Saturday, October 9, 2010

64. Returning Home: Reflections about the trip (05/20/08)

After 7 months on the road in Latin America I have now with some reluctance returned home to Des Moines, Iowa. It has been great to see my family and friends. Readjusting to a less action packed lifestyle is taking some getting used to but at the same time it is nice to relax in the confines of your own house (I mean my parents house; exciting! I know.). The combination of living poorly and almost biting the dust many times has made me realize that life is too short to hold grudges or worry about things that are not important.
(It took a million headaches first but I managed to sell the motorcycle in Paraguay. After many hours of detailing it came out pretty shiny.)

 There were many unique experiences on the trip. I toured a salmon farm, a helicopter forest fire operation, a silver mine (where the miners still use picks), a jewlery factory and many ancient ruin sites. In Bolivia I walked over the ground where the shootout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid took place. I drove the world's most dangerous road, detonated dynomite on cactus and rocks deep in Bolivia, hitchhiked the famed Carretera Austral in Chile and drove parts of Ruta 40 in Argentina. Some new meals included chicken hearts, fish heads, and intestines. It was my first time camping out under the  open stars. After losing my watch 2 times I became good at telling time using the sun. 

 So far, I have not missed my motorcycle at all. There were far too many days where I had to pretend to be MacGyver and try to fix a serious problem with hardly more than a swiss army knife, gum, and a paper clip. Problem after problem led to constant greasy hands and lots of bitching about the cost of BMW parts in South America. I did appreciate the durability of my motorcycle. Despite falling onto rocks, crashing at 40 mph, driving through rivers, and numerous falls it never changed the smooth handling or pull of the Rotax engine. (Note to motorcyclists: KLR's and XLR's are perfect for this trip! Do not bring a BMW!)

There have been a few times where I was very scared. In Colombia, my motorcycle broke down at dawn in the middle of no where and the military came by and warned that the area was unsafe. When walking the streets of Colon, Panama I left my helmet on until after I entered a shop because every 3rd local looked like he was recovering from a bar fight. In the Bolivian mountains I was surprised to hit the only patch of snow in fifty miles and be thrown 10 ft up in the air at 40 mph with cold asphalt to break my fall (enough force in the crash to bend my handlebar). When my chain broke on Ruta 40 I pushed the motorcycle for 3 hours until someone stopped to help. My advice to avoid some of these dangerous situations is pick a friend that you can run faster than and do the trip with him/her!

 Looking back on my trip the greatest thing about it has been the people I have met. In the beginning communication was difficult and my Spanish has not improved much but I can understand the jist of things now. People of all backgrounds helped me. There was the elderly lady who let me sleep on the floor of her 1 room house and than there was the owner of a jewlery chain who hosted me in his 5 bedroom penthouse condo. In Chile after being robbed of my tools, Rocky (an American helicopter pilot in Santiago) lent me his tools so I could finish my trip. A German couchsurfer in Paraguay spent many hours of his time answering phone calls, translating conversations, and doing research so that I could sell my motorcycle in Paraguay. Eduardo, a random motorcyclist in Argentina, let me stay at his house and helped me make inquiries on the day I was threatened by a police officer. There were also a lot of great motorcyclists from all around the world who I met on this trip. Now, I am trying to Pay It Forward and help out nearby travelers.

63. Exploring the Mennonite Colonies in Paraguay! (05/01/08)

My main reason for coming to Paraguay was to see the 3 Mennonite Colonies in the Chaco (the Northern largely uninhabited region of Paraguay). The first colony (Loma Plata) was started after Canadian Mennonites on a ship bound for Argentina in 1927, decided to change their destination to Paraguay after being invited by the Paraguayan President (who was on the same boat). Filadelfia was the next colony started in 1930 by Russian Mennonites (who left the Soviet Union to avoid the Bolshovik Revolution but ironically they ended up in the center of the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay only 2 years later), and than in 1947 came the Ukranian Mennonites (who came because many were forced to fight in WWII).

