I hadn’t been so nervous in as long as I can remember and I wasn’t even on my bike. My throttle had been replaced by a microphone and the road ahead by 350 Brazilian High School students. Vanir, their English teacher had heard about me talking to the kids at my friend’s son’s school and had asked me if I’d do the same for her senior school. When she said it would mean so much to them I could see in her eyes that she meant it and was obviously passionate about giving the students something new and out of the ordinary to think about; afterall “Nobody comes to Avaré”. I could hardly refuse but after saying I didn’t fancy repeating myself visiting 10 classrooms I inadvertently set myself up for addressing them all together. DOH! Public enemy No1 = Public Speaking! AAARRRHHH!!! Avaré. 250km west of Sao Paulo and home to 75,000 people, including my old schoolmate and fellow pub pool team player, Robert Adair (Bob). Back in NZ I’d received an email from Bob saying he was now living in Brazil with his Brazilian partner Cecilia and young son Jorge and inviting me to visit should I make it to Brazil. It took me a while but I finally made it…
Seven Planes to Santiago
From Singapore my route took me via Bangkok and Bahrain to Paris then Jersey; back to Paris, Sao Paulo and finally Santiago, Chile. I was staying in a backpackers hostel for the first time since May 2007 (when I arrived in NZ) and it took a while to adjust to dormitory life. On each of my first three days in the country I met somebody just after they’d been robbed and a week later one of the staff had her bag snatched walking home from work – and I thought Chile was the safe country in South America! Fortunately I met good people in the hostel. Two sisters from the Wirral travelling with an Aussie nurse, an American cyclist and a lad from Manchester who was living the whole sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ partying lifestyle to the full. One evening we all went to see a Nirvana tribute band who didn’t start playing until 0100 and played for 2 hours before the rock disco fired up and several more hours disappeared in a blur of rum ‘n’ coke (all they served), all shaken up with a session in the moshpit.
Where’s my bike?
According to my shipping companys website, Lady P was due to arrive on December 8th so I went to their office in Santiago to complete the paperwork and pay the local charges. Once there they told me the ship was now due on the 11th. I stored most of my luggage at the hostel and took a bus to the port city of Valparaiso (120km from Santiago) where I spent the afternoon flitting between the Customs and Post Authority offices. Initially nobody could find any record of the vessel carrying my bike but this eventually turned out to because it wasn’t booked in for unloading until the 18th! Back to Santiago and the Bellavista hostel I went. Everyone except Casey the American cyclist had moved on. He’d been waiting for two parcels sent by his mum in Oregon on the same day. They eventually arrived 11 days apart and when he called his mum to ask why there was no GPS unit in the parcel she said there was. Closer inspection revealed that one parcel had been opened and resealed and the GPS unit blatantly crossed off the shipping/customs list! Whilst waiting for my bike to arrive I had a rude awakening to the harshness of the sun in Santiago. I spent an afternoon sitting in the shade under an umbrella reading a book but still managed to burn my head to the point of it peeling! I wonder if the region is affected by a hole in the ozone (a la NZ) ?
Prior to arriving in South America I had been trying to find information regarding the route of the Dakar Rally (being held in SA for the first time following the 2007 cancellation) and came into contact with Axel Heilenkotter (Austrian by name, Chilean by birth). We had lunch a few times and when the time finally came to collect Lady P he said he’d take me to Valparaiso. He picked me up outside the hostel on the 19th and at 200km/h in his new Porsche Cayman S it didn’t take long to get there! To cut a long story short we started at the port office then went to the storage area, then to the customs office at the other end of town and finally back to the storage area. Each entry/exit to the storage area involved signing in and wearing a hard hat and hi-vis vest. They wouldn’t even let me open the crate myself incase I had an accident with the crowbar! Unbelievably she started first push of the button and we drove/rode to a restaurant along the coast for a celebratory lunch after which Axel left me in the carpark wondering how I was going to repack all my kit onto Lady P.
Another guy I’d come across whilst researching SA was Adam Mulvanny, a 25yr old Australian lad who’d bought a bike in Chile for his journey around SA. It was now so close to Christmas that I decided to stay in Valparaiso and met (other) Adam in Hostel Caracol where they had a lovely courtyard garden where we could park the bikes. Built on a hillside overlooking a bay the UNESCO World Heritage listed Valparaiso is surely unique. From the flat city centre, ascensores (funicular elevators) help you on your way to the labyrinth of streets and alleyways above. Famed Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda had a home here (now a museum) carefully chosen for its uninterrupted views. Brightly coloured murals adorn the alleyways amongst the ceros (hills) that weave their way amongst the crumbling mansions making it easy to lose hours exploring on foot.
Hostel Caracol would have been a great place to spend Christmas but they closed for the holiday and so ‘other’ Adam and I had to find an alternative. That came in the form of Hostel Patiperro that lived up to its claim of serving the best hostel breakfast in SA; Freshly squeezed OJ, freshly brewed coffee, hot rolls, cheese toasties and scrambled eggs. The largely German and Swiss clientele said that at home they had their big meal on Christmas Eve and suggested a buffet to which we all contributed. All agreed and as a result the kitchen was flat out that afternoon with all the preparation and what a feast it turned out to be. An Italian lad made Brushetta starters, an American ex-pastry chef baked cakes, Adam and I made Shish kebabs and so the list went on. Everybody provided two bottles of wine and a grand night was had by all. The owners joined in and made a Chilean specialty drink of chilled red wine with strawberries and sugar which I managed to drink at an alarming rate. Very little happened the following day; I called my sister to say Happy Christmas and chatted with Danny (remember him!?) for the first time since leaving Queenstown back in October 2007. Dinner was a burger in one of the few cheap joints open in town.
I’d arranged to meet Axel in Mendoza, Argentina on the 27th for the ride to Buenos Aires (to see the start of the Dakar Rally) and so I left Valparaiso on Boxing Day. I say ‘I’ but actually it was ‘we’ as other Adam had decided his route north would be nicer on the Argentine side of the Andes. Paying his parking ticket and looking for third party insurance for Argentina delayed our progress and we found ourselves riding up the switchbacks to the border crossing on the road to Mendoza late in the evening. I exited Chile and was in the process of entering Argentina when it became apparent there was a problem with Adams paperwork. After a lot of discussion, telephone calls and a chat with the boss, Adam was politely refused exit from Chile. The new registration papers for his motorcycle (purchased in Chile) hadn’t yet arrived and the paperwork regarding the change of ownership he did have – and had been assured would be sufficient – weren’t. We were only riding as far as Mendoza together, I’d already exited Chile and was due to meet Axel the following day but that didn’t stop me felling shit about leaving Adam to return to Chile and the ensuing paper chase alone. We said our goodbyes and by the time I finished clearing Argentine Customs it was pitch dark.
