I didn´t have the energy to post a detailed entry yesterday so I will do it today, without pics, because the internet is like 1996 dialup slow here in San Agustin.
I left Valpariso in good spirits. I woke up early, got out of the city and started to make my way back east. I stopped along the way in Los Andes (the city, not the mountains) to get some nafta (gas). At the estacion de servicio I sat down and started munching on my breakfast of an apple, bread, and OJ. As I was eating, the guy a few tables over started chatting with me in spanish. I´ve gotten decent at the small talk- where are you from, where are you going, what do you do for work, are you married, why are you traveling alone, etc. I get lots of questions about the bike too. ¿Seisciento cincuenta? I may have written that wrong but basically “is it a 650?”
Anyway, so we did the usual chat and I asked him what he did for work. His answer was way over my head. He went to his car and got a brochure from his company. Turns out Luis speaks perfect english and is in charge of sales for a company that makes mining equipment. I was touched he didn´t switch to english earlier and instead complimented my on my pathetic spanish. We sat there chatting about his work, vertical boring machines, rock crushers and all manner of machines that I have seen on Modern Marvels. We exchanged emails and he snapped a few photos of me, one of which I really like. I will post them as soon as I step out of the stone age. He was a really nice guy and someone I will definitely keep in touch with for another trip down here. However, it was time to hit the road.
I got to the Andes pass much faster than I expected and the next thing you know, I´m starting the intense ascent. I was lucky there weren´t many trucks when I was on my way up because my biggest fear was coming around a hairpin turn and finding a truck stopped and I´d dump the bike and it would slide down the incline. Obviously, that did not happen. I got to the top of the pass and felt like a million bucks. Knowing that I had to return over this same road had my stomach in knots all morning but when it was over I felt so accomplished.
Next came the border process. I knew the deal this time and had all my papers ready. Entry to Argentina was much easier because the bike has Argentinian plates on it, and clearly it was allowed to enter the country. The guy who initially checked my passport flirted with me a bit and said he too had a “real” motorcycle- a Kawasaki of some sort. Probably a small cruiser. I told him I used to have a Kawasaki Ninja and his eyes lit up. ¿Una NEENJA?! I don´t know the phrase for “oh cooool” but he said something that seemed similar. Sport bikes go for a premium down here, so I neglected to mention it was only a 500 to get the maximum effect.
He reluctantly passed me to the next security station where the woman scrutinized my authorization to enter paper. She wanted to keep them, but I wanted it back because it has all the cool stamps on it. I explained to her that I needed it back because I might be passing into Chile again in the north. I knew she might tell me I needed to go make una fotocopia, but when I smiled wide she went and did it for me. The border people have been so nice and helpful in both directions, as opposed to the Canadian and American ones who are complete pricks.
She passed me to the final check which was customs. ¿Plantas? No. ¿Frutas? MMmmm, I knew I had a peach in my top case but I didn´t want to make an issue of it and they didn´t ask me to open up my luggage. So, no frutas. At this time, the lady returned with the fotocopia and handed it to customs guy who stamped it, and folded it up. When he saw me begin to take off my gloves so I could put it away, he unzipped the clear part of my tank bag and neatly stuffed it under my map. ¡Buen viaje! he said and I was off.
The ride to Uspallata and Mendoza was totally envigorating. It was the type of riding that I was hoping for on this trip. Twisties, sweepers, mountains, dramatic clouds, etc. Just breathtaking.
By the time I arrived in Mendoza, it was 4:30pm and I had left at 8:15am, with maybe an hr´s break total. I wanted to make it to San Juan, which is 2 hours north before it got dark, so I started out on the long haul. These last hours were torturous because riding through the hot desert is like riding through an oven. There is no where to stop and not a stitch of shade. I had to use every bit of concentration I had to get myself to San Juan.
