Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Breaking News!!!!

For those paying close attention, please be advised 2 (yes, 2!!!) new video clips have been uploaded to youtube. Give it a nudge with the link and search for Bolivian Dynamite Experience Part 1 and Part 2. I wanted to call it Bolivian blow job part 1 and 2, but that understandably got a rather larger search result of a slightly more dubious nature. Gone are the days of a harmless double entendre, it seems. Enjoy. We did.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Farewell to Boliviyeauuuurghhhh!!

Happy Christmas everyone, and a lively New Year as well. right, now that's over with...

So, we were in Oruro, if you've been paying attention, and about to head in the general direction of La Paz, which we duly managed to do. En route, as is our wont, we decided more precisely where we were going to try and get to, and picked a...suburb, I guess you'd call it, 12km out of La Paz called Mallasa, situated in the Bolivian Valle de la Luna (oh no, not another one, we thought). Unfortunately, we had no map with Mallasa on it, and as we got closer and closer to La Paz, the lack of road signage, though normal, became increasingly confusing.

And then, while stopped at a set of traffic lights in the middle lane of 3, a guiding angel appeared, thinly disguised as a local traffic cop. The cop came over while we waited for the lights, and asked the usual curious questions about where we were from, where we had come from today and where we were going. When we said Mallasa, he started giving ¨easy¨ instructions to find it that would take us off the crowded main streets. We were clearly struggling with his directions, so he suggested we move out of the now moving traffic to the side of the road, and he tried again. Seeing the looks of utter confusion still on our faces (not easy through the helmets...) he grabbed his mate, jumped on his own bike, told us to follow him and sped off through the unpredictable traffic. I dropped visor (there was a lot of both dust and dirty water being sprayed about), indicated left and pulled away from the kerb, with Rich in hot pursuit. Until, that is, my front wheel dislodged a storm water drain cover, and my back wheel dropped neatly in the hole. Rich came back, realising I wasn't on his tail any more, and we managed to lift the back end out of the hole without dropping the bike, but by now our guides had surely gone?

Not a bit of it. They too had realised we hadn't followed them, so had (probably illegally) U-turned and come back to find us. Reunited, we set off again, our wider, slower bikes finding it harder than the lighter cop bike to weave dangerously through the traffic, but we kept them in sight, and eventually got through a maze of streets to the top of a long and winding cobbled street leading into an incredible craggy valley. Hear, the friendly police pulled over, gave us some final directions for Mallasa, told us to ask any other policeman if we needed help and bid us farewell. Slightly dubiously, suspecting some kind of Bolivian rip off scam perhaps, we followed the amazing road into the valley.

After several pauses to check our direction, we were confident we were on the right road to Mallasa. And then, inevitably enough, things became a little pear-shaped. The road was rather unexpectedly blocked by a construction crew, large lorries waiting to take earth away, and a larger JCB type machine in the middle of the road, scooping it into the backs of the trucks in turn. We were assured that if we were ¨tranquilo¨, the road would be clear soon enough, so after one failed attempt at a sneaky detour, we waited it out.

Once clear, the first vehicle, a Toyota Hiace van, tried to come up the relatively steep and by now very muddy and wet road, and unsurprisingly got totally stuck. Lack of air, hot clothing and the nasty mud prevented us from leaping to the van's aid, but others tougher than us stepped in, pushed it through, and the road was open! I launched myself down the chute, throwing caution to a walking pace wind, and promptly lost my front wheel in the slippery deep mud, dropping my bike and blocking Rich and the rather large lorry behind me from being able to get past. A frenzied pick up of the bike threw it on to its other side, before I manfully and totally-out-of-breathedly managed to get it up (so to speak) and successfully out of the muddy slick. And so, on to Mallasa with no further interruptions or issues. Phew.

The Bolivian Valle de la Luna certainly deserved its name, with totally amazing rock formations we totally failed to photograph, as we were by this time just keen to get to the end of the ride. We had a very comfortable night in a fairly luxury hostel, and next day proceeded through La Paz and on to Copacobana.

Now I made that sound easy, but getting through La Paz on a Sunday morning (surely less traffic on a Sunday?) was preceded by a climb up and up and up a crazy winding road (hopefully Rich got good video footage of that), providing a steadily improving view of La Paz below us, a truly stunning location for a city, albeit a rather busy and dirty city. At the top of the hill, we hit real traffic, and had a thoroughly entertaining half our weaving our way with a recklessness surpassed only by the true locals, through the traffic and out of town. A quick, straight spin followed to get us to within sight of Lake Titicaca, and a short hop on a very rickety boat put us across from San Pablo to San Pedro, and on to an absolutely superb, high level, top quality tarmac, contour-following road around the edge of the lake to get to Copacobana.

Here we stopped for about 5 days over Xmas, enjoying a couple of nights out, met some friendly locals, had a crack at high altitude fitness activities (a hill climb and various push-up type things), and on our last night - Xmas night - a bout of food poisoning courtesy of the poshest food we'd eaten in months, and needless to say chicken. We should have known. Never mind, Rich spent the night shouting Huey and Ralph at the roses outside, and my first duty of the morning, under the impression I had escaped his fate despite an uncomfortable night, was to talk to God on the big white telephone. Having not purged myself as early as Rich, I also suffered bonus discomfort, which need not be highlighted, but altogether it did cause us to have a recovery day and mount a pavement protest which in due course got us a refund for the meal.

Which, sadly, had us leaving Bolivia with, quite literally, a sour taste in our mouths, despite having enjoyed every other aspect of the country enormously. It certainly hasn't put me off the notion of going back in March while Rich is otherwise occupied, to do a stint of voluntary work with, who work to rescue wild animals form zoos and circuses etc and rehabilitate them for release into the wild. Should be good, as long as I avoid chicken in Copacobana on the way there!

And so we entered Peru, homing in on Cusco at last and our 2 months of voluntary work for Bruce Peru. On the way we stopped at Puno for a night, not having fully regained our strength yet, which was very nice town from what we saw of it, narrow cobbled streets and old Spanish type buildings etc, and arrived in Cusco yesterday afternoon. It was another incredible drive in, totally well above 3000m all the way yet still surrounded by enormous hills and mountains. It really is a very high part of the world, round here! We have settled in to our digs, and found out a day or two before arrival that, rather than just being classroom volunteers as we had expected, we have been asked to take on the role of directors and coordinators for volunteers and fund raising (basically running the joint), as our predecessor was called back to the US rather unexpectedly and urgently. A bigger challenge certainly, but we have had a couple of working liquid lunches already, brainstormed some ideas, and are quietly confident that we will be highly successful! Of course, what else?

So wish us luck, keep an eye out for further updates and photos, and try to keep Auntie Beryl away from the sherry. You know it plays havoc with her plumbing.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Great Mines Think Alike

You'll no doubt be as relieved to know as I am, that the swelling has gone down (most of the time anyway) and there seems to be no lasting damage as a result of the last bee sting. You can rest easy now. Especially the ladies out there....

So anyway, we left Uyuni for Potosí, the original and richest mining town in Bolivia. The road was about 200km long, and unsealed all the way. After a shakey start with rather more sand than I like, and one or two eye-opening construction sites (a general wave of the flag to skirt round the construction works with the bikes saved us a lot of waiting around for big trucks to finish doing whatever it was they were doing), it calmed down to a really rather good gravel road, and with my confidence at an all time high (but still not at the expense of my caution, I promise), we had a very enjoyable ride to Potosí. Not a very glamourous city at first glance, and the whole place lives in the shadow of the Cerro Rico, the huuuuge mountain that has been the subject of mining operations since 1545 and source of just about every mineral you can think of, from silver and gold to lead and tin, zinc and iron, copper sulphate and who knows what else, and they're still going. currently, 17000 miners work the hill, all as part of various co-operatives, so they fortunes are up and down as dramatically as the world markets that govern their income. last year, for example, there were more Hummers in Potosí than the rest of Bolivia put together, but this year the prices have crashed, and they are back in their crappy trucks.
How do I know so much about the mountain? Why, I went on a tour, of course. And more surprising than that, so did Rich. We went on one of the "Mine Tours", taken underground into the working mines by an ex-miner who is now about 50 years old, but worked there from age 13 to 20. Much as many youngsters do today, in fact. It was an incredible tour, scurrying through tunnels and getting out of the way of classic Indiana Jones style mine trolleys as they were pushed past by groups of local workers. Empty, they are a mere 300kg. Full, they gain an extra 1000kg (that's a ton in old language) of rocks and earth that has to be either pushed to the surface, or to shaft where it is emptied into a heap and then hauled a bag at a time to the surface. Soul destroying stuff. On the up side, we were encouraged to take in a 2 litre bottles of fizzy pop for them each and a bag of coca leaves, the local cure-all that staves off altitude sickness, reduces appetite and gives a bit of an energy kick to boot. All presents gratefully received, not least the stick of dynamite we bought from a street vendor to take down for them. And a spare to get a demonstration outside afterwards from our guide...and another spare to take away secretly and blow up later of course....
Dynamite is loud!! The 2 sticks the guide blew up for us rattled our eardrums, and it was actually very useful to watch him prepare it so we could copy later (now that is a bit of vid I will try my hardest to up load!), and slightly comical to watch this fairly chunky old fella carry the sticks to the detonation site, and then run like hell to a safe distance!
Anyhow, despite the altitude (the mine entrance we used was about 4300m), and the heat underground (yes, it was hot and stuffy), we both managed to keep up and not get too puffed from our exertions. definitely earned teh beers we had later, shared with a group of 3 Canadian bikers we met in town, riding from British Colombia to the south somewhere, on KLR 650s for those that are interested. Potosí actually turned out to be a very pretty city in the centre, with blaconies, narrow streets and the obligatory well-used plaza.
Today, we left Potosí with a view to going to Cochabamba, but only made it to Oruro, due to fatigue (I think the altitude has that effect), the threat of rain and a slightly changed game plan. Suffice to say, on the way to Oruro, we found a suitable cactus, prepared our dynamite, and very carefully (with no risk to our own safety whatsoever, O beloved parents) blew the living whatnots out of it! Highly entertaining, and its probably lucky we only had one bit of dynamite to use, or the next target might well have been a slow moving goat/llama. We are now in Oruro, and likely to head towards, but not into, La Paz tomorrow, with a Christmas goal of getting to Copacobana on the shores of Lake Titikaka for a few (more) days R&R.
So that's all, thanks for tuning in, and for those that pay attention to the details, rest assured I did utter the immortal words "Do you think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?", but regrettably forgot to use the line "You're only supposed to blow the bleeding doors off!". So half marks only for me, I guess.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On the Trail of Butch and Sundance

Before I tell you about that, I'd just like to say I have added a couple more observations to the end of the last post, so feel free to check that one again, its free after all!