 At Klein Motors I met Alveroni who was a 26 year old Mennonite from Filadelfia who was having his motorcycle fixed too. He was a very nice guy and told me all about life in the colonies and about how many Mennonites are buying big motorcycles now (20 years back only small motorcycles could be found in the Chaco). Alveroni was studying to get a business degree in Asuncion (many Mennonites come here for their university). I told him that I was leaving the next day to visit the Chaco and he gave me the name of his friend Sander to call who had an Africa Twin.

I got up at 5 a.m. and took a 6 a.m. bus to the Chaco which did not arrive until 2 p.m. (only a 500 km stretch). It seemed like we stopped at every shack a long the road. After a couple hours on the bus I noticed that everyone on the bus was Indigenous which was strange because 95% of Paraguayans are Mestizos. It turned out that the Indigenous were commuting to their ranch jobs in the Chaco.

 Finally we pulled into Filadelfia and I went to call my contact Sander. He did not answer and I figured he was probably working and that I would try back at 6. I went to checkout the grocery store (The Fernheim Cooperative). It was a strange sight to see so many white people in South America and it was even stranger that they were speaking German! lol The store was full of freshly perpared German foods like Sausage, Bread, Cheese, and Dairy Products. I tried to buy a chocolate bar at the checkout but was frustrated to find out that only small tools were accepted as barter from travellers. Hahaha, just a joke, they did everything in cash.

 It took about 15 minutes to explore the city so I was forced to spend the rest of my time practicing Spanish in the nice park where the museum was. Filadelfia most likely has the nicest scenery/ public works of the 3 colonies but I did not see Neu-Halbstadt. I finally got a hold of Sander and we met at the grocery store (he works in importing there). Sander was a very nice guy and had pretty darn good English for someone whose only study time was a 3 week program in London. He took me to meet Edward, the town´s mayor who had lived in Canada.

 Ed was a good guy and had a perfect Canadian accent because of his family´s many moves back and forth to British Colombia when growing up.  He invited me for dinner with the family (his daughter and nephew) and we went to Hotel Florida to pick up fish and chips (typical Canadian meal). Ed explained that the fish ´Talapia` was a local river/pond fish that the locals raise. At first I was skeptical when he told me it was better than Cod or Halibut but I tried it and it was really good (not quite on the level of King´s Fair though).

 We than watched the Breakfast Club in English! I felt bad for Ed´s daughter and nephew because I do not think they knew English very well (good thing there were German subtitles at least). It had been a while since I had seen B.C. and it was great for some hard laughs. After the movie ended Ed asked me more in detail about my plan to sleep in the park. I think he was confused because I did not have a tent or jacket with me. In my excitement to leave for the Chaco I forgot to get these things from Klein Motos before they closed. Ed offered that I could sleep in his guest house and after a couple minutes I politely accepted as I realized how cold it was outside.

 Ed´s guest house was quite the place. His father in law had constructed it out of wood entirely by hand. The seams in the wood matched perfectly and you could definitely tell it was built by a carpenter. It had that cozy feeling that most log cabins have. There were North American mountain landscapes paintings. As I laid down in the comfy bed I thought to myself that "This is better than any of the hotels I have stayed at so far."
The next day I had to leave at 8 a.m. because Ed and his family were off to Church. I ate breakfast with Ed and met his wife. She was nice and was interested in all of the details of my trip because she worked in journalism I think. I showed Ed and his wife some pictures and than left so that they could leave to church.

 I went to wait in the park until 2:30 pm when I was supposed to meet up with Sander and see his ranch. Trying to study Spanish for 6 hours nearly killed me! Every hour I would walk to the grocery store and all the convenience stores to try and buy a chocolate bar but they were always closed. After a while I began to curse to myself and wonder what kind society could have their grocery store closed on a Thursday. (It turned out that it was May 1st, a national holiday for Paraguayans).

Finally at 2:30 I met with Sander and we left in his truck to do Ranch work for the rest of the day. We had to pick up 2 bulls and take them to the other side of Filadelfia so they could mate with the females (1 bull per 25 females!) lucky guys we joked! It was very interesting to see how the bulls were loaded on and off the truck. Sander shared his terere (minty flavored iced mate). In Paraguay the locals prefer to drink their mate cold because of how hot the Chaco is. Doing ranch work with Sander was my favorite experience from the Chaco.