The hostel 1km from the border was full and the hotel down the road wanted AR$340 (GBP68) and so I rode on. After 20mins or so I reached the final checkpoint and asked the guard where I could camp. He said to ride on for 300m then turn left to a mountain refuge. I followed his instructions and as I rode onto the dirt track so my headlight picked out a triangular shaped, tin roofed building. I pushed the door open expecting it to be empty but was met by the voice of Frenchman Pierre-Emeric. I layed out my bed and got chatting to Pierre. He was there to climb South America’s highest peak (Aconcagua – 6962m) and the reason the first hostel I’d stopped at was full was that it was full of climbers taking the ‘regular’ route. Pierre was taking the ‘back’ route; solo across the glacier. As we chatted I told him I was on my way to Buenos Aires for the start of the Dakar Rally. This led to a long chat regarding motorsport engineering as it transpired that Pierre had worked for Jean-Louis_Schlesser and now worked for Renault F1 and was on secondment to Red Bull Racing, working for Mark Webber.
Update May 16th 2009…
I was shocked and saddened today to receive a the news that Pierre-Emeric went misssing on Aconcagua just a few days after I met him. Below is an extract from the message posted on this site by his uncle Bernard…
“He was seen, for the last time, in campo 2, altitude 5500m, on 02 january 2009. Since that, no news. He disappeared… According to the guards of the Park, who thoroughly searched during several days, walking and with helicopter, and questionned dozens of “andinists”, he probably felt from a height of about 1000m on a glacier (Glacier of the Englishmen) situated under the Glacier of Polishes on which he was probably following a direct route, along the edge, toward the summit.”
Bernard’s message can be read in full at the foot of the ‘PROFILES’ page.
I offer my sincere condolences to Pierre-Emeric’s family and friends.
He was 31 years old.
Whilst waiting for Axel in Mendoza I met Orkatz, a Spaniard from the Basque country. He arrived at the hostel on his Harley Davidson 883 Sportster complete with extended forks, high handlebars and 50mm of suspension travel. He’d ridden it from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and up to here with the only mechanical failure being a broken drive belt caused by a stone on Ruta 40. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t his spine that had failed! By 1030 the following morning there was still no sign of Axel but after consulting the map I realized there was only one road to BA. I set off on the straight, flat 1100km journey and sure enough, half way through the day met up with Axel and his friend Eduardo when they passed me sitting at the roadside eating lunch. It turns out they’d arrived very late last night and I’d already left when they called at my hostel that morning.
Buenos Aires, New Year and the Dakar Rally
The sole reason for spending New Year in Buenos Aires was for the start of the Dakar Rally. Axels girlfriend Sandra flew in from Santiago and together we visited the Parc Ferme and Teams Presentation before the start day (Jan 3rd) finally arrived. Sandra had flown home the previous evening and I met Axel and Eduardo in the carpark at 0430.
We watch riders leaving for the start until the sun came up and then followed some of the support vehicles as they headed south west out of the city. Over the ensuing 4 days we rode 1800km following the race. On the first day we stopped in a petrol station for a drink after watching the race pass through. There we met some Czech journalists who had the media roadbook which showed the route overlayed on a roadmap for journalists to follow. They laughed when we photographed every page and called us James Bond. The first two days provided some good spectator spots and the third the opportunity to see the bivouac (service area) up close. I thought I’d encountered dust in Australia but I hadn’t! The dust here was incredible; it was like riding in fog. The sheer volume of traffic ground the grit of the ripio (dirt roads) as fine as talcum powder which was bad enough to ride through with a crosswind but with a head, tail or no wind it was like riding blindfolded. Leaving the start on the fourth day we encountered lots of traffic as fellow spectators and service crews did the same thing. The deep sand patches were the worst as we couldn’t see properly to follow the ruts, neither could we see far enough ahead to ride through them with sufficient speed. As I approached one such patch the car ahead of me threw up a cloud of dust that reduced my visibility to zero. I got cross-rutted and fell down only to have the car I’d just passed miss me by 30cm. They quickly stopped to help me up and prevent others running into me – I was most grateful as several more passed close by before I got going again. At the end of the fourth day I said goodbye to Axel and Eduardo. They headed north to continue following the rally whilst I rode west to Bariloche, a pretty but overpriced ski town. I didn’t hang around long and so after some routine maintenance on the campsite I followed the picturesque Ruta de los Siete Lagos (Seven Lakes Drive) through Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi and onto Junin de los Andes where I picked up the ripio to Parque Nacional Lanín. I spent a few nights camping by Lago Huechulafquen overlooked by the perfectly conical and permanently snow capped Lanin Volcano.
I returned to Chile via Paso Carirrine accessed by a ripio south of Lunin los Andes. The single lane track wove its way through forest and hugged the lakeside in places before the rough climb to the pass. The decent was about as rough as I like it to get and my arrival surprised the border guards to the extent they took my photo. Back in Malaysia I’d ordered new waterproof jacket and trousers from the USA but when I arrived in Jersey the package still hadn’t arrived. The supplier was happy to send another but was concerned I’d leave before it arrived and instead asked for an address in Chile. After meeting Axel I called the company and had the package sent to him in Santiago. Unfortunately it didn’t arrive before we left for Buenos Aires but when Sandra arrived in BA she brought with her a letter from the Correos (Post Office) requesting copies of the invoice and credit card statement. I sent electronic copies of the requested documents along with a request for the parcel to be collected by Axel and attached copies of his ID. Axel was due to return to Santiago when the Dakar Rally passed through and so the idea was for him to collect the parcel and post it on for me to collect in Puerto Montt. The Correos failed to answer any of our emails though and so another plan was needed. It would be at least another ten days before Axel (still following the Dakar) would be back in Santiago and so I decided to collect it myself. In Temuco, 700km south of Santiago, I chose a Hospedaje (guesthouse) and did my best to explain (in my very limited Spanish) to the owner (who spoke NO English) that I wanted to leave my bike there, take the overnight bus to Santiago, collect my parcel, return the following evening and spend the night. It took a while but eventually she understood. I arrived in Santiago at 0800 the following morning after a surprisingly good 8.5hr bus ride on which the conductor handed out pillows and blankets. I took the Metro to the central Correo but after an hour discovered that my parcel wasn’t there; it was in the customs warehouse at the airport. Back to the bus station I went and took another bus to the airport where I spotted a guy with Aduana (Customs) embroidered on his shirt and asked for directions to the warehouse. After explaining what I wanted to an office junior I waited…and waited…until eventualluy he returned with another customer (who we’ll call Mr X), who spoke English. After another explanation and subsequent translation the junior disappeared again. Chatting with Mr X I learnt that he’d lived and worked in the USA for 12 years (illegally) but had had to leave when his fake driving license came up for renewal(?) Bizarrely his three kids –all born there – were still there and going to school. He was planning an illegal return trough Tijuana (Mexico) later in the year. Eventually we were called to the bosses office where we found him consulting a large book and scribbling down figures. After several attempts at making a calculation he eventually arrived at a figure of U$65 for the duty payable on my parcel. I said he must be joking as I’d only paid U$137 for the contents but he insisted that was the correct figure. I told him to return the parcel to the USA as I wasn’t prepared to pay what he was asking. As he sat back rather shocked at my response and so I repeated my story about the first parcel going missing. Mr X translated and it transpired that the office junior hadn’t passed on this part of the story. Once the boss heard the full story he referred to another volume of the Customs books and said I had nothing to pay. He stamped my paperwork and sent someone to collect my parcel from the warehouse; it had taken 2½hrs to collect it. I arrived back at the central bus station at 1400 only to find there were no buses back to Temuco until 1700 and as it wouldn’t arrive until 0200, it wasn’t acceptable. I couldn’t knock on the Hospedaje door at that time so I bought a ticket for the 2300 bus which would arrive at 0700. Whilst I was waiting I set off around Santiago on what turned out to be a wild goose chase for a new battery for Lady P. What started as a search for a battery ended in a search for a Metro station to get me back to the central bus station and in the process I walked miles blistering my feet thanks to my new pair of fake Crocs. Back in Temuco I showered, packed loaded and left; the lady of the house giving me a bag of boiled sweets for the ride. I followed a combination of minor roads and dirt tracks as I zig-zagged my way to Puerto Octay where I found a nice campsite on the edge of Lago Llanquihue. It was great to be back in the countryside again.
