Rested, but still buzzing from the ride across the Paso de Jama, I set off the following day towards San Miguel de Tucuman. Having dropped down into Purmamarca the road then followed a valley south-west across the north of Argentina, passing Jujuy and Salta. Pulling into a petrol station I met some Colombian riders on a two week tour on rented BMWs (does anybody ride anything else ?). They were from Cali but staying with family in Buenos Aires, they told me about a hotel in Tucuman and invited me to join them for their ride, they were off into the hills. I thanked them for the offer but declined, the ride over the pass had provided me with enough 'curves' for a few days, we shook hands and I rode on. I pulled into Tucuman later that day and found a motel run by the Automóvil Club Argentino, I couldn't pass it up. As I was unloading a guy pulled in and came over to talk, Carlos Tear (his grandad had emigrated from Ireland), Malvinas/Falkland vet and just a pleasure to talk to..
Carlos Tear, 'I'm Irish'
Carlos was working for the motel but also produced tourist maps of Argentina, he gave me one for free, a good move as I was using a poor detail 'whole of Latin America' map by this time. Needless to say we got onto the Malvinas discussion, Carlos had been a 3 month conscript and found himself out on the islands. He related their biggest fear had been the presence of British nuclear submarines, they feared if it went bad for the British they would use nuclear weapons. He asked what I thought, well I said it had been 'bizzare', he laughed and said 'you thought it was bizzare', I got his point. He was no friend of the generals and had seen it for what it was, a 'distraction' from domestic issues, he didn't like Margaret Thatcher either, we got on well. It was interesting talking with locals about that era, the subsequent democracy, the economic collapse in 2001, the economy and politics in the country now. Most people I talked to were well informed, not just about South America but very up to speed with Europe and the UK, could name our Prime Ministers, in fact they seemed much better informed than most Europeans/North Americans, President of Argentina anyone ?
I rode on towards Cordoba the next day, had breakfast before I left with Carlos and swapped contact details. He gave me his phone number, 'any problems, breakdowns, then call'. After a long day in the saddle, strong side winds (my absolute favourite) I reached Cordoba and went into a hotel to be told there were no rooms, the first time this had happened on the whole trip, there was a convention on. The receptionist was really sorry, so sorry he began to call all those who and reserved a room that night to see if they were still intending to stay, amazing. No luck, everyone was coming, but he told me about their sister hotel just outside the city in Carlos Paz, he drew me a map. When I arrived I got a great welcome, the receptionist had rung ahead. I chatted with the manager, he was asking about the journey and what I thought of Argentina, I said it was a great country from what I had seen and told him everybody I had met had been helpful, interested and very welcoming, he replied 'well, you pay my wages so I have to be nice, however, I am also a nice person', couldn't have put it better.
The next day, with more wind at my side, I rode off towards Rosario along Ruta 9. I had continued emailing Javier and Sandra at Dakarmotos, they said if I could make it before 11am on Saturday I could have a bed at their hostel, today was Friday, I needed to keep moving.
Coffee stop on Ruta 9, heading for Rosario
I arrived at Rosario, found a hotel and wandered the streets, had a haircut and settled in for the night. The forecast for the ride to Buenos Aires was not good, thunder storms moving in. I could wait here until Monday and ride down or get up early and chance it, I went for the second option. Leaving Rosario in the dark I could see the lightning on the horizon, this would be my last long ride of the trip, it could be fun. As the rain began to fall I began to increase my speed, suddenly I lost power, this had happened before, where's my chain ? I pulled over to the hard shoulder and got off the bike, looked down and saw the chain wrapped around the chain guard and swing arm, the rain got heavier. Out came my new spare chain link, I unwrapped the chain and began to feed it back onto the sprockets, I was an expert at this, slipped on the new link and rode away, slower. I had to be at Dakarmotos by 11, could I now make it ? The road was awash, pouring rain and now more traffic as I reached the outskirts of the city, I had Javier's directions in my head, I just needed to be able to see the road signs. It all went well, I pulled up outside dakarmotos to be greeted by Ryan, a Canadian rider who was staying at the moto shop/hostel, relieved ? it was a two cigarette moment.
Dakarmotos, heaven for riders, bunks just behind the curtain.
Place your mark on the wall, a history of those that had been before. Ryan, in action.
Javier, big man, big heart
With Sandra outside Dakarmotos, nothing is too much trouble
Javier turned up and we sat and had coffee, I was in Buenos Aires, it felt good and I was here for the next 10 days or so. Javier and Sandra, both spoke excellent English, were great, could not have been more helpful. Sandra sorted the bike export, Javier checked over my chain and gave it the thumbs up, for now. I sorted my flight out and changed my dollars on the 'blue' market for pesos to pay for the bike (http://www.economist.com/node/21556273). There are tight restrictions on foreign currency in Argentina, official exchange rate for the peso/USD was 5.7, on the 'blue' (read 'black') market it was 9 pesos to the USD. I changed some with a local shop owner and the rest at a pedestrian street in the city, Calle Forida. As I was paying for the bike shipping in pesos this saved me around 700USD, crazy but true.
Central Buenos Aires, very European
Sunday market along La Defense, great atmosphere in a great city.
So, my last ride of the trip, from Dakarmotos to the cargo terminal at the international airport, about 40 K's. As I rode down the motorway a car pulled alongside and paused, I had got used to this as it happened fairly often on the journey as people looked at the bike and probably tried to guess where you were from. Today, the car slowed, came along side, paused and then the driver 'beeped' his horn, giving me the thumbs up, a great send off. All went well at cargo handling, I rode onto a pallet, took off the front wheel and stashed my bike gear, took my tank bag and got a lift back into the city.
The final ride
That last, magic touch.
I still had a couple of days to kill roaming around Buenos Aires with Ryan before my flight, he was due to meet his sister who was joining him from Canada for a few weeks. Ryan, who helped me understand the 'blue' market (thanks for his patience) also showed me the sights, he was 18 months on the road already from Winnipeg, a true traveller. His plan was to ride to Ushuaia when it warmed up enough later in the year and then fly out to Australia before Christmas. After this he was planning to ride through Asia and Europe, he reckoned on another 2-3 years on the road, his trip was still on.
For me it was the opposite, my trip was at the end, the trip completed. Any final thoughts ? well, it's about people. I couldn't have done this without their help, from Joan and Chris in Canada to Javier and Sandra in Buenos Aires, to all those I met along the way, in hotels/hostels, shops and cafes, at borders, in petrol stations and hairdressers, many thanks. To Robin and Ruth, family and friends, including colleagues at work, who supported me and believed I could do it, many thanks. Finally, special thanks to Deborah, George and Jack, who let me go, worried about me along the way and welcomed me back, much love.
So, off to Australia.
El fin del blog, muchas gracias y adiós
and now, it's time for a song ...