And now, to Bolivia! And not without a fair amount of trepidation, I have to admit. The same nerves I have got every time we have gone into a new country so far, and this time the principal worries were the roads and the rain, it being the rainy season, by all accounts. That said, we had been assured by the Canadian couple on the BMW we met in Mendoza that the roads would be no worse than anything we had encountered so far, not that that helped calm my nerves a great deal.
Anyhow, we crossed the border at La Quiaca early in the morning, and threaded our way through the streets of Villazon, past the crazy shouting man and up the main drag and out of town. Straight into a churned up, bulldozer-strewn stretch of sandy "road". Perfect. Fortunately, we picked our way through the road construction work, and onto a reasonable enough unsealed road that took us the 100km or so to Tupiza, the largest town in "Butch and Sundance's Last Stand" area of the country. The road had its share of sand mixed in with gravel, but no deep and difficult patches. The main problem was the corrugations, which were extreme and almost permanent, making for a bone-shaking ride for most of the way. It was, in all other respects, a very enjoyable ride though, and the last part as we approached Tupiza was genuinely spectacular, with more crazy rock formations and impressive scenery.
Unfortunately, it turned out that San Vicente, the actual mining village that Butch and Sundance finally caught the Big Stage Coach to the Sky, was (a) tiny, (2) quite a long way off our route, (iii) didn't actually have anything to show for their efforts, not even identifiable graves and (d) didn't have any petrol to refill on the way. Not to mention the road, if we were even able to find it, was the smallest possible standard marked on the map, suggesting extremely poor quality. So, we made a decision: we would take the road to Uyuni and the salt plains, and when we got to the turning to San Vicente, if we recognised it, we would detour down it a bit to assess its quality and decide if it was worth the risk and extra time.
So, off we went. In the wrong direction, initially, as the diversion sign pointed down a road that actually took us to the front line of the road construction, causing us to turn around, and eventually take the right road. Up to the first un-marked crossroads. Fortunately, we stopped here to find someone to ask, which gave me time to notice that the mysterious squeak I had been hearing was not, as I thought, coming from the front end, but actually from the back, where my luggage frame had broken at the same weld I'd had fixed in Brasil. Why? Because I had lost a securing bolt due to the shake down we had endured on the way in. So we turned round, went back to town and found a welder to fix it and a bolt shop to buy replacement bolts and spares for the next time it would happen. This all took us to midday, by which time I was reluctant to go on, as I suspected it would rain before we got to Uyuni (the word on the street is that however sunny it is, it rains some time mid-afternoon, just as it had done yesterday). This threat of rain, I felt, would put me under pressure to go faster than I wanted to, so I begged woosseyness and we decided to stay in Tupiza one more night.
This gave us a chance to modify our plan and pay homage to a rather old video of the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie, a welcome repeat viewing for me, and a first for Rich, so frankly, very necessary.
Next day, we found our way out of town without a hitch, but completely failed to spot the road to San Vicente, as none of the junctions we met had a sign to anywhere on them, and at nearly every one we had to stop and wait for a passing vehicle to point us in the right direction. More corrugations, but a fantastic, mountainous first 100km, up over 4000m again, and then a much less pleasant sandy second half, though mostly thin sand on a hard under surface, so not too bad. The only event on the journey of any note was my third bee-sting incident, and this time it was very serious indeed, and certainly no laughing matter. We had stopped for a piece of cake, a drink and a pee, and I had just completed the last of these, when I got the nasty feeling I had committed the cardinal schoolboy error of getting caught up in the zip. But wait, I hadn't even pulled the zip up yet, so why the very sharp pain in a very delicate place?? A quick and slightly panicky look revealed a very surprised bee escaping from my pants, and a small stinger left behind in my old fella! Quick as a flash, I picked the stinger out, and hopped around in a lot of pain, while Rich helped by taking a picture. He commented later that I had been lucky it was only one sting, and I pointed out that he was the lucky one, as if it had been worse, he might have had to suck out the poison! Still, despite these high jinx, the 210km took 6 hours, and we stumbled into Uyuni to a very unprepossessing sight of vast amounts of rubbish blown about the desert just outside of town. In fairness to Uyuni, this is not unusual in SA, as many smaller towns only have uncovered landfills for dumping rubbish, and lots of wind, so the end result, though unattractive to look at and smell, is sadly inevitable.
So Uyuni, then. Famous for its massive Salar plain, with freaky mirages, distorted perspective and seemingly endless space. We had a night to recover from the ride in, then a relaxed morning preparing food etc, considering it was only 20km to the salt, and with no shade we didn't want to have to spend the whole day out there before we camped. We found our way out to the plains, and straight away couldn't fail to notice what a weird and wonderful place it was. We stopped briefly at one of the hotels made of salt, near the "edge", then drove for about 100km in a vaguely straight line to the volcano out in the middle somewhere. The salt was very hard, so easy to drive on, and with no obstacles to crash into and no road to run off, it allowed for some interesting on-the-move photo opportunities. The volcano eventually grew larger, although the distance was very hard to judge. When we arrived, it was surprising to see grassy areas all round the "island", with stone walls, grazing llamas, and flamingoes. We pitched our tents, took some crazy photos, and enjoyed the sunset, before settling in for an early and somewhat chilly night.
Next morning, we packed up slowly due to the altitude (about 3500m), took some more whacky photos, and drove off to one of the other islands for a quick look, before heading back to Uyuni and thoroughly cleaning the salt off the bikes.
And that is where I am now. While Rich wiles away the afternoon asleep, I'm have popped out to try and upload photos and update you, but sadly this has been quick and easy, but the photos have been very slow indeed. I can only hope that Potosi has faster internet that Uyuni, or I am going to get very behind with my photos!
A final first impression of Bolivia? I like it. OK, the roads are crap, but the people we have met so far have all been friendly and smiley, despite being easily the poorest folks we have met so far. They also speak a much clearer form of Spanish - slower and better pronounced. That doesn't mean I can understand more of it, mind you, but I can at least tell where one word ends and the next begins now, so maybe that will help!
Well, watch out for bees, and start getting out the decorations for Chrimbo. Our next task is to find some to decorate the bikes with. Til then, chin chin.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Things That Deserve a Mention

One or two things caught my eye over the last few months, and before they cease to seem strange in any way, I feel I should just give them a mention now. Some are funny, some ridiculous, some just curious, but all are noteworthy to my mind, and almost without exception, none of them will have been photographed, as I'm just not that organised. Sorry about that. So, without anymore ado, and in no particular order of preference or occurrence:
·The bicycle "backy"- from old blokes giving a side saddle backy on the luggage rack to their equally old wife, to the standard, kids-only-rear-footpeg backy, to the side saddle crossbar backy, to the toddler-on-the-handlebars-and-third-person-on-the-back backy, to the highly complicated and very technical passenger-on-the-crossbar-steering-with-driver-seated-and-pedalling, it seems to be the only way to travel.
·The overloaded scooter- maximum load so far witnessed is 4 on a scooter, arranged in order from handlebars to back as: small child, male driver, slightly larger child, female backstop. There have often been examples of mother on the back holding very small baby, and one photo in the album of Dante, Millie and Nadia with full camping gear. Crash helmets optional. The only other way to travel.
·Crash helmets - optional, but if worn, often only perched on the top of the head, no further down than the ears, very possibly back to front. They found the loop hole in the law.
·Dogs. Everywhere. Except (hopefully) on restaurant menus. And cats. Same.
·Cars that in any other place on earth would have been condemned and retired to a "bits" pile at the back of some lost garage. I have no idea how they continue to run, but they do. Often crazily overloaded with people or cargo.
·Pick-ups full to bursting with people in the back, presumably on their way to work or market. Possibly an alternative to buses.
·Buses. And trucks, come to mention it. Big, fast and in total command of the road. Move or be run down.
·Speed limits - there at the side of the road purely for decoration, or possibly as the minimum required speed to be travelled. The aforementioned buses and trucks work on the " as fast as possible" theory, assuming that when they have to slow to 10kmh on the ups, they can make up time at 110kmh on the downs. With no brakes, I suspect.
·Mullets, everywhere. And in some cases swapped for a single dreadlock at the back. Mmmmm.
·Crap breakfasts. The Argies just haven't got a clue when it comes to breakfast. A small quantity of stale bread, possibly toasted but left to go cold before serving if so, and maybe some strange tasting jam, or more likely ham and cheese. If you are very lucky, and for no particular reason, you might get a pastry instead. The Brazilians have a better idea, with lots of tropcial fruits, but still with the ham and cheese and bread.
·Maté, or more accurately yerba maté, the local drink in Argy that supercedes coffee by a country mile. Small maté gourd with silver straw in one hand, packed full of maté leaves. Thermos for hot water held under the armpit of the same hand. Water is added to the mix at regular intervals and sucked up the straw, not in the manner of tea, but more as a damp sludge. Highly social, with the gourd being passed round a group, each particpant taking a refill and total sip from the same straw. The Argies are unable to function without it, and the addition of a flask to their armpits does not seem to hinder their day to day activities too much.
·Town plazas. Even the smallest, dustiest, most remote towns have a plaza, often called after General San Martin, which the try to keep green and full of trees (often with the bottom 5 feet or so of trunk painted white). Regardless of water shortage, the plazas get squirted. Similar, I guess to the village green in the UK, but given more respect by the locals.
·Change in shops. If they don't have the right coins (which often they don't) they either let you off, charge you more, or give you sweeties instead of money. I think everything balances out in the end.
·Electrical wiring. How every building in South America hasn't burned down yet I really don't know. Talk about living on a prayer.
-Buying things in Chile is very complicated. You enter a shop where all the items for sale are behind the counter, select your purchase, point it out to the man behind the counter who writes you a ticket. You take the ticket to another counter to pay. They give you another ticket to take back to the first man, who then hands over the item. Not easy when first encountered with limited Spanish. And following on from this:
-Make sure you address the right person in the shop at the right time: if you try to ask the cash til lady for an item, or even worse try to give your money to the item getting woman, you are likely to start a fight behind the counter. You have never seen mild old ladies snatch things as quickly as the mild looking lady who is in charge of the til when you hand the money to the wrong person!
- The man kiss! My favourite strange sight, and a sign that you have been accepted as a true friend if it is bestowed upon you. Male friends in the street greet each other with a handshake and a kiss to the cheek, and leave each other in the same way. It is not even remotely considered "gay"to do, although often they are generally fairly homophobic, excluding, of course, the Man Kiss. We have been lucky enough to have been considered close enough friends on a couple of occasions to have been sent on our way with a kiss, which is actaully very touching, in a good way! It has become one of our mottos, if you like, when we see it, to comment to each other that they are "taking back the Man Kiss". More power to them!
And while there are no doubt many more, my brain is sleepy so is refusing to voluteer the information. As and when I think of, or witness, more, I will add them in a later entry.
Take care out there, and remember: Keep 'em peeled!

