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.

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