It is times like this that I wish I had my own bike. I am more familiar with it and manuevering it in the city is much easier. When I arrived in San Juan I started to look for my hostel. While I was trying to figure out why there was no hostel at the address listed in LP, an older gentleman walked up to me and started asking if I needed help. As it turns out, it said 572 Laprida Oeste, not Este. That means I was on the wrong side of the equivalent of 5th Ave. We got to chatting and I discovered he was a lawyer in town. He asked how long I was planning to be in San Juan and when I admitted it was only for the night, he got offended and said he would show me San Juan for the evening. As much as I wanted to take him up on it, I said I needed to shower, and if I did not fall asleep, I´d call him.
Even Tranny was getting tired at this point and started to stall at lights. I know a tired bike when I am riding one and this one was crying uncle.
I found the correct address in the book but still no hostel. I was getting tired and irritated. I thought about calling Mario and asking him if I could crash at his house. As I looked around, a young kid walked over to me and gave me a card with the name of the hostel I was looking for on it. Turns out they moved to a location not 2 blocks from where I had been talking to Mario. I headed back in that direction and FINALLY found my home for the night. I rang the bell and Gustavo checked me in. He also opened the gate for me to park Tranny for the night.
I unpacked the bike (disempaque – thank you Colgate “spanish for the plant” class) and took the most heavenly shower EVER. I had been on the bike for over ten hours – my knees were screaming, my fingers needed to be unbent from their grip position, and my feet had blisters on them. The water made it all better. It untensed every muscle in my body.
I spent the next few hours in an airconditioned cafe called Freud, eating a Roquefort pizza and sipping pomelo soda, while reading Atlas Shrugged. When the words started blurring, I began the ten minute walk home to the hostel.
This morning I woke up later than usual, and I didn´t care. I meandered down to breakfast and had my coffee and morning bread. While I was there I met two Canadians who were riding bicycles around the wine region of San Juan. The guy was kinda quiet but the girl told me about her friend who had had a bad bicycle accident and was thrown into a ditch. No good at all!
Note to self: do not get thrown in a ditch.
This trip has taught me to know when to ask for help. I have had to ask for help with pushing Tranny out of parking spaces on a regular basis and I no longer am embarassed about it. In this case there were two guys hanging out in the hostel and when I asked for ayuda, they willingly obliged me. We pushed him out on to the street and then I loaded him up with gear. I got the usual “Ciao ciao!” as I left and I began today´s journey.
The itinerary was much shorter than yesterday´s – only 4-5 hours. The goal was San Agustin de Valle Fertil. As short as this leg was, there was an added hitch. There were no estacion de servicios along the way and I am still uncertain about what Tranny´s true range is. I was told by two cops (also on a Transalp) that I needed to stop in Villecito for gas before the long haul. When I got gas in Villecito, the attendant told me it was 60k to the turnoff, and then another 190k from there. I don´t like to be without at least 1/4 tank, so I went to a little bodega next door and asked if they had a few 2L bottles, which I then had the attendant fill. Luckily, I didn´t wind up needing them, but better safe than sorry.
So I was riding along to San Agustin when I came to a dip in the road that had a fair bit of sand in it. Sand is NOT your friend when you are on a bike. I saw it too late and nearly had another bike dump. Luckily, I recovered and stayed upright. It was a good thing too because I hadn´t seen a car in over an hour. After that I slowed down in the dippy parts and took them all REALLY slow.
I was nearly 30k from San Agustin when I came around a curve and saw something I didn´t want to see – a LOT of water rushing across the road. This time rather than going through it and dumping the bike, I stopped. I hopped off and investigated to see if the bottom was slippery and how deep it really was. The water was about 4 inches deep and the bottom was grippy. I decided to try and walk Tranny across this obstacle and I came out the winner for it. I made it to San Agustin without any unexpected dismounts or other incidents.
Tomorrow I am off to the Valley of the Moon. It´s supposed to be kinda like Bryce Canyon or something like that. Keep checking back to see how I´m going!