Farewell Chile and Argentina, Hello Bolivia

So its true then. Firemen the world over, be they volunteers or professional, exist within a brotherhood of support for their colleagues. The boys at Copiapó certainly did their bit to keep us alive, and it was a little sad to have to say goodbye to them, but say goodbye we did, and off up the coast we went.
The first day was an easy one due to recent ailments - only as far as Chañaral, a small grotty town with a great fish restaurant, owned by this old wrinkly fella who stopped us on the street and chatted away in English to us, which he'd learnt 40 years ago as a merchant seaman travelling the world. He also spoke Norwegian, but only really practiced the English with friends in town. Turnd out he was 70 years old, on his second wife, had 6 kids and about 15 grand kids and 3 great grand kids. One of his grand-daughters was older than his youngest daughter, and he was proud to tell us he was still all man, about 5 times a week! He was a real character and despite having no teeth, spoke far clearer Spanish than most people we meet!
From Chañaral we split up, Rich taking a sandy goat track (he was assured it was a firm road in good condition) and me going the main road to Antofogasta. Rich's other mission was to check out a windsurfing spot (only good if you have your own gear apparently), and I went to see 007 at the movies.
We re-convened at San Pedro de Atacama, where we stayed for a couple of nights, it being the Chileño salt flats and impressive Valley of the Moon (all the countries seem to have one of them it seems), before bidding farewell to Chile as we headed over the Paso de Jama (a mere 4200m this one) and on to Salta.
This should have been a straightforward day, all be it with some gravel, but the 500km took 12 hours, as we ended up firstly taking the wrong Ruta 70 (only one road marked on the map, but we went down 70a that wasn't marked on the map at all) which was extremely corrugated, and very sandy, although not deep sand, fortunately. I hated every minute of it, although by the end of the day I had to grudgingly acknowledge that I had got better at riding on the surface. Good practice for Bolivia, I guess. On the up side, we got a stretch of 80km or so of fantastic, smooth, well cambered, curving blacktop to let rip on, and Rich really got to work on his chicken scratches. Unfortunately, they saw fit to take away our reward and stick us back on a very dusty stretch of gravel, just as Rich's bike decided to have a funny turn and cut out every 10km or so. He finally worked out that it only did it on the down hills, and that far from being a mechanical problem, it was user error, and he had run out of fuel. Ha ha. Ha.
A couple of rest days in Salta saw us girding our loins for the final push to Bolivia, and on to the unknown. After arriving in Salta through cactus strewn desert and dry sandy valleys of incredible formations and colours, we drove through town and left on a road that went through grassy farmland and up through dense rainforest on another great, winding, single lane road. Shortly afterwards, it returned to desert, and with rain clouds threatening, we made it to La Quiaca, the last town right on the Argy-Bolivian border, famous for...nothing really, other than being the last town on the Argy-Bolivian. We toasted Argentina, bid her a fond farewell, and prepared for what we both hoped would not be a very rainy rainy season, and roads that, though un-tarmac-ed,would not be mud, or sand, or nasty in any other ways.
And that,dear Reader, is where I shall leave this entry, to be continued afresh with tales of adventure and derring do in the great unknown of Bolivia next time. We are on the trail of Butch and Sundance, so wish us luck. Stay tuned for some final thoughts and observations of the first 21000km of our trip. Soupy twist.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rather a lot of Up, and Even More Down

And I'm talking quite literally here, in the gains and losses of altitude kind of way, not in any new age, bunny-hugging emotional way. We're tougher than that out here!
So we left Mendoza with a lot of new ideas, courtesy of Cecilia, a moto-adventurer of pretty much the whole world on a 20 year old BMW something or other, which will disgust all the real bikers out there who won't understnad why I have no idea what kind of bike it was. A pre-cursor of the GS I believe, but maybe only a 1000cc, I'm not sure. Ask Rich if you really care. (Sorry Cecilia, no offence meant, I just struggle to keep that kind of tekkie stuff in my head. Too busy trying not to fall off, I expect!).
Anyhow, she suggested a pass into Chile further north than we'd planned, which meant ditching our return to Valpo, which was a pity, but these things happen. So north we went, blasting up the main roads to save some time, but nonetheless going over some more stunning gravel on the way. We got a night at a thermal spring near a small town called Fiambalá, and as well as a very therapeutic hot soak, we both managed to pick up some kind of lergy, but whether from the tap water or the spa water we'll never know. It hit us in different ways, getting Rich in the belly and appetite, and me a fraction lower down, but at least I could keep my energy levels up with the tasty dry bread and shrivelled fruit we were able to seek out in the town.

So, a little later than planned and with frequent bathroom breaks, we set off over the Paso San Francisco to Chile, certainly our highest road to date, climbing to a, quite literally, breath-taking 4700m. Once again I was slow off the mark with the video camera and missed a chance to film the first valley we went through, so will have to re-live that one with photos, but I pulled myself together enough to get the camera in place and film some of the rest of the ascent and descent, so hopefully that will come out OK.

The poor bikes suffered almost as much as for lack of air at that height, and from about 3000m up we were struggling to get over 60km/h and having to drop gear(s) like a desperate junkie (does that simile work? It'll do). The Argy customs were typically swift and efficient, but for some reason insisted in checking my boxes to see what I might have been taking out of the country, a frustratingly long process now that I have to tie the boxes on with 3m straps. They then told us it didn't matter anyway as it was going out, not in, so I huffed and puffed them back on to the bike. Rich, meanwhile had a 100m chase of his laminated registration document as the wind whisked it away. He gave up the chase, and one of his lungs, at the 100m point, and resorted to the copy rather than high altitude coronary. Wise move.

Eighty kilometres along and 1km vertically down later, at about 5pm, we got to the Chileño customs, and once again, after an incredibly slow processing of the bikes, I had to remove and open my boxes, which were duly barely glanced at, and restowed them, with even more huffing and puffing than before, and set off for more down. It was about 7.30pm by now, and the sun was in our eyes, energy levels were low due to lack of appetites and strenuous packing of bikes with no air, and we still had 176km of gravel to get us to town. Thats about 3 hours on normal gravel, so the prospect of a high altitude camp out was on the cards for sure.

By 8pm with 120km or so still to go, and feeling decidedly cold, achey and sick,we decided to stop at the conveniently placed gold mine. Not a tiny, rustic, western-movies style shaft propped up with wobbly beams type of mine, but a full scal, hard core, modern processing plant with security guards and everything. They wouldn't let us into the compound, but did let us camp outside, gave us food and, most importantly from my point of view, let us use the bathroom facilities. All this at an unknown altitude, but still high enough to make rapid movement put us out of breath.

In the morning, we packed up slowly, still feeling a little ropey from the dodgy water (Rich felt pretty bad, I just still needed the loo too much), and set off down a remarkably smooth un-paved road to Copiapó. This time I remembered the camera early and hopefully got some good footage of parts of the remaining descent. In Copiapó, we struggled to find a hostel as everything was booked up (summer season, of course, hadn't registered with us, and all the previously empty hostels were now full everywhere we went), and while I pestered the tourist info lady to call round for us, Rich got chatted up by a local fireman, who called his captain and they invited us to stay at the station, which we did. Many repeated converstations later and Rich passed out upstairs, and slept for a solid 18 hours. I kept the social end up with tales of daring do, amazingly accurate biro maps of NZ, its fire districts, economic infrastructure and cartoons of whales and shellfish and sailing boats, and was finally persuaded to go for a beer or two at midnight. Four hours and another decidedly dodgy "Ladies only Firestation" later (OK, it was a pole dancing club, but they certainly slid down their poles just like a fireman would) I stumbled into bed and passed out myself.
It is now the next day, I am about to cook lunch for the boys as a thank you (at 3pm), and both Rich and I are feeling a bit better, thank you for asking (although Rich is still off food a bit). We'll have one more night here, and maybe two if he is still not right, and then head north some more, but until then, I'd better get my pinny on and cook up a storm. Good old sausage, eggs, chips and salad, à la the NZFS all round. Now go and brush your teeth and get ready for bed, its far to late to be playing on your computer! See you next time, if you can bare it (or should that be bear it, I never know with that one).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

the Day God Lost his Marbles

Feeling refreshed? Got a bit of Fresh air and stretched your legs? No? Well don't blame me, I gave you the chance, its your own fault if you didn't take it.

