The winds of change didn’t blow my way last night as this morning I woke to more rain. I had to get away from this lake and its magnetism for moisture. I packed my gear in a slow drizzle and headed North. In Osorno I would head east toward Entre Lagos and then over the pass into Argentina. Happily the rain stopped as I pulled into Osorno. Before climbing the Andes again I’d need to take care of business.
When I changed tires in Santiago I decided to use the heavy duty tubes I’d been carrying as spares since beginning this trip. In preparing for the notorious Ruta 40, I pulled all the stops: new tires and heavy duty tubes. That road wouldn’t beat me — at least my tires. But I neglected to buy back up tubes. Finding tubes in South America is easy. But getting decent tubes is rather hopeless. Here in Osorno I found a small moto parts store. Fortunately they had the correct size tubes for both my tires. Both were made in Thailand by a no name brand. The front was actually of decent quality, but the rear was scary. But at least I’d have back ups. Of course, I carry patches, glue and the stuff needed to patch a puncture, but the security of “new” tubes is important to me.
The narrow, tree lined and slightly twisty road to Entre Lagos was a refreshing brake from the blazing speeds, trucks and uninteresting terrain of Ruta 5. By the time I was on the outskirts of the small town nestled between two Andean lakes my reserve fuel light popped on. Several store and home fronts displayed hand written signs touting the importance of having Argentinean motor vehicle insurance in order to cross the border. I wondered.
I bought a 30 day policy on December 1st in San Pedro de Atacama for about $60. Although I rode through more than a dozen general police stops in Argentina, not once was I asked for proof of insurance. As I rode to the border stop the chilling temperatures and cloud covered sky threatened preceipitation. More enterprising Chileans sitting in chairs rode side as I approached the border offered insurance. Again I wondered that even in the case of an accident what would this insurance really do? My feeling it was a scare tactic pre-border to drain money from unsuspecting vacationers. An elderly main that I’d met at the gas stop in Entre Lagos greeted me again as I disrobed my riding gear to prepare for one or two hour queue I’d have to stand. “Que piensas,” I quizzed him. “Tengo que comprar seguro para mi moto por Argentina?” The large man put his massive hand on my shoulder firmly and told me the insurance hawkers here were Chilean rip-offs. Further, he said if I’m just friendly and tell the border/customs officials what I’m doing, I’d be okay. He said that the border people do like to hassle Chileans more than any other passengers. I pondered. I guess an innocent age old feud still exists between neighbors.
The affable women in her early 40’s sipping on a cup of aromatic coffee expressed the same amazement that nearly every customs offical in Latin America did: my license plate has only letters; no numbers. “Solamente letras?” The concept of vanity plates hasn’t hit Latin America and my WRLDRDR “placa” always confuses them. But we continued to go through the customs form. Then she offhandedly asked for insurance. Without hesitation I pulled my expired policy from my trip paperwork notebook, handed to her and paused as she scanned the document. Before she could question the dates I explained that I called the insurance office in Mendoza and extended the policy and that I just haven’t been able to receive an updated copy. She handed me the paper back and said okay. I got the strong feeling that even if I didn’t have this paper, I don’t think she would have hassled me.
As I climbed the Cardenal Antonio Samoré pass the rain started. Climbing to just over 4,000 feet and then descending toward the cool little town Villa La Angostura I ran into a short hail storm. Great. But when the spectacular Lago Naheul Huapi appeared in front of me with its surrounding snow capped mountain peaks pushing into a blanket of low lying clouds while shafting streams of sunlight danced on the water the wonder and popularity of Argentineans lake district finally made sense to me. And I’d only been here twenty minutes. The wind and rain fiercely whipped me. But I had to stop and just stare. I remembered the lake on the south eastern side of Glaciar National Park in Montana, and Kluane Lake in Canada’s Yukon Territory and how these moved me last August and September. But this was different. The vast lake and its surroundings seemed larger and I seemed smaller.
Villa La Angustura was bustling with people walking the streets. Seducitvely warm looking cafés and bistros called for me. I almost gave in to the weakness to gate out of the cold, but no, San Carlos de Bariloce was my destination. As I made my way around the Northeastern part of the lake foliage changed from green and forested to brown, umber and arrid foliage free desert with even fiercer winds. Riding to the city on the Southern side and into Bariloce the foliage returned but the winds wouldn’t stop.
Earlier I’d met 6 Colombian motorcyclists on V-Stroms who were just on the tail end of their month-long South American trip. In just three days they’d be in Buenos Aires putting their bikes on a plane and returning to work in Bogota. While taking advantage of the longer days I passed and met this group at several hotels, hostals and hosterias as we both were looking for rooms. Prices can be high in Bariloce. And availability limited. It took me a couple hours to find something decent and at a decent price.
Now back in Argentina I was quickly reminded as I piled my things on the bed of my hotel. Not only was in back in Argentina. But it was back to bidet — that is my bathroom once again had the ubiquitous toilet and bidet. So for the next three days I hung in Bariloce just outside of the downtown district along the lake. During the day I’d ride around the lake, work on getting my writing and photograph chores up to date and sampling some of the fine and reasonable priced food here. Bariloce felt extremely comfortable to me. It’s a small town that draws national and international tourists, and while it’s downtown is lined with stores, restaraunts and assuming hotels, it doesn’t seem heavily touristy. Pushing on to the northwestern side of the lake the crowds dissipate and the scenery magnifies. The lake bristles with reflections of the snow studded mountains and towering trees.
Though after three solid days of beautiful easy riding, self-reflecting moments in quiet and a couple great meals I had to move onward – to El Bolson.