Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 169 (11km): Sorting out the bikes

We had made arrangements to phone BMW to see how the bikes were doing. We had also asked them to quote us a price for new rear tires (ours are dead) and sprockets and chains. So when we phoned we discovered that sprockets and chains would cost $450 CAD (each set) and the only tires they had (Anakee 2s) were also a whopping $400 CAD each. That just won't do.

We got them to complete the service on our bikes but we're going to source our parts elsewhere. We phoned another moto shop and they could only get us street style tires as well (super expensive). They told us that Northern Argentina wasn't getting any tire deliveries so tires were hard to come by. Weird. So we gave up on tires and focused on chains.

Our bikes were going to be ready for pick-up today so we took a cab back into town to the Honda dealer where we were going to buy chains. The ones they had in stock were 200 CAD each. The Honda dealer was a block away from the tiny moto shop we had stopped at yesterday so we did some checking around before caving for the expensive chains.

Before the familiar moto shop there was another tiny moto shop. Alberto stopped in there and I went to the one from the day before, called Motos Parra Team - Jose V. Zapata 344. He had two chains the size we needed but with more links than we needed. He also had tires the size we needed and with a tread pattern we liked. They are random no-name tires from Thailand but I'm sure they'll get us back to Peru which is really all we care about. The other shop Alberto was at could get us Pirelli MT60s but at over $200 CAD each that was crazy. We can buy those same tires in Peru for $50 CAD. So we went with the two chains and random tires from Motos Parra Team and our total came to $265 CAD for everything, almost half the cost of one tire from BMW. While the random tires did seem a bit more expensive than I would normally pay for a no-name tire he had them in stock and our tires are bald. Beggars can't be choosers. The guy who we talked to in the shop has an Africa Twin and he uses the same tires on his bike. That was good enough for us.

So we took off in a cab with our new found goodies to BMW. We picked up our bikes and drove back to Carolina's house. All in all, a surprisingly successful day.

The only reason we brought our bikes into a dealer is because for the 30k service the front fork oil needs to changed. This is something we weren't going to do on our own. Everything else is irrelevant cause we got new engines just a little while ago (plus all the other stuff we can do ourselves anyways). When we picked up the bikes we discovered that nothing was even done with the front fork oil. Whatever, I'm really sick of dealing with BMW dealers in Latin America. We asked them about our weird sounding engines. The mechanic thinks a chain in the engine wasn't tightened properly when they were installed. It's not critical so we can have it looked at by qualified people in Canada.

Day 168 (428km): Mendoza and the BMW dealer

We had been trying to get in contact with Alberto's cousin who lives in Mendoza through email, but had been unsuccessful. So we went to our favourite place, tourist info, to inquire as to where we could make a phone call. We tried phoning but there was no answer. Not much we can do about that so we set off in the direction of Mendoza.

The riding was again quite boring, but very warm. I think we've left that pesky wind behind us so that is a big plus. The road was straight and flat and then all of a sudden we were driving tight curves through a rocky hill. Where did that come from? When we popped out the other side the landscape was lush and green. Well maybe not lush like Central America but in contrast it was. We are officially in wine country.

We pulled into a gas station that had wifi so we decided to take a lunch break. We had received an email from Alberto's cousin and got an address so we were in business in that regard. We had planned to go to the BMW dealer in Tucuman, because it has been recommended to us by several bikers but once we started doing the math it became clear that we were probably going to be screwed over by the weekend and needed to take care of business in Mendoza instead. So we found the address for BMW online but were having difficulty loading up a map with the internet and it was getting late so we cut our losses and decided to figure it out once we got to Mendoza.  
The sad state of my tire
Alberto isn't looking much better
While at the gas station a couple from Vancouver, who have a house in the area, approached us and we had a nice chat. A little girl, Anna, also was looking at our bikes and came into the seating area to talk to us. She wasn't shy at all, and she started talking to us. Alberto told her we were from Canada, and then started to explain to her where that was. She was like, oh I know about Canada, Justin Bieber is from Canada. Oh snap! I was surprised and told her how smart she was since most people we've met on this trip think he is from the US. So, love the Bieber or hate him he is putting Canada on the map for a younger generation.

