paper and practically ran up the hill at the side of the road to squat behind a bush.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a normal quick bathroom break. This was a “you are going to have HORRIBLE diarrhea so get off the bike NOW!” sort of break. I’ve dealt with diarrhea off and on since Mexico, I think, and this is the first time on the entire trip it’s been so bad I couldn’t wait for a bathroom. Remember my comment a week or two ago when we camped in Chile and I commented that I hadn’t reverted to a savage enough to poo in a hole? Yeah. That’s because I hadn’t had a truly horrible case of diarrhea yet. This made the other bouts look mild.

So I took care of things. And stood at the top of the hill for a couple of minutes because I knew I wouldn’t be done. I was right. More taking care of things. Did I mention it’s difficult to clean oneself properly, bathroom sanitation-wise, wearing full motorcycle gear? For me, the knee armor and the tall boots make it difficult to position oneself well for maximum cleaning. So there was a lot of wiping, and apparently my TP isn’t particularly bum-friendly… my ass HURT when I was done.

Back to the bikes, and I immediately take two Immodium. And then I stand there for a few minutes to see if I’m going to need to dash back up the hill. Apparently not. (In the meantime, Kay has been snapping beauty shots of the lake nearby, and an armadillo he happened to surprise when photographing some flowers. So it wasn’t a totally wasted stop.)

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510667464Armadillo[/url]

Diarrhea without a functional bathroom, though? Gross. Unhappy. Disgusting. Wouldn’t wish it on an enemy sort of thing. I hope to not have a repeat of that.

We get a few miles down the road, and it becomes evident that the Immodium hasn’t kicked in yet and I’m going to need a bathroom again soon. I say as much to Kay over the headset, and as we’re riding, I spot a sign for a restaurant in 7km. “I need to stop at that restaurant!” I yell to Kay over the headset. “Are you hungry enough to eat anything yet?” he asks. “Probably not, but I’ll try if I have to. I just need that bathroom!”

And then I spend the next 7k telling my intestines “Hang in there. Come on, we can hold it. Just 7k.” Etc. etc. A mantra of hope in my head because I *really* don’t want to have diarrhea by the side of the road again.

We get to a sign for the restaurant, which happens to be up on a hill, but it wasn’t obvious early enough and Kay rides right by it. I yell to Kay that we just missed the restaurant, but there’s a beautiful bridge across the lake, and on the other side there is what appears to be something that might have a bathroom. At first glance it might be a restaurant, but we realize as we pull up that it’s a gas station with mini-mart and a whole bunch of people pulled over, using the services and enjoying a break by the lake.

We pull in and I run to the bathroom, grateful that it has a toilet seat. And spend far too long in there, feeling bad for the queue of women waiting behind me (there are three stalls, but there are a ton of women in line and I know me staying in there so long is delaying everyone else) but I don’t have much of a choice. After I’m done, I decide I should stick near a bathroom for a while so I don’t have any more repeats of this near-call stuff, so Kay grabs me some potato chips to nom (I think I need the salt – dehydration is a worry with diarrhea like this) and some Diet Coke, and we hang out by the lake while I wait to see if my tummy will be upset again.

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45 minutes later, I’ve been back to the bathroom once and think my intestines are hopefully happy enough to let me ride safely for a while. So back on the bikes. Where I realize that all of this mucking about with the diarrhea has dislodged other things… i.e. my “feminine hygiene product” has become positioned incorrectly, and is EFFING UNCOMFORTABLE! Obviously you men out there can’t conceptualize it, but for any women reading this – you probably know how unbelievably uncomfortable an incorrectly-positioned feminine hygiene device can be when you’re straddling a motorcycle. OUCH! But we’ve already spent so long here that I ask Kay if we can pull over at the next gas station we see, which I think will be in about 30 miles, so I can adjust.

In the meantime, the landscape has gone from being interesting to drop-dead beautiful. Shortly before the last stop at the gas station, we’d rejoined Routa 40 (we’d left it for a while when there was a dirt section because I saw a paved road further east that would be faster) and it was absolutely stunning. Beautiful. Glorious.

Kay was snapping pictures the whole time, and we were commenting back and forth about how beautiful it was, but the whole time I wasn’t able to really enjoy it because of the intestinal trouble, and then the problem with my feminine hygiene products. I even remember thinking at one point “I really wish I wasn’t dealing with this stuff so I could just enjoy the scenery more, because it’s beautiful and I’m not paying enough attention to it.”

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The landscape continued to be beautiful, and we arrived at San Carlos de Bariloche, on the shore of a stunningly beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains – some of them snow-covered. We hadn’t actually gotten gas at the last gas station, so we had to leave Routa 40 and go into town to find a gas station here. Also, I wanted a bathroom so I could deal with my stuff. So into town we go, to discover – this town is effing gorgeous. Most of the towns we’ve seen so far in Argentina have been pretty well developed for Latin America. We’d commented yesterday or the day before that we could have been driving through Middle America, the landscape and towns seemed so familiar. But Bariloche is something special.

The architecture in the town is intentionally planned to mimic the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. There’s a lot of natural wood-looking details, decorative trim and high-quality building and architectural styles that really elevated the town itself to express beauty and quality. I definitely wished it was later in the day so I could justify staying there for the night, because it was the kind of town where you want to spend more time. We really liked what we saw and wished we had more time there.

We were relatively quick, though. We got gas, used the bathroom and grabbed a quick sandwich, since it had gotten to be 3pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Then we headed out again, not without a backward glance or three at the beautiful town we were leaving, and back to Routa 40.

More beautiful landscape. Gorgeous mountains surrounding us, marching south, pine and evergreen trees standing sentinel over rivers and lakes meandering along the valley floor. I’ve really never seen anything like it. It was as beautiful as Colombia, if not more so, but with a different feel. Colombia was lush and verdant, whereas this section of Argentina feels alpine. Snow on some of the mountains, pine trees everywhere and a hint of chill to the air, even at the hottest part of the day. This part of the land stirred my blood in a way that few places on the trip have – if I were ever to move somewhere out of the United States, I could see enjoying this sort of landscape. Kay commented that it was one of the best days of riding on the trip so far, and I have to agree.

I kept an eye on the map and decided that El Bolson might be a good place to stop for the night. We’ve seen literally a ton of places offering camping here along Routa 40, as well as plenty of good hidey-camp spots, but with the diarrhea and me being girly, I really wanted a functional bathroom. And for the first time on the trip, I actually regret not camping. This type of terrain begs for camping. I’d really love to be surrounded by this beauty while I fall asleep, and wake up to it in the morning. I lament my desire for a bathroom… but practicality wins out. If we had to camp, I would, but it makes more sense to stop for the night at a place that is likely to have a hotel or hostel and hope I feel better tomorrow.

We ride through town, spotting a ton of cabanas (cabins) but only one or two hotel/hosteria, and neither of them looks particularly promising. Also, as it’s early (around 6pm) Kay has decided that he’d like to shop around for a place that has wi-fi. We have a ton of pictures to upload and there are a few things we didn’t get to do on the Web last night because the net connection was so slow. So when we spot a hotel down a side street, check it out, and discover it has wi-fi and a nice, clean room with a bathroom – we take it. Even though it costs too much, as most everything in Argentina seems to.

Settled in for the night, we discover a reasonably fast (although quirky) wi-fi connection, and Kay starts uploading photos before we head out for dinner. With a bit of light left, we wander out into the town looking for a restaurant that’s open. That 4-day weekend the other adventure rider warned us about on Saturday when we crossed into Argentina? Apparently it was a Monday-Tuesday holiday, because *nothing* has been open at the towns we’ve stayed in the last couple of nights. Including restaurants. Tons of them, closed.

We wandered around a bit and stopped at the first open restaurant we found. It turns out that service was slow, Kay wasn’t particularly thrilled with his meal (whole trout, with bones, which was inconvenient) and my steak had a ton of gristle… but it *is* true what they say about Argentinian beef. It’s some of the best beef I’ve had, including the Wagyu beef I had in Santiago, and some of the good steaks I’ve had at home in the US. It’s not cheap here, either, but I’ll definitely be getting steak again in Argentina now that I’ve gotten a taste of it.

Kay’s note: I’m pretty sure this is another tourist town (thus the high prices), although I’m not sure why tourists come here other than the fact that it has 4000 places offering “Camping”. Dachary says she saw a shop sign offering lots of different nature related activities here, and notes that it’s the only town for the next 170k so there not much of anywhere else to stay and do your nature related activities.