 Later we went back to Sander´s house and met his nice wife and got to see his 2003 Honda Africa Twin that was in excellent condition. We had to drop the truck off at Sander´s dad´s house and Sander told me that I could follow him in his Honda and just to make sure I did not go over 70 km. Anxiously but nervously at the same time I went over and put the key in his Africa Twin. When Sander came out he explained that it was his 1980 Honda scooter that we were going to take (I had not seen it before). I was disappointed but relieved at the same time because I did not want to take any chances with such a nice motorcycle.

 Later Sander, his wife, and me went to Christian´s house and watched a video of Sander and Christian´s trip one weekend to ride dirt bikes with their friends. The video was very inspiring and I could no believe how skilled at riding they were. It made me feel like a newbie even know I had 25,000 miles logged on the trip so far. Body protection, other than wearing your helmet sometimes seems to be non existent in the Chaco. I was not surprised though because earlier I had already learned that no one wears seatbelts in the Chaco either.
After this video we watched another video of Sander and Alveroni´s trip to Brazil which was really incredible. They visited all the nice beaches and it looked like they had a great time using their bikes on the beaches. Watching this moto trip to Brazil has made me want to keep my motorcycle and do a trip to Brazil to sometime.

Sander arranged for me to travel back to Asuncion with his dad who was leaving to buy a BMW motorcycle (not mine unfortunately). I stayed at Sander´s house for the night and he woke me up at 4:00 am to go with his dad. For the first 5 seconds after waking up I was incredibly confused about where I was but than I remembered again. I thanked Sander and headed off with his dad for the short drive to Asuncion (4 hours by car).

62. Staying with Marco in Asuncion (04/27/08)

I have been staying with German couchsurfer Marco and his Brazilian girlfriend Chevone for the past 4 days now in Asuncion. Marco is 27 and has a few internet business´s that are pretty successful. He has lived in Paraguay for the past 2 and a half years. His apartment is very nice and has a great view of much of Asuncion including the River Paraguay.

Marco is helping me to get my bike fixed and sell it here. We put an ad in the classified paper here and at first I did not have any calls but tomorrow two men are coming to see the bike at the shop. Marco has recommended me the best motorcycle repair shop in Paraguay and so far I have been very impressed with their work. The name of the shop is Klein Motors and it is located on Espana. Tel. / Fax.: (59521) 660-531

I have been having a great time with Marco in Asuncion. We have gone out almost every night for dinner at a steak buffet place (Marco is vegetarian but he enjoys the selection of vegetables at these places). The Paraguayans are experts at preparing meats too. The best cut of meat to get here is Pecania.

61. Finally making it to Paraguay (04/25/08)

My first impression upon seeing Paraguay was "Oh no, it is Guatemala again!" I enjoyed Guatemala a lot but now that I am nearing the end of my trip it is getting hard to visit countries that lack many basic amenities. The outskirts of Ciudad del Este where the ferry from Argentina dropped me off was not too inviting. The wretched cobblestone road and seeing poor tiny shack after poor tiny shack gave me mixed feelings.

I went to buy some water at the grocery store and was very frustrated to see that my debit card was not in my wallet. I left the damn thing in an atm at Iguazu Falls. Luckily I lost it at this huge tourist destination and not in Ciudad del Este. I immediately went to look for a Casa de Cambio so I could change my US and Uruguay money for Paraguayan money. The search ended up taking 2 hours because I had no idea where the city was and the locals where I was did not seem to know either. After much head scratching I luckily stumbled on the main part of the city.

 The surprising thing about Paraguay is that for as poor as it looks the country is relatively expensive. When touring the chocolate and cookie section of the super market I noticed that there are no local brands and that almost every product is imported. The gas prices are comparable to Uruguay which was about 2x as expensive as Argentina.
                                      (ITAIPU Hydroelectric Dam, one of the largest in the world.)