We were worried that the BMW dealer would be closing since it was late in the day so we were booting it to Mendoza. The roads, while not in the best condition, were straight and facilitated rapid progress. Then I did something that has become common practice on this trip. I passed a large semi-trailer on a double line. I feel safer in front of those guys where I can actually see but unfortunately there was a police officer watching me. So we got pulled over.
Pulled over by the police; Maybe they had bike envy. Neener neener, my bike is bigger than yours. haha
He spoke to Alberto first. He got our licenses and then was giving Alberto the song and dance. We didn't have time to play games so Alberto quickly told the guy I have somewhere to be please hurry up and give me my ticket. The guy probably wanted to work out a deal with us and was stopped in his tracks at this request. We went over to the shack where there was two other officers. They requested our TVIPs, and insurance. We avoided the insurance topic since we don't have any. Alberto was giving them a bit of attitude, which he has a tendency to do. This made them angry and they went slower with writing up our tickets. We had to give them some sort of “insurance” type documents to finish the ticket progress. We gave them some expired insurance we bought in Central America. They kept out license copies, we got our tickets. Every one goes home happy.
In Alberto's defense the cop was asking why we had passed on a double line. Alberto simply responded truthfully saying that we were in a hurry to get to Mendoza. The police officer didn't like his answer and told us that we don't have to be in a rush. Thanks for the tip, so Alberto answered by saying yes, but it's a personal decision to be in a rush or not. Again the cop wasn't happy with our answers and Alberto was losing patience because the cop was stalling to get money. So it seemed that both parties were losing patience with each other and things just escalated from there. No guns this time though.

After the long delay with the police we thought for sure we weren't going to make it to Mendoza before BMW closed. Bugger. We followed the signs for El Centro and pulled up in front of a small motorcycle shop. We asked someone for directions. He was a really friendly guy and came out to check out our bikes. We had a bit of trouble finding the place since there was an overpass (which we were on) and the dealer was on the lower level. We got there 30min before they closed and made arrangements for the services to be done the following day. We left the bikes there and took a cab to Alberto's cousin's house.

The cab driver didn't know where to go and he took a very awkward route to get there but we made it in the end. We had a nice peruvian dinner with Carolina, Alberto's cousin, plus some showering and laundry, and then went to sleep. 
Having some delicious dinner

Day 167 (536km): A delightful surprise

Conveniently the campground was pretty much on Ruta 40 so it was easy to get back on track in the morning. Hitting the road and enjoying the beautiful blue sky. I didn't see a single cloud all day! Oh and the wind throughout the day could be described as normal. Thank goodness. I think I was going to have a nervous breakdown if the wind continued to be that crazy day after day.
Indeed we are following 40
As we approached the town of Las Lajas there was a police checkpoint. Not one of those permanent ones you see before entering a touristy town, a temporary one with cones. Once I see the cones I slow down, and then I notice it's for police. The one standing in the road motions for us to pull over. It was the most emphatic attempt to pull someone over in the history of pulling motorcyclists over. I almost burst out laughing.