On the way back to the hotel, we walk right past an artisan chocolate shop. That happens to be open. When we first crossed into Argentina from Chile, we passed a ton of artisan chocolate places, but we didn’t have any Argentinian pesos yet so I couldn’t stop and buy chocolate. I’ve since commented to Kay “now that we have money, of course we haven’t passed a single artisan chocolate shop.” It was obligatory that I walk in and check it out.

Kay was shocked when I walked back out again, because they didn’t have any “assorted” boxes of chocolate. One had to pick out the chocolates that one wanted. I couldn’t be arsed to try to pick out individual pieces of chocolate, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to walk away, either… so a quick consultation with the iPhone to get the word for “assorted” and then back into the shop to try to order an assorted box of chocolate in my poor Spanish. Some initial misunderstanding led to much mutual smiling and me walking out with an assorted box of chocolates. Score!

So the day started out with promise, had a less happy middle, but has ended well. I am a happy woman, and hopefully tomorrow the diarrhea will be cleared up. Just in time for some dirt!

(Random note about Kay’s bike for the day: his brake light has started working again. The gas light also went off at one point, but then came back on. Still full of gremlins, but at least he now has a functional brake light again.)

Kay’s note: on the way to the restaurant we stopped in a supermarket where, once again, I grabbed some tasty looking bread products… something that looked like a cinnamon roll, only not, and something that looked like a regular bun but I suspected had something sweet inside (there was no signage). By itself this is not very noteworthy, but when we got back to the room at night I discovered that unlike all the other fresh bread products we’ve purchased and been disappointed by, this was fucking delicious… well, the not-cinnamon-roll was. The other thing ended up being a bun with pineapple in it, which was pretty tasty. I’m soooo happy about this. Fresh baked goods have finally redeemed themselves, and they only cost $0.25 each!

March 7, 2011

Day 91 – Santa Isabel to Piedro Del Aguila

The alarm went off. She hit snooze. The alarm went off. She hit snooze. The alarm went off. She hit snooze. I asked her why she didn’t just turn the alarm off. She did…

We hadn’t slept in in a while and both really wished we could have yesterday so I fully encouraged the extra sleeping.

Eventually we got out of bed and loaded the bikes. I wandered around to the restaurant and asked the guy if they had breakfast, he seemed a bit confused and suggested the “machina” which I’m pretty sure was an instant coffee machine, and not, an instant breakfast machine. Thanks, but… no.

Dachary’s note: Last night was wonderful, I slept extremely well and really enjoyed being lazy this morning. Normally I’m eager to get up and on the road, but today I felt like being lazy and really appreciated Kay indulging me. I was in the best mood I’ve been in for a *long* time and it was absolutely worth losing the hour or or whatever of being on the road for being so happy.

We rode out, and the scenery quickly changed. North of Santa Isabel there were fences about 100ft from each side of the road, but between the road and the fence were lots of big bushes and small trees that you could use for cover if you wanted to camp. You wouldn’t be completely obscured, but good enough… Almost immediately south of Santa Isabel there was only scrub brush about one foot tall. If you were to camp here it’d be in plain view on the side of the road. Before, and after, we saw very few dirt roads to the side that weren’t behind locked fences, and most of the ones that were accessible had fences right along their sides as far as we could see.

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For a while, not much changed, and eventually we stopped for lunch at a hotel / restaurant next to a gas station in the middle of nowhere. It looked like it might be pricey, plus the whole captive audience thing but we were hungry. As we entered the door we saw a “WiFi” logo. Sweet. We go in. We sit down. We’re watched by four workers, and watched, and watched, and basically ignored for at least five minutes.

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I walk up…. “um… is it only the buffet? or do you have a menu….” I know they have a menu, because it’s on display in front of the door… One of them comes out and shows me the buffet “These are hot. These are cold. You can eat as much as you want….” Really… Wow… thanks… Is that how buffets work? Then, she reluctantly hands me the menu, but just one.

I take it back, we both look at it. I vote for the overpriced buffet because it looks somewhat decent, and I don’t want to deal with the employees any more than I have to since they obviously don’t want to deal with us. Dachary thinks it looks decent to, so we go for it.

There was a luke-warm pork with ham and melted cheese on it that was passable. There was cold quiche that was almost passable. Then there was the meat dish that tasted like cat food. Literally. Then there was the next meat dish that tasted even more like cat food.

I’ve opened thousands of cans of wet cat food in my days and I swear to you this shit tasted exactly like the cat food smells.

Dachary went with some of the potatoe-salad looking thing and her reaction was so strong, and immediate, that I swear I thought she was going to barf it out on the plate. They even fucked up the corn on the cob. I didn’t even know this was possible without burning it, but apparently it is.

We pulled out, saw a cone in the road, and a detour off the side of the road beneath a banner proclaiming the evil nature of fruit and a welcome to Patagonia… Patagonia?!?! WTF?! I thought… but… it can’t be Patagonia already! Promising we had no fruit, we were fumigated and on our way.

Ten minutes later we passed some tiny pizza and sandwich place and so wished we had lunch to do over.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510578978No Camiones![/url]

Towards the end of the day we found a gas station with about ten Adventure Motos: Transalps, Africa Twins, BMW GSs, etc. We filled up and no-one approached us. We turned around and pulled up alongside them. “Hey! Where you coming from?” He named some town just up the road. “Ahh, and where you going?” Just making a loop. They asked where we we were from and I told them. It didn’t seem to have any impact. “how many days?” I asked them “Today and tomorrow.” “ahh… right then… Adios!” It wasn’t that I thought they were posers or anything. But, no-one seemed to show any interest in us, or our trip, and they didn’t seem particularly interested in expanding upon themselves. So fuck it…

One thing they did mention was the name of a town down the road that was good. Everyone wants to know where we’re going NOW, like… tonight. They just don’t get that we don’t have a clue. “South!” I say. “No no. Tonight.” “I don’t know…” They think we’re just really bad at Spanish, which we are, but the truth is that I don’t have a fucking clue where we’ll be tonight. I say we’ll drive until it’s night and then look for a place to sleep. “Yes but where?!” they want to know.

I think that may be the big difference between people stuck in the corporate world and people who have set themselves free on their adventures. When you’re dealing with schedules and shit like that you plan. You worry about tonight… But, for us, tonight is largely dependent upon how the day progresses. Usually we look at the map in the morning and say “hmm… I dunno… maybe we’ll make it this far today…” But we don’t pay any attention to the name of whatever town that was, because we don’t care and we don’t even know if it has a place to stay or eat in it. We just go… Some days the road is fast. Some days it isn’t…. In South America there’s an increasing chance, every day, that we’ll simply end up in the middle of nowhere when night comes. And that’s ok…

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Just before the uninterested bikers a huge lake opened up to our left, and we followed its coast until we eventually made it to the town we think they recommended: ” Piedro Del Aguila”. As far as we can tell it’s the Fly Fishing capital of Argentina. People dragging boats everywhere. Lots of cars with dirt bikes with race numbers on them (not sure what the deal is with that). A nice park. A campground (didn’t see that until after we grabbed the Hospedaje with WiFi on the sign… wouldn’t have seen it from the bikes anyway). And a pile of restaurants all of which were closed. We eventually found one that was only technically open, and when we walked in the lights were off and upon asking if they were open, “no, not to go. for here.” the waitress had to walk off and ask someone else if they were open. Weird I tell you.

Back at the hospedaje we’ve got shite for upload speeds ( It has taken over half an hour to upload one picture at 1KB/s now) but we’re happy to be able to post to you. We’re uploading the backlog of posts since Santiago without pics.

Oh, before I forget. Today my odometer stopped working. Or, we think it did. It now only shows the trip meter. We’re not sure if the odometer is still counting behind the scenes or not. I hope so because what little resale value I had is quickly plummeting. Not that I want to get rid of the bike but still….

Oh oh… We passed through Neuquin today, and when we got to the Hospedaje we ended up chatting with some guys who had taken their bikes and their kids to the moto race today and they informed us that two months ago a BMW moto place had opened up there. It’s not even on the BMW site, so I’m not sure it’s an official dealer or what. But, the point is that there’s a place in Argentina to get your BMW looked at. Me? I’m crossing my fingers that Horse can hold out for another 5,000 kilometers. Which reminds me… I’m leaking oil now.

Starting minutes after leaving BMW Santiago I have: tail light that doesn’t indicate braking, gas light that won’t go off, neutral light that is on 90% of the time, and now leaking oil from the sump plug.

Bonus about the neutral light, though? I can totally drive off with the kickstand down now. The bike still thinks I’m in neutral and doesn’t stall.

