It still amazes me at what time the Argentineans eat dinner. After a long day of cruising to Cabo Virgenes and hanging out with my new penguino (penguins) friends, finding an economical hotel with secure parking for Doc and washing up I headed out to dinner. I walked around the small town of Rio Gallegos and by 10:30 I had ordered my carne, wine and a small salad. As I asked for the check at close to midnight a family is seated with their two children with the youngest no more than five years old. Midnight.
My plan for the long 3,000km +/- cruise to Buenos Aires was simply. For the first time in a while I had a schedule to keep. My friend Tim would be landing at EZE, the international airport in Buenos Aires on the morning of February 24th. I’ve been in touch with my friend Daniel, who lives a few hours east of Buenos Aires and hope to spend some time with him and his family. Daniel and his friend Juan introduced to me the wonderful hospitality of Argentina and shared its wonders, roads, cold beer and relaxation. Since we departed in early December my plan was to see them in February after reaching the bottom of the world. There are a number of sites worthy of exploring off Ruta 3, the long and lonely highway that runs from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires. But for me the most important would be connecting with friends – first Daniel and Juan and ultimately Tim in Buenos Aires.
The Peninsula Valdez offers some of the best chances to spot whales off the Atlantic Coast, but unfortunately my timing isn’t right for checking out these creatures. There are a couple penguin colonies, including one in Valdez, but I had my dose of these wacky waddling birds at a place less touristy. So it would be several long days of throttling through the windy pampas of Patagonia.
Day One – Getting to Piedrabuena
This was a fairly easy day after a leisurely start from Rio Gallegos, I battled the wind for hours and several construction sites where traffic was routed onto loose and squirrely gravel. I spotted a couple massive Honda GoldWings coming my way and looking terribly unstable on the loose and deep gravel. I’d hope to be in Piedrabuena before nightfall and early enough to catch one of the cheaper rooms at the YPF gas station. My strategy worked.
The next morning I thoroughly checked out Doc. That’s when I noticed I was down more than a half quart of oil. I saw signs of leakage. Thankfully I’d be in Bolivar and then Buenos Aires, so I topped it off and made a note to keep tabs on the level. I lubed up the X-Ring chain and was on the road before 10am.
Day Two – To Trelew
Today would be a long day. I promised myself to make good time so I wouldn’t have to stay in that dumpy city Comodora Rivadavia. Though I have to admit I like saying the name. Trelew was the destination. And I’d blow off the large penguin colony nearby because I’d filled up on my waddling creatures in Cabo Virgenes. That’s not to say I won’t return to South Georgia and Antarctica in the very near future to take another dose. No. I was determined to reconnect with my human friends. I’d spend the night in Trelew and plan on the next night to stop in Bahia Blanca. At this point of my journey, I’m just ticking off kilometers. It’s far from satisfying. Yet it makes me wonder about those crazy pseudo adventure motorcyclists who endeavor to break records by traveling from Alaska to Ushuaia in the least amount of days. I’d run into a group led by the latest record holder in Utah sometime in the Fall of 2005. The word from other motorcyclists I’d met on the road revealed that another psycho moto traveler had broken the record again. Doing the long haul in just over a month. Good god. I told these guys that I’d hope to be the guy who had the record for the longest time getting to Ushuaia. Clicking off miles on Ruta 3 in order to make it to Bolivar and Buenos Aires can’t be as bad as clicking off miles to get to Ushuaia. Because this part of the journey I’m traveling through Pampas. Wild, desolate and ultimately boring Pampas. Yes. I’m missing Valdez. And in some ways that hurts. But in others, not so bad. The whales are still a couple months from making their appearance.
But in life I truly believe that when choosing which way to go at the real or metaphorical forks in the road opportunities and experiences unfold before you and as such there there are no reasons to look back. Look forward. Yet eating my own words as I zoomed through the lonely landscape at 70mph I spotted an odd shape on the opposite side of the road. It took just a few moments to register. It was a man and a cart. The cart bore some sort of signage. I grabbed a handful of brakes and made a U-turn. Yes. This time I went back. And on this desolate stretch of Ruta 3 some 2000 kilometers from Buenos Aires and 1,000 from Ushuaia that I had the chance to meet Jorge, a elderly Chilean man who some eight months earlier had left his home in Santiago with a shabby push cart and a handful of possessions to go for a long walk. A walk to Punta Arenas, Chile. He had walked nearly 2,000 miles by the time I found him. In good spirits yet few words his weathered skin and full yet somewhat trimmed beard and wrinkles both age and a beating sun had given his sixty-four year old face. He left two children and four grandchildren home in Santiago to complete his mission — for god. According to Jorge only one Chilean ever walked this distance. Seventy-six years ago a twenty-two year old made the journey. But he didn’t walk back. Jorge’s mission was to do the round trip. We chatted for about 15 minutes and I tried to decipher his Chilean Spanish and learn more. He quoted a few passages from the bible. Told me he slept with the cover of the small underpasses and sometimes was invited to spend a night with a warm Argentinean or Chilean family. I wished him luck and moved on.