One of Pinochet’s more acceptable legacies is the Carretera Austral; a 1500km ripio road from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Prior to this road the only access to this region was was by boat, helicopter or across the Andes from Argentina. The road starts for real at Chaiten which is normally reached by a combination of road and two ferries from Puerto Montt but since the 2008 volcano eruption this section has remained closed. Indeed the town of Chaiten itself has only recently re-opened after being evacuated. Instead, I reached Chaiten via an 11hr overnight ferry from Puerto Montt. Disembarking the ferry and riding into town the recent destruction was obvious. Ash from the eruption had filled the river causing it to flood the town and many streets still hadn’t been bulldozed clear of the silt that had filled the houses. I was riding with American born, Panama resident Steve that I’d met in Puerto Varas two days previously. He was headed for Ushuaia as was I and after collecting supplies in the towns small store we rode slowly south and pitched camp at Termas El Amarillo, a natural hot springs in the woods. The setting was lovely but the horse flies ferocious; their bite was like being stabbed with a pin and they could bite through your clothes! The Carretera was being repaired in places and upgraded in others and the grading machines were out in force. Over time the ripio develops wheel tracks as the stones are pushed aside to reveal the base. These are easy to follow but when the road has been recently graded it is covered in loose stones and the only way to approach it is with speed and confidence. The bike ‘floats’ beneath you and gives the sensation of ‘dancing’ on the road rather than being adhered to it. This was all the more difficult for the many cyclist we passed heading south, many towing single wheeled trailers. One such guy riding at the back of a line of several others decided to pull out and overtake his mates on a downhill section without bothering to look behind him. As he pulled out so his trailer whipped around on the ripio and was about to jackknife and throw him off when it corrected itself. It was a good thing it did as he’d pulled out right in front of me and barely managed to miss him. Had he fallen I’d have run him over for sure. Having stopped in Puyuhuapi to find somewhere to stay, we walked out of the local shop to be greeted by an English/Australian guy asking about the bikes. We didn’t recognize each other at first but after a while we realized that we’d met in a shop in Sydney back in November 2007. He was travelling through South America in his Landrover and was currently driving with another Australian couple in their Toyota Landcruiser. When I started chatting with them they turned out to be Geoff & Kenny, friends of Stephen Ashley (who’d put me up in the scout hut back in Alice Springs) and whom I’d exchanged emails with regarding the possibility of sharing a container to South America with. Once again the world seemed to shrink. The following evening in Coihaique the differences in travelling budget between Steve and I had us riding around town for two hours looking for a guesthouse for him and a campsite for me. Eventually I said I was returning to the campsite I’d seen on the way into town and would phone him tomorrow.
The campsite proved to be a good choice as I met Heinz & Marck, the Chilean father & son travelling by motorcycle we’d met on the ferry from Puerto Montt and Hartmut, a 61yr old German riding a Yamaha XT600. Hartmut was a real character and I spent a lot of time with him over the next few days. He’d been a sailor all his life, both merchant and skipper but two years ago had decided to see South America by motorcycle. During that time he’d had two accidents in which he’d broken first his leg and then his wrist. Now he was shaking off an ear infection and waiting for the weather to improve before moving on. Having already spent a few weeks at the campsite he’d customized the wooden hut that came with each pitch by lining the inside with a tarp to keep the wind out and rigging another up as a curtain across the doorway. Each evening started with a ‘sundowner’ which was a Pisco Sower – a clear liquor (made from grapes) mixed with water, sugar and freshly squeezed lemon. The weather deteriorated over the next few days and we spent more time on the campsite. ‘Sundowners’ went from sunset to when the sun began to drop from its highest point in the sky, and when cloud filled the sky to when Hartmut decided the sun “must be dropping by now”. Hartmut could talk, boy could he talk. He’d step out of his tent in the morning already talking flat out but without putting his teeth in. Amongst his many tails were one of his 5 month trip paddling a 5m canoe – complete with homemade sail and outriggers, north from Inuvik, following the fur trade route. Camping on the shore under a shelter copied from those used by the early pioneers, his stories of bears, fishing and Indians were unlike all the other travelers stories I’d ever heard. Riding out of the campsite two days later I bumped into Sunny & Cecilia (He – Californian Turk. She Austrian) who were looking for an Englishman by the name of Richard who was riding a BMW with a big tank. It turns out they’d met Hartmut the previous day and he’d said he was camping with an Englishman riding a BMW with a big fuel tank. After explaining it wasn’t me I rode into town only to see a BMW with a large fuel tank and a British number plate. “You must be Richard” I said before explain what had just happened. After a while Richard asked if I’d left home with another guy also riding a F650. It turned out he’d met Danny back in Manali (India) whilst I was in Shimla preparing my bike for the Raid-de-Himalaya. Richard was 60yrs old and we met again after lunch and spent the afternoon in a café telling stories and listening to his interesting and still changing life story. We were joined by Christian, a French Canadian helicopter pilot who Richard had been riding with and between them they passed on many good tips for my journey south. Finally, after four nights in town, the weather cleared enough for me to ride on. Having not left the campsite the day after arriving in town (due to the torrential rain) I hadn’t phoned Steve and when I finally picked up my email the day after that, I discovered he’d already left town. Despite cloud blocking the view of the mountain peaks the countryside was beautiful but I was puzzled by the dead trees. The fields were full of dead trees both standing and fallen, that had been left to rot where they lay, filling the fields like graveyards of timber tombs. I later learned this was a deliberate move in the 1950’s to make way for cattle grazing but I didn’t see evidence of sufficient cattle to justify destruction like this. Onward, to the shores of Lago General Carrera – South Americas 2nd largest lake – and the small village of Rio Tranquillo. I didn’t know how far I was going to ride that day but bumped in to Heinz & Marck and followed them to their campsite with the intention of eating lunch and moving on. The site though was so beautiful I decided to stay and spent two nights there. Sheltered on three sides by the hills, the open end looked straight up the lake. The pitches were arranged along either side of the site and each had its own wooden windbreaker, table and chairs. On the site I met German couple Thomas and Andrea. He was riding a Honda Africa Twin; she a Kawasaki KLR650. Andrea had originally left home on a BMW F650 like mine but they’d had so much trouble with it they sold it in the USA and bought the Kawasaki. Whilst researching their trip Thomas had come across my blogsite and had followed mine and Danny’s story until they left home on their own journey. We spent a very pleasant evening around the campfire chatting about Thomas’s unusual job as a ‘Controller’ on Swiss railways and riding the sand dunes in Tunisia.