And because there weren’t enough notes at the end of this post. Dachary has just reminded me of something that’s been going through my head the past couple days. At the start of this adventure I thought I could be one of those people that wanders around the globe for years on end (oh to be able to afford that). But, as the journey has progressed I’ve come to the conclusion that 90 days is just about right for me. I’m missing my comfy couch, my dog, and just… chilling. I think maybe It would be better if we had time to just hang out in a nice city for a couple weeks… maybe that’s the trick to making motorcycle trips last years; more time to stop and stand still. But even then… I like having *my* home. It’s a safe, and relaxing place I’ve carved out for myself in a neighborhood I love where I can find what I want or need without worry. Home is a good thing, and being away from it for a while really makes me appreciate it all the more.

March 6, 2011

Day 90 – Mendoza(ish) to Santa Isabel

We’d set the alarm for 7, and hit snooze twice, because we wanted to be up by eight, when we thought he was going to come by with the change, but we were both exhausted and would have really preferred more sleep, especially if we had of know no-one was going to come at eight.

Last night’s confusion over where or when we’d get the change for the room was quickly resolved through a lucky meeting with the guy and asking… “where? am I supposed to get the change?” to which he told me his boss would bring it. “Oh, when?” “11 o’clock.” “Ah. But I need to go…” “Hmm… let me ask this guy here if he can make change.”

And he could.

So, we left, went back into the town we explored the previous night where we’d seen ATMs and a place that sold insurance. We doubted the insurance place would be open, since it was Sunday and a holiday weekend (we still don’t know what holiday) but it was worth checking. The first ATM had no money. The second ATM wouldn’t give me any money, and the third ATM brought up a screen asking me to make a choice as to what action I wanted to perform and directed me to press one of the nonexistent buttons. There was a keypad below, and zero buttons around the screen. But, this wasn’t some fancy new-fangled touch-screen kiosk. No, it was your typical ASCII arrows pointing to buttons that were supposed to be on the side of the monitor, but there were none. There wasn’t even a way to cancel and get your card back without using the keypad.

The fourth ATM, around the corner, was one that i’d seen a pile of people using the night before, and worked fine… once I realized that in Argentina you can’t withdraw more than 1,000 pesos (about $250) at a time, which sucks when you consider how long we’ll be here and how much everything costs here. Alas….

We drove on, finding, without surprise, no offers of breakfast. Our day continued through wine country where my neutral light magically came on. As I was currently maintaining my speed in fourth or fifth gear I was pretty sure I wasn’t actually in neutral, and that another electrical gremlin had appeared. As the day continued it turned off, turned back on, flickered, and generally misbehaved.

When I went into BMW Santiago I had zero electrical problems. They removed my entire tail light assembly when I pointed out that they’d broken the red plastic that covers it (most likely the people who washed it). And when they gave it back it wouldn’t go bright anymore. Not half a mile after I left my gas light came on (incorrectly), and now, my neutral light came on. I’m not saying they fucked it up, but it seems a mighty big coincidence to me that something would get fucked with my electrical system after they fucked with part of my electrical system.

Anyway… as lunch time came, and we were both starving, we found ourselves behind a bicycle race, and then in the midst of it as the leaders and the laggers had spread out a fair amount. Past closed restaurants, and uninteresting restaurants, to one we wanted to get to but couldn’t because the police wouldn’t let anyone turn around and go the direction we’d just come from (because of the race). Then into town where we were detoured away from the main street with all the shops (and food) and onto residential streets. Until eventually we were able to cross the main street (but not enter it) where we saw a restaurant on the corner and said THERE! , pulled over and ate.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5509933337Bicycle Race[/url]

It was surprisingly tasty. I had ravioli and Dachary had some sort of battered and fried thin-steak which was oddly reminiscent of fried fish, but still quite tasty. To top it off, they had wifi which we used to pay some bills so that the dog-sitters didn’t find themselves in a frozen apartment. We still don’t know why it didn’t get paid automatically.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5509941415Leaving wine country[/url]

Wine country petered out into a vast open plain, with fences. Seriously WTF are they keeping in, or out?! It’s possible to camp on the side of the road, obscured by scrub brush and some short tree/bush things, and we were pondering the best strategy for hidey-camping in it when we came into a town (Santa Isabel) around 5:30pm to get gas, and chomp a couple ice cream bars while we contemplated what to do next. Food then camp? Maybe the next town for food? hmm…

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5509945159The Naughty Cloud[/url]

I highly recommend the “Cook” ice cream bars by the way. Very tasty. As we sat there chomping and contemplating, a guy came in with his kid and asked if he could take a picture of his child on the moto. “Sure” we said, “but be careful because it’s heavy.” He thanked us and we followed him out a minute or so later and got to watch him posing for a pic with his kid. It was cute, and we didn’t mind at all since he asked.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510559328Future Adventure Rider?[/url]

We’d decided to get food, then try and camp. It’d be tight with the remaining sunlight, but we should be able to pull it off. Some of the food places looked closed, but then we saw one that doubled as a Bus Terminal, so we said, “they’ll be open!” and they were… technically. We walked in, and sat down. One of the two employees saw us. We sat… five minutes went by. I went back to the guy at the front desk (just outside the dining room) and asked “Is the restaurant open?” “Yes.” he said, and I saw the woman behind the counter who worked it. I went back in and told Dachary that yes, it was open and not just being used as a seating area for bus people. The woman popped her head in the room behind the bar thing, then left. We waited some more, and some more. We contemplated the fact that I’d asked if it was open, but not specifically asked if it was open *for food*. We didn’t’ want to be obnoxious. We waited more. They definitely knew we were there…. Fuck this. If they’re not going to get off their ass to even give us a menu, or ask us to wait a few minutes then Fuck them. The service will probably continue to be crap.

We put our coats back on, grabbed our helmets and tank bags, and left. On the way out the guy was all “But… BUtt….Don’t you want food?!” or something like that. I don’t really know what he was saying and I don’t care. I kept walking.

We got on the bikes, crossed the street, went into a little cafe that we could see some people in, and had two delicious, and enormous, sandwiches. While they were being prepped an old guy gave us some helpful navigation info for circumventing the next large town while we all poured over the map.

We’d planned on camping, but the sun was starting to set, and I didn’t want to be rushing to get away from town and then hunting for a place in the dark. The cafe also had a Hospedaje so I asked the proprietor, how much (100 pesos, about $25 US) and went to see. He had been pretty obsessive about swatting flies in the restaurant (so many have just left them to multiply by the hundreds) and we had a feeling the place would be clean. It was. In fact, it’s one of the nicest rooms we’ve had on the trip. Smelled a bit like cleaner, but we can deal with that. Then he lit the burner for the hot water heater and the place smelled like gas for…well, it smells like gas still, but my nose is starting to ignore it.

We decided that since we had some light left we should tackle the wiring of my tail light, so we got out the wiring diagram, removed all the electrical tape, and starting reattaching the wires in different combinations. None of them made the light get brighter when the brake went on, and one of them made a spark, but didn’t blow a fuse. We didn’t replicate that combination. In the end we gave up and put it all back the way it was in the first place.

I have resigned myself to riding with the neutral light and gas lights on and am just crossing my fingers that the thermostat light doesn’t come on because I could royally fuck up my bike if it starts lighting up in error, and then it actually does overheat and I don’t have any way to know. Ditto for the oil, but that’s easier to check.

I love my BMW but I’m having issues with the “Unstoppable” marketing they have in all the BMW stores. It seems just as stoppable as any other bike by a decent manufacturer.

March 5, 2011

Day 89 – Los Andes, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina

Breakfast in the loooooove hotel was, predictably, lame. We got instant coffee (which I won’t knowingly drink – yes, I’m a coffee snob too stupid to bring my own), toast, yogurt and “Sprim” peach juice. Which, really, is better than some of the breakfasts we’ve had… but a couple of pieces of dry toast, a yogurt and a cup of juice isn’t my idea of a good way to start a chilly morning on the bike.

Out of the love hotel shortly after 9, and off to the border with Argentina. Yay! This, apparently, is where the Pan Americana crosses into Argentina and goes over to Buenos Aires and then down toward Ushuaia. We were planning on taking it as far as Mendoza, and then taking one of the other roads down toward Ushuaia (probably Routa 40 much of the way).

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And I’ve gotta say, the stretch of the Pan Americana from Los Andes to Mendoza is breathtakingly, stunningly beautiful. You enter the mountains right away, and the road runs through a valley with tall verdant mountains on either side, which slowly change to tall, rocky, sandy mountains. At one point, you climb a switchback with numbered curves – 28 of them, and then I stopped remembering to look at the numbers. You could see the whole valley and the road stretched up to the top like a string of spaghetti. It was awesome.