We haven't heard any horror stories about corrupt cops in Argentina (except the famous Ruta 14) so we had nothing to worry about. Two cops come over, one to me and one to Alberto. What bugs me a little bit is that whenever police pull us over they walk right past me and go to Alberto behind me. Stupid Latin American sexism. Anyways the first guy goes to Alberto and the second guy begrudgingly comes over to me. He asks the usual questions, where did you come from? Where are you going? He asked for my license which I hand over. Not the real one of course, just a copy. He and the officer talking to Alberto (who has his license and TVIP) walk over to their car and confer for over 10min. They also may have written some things down. I ask Alberto, since he was talking to his guy in Spanish, if he mentioned what the deal was; Alberto didn't know. So after a while they come back, give us our documents and we are on our way. I still have no idea why they pulled us over, but it was a sunny day and I was in a good mood. Under other circumstances I would demand to know what the deal is. People, even if they are police, shouldn't just pull you over take all your stuff and not tell you why.
Taking a break from the nothingness
Back on the road we keep following Ruta 40 north. We've gone back into a dry climate so it's pretty boring. There was some cool rock formations here and there, and at times the road was twisty. Why hello temperature gauge. I haven't seen you at 25 degrees for quite some time.
Really cool rock formations
A cactus!
We got some gas in Chos Malal which was a bit of a job to find. I like that Argentina has signs on the road telling you there is gas in a town. Finding said gas can sometimes be less obvious though. When we hit the Mendoza state border the road quality deteriorated. And when we hit the dirt my chain fell off. I had commented to Alberto last night that it was loose and that it probably needed tightening. But one thing leads to another and you put these things off. Well no more putting it off now. He had to tighten it now.
Sad chain; sad tire
The road was dirt and there was a bunch of mining related traffic. I ate so much dust! I dislike riding washboard with such a heavy bike, and not to mention that my back tire can only be described as a dry pavement tire at this point. The dirt lasted a while and then turned back into pavement. The dirt section finished without incident, though there was a scary moment when a deep sand trap appeared from nowhere.
I got a lot of dust in my face!
But now the pavement is still just as exciting. We came around a corner and we found a heard of goats and sheep coming our way. Glad they weren't in the actual corner. I think things would have turned out a lot worse. Why don't people who are herding animals have a person in the lead to warn drivers? It is a road after all.... with cars.
Don't mind the livestock taking over the road
When we had originally looked at the map in the morning we had thought that Bardas Blancas looked to be a good destination. We also thought we'd be able to get gas there. No gas, and not a nice looking place to stay. We continued to the next town on the map, Malargue, which was shown as the same size but had an airport. Alberto pretty much pulled into the gas station on fumes but we made it. And holy cow, this place is NICE! We went to the tourism office which was REALLY nice. We got information on the camping and restaurants.
Camping, in the mud
We set up at the camping, and it was nice and warm outside. A nice change. We had a short wait until 8pm, when the restaurant opened. Dinner was delicious! Alberto's quest for Argentinian beef is now over. 
Something to drink
I was loving my hand made gnocchi
Alberto murdering some tasty beef

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 166 (631km): Going from beautiful British Colombia to Arizona

Alberto was chatting up some riders staying at the campsite next to us. Once again one of them had heard about us from our engine troubles. He was also an engineer. Funny how all the engineers we meet are pretty young.
Our biker next door neighbours
When we left I could not get my bike into second gear. So I pulled over and noticed that the shift lever was pushed in a little bit. I pulled it out and bent it back and we were good to go. I wonder how that happened?

Riding this morning was a breath of fresh air. There was little wind, the temperature was up and it felt like we were riding in BC. There were mountains, pine trees, lakes and delicious curves. It was really fun, but it also made me start fantasizing about the rides I want to do when I get home. No need to leave BC folks, there is plenty of awesomeness already there. Enjoy it!
Yay mountains
Nice lake
Enjoying the view
Nice peaks
nice riding
We drove through Bariloche which was surprisingly depressing. I thought it was supposed to be a pretty place, but what we drove through was nothing special. We continued north on the mystic Ruta 40. It went back to lameness but it was paved. Flat, straight, pampas. It wasn't very windy though, that was a nice break.
Back to lame

We saw a Volcano but that was more or less the only talking point in the scenery. We rolled into Zapala, from what we could tell the only town since Bariloche. There was a sign stating there was municipal camping but it was difficult to find. We asked around and got many different directions but we finally found it. The campground itself is pretty good and it is REALLY cheap. The operator told us there was a restaurant 300m down the road. It was a little more than 300m down the road and when we got there it was closed. We were committed at that point so we took a cab into town for some food. Alberto was on the quest for some good Argentinian beef. The cab driver took us to a really nice restaurant, Mayrouba. Alberto wasn't completely satisfied with his beef but it was a nice evening. Our server was surprised that two Canadians had come to visit Zapala. Zapala not a tourist destination?
Municipal camping in "El Bosque"

Day 165 (522km): Back to the grind

The day started out really good. We stopped off at the delicious bakery to stock up on snacks, and pick up some breakfast. Life is good when there is a good bakery nearby.

