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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Argentina Part 1: Buenos Aires to Bariloche

I parted ways with Uruguay via the port of Colonia, and headed across el Rio de la Plata to arguably the most important (and certainly the most well known) metropolis in Latin America, the city of Buenos Aires. For months now I hd busted my backside to get here by late October, and it was now within sight. The trip would now slow down, and I could relax and enjoy the view a bit more. Why had I travelled over 25,000km to BA so quickly? Family. My parents were also visiting Argentina, albeit in a more traditional tourist style.

I crossed the river in a fast ferry - it took less than an hour, and we had arrived before I had really settled down for the trip. I had some minor problems getting Izzy back into Argentina, as the customs officer at the first border crossing had listed her as Australian, not American. Problem solved, I headed to the hotel in the centre of the city. It was certainly the nicest hotel I've been in so far, and after unpacking, I quickly began taking advantage of the hot tub. Mum and Dad arrived later that night, exhausted and jet lagged. It was fantastic to catch up with them, and we spent the next day walking around the city, chatting the whole time. They had brought me a new camera (water, dust and freeze proof for Antarctica), so expect better photos from now on. They are travelling from BA to Rio de Janeiro, then Iguazu falls and then Torres del Paine National Park via Salta and Bariloche.

We spent the next couple of days in BA, taking in the sights and enjoying the generally nice weather. Definite highlights (besides meeting the folks, and catching up with SJ, a friend from UWA) would have to be watching a tango show (I quickly gave up on trying to learn any of the tango - it looks dangerous!), and visiting the home ground of the Boca Juniors Football club. I picked up some more camping gear (Christmas came early), and we visited a house in the old part of town, complete with stables for horses, and underground tunnels to divert the stream that used to flow through the area.

After a few days, it was time to say goodbye to the parents, and head towards significantly cheaper accommodation. I found a decent hostel nearby, and got busy relaxing - I really didn't have anywhere to be anytime soon. Originally, my trip to Antarctica was going to be on the 10th of November, but it got pushed back to the 9th of December, so I found myself with an extra month in Argentina that I had not originally planned for. I used up a couple of days riding the BA Public Transport system looking for the elusive Kawasaki parts shop. After going to the wrong place first, I found the shop in the middle of Wrongsideofthetracksville, Dodgytown. I have been to some bad places in my time, and this place made me jumpy. The security guard said I had the wrong place and that they didn't sell parts, but before I left I decided to double check. It turns out that yes, they do sell Kawasaki parts, and they had the parts I'd ordered, but it was nearly 5pm and I'd have to return the next day. I duly arrived and got my precious parts. It's a good thing I don't have children, as I'm pretty sure my bag of goodies would have cost me my first born. As it stands, I got off lightly - I was only being relieved of most of my money I had brought from Uruguay. It sounds like the Kawasaki guys ripped me off, but they didn't - the Argentine government has implemented ridiculous import duties (amongst other measures) in a concerted effort to run their economy into the ground like a space shuttle without wings.

I spent the rest of the next two days fixing Izzy and getting more insurance. I also hit up a few bars, with mixed results. Argentines really don't like going out before midnight, and as I have to ride during daylight hours I tend to wake up early. Therefore, I really struggle to stay awake in pubs here. Countering that was the cheap booze and great people - "I'm here for a good time, not a long time" is probably a good description of my barhopping experience in BA.

Eventually, it was time to leave the big smoke and head out into country Argentina. The upside of Portenos' (people from BA) late night habits is that when I left at 0930, there was almost no one on the road. I got out of town (Izzy needed  push start, but was ok after a while), and set my sights towards Cordoba, around 600km NW of Buenos Aires. I spent most of the day on a toll road, but at this stage of the trip I'm used to not paying the tolls - bikes are generally free. Circumnavigating toll gates and competing with trucks got tiring eventually, and I peeled off onto the original road, gave thanks to Gauchito Gil (an Argentine spirit, responsible for safe passage of travelers), and found a hotel next to a service station.

Argentina's service stations are almost the best I've seen (Ontario has that honour). Restaurant, Wifi, Lounge - this place had it all. Several have camping spots (one of which I would later use) and hot showers. Considering that the least profitable aspect of a gas station is the fuel itself, it makes commercial sense to entice customers to spend more time and money inside.

The next day I reached Alta Gracia - childhood hometown to Enersto 'Che' Guevara de la Serna. While deservedly most famous for his politics, there were many other aspects to the man. I was particularly keen to learn more about these other aspects, especially his adventures throughout Latin America. For those of you who haven't watched the movie "The Motorcycle Diaries", do so now. Those of you who have watched the film will remember 'La Poderosa II', the Norton 500 motorcyle that carried Che and his friend Alberto Granado into Chile (before dying and forcing them to continue by other, less exciting means). One of the Guevara family homes had been transformed into a museum covering his life from early childhood until his death in Bolivia.

 I found it all very interesting, especially seeing how someone born into his position of privilege would be exposed to the poorer elements of Argentine society, and how that would transform him into the man the world now knows (and whose face is immortalised almost everywhere). Also, the museum explained how the violent submission of a peaceful and democratic revolution in Central America led to his opinion that the only path was violent revolution. I came away with the more respect for the man: although our politics may vary slightly (and our means of influencing opinion lies in stark contrast to each other), it's hard not to admire someone who had the guts to stand up for the rights of the less fortunate around the world. The only other thing I'll say on the matter is to quote some of his final words to his children : "Above all, always be capable of feeling most deeply any injustice committed against anyone in the world". Probably good words to live by.

I left Alta Gracia with a lot to think about, and thankfully a beautiful road to think on. Argentina take their biking seriously, and it was great to be surrounded by others enjoying the beautiful road and weather. Unfortunately many of them were riding 1200GS' with only a small pack on the back, obviously just out for the day or overnight at most. For non bikers, this is the equivalent of taking a Range Rover for a trip down to the shops - a waste of such a machine. For comparison, I would be riding the equivalent of a beat up Land cruiser.

I ended up camping in a Municipal campground in the town of Rio Cuatro, for a pittance, and got an early start the next day as a result. And I certainly took my sweet time, abusing the free wifi in the service stations.

Buenos Aires to Bariloche along the route I took is nearly 2500km, or in equivalent distances: Perth to Adelaide, Madrid to Prague or Boston to Miami. It's a long way on a bike, and probably too long for my brain to cope by itself in the desert. In short, I've gone insane and now talk to myself. In Spanish. But just as I was beginning to think that rocks and shrubs would be all I would ever see again, I came over a hill, and entered the Rio Negro region, complete with irrigated Apple orchards. At first I thought it must be a mirage - I hadn't seen green like this for weeks. Rio Negro flows all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, starting at.... Bariloche. I hung a right and started to head East.

After camping out for the night again behind a service station in the one-stop-sign town of Allen, I continued into the wind towards the Andes. The wind in Patagonia is fairly well known amongst travellers, and with good reason. We would be moving along at nearly 90km/h when a single gust would bring us to a grinding halt (not quite, but 60km/h sure feels like it). Coming right from the top of the snow capped Andes, the air when windy could only be described as bone chilling. The intense summer sun combined to form violently swinging temperature fluctuations, leaving me feeling like a Malaria victim. It wasn't pleasant, but Bariloche was within reach, and I'll be dammed if some cold wind would stop me. In the end, I rounded the bend and came face to face with the Lake District in its resplendent glory - crystal clear freshwater lakes encircled by a deep emerald ring of pine trees ascending the impressively jagged peaks of the Andes. I had arrived at Bariloche.


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