So, where was I? In Puerto Varras I believe, back on mainland Chile, and heading for my next crossing of the Andes. Once again, the road over the mountains was everything you could have hoped for, both from the driving perspective and the scenery on offer. And whats more, the sun was out for the what seemed like the first time in forever, so the visibility was spectacular. Once back in Argentina, the road to Bariloche was beautiful, winding through lakes and valleys bringing me to the town by about 3pm. I located my rendez-vous with Hana (oh, did I forget to mention that the friendly Canadian was of the female persuasion? How careless of me...) and so began a fortnight of chocolate and ice cream (its what B'loche is famous for after all, once the skiing has finished for the year, that is), trips to neighbouring towns by bus (El Bolson and Villa Angostura), hikes in the mountains, swims in rivers cold enough to shrink even the most hardy sense of adventure, and of course the obligatory beer, wine and good food.
As the second week drew to a close, Rich re-emerged, my bent and buckled handlebars got replace with straight ones (it was odd not driving in circles for the first time in weeks), and we checked out routes to the north. On the Saturday I bid farewell to Hana, who was heading south to Ushuaia, and Rich and I set off, initially for San Martin de Los Andes about 200km away. We had an evening lesson in making empanadas the traditional way and cooked up a storm, and the next day we headed out of the town for the next section of gravel and ultimately Mendoza.
The roads we took were some of the most spectacular of the trip so far. We avoided the main Ruta 40 which by this stage was more tarmac than gravel and stuck to smaller, winding roads through valleys and mountains, and made reasonable time thanks to my regained confidence on the gravel. Many photos were taken, but sadly all of them failed to capture the scale and colour of the places we went. Even the road would change colour from grey to yellow to white to red and pink, depending on the earth, so you'll have to come and see for yourself if you want a true idea. Until then, we did do our best with the pictures, so enjoy.
The weather through all this was a balmy 36ºC with the wind chill, so pretty draining as you may be able to imagine, but perfect for camping out by a river, so we did that.
And apart from the fantastic scenery it was all pretty uneventful. The day we arrived in Mendoza was a weird one though. Setting off in overcast, cooler weather, assured by locals that it wouldn't rain as it was the sumemr and the desert, we hoped to make good time, and in fact did for a while. Then it did start to rain, so on with the waterproofs. The road was yet another of the long straight flat ones, with nothing but empty flat ground either side of us, so we were able to watch with trepidation as the black, heavy storm clouds built and advanced towards us, stabbing prolonged spears of lightening at the ground as it came at us from the left. With a nervous burst of speed and a small prayer to the god of cowering motorcyclists, we managed to skirt round the leading edge of the storm, into drier weather, allowing us to watch the lightening continue to attack the bushes in our rear view mirrors. Safe, or so we thought, until the next lot of cloud came at us from the right. We made it to a town that looked like it had just been flushed, with water flooding everywhere. I guess we had just missed the storm here, and 5km out of town the road was bone dry again. Unfortunately, barely 20km further on, the weather closed in again, and this time offered a helping of hail. And not just ordinary hail, mind you, but hefty great lumps the size of small eggs. Small eggs would have hurt less I'm sure, and in fact your intrepid author and his trusty sidekick (who am I kidding here?) fled to the rather poor shelter of some poplar trees and waited til it passed. Apparently, Rich had never been forced to stop for weather before, so he was quite impressed. Finally it stopped, we continued to Medoza a mere 40km away, and the temperature over this distance went from a chilly 20º to a rather stuffy 32ºC, so I guess it was definitely a 4 seasons in one day.
And here we stay, changing tyres, sprockets, chains and oil, ready for the last big push to Bolivia, via the Atacama desert in Chile and Salta in Argy, so a couple more crossings of the Andes to come, which no doubt means more photos of spectacular scenery reduced to 4" x 6". Shame, but not much else we can do about that I'm afraid. Enjoy the best you can, spare a thought for us melting in one of the driest places on the planet (second only to a valley in Antarctica I believe - google it if you don't believe me). And now I must away and feed the growling beast within before venturing forth and collecting my trusty steed from a repair shop. Yes, I managed to break something else beyond my limited but growing capabilities. This time it was a stripped thread on the oil filter, which is actually a bad design - fancy using aluminium casings with steel screws.
So off with me, and off with you, and be safe and I'll be back with more tales of road in a while.

Yo Ho Ho and Where's the Rum?

By crikey, these Chileños could teach the polynesians a thing or two about time keeping! "Island time" has nothing on the Chileño timetable, let me tell you.

So there I was, waiting out the rain in Puerto Aisen til 4pm-ish. Made it to the port at Chacabuco by half past, thinking I may be late (the lady had said 4 after all), but the door didn't open til 5, then I had to wait ages while the locals were processed for tickets before being told I had to go to the port entrance and get a docket for my bike before they could sell me a ticket for the boat. (Side note: in Coyhaique I was under the impression I had been told to go and talk to a woman called Alejandrina at the Chacabuco port. It was only part way through the afternoon that someone in Aisen told me Alejandrina was the name of the boat. Doh!)
Still, tickets bought for the 6pm sailing that actually boarded at 7pm and left at half 7. OK so far, still not certain about the duration of the voyage though. The people in the office had said variously 27 hours or 24 hours (Clive Barrow in NZ had told be 18 - 24 hours as far as he remembered), and people on board (surely the ones who should know, right?) told me 30, 32 and 36 hours depending who I asked and who had seen the most recent weather report. As the time ticked by, I became aware that we were not headed directly to Quellon on Isla de Chiloe, but were meandering through the islands picking up and dropping off locals at remote fishing villages. We were also dropping anchor and waiting quite a bit, which was apparently due to high winds and rough seas. The B-movies were showing thick and fast on the TVs, in a combination of English with Spanish subtitles, or just straight Spanish, and were of a highly dubious quailty, by which I mean even I struggled to watch them, they were so bad (and no, Hugh, sadly no Steven Segal movies, despite crossed fingers. Bad though the movies were, they never got that bad!).
The boat finally docked in Quellon 44 1/2 hours after leaving Chacabuco. On the positive side, it gave me time to dry all my soaking gear, dry the tank bags and patch them with the last of my duct tape. On the negative side, I had just spent 44 1/2 hours on a boat going gradually more insane by the minute.
It was about 3pm by now, so off I set north, stopping briefly in a town called Castro on Isla de Chiloe before heading on to yet another boat to get off the island. This time it was just a half hour shuttle ferry though, and the boat was arriving as I pulled into the port and left 20 mins later, so not such a trial this time. Off at Pargua and on to Puerto Montt, deciding not to stop there and finally getting to Puerto Varras for a well earned sleep in a proper bed. Tomorrow was to see me arrive in Bariloche to have time off until Rich materialised again, and hopefully to catch up with a fellow tourist I had met in Uruguay. Remember the friendly Canadian? I did...
But that chapter can wait for the next entry, otherwise this will break all records for length and probably leave you feeling like you had been on a 44 1/2 hour voyage as well, so go take a breather and then come back for the next bit. Oh, and don't forget to check the latest photos. Theres about another 200 or so. Good luck.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's Been a Funny Old Day...

So rang the suitably apt words of Arkwright (prize of a sweetie if anyone can tell me his first name. My mind's gone blank and its bugging me) in my head as I sat waiting for my seafood lasagne last night. I must have been hungry to have eaten seafood lasagne, but boy, what a day! But first the lead up...