Back onto Ruta 40 and same old same old. The road sucks, the wind sucks, riding in Argentina kinda sucks. I was freezing my bum off at 5.5 degrees. Maybe perfectly sunny days aren't the best thing ever. It was dirt all the way to Rio Mayo and we kind of got screwed up trying to get out of town. All the direction signs were only in place for southbound traffic, so we had to stop a few times and figure out what was going on.

After we were on the right path we used the pavement and cut over on to 20, which then turned into 40. I declined to get gas in Rio Mayo and we had to tap into our rotopax gas to get to the next gas station. Stupid wind.

The scenery got more mountainous as we approached Esquel; it was a nice change. I saw some more Flamingos and wondered if the cold bothers them. We were hoping to make it to Bariloche but it wasn't going to happen. As it turned out I was happy to call it quits for the day. My neck was killing me and we found a nice little campground as we entered town.

*note: Looks like my photographer was on strike today. No riding pictures.
I dropped my bike in a hole. All of a sudden I couldn't reach the ground

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 164 (0km): A day to catch up

Things were starting to get out of control so we stopped for the day to get the blog back up-to-date, plus a little R&R. When we walked into town for some lunch we discovered just how serious Argentina takes its holidays. Everything was closed, EVERYTHING, even the gas station where we were hoping to grab a drink. We did find a little shack on the sidewalk who sold drinks and hot dogs. So that's what we ate. Luckily we stocked up on treats from this awesome bakery we found last night.

Nothing exciting happened today. We relaxed in the tent listening to the wind.

Day 163 (461km): Taking the road well traveled

The wind was wild all night. I could here it blowing through the tops of the trees. We were well sheltered though. Still, lying listening to the wind made me dread riding in the morning. It was a slow start in the morning and even though we hit the road at 11am it felt really dark. The sun was hiding behind large dark clouds and it was so dark out it felt like 5pm. It was kind of a mind trip in that regard.

We'd been here before and we knew what to expect. Ruta 40 just leaving Tres Lagos is under construction so there is lots of gravel, not to mention the infamous pool of gravel. We got an email from DirtyBones stating that that same pool of gravel almost got him a few days ago so we knew it was still there. It was easier to spot coming from this direction so we both moved over to the edge where is was the least deep. The pool has grown though; it now goes all the way down the hill. Not fun to ride through but easier to spot if you are coming south. We traversed the pool of gravel with no incidents this time.

Alberto kicked a piece of gravel at me and I caught it. There is so much time to think about things while riding a bike I started to think about the gravel. Based on the sample I now had in my possession this gravel does not appear to be a crush product, which is what I would expect for road construction. This gravel looks like it was stolen from a river, which kind of bothers me. We saw a river in Peru being mined of it's rock (presumably for gravel purposes) and what I don't like about it is that it took these rocks a long time to get smooth and rounded. Using them for construction purposes seems wasteful. End of gravel discussion.

It was a windy day and it's starting to really annoy me. Riding in the wind is fine, for a day but riding in the wind day after day after day is really annoying. I found myself yelling at the wind from inside my helmet cause I was so angry at it. It ruins a potentially good riding experience. So we battled the wind most of the day. It really kicks you around and that is sometimes unwelcome on gravel.
Riding Ruta 40
We passed two Brazilians on Yamahas and two anniversary F8GSs passed us coming the opposite direction. We haven't seen many other F8GSs on the trip so we both think that's pretty cool. When we reached the paved section at the intersection for Gobernador Gregores we saw a KLR parked off down a hill a little bit. We stop and wave and Alberto says, I think that's Rodrigo. I look more closely, yeah I think you're right. So we ride down and interrupt Rodrigo, who we met when we arrived by ferry in Chaiten, making his lunch. We have a nice break talking about the things that bikers talk about and then say goodbye as he is on his way south.
Seeing Rodrigo again
I'm not really a big fan of Ruta 40. It's like walking a tightrope, trying to stay out of the deep strips of gravel and fighting the wind all at once. It involves intense focus and not much scenery gazing.