With so many foreign motorcycle travelers on the road I nicknamed it the ‘Gringo Highway’. I’d already met more overlanders during my 7 weeks in SA than I had in 13 months from England to Malaysia. Back in Asia if you saw another overlander you’d stop for a chat. Here thought there were just too many and so a wave would suffice. It’s partly due to SA being a relatively straightforward country to ride/drive around (No Carnet reqd. Visas at borders) and partly due to the narrowing of the continent the further south you travel. From Puerto Montt there are only three roads going south; from Perito Moreno two and from San Sebastián one. The majority of travellers visit the south between December and February and as you have to turn around and ride north again it’s inevitable that you meet a high percentage of all those currently on the continent. By the time I’d been down to Ushuaia and back to Baja Caracoles I’d met/chatted to/camped with or ridden with 24 others and had seen or waved to 100+
I spent another day following Lago General Carrera to the border with Argentina at Chile Chico. After getting stamped out of Chile I rode the 7km or so to the Argentine border only to be asked for my seguros (insurance) for the first time. When I produced it I realized it had expired whist I’d been sitting around on the campsite at Rio Tranquillo and as a result they sent me back to Chile. At the border I explained what had happened and was told I could buy seguros in Chile Chico. With no sign advertising seguros I asked a policeman who directed me to a supermarket. I could indeed buy seguros there but the woman who ran that office wouldn’t return until 1830 and it was only 1700. At 1830 I returned, bought seguros and finally crossed the border into Argentina and the small town of Los Antiguos where I spent a very noisey and overpriced night on the municipal campsite. I awoke to classical music blaring from the German Landrover I was parked next to and had a good chuckle. “Thats very un-German” I told them witha grin when I got up. I knew it was there only way of retaliating to the partygoers that had ignored the ‘Quiet after 2200’ sign and partied very loudly until 0300. Richard and Christian had recommended a minor ripio road that followed the border south from Los Antiguos to intersect with the road that led from the next border crossing south at Paso Roballo. This 100km track turned out to be one of my favorite stretches of road in SA and reminded me very much of how much I’d enjoyed ‘Walkers Crossing’ back in Australia. Starting out as a corrugated sandy track it gradually turned to grit, dirt then rock as it followed the ridgeline that defines the border between the two countries. Twisting, turning, descending and climbing I came to a windswept rock plateau but with a storm brewing on the ridge I didn’t hang around for long. All too soon I picked up the main ripio road from Paso Roballo and followed it SE for 20km or so before turning south again. Another small track led me across several dried-up lake beds on the way to Lago Posades where I picked up a very good condition ripio all the way to Baja Caracoles where I filled up with fuel and met the infamous Ruta 40 for the first time.
Ruta 40 is a monster. Starting just 80km south of the Bolivian border it follows the Andes, and therefore the Chilean border all the way south to Rio Gallegos where it intersects with its east coast equivalent – Ruta 3 (which continues all the way to Parque National Tierra del Fuego, SW of Ushuaia). What makes ‘the Cuarenta’ different however is that for 1500km from Rio Gallegos the road has less than 350km of tarmac, the rest is ripio. This in itself isn’t a bad thing but combined with a wind that blows off the Andes it has the potential to not only be hard going but dangerous. Its hard to comprehend the vastness of this region and I can only place I personally can relate it to is Western Australia – only colder, bleaker and more foreboding. Standing in the sun it felt warm but the wind that blows down from the Andes eventually worked its way to my core and I found myself wearing more clothing than I had since riding around south island New Zealand in mid-winter. Richard and Christian had warned me that the most notorious section was north of Tres Lagos with the ripio at its deepest for 30km or so immediately north of the town. Indeed this section had already claimed several victims this year. One guy broke his leg and another a collarbone after being literally being blown off their bikes. Another story involved a group of Americans who found a German guy unconscious at the side of the road and had him airlifted to hospital in El Calafate where he was miraculously released uninjured three days later! The best time to ride here is in the early morning before the sun has had a chance to heat the land. As it does, so the hot air rises and the cold air rushes in from the mountains to fill the space, thus creating the wind. Camping south of Baja Caracoles isn’t really an option as there is no shelter. Pitching a tent in the afternoon would be virtually impossible as would keeping it pitched. Instead I stayed in a hostel Baja Caracoles and got up ½hr before sunrise. I left before 0700 when my temperature gauge read just 6ºC and was glad to find the ripio in good condition, allowing me to cruise at 100-110km/h. It was 342km to Tres Lagos and in order to arrive before 1030 when the wind really started to pick up I had no choice but to ride as fast as I dare. 85km into the ride I saw in the distance a couple standing at the roadside with what looked like a pile of luggage. There had been no sign of life since leaving town and I wondered where they had come from. It was only as I got closer that I noticed the overturned car off the road behind them. I stopped to check they were ok and had sufficient water as there was no telling how long they would have to wait to be recovered. They said they were ok but asked me to inform the police. Luckily for them I passed a van driving north a few kilometers further on. With only 100km to drive to Baja Caracoles they were sure to reach help/police long before I did. I didn’t see a sole until I got to Tres Lagos. Further on as the road turned from heading SW to SE I encountered 50km of new tarmac which gave my brain a rest from the concentration required on the ripio and helped my average speed. The tarmac finished as the road turned SW again through what looked like a wide shallow valley. I thought of Moses and the parting of the Red sea and as I did so clouds accumulated and covered the sun, reducing the heating effect on the land. Somehow I knew my passage was safe and I continued on, cruising as fast as I dare. As I approached Lago Cardiel so the road condition began to deteriorate and continued to do so all the way to Tres Lagos. The final 30km were indeed the worst and ruts up to 30cm deep formed in the ripio. The wind was starting to build and it was easy to imagine being blown into the side of a rut, the result of which would be crashing heavily. I rolled into the fuel station in Tres Lagos at 1020 and had averaged 99km/h from Baja Caracoles. Relieved to have covered this notorious section without any dramas I ate breakfast in the fuel station, cleaned my chain and cruised on to El Calafate at a much reduced speed and on mostly smooth tarmac.
