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Old 01-12-2009, 10:42 PM   #1
Frodo OP
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There (Ushuaia) and back again

Why and how?

“There” is Ushuaia, a small city that calls itself “the end of the world”. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, and if that's not sufficient reason for a motorbike trip, then the legendary scenery of Patagonia most certainly is.

“Back” is Buenos Aires, the city of “good winds”. So “there and back” amounted to about 9000 km of some of the world's best scenery, fascinating wildlife, food (as long as you're not vegetarian!), and some of the worst roads and wicked winds.

Here is the southern part of the route we travelled (from Neuquen to Bahia Blanca) in November 2008.






The team consisted of:
· Neale, surveyor, from Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia (Suzuki DR650 and five others);
· Mooch, computer systems manager, from Whitby, just north of Wellington, New Zealand (Ducati 748R);
· Joaquin, client relationship manager, Madrid, Spain (BMW 1200GS);
· Bob, biologist from Paekakariki, New Zealand (that's me) (Aprilia Pegaso Trail);
· Facundo, from Buenos Aires and organiser and guide for the trip.


The bikes: Honda Transalp 650s and 700s, rented from Motocare in Buenos Aires (http://www.motocare.com.ar/rental/). The cost of getting bikes to BA and the hassle of getting them out of the port and across borders makes renting bikes for a relatively short trip such as this is a no brainer. Besides I'd rather punish Mariano's well prepared bikes on this trip!


Did we know each other before the trip? Mooch and his wife Angela had been on a trip into western Argentina organised by Facundo two years' previously. So the answer is “no”. But we were soon to understand riding styles and more personal characteristics than many wives would take years to discover!

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Old 01-12-2009, 10:50 PM   #2
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Day 1: Buenos Aires 0km – Meating the team


Fourteen million people make Buenos Aires a large city, but this is masked by the absence of skyscrapers in the central city. The old European architecture, leafy trees and wide boulevards give BA a civilised air. That is until you read some of the explicit graffiti, try to navigate the traffic or encounter protests (against mining and something to do with the Ministry of Health). It is the Latin heritage that gives BA its energy. This starts late (BA rises late), yet powers through the early hours. I loved, in particular, the street musicians, but didn’t have the opportunity to explore the tango culture (Mooch is an avid tango dancer).











Argentines eat more beef per capita than any other country. Che Guevara took a grill with him on his motorcycle adventure. So you’d expect Argentina to produce great steaks, right? Our first meal together at Siga la Vaca (Follow the Cow), showed that there are a lot more bits of cow (and bull!) that can be eaten. Chinchulin (barbecued intestines) is particularly tasty (if you have the stomach for them!), but I’ve heard that morcillas (black blood sausage) “comes out as fast as it goes in”.





That's Joaquin, Neale, Facundo, me and Mooch

A tray of BBQ'ed mixed meats was available throughout much of Argentina, but be aware that meals start late - midnight was not unusual (which could be a challenge after a long day riding). Warning: Argentinian coffee is awful, especially out of BA. But ask for coffee in southern Chile, and you'll be supplied with instant.


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Old 01-12-2009, 10:55 PM   #3
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Day 2: Buenos Aires to Santa Rosa 602km – Urban slalom, rural boredom

We signed a wad of insurance, waiver of liability and other forms at Motocare yesterday, but today we actually picked the bikes up. I received a shiny black Transalp 650 with 12,500km on the clock. We then attempted to pack the stuff we’d taken with us into the boxes on the bike. There was much vacillating back and forth as important decisions were made, such as “Should I take the tripod or a warm jacket?” (in the end I left both behind). At last we were ready and we posed for a photo.



The sense of anticipation almost outweighed the nerves as we rode out into the madness that is Buenos Aires traffic. Lane markings are theoretical and driving is, well, enthusiastic and rather chaotic. Like fledging seabirds thrust out of their nest, we successfully avoided the sharks of the urban maelstrom. We soon mastered the “BA slalom” as we weaved through the traffic trying to keep up with Facundo, a true porteño.

BA is surrounded by hundreds of miles of pampas that must be crossed to get to the interesting stuff. It didn't take us long to understand the meaning of “camino monotono”. We saw the carnage of cars driven by sleeping drivers. The mildest bend in the road has a warning 2km out of “curva pellegroso” (dangerous curve), then another at 1km and at 500m, with warning strips over the last 200m and chevrons on the road edge. Yet we hardly buttoned off our cruising speeds of 130kph!



I soon learned to keep a careful eye on the Transalp's (rather blurred) mirrors to reduce the surprise of being overtaken by AMG Mercedes and other cars travelling well in excess of 160kph. This is absolutely essential when overtaking clapped out Renaults doddling along at 70kph. Argentines travel slow or fast!

The carefully crafted extended screen of my bike directed the splatter of disintegrating bugs directly onto my visor. The relief that I couldn't see the rapidly approaching trucks was more than offset by the need to see them to avoid them. This needed cleaning every 150km or so.

