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.