I met Jeff, a 26yr old American on the campsite in El Calafate. He’d spent 9 months riding down from Connecticut on his Suzuki DR650 and together we visited the stunning sight that is the Perito Moreno Glacier. I was (almost) prepared for the sight having seen it in pictures but what I wasn’t prepared for was the constant activity. Perito Moreno is one of the worlds few remaining advancing glaciers and sounds like that from distant artillery emanate from deep within, signaling the forces that sheer huge chunks of ice off the face and send them crashing into the water far below. Its only the time it takes for these chunks to hit the water and the time it takes for the sound to reach those watching that give an indication of the height of the Glacier. I had expected to arrive, look, take a few photos and leave but found myself drawn in by the activity and the hope of the sun breaking through and eventually spent 5hrs there. My next stop was Puerto Natales (Back in Chile), gateway to Torres del Paine NP. I stopped in the town square to get my bearings and was approached by Darren, an Australian who said he was also riding around SA on a BMW F650, and we arranged to meet for a beer later. I rode away from the square and within a few hundred metres, bumped into René from Luxembourg and riding a Honda Africa Twin. He had just returned from the NP and was heading back to the hostel he’d stayed in when he’d been in town previously. I followed him there and soon we’d showered and were sitting in the common room overlooking the street when Darren walked by looking for a bar. We beckoned him in and shortly after a guy walked past with a motorcycle tyre over his shoulder and headed straight for my bike. Thierry, from Switzerland was also riding a BMW F650 around SA. Food was on everyone’s mind and René directed us all to a pizzeria called ‘La Mesita Grande’ (the big table). One long table stretched the length of the restaurant, pizzas were baked in a wood oven and they even had their own microbrewery. The beer flowed as well as the tales from the road and a fine evening was had by all. After several weeks of camping and cooking it was especially nice to share the good food and beer with good company.
The following morning we all went our separate ways and after loading up Lady P with as much food as she could carry, I headed off to the Torres del Paine NP. 80km of ripio took me in a picturesque loop through open farmland to the park entrance after which it took on a very different nature as it followed the contours of the hills and skirted the many lakes. I rode on to the campsite at Lago Pehoe which had fantastic views of the mountains and pitched my tent under the wooden shelter assigned to every pitch. Darren arrived the following afternoon and was assigned the pitch next to mine. The next morning we rode 35km through the NP to the start of the trek up to ‘Mirrador Torres del Paine’. It took us 3hrs to reach the viewpoint, the final hour being a steep ascent across a boulder field to reach the viewpoint. Unfortunately, the tips of the famous three spires remained hidden in the clouds but it didn’t prevent us and many others hanging around for several hours in anticipation of the cloud clearing. Close by us on the campsite was an overland tour company truck operated by British company Oasis Overland. It had a very mixed bag of clientele and the friction between some of them was obvious. Dennis, an American in his late 50’s and on his 4th trip with the company invited Darren and I to join them around the campfire. Most of the group were away on an overnight hike in the park and only those who didn’t want to go remained. That included the older travelers and those who’d found the hike up to the Mirrador exhausting. I immediately upset the girl I sat next to. Her accent was obviously north of England, probably Manchester, so when she said “Salford” I told her to keep her hands in her own pockets. She wasn’t impressed and immediately went on the defensive but having had my van broken into, my mountain bike, cycling clothing and all my tools stolen whilst working there back in 1997 it cut no ice with me.
Punta Arenas, 350km south of Torres del Paine is the largest town in the region and was therefore my best hope of finding a new rear tyre. The one I had still had plenty of life left in it but was wearing fast on the ripio and I didn’t expect it to get me down to Ushuaia and back up to where I would be able to buy another. I pitched my tent in the garden of Hostel Indepencia and along with many others doing the same managed to make the place look like a refugee camp. Eduardo, the owner, marked all the bike shops on a map and I set off to find a tyre only to find there weren’t any 17” tyres in town. Instead, one had to be ordered from Conception (2700km away) and air freighted into town. Had I arrived on a Monday this would have been a fairly quick process but I’d arrived on Friday which meant talking to the bike shops on Saturday but the order not being able to be placed until Monday because the banks were closed and so money couldn’t be transferred. The tyre eventually arrived the following Wednesday but the wait was made all the more pleasant by my meeting Lora, an American on her way home after spending a month working in Antartica. Over lunch, dinner and a bar we swapped stories of her 19yrs working in Antartica and my journey to SA. Having recently started motorcycling, and owning a F650, Lora was as fascinated by my story as I was by hers.
The stray dog curiosity
The stray dogs in Chile and Argentina (of which there are many) behave in a way I’ve never seen before. By day they sleep individually or in pairs all over town but by early evening they get together in packs to wander the town like gangs of teenagers. Some chase cars and others motorbikes. They stand on the pavement tails wagging, watching stationery traffic at traffic lights. As soon as the traffic moves one or two will chase their chosen vehicle down the road, barking and coming ridiculously close to being run over. When the traffic stops at the next lights they return to the pavement and wait to do it all over again! The dogs all seem to be very friendly and I never saw one try to bite anyone. This behavior was repeated in almost every town I visited in Chile and Argentina.
Tierra del Fuego
I left hostel Indepencia early and it was a good job I did as I rode to the wrong ferry terminal! I made it to the right one with 10 minutes to spare and bought my ticket to Porvenir on Tierra del Fuego. From Porvenir it was ripio all the way to the Argentine border at San Sebastián 143km away. The tarmac started at the border but so did the wind and a bus shelter was the only respite I could find in which to eat some lunch. As the road reached the Atlantic coast for the first time so the wind tried desperately to turn my crash helmet through 90° on my head and the bland landscape did nothing to detract from the pain in my neck. Finally, about 80km south of the oil town of Rio Grande, the road turned inland towards hills, forests and rivers. After 6 nights in Punta Arenas I was ready for the peace and tranquility of a bush camp. I started looking for a spot as I rode alongside Lago Fagnano and after a while spotted a mobile phone mast down by the lake. There is always an access road to these towers and I quickly found a dirt track leading down to the lakeside. I waited until dusk to pitch my tent and slept soundly until being rudely awoken (unintentionally) by the fishermen at 0600.