The views on the highway from Ciudad del Este to Asuncion were very good. It reminded me a lot of the way Colombia looks. It was nice to see the farms, kids playing soccer, and old men riding horses. It
seems like all the action takes place near the road because there are no other paved roads. The drivers kept getting progressively worse though.

60. Making a good friend in Curuzu Cuatia, Argentina (04/23/08)

Driving into Curuzu Cuatia, Argentina I was still a little shaken up from having the gun pointed in my face. I decided that the best thing to do was to use the internet and write my parents and motorcycle buddies to let them know what happened before I made any report. In the internet cafe a man came up and introduced himself and asked me about my trip. His name was Eduardo Longo and he was member of the local motorcycle club "The Coyotes."

We talked for a bit and he asked me where I was staying and I told him that I was camping. Eduardo offered to let me stay at his house and I kindly accepted right away which maybe seemed a bit awkward but I was scared of corrupt police officers looking for me. We agreed to meet in an hour so that I could finish my internet. An hour later Eduardo showed up with a very modified 250cc Harley looking type motorcycle. It was interesting to see all of the gadgets he had on his bike music player, sirens, lights, skull with lights in its eyes, etc.

Eduardo had a very nice family. There was Norma his wife and 2 daughters Erika and Kathleen. They offered me tea, milk, or mate and were happy that I chose Mate. We ate a nice dinner and I told Eduardo about my problem with the police and he said that it would be best to wait and talk to his English speaking friends the next day. That night I slept like a rock and I was very thankful that I was in a safe place for the night after the incident earlier.

We talked to the friends of Eduardo the next day and they told me that the best thing to do was to make a report with the Federal Police in Posadas (because I was going to Paragauy). Eduardo´s friends were very nice. It was a large family who lived on a military base and the father and mother both spoke English. The mother had lived in Texas when she was a child so her English was very good. The father and one of the sons have a rock band and their music sounds pretty good. The name of the group is Rompan Fila and you can find a video of them on youtube.

Eduardo made a really good 'asado´ (like barbeque but cooked on a different sort of grill). Argentinians really know how to make good meat. I think they are probably the best at it in the world but I have never been to Europe, Asia, or Africa. Before lunch I studied Spanish while Eduardo´s daughters studied English. They thought my Spanish responses to questions in my workbook were funny. They had a Spanish/English dictionary and it was nice to look up words I did not know again.

Eduardo helped me work on my bike and we got it pretty shiny after a couple of hours. He knew a journalist who came and interviewed me about my experience with the police. The next day Eduardo had to go to work early so I woke up early too and got ready to leave for Paraguay. We drank some mate and I thanked Eduardo very much for all of his help and than set off on my motorcycle.
BTW (for motorcyclists): If you will be passing through Curuzu Cuatia and want to contact Eduardo you can reach him at Tel (03774) 423727 or Cell (03774) 15637709.

59. Uruguay getting the economy tour and having a gun pointed in my face in Argentina (04/22/08)

After finally crossing the border at 12 pm the next day I was on a mission to make it to Montevideo as quickly as possible. Unfortunately my picture taking suffered greatly for this and I missed taking photos of some beautiful farms and scenic landscapes. It took 6 hours to make it to Montevideo and when I finally arrived the sun was setting so I had to do my best to take photos fast. After some procrastination I decided to call my friend Sebastian and possibly stay another day in Montevideo to explore.

BTW: (For Motorcyclists) There is a ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and I recommend taking it because it is much faster and you do not have to double back (The price is $50 I think). Right now the Fray Bentos border crossing is out because they are rebuilding the bridge. If you want to drive you have to drive all the way up to Paysandu and cross there. The best option is to take the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento and than drive 2 hours to get to B.A. This is the least expensive and also will have the best scenery I think.

 Sebastian was not there so I decided to camp the night in Montevideo and head back to Argentina the next day (I did not have my tourist visa for Brazil yet). Unfortunately I missed out on one of the most beautiful places in Uruguay: Punta del Este. The drive from Montevideo to Punta del Este has spectacular ocean views.
I camped for the night in Montevideo at a marina and set up my tent next to the shacks of some friendly fishermen. The next day I woke up at dawn and set off for Argentina. I made great time but hardly took a single photo. The riding was utterly painful because I was so down. I crossed the border at Salto into Argentina but I do not recommend crossing it here because the roads from Tacuarembo were very bad with many dangerous turns and sudden changes from pavement to dirt in poorly marked construction sites. It would have been faster to drive from Tacuarembo back to Paysandu and cross there.