Kay’s note: I humored us by imitating The Count from Sesame Street. “Curva Siete! Hah, hah, hah hah…”

Confession: Kay and I have been joking back and forth “It’s a pity we’re taking the Pan Americana. Nothing to see here. Nothing beautiful at all.” Between exclamations over this pretty thing and that pretty thing. We don’t mean it in ill will – it just boggles the mind that people can ride the Pan Americana and say “nothing pretty.” Sure, there are boring stretches, but there are also breathtakingly spectacular stretches, and it hasn’t at all been the mile-grinding, soulless road that the reports and people’s comments would have us believe.

Waiting for the construction flagger to wave us on…

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5509843499Waiting in the Pass[/url]

At the toll booth before Christo Redentor Tunnel

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510430966At the toll booth before the Christo Redentor Tunnel[/url]

At the top of the pass, you’re at around 3,200 meters. And after a while at that altitude, I was starting to feel it. Apparently I’m never going to be a mountaineer, or I’ll need to do a *lot* of acclimatizing.

At the top of the pass, you arrive at a building and signs thanking you for your visit to Chile. So one assumes this is the Chilean border building. We pull up where all of the cars are parked, and Kay goes inside with our paperwork while I change some American dollars to Argentinian pesos. (I wanted to keep our Chilean pesos because we’ll be entering Chile again. Unfortunately, the guy at the building rejected four of my $10 bills, because they had writing on them – got them that way from the ATM – so I was only able to change $30 without digging in my panniers for more cash. But I figured that would be enough for gas or lunch until we could find an ATM and withdraw some Argentinian cash.)

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510449246Gimme Da Cash![/url]

A little over 20 minutes later, Kay comes back with some unexpected news. “It’s another backwards border.” Apparently, after standing in line for a bit, one of the truckers there with him started chatting and they figured out that Kay didn’t need to be there with our paperwork. He confirmed what the trucker said with an official, but basically – the Chilean border building is for *entering* Chile and *exiting* Argentina. You exit Chile and enter Argentina in one combined building – on the Argentinian side. This is weird to us after all of the Central America (and even the other South America) borders where you exit the country inside of the country, cross no-man’s land, and then enter the next country inside the next country.

So back on the bikes and through the crazy long tunnel into Argentina. The tunnel is through a very tall mountain, and was a joint Chilean and Argentinian effort. It spans the border, starting in Chile and ending in Argentina (the signs for the border are inside of the tunnel). The tunnel is a bit over a mile long, and is well lit, but has very poor ventilation. You could see the dust and dirt particles in the air, and it smelled strongly of truck driver fumes.

Out the other side of the tunnel, and shortly later is a road up to a statue of Christ that is apparently commemorating the tunnel. It’s on the top of the mountain that the tunnel passes through, up a crazy switchbacky 8km dirt road. Kay expresses a vague interest in seeing it, but I don’t want to take the time out with the border crossing ahead, so we decide to go on. Shortly before entering another tunnel, we pass a few restaurants and decide to turn around and get lunch. We have no idea how long the border formalities will take but it’s around 1PM already and we’re both wicked hungry again after teeny breakfast and riding through the cold.

We stop at one of the restaurants (the one that has a GINORMOUS Saint Bernard-looking dog snoozing out front) and walk inside, not sure what to expect. A guy greets us warmly, lists a few food items and explains that if we want a hot plate, we can go serve ourselves. We go inside (as we’re sitting in the enclosed porch) and there’s a friendly lady in front of a covered buffet. She opens it as we walk up, chats with us for a minute, ascertains that we speak English, and then does her best to explain what’s in each of the dishes in English.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5509854207Marshmallow-Bernard[/url]

I get beef in a wine sauce, beef in gravy with carrots, a meatball and some rice, and Kay gets beef in wine sauce, beef in gravy with carrots, lentils, some sort of Argentinian bean dish (she says it’s a national specialty) and rice. We retire to our table (and me with a Diet Coke! Yay! Argentina has Diet Coke!) and proceed to nom. Nom nom nom. OMG this is the best meal EVAR! The beef in wine sauce is particularly tasty, but it’s all wicked good. Oh, and what’s that? It comes with dessert? Don’t mind if we do. Kay picks up a desert of jellied sweetness on top of cheese, and I grab a blondie-looking-thing in some sort of sauce, and we nom that too, with great pleasure.

We both agree that whoever made this menu is SMART. Not only is it tasty, but the food shows real thought – the pairings are well-made, and whoever designed the menu chose food that will sit well in a buffet and just get tastier as it sits. Same with the desserts. This is probably the most intelligently-conceived menu we’ve had, as the flavors and pairings really went well together – almost like a fine-dining restaurant in the US, but in a homestyle setting. Totally unexpected but delicious lunch. It surprises us with the cost, though – I have to put back one of the bottles of water we were planning to buy and *just* have enough Argentinian pesos to pay for lunch.

During lunch, Kay has decided that he’d really like to see the statue after all. He says “When are we gonna have the chance again?” and decides to head off. I’m feeling even more ill from the altitude – short of breath just walking to the bathroom, and dizzy and lightheaded – and I don’t want to tackle 8km of switchbacky dirt on a high mountain with no guardrails. My fear of heights combined with my apprehension about the road surface and my reaction to the altitude seem like a dangerous combination to me, so I opt to sit on the bench outside the restaurant with the Saint Bernard and read my book while Kay goes up to check out the statue.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510460954The view on the way up to the Christo Redentor Monument[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510467390Christo Redentor[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510472322Christo Redentor[/url]

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5509875561View from the Christo Redentor Monumento[/url]

He returns not quite an hour later, we put on our rain liners and Cyclone Buffs because we’re chilly, and then head off to the border crossing, finally. It’s around 3PM now.

Kay’s note: The views up the road were gorgeous, and the road surface was pretty decent. At the top it was very windy and there was one of the better statues I’ve ever seen of Christ. I think he looks kinda badass in this one. Sadly, the guy who offered to take my picture was a crappy photographer… Oh well. I scurried up and down the hill as quickly as I safely could because I didn’t want to leave Dachary sitting for any longer than necessary. I really wished she had of come, because I don’t like doing things without her, but it was too close, too easy, and too fast for me to just drive right past it without stopping. Also, I figured that if something happened to me I’d only be about 1k away from her. Ok, yeah, maybe 600 meters up, but only 1k away. ;)

Through another tunnel and down the road a bit more is the Argentinian border building. And I’ve gotta say, it’s the best border building we’ve seen yet on the trip. You literally drive into the building, and there are rows and rows of booths with aisles between them for you to drive down and get processed. Immigrations in one booth, and then pull forward to aduana for customs. At immigration, they asked us for more paperwork, which we didn’t have, and then gave us another form to fill out (just the basic tourist info, such as name, country, destination, passport number, etc.). Out of Chile and into Argentina. Check.

Now for the bikes. Pull forward to aduana and hand her our paperwork. Wait… she looks confused. She asks Kay something, but we don’t understand, and she shares a significant look with the other women there. She tries type-typing some more and doesn’t seem to get anywhere. Eventually, she hands our paperwork to one of the women in the booth with her, who motions us to pull forward. We do, and the aduana woman who has our paperwork vanishes off to an office. We sit by the bikes and wait, and Kay wanders around to inquire about where we can buy insurance for Argentina, but doesn’t have any luck.

Apparently the only place we can buy insurance FOR Argentina is back in the Chile border crossing building, which we weren’t even supposed to use. You can’t buy insurance for Argentina in the building where you check into Argentina. Bummer. Kay suggests going back to the other border building to buy insurance, but I don’t want to ride another 20km back after we’ve already checked into Argentina, so I suggest we’ll just get it somewhere down the road.

Kay’s note: not only couldn’t you by insurance there but I asked Chile and Argentinian Aduana people if it was obligatory (I was pretty sure it was) and they were all clueless. “Obligatory? In Argentina?” I wasn’t stupid enough to ask the Argentinian Aduana people we were actually dealing with though, for fear they’d prevent us from proceeding. I asked an Argentinian police officer and he said we could buy it somewhere like 25k down the road, but his distance estimates were crap and we never saw anything that looked like it might sell… anything.

A few minutes later, the aduana woman comes back and tells us to follow her. She points us to an office, which we find after asking a guy awkwardly in our poor Spanish, and another aduana woman is processing the entry paperwork for our bikes into Argentina. She asks us a few questions, but mostly is being efficient processing the paperwork. An aduana guy comes in while she’s doing our bike forms and starts chatting with us, and seems surprised when we say we’re going to Ushuaia. “That’s over 3,000 kilometers!” he tells us.

3k? Dude. We’ve ridden our motos from Boston. 3k to Ushuaia? Is that all?