We continued north and realised with the intense winds we'd been fighting all day we wouldn't make it to Bajo Caracoles without putting in some more gas. I mentioned my new idea to Alberto a while ago but it comes into play now. He has a full 2 G Rotopax mounted to his cargo plate. Perfect, the only problem is it's a pain in the butt to get to and fill up. My new plan is to have two 1 G mounted to his cases like mine. Anyways back to the story. We use my Rotopax to top up the bikes. We keep riding and the town of Bajo Caracoles comes into view. We are probably 2 km from the gas station and Alberto runs out. So now he has to de-luggage to get to his Rotopax to top up the tank.

When we arrive at the gas station the attendant remembers us from when we stopped for gas on our way south. Alberto tells him that he ran out of gas just up the hill. The guy proceeds to tell us that he's out of gas and won't be getting anymore until tomorrow evening. Awww.... Bajo Caracoles is a bit of a hole and we didn't want to stay here. Only joking he says. That's not nice! So we fill up and while we are getting filled a French Canadian, Simon, on a bumble bee F8GS pulls up. Then the Brazilians, Cesar and Diso, pull up, and then some Argentinians, Fernando and Walter, pull up. It was pretty crazy. Soon the gas pumps are taken over by Adventure riders.
The bike meet at the gas pump
The Brazilians
Hey, I know you!
We hang around and chat for a while. The Argentinians, who were the last to show up, asked where we were going. Alberto told them that we were actually 3 different groups of riders and that we were all going in different directions. He had this look of surprise on his face. It was a really chance meet up and cool to be a part of. It was getting late though and no one really wanted to stay in Bajo Caracoles so we all parted ways.
A group shot
Getting some route advice from Simon
The last push to Perito Moreno is mostly paved so we made good time. The wind was killer though and my neck hated me by the time we made it to town. We had barely eaten all day and it took us longer than expected, cause of the biker stops, to make it to Perito Moreno. It took us a bit of effort to find a decent campground since we wrote off the one we ended up staying at cause it had a lame sign on the main road. The pricing structure for camping was retarded but we didn't care. We quickly put up the tent and got changed so we could walk into town for some food. We ate at a hotel and the food was nice but midway through my meal I completely crashed. I could barely stay awake. My neck pain was giving me a headache, and my face was wind burned. I barely made it through the rest of dinner and back to the tent I was so burned out.

Day 162 (442km): Been there, done that.

We are officially no longer Taking the Road South. We have come and done all the things I wanted to do in the south: Ruta 7, Perito Moreno Glacier, and Torres del Paine. But wait, we've missed Ushuaia? I have nothing against Ushuaia, it was our planned destination before all the unpleasantness in Peru but after losing so much time waiting for the bikes to be fixed, I just can't justify the somewhat lame riding it takes to get to Ushuaia. I'd rather spend my time tearing up Peru than going all the way to Ushuaia just for a picture. Maybe next time. Such utilitarian thinking.
A beautiful sunrise
Today we said goodbye to Torres del Paine but not before Alberto was blown into the ditch and almost had to bail on our way out of the park. I had noticed that the wind was so strong it was blowing quite a bit of water off a small lake we were passing. Then I looked ahead on the road and Alberto was driving in the ditch. He said that the wind blew him across the road and into the opposite ditch. He fought it as much as he could but it was gravel and stronger than him. Alberto is just happy to ride, and crash, and ride.
We had a rainbow leaving the park
One last parting shot
We were out of the park by 9:30am and there was a chill in the air. Today seemed exceptionally windy, and it reminded me a little bit of the Crows Nest Pass (in Alberta). It made me glad I didn't live in a place that was so windy all the time.
The lagoon with flamingos
Bye bye Torres
The wildlife experience
La Gringa imitating the torres
Enjoying the moment; As far south as we are going to go on this trip
We grabbed a hot snack at a little cafe at the border. Thankfully leaving Chile was a lot faster than entering it. We were in and out in less than 10 min. On to the Argentinian side. We saw some poor backpackers hitchhiking in between. Wish I could have helped you guys out. When we arrived at the tiny Argentinian office three bus loads of tourists were checking in. The place was jam packed with people. Yikes! I concluded that since there was only three vehicles outside there wouldn't be that many doing Aduana. So Beto went to go see what the story was with the Aduana window. While he was pushing his way through the people, not easy bulked up in riding gear, a Chilean driver got in his face. He was saying that the line started way back there and that you go to Immigration and then Aduana. At first Alberto took this calmly and said I just want to ask the guy a question. So he continued on his way but this guy wouldn't let it go. He kept telling him to get to the back of the line. Alberto, getting annoyed, questioned the guy on if he worked for Aduana. Then a woman (one of his passengers presumably) chimed in. He does this every day he knows what's up. At this point Alberto was sick of the shenanigans and very firmly said I just want to talk to the Aduana person, and then walked off.
Alberto wants to add that these annoying people were unmistakably Chilean due to their accents and attitudes.