 After crossing into Argentina things were going fine until I was stopped at a police checkpoint on Ruta 14 km 341. The officer who stopped me asked to check my papers and than asked me in Spanish if I had the required fire extinguisher. I did not understand so he took me to his car and showed me a fire extinguisher in the back and than took me to the office and showed me a form that said fire extinguishers were required for motorcyclists.
I was very skeptical about whether this was real or not but I did not question him and thought there was a chance that he would just give me a warning. Five minutes later he told me that I would have to pay a fine. After arguing for 10 minutes I asked how much the fine was and he pulled out the fine paper but it did not have a price listed on it. I watched as the officer wrote 1200 pesos. I asked him where the punto  (point) was and he told me that it was 1200 pesos ($400 US). Who did this guy think I was with dirty hands, messy hair, and a beat up stitch jacket?

 After hearing 1200 pesos all doubt in my mind was gone that this was a real regulation. I told the officer that I had never seen a local motorcycle with a fire extinguisher and that it would be very dangerous to carry a pressurized canister on a motorcycle. He responded by making the handcuff gesture multiple times. I asked to see his identification and he told me that I could read what his name was from a stamp that he was going to use on my fine. I told him to show me his wallet but he refused and made the handcuff gesture again. At this point I was really starting to get fed up and I asked for my passport back. The officer told me that he was going to keep it and lock me up. I told him that your passport in private property and no police or immigration official has the right to withhold it from you. He than left the room and I took it back off the desk.

 When the officer returned he asked me for the 10th time how I was going to pay for the ticket. I told him the same old that I did not have any money and he made the handcuff gesture again. Having had enough of this crap I put my hands out for him to put the handcuffs on and asked to make my phone call (I am not sure if you get a phone call after being arrested in Argentina, but I figure you must). He told me that there was no phone call and than took out the handcuffs like he was going to put them on, but than told me to leave.
I walked out of the station taking note of the license plate number of the car inside and when I got back to my motorcycle I took out a pen and wrote the number on my hand. The officer had been watching me from inside and ran out and told me to go back to the bathroom to wash it off. I went to the bathroom and the officer followed me in and closed the door behind him. He took my helmet and threw it on the ground. Than he pulled out his gun and pointed it at my face. I knew that he was going to shoot me but it is still pretty scary to have a loaded gun pointed in your face. I made ducking actions and some fake cry moans. He told me that I better forget this happened.

 I walked back to my motorcycle still remembering the numberS FVK364 (still remember from memory now) and left slowly doing my best to be really scared. I decided that I better wait a good while before stopping and writing the numbers again. After about 10 miles I noticed that it seemed like a suspicious truck was following me very closely for a long time, but it was hard to say whether he was a friend of the police or just a bad driver. After 2 hours of driving I finally stopped in Curuzu Cuatia and wrote the numbers down.

58. The Long Drive to Uruguay (04/20/07)

The Blues were hitting me hard driving to Uruguay. Since Bolivia I had become progressively more home sick. Riding ten hours a day so frequently can quickly become monotonous.

The drive to Uruguay was relatively uneventful until I got within 50 miles of the border and started to enter thicker and thicker smoke from forest fires. The previous day in Buenos Aires I had seen a lot of smoke on the streets and I heard it was from forest fires, but had no idea that they were here. Breathing became hard after an hour and I became nervous after not seeing another motorcyclist for 30 minutes. Fortunately the smoke improved and so did my breathing as I neared the border crossing.

