In looking at the map I figured taking Ruta 40 to El Calafate via Rio Mayo to Tres Lagos would take me 3 to 4 days. By crossing the South American continent to the Atlantic side then riding south to Comandante Piedrabuena, I could shave one or two days from this estimate. I’d ride 80 percent pavement and a little more than a 100 miles of dirt. There would be fuel and accomodations in Sarmiento then make my way to Comandante Piedrabuena along Ruta 3 down the windy but paved Atlantic Coastline.
Refueling in Sarmiento I met Adriaan, a weathered legend riding a Honda CBX 250 wearing a canvas backpack, and a duffel bag and camping gear strapped to his seat. Dark hair with long streaks of grey pulled back into a ponytail we chatted as he inhaled a couple cigarettes. His narrow face anchored by a mustache and pointed goatee, I immediately endeared him. There’s someting about certain people you meet that somehow you instantly feel connected. Lost souls swimming in a fishbowl? I think someone surmised it once. We had come the same route. We both saw the fatal crash of a rolled over compact car. And we both wallowed through about 5 miles of gravel nearly a foot deep.
Yeah. So I though I was stcking to pavement when a contruction worker waving a tattered orange flag signals me to a gravel mess. My bike squirreled, fish tailed a tad and I was doing okay until some bozo in a 4×4 comes bareeling at me in the opposite direction. My front wheel dancing moves that would make a tango dancer jealous, but the 4×4 refuses to slow. I’m certainly more in the middle of the road than I’d like, but when riding in gravel this deep you let the bike take you and only make subtle changes while counterbalance steering with your feet on the pegs. But rather than endure this game of chicken I try to move to the right. Bad move as the front end of the bike starts flapping. With gravel spitting at me as the 4×4 passes, I goose the throttle and barely save myself from a spill. Nerve racking.
On his smaller street bike Adriaan had an even more difficult time.
We discussed roads, weather and bikes as these brief encounters are usually relegated. But shaking hands and pats on the back we seemed more like old friends rather than simply bikers barely passing each other in the road. As I furthered my journey across the continent and through miles of oil derrecks, I pained myself with the stupidity of forgetting to take his photograph. He had been traveling for weeks on this 250cc Honda wearing jeans, hiking boots and a luggage and packs he probably found in his closet. There was no GPS, fancy riding gear, waterproof luggage or high-design aftermarket gear on his bike. No. It was just Adriaan out to explore his country. After nearly a month, he slowly making his way home.
With a couple more hours of daylight and the prospects of a comfortable bed, cold beer and good meal in Sarmiento looking rather grim, I decided to push on. After passing through more pampas and miles and miles of oil derricks I met the Atlantic Ocean just south of Comodoro Rivadavia. Turning north the winds did their best to hold me back, push me around while tinges of rain try to spit on me. No worries. I’d find a hostal or hospedaje. Twilight faded quickly to night as I dodged the potholes and taxis riding into this mid-sized city.
No rooms. No parking. Nothing. Though I did pass a vinoteca, but in the chilly wind-whipped air with a tired and weary mind and body, all I wanted was a bed. But according to at least two of the hotels, all the Chileans are here on vacation and scooped up all the rooms. I finally was referred to what must be the nicest hotel in town. Yeah. They had a couple rooms. The wedding reception and fifteenth birthday celebration for local debutante had the staff scurrying. Then there’s dusty, dirty me. Wind burnt, beet red nose from the sun on the pampas, riding suit desperately in need of a good washing and a few days in a need of a shave. The marble floors, high ceiling, formally dressed bell staff and reception provided for a stark constrast. I’m sure the guests of the wedding, formal party and hotel were staying at me as I walked through the doors. They had couple rooms in town. How much? It took time. Patience. And negotiating. But what one of only three $110 rooms – the only rooms – available in this city at 10:30 was discounted nearly thirty percent. Still way too much to pay for in a town I’d be less than 12 hours. It hurt. But I had no where else to go. No camping areas. No hotels and I wasn’t about to drive an hour south to the next town and end up in the same situation. I swallowed hard and paid. Somewhere I’d make it up to keep my budget in tact.