Last I wrote, I was in Puerto Natales, awaiting the diagnosis and no doubt astronomical bill for sorting out the bike. I have to say though, that the language barrier ceased to exist for a minute as he sucked in some air and shook his head. I expect what he said was "Oooo, that's gonna cost ya", and my knees began to give out. As it turned out, matey cleaned out the carburettor ("oxido" apparently) and cut a bit off the bottom of my side stand for me, and all for C$25000, so probably quite reasonable, as he was working from half 5 to half 9 at night at the drop of a hat.
Anyhoo, feeling a lot happier about the reliability of my bike for the next few days on my own, I set out for El Calafate. What a great ride! Heaps of scenery as always, and I got to El C by 3pm, checked into a hostel and immediately went off to see the Perito Moreno Glacier. What an incredible sight! The photos, when they make it on to the site just won't capture what it is like in person. It is huge, and noisy, but in a perfecly natural and "as it should be" kind of way. It'll be quite and serene for maybe 10 minutes, then there'll be a crash, or a sound like cannon fire (and I know what I'm talking about there, I've been to a few Royal Tournaments in my time) as some part of it breaks off in the middle somewhere, and then silence again. If you're really lucky, and what all the tourists are waiting around for, is to see a bit of the front break off, and if you're really, really lucky it'll fall into the lake with a splash like a salto-ing southern right whale (see what I did there? I used one holiday experience to draw a mental picture of another. Clever, huh?). I wasn't really, really lucky, so I didn't see that, but I was really lucky, and went away after an hour or more well satisfied.
Back to the hostel, big BBQ dinner, chat with a local Gaucho who totally reminded me of Uncle David in many ways (beard, long hair, mellow as, but the eyes were just the same), and off again in the morning. This was the bit I had been dreading - the start of the dreaded and infamous Ruta 40. Basically its the road that runs the entire length of South America, under different names in different countries, and the section that runs through Patagonia is notoriously un-paved and dodgy.
The first bit out of El C was easy, tarmac all the way except the last 10km, over the border and it began in earnest (note to self: next male bull terrier I own will be called Earnest. Hightly apt, I think).
Rich had emailed me with road conditions and it sounded pretty rough, and after my last nasty off-sy back before Valdez, I was in no hurry. Not having Rich in tow, or leading for that matter, actually made it easier, as I felt under no pressure to move faster than I was comfortable with. That's not to say Rich pressures me, he doesn't, but when he's there, I always feel like I'm holding him up or slowing him down, even though he is quite happy to go at my pace. On my own, fully accepting of the fact that I'd be camping on the roadside whatever happens, I pootled along. Got to Tres Lagos, the last petrol for 340km, dropped the bike in the street (foot slipped on gravel at intersection, not my fault!), got up, got petrol and moved on. Gravel was far better than I thought, wind was almost none existant (Rich said he'd been blown off the road when he went through), sun was shining and the scenery stunning. With no pressure on me, I stopped for a wee Nana-nap when I felt my concentration wavering, and all was well with the world.
A bit later I met a couple of cycling Austrians, who gave me road condition updates, and a heads up that a 50km section was tarmac-ed, so I had that to look forward to. Shortly after th tarmac, I stopped for the night, sheltered by piles of large stones presumable cleared from the road, and and had a calm night with a marvellous sunset over the distant, snowy mountains. It was Bonfire night, I realised.
Next day (the "funny old day" of the title), keen for an early start to get some distance in before the wind got up in the pm, I was on the road by 0715. Made it to the petrol in Bajo Caracoles by 9am, and met a local guide with perfect English, who showed me an alternative route to Coyhaique, that went through mountains and forests instead of wide open desert, and was fully tarmac-ed all the way. Flexibility being the name of the game, off I went, with only a short 127km section of Ruta 40 left to do if my new route was to be followed. By now, I was much happier on the gravel, confidence growing but lessons learned, so no problems at all. Got to Perito Moreno by noon for more gas, dropped the bike again (clumsy U-turn this time. Well, I ask you! The sign said tourist info turn right, so I did, up a one way street!Bloody Chileños! And no tourist info either! Bastards.) and set off to Los Antiguas and the border, and then to Chile Chico and the port.
Got to the port by 2pm, only to find the next passenger boat was in the morning, but the people telling me this were loading a boat for trucks only, so I spoke nicely to the captain, and they squeezed little ole me and my bike on for the 3 hour crossing to the other side. Unfortunately, being a truckers' boat, they all sat in their cabs, nice and warm, and I had to stand about outside getting cold. For 3 hours, in a howling wind. It crossed my mind that I had signed nothing when I got on board, and if they chose to, they could steal my stuff, tip me and the bike over board and the only record of me ever having been anywhere would be my arrival in the customs shed. After that, I'd have disappeared off the face of the earth. But they didn't do that, I only thought they could have if they'd wanted to.
I spent part of the journey looking out for dolphins and albatrosses etc, but then realised that it was a big lake (a very big lake), not the sea, despite the waves, so gave up that search, figuring it to be a bit of a waste of time.
On the other side at Puerto Igniero Ibañez, a bored customs man decided all the documents I'd got at the proper Chilean border needed changing so they looked like they came through his border, so he carefully copied everything from the documents I had on to a new set, just so he could put his stamp on them. I guess it was legit, as there was road access to P I I from Argentina, but I didn't see the need for it. By now it was 7pm, and I figured I could find a bed for the night, as I was bit weary from a long day, and Coyhaique was only 116km away. But, no beds to be found as P I I is a ghost town, so I bit the bullet and decided to move on to Coyhaique, where a bed was guaranteed. It was still light, and would be for the next 2 hours, plenty of time to cover 116km on tarmac.
And this is where it got really surreal. As I left the town, I realised that I was having fun. I was making my own way in my own time with no worries about what anyone else was doing or thinking, and the fact that I was still driving this late in the day didn't bother me at all, even when the serpentine road started climbing into the mountains and it started to snow. Despite the conditions, the road and scenery were possibly the best I had yet encountered, and I only wished I could have seen it in more sunny conditions. The road stayed clear of settled snow, while the trees took on a light frosting, and I just kept thinking that, that morning, I had been in a vast desert flat-land, bordered by distant mountains, and now here I was, a ferry ride and 400km of gravel later, driving through mountain passes with forests on all sides in a different country.
Coyhaique arrived, I stumbled across a Hospedaje for the night, found some food (the seafood lasagna) and just sat with a beer, marvelling at the crazy day I'd had. Possibly one of my favourties of the trip so far. I even managed to check the internet and find out that there was a boat to Quellon on Isla de Chiloe the next day at noon, so all was perfect.
Next day, it turned out the boat to Quellon was only for Chileños, but with a bit of skilfull negotiating, they agreed to take me and the bike, although the sailing was to be at 7pm, check in about 4pm. So here I am now, after a truely stunning ride through the valley to Puerto Chacabuco in the pouring rain, hiding from the rain and waiting for the ferry, and telling you all about it.
Think I'll go and get some lunch now though, and see where this all goes from here. My only regret is that the sun is not out, as I suspect the rumoured spectacular views from the boat may well be a bit hidden in the mist, not to mention the darkness that happens each night about 9ish. Ah well, things are on course, and all is right in the world. Except my feet are a bit cold, and my clothes a bit wet, but those are just temporary things, never fear.
Love and hugs to you all, now go and get some of that ice cream you just know is in the freezer wanting to be eaten up. Off you pop.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Some Rather Blustery Daze

D'you know, I thought we'd had it bad in the wind heading south. Not a patch on what we had to deal with the day we left Ushuaia. Even Rich thought it was a struggle, which means it must have been, but for me, it was very nearly the single most unpleasant day on the bike yet. At least in the snow and the sand it was just frustrating and slow, and my own incompetence was largely (if not totally) to blame. Thursday, though was all down to Mother Nature, and I rather think someone must have walked across her clean floor, or maybe put one too many coffee mugs down on her nice table without a coaster, because she was not a happy lady!
We left in a bit of a shower, requiring the interruption of our departure for the donning of water-proofs (always a pain in the arse), but the rain quickly cleared - like by the time we got through the mountain pass it had stayed behind in Ushuaia - so we had to stop again and remove the unnecessary outer wear. It then started to get windy. And when I say windy, I'm talking headwinds that prevented us going faster than 60kmh with fully open throttles, side winds that had the bikes on what felt like 45º angles, and gusts that had us weaving across the fortunately empty roads pretty much from kerb to kerb in a futile effort to hold a straight line and stay out of the roadside gravel. Frightening was not the word, but it will have to do.
Rich's advice of "hate to say it mate, but think 'playing a piano' with your grips" fell on terrified and deaf ears, as I was not going to release my beartrap grip for anyone, regardless of how tired and pumped out my forearms and shoulders were getting. Talk about full upperbody work out for pretty much a full day. Shocking!
On the up side, we did make it to the border and into Chile again with no problems, and set out along the road to Porvenir and the ferry to Punta Arenas, fully intending to stop by the road and camp again, as we had done on the way in. We eventually found a nicely sheltered corner, out of the still howling gales, pitched camp and cooked up some more pasta. Not a bad night, and up for a reasonable start to get us to the ferry for 1pm check in.
By now you know how much I enjoy riding in the rain, not to mention the wind, and on gravel, so imagine my poorly disguised delight at being presented with all three in large quantities for most of the morning. Trying to keep out of the deeper gravel while being blinded by rain and gusted by hurricanes was so much fun, and I just had to pull over at one point and share my joy and enthusiasm with Rich. Poor bugger, I think he has learned that every now and again I just need to vent at the forces of nature or the road, or both in this case, and he just stays in his helmet and lets it pass. Anyhow, the rain stopped, the wind died off a little tiny bit, and we got to Porvenir by 11am, reached the port and were told by a ferry worker that the 2pm boat wouldn't be sailing, and we'd need to check back at 5pm in case it was going to go at 6. The reason? Why, that'd be the wind again. Blowing at 125knots (you do the maths, I have no idea, but it sounds a bit choppy to me) in the straits of Magellan. Fair call, and Rich was relieved, what with being a rather reluctant sailor at the best of times.
Fortunately we had earlier found a café at which to fill our bellies, and although it was now clsoed, we did manage to seek refuge in the Croat Club of Porvenir for an hour or two, recover over a couple of cheeky ales, and kill some time. When they turfed us out, we bumped into a couple of Irish cylclists we'd seen at the border crossing. The wind had been too much for them altogether, and they had paid some bloke US$100 to take them and their bikes to Porvenir. He'd now broken down with a leaky fuel pipe, so we (and by we, I mean Rich. I think its no secret that my mechanical skills are rudimnentary at best) helped sort that, and then made it to the ferry for the 6pm crossing. All well and good, bikes on board, sort of tied down, and good to go.
Two hours later. Docking at Punta Arenas. My bike was again on its side, again due, albeit indirectly, to the vandals in Florianopolis. The stand had finally given out a second time, thanks to fatigued metal and rolling seas, and so for presumably a substantial part of the crossing it had lain on its side while waves crashed over the bow and doused it with sea water. Well, I ask you, would you want to start if it was you? Exactly. And with the stand bent back into place but nearly fully snapped through, it was with a small amount of delicacy that I balanced my bike against a trailor in the carpark and wailed my anguish at the new moon.
The Irish stepped up, and with 4 of us on the job, we totally failed to push start the bike round the car park about 5 times. A selection of the Chilean armies finest stood by watching and not helping at all. I´d like to think a group of similar British squaddies might have stepped up, or at least laughed at us, but nothing from this lot. So plan B: drain carburetor, remove and check spark plug. Nothing. Battery now tired too. All getting a bit much for yours truely, and then the cavelry arrive, in the form of 3 dock workers about to go home. They had jumper leads (didnt work, but at least kept hope alive) and one of them rushed the spark plug off to heat it up and rushed it back so I could return it to its slot, and with that little effort, we had lift off!
It got me to the hostel, and the next morning I felt confident, but I got nothing from the bike. Just a lot of turn over and no spark (sounds a bit like my dating record actually). And of course, now it was not only Saturday, but also a religious holiday weekend, so nothing was going to happen. And the battery was once again drained from my efforts to start the engine. We had agreed that Rich and I would make our own way up Ruta 40 as I would be so painfully slow, and we'd touch base on the way via email and rendez-vous in hostels on the way, so I had to manage on my own. I did this by sulking for a day (actually I was waiting for a bloke to turn up that the hostel person had organised. Didnt show. Not surprised). On Sunday, I tried to drain things again, and in the process noticed the local Fireys up the street cleaning their trucks. "Hello", I thought. "Funny". So over I went, pressed some flesh, plugged into their battery charger, and things started to look up. Went back at 11pm for the now fully chartged battery and, as it turned out, a few glasses of Chateau Cardboard vino tinto. Next morning, with battery now reconnected and raring to go, the old war horse fired up first time, and I was off. Sort of.
I made it about 190km, just into a remote-ish sort of area and a rainy part of the day, and the engine sarted to cough and shudder and die on me. Pulled over. Tried to restart, no luck. Waited, swore, and tried again. Success! For about 3km, then it did it again. Same process, but with more swearing, and I was off again. It seemed to go better if I kept the revs high, so I was tootling along in 3rd gear, 6000rpm, 60kph, trying to keep the bike alive. Something about that combo was agreeable to the suddenly temperamental machine, and I limped into Puerto Natales and scored a hostel. Luckily it was the hostel furthest from the motorbike repair shop I was able to find, thus allowing me a calming walk back in the rain once bike had been delivered to the workshop, so that was good. So now, at 2020 in the pip emma, I am about to enjoy the long rainy walk back, hopefully via some food, to collect my freshly cleaned carburetor and the rest of the bike, pay a no doubt heinous bill, and be ready for the next leg to El Calefate in the morning. Might leave early for this one, to allow for....incidences.
Well that will do for now, consider yourselves lucky you were safely at home and not here in the flesh to see all this unfold. It was not a pretty sight.
Off you pop, then, to feed the plants, change the dog or water the children, whatever it is you crazy cats get up to when I´m not there, and I´ll be in touch anon. Caio, my lovelies.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More Fun than you can Shake a Stick at!