The most southerly city in the world
I pitched my tent at the foot of the ski slope at Club Andeano with a splendid view across the town city of Ushuaia – the most southerly city in the world. I spent less time than I’d planned in and around Ushuaia thanks to the weather but I did fit in some walking in the Tierra del Fuego NP and got a photo at the ‘End of Ruta 3’ sign in the NP. I met a German cyclist who’d cycled from Caracus in Venezuela in 5 months! Israeli Omar and his girlfriend who had travelled with the American Jeff Roy back in Central America; Nico, a dreadlocked, BMW riding Canadian/Ecuadorian and the night before I left so René showed up prior to his trip to Antartica. It seemed the weather was the only anti-social player in town.
Legend of Difunta Correa
Alongside many roads in Argentina I noticed shrines surrounded by plastic bottles filled with water. I eventually found one with the sign Difunta Correa, asked a few questions and discovered the following. According to popular legend, Deolinda Correa was a woman whose husband was forcibly recruited around t 1840, during the Argentine civil wars. Becoming sick, he was then abandoned by the Montoneras . In an attempt to reach her sick husband, Deolinda took their baby and followed the tracks of the Montoneras through the desert until her supplies ran out and she died. Her body was found days later by gauchos that were driving cattle, and to their astonishment found the baby still alive, feeding from the dead woman’s “miraculously” ever-full breast. The Difunta Correa has become a popular saint, not really recognised by the Catholic Church but her devout followers believe her to perform miracles. Cattlemen and truck drivers leave bottles of water as offerings, “to calm her eternal thirst”. A tradition continued by passing travellers and tourists.
Having seen the majority of what I wanted to on my way south I had only one planned detour heading north and that was to the Fitzroy Massif at El Chalten. After returning from a walk to the glacier late afternoon I managed to pack up camp just in time to get chased out of town by another storm. My reasoning for setting off so late in the day was to spend a night at the petrol station in Tres Lagos and make an early start for my return ride up the Cuarenta’s worst stretch to Baja Caracoles. I pitched my tent in the most sheltered spot and got up before sunrise the following morning. The road seemed in worse condition than when I’d ridden south and the wind got up earlier in the day. Towards the end of the worst ripio I had a few ‘How the hell did I save that!’ feet off the footrest moments but I arrived safe and early at the fuel station in Baja Caracoles. After lunch I continued north but as the wind increased so the quality of the ripio decreased. My speed was often reduced to 40km/h as I battled to stay on the road. The wind was constantly trying to tuck my front wheel under and on the loose ripio and corrugations I couldn’t lean into it to counter its effect without the front tyre loosing grip altogether. In Rio Mayo I found tarmac as well as a ‘sugar fix’ of coke and biscuits but soon after leaving town so Ruta 40 returned to ripio and I commenced my battle with the wind once more. My reasons for pushing on like I was were two-fold. I had planned to meet Axel and Eduardo in Mendoza over a weekend to exchange Dakar photos and stories of our journeys since we’d parted companybut I also wanted to spend some time in El Bolson en-route. After 843km and with an hour or so of daylight left, I rolled into Gobenador Costa and pitched my tent in the YPF fuel station. I had only recently learnt about using these but they were great for one night when passing through somewhere. They were free, had toilets and water and some a café.
Two well stocked (for Argentine standards) supermarkets 5mins walk from my campsite meant steak for dinner every night and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. I got my leaking fork seal replaced and took a long walk into the hills above Rio Azul. I was back in T-shirt and shorts for the first time in 5 weeks and as all four zips on my inner tent had now failed I was glad of the warmer nights; I wasn’t glad of the mosquitoes though and could do nothing to keep them out of my tent. Walking back from town one day a car carrying a family pulled up at the roadside pointing at me excitedly and waving. Confused, I pointed at myself to confirm it was me they were signaling to – it was. I didn’t recognize them but they recognized me. They spoke no English but through my broken Spanish and the use of a map discovered that we’d met in a petrol station when I was following the Dakar Rally. Zipping up my riding jacket to leave El Bolson it too failed and together with my tent made up a list that also included my tank bag, one of my pannier top bags and my casual trousers. I could only think that the volcanic dust here is particularly abrasive as I hadn’t had problems like this in the Outback.
El Bolson – Chos Malal – Valle Grande
Late morning I suddenly felt my right food get wet and I looked down to see what looked like water spraying from the engine. When I stopped it became obvious that it wasn’t water but petrol that had soaked my foot. The quick release coupling for the additional fuel tank had broken on the main fuel tank side so I drained my 5l water container and allowed the fuel to run into it. By the time I’d made a temporary repair it felt like my foot was on fire but I’d poured my water away so I could save my petrol. Luckily I wasn’t far from a river and spent as long as I could stand in the midday sun washing and soaking my foot before wrapping it in two carrier bags to prevent my petrol soaked boot from aggravating it further.
Meanwhile…back in Chile…
When I emailed Axel to double check on meeting up in Mendoza I found an email from him saying he’d been called into hospital for an operation on his foot he’d been waiting for and therefore wouldn’t be able to walk for four days afterwards. Instead he would be convalescing at Sandra’s (his girlfriend) beach house in Algarrobo, south of Valparaiso and asked me to join them for a weekend of wine, seafood and Dakar stories – how could I refuse?