 Crossing the Uruguayan border I did not expect to have any problems. Just before reaching the border a police officer signalled me to pull over and check my papers. As I pulled out my papers from their plastic cover I began to panic when I noticed that the temporary drivers permit was missing. "How the heck do you lose your most important document I asked myself?" The police officer told me that I would need to go to the station with him and pay 100 pesos to get a new one. Not trusting him I told him that I did not have any money because I was about to cross the border and get Uruguay money. He told me that I would need it to cross the border and that if I had 50 pesos he could get it for me. I told him again that I was out of money and that I would stop at the next town and get money. (Looking back at the situation I think the officer was probably just trying to help me out.)

 Once I reached the aduana all the problems began. I used my normal story for the few times that I have been in deep trouble with immigration/aduana and told the officials that I was robbed and the theives stole my papers. Having time beforehand to think about my story helped and I decided to use the actual story of when I got robbed in La Rioja. It made sense that the title and registration to my bike were only copies (the original color copies had been taken by the police in Colombia) but it also looked suspicious that I did not have any real documents to prove the bike was mine.
Unluckily, I got the customs guy who was straight out of Nazi Germany or Franco´s Spain. He was one of those people who was determined to make your life harder. For thirty minutes I talked with this officer and he kept telling me that I better call my parents (as if they could help me in this situation). Than he finally said that the best thing for me to do was to drive back to La Rioja and have the police issue me new papers.

 Luckily, the night shift of aduana officials showed up (made up of younger guys 20-25) and they new good English and were able to explain some of the concerns that my Nazi customs official I had, ie. why I had Canadian citizenship but the bike was from the U.S. The young officials looked through my passport and were able to find the Rio Gallegos entrance stamp that the other guy could not. They told me that they would call Rio Gallegos to get an email copy of my paper and that in the morning I could leave. After about 12 hours of waiting at the aduana station I was finally on the road again. (It turns out I left my customs paper inside a map at Veronica´s grrr)

57. The Argentina BMW Motorcycle Club (04/11/08)

While trying to work on my bike at the parking garage a motorcyclist named Lucas came up and introduced himself. He was the secretary of the BMW Motorcylce Club Buenos Aires. After telling him about my trip I told him that I had spent the whole day in vain searching for the BMW dealer in Buenos Aires (Costanera y Salguero: It is North of the Domestic airport several blocks past the polo stadium). Lucas offered to tow me to the club´s garage where the club´s president Horatio could help me change the cable.
The next day Lucas used his big Moto Guzzi and my trusty rope (I have used the rope I bought in Nicaraugua for so many things (to secure the bike on ships/trucks, to fasten my extra fuel, for the towing of a SUV in Bolivia, and etc.) to tow my bike 30 blocks in downtown Buenos Aires.

Towing motorcycles was very dangerous. I have towed trucks before so I thought it would not be that difficult. With motorcycles the danger comes when turning or slowing down (lots of this when in a city). The tow rope rubs against the tire when you try to turn and makes the turn difficult. The real danger was the sudden stops though because I almost ran over the tow ropes several times which would have made the motorcycle tip over and be dragged on the ground.

 We finally made it to the club´s garage where I met Horatio (the club´s president). He was a very nice man and had a few projects in his city parking garage including a cool old Mercury. In 5 minutes Horatio changed out my clutch cable (I think I could do it on my own now, but not in 5 minutes, lol). It was great to talk about motorcycles with Horatio and Lucas for 30 minutes. The garage parking attendant mentioned how nice the comraderie is between motorcyclists. It is what makes motorcycling so great. Most times a Harley rider can have a friendly conversation with a Ducati rider and they can respect eachothers different tastes. Motorcycle ownership ownership is everything that car ownership is not.

56. Hanging out in Buenos Aires (04/06/08)

For the last week I have been hanging out in Buenos Aires hoping for the miracle that I can sell the motorcycle in Argentina. The regulations here say that the new owner must pay 100% of the purchase price for import taxes and also wait 1 year for the patenda (title). In Paraguay the regulations were just changed to make it cheap to legalize big motorcycles. The nasty thing about Paraguay for North Americans is that there is a $110 U.S. tourist visa that you have to apply for in Buenos Aires by handing over your passport for 3 days to the Paragauyan Immigration (they are the only country that does this and I just got done reading the story of an American guy who noticed his picture had been sliced open on his passport).