At the Petrobras station in the center of Trelew Pedro and his scrawny dog catch my ear. In his late 50’s with a slightly deaf ear and a dog whose nervous scratching habit distracted me from our conversation. He was taken back by the number of countries I’d visited. And that his own dreams to travel the world had taken a back seat for numerous reasons. He directed me to a hotel nearby and I was happy to have secure parking for Doc and a place to rest my head.
Day Three – To Bahia Blanca.
I finally made the turn off the coastal Ruta 3 and was making my way to Bahia Blanca when I noticed another motorcyclists in my rear view. I loosened up on the throttle to let him catch up. When we were next to each other and exchanged the ubiquitous thumbs up and inspected each other bikes, I realized it was yet another Colombian on a V-Strom – Suzuki’s entry into the dual-sport motorcycle market. Nearly every Colombian I’d met on this journey rode a V-Strom. It wasn’t until a couple hours later when a nature’s call urged us to stop on the side of the barren road that I realized I’d been riding with Ramiro – the guy I’d met in Rio Grande on Tierra del Fuego. Remember? He was riding with a guy on a KTM from Luxembourg?
When he pulled his helmet off and I realized it was Ramiro, all I could do in my stunned state was ask “How the hell did you do that?” Of course, I was referring to the fact that he hadn’t yet been to Ushuaia when we met in Rio Grande. And other than my day visiting the magnificent penguins of Cabo Virgenes, I’d been motoring hard to make time to get north. How did he catch up to me? Did he only touchdown in Ushuaia and make the U-Turn? Sadly, he admitted he checked the city off his list and immediately motored north. He was hoping to get to Buenos Aires and fly his motorcycle back to Colombia.
Later that evening in the wake of a Futbol win by the local Bahia Blanca team, Ramiro and I rode into Bahia Blanca. Immediately a crowd gathered around our bikes where we parked on the central plaza. I took advantage of the opportunity to make a quick call at an internet/phone “locutorio” across from the plaza. Hoping to connect with Karina, the girl I’d met with her boyfriend Frederico in El Calafate earlier this month. But my timing was off and she was out of town. I left the “locutorio” and found an even larger crowd gathered around our bikes. We got a lead on a hotel just around the corner and within an hour we were parked, unpacked and making our way to dinner.
After dinner, I wanted to take one last chance to try to contact Karina while checking email. It had been more than 3 hours since we’d pulled into town. When I walked into the tiny standing room only internet/phone booth “locutorio” the owner/manager came up to me and handed me my cellular phone. I was dumbfounded. Confused. And utterly amazed. First, I hadn’t realized that I’d lost my phone. Second, I can’t believe that three hours later at the busiest internet cafe on the plaza that I’d get it returned. My phone isn’t a cheap free-issue cellular offered by a US-company with a contract renewal. No. It’s an expensive Symbian-based PDA Sony Ericsson P990i – a rare find in the USA and even rarer in South America. But it was back in my hands. Luck following me again, I guess. How did this happen? I pulled the phone out of my pocket to look up Karina’s phone number and e-mail. When I paid for my connection time I had placed the phone down in the candy rack that typically surrounds the cashier in an Argentinean “Kiosco” or convenience type of store. I must have retrieved my change and forgot the phone. What amazes me more than the fact that the owner recognized me and returned the phone to me when I arrived (I never asked nor enquired to its whereabouts) but the fact that I’d passed at least 3 or 4 other “locutorios” where I coulda checked my email. But I returned to the first place I’d been. Amazing.
Day Four – Bahia Blanca
Ramiro is gearing to go. He tried to unload all those items that he doesn’t want to put on the plane. Extra oil. Unused bungee cords. Candy bars. Gum. Spare parts, tools. Even a poncho and a space-age emergency blanket. There’s nothing I need nor want to carry. I suggest donate the items to the guy with the scooter whose been watching our bikes at the parking lot next door. Good idea. I decide to stay in Bahia Blanca another day. I need to do laundry and repair the stuff-sack that I use to store my Aerostich Bike Cover. The zipper had come loose and I couldn’t pack it to the small sack any longer. We bid farewell and promised to connect in the states or Colombia sometime in the future. I wonder if these follow up connections are ever or can ever be made. But the sincerity and commitment sits with both of us – strongly.
Day Five – I Can Make It To Bolivar
The Sunflower Fields of the campo.
It looks like a long day. But I can make it. I’ve got Daniel’s address and I’m ready for the long haul. Moving from the coast into the Campo, I’m soon passing mile after mile of farms, agriculture, cows and more. The burnt amber of the fall inspires me. The color. It’s flat. It goes on forever. But the colors, the smells and the deep blue sky keep me smiling. Soon I’m passing miles and miles of sunflowers Some are dried and hang motionless and dead in the fields. Otherwise, bright yellow and pointing at the sun. I learn later that they are harvested here for the oil and seeds. There’s nothing like the image of riding through miles of sunflower orchards. I remember in Mexico near Michoacan seeing the sunflowers. But since then there were the first. And they went on and on.
By late afternoon I’d passed my last sunflower and was riding into the town of Bolivar. I thought it’d be tough to find Daniel’s house. But within a few moments I found his street and was ringing his doorbell.
In some odd way I felt I’d come home. Here I was.