After 600km, the swimming pool at an estancia at Santa Rosa soaked off layers of dust and succulent steaks filled empty stomachs.
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Old 01-12-2009, 11:08 PM   #4
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bikes and beef

What's not to love?
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Old 01-12-2009, 11:21 PM   #5
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Day 3 Santa Rosa – Neuquen 571 km – Desert highway

Leaving estancia Santa Rosa.



Drivers on Argentine roads need more than skill and alertness to survive – some sort of divine power is at hand. Along roads throughout Argentina are shrines to Gauchito (“little gaucho”) Gil. Legend has it that Gauchito Gil healed his murderer's son, and he is now thought to be a saint by many Argentines. These shrines are often decorated with characteristic red flags. Other shrines for Deolinda Correa look like rubbish dumps with gifts of bottled water. She died heat stroke while crossing the desert, but some passing mule drivers found an infant boy alive, still suckling from her breast.



We were stopped at our first police checkpoint by friendly and efficient cops. This was to be our experience for most of the trip. We were often waved through unchecked, with a smile. However, our last check, a few hundred kilometres short of BA showed us that there is some truth to the rumours of police corruption.



The countryside became drier and hotter as we entered desert. A meal of chivito (BBQ'ed goat) at La Reforma provided needed sustenance and a cooling fan relief from the 33C (shade) heat.







Although the sign declared “Bienvenido a Patagonia”, the sky was hazy and grey as we crossed the Rio Colorado river, suggesting rain. But the precipitation turned into perspiration with the first introduction of the famed Patagonian winds. Winds of a steady 100kph had stirred up a dust storm. As a Wellingtonian, I am used to strong wind, but the wind blast from upwind trucks took some time to adjusting to. Our hotel manager later told us that the wind was strong enough to close the schools that day.

Neuquen struck me as a rather dusty, unpleasant town. The locals do know how to kit out their scooters for local roads!


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Old 01-12-2009, 11:23 PM   #6
andyhol
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I just looked at the rental site, the price seems quite reasonable too.
A good deal easier than getting your bike there, unless you ride it there of course
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Old 01-12-2009, 11:35 PM   #7
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Day 4: Neuquen to Villa la Angostura 550km – Lakes and rain

A check of my front tyre the next morning showed a drop in pressure that may have explained the woolly response to the wind the previous day, but this was easily corrected. The strong winds continued, but the bike now felt more secure. The wind blew up a dust storm as we rode through Zapala, in the heart of oil country.





From Zapala, we entered rolling hills with tussock like the Desert Road in the centre of New Zealand's North Island – much more interesting than the featureless flat land we had crossed the previous days. Our first glimpse of the Andes at Laguna Blanca heralded cooler weather and a threat of rain, and so the need for additional clothes.





The road gave us our first taste of gravel – bumpy with round, uncrushed river stones. This country was now much like the Hakataramea Pass in Otago (NZ). But it was very windy. Neale was blown over during a U-turn (to pick up a dropped compass) and mine was blown off the sidestand shortly after I took this photo!



Going over a windy pass, I could only ride in first gear. Gravel 1cm across was blown along the road and off the road bank onto my visor! A sideways gust blew the buttons in my jacket open. I've never experienced wind like that – I guessed the wind gusted to 130kph.

We climbed higher towards Junin de los Andes, passing a mountain bike group struggling with the road and wind. Neale scorched past me, but I rounded the next corner to find his bike on its side – the Tourances offering little grip in mud. First priority: photo; second priority: help Neale get his bike up! Luckily no damage to bike or rider.





Although it was only a short 40km ride from Junin to San Martin de los Andes, the countryside was transformed into that of the northern Italian lakes and Queenstown (NZ).



Silver shafts of light under dark clouds hinted at the light rain that was to persist to Villa la Angostura. We entered lush forests and beautiful lakes, much like those of Lake Rotoiti in New Zealand's South Island. With the rain, temperatures dropped to 8C. A great gravel road, but poorly maintained, so the water-filled potholes punished the bike. Sandy mud sprayed everywhere!


(Neale's photo)



Mooch waited a little too long before putting rain gear over his leathers and was very cold and wet by the time we reached Villa la Angostura. The hotel, built in a Germanic / Swiss style, complete with Viennese waltzes playing, was a welcome sight after 550km of incredibly mixed riding conditions. Steak with dark mushrooms picked from the local forest – delicious, but effective laxatives!






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Old 01-12-2009, 11:48 PM   #8
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Day 5 Villa la Angostura 40km – Enjoying the sights

Mooch was pretty crook the following morning, but luckily we had a rest day planned. The remaining four of us took the ski lift to the top of Cerro Bayo (1700m). We calculated that each ticket was about five beers but we were rewarded with brilliant views of Lago Nahuel Huapi and surrounding mountains.



On our return we noticed a dozen or so Argentinean men admiring our bikes. They were on high school reunion trip from Buenos Aires and many would have loved to come with us. They rewarded our efforts with an excellent 1.25 litre bottle of Los Harolds Malbec. This was not the first great Malbec we drank in Argentina and it certainly wasn't to be the last! It was also indicative of the generosity of many Argentines we met outside of cities.