 For the first few days here I stayed with a great couchsurfer named Ale. She is the first girl couchsurfer that I have stayed with. At Ale´s place I met 2 other couchsurfers (Sabastian from Urugauy) and (Amy from Canada). The three of us went to eat at the raw food restaurant that Sabastian had been studying in for the last 2 weeks so he could start a raw food restaurant in Uruguay.

I have met up with a coulpe of friends that I made in Ushuaia (Veronica and Austin). They live in Ricoleta (the Beverly Hills of B.A.). Hanging out with them has been really fun and is making it hard to leave Buenos Aires. Something nice about Buenos Aires is that it is a mega city like New York but the people here are very laid back and willing to talk to eachother).

55. The Dash for the Cash- driving from Perito Moreno to Buenos Aires (04/02/08)

Riding a motorcycle for so long has started to take its toll on me. Driving in a straight line through terrain that looks like Nebraska has not helped to reinterest me in riding. Having something break or fall off the bike has not been good for morale either.
The mechanic in Perito Moreno ghetto fixed my chain by hammering 2 of the pins out and replacing the damaged links with new ones (I had extras). It took an arguement to get him to use o-rings when he reinstalled the pins. For the first pin he was able to get the o-rings on with a few minutes of fiddling, but the last pin had to be hammered in while on the bike (it is very time consuming to mount a non connecting link chain on a F650). I gave the mechanic permission to hammer the pin in by using the back of the axle bolt as a platform for hammering. I do not think it did any damage to the bike but it can not be a good idea to hammer on a part that is used for making adjustments.
Unfortunately it turned out to be impossible to put the o-rings on the last link. As I headed off for Comodoro Rivadavia I decided that I would oil the chain every hour just to be safe. Fortunately I pulled into CR without incident and than looked for half an hour trying to find a place to camp. The city was founded after oil was discovered in the early 1900´s and camping was very difficult because of the barren ground of the region.
I finally found a soccer field that looked like a great camping spot but kids were practicing on the field at 9:00 pm! They really take soccer (football) seriously here. As I waited for practice to end a man came up and introduced himself. The soccer complex turned out to be a club and this man (Nicolas Lamas) was head of the club. After asking me what I was up to he kindly offered to let me sleep inside in the club´s gym with my motorcycle. I took him up on his kind offer and he showed me the gym. He had some water boiling and It felt so great to be inside a warm building drinking ¨¨mate.¨ Nicolas told me it would be okay to send other motorcyclists his way, so here is the info (Club Deportivo Prospero Palazzo is in Chubut which is a section in Northern Comodoro Rivadavia, address: Juan Jose DAS0751, Note: The turn off on highway 3 for the club is at the top of a hill with a gas station at the top of the hill. The turn off is towards the ocean. Drive for 8 blocks, turn right and go 2 blocks and ask where the soccer fields are.)
The next day of driving was very productive (nothing like sleeping on a bed (I mean gym mat) after 2 weeks of camping). The following day I got off to a good start but I ran into a police roadblock at 10:00 am. There was a group of men protesting around a buring car right next to the police and I assumed that the highway closure was due to this protest. I chatted with the police and he kept telling me that the road was closed because of an accident and to take a detour. Other people drove around the roadblock and continued down the highway while he told me this. Unfortunately I neglected to take his advice and drove an hour up the highway to come up on a leaking chemical truck.
It was interesting to watch as Hazmat workers in there protective suits worked on the spill. At first I was nervous about breathing in the chemicals but than I realized the wind was blowing it the other direction. I waited 2.5 hours while they pumped the liquid into another truck and cleared the road. The chemical spill ruined my dream of pulling into Buenos Aires while it was still light out and taking pictures.

54. Meeting a fellow Yank motorcyclist in Coyhaique (03/30/08)

I have spent a couple of nights in Coyhaique trying to find a part for my motorcycle. The city does not quite meet my expectations from the Lonely Plant description but it has still been worth seeing despite being touristy. Unfortunately, Coyhaique has no motorcycle shops and there was only one motorcycle mechanic in town ¨Pablo¨