Crikey! Twelve days and not a peep. Sorry about that, but there were reasons, the nature of which I am about to divulge, and as you may have guessed by now, that means you're in for another long one. Not that I feel sorry for you, you just have to read it. I'm the poor bugger that has to wrestle with the sticky keyboards and abnormally positioned keys. And today, the keyboard is positioned about 3" under my chin so by the time I finish I'll be walking around like a Tyranosaurus Rex. And you think you've got problems? Pah! say I.
So, there we were, with Sacramento disappearing slowly into the gloom as we headed over the ditch on 3 hour ferry to Buenos Aires. We were to be met at the port by Sandro, the guy we first met in Uspallata at the end of the snowy day at the start of the trip. He and his girlfriend, Ximena, had insisted we contact them when we got to BA, and a little reluctantly we did. I say reluctantly, because we'd only met them for a few hours a couple of months ago, and we weren't sure how serious they were about the invitation, or whether they were actually as nice as they had seemed back then.
We needn't have been concerned. Sandro greeted as though we were old friends, led us through the streets to his appartment, cracked a bottle of wine, mixed it with coke (the fizzy drink not the drug...I know, that doesn't make it any better, but its strangely drinkable) and we chatted til the wee small hours before leaving for Ximena's place. All very normal until you remember Sandro has almost no English, but it worked well. Between our dictionaries and him phoning Ximena every 15 minutes or so despite the fact it was about 2am, we had a blast, and soon felt like the old friends I mentioned earlier.
The next day I took my bike to Nico's work shop. Nico was the other guy we met in Uspallata, who helped me straighten out my luggage rack. He and his mechanic mate spent the day turning an old set of handle bars into a reinforcing strut for the rack, and added another support bar and generally greased things up, all for the princely sum of Ar$50. For a full days work. Fantastico! Rich, meanwhile, had gone off exploring, and, I later found out, fully adopting the hooligan scooter culture that exists in BA. As in all of SA, speed limits are for decoration only, and the 50km/h in town is for mothers with pushchairs only it seems, so he was soon hooning up and down trying to keep up with the locals.
That evening, Nico joined us at Sandro's appartment, as did Ximena, and we had another great evening chatting and watching Chile beat Argy in the soccer. If they had been paying more attention to the match our hosts might have cared more, but as it was, the booze was in full flow, and it passed pretty much unnoticed.
Sandro convinced us to stay another night after that, so we went for a bit of a wander the next day and saw shops and people and stuff, and took a couple of touristy photos, and spent the evening chilling with more wine and talk. Sandro's grasp of English went from 5 words the first night to a few dozen by the end of the third, and as with us and our Spanish, it was vastly improved with the judicial application of alcohol. It was actaully quite sad to leave the next day, as I feel we have made some friends for life there, but with promises that they will work on a plan to visit NZ in the next year or so, we are hoping to be able to return the favour soon.
So where next? Just a short 300km or so to Azul and La Posta del Viajero en Motos, a place mentioned on the Horizons Unlimited site for bikers in Argy. Its run by a guy called Jorge, aka Pollo (pronounced Posho but with more j than sh, if you can follow that) which means 'chicken' in spanish, and is free, barring donations. What a great guy - another bloke who treats complete strangers as though they are old and welcome friends, and what a great place. Garaging for the bikes, a workshop if needed, two bunks inside and plenty of space to camp outside, and so much memorabilia from past visitors that you could be reading the walls for days. I had kind of been hoping to run into some other folks doing the same as us while we were there to compare notes, but we were the only visitors for that friday night. Nonetheless, Pollo got on the blower and rustled up his usual Friday night crowd of mates, who come round for an asado (that's BBQ, remember?) and large amounts of wine and beer. What a great evening, again largely in Spanish, but a couple of his mates spoke pretty good English, so it went very well.
Next day, sad as it was again, we had to leave, and were planning along day to Viedma, but at the first petrol station (which I didn't need to stop at, but opted to anyway - fate again? Who knows?) the petrol pump guy told us about a motorbike rally in a town 30km away called General La Madrid, so we decided to stop in there instead. And what a reception we got! We were instantly raised to the level of celebrities, being the only foreigners there, and it being the inaugural rally for the town. Within minutes of arriving, Rich was giving a telephone interview in Spanish live on local radio and I was being filmed by a bloke from Buenos Aires for his motorsports TV show. By the time we had set up our tents, we'd done two more interviews and a much longer piece for the TV show, including showing our maps off, pushing our charity message and generally being really very cool. Our mission now is to try and get hold of a DVD of the final cut of the recording, so stand by for that! In the meantime, every man and his dog had come by to see our bikes and take pictures and talk, and we were introduced to the local fire brigade (all volunteers, as it is throughout Argentina, apart form BA).
Later that afternoon we joined the convoy through town, which was totally hilarious! The bikes ranged from a 1300cc Hyabusa sports monster (apparently the fastest production bike in existence, limited to a mere 200mph) to the shittiest little clapped out scooter with removed muffler you can imagine, and all 300 or more of us revved and hooted our way round the town and stopped in the main square, before returning a bit more gracefully to the camp site.
The evening was filled with bad junk food, large plastic glasses of beer and dodgy local bands, culminating in a presentation ceremony, where I was called up on stage as one of the NZ visitors (Rich was asleep in his tent at this point. It was about 9pm after all, and even though I tried to wake him, he never showed until later), and later presented with a trophy for the category of "who travelled the furthest to be here". And yes, I had to give an acceptance speech. In Spanish. Funny how the mind can go blank sometimes, but I managed something along the lines of 'beautiful Argy, wonderful people, great party', and that seemed to do it.
On the road again the next day, down to Viedma at last, and then along the gravel coast road, where, once again, I came a cropper, and this was the least fun one to date. Sparing the details, except to say I was being very careful and sensible, the monotony of a long, straight road got to me at the same time as the heaps of gravel in the middle of the road, leading to the disintegration of the other back indicator and the second windscreen. The photos of the aftermath show everyone in good spirits, although it did shake my confidence a wee bit. Not to worry, we got to the next town, sorted things out, and headed to Puerto Madryn and Peninsula Valdez the next day. This marked the first of the long, straight, windy days we didn't know we were about to endure, but first we had a couple of days to explore the peninsula.
Unfortunately, wires got crossed somewhere, and the orcas we were hoping to see had only just started to arrive for the season, rather than being at the peak of it like we had hoped. On the up side, the Southern Right Whales were in top form, and the elephant seals and sea lions were all out and about too, so there was lots to see. I opted for the hire car with people from the hostel option, rather than the bike on the gravel, as I was still sore from my fall, and knew I would never get round in a day. Worked for me, and the whale watching was far better than anything I had done in NZ, mostly due to the small size of the boat and the fact there were so many whales knocking about the place.
The peninsula was a strange place. Very flat and barren, usually pretty windswept but with an ethereal beauty to it that I could have sat and stared at for hours, had I had the time. I could hear echoes of curlews in my head. Even though they weren't there, they almost should have been. It was rather sad to think that I'd probably never get back to see it again, although given the chance, I think I would like to.
But enough of the deep and meaningfuls, we had ground to cover! A lot of ground, all of it very flat, very straight and very windy. About 1700km of it. Let me just say it wasn't fun, it wasn't big and it wasn't clever. I will never be able to look directly in front of me again, having had to sit with the wind blowing my head to a 45 degree angle to the left for about 10 hours a day for 3 days. Also, I now have a hunch, so please don't stare when you next see me. Its possible that, with extensive physio, I may return to normal, but the excessively large neck muscles on the right side should first be recorded for scientific interest.
At last, we eventually got to Tierra Del Fuego (Land of fire my arse, nothing hot about it! Tierra del Bloody Cold would have been a better name), and the roads got far more interesting, winding and scenic like you normally only see on postcards. We are now having a couple of days off before heading north, being as there is no more south to look for. So far I have been out to the end of Ruta 3 and posed in my Rio budgie smuggler at the end of the road sign, despite the coach loads of tourists and the bitingly cold wind. It takes all sorts, it really does. We shall be heading up along side the Andes next, with a bit of luck, so despite the gravel that is lurking in the not too distant future, I am excited about getting started.
And now, after 2 1/2 hours at the computer, I have only a few photos to arrange and I should be done in a few hours! So that's me. Sorry for the volume, but I did warn you! And now, back to work with you, before your boss comes in and catches you not working.
Peace, love and understanding to you all.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Uruguay - an Interlude