That evening, the owner of Hotel Angostura took us out on a sunset cruise out onto the 400m deep Lago Nahuel Huapi on her launch. Great selection of cheeses and meats, including dried wild boar and deer. The multi-million dollar mansions dotting the shoreline were obscene (because they are owned by someone else, I must admit).









Most of our evening meals in Argentina impressed, but the same could not be said for breakfast. Even this wonderful hotel could not do better than provide artificial orange drink, bad coffee and terribly sweet yoghurt and cornflakes. I also found the meaning of the letters on the shower taps: "C" is "cold", while "F" is "freezing"!


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Old 01-13-2009, 12:09 AM   #9
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Day 6: Villa la Angostura to Bariloche via Lago Traful 178km – Spectacular lakes

Day six dawned foggy, and trip to the doctor for Mooch, who was quite unwell. Mooch took the direct, sealed route to Bariloche, while the rest of us enjoyed what turned into a fabulous day on excellent gravel, on the long way via Lago Traful. The rain clouds of a couple of days previously had cleared to reveal fantastic scenery, reminiscent of the Nelson Lakes (NZ). While we stop or lunch at Traful, a local mongrel chooses my bike to cock its leg! Trees and power are still down after the windstorm that hit us four days earlier.








We stopped at a lookout point for a panoramic view of Lago Traful.





The hills dry out further south, evolving from central Otago (NZ) through to Arizona badlands. Very dusty. Later, on sealed road to Bariloche, we are waved through a police checkpoint, but I feel somewhat haunted by the spectre of a smashed black Suzuki V-strom.







Although it is set on the shores of beautiful Lago Nahuel Huapi, I must admit that Bariloche is not my sort of town. Fabricated for rich tourists, much like New Zealand's Queenstown (while Angostura is more like nearby Wanaka). My stomach is slowly adjusting to late dinners, so by 10:30 I am really enjoying my trout in a mushroom and Roquefort cheese sauce.

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Old 01-13-2009, 03:21 AM   #10
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hope to see you on the road, great pics
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Old 01-13-2009, 04:04 AM   #11
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Fantastic!!

thanks for the pics and detailed report!

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Old 01-13-2009, 04:08 AM   #12
VictorBravoMikeIndia
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This is great !
Patagonia is on my list !
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Old 01-13-2009, 01:24 PM   #13
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Fantastic report!
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Old 01-13-2009, 03:20 PM   #14
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Thumb big ups for Bob et al!

Bob - what a great report - you set the standard - looks like you hard an awesome time - hope to talk / ride together again soon - cheers S
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Old 01-13-2009, 10:30 PM   #15
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Day 7: Bariloche to Trevilin 347km – Markets and marbles

Day seven provided us with another stunning ride, this time to Trevilin. A short detour on gravel west of Bariloche, saw us overtaken by a Citroen 2CV with wide wheels and lots of rust. My simple classification of old equals slow was clearly wrong. The main road south of Bariloche (Ruta 248) wound through snow-covered mountains and skirted alpine lakes, providing some of the best sealed road riding so far.





Mooch clearly envied our lunch at El Bolson as he was restricted to plain spaghetti at a restaurant named after the original Butch Cassidy. I'm sure that the flavour of my lunch (tenderloin steak with hash-browns) was enhanced by the beauty of our waitress! The local market of artisan crafts was unsullied by loud foreign accents or pretentious pricing. The town, circled by mountains was one of the most beautiful we had seen to date.









That afternoon saw our first experience with (in)famous Ruta 40, The gravel started corrugated and potholed, while deepish river stones. Being used to the crushed gravel of New Zealand roads, it took me a while to adjust to road surfaces covered with marbles of different sizes. While conditions on this road improved, it would take many more kilometres for me to get any sense of confidence.





We stopped for a break at the cross-roads at Cholila – rush hour: four roads, two cars, two gauchos and four dogs. Many of the bridges are one-lane but there are no signs to indicate which direction has priority. I guess the chance that two vehicles arrive at the same bridge at the same time is so low as not to warrant the expense of a road sign.



The back road through Parque Nacional Los Alerches was poorly maintained in places, but this was more than compensated by vistas over a series of beautiful lakes. Its roads like these that make sense of travelling by dual purpose bikes - no tourist buses and few cars shared in this beautiful scenery, just a pair of red and yellow GS1150s.







And speaking of road signs, I noted that Facundo rarely slowed to 60 kph as we passed through towns. I asked if the “60” surrounded by a red circle limited our speeds to 60 kph. “No” he replied, “We can ride at 80”. I never figured this out. But I never got any speeding tickets either!

I found the roading priorities confusing. The day's ride included 20km of butter-smooth hot mix in the middle of nowhere, while only the main street of Trevilin was sealed. Barred shop and house windows and noisy motorbikes gave Trevilin a very different feeling to El Bolson. However, our hosts at the beautiful Hosteria Casa de Piedra were very welcoming.

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