Border delay and a night in the police station
It was to be a long ride from Valle Grande, SW of San Rafael to Algarrobo – 753km in fact – so I could well have done without the delay I encountered entering Chile from Mendoza. It was quite busy and so the Argentines had opened three booths outside the main building to process cars and bikes. When I was told to go to Chile I did, only to find 20 or so cars ahead of me but only two booths open. Not only that but the Customs officers were in the mood for checking everything, and I mean everything. Luggage roped onto roof racks was untied and each bag inspected, womens handbags were searched along with every other piece of hand luggage. I turned my engine off and watch the sun slip towards the horizon for an hour before I got my turn. The Customs officer immediately returned my paperwork saying that something hadn’t been stamped by the Argentinean’s and sent me back. By this time all the additional booths were closed and I entered the main building where I was asked for my temporary import paper. “I gave it to the officer in the booth over an hour ago” I said. “Which booth, show me” and we walked outside. To my disbelief he started rifling through a rubbish bin next to the booth I’d pointed at and it dawned on me they’d lost my paperwork. Back in the main building another officer appeared and I repeated the story before he too searched the bin. A Chilean Customs officer who spoke English came to my rescue and said he would start processing me whilst the Argentine’s found my paperwork. They eventually found my missing paperwork in their system but not before tipping out and inspecting my paperwork folder. Eventually my paperwork was completed and I was ready for Customs inspection. I stepped outside to find it pitch dark and was thoroughly pissed off but bit my tongue and politely opened my boxes for inspection. When I’d arrived at the border my GPS had given an ETA in Algarrobo of 2120, it now said 2355. The descent from the border at over 3000m was no fun in the dark but once on the main road at Los Andes it wasn’t too bad. Axels directions gave me a street name and said the house was opposite the ‘Caleta des Pescadores’. I figured this was a local landmark and that the house would be obvious – wrong. I found the street easy enough but the ‘Caleta’ was set back from the road and not obvious in the dark; in fact I only found it thanks to directions from a taxi driver. Once I’d confirmed I was at the Caleta I was dismayed to find a row of beachfront houses all tucked away behind security gates and all sporting entry systems. I rode back into the town centre to find a public phone to call Axel only for his phone to go unanswered. When I returned to Lady P she’d attracted her usual crowd and I explained my predicament to them. Just as I did so the taxi driver who’d given me directions earlier in the evening arrived and called Axel from his mobile but again there was no reply. A patrolling police car stopped to see what the commotion was and said that if I couldn’t contact Axel I could sleep in the police station. After one last look for the house with the taxi driver I did exactly that. I parked Lady P right outside the glass doors so the duty officer could keep an eye on her and was offered a room next to the duty office. Containing just two, low, armless chairs and a filthy pillow I accepted their offer, pushed the chairs together, made a pillow with my jacket, removed my boots and settled down for some sleep. I awoke a few hours later freezing cold so put on a hat, jacket liner and boots and went back to sleep. At 0700 they woke me up with a ham roll and a glass of coke and at 0800, after lots of hugging and back slapping, I left. Axel answered his phone as soon as I called. He’d awoken to find several missed calls on his phone and realized they must have been from me.. When he called the last missed number he got the taxi driver who told him the story of the previous evening. The house turned out to be just 20m from where I was looking but was accessed by a narrow drive I’d not seen in the dark. In daylight it was easy to spot Axels Porsche.
It was worth the hassle though as we had a great weekend that started by BBQing a 5 kilo (11lb) sea bass on Saturday afternoon and finished at Monday lunchtime with the most amazing seafood soup I’ve ever eaten. All the ingredients for which had been bought fresh from the fishmongers 20m away that morning. Eduardo joined us and I learnt that he’d crashed after getting a puncture in his front tyre the day after I’d left them and his injuries had led to him returning home. Axel had continued following the Dakar Rally alone and had his own adventure which included giving an inner tube to, and fixing a puncture for, Australian competitor and British BMW off-road school instructor Si Pavey when he appeared with a shredded moose in his rear tyre and no tube to replace it. When Axel finally arrived home having followed the rally all the way back to the finish in Buenos Aires he’d ridden 14,000km in 16 days!
I left Axel and Sandra late afternoon, crossed the border to Argentina and spent the night alone in the refuge that I’d met Pierre-Emeric in back on Boxing Day. At least I thought I was alone. It turns out I was sharing with a mouse intent on raiding my Milo. I spent some time in the hills and valleys SW of Cordoba before visiting the Jesuit Missions of Alta Gracia (where I camped next to local guy Leandro who lived in a trailer and rode a Kawasaki Z650) and then to Cordoba itself. There was plenty to see amongst the colonial heart of the city and I had a great base in the shape of hostel ‘Que Onda’. The further east I rode from Cordoba the more apparent the scale of the farming industry became as every small town had dealers for John Deere, Massey Ferguson and so on. Further east still I visited another old colonial town Paraná before finally crossing the long bridge over the Rio Uruguay and entering Uruguay itself. Photo Cordoba or surround
Were it not for the road markings or a close look at the trees it would have been easy to think I was back home in Hampshire. I rode past rolling hills, green fields, Friesian cows and a handful of thatched cottages as well as a few MkI & MkII Ford Escorts. A few hours south of the border I pitched my tent in a truckstop close to the village of Dolores and tucked into the Spaghetti Bolognaise I’d cooked and frozen in the hostel in Paraná.
The following day was another in Hampshire as I rode a few hours further south to the beautiful and aptly named colonial town of Colonia. On the way I came across the unusual sight of a guy using a chainsaw to cut a 10m tall Christ from a tree trunk. Hostel Espańol, a rambling old rabbit’s warren of a place arranged around both indoor and outdoor courtyards proved a great place to stay and was well located for walking to the ‘Old Town’ where cobbled streets lined with painted houses were adorned with gas lamps. I moved along the coast to the capital, Montevideo in the hope of finding a pint of Guinness on St.Patricks Day. It remained a hope though as ‘Shannon’s’ turned out to be a Guinness free Irish pub – the irony wasn’t lost on me! Wandering around the huge number of beautiful buildings all squeezed into a small city, I was constantly aware of the potential ‘threat’ to tourists by the number of ‘Tourist Police’ on patrol. Even the burger van was fitted with four CCTV cameras. The road east from Montevideo followed a wide promenade with walkers, joggers and cyclists; past empty beach after empty beach with ‘Baywatch’ style Lifeguard towers – I could have been in California or Australia. After passing so many stunning houses I didn’t think there could be anymore, I rode through Punta del Este – the resort town of South America. I can only describe it as riding through a lifestyle magazine, turning the pages of stunning houses that wouldn’t look out of place on Grand Designs. Closer to the centre I passed apartment block after apartment block, many with large billboards displaying the luxurious interiors and ‘infinity’ pools. Moving away from the centre so the apartments gave way to more splendid houses, many seemingly made entirely of glass. As I finally returned to the countryside so my view to the left returned to that of Hampshire whilst my view to the right was sand dunes and the ocean. I passed a snake crossing the road and turned around in the hope of getting a photo. Just as I got my camera out so a passing van ran it over – bastards! The snake wriggled frantically to move off the road but with its guts split it couldn’t fulfill the motion it needed to move. Not knowing what type of snake it was I opted not to push it off the road with my foot (as I had done previously in Australia) but found a stick with which to push it. This was a good decision for as soon as I touched it so it turned and went for me. Fortunately the combination of its injuries and the length of the stick meant it was far from biting me but it also sealed its fate. Death on the road it would be. I found a campsite set amongst the trees with beautiful views over the ocean in the NP at Santa Teresa, 30km or so south of the Brazilian border. A mere 5 minute walk to the beach, the location seemed idyllic. It was just out of season so it was quiet but the wood fired boilers were still alight meaning hot showers but there were no staff meaning everything was free. I soon found the flipside though as I got attacked by mosquitoes the instant I got off my bike. Fortunately though, in a forest of Pine and Eucalyptus, a roaring campfire was little more than seconds away and with plenty of firewood I had it burning from 1600 ‘til midnight, thus keeping the mozzies at bay. The hamlet of Punta del Diablo was only a couple of km’s as the crow flies but a 20 min ride by bike. I stocked up in the supermarket there and spent several days in the NP, visiting the colonial fort and walking amongst the empty sandunes.
