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!