We have a nice little chat, the woman has us sign some forms she’s printed, the guy tells us “Good luck!” in English, and off we go to our bikes. We’ve got to give someone a piece of paper with a bunch of stamps on it when we get to the control point (7k, a guard tells us) but otherwise we’re officially in Argentina. The last country on our trip! Yay! (Well, except for that little bit with Chile, but we’ve already been in Chile so it doesn’t count as a new country.)

On the bikes and down the road. 7k comes and goes. 7 miles comes and goes. Eventually we decide we must have missed the control point, and Kay says “Oh, well, we’ll just have to keep the paper with the stamps as remembrance.” And then, of course, about 10k later, we hit the control point, hand over our stamped papers and are really in Argentina!

Kay’s note: it’s a piece of blank newsprint that we were handed after exiting the tunnel where an Argentinian Cop wrote or license numbers on it in pen and stamped it. Then all the other Aduana and Migrations people stamped it in random places. It’s a total hack that’s a pale imitation of the really nice form they had for everyone to stamp at the Bolivia / Chile border so that the exit guard could easily see that you’d been to all the places you needed to go to.

We ride on, past more beautiful scenery. It’s just as pretty on the Argentina side. Oh, woe is us, having made the decision to ride the Pan Americana for this stretch. It’s a pity there’s nothing pretty to see here.

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Eventually we get to Uspallata, where we’ve heard from another adventure rider who is ahead of us that there’s an ATM, but it was out of money when he came through a few days ago. We stop and ask around, and find the ATM, but it’s still out of money even though it’s attached to a bank. We also run into a ton of Argentinian adventure riders, and chat with a few of them. Kay discovers that it’s a four-day weekend in Argentina, which is why so many riders are in Uspallata, but also that it’s a big problem that we haven’t bought insurance yet. One of the other riders says “You’ll have to be very careful.” And because it’s a four-day weekend, he’s not sure when or where we’ll be able to buy insurance.

Kay’s note: while there we stop in the bathrooms to pee and I discover a large dog has taken over one of the stalls for a nap.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510510132It’s his stall Damn It![/url]

And we discover the beginning of a curious trend that would never fly in the US. Hot water vending machines. People line up for these things regardless of how hot the day is. We suspect it’s related to their habit of drinking instant coffee… bleb.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510515912Agua Caliente[/url]

We ride toward Mendoza, where we’ll have to hunt down an ATM, and debate insurance. Kay wants to ride back to the border and buy insurance from the building on the Chile side, but we’ve already gone over 70km from the border and I’m unwilling to make a 140km round-trip at 5:30PM. Especially when we don’t have any Argentinian money, and the only place to get some is Mendoza – over 100km ahead. There’s no way we could get back to Chile, get insurance, and get to Mendoza before dark. We probably couldn’t even get back to Uspallata before dark. We’d run out of money and wouldn’t have money for dinner, gas, a hotel or breakfast tomorrow.

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I’m quite adamant about not going back, and Kay feels quite strongly that our not having insurance in Argentina is a real problem, so we debate our options. Eventually we decide we’ll have to get some before we cross back into Chile later, and maybe we can get some at a future border crossing. I secretly think we’ll find some in a town somewhere, or maybe even online, and am not worried about it, but it really seems to be bothering Kay.

The debate continues as we get closer to Mendoza. We ride through a few sprinkles, and I look back in the rear-view mirror once to see that the heavens have opened behind us and there’s a solid column of water falling from the sky a few kilometers back, where we just came from, but we manage to avoid the worst of the rain. We get to the turn where we have to either go into Mendoza or head south, and we go into Mendoza for an ATM. Sadly, Mendoza is 26km north of the turn, and we have no idea where to look for an ATM, so we head toward town center – all the way into town. All 26km. We do pass a few hotels on the way into town, so at least we know we can find one heading south again if we need to.

Kay’s note: imagine the center of a nuclear mushroom cloud. That’s what this water-column looks like. Totally freaky.

Eventually we pull over at a random service station to ask someone where to find an ATM, and he points at the bus terminal across the street. I wait with the bikes while Kay goes across the street to do our business. He returns with cash, yay! So we buy gas, and even though it’s after 7PM, we decide to head south out of town and look for one of the hotels we passed on the way in, instead of going further into the center of town to find a hotel. So we head south. We pass one of the hotels I saw, but I see it too late and don’t want to turn around for it. There were a couple more ahead.

We see an exit that has a hotel sign, and turn off, but can’t find a hotel. We wander around for a bit but don’t see anything obvious. We see a sign that advertises camping, and we turn down that road to see if we can find a campground, but a mile or two down the road, there’s nothing and we decide to turn back. It’s starting to get dark. We turn around in a big empty dirt field, and Kay points out that we could camp here if we needed to, but I argue that it’s too close to the road, too exposed (there isn’t really any cover at all) and besides, I haven’t had dinner.

Whilst turning around in the dirt field, I try to swing wide around a mud puddle and end up dropping the bike on the edge of it. I holler for Kay, who turns around and comes back to help me extract my bike from the mud. The pannier is undamaged, luckily, but the rear brake lever is bend badly. Mud is still my nemesis. The brake lever is unusable, and also in the way of using my foot peg, so Kay pulls out our big wrench (the one for dismounting/mounting the rear tire) and uses its leverage to bend the brake lever back most of the way. It’s still not perfect, but it should work long enough for us to find someplace.

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=http://www.flickr.com/photos/corporaterunaways/5510530438Bent Brake Lever[/url]

Of course, now it’s getting darker. We head back to the highway and get pointed south again. A few minutes later, we see another exit that promises hotels in both directions. We get off, and go to the right, looking for the promised hotel in 1km. Nothing. No signs, no hotel – just a town. We decide to turn around and check the place that’s supposed to be 4km on the other side of the highway. While heading back that way, we ask a police officer where to find a hotel, and he basically says to turn around the way we were originally headed, go four blocks down, take a right, go another two blocks, take another right and there’s a hotel.

We do, and we find it, but there are no vacancies. And the woman at the hotel can’t recommend another hotel. So back to trying to find the place 4km on the other side of the highway, which is now even further away, and oh, yeah – sunset was a few minutes ago so it’s getting toward full dark.

Down the road in the other direction, and we follow some signs I see but can’t read clearly, advertising a restaurant and… something… 4km down the road. Ok, that’s roughly where the sign said it should be, so we go that way. Take a right, still following the signs… and see a sign another kilometer down the road pointing down a dirt road. Kay stops and reads this one, and it’s “restaurant and events.” Not hotel. Damnit! Now we’re in the middle of nowhere, and there’s no hotel, and we’ve gone a long way from the dirt space where Kay had suggested we camp, and my right ankle where I dropped the bike is swelling and painful, and my left shoulder hurts, and I’m way crashed from not eating enough today, and crying in my helmet.

I don’t know what to do.

Kay’s note: At this point I don’t either. There are places to camp but camping requires the most mental dealing, which Dachary is not up for. I’m thinking that if we DO find anything hotel-like they won’t have food, and there’s little chance we’ll find anything soon, and Dachary has stated that she isn’t up to dealing with getting off the bike unless she doesn’t have to get on again, even if it’s to eat food, which she really needs. So, I don’t really know what to do that will work for her.

While we’re standing there on our bikes, at a complete loss, a small local moto pulls up and a woman and a child get off. The guy stands there with the moto. Kay goes up and asks if the guy can recommend a hotel nearby, and the guy tries to talk to us, but we’re having trouble understanding. Pretty quickly, he says to follow him and he takes off down the road in the direction we were heading. It’s full dark now and we’re riding through the countryside with no idea where we’re going and not a clue where the guy is leading us.

After just a couple of kilometers, we pull up in front of a place that advertises cabanas. Yay! Cabins! Just as we’re pulling up, a guy on a bicycle is pulling in and walking over to the locked gate. Our guy on the moto talks to him, they have a brief exchange (wherein our helper on the local moto explains we don’t speak much Spanish) and the guy on the bicycle vanishes behind the locked gate. The guy on the moto tries to tell us something, but we’re not sure what it is. They don’t have any vacancies? Or the guy on the bicycle wasn’t sure? But the guy on the moto is standing there and seems to be waiting for something, so we wait with him.

Kay’s note: he was saying that if this didn’t work out we could go to one that he’d passed on the way here.