A first there was nothing unusual about the boulevard along the main street in the border town of Chuy but a closer look revealed that two-way traffic ran on either side. Not unique, but unusual. A closer look still revealed that one side is in Uruguay, and the other in Brazil; that I have never encountered. It would have made life easy for me if I could have got some Brazilian currency (Rials) before I crossed the border. No such luck. The only bank – Banco Brazil – didn’t accept VISA. The border itself was also unusual and after waiting around for an hour because there internet connection was down and they couldn’t process the temporary importation papers for Lady P. When I did finally clear customs I was given a map to the immigration office which was in the Federal Police building in a town 20km away. Imagine a customs officer at Dover saying to a foreigner “Here’s a map of Maidstone, go and get your passport stamped’! With my passport duly stamped I went to the Banco Santander (which I’d used in Chile & Argentina) but still couldn’t get any cash. The next town was 250km away and with no cash it was a hungry ride. I tried another Banco Santander without success but just as I rode away I spotted a HSBC and finally got some cash. I quickly returned to a supermarket I’d seen on my way into town, bought some supplies and finally rode out of town with just 40mins of daylight remaining. I rode as far away from the town as I could reasonably do in daylight and picked a truckstop in which to pitch my tent.
I continued north into the hills and the town of Canela in a very Germanic region. I booked into the campsite complete with electric security gates, chatted with a few locals and headed off to the steam museum. I’d noticed it was very busy when I’d passed by on my way into town and having been warned about theft in Brazil I opted to leave my panniers etc in my tent. When I returned I found my tent and one of my panniers open and some food missing. At first I thought it must have been animals but there were no teeth marks or ripped packaging. It wasn’t until later that I noticed my guidebook was missing that I realized I’d been robbed. Luckily for me I think they must have been disturbed as they were the only missing items.
Curitiba is the starting point for one of Brazil’s most spectacular railway journeys and was my reason for going. I’d noticed a contributor on the Horizons Unlimited website forum lived in Curitiba and so sent him a message asking if he knew a hostel that had parking for Lady P. He replied saying there was no need for a hostel as I could stay with him and so the following day I met Reginaldo in a petrol station south of the city. He worked for the fire service and had recently been promoted to station officer, a post he would take up after returning from a forthcoming trip to Chile on his Suzuki DR650. As well as putting me up for the weekend he took me around the town as I gathered the parts I would need for servicing Lady P when I got to Avaré. We spent the evenings swapping information as I had travelled the route he was planning through Argentina and Chile and he furnished me with GPS maps for Brazil, Peru and Venezuela. The railway journey was spectacular. Plodding along at a mere 28km/h it climbs through a series of tunnels before emerging on the side of a huge forested valley where it descends via a combination of high bridges and yet more tunnels in a giant ‘horseshoe’ around the valley and back to sea level at Morretes before continuing on to the port town of Paranagua.
‘How the hell does the postman deliver anything here’ I thought as I rode around looking for Bob’s house. Most of the streets didn’t’ have names and on those that did the nameplate was often fixed high up on a lamp post halfway along. I eventually found an orange house with the number 143 and just as I did so a car horn sounded and ‘Jaws’ (James Bond – not the shark!) emerged. I’d forgotten how tall Bob was and some recent dentistry had left him sporting a brace. It was great to see him again after 15 years and share stories of where/when/why/what/who/how etc,etc and to share some English humour. It was also good to have a break from my trip and catch up on various things – like this website. I’d ridden 19,000km since arriving in SA, crossed the Chile Argentina border 9 times and spent 53 nights camping. All that changed though as I was welcomed into both Bob’s immediate and extended families firstly by his partner Cecila, then by her parents Carlinos and Isabella and finally by Cecilia’s siblings and their friends! During my stay I was taken on boat trips and family friend Robinio even borrowed a Honda CRF230 for me to use so he could take me trail riding (bloody great day that was – thanks again Robinio). We spent a long weekend at the beach west of Santos on the road to Rio de Janeiro and thanks to the loan of a mountain bike from Cecilia’s nephew Cardu, rode 52km over some steep hills and along miles of beach. Whilst at the beach a friend of Dudu’s (Cardu’s father) took us out on his boat. I’d never been on a boat that felt like a Jet Ski until then and we bounced over the waves as we toured around the many bays and islands. Someone had the bright idea of us swimming back to the beachouse and so we all dived in 500m offshore; I didn’t tell anyone that the furthest I’d ever swam was 50m. Back at the beachouse the BBQ was almost ready and in true Brazilian style plenty of salt was being rubbed into the meat. Everyone had a good chuckle when I said I’d swallowed enough salt for one day! I gave a talk to the kids at Bob’s son’s school and was overwhelmed when the younger kids brought me drawings they’d made of me and my trip. It was this talk that led to the request for the high school visit that then became two visits as the school day is split into two with half attending in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. After giving a slideshow and talk one morning I returned for a matinee two days later. Avaré was also a chance to give Lady P some much needed TLC. As well as the usual service she also got new fork oil (I’d been riding with different weight oil in each leg since El Bolson), chain & sprockets and steering head bearings to go with the 2nd hand front tyre Reginaldo had aquired for me in Curitiba. Evening after evening of watching DVD’s, sharing a beer and chewing the fat passed by and before I knew it I’d been with Bob for a month – it was time to hit the road again.
After another weekend of hospitality at the families farm I rode away under blue skies, across rolling hills, past fields of sugarcane. The romantic description lasted all of 300km when I encountered a good size thunderstorm and was reminded of what it takes to keep Brazil as green as it is. I finally rode out of the rain after 65km but come 4pm, when I wanted to find somewhere to pitch my tent, so it started raining again. I reckoned ½hr riding in the dark would see me into town and a dry hostel so I pushed on. At 1900, after 725km, I rolled into Hostel Paudimar Campestre. I was back on the road.
Foz do Iguazu
Iguazu Falls need no introduction from me and despite only flowing at a fraction of the rate they would in the dry season, they were still worth visiting. Less well know, but only 12km north of town is Itaipu Dam and the worlds largest powerplant. Owned equally by Brazil and Paraguay it produces 90% of Paraguay’s electricity and 20% of Brazils. Each of its 20 hydroelectric turbines generates enough electricty to supply a city of 2.5million people. The list of statistics is endless but very briefly an agreement was signed between the two countries inn 1973 and work began in 1975. At the peak of construction it employed 42,000. It first generated electricity in 1984 and was completed in 2007. Truly one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Itaipu Dam