So the bike´s fixed then. I spent an hour or so gluing the back left indicator back together for the second or third time and got all sorts of arrangements from the hostel to find a Yamaha dealer and pay though the nose for a new stand, got fleeced for the price of a gate (only fair I suppose), and luckily enough pulled over to check the map to find the dealer right outside a motor workshop, so got the stand straightend for R$10, thus improving the day no end. From there we continued out of Florianopolis and went south some more, stopping to camp over night in a town called Torres, followed by a lake side town called Sao Laurenço I think, and then made it to the border. Nothing much to note inbetween apart form yet another tumble, this time in a petrol station forecourt, as I pulled in a little too quickly, hit the large pothole, bounced into the carefully positioned sandy bit, over the deliberately uneven cobblestones and over the unsecured kerbstones onto the freshly turned soil and turf. Bit of a heap, and the poor indicator needed another patch job, but otherwispretty much unscathed. I seem to be getting the hang of the landings. AS they say, any landing you can walk away from is a good one....
So on to the border it was, after that. Slightly odd system here, as we got the bikes cleared at the customs office at Chuí, then got directed 20km back the way we had come to the passport control in the pevious town. Passports get stamped, then back the 20km to where we started and straight through no problems.
Uruguay customs was a breeze, and so we made it to Punta del Diablo with virtually no money at all. When we left Brasil, it was 5pm, but as we stepped over the border, it became (as if by magic) 6pm and all the banks closed. Luckily the shrewd and canny money changers crawl out form under their rocks at this time, so we swapped some US$ for Uruguay Pesos and had just enough for accommodation and beer.
Punta del Diablo is one of many seasonal towns we've come across in Uruguay. We are assured by the locals that in the summer they are teeming with people, but at the end of the winter, they are like ghost towns - and none more so than P del D. Crazy houses, run down shacks, windswept coast, totally cool, it just seems to be waiting. And the locals were waiting too, and were very laid back and welcoming. Its quite a 'hippy' place to go apparently, just far enough away from the main cities to discourage most of the rat race, leaving it for the surfer dudes and the kind of people you normally find in Nelson or Glastonbury. Which, incidentally isn't necessarily a bad thing!
We'd almost have liked to stay and chill, but with no money we had to move on and find a bank, so we followed the coast road, stopping at La Paloma, another ghost town but with a camp site designed to fit seemingly thousands. Thank God we got there off season - nice though it was, it would have been a nightmare in the high summer.
And so finally to Colonia de Sacremento (a World Heritage Site), arriving on the Saturday of a long weekend, but still we found room in a a lovely little hostel, where we became trapped for 3 days due to solidly booked out ferries to Buenos Aires. It seems the Argies like to hope over the ditch to Uruguay for their holidays, so we weren't able to book places until 8pm Tuesday. Frustrating though this was (we are very keen to get to Peninsula Valdes as soon as possible, as the Orcas are lining up to start tucking into the seal pups as they start learning how to swim any time now) it gave us a chance to do the second oil change of the trip and replace the now useless fuel filters. It seems the poor quality of the Brasilian petrol turns solid plastic into squidgy plastic in just under 4 weeks. Not ideal, so re-fits all round and away we go. I also managed to put my foot in it with an American tourist by trying to guess if she was from the US or Canada. I said probably the US but hopefully Canada cos they're much nicer. Lost points there, but then her Canadian mate turned up a day later and proved my point. She was much nicer....
And so to now, Tuesday, with time to kill before our 8pm boat, I find myself catching you up to date while I wait for the painfully slow up load of photos to Flicker. An hour of typing and still only 16%; so I may have to can it for now and finish later. Apologies in advance for the low number of photos for Brasil and Uruguay compared to Argy - maybe the novelty is wearing off for us. Also, although the beaches were all amazing, they all look the same in a photo, so it seemed pointless taking pictures of them all. And of course we were only in Uruguay for less than a week, so....tough, really.
Well, that'll do me for now which means that'll do you for now too, so run along and stay out of mischief.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Her Name was Rio and I Danced upon her Sands...

Rio, eh? Don't go there, its so dangerous! Muggers in the streets, murderers around every corner, you'll never get out alive, I tell you, NEVER!
Pah! Tosh and tummy rubbish to that. Don't judge me til you know me and all that. We got to Rio expecting to stay a week, and the folks in the hostel said "Nah, you'll stay longer, everyone does", and of course we replied "no, we will want to get going after a week for sure." Score 1 for the hostel, none for us. In the end, we stayed a fortnight, and to be honest, I wanted to stay longer, but it was time to go.
So what was so great? Well, the hostel for a start was a fantastic place to stay (Stone of a Beach, if anyone is heading that way), with great staff, and a great atmosphere to just hang out and relax, which was exactly what was needed after so long on the road. We met some good people to hang out with, found some good places to drink, and of course the weather and the beaches were great too. Rich went off to Cabo Frio about 200km away to find some windsurfing for a few days, and I stayed in town and did the tourist thing and met some locals and other travelers and had a great time. Visited Christ the Redeemer, of course (according to one of the Irish girls I went with, he has a great arse- she's going straight to hell for that one!), and went up Sugar Loaf mountain as well, so ticked those boxes, but also got a very real look at the other side of the city.
Each Friday, a local Capoeira group comes to the hostel and put on a demonstration for the tourists, who then pay into the hat. The group all live in one of the Favelas in town. Favelas are the 'slums' for want of a better word, but they aren't really slums, just where the more hard up locals and crime lords live. They are probably more crime free than the rest of the city, as there is a code amongst the inhabitants that you don't rob from your own, but at the same time, a lot of folks seem to go around carrying guns and selling drugs. However, if you are escorted in by locals, you are pretty much safe as houses, so after the 2nd Friday's demonstration, at about midnight or later, Rich and I and a couple of other friends were taken to a Favela party (just a massive rave really) by the guys from the Capoeira group.
I think it helped that we were a bit drunk - it relaxed us and stopped us looking too jumpy - but it was a huge amount of fun. People were walking round with automatic hand guns and large rifles that could easily have been AK47s, but I don't know enough about these things, and didn't like to ask! The party was full on, make your body vibrate with the bass, favela funk, with a highly entertaining contest on the main stage where half a dozen girls were vying for the title of "who has the best butt and is best at moving it around". We also stopped in a local bar and played some local rules pool with some guys, chatted away, and again were amazed at how friendly folks were if you just take time to talk to them. I have no doubt that, had we gone up there by ourselves, we'd have been in all sorts of trouble, but it just goes to show its who you know in this world, and once again we fell in with a good crowd.
In the interests of free and open press I should also mention that all those in NZ and UK who predicted I would meet some South American beauty and fall in love and not want to come home, very nearly turned out to be right! Without going into details because its none of you business, I did meet someone that I would have loved to have been able to get to know more, but a whole host of circumstances reared their ugly and unwelcome heads and put the Kibosh on yet another potential love match. It is becoming a pattern for me, and not one I like, but there seems to be nothing I can do to stop it. And in the words of Forrest Gump, "That's all I want to say about that."
I arrived in Rio expecting to hate the place and wanting to leave as soon as possible, but left 2 weeks later with all sorts of ideas in my head about how easy it would be to stay there - something I never expected. Definitely a highlight of the trip to date, and maybe still an open chapter. Who knows? Not I, that's for sure. And as for the danger? Probably the most frightening moment of the 2 weeks was the 10 minutes on the beach in my birthday budgie-smuggler, courtesy of Richard needless to say, but fulfilling a promise I made to myself that I would walk the beaches of Rio like a local. Mmmmm, tight!
So now we have begun the long road south, and so far it has proven a good idea. The roads, as we suspected, are superb without the rain, with specatcular scenery and excellent riding. We had 2 nights at Paraty, allowing me to go island hopping on a boat for a day, then carried on to Mareis, then back to Antonina, and finally, yesterday, in the pouring rain, to Florianopolis and new territory. We found a great hostel on Ilha Santa Catarina, but had to leave the bikes parked on the road, and for the first time on the trip, they got interfered with. We chained them together for safety, but some clown managed to push them over anyway, which caused my side stand to bend to a position where it is too vertical to properly support the bike, and rubs on the chain when I try to drive it. Because its sunday, nothing can be done today, so we'll have to try and sort it tomorrow. A pain in the arse, but hopefully not fatal. Unfortunately, when we tried to move the bikes to a safer place, involving a stupidly steep narrow alley way up to the hostel on the other side of a pedestrian-only foot bridge (no one looking? great, hurry!), I managed to drop my bike through a garden gate, smashing the rear-view mirror (and half the gate). Had I not been so exhausted from the days riding, I might have cared, But as it happens, I just shrugged, and moved the bike somewhere else. I guess it had been long enough without me breaking something, right?
Anyhow, that's all to tell for now, sorry it took so long in coming, and wish me luck. Just generally. Nothing specific. I just feel like I need a bit at the moment. Now off you pop and go and do something crazy. Lord knows I am, everyday!

Friday, September 19, 2008

At the Copa, Copacabana...

Few. Done some miles in the last few days then (up to 7000km now), and got a bit wet and soggy in the process, but thanks to the sub-tropical conditions, not too cold, which is a relief.
So, where were we? I think we´d just driven from Foz do Iguaçu in Brasil, 700km or so to Curitiba in one day, which was a good thing to have done as it was all pretty dull country we had to cross, and we wanted to get it out of the way and get somewhere more interesting. We had wanted to stop in a place just short of Curitiba, but, true to form, the Brasilian sign posts were sadly lacking and we couldn´t find where we were looking for. The whole road network here is pretty random, actually. There are plenty of signs, but as far as I can tell, no-one takes any notice of them if they are highway code signs, and the ones telling you which town or exit you need are mostly right at the exit, so you have almost no time to take them. I think someone in the local council went on holiday to a country with road signs, thought they looked nice and suggested them for Brasil, without explaining to the population at large that they actually meant something. They seem to be more for decoration than anything else. Speed limits are ignored or taken to be a minimum, unless you are driving a truck, in which case the limit is as fast as your truck will go (about 10km/h up hill, and 120km/h down hill). And as for the (no) overtaking ones...well, perhaps they misunderstand them and assume they are an invitation instead of a suggestion not to do so.
So, Curitiba it was; a large city, and we had no real idea of where to stay or how to find it, so in the end we stayed at what turned out to be a ´Love Hotel´where the local couples who still live with their families can go for some quiet time. Not so quiet for us, unfortunately, but it was only for one night.
Next day was off to Morretes, a small town, very Portugese-y, near a UNESCO park of Atlantic Coastal rainforest, which is apparently quite rare. We had a day to wander about there as it was so close to Curitiba and we got there nice and early, and the next day we went up to the park to camp.
This was my first refusal at a road for the trip, as we were heading into the park. We´d just passed the ranger station and signed in, and the road got just plain silly, with steepness and lumpyness which hasn´t come out in the photos or the video, but I´ll try to post both in the next couple of days when the rain starts again. Anyhow, Rich made it up, not with out some difficulty, and I figured that even if I made it to the top in one piece, I´d be fairly likely to fall off on the way down, so I went back to the ranger station, left the bike there and hiked what I needed back up the 4 or 5km track through the jungle to meet rich at the camp site. I enjoyed it far more that way, as I didn´t have the stress of trying to steer the bike, and was able to make the most of the jungle, and I´m glad I made the effort as the camp site was amazing and we were able to walk up mountian too. I say walk, it was as much of a vertical climb as a walk, with steel hoops drilled into the rock face in places to climb up, and lengths of rope and chain to hold on to as you walk 1960´s Batman-stlye up the side of a rockface. It was so ridiculously dangerous that there is no way it could ever have been allowed anywhere other than the depths of a remote rainforest in Brazil, but it was more than worth the effort, given the views at the top - and we didn´t even do the big mountain because we didn´t have time. Maybe on the way back we can stop in again and knock the bastard off, as Ed Hilary once said.
Anyhoo, after that we were off to Antonino, a little fishing town just down the road, and while it was a lovely spot, it marked the start of the rain for us. After only two days of rain in nearly 5 weeks, we were about to make up for lost time.
We spent the next few days coninuing to ride north up the east coast of Brasil, stopping at Iguape, Ubatuba, Itacuruça (where a man who looked like a shaved bear insisted on taking us out for `one beer´which turned out to be at possibly the seediest bar in Brasil. Still, when huge scary shaved bears offer to buy you beer, its very hard to refuse...) and finally Copacobana in Rio, with only one rainfree day which was spent in Iguape instead of making ground, and unfortunately seeing almost nothing of the stunning coastline we were following. We could see enough of the mist-shrouded bays and hills to know just how beautiful it is, and we will follow the same road south in a few days, so will hopefully be able to stop off and properly appreciate it then. In the meantime, we are going to spend a few days in Rio, or nearby at least, soaking up the sun if it comes out, and not riding the bikes for a bit. With a bit of luck, if rain does stop play, I´ll be able to get some video on line and finish organising my photos - which, incidentally, I have put on the map on Flickr, so if you haven´t already, check that out.
So, for now, I´m, off to meet a girl. Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl....