A few minutes later, the guy on the bicycle returns with a thumbs up. They have a vacancy! We can stay! We thank the guy on the moto who led us here profusely, he shakes both of our hands and then rides off back to his wife and daughter. Again, the kindness of strangers at an absolutely desperate moment gets us sorted, and we follow the guy in, park our bikes, look at the cabin and pay him far too much money to get a roof and bed for the night. Alas, he locks the gate behind us, and we’re in the middle of nowhere anyway – no sign of a restaurant, and it looks like I won’t be getting dinner. I’m not pleased, but at least I’m off the bike, which was my biggest priority at that point.

We bring a few things into the cabin and Kay notes that there’s a stove, and we have a box of macaroni and cheese, so at least we can make the mac and cheese. I start water boiling while he goes to grab the yellow dry-sack off his bike that contains the food. Unfortunately, we discover that the mac and cheese box has gotten squished at some point, and most of the mac has strewn itself over the inside of the bag, so Kay takes a bunch of stuff out and starts a fishing expedition, grabbing handfuls of macaroni from the bottom of the bag. Eventually we get most of it, the water is boiling and we throw the mac in.

We also find rice that I’d forgotten about inside the bag, so I pull out our cooking pot that we use with our little stove to make some rice, too. I figure we can put some of the mac sauce on it and stretch our meal a bit more. I put water and rice in the pot, put the lid on it and put it on the back burner of the stove. We stir the mac and watch TV on the iPad while the rice cooks.

When the mac is done, I decide to take the lid off the rice to check on it, even though I know you’re not supposed to check on the rice halfway through. I want to, anyway. I grab the lid and pull… and it doesn’t want to come. So I pull harder. And the lid comes away from the pot, melted plastic stretching from the pot to the lid. Yikes! The plastic lid has melted to the pot all the way around, and the rice is burned on the bottom and looks uncooked on the top. The lid is ruined, the pot might be, and no rice. I decide that I should not be allowed to touch things anymore, and have Kay deal with getting the mac dished out.

Kay’s note: there wasn’t enough water in with the rice to start with and the lid has holes in it (intentionally) so all the water boiled out, and left the heat going directly up through the metal into the plastic lid. So, totally our fault and not crap design on the part of the pot, although I’m thinking i’d prefer it if it had a metal lid instead of a meltable plastic one.

Dinner concludes with watching TV on the iPad whilst nomming the mac, and then retiring to the bed where I can crawl under the covers and hopefully avoid the all-too-attentive mosquito that has been dining on me during dinner. I’d forgotten about mosquitos in Peru and Chile – hadn’t had to worry about them in so long that I’d dismissed the nuisance they are. After finishing our episode of Torchwood (our current TV series on the iPad) we decided we should sleep, and within minutes of turning out the light, the damn mosquito buzzed my ear. I jerked uncontrollably, asked Kay to turn the light on so we could kill it, and tried to decide how not to keep us both up all night with me freaking out about mosquitos, on top of everything else this evening.

I ask Kay to go get my Buff from my tank bag, and then proceed to pull it down over my head. It covers my skin from my forehead to my neck, and then I pull the sheets up to my neck. There! Now the little bastard can’t get me! No exposed skin. Kay points out that I could probably just put the Buff over my ears to keep them from buzzing my ear, but I prefer the no exposed skin route, even though I look ridiculous with a Buff covering my head, and it gives me the peace of mind that I need to fall asleep. I pass out quickly.

Kay’s note: She’s turned the Buff into a giant head-sock. It’s like some freaky modern dance performance.

March 4, 2011

Day 88 – Santiago to Los Andes

Theoretically, the bikes should have been done yesterday afternoon. We’d also been keeping an eye on the package from RevZilla, and it looked like it arrived yesterday afternoon. So we were looking forward to getting to the BMW dealer, picking up the bikes and the package, and then heading for Argentina.

The day did not go as planned.

We emailed BMW first thing in the morning (7:30am, and they open at 8) and waited for a reply while we showered, packed our panniers and had breakfast. Nothing by around 9:30, so we decided to load some money onto a Skype account and call them. We spent a while futzing around with trying to find Kay’s user name and password, which he’s forgotten, and the reminder email didn’t seem to come through. So I got my laptop back out, fired it up, added money and prepared to make calls.

First, I called BMW. The woman who answered was the receptionist who speaks some English, and I wanted to confirm that our bikes were ready. She said no, they’re about to start working on our bikes and they should be ready by 5:30PM. WTF??? When we dropped them off on Wednesday, they told us they’d be ready by Thursday (yesterday) at 3PM. So why a day plus late now? Instead of arguing, I just asked about the package. That seemed to jog her memory. “You’re the ones with the ses sequenta bikes?” “Yes, that’s us.” “The yellow one and the black one?” “Yes.” “Oh, yes, those bikes are ready.”

Agh! Ok. Good. Bikes are ready. Package? Not there, she says, but she can call the other office and ask. I explain to her that we’ve got the tracking info and the package was delivered yesterday evening, and she promises to make the call to check on it. But we’re still not communicating the best, so I thank her and hang up instead of trying to get more info from her about the package.

Kay and I don’t trust the package thing, so we call USPS to confirm that the package was successfully delivered to the address specified. The tracking info on the USPS website indicates that it was delivered, but it lists a different neighborhood than where it should have been sent. So I ask Kay to make this call, and he discovers that FedEx also has tracking info for the package (as FedEx takes over for it at some point along the day) and the FedEx tracking info is correct and comprehensive. But he confirms with the woman on the phone that it was delivered the address on the package, and we’ve confirmed with the woman at the BMW dealer that the address matches one of their locations (although not the one where motos are repaired) so we’re confident the package is there.

So finally we’re free to pack up and head to the BMW dealer. Which we do, after having the hotel call a taxi for us, waiting a while for it and then another lengthy cab ride back. Interestingly, though, this cab ride only cost us like $13, compared to the $20 of the cab ride from the dealer to the hotel. Bonus less cost?

At the BMW dealer, the bikes are sitting out front ready to go. The receptionist offers to go over the paperwork with us to explain the costs, and then we’ll pay. She does, and Kay and I exchange glances (and cringe) when we get to the price. $300 for his bike, and close to $400 for mine. YIKES! This is by far the most expensive labor we’ve paid anywhere on the trip, and we can’t understand how this visit has turned into a $700 visit. But we pay and make nice, and start to load up the bikes.

Where I notice that Kay’s taillight cover has busted. The ever-loving taillight cover that’s been replaced now when the first one came off. This time, the screws were still in the taillight assembly, and pieces of the cover were broken off on the screws. We went in to ask about it, the receptionist who speaks English came out, looked at it and then vanished back to the service area for a while. When she came back, she made an excuse (I think it must have come off when the washing guys were washing the bike, because we don’t have any pieces of it anywhere) but they’d fix it for us. She says they would have noted when they did the service that it was broken if it had been broken when we brought it in, and they didn’t, so it must have happened on their watch. At least there’s that.

So we go inside and sit with the iPad while they set about to fixing Kay’s taillight. At one point, they come in with a stock taillight cover and they seem to have completely taken off Kay’s taillight assembly (undoing the wiring), and they start talking to the receptionist. A minute later, she comes over and explains that the part isn’t original. Duh! We could have told them that. I don’t know why they had to take the whole damn taillight assembly off to figure that out. She says that they don’t have the part to fix it since it’s not original, but they’ll send someone to buy the right part and make good for us. It’s irritating, but at least they’re dealing with it, so we go back to chilling.

Shortly after this exchange, we ask about the package again. She makes another call, then tells us that they don’t have the package. We confirm for her that it was delivered at 5:28PM yesterday, show her the mailing address where it went, and tell her that the name of the person who signed for the package was “ROJAS.” We have the tracking number, and we offer it to her so she can look it up, but she doesn’t seem interested – she tells us there’s a public computer we can use to look it up if we want, and then goes back to her phone call.

Kay goes over to use the computer, and runs into Simon. He’s an adventure rider from Montreal here on an F800GS, and unfortunately for him, his suspension has given out. He’s just been told that it’s going to take 15 days to get the parts and his trip is on hold for a bit. We feel bad for him, and chat for a while as we wait for them to fix Kay’s taillight.

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Things drag on. At around 1PM, the receptionist tells us that the person who probably signed for the package yesterday evening won’t be in the office until 2PM, and they can’t find the package, so they’ll have to wait for that person to come in and ask what they did with it. We’re getting very hungry, so I go out to see if there’s any food nearby while Kay chats with Simon some more. The only thing I see is a gas station down the street, so I tell Kay and take his order for gas station food.

Quick trip to the gas station and then back with some ready-made sandwiches, chips and drinks. We nom while Simon wanders around, talking with the BMW guys and us intermittently. Eventually we finish our meal, and he seems to have his business finished, so he says goodbye and heads off to his hostel for the weekend. In the meantime, 2pm has come and gone, but the receptionist has vanished and we don’t know who else to ask about the package. And Kay’s bike *still* isn’t ready, anyway, so we watch some more TV on the iPad.

