Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Ain't No Sunshine

By Sanne

We weren’t impressed with Bariloche at all. It’s nothing more than a tourist trap. Of course the weather didn’t help, raining every single day we were there. The one good thing there, was that we got a super good exchange rate for our dollars at 11.5 pesos to the dollar. We simply walked in to an official exchange house and asked what their rate was for the dollar, not expecting them to change on the blue rate, but to our surprise they did! It was two pesos more than we got in Buenos Aires back in December. We also made a purchase here of two sheepskins for the seats of our motorbikes. Well, it was actually one sheepskin that we cut in half. Now our seats are way more comfortable, albeit a little taller, and all for the small sum of $30. 

One “disaster” happened while we were here. Because of the shite weather we spent a lot of time in the tent watching movies on our laptop. Well, one night Mark fell asleep while watching something and left the earphones in when he closed the screen. Then at some stage during the night he must have leant on it because the next day we woke up to find that the computer screen was broken with an indent from the earphones. Just another thing in the now long list of things that have broken lately. We took it to a couple of computer stores in town but none of them were able to fix it. We thought we probably had to buy another computer which in Argentina is a very expensive purchase. 

We decided to go to Osorno, Chile after Bariloche to 1. See if anyone there could fix our computer. 2. Buy a new rear tyre for Mark and 3. Get some more US dollars. We had heard of a motorcycle shop in Osorno called Moto Aventura where you could buy 18-inch rear tyres which we had struggled to find anywhere else (except the one we found for me in Punta Arenas). Everyone seems to run 17-inch wheels here so not many stores stock the 18’s. We were lucky that they had a Heidenau K60, the exact same one as mine, it came at a price at $170 but he needed one badly. We were lazy so we paid for them to put it on for us…well, good thing we weren’t in a hurry…it took them 2 ½ hours! More slack mechanics you have to look hard for. So we had a lot of time to look around the well-stocked store. I was eyeing up the helmet section when Mark said “I think you should buy one”. He has been after me for a long time that I need a new helmet because the one I have had since the beginning of the trip is really not safe anymore. It has been dropped a lot and looks really beaten up and everything is sort of hanging out from it. I haven’t wanted to spend the money on a new helmet but that is really the most stupid place to save money, as a helmet is the most important thing to wear on the motorbike. We found an adventure-style helmet in the brand ‘Held’ from Germany and it came at a reasonable price too at around $250. When I handed my old helmet over to the sales girl to dispose of she laughed. Guess it really was time for it to go! Because of the helmet purchase we got the tyre change for free.

We headed in to the city centre of Osorno to look for a computer store. We found a small, insignificant looking one tucked away in an arcade off the main street. We didn’t have high hopes at all that it could be fixed but when we handed it over to the guy behind the counter and explained to him what the issue was he had a look at it, handed us a note and said: “it will be ready in about 2 hours”. Turns out he had the exact model of screen we needed for our computer! What are the odds!? We were overjoyed and went to the nearest bar to celebrate with a couple of beers. We picked up the computer a couple of hours later and handed over $120 for the job. We were so happy that we had been able to get it fixed as we had kind of already written it off. Now, the last thing for us to do was to get more dollars, the process going something like this: Get Chilean pesos out of atm, find a place that will exchange pesos into US dollars (in our case an electrical store with a desk in the corner reserved for this purpose – very unofficial – and then back in Argentina you change the dollars into Argentine pesos on the blue rate. So if you run out of dollars, it is worth doing it this way.

Going back to Argentina over the same pass as we came over on, we took in the moon-like landscape showing the aftermath of the eruption of Volcano Chaiten in Parque Pumalin in 2008. The ash went as far as Buenos Aires which is over 1000 kms away. This being much closer is still covered in the ash which makes it look as if the pine trees are growing out of sand dunes. We made it to San Martin de los Andes which is another tourist trap – a smaller version of Bariloche although slightly prettier. We went to the local campsite and set up tent but within long the rain that had been nipping at our heels since the border caught up to us and team handfulofthrottle found themselves trapped in their tent prison yet again. It rained all night long but thankfully it had stopped the next morning. We were now seriously of the mindset: “Let’s get the f… out of here!” This rain was seriously starting to piss us off and worst of all it was starting to bring us down. We studied our map and saw that if we headed straight north we would be out of the Lake District already and we didn’t want to rush out of here. The plan was made then to head into Chile again via another border crossing (there are lots of them), spend a couple of days around the lakes in Chile before heading north. We hoped the weather would clear up and that we would have some dry days ahead of us (Think again!) 

It started off good. We headed into Parque Nacional Lanin as there was a small border crossing within this park. At the Argentinian checkpoint they warned us that the road ahead was “feo” = ugly, because of all the rain but we didn’t worry too much about that. The one guy doing the customs paperwork out of a small shed was insanely slow and it didn’t look like he really knew what he was doing but we eventually got everything stamped and headed just 5 kms into the park where we camped next to a small lake in a nice, sheltered campsite. The next morning we rode through the park towards Paso Carirrine and the road was nowhere near as bad as the customs guys had made it out to be. Yes, there was a lot of mud and some sections where a 2wd might have struggled but it was a beautiful little road, winding its way through forest and small lakes and there was hardly anyone there. It was one of the most enjoyable little rides we had had of late. The Chilean border crossing was a tiny little house tucked away in the forest. I got in trouble for parking my bike after the witches hats as opposed to before which caused a bit of drama from the customs officer who after this decided to be a real pain in the arse and ransack our bags thoroughly and pulled us up for our sheepskin, saying that we had to declare them as it was an animal product. What a tosser.