When he got to the Aduana window the friendly guy we'd met a few days ago when we came through the border greeted us like we were long lost friends. In your face annoying Chilean driver! He was happy to give us our paper work to fill out while we were waiting and he even offered to store our helmets while we waited in line. He asked us how we liked Chile, and when we confessed that it was expensive. He agreed saying it was TOO expensive. We had a good laugh together. It took us a while to get our Immigration paper work in order and everyone else, including the annoying guy and girl, were long gone. When we were finished with Immigration the Aduana guy had our paper work ready to go and they even made me a fresh cup of authentic mate tea. The metal straw is a little warm on the lips but it really heated me up. I've had mate tea in Canada, but this was stronger. Very tasty. We left the Argentinian office with big smiles on our faces. The Aduana guy here enjoys his job waaaay too much and if border officials in Central America were this friendly the world would be a better place. He was wearing Alberto's helmet and distinctive green goggles around the office at one point joking around with people in line. He had fiesta music going on in the background, loud, and was partying it up. Just loving life.

Back in Argentina it was very windy. Windier than normal. My neck was dying! We had planned to stop off at a gas station we saw on the way down. Turns out it was closed for lunch and with the crazy wind I was not into waiting around for it to open.
I found D&A's sticker at the gas station
This puppy is awesome
We ended up running out of gas, both of us, while we were detouring to El Calafate to get gas. That wind kills the gas mileage! While we were stopped at the gas station I convinced Alberto we could easily make it to Tres Lagos today, so that's what we did. I remembered seeing a nice sign for camping when we came through last week and hoped that was the case.
Using the emergency gas
The crazy wind continued. When we arrived in Tres Lagos we found a nice campground (the only one in town from what I can tell). It was sheltered from the wind more or less too. Good score. We were being lazy and ate dinner at the restaurant instead of cooking. Sometimes I just don't feel like cooking and today was one of those days.
Camping in Tres Lagos

Day 161 (67km): Exploring the park

We only wanted to spend three nights in the park so today was judgment day. We had to make it happen. It was still cloudy and looked like rain but we took a leap of faith and packed up the campground. We bought some price inflated gas from the Hotel (which is better than running out) and we were on our way.
Buying some 2.5$/L gas so we don't run out while exploring the park
As we started riding around the park Alberto had a big bail. From my vantage point all I could see was him and his bike on it's side doing donuts. Apparently he got into a wobble due to the road being domed shape. When the bike crashed his hand blipped the throttle and that sent him spinning around. He was pivoting on his right panier and it got pretty screwed around.
The scene of the accident

A scratched helmet
The broken tank mount
Tank case fixed for now
We drove around the park snapping pictures and enjoying the wildlife. We wanted to go all the way to Lago Grey but when we got within 20km it started raining and it was clear by the cloud cover that we wouldn't be able to see anything. So we turned back and settled into the Pehoe campground for the night.
The famous bridge
A huanaco surveying the scene
Riding around the park
Even if it was cloudy there was still plenty of scenery to see
It is ridiculously expensive, I'm not even sure how they justify that price, but when the view finally poked it's head out of the clouds it was amazing. We got pretty lucky today and managed to get a good taste of the scenery in the park. The views were spectacular but I think I was expecting more. The mountains were very unique, and I imagine the trekking is good, but I thought there would be more mountains.
Premium camping
Cooking up some lunch-dinner
The view started to clear
The view is clear!
Happy to be enjoying the view
Also one funny comment I have is that all the people walking around look like they exclusively shop at Valhalla Pure Outfitters. It's quite the “trekking” fashion scene. Alberto looked a little out of place in his Crocs.