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Moment of Reflection

Wow look at that, twice in almost as many days! After finishing the other day, I realised I had omitted one or two bits (which I have since added) and felt I wanted to say something about the country we have just been through before it goes fuggy in my brain. This is more for my benefit than yours, so feel free to read on or wait for the next installment, whatever butters your muffin.

4800km in just under 4 weeks through northern Argentina. We didn´t get to the far north west, but may get to do that on the way past after Chile. We did see a huge range of land though, from the snowy, craggy Andes to dry, barren desert bordered by snowy craggy mountains, to dry barren desert bordered by more dry barren desert, to wide open spaces full of farm land that looked like Norfolk, to tropical jungle. And we haven´t even gone near Patagonia yet.
I´ve visited the tops of high hills, crazy old geological rock formations, the middle of big lakes and the depths of unspoiled jungle, and been lucky enough to have been told a little about them by people who know. We´ve stayed in cities with populations greater than the whole of NZ and villages with little more than a bus stop to their name, and met the most fantastically kind, generous, friendly people in them all.
The language barrier was always more of a source of entertainment and amusement for us all than any kind of hinderance to conversation, and I have talked with people (mostly in Spanish) on a range of subjects from raising problem children, to conservation, to the plight of Argentinian rugby, to the fact that the wilds of Argentina will never be safe as long as there are countries out there waving fistfuls of money at the Argy governement in an effort to buy sole access to resources that would be better held onto, if only the government would see the long term view and the potential of the tourist dollar (eg Sly Stallone buying a mineral water spring to bottle and sell in the US, and mining issues), to the similarities and differences between NZ and Argy. And nearly always with a beer in hand and a smile and a laugh in place.
I´ve seen places and things that will stay with me forever, and some that I would prefer to forget, and already been challenged on my motorbike more than I really wanted to be, but on I roll, wondering what the next chapter will bring.
We are now in a small town called Moretes near Paranagua, some 700km or so from where we started yesterday (a mammoth day riding the roads to cover some ground), on the doorstep of a rare Atlantic coast rainforest national park, and we have an interesting route up the coast to São Paulo and Rio planned over the next few days, so we shall see.
That´s all for now, unless something else occurs to me, so until the next one,Keep ém Peeled!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Farewell Argentina - for Now.

Welcome back - sorry its been a while since the last one, but not much happened for ages, then it got very busy, so I should be able to catch you up pretty quick smart. I´ll try not to procrastinate too much, but you know me, once I get the creative juices flowing, its hard to hold it all in.

When last we spoke, I had just fallen hard down a rocky track, digging a hole in my knee cap. That´s much better now, thank you for asking, but it was a number of days before it became comfortable to ride, I just had to suck it up and take an extra toughen-up pill. Still, the photo was in glorious technicolour, so you got an idea.
We stayed an extra day at Capilla on account of my ow-ie, then set off across the long flat, gusty roads to the Corrientes region. Not much to report other than long, dull, hot (30°C+) days wishing the damn lorries would go away, and a night spent sleeping at the side of the road outside a police station, as our attempts to find somewhere to stay in Rafaela were met with enormous bills. In the end we mistakenly stopped at a place, unpacked, showered, went to reception to settle up in advance, and were told a price twice what we thought, (which was twice what we´d normally hope to pay, but were making an exception). In the end, we coughed up 50 pesos for a shower and moved on. To give you some idea, we´d normally hope to pay 50 for both of us for a night. I also got bee-stung for the first time on a bike, on my collar bone, due to riding with my coat half unzipped to let some air flow in. Bee-stung is kind of like snake-bit in a western, but with less cutting of the wound and sucking out the poison. Still, catches you by surprise a bit and hurts like a bastard! Had to stop and pull out the stinger obviously
Still, next day was short and to Paraná, to regroup and move on, again long and dreary roads but to Parque Naçional El Palmar. We didn´t get the most out of the area in my opinion, but did have a nice horse trek in the evening and an entertaining night chatting to a group of school kids from Buenos Aires.
From there we went north to Yapeyú and got our first glimpse of Uruguay, and from where the sunrise photos were taken. It was after this that things started getting interesting again.
I was keen to visit a unique wetland area called Esteros del Iberá, and our map showed 3 routes to get there. The first was a long back track followed by an earth road, the second was a more direct route but more earth than asphalt, and the 3rd was to head on up the road and then back track. We took option 2, and at about 1130, with the end in sight and a relaxing afternoon awaiting us (and about 5 minutes abfter getting bee-stung again - on teh throat this time!), we met some gauchos who told us the road no longer existed up ahead, and we´d have to go back. So back we went, along the very reasonable earth road, hit the tarmac and went for option 3. Wasn´t much further, the earth roads so far had been fine, it should be no trouble. True enough for the first hour, then it all turned to custard. Or more accurately, to sand, as the road degenerated to mostly quite deep sand, and things slowed right down. By 1800, with about an hour and a bit of daylight left, having been on the road for 9 hours, I fell off again (and once again it was at slow speed - its actually impossible for me to get any speed up on these nasty surfaces). After that, the sun started to set, and the road alternated between sand and puddles and good hard mud. Unfortunately in the failing light, it was very hard to tell one from t´other until it was too late, so a couple of extra spills later, I was down to walking pace with a broken windscreen (I put my foot through it as I stepped clear of the falling bike), riding in my snow style, with feet out as out-riggers, and the sun gone for good. We had about an hour in full dark after that, eventually finding Colonia Carlos Pelligrini and collapsing in heap.
Next day was good for me, as I had a morning out on the big laguna and saw all kinds of SA fauna and birdlife, right up my ally, but sadly I only got spanish names for them all. This is not helpful, as my poor brain struggles to hold the useful conversational words in its grasp, so has no room at all for bird names that can´t be used for anything else. Still, hopefully some video will make its way on to the site soon-ish, and you can see for yourselves. Rich took the time to clean his bike and grease it up, so time well spent for us both, I think.
Next day was back to civilisation, with a patched up screen that lasted all of half an hour until I went down again, and it broke in a different place than my mend, which was satisfying from that perspective if none other. Rude words were said, obviously, as the remains of the screen were biffed in to the roadside and on we went, eventually making it to Posadas, where I was able to buy a new window and feel happy again. Posadas was a lovely town on the edge of the Misiones region, and we had a pleasant couple of days there, just recovering from the heavy going of the previous couple.
From here it was to be straight to Foz de Iguaçu, stopping on the way to make for shorter days, but after having a night camping in San Pedro, we decided to head back a bit and visit Saltos Del Moconá, a little visited waterfall a bit south of where we were. This took us down a proper dirt road, just like I´d imagined before arriving, and because it was dry, it was a great road to ride. If it hadn´t been for a 2nd puncture, caused by the first patch coming off, it would have been a perfect day. As it was, the ride was great and we found a lovely wee camp site 2km up the road from the falls, which we decided to visit in the morning on account of it taking 2 hours to walk out into the river and back - a whole 1km or so into the river, in fact. These falls are pretty much unique, as they run in line with the river for 3km rather than across the current, due to a land shift along what is now the Argy-Brasil border.
Unfortunately, the early morning brought the threat of rain, so we hurried out to the falls at 7am, making it back by 9 and packing to leave by 10. Just as the rain started. And unfortunately for us, even the merest hint of damp on the mud of the road turns it into a perfect slick, so needless to say it was only 10 minutes in before muggins hit the deck again, this time as I was picking my way carefully and slowly up a steep, rocky hill. One wrong move and a wet rock saw me undone, and I managed to break the other side box (oh, did I not mention I broke the mounting clip on one of them already, in the sand? Well I did.). That was the only off of the day though, mostly because I slowed down even more after that. The rain kept going though, and the 30°C we´d had not 2 days before was now a bitter and wet 8°C, but we picked a road out that was being improved, so it wasn´t long before we hit the tarmac and picked up speed. Good in one respect, cold in another. We stopped in San Vicente in a great little hotel that was far cheaper than the con-artist in Rafaela and far better too, dried off a bit and got set to go to Iguaçu the next day.
Which is what we did, arriving about 3pm, too late for the falls that day, but nice and early to relax with a beer and unwind a bit. Next day (7th Sept by now) we did the falls visit which was outstanding. Almost as amazing was the fact that Rich came along, as he tries to avoid tourist attractions like the plague, but even he was impressed, for about 3 hours, then had to leave before he went mad. I stayed on and went on a tour into the jungle and had an interesting couple of hours at the end of the day learning a bit about the forest, and saw a toucan, which made my day!
So now, at 1755 on 8th September 2008, I am in Brazil, about to start for Rio De Janeiro in the morning, and beginning to feel the strain in my shoulders from battling the cold and covering about 4800km in 4 weeks. Hopefully the tropical climate we´re heading to, and a well earned break in Rio, will sort that out.
With Brazil being Portugese speaking, language will begin to be interesting, but I´m not worried. You see, Hablo bueno español. Lo apprendo desde un libro. Thank you Manuel, and good night.