At around 3:30, the receptionist comes back… and Kay’s bike is finished. Yay! We ask about the package again, she makes another call and says they still don’t know where it is. Only one package came in yesterday and it went to a guy there at the dealer, so they’ll have to check with him to see if it’s my package. Someone will call back.

At this point, we’ve been sitting here since like 11AM and we just want to be gone. Kay suggests that he ride over to the other location she keeps calling, thinking that being there in person might be more effective, while I wait here for news. Sounds like a decent plan to me, too, so he goes to load up his bike, and I decide to load mine up, too, so I’m ready to go whenever we can actually leave. He goes back in to confirm directions to the other BMW location, and comes out to report “I think we should both go, because it’s kinda far away, and she gave me the name of the guy who got our original email about the package anyway. He’s at that location.”

So we both go, which I prefer, anyway, because I don’t like it when Kay goes off without me. I worry about him. Shortly before 4PM, we’re on the road to the other BMW dealer where we can *hopefully* get my package from RevZilla and get the hell on the road.

On the way to the other BMW dealer, Kay says over the headset “my gas light just came on.” Hmm, that’s weird, I think – I’m pretty sure we’re not due for gas. But we’re passing a gas station and Kay wants to go in and fill up, and we could use gas eventually anyway, so we do. When I go to reset the trip meter (which is how we keep track of our gas – every 120-160 miles we start looking for another gas station) and find we’ve only gone 89 miles since our last fill up. No way in hell should his gas light have come on. I tell him that, which he thinks is strange… and when we start the bikes to head off, his gas light is still on. Yikes!

We find the other BMW location without much trouble, go inside and ask the receptionist for the guy who’s name we have. She asks our names, and Kay tells her, and then says “una packeta” which is apparently enough to jog her memory – “Ahh,” she says with a knowing air. She tells us to sit down (all of this is in Spanish – she may or may not speak English, but we’ve addressed her successfully enough so far in Spanish so that’s how the exchange is being handled) and we do. Just a few minutes later, she walks over with an open box. Eureka! It’s my package from RevZilla! I pull out the contents and it’s a jacket and controller – just what I was expecting. It’s open, so I don’t know if there was anything else in the box (like paperwork or anything), but this is the important stuff anyway.

Apparently there was a customs fee, which they paid, so she shows us the paperwork with the fee, asks for a copy of one of our IDs (Kay hands over his passport), asks us to sign off on this book that we’ve received a package, Kay goes to pay the customs fee (which turns out to be around $60 US) and then we think we’re done. Just as we’re about to head out, she asks him to sign and write on a piece of paper (the copy of his passport, with a “received” stamp on it) and says to us it’s ok if it’s in English (in Spanish) so Kay writes “Received,” date and name, and then signs it.

And we’re done!

There was a surprising amount of paperwork involved, but it took very little time and was all totally reasonable. Unlike all of the stupid phone calls all day from the other BMW office that never seemed to yield any results. Coming here in person was absolutely the right call.

When we head back out to the bikes, Kay says he’d like to head back to the motorcycle service center to ask about his gas light. He’s worried that it’s related to the fuel pump, and the last thing we need is some sort of problem with that in Argentina, where there isn’t a single BMW dealer. Also, it’s suspicious that it’s come on right after a service – a service where they broke his taillight cover. So back to the other BMW location for the motorcycle service…

Kay’s note: the fuel gauge and the fuel pump are in the same assembly and I’m not sure if it being on will trigger anything else to happen. For example. My bike can be in neutral, without the neutral light on. It’ll stall the engine if i put out the kickstand in that state. Is there a circumstance under which the fuel pump will turn off when the fuel sensor is whacked? I dunno, and don’t want to find out the hard way.

…and on the way, I notice that his brake light isn’t working properly. It’s constantly on. It’s supposed to have a dim setting that serves as a regular taillight, and then it’s supposed to get bright when he hits the brake. But it’s staying constantly bright when he’s nowhere near the brake. We assume this is something that BMW has done, since they removed the *entire* taillight assembly before, including disconnecting the wires that the guys in Colombia had set up for us. They had the same problem in Colombia, but when they changed the wires around, it worked properly. So we figure BMW has probably got the connections backwards, and it should work just fine once we get that fixed.

So we pull up to the motorcycle service again, and Kay goes inside to alert them of his problems. At this point it’s around 4:40PM and we know they close for the night at 6PM, and will be closed all weekend. I’m concerned that they won’t be able to get to him, but annoyed that they broke it so willing to see what happens. The guys inside go to fetch the receptionist who speaks English, and she translates as we explain the problems with the gas light and the brake light. They try to make some excuses, Kay negates them and they take the bike back again. Back to the couch for some reading, this time.

At around 5:15, they come inside and talk to the receptionist, who comes over and explains that the problem isn’t with the connections – it’s a more serious electrical fault. It might be in the relay somewhere, it might be a connection somewhere in the wire harness – but BMW has determined that it’s definitely not the connection at the brake light. Overall, it could be nothing but it could also be a serious electrical problem manifesting for the first time. Since we’re traveling a big distance, they’d like to work on the bike and have it for us sometime tomorrow.

Kay’s note: I’m still thinking that yes the connections are fine at the light but that they’ve just got two wires switched. Not going to deal with it tonight.

Neither of us wants to stay in Santiago for another night, but at this point, it’s already after 5pm. We don’t want to end up in Argentina with some undiagnosed electrical problem, and who knows what else could go wrong if it’s a problem in the relay. So we agree to have them work on it tomorrow, thinking they’re coming in for us because we’re traveling, etc. Kay looks up the info for the hostel where we’ve stayed the last couple of nights, and asks the receptionist to call and see if they have a room available for the night. “Only one night?” she asks, and we confirm. They do have a room, so Kay goes and gets his panniers off the bike and we prepare to head back to the hostel for another night.

A couple of minutes later, Kay comes back inside and the receptionist walks over to us. “I made a mistake,” she says. “I said tomorrow, but we won’t be able to work on the bike tomorrow because we close for the weekend. It will be Monday.” Kay and I look at each other. Monday would mean 3 more nights in Santiago, in expensive hotels, eating expensive food, not making any forward progress… plus whatever BMW would charge for the service. And we’ve just paid $700 for service, plus too much for hotels, etc.

Eff that. Neither of us wants to ride off on a bike that might have electrical problems, but at this point, we also can’t afford to spend another $500-1000 in Santiago, and spend that many more days here. So we agree to take our chances and tell her to call the hostel back and cancel our reservation – we want to leave. She does. We wait for Kay’s bike.

And wait.

And wait.

They close at 6PM. At around 6:10PM, the guy walks up and hands me the keys to Kay’s bike. The receptionist comes over and says that they were concerned about us riding off on a bike that may have electrical problems, so they spent some extra time checking out the relay and electrical connections. She confirms that the bike isn’t fixed, but the problem is *just* with the brake light and/or gas light. Not the electrical relay or whatever else.

I thank her, while thinking “WTF?!?!” and we get the bikes loaded up and get away as quickly as possible. These guys may be perfectly good service people – it may be just a series of coincidences – but they seem to keep fucking up Kay’s bike in a suspicious manner and neither of us wants to be here any longer. So at around 6:20PM, we’re loaded up on the bikes and heading out of Santiago. We don’t care how far we get – we just don’t want to deal, and want to get out of the city and away from the BMW dealer as quickly as possible.

On the road we head west toward Route 5 and then north as quickly as possible. We get on a road that’s more direct, heading to Los Andes and then turning east toward Mendoza in Argentina. That’s our route for tomorrow, but for tonight, we just want to find something to eat and someplace to stay. We’d both be happy to camp but we’re starving and need to eat beforehand, and it’s too late to eat and have much light left. So we’ll probably end up getting a hotel in Los Andes.

We see a hotel and restaurant by the side of the road, get off and turn around… only to discover that it’s a “five star pet hotel.” Hah. Not for us. And the restaurant next door looks deserted. Back to the highway, and in a bit more, we reach a bypass for Mendoza or a turn into Los Andes. Los Andes it is… and not too far after the turn-off, Kay spots a bit “Motel” sign. Yay! We pull in… and it’s a kiss-no-tell motel! Double yay!

We pull into number 22, since that’s my birthday, and Kay checks out the room. Seems perfectly nice, but no idea about the rates. He wanders off to find someone, negotiates a really cheap rate for the entire night ($14 – the cheapest we’ve paid in Chile!) and it includes breakfast. Score! Oh, wait, the guy misspoke when trying to accommodate us with English. It’s 14… thousand pesos. About $28 US. Kay pays, and then rides off to find us dinner while I work on writing up the last couple of days.

