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.


ed said...

I feel like that old prisoner chap in Monty Python's Life of Brian: "You lucky, lucky, lucky...bast@rd... and ooh what I'd give to have just 2 1/2 hours on a computer every day." :)

Glad you've done the tough bit now, you'll be going with the wind on the way up presumably...

ian said...

It's the bike I feel sorry for :(