Anyway, we rode through to a place called Pucon where we found half of Santiago’s population holidaying. Looking for a campsite we realised that it must be the wealthy half of Santiago as the price for camping was just ridiculous: $50 per night. Come on! We rode a few kms out of town and were lucky to find a much cheaper place to camp with a really nice woman running it who spoke perfect English and who I think was happy to practice it. Do I need to say that it started raining again??? Yeah… We spent the next two days here, hoping that it would stop raining (it didn’t), we did make it into town one day during a short dry spell and had the tastiest pizza I have had in a long time accompanied by a cold beer. On the way back the road was lined with blackberry bushes and we picked a whole bowl full and munched out on them. We left Pucon in the pouring down rain after packing up a very wet tent and rode towards the border of Paso Mamuil Malal. On the way we passed through a small village and spotted a familiar looking motorcycle parked up on the side of the road; a Triumph with British number plates…Tim! We stopped and a few seconds later Tim comes running down the road as he had spotted us riding past. Turns out he has been researching a game there for the last week (the point of his trip is to investigate and document indigenous games). We had a quick chat and were on our way. 

The ride to the border crossing was beautiful with lots of Araucaria trees more than a thousand years of age and Volcano Lanin (3776 m) towering right next to us. The border control on the Chile side was quick and efficient, but on the Argentinian side there was a queue stretching 50 m outside the building! I think it took two hours before we reached the counter and then were met with the grumpiest customs officer I have ever had to deal with. There were some dates in my passport he couldn’t understand and when I started talking in my broken Spanish he clearly decided he didn’t like a gringo like me, so he started being really rude and making snide comments, then in the end he asked if I had Alzheimer’s, all because I couldn’t understand what he was on about! I could have punched him in the face but decided that for civil reasons I better not.
That night we had a bush camp next to a small river and a pleasant and quiet night only interrupted by some cows walking past and some cat eyes that may or may not have belonged to a puma staring at me when I stuck my head out.

Next morning we rode into Junin de Los Andes to stock up on fuel and food and headed north on Ruta 40 which provided a stunning ride amongst scenery that had changed so dramatically so suddenly. From riding in green lush nature, we were now in what seemed like dessert lands with hardly a tree growing anywhere. We made it to the small town of Zapala where we camped at the municipal campground (the cheapest one yet at 30 pesos = $3 for both of us) and upon checking our emails at the local YPF petrol station we found that we had an email from a couple in San Rafael, Mendoza who offered us accommodation and board in exchange of working on their finca (fruit farm). We had contacted them via Horizons Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers website, and were happy to find out that we had a place we could hang out for a while, since we both were getting a bit jaded of being on the bike every day, and of course the weather wasn’t helping. The municipal campground was full of stray dogs and Mark made friends with a little puppy who I swear he wanted to take with him on the bike had he had the space!

Chos Malal was out next stop and another municipal campground where Mark discovered a puncture in his rear tyre (the first puncture of the entire trip!) and so the next hour went by trying to fix this. The ride the next day from Chos Malal to Malargue was a stunning dirt road winding its way through dry arid landscape with the sun burning so bright it hurt your eyes. There was barely another soul on the road so we had the feeling of being the last two people on earth which was a pleasant feeling. Patagonia is nice in that way that it is one of the least populated places on earth. Weather it was the corrugations or a rock, when we stopped fuel was pissing out of my fuel tank from what looked like numerous places. Uttering a four-letter word starting with F, we hastily got on our bikes again and floored it towards Malargue. Luckily Ruta 40 here turned into asphalt so we could make miles a bit faster, we really didn’t want to be running out of fuel here in the middle of nowhere.
Well, we made it to Malargue and at the municipal campground we dissembled my bike to have a look over the tank. We found fuel leaking out of two places but at least 8 additional cracks in the tank. We fixed them with some 2 part epoxy which seemed to do the trick.

We had one good day in Malargue before the weather turned on us again and didn’t stop for the next two whole days. I felt like quoting Morrissey and say: “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”. It’s amazing how much an effect bad weather can have on your mood. And our mood wasn’t in a good way. We spoke to a British couple on bicycles who have come the same route as we have but unlike us they have had great weather the vast majority of the time. They were very surprised to hear of our hardship with the weather. So maybe it’s just us that have been bad and someone is punishing us! Again we packed up in the rain and began the wet miserable ride towards San Rafael. Miserable because our boots and pants were letting in water and within half an hour of riding we were wet and cold. More than ever we were in severe need of a roof over our heads and we were hoping to find that at our next stop…

Lago Nahuel Huapi

A nice young guy, Marcelo, who we met in Osorno who was very excited about us and our bikes

Aftermath of the volcano eruption

Taking a break to study the map

San Martin de los Andes

Parque Nacional Lanin

Our campspot

And that's when my odometer called it quits - at 99999.9 kms

The beautiful road through the national park Lanin

Volcanic rock thousands of years old

KIP to the trail - got it

Natural thermal baths

Welcome to Chile


Packing up in the rain is becoming quite the routine...

Ran into our friend Tim!

Gauchos herding their cattle on a mountain road

Love the poncho - gotta get myself one of those

Araucaria tree

Volcano Lanin - its name means dead rock or died of a big feed...hmmm

View from our campsite

We experienced one of the most sudden changes in landscape

Mark's little friend

Little oasis in the middle of a dry desolate landscape

Mark fixing the puncture in his tyre

Fascinating rock formations

Finally a Ruta 40 sign!

 One of the most scenic dirt roads we've done

Selfie time!

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