More time than expected later, Kay returns with dinner. Apparently Los Andes, or at least the part where we find ourselves, is a teeny city with not much. He had a very hard time finding an open restaurant, and when he did, all he could find was empanadas. I like empanadas ok as an appetizer or with a meal… but I can only eat so much of them, and an entire meal of them seems daunting. We dig in, and it’s as daunting as it seems. I can only eat two before having to give up (Kay’s gotten us four each). Yet another lame meal. We haven’t had a good meal since the lunch we had two days ago at the expensive restaurant. I daydream about that steak.

Kay’s note: I got three flavors. One was quite tasty, one mediocre, and one neither of us liked much. I think empanadas make a good meal. Dachary disagrees. While waiting for them to warm I had a great conversation with the guy and he ended up offering for Dachary and I to stay in his house for free. Sweet guy. Very patient with my bad spanish. But, we’d already payed for the room and I’d rather it than with a total stranger who wasn’t a motorcycle geek.

Kiss-no-tell motels, though? We highly recommend. They’re really growing on us. No hassle, usually pretty clean and decent amenities, plus the bikes are safe and secure. So if you’re traveling, they’re not a bad place to stay.

Kay’s note (to the end): the cost for the bikes is almost entirely labor. We supplied the sprockets so those were free. The gasket, oil, cleaning solution, were fairly inexpensive. We did buy two replacement mirror screw things (since we’ve already goon through two) which cost about $60 but… $100 per bike to put on the sprockets! We’d have done it ourselves if we’d had a clue about the price, and a wrench big enough to do the nut on the front one. As Dachary says “For $200 we could have bought a damn wrench.”

Also, remember how I said labor is cheap in Latin America? Yeah, not in fucking Chile.

I don’t mind that the receptionist woman made a mistake and didn’t realize it was friday, but I was pissed about how she treated it as if it were a total non-issue for us to stay in town for another three days. Even if you ignore the price you should never assume that waylaying someone in a town for three days is a non-issue.

Also, I’m pissed about the effing package. First off, they get a package they don’t seem to have a clue about. Second off they have to pay $60 in customs fees for it. Third off they open it up and find shit that no-one there has a clue about the contents. Doesn’t that kinda thing stand out? I’d expect a “oh THAT package… we wondered what that was.” kind of response. But no. Hours and hours of “dunno what you’re talking about.” Arrgh!

Dachary and I were totally looking forward to that package. The guys from RevZilla had gone out of their way to get it to us. We were going to do an “Unboxing video” and everything, but the day had been one long frustration after another, and when we finally did get it all we wanted to do was get the hell out of Santiago. But first we had to go back and deal with the low fuel indicator… ugh…

Some people don’t get why we don’t spend time wandering around these cities. It’s one of the primary goals of their trips. But, we get lost driving in them, spend too much money staying in them, always have trouble escaping them (although usually not because of the roads), and generally find that…. they’re … cities. We prefer the countryside, the beautiful scenery, the small towns with nice people who aren’t all caught up with the hustle and bustle of city life.

March 3, 2011

Day 87 – Santiago, Chile

[QUICK NOTE]Our internet connection is too slow to upload pictures today, but it’s been a while since we updated so we wanted to post anyway. We’ll go back and edit later when we have pictures to share, and apologies in the meantime for all the words and no photos to break it up![END NOTE]

As we always find on a “day off,” there’s a certain pleasure to waking up and knowing you don’t have to make any miles today. The only reason we set the alarm at all was to make sure we didn’t miss breakfast, which was included with the hotel. Leisurely got up, read a bit, went down to breakfast (which was surprisingly lame) and generally enjoyed being lazy. Went out afterward to get me some Diet Coke, because I’m *really* enjoying being in a country where I can find it again, and then back to the room to be lazy.

Honestly I forget what we did in the morning. We were killing time until our laundry came, and then I think we planned to go out and see some of the city. There was a park nearby that our hotel had told us about; you could take a tram to the top of a hill and see the city all spread out, and the mountains surrounding it. That sounded nice.

At around 1PM, Kay went downstairs to check on our laundry. He returned victorious! Everything was dry; they’d hung our moto gear to dry since we’d told them it couldn’t be run through a drier, and we were thrilled to have clean clothes. It was glorious for all of 30 seconds, until I started separating things.

Turns out, I was missing a sock.

It sounds trivial, I know. Socks go missing all the time. But these are tall Smartwool socks that work great under my motorcycle boots, and they’re quite expensive in the US ($26+ per pair). I had three pairs with me, and with a missing sock, I’d be down to two pairs. That simply wasn’t cool. At any given time, since my waterproof boots are no longer waterproof, I might have a dirty pair and a wet pair, which gives me one extra pair to play with. With only two pairs, I envisioned a world of eternally wet socks. Plus I was upset that I have so few possessions on this trip, and I’m so careful with them, and the *second* I let something out of my hands, it goes missing.

Needless to say I was not pleased. I asked Kay to go back down and ask them about it, because I knew I was overly upset and didn’t want to be a bitch to them. He returned saying that they were very sorry, but they had no idea what might have happened. They showed him where they had hung the clothes, and Kay had been there when they took them off the hangars and they didn’t seem to think there was any way it could have gone missing. It had just vanished.

That left me in a funk. Again, I know it sounds like such a small thing, but I’ve been so careful with my stuff, and I have so few clothes – it’s the one thing I always wish I had more of. And I was not optimistic about finding a pair of socks to replace them. We were in a huge city, but our $20 cab ride from the day before discouraged me from going out to explore it. Santiago does have what appears to be a pretty comprehensive subway system, so there was always that option, but I spent a while resenting the necessity of going to look for socks and generally being in a bad mood. Which I regret now, but… *shrugs*

Eventually we went out to eat, and we decided to try the KFC not far from our hotel. It’s totally lame to eat fast food from the US, but there are times when you just want familiar comfort food from home, and KFC seemed like a good call. Unfortunately, the KFC in Santiago has very little that is recognizable from the KFC in the States, and the food that we did get was underwhelming at best. Boo disappointing meal.

Back to the room where I pout some more, and then decide we should maybe hit up the camping store that had an ad in the hotel lobby to see if we could replace my socks. But wait – they have a website! Before we try to get there, lets see if we can find similar socks on their website.

Well, there’s a pair that *looks* similar, although it’s not Smartwool… how much? Oh. A little over $40 US.

Yeah. I’m totally bummed about not having that sock, but not $40 for a pair of socks bummed. That’s one or two nights in a hotel, or several meals, or gas – not gonna waste it on a pair of socks. Especially with moto repairs of unknown cost hanging over our heads. So I nix our foray to look for socks, and read more. We watch a bit of TV on the iPad and eventually head out for dinner, which culminates in another disappointing meal. I’m annoyed that with this ginormous city and probably hundreds of restaurants, we keep finding the bad food.

Lesson kids? When you’re in a bad mood, you carry it around with you. Don’t do that.

Back to the hotel, and wait! They’ve found my sock! They’re very sorry about the inconvenience and they don’t know how it happened, but they’re happy to return it to me.

Yay for the sock! And now double boo that I wasted all day being upset about it.

Back to the room for some more TV on iPad, and then we decide we should watch the “off road riding technique” video that Stephen gave us in San Cristobal. It turns out to be surprisingly short. It contained some good tips, but sadly I don’t think I’ll be able to practice before we get to the dirt itself. Baptism by fire for me!

Then we ponder route a bit. We’d really like to ride Route 7 here in Chile. Everyone says it’s beautiful and wonderful and the photos I’ve seen are gorgeous, so we’re in favor of it. Plus one of the guys on ADV said it was mostly hard-packed dirt, while Routa 40 in Argentina consisted of a fair amount of gravel/rocks/sand, and the hard-packed dirt sounds better to us. So we look into the ferries and how far we could get.

Unfortunately, to do route 7, there’s a series of ferries of varying lengths you need to traverse one stretch to the next. And the second ferry on the route only runs in January and February – it’s March now, which means we’re too late for that ferry. To go down to that point is only 28KM (or miles? I forget) on routa 7 itself, which pretty much nixes that for us. Looks like we’ll be crossing into Argentina and doing Routa 40 after all. It seems to be mostly paved, according to our map, except for a roughly 500km stretch (which we could bypass, but won’t) and a little over 100km section near the bottom. So route is decided, and the day is pretty much done.

Not being on the bikes was a nice break, but in all, the day could have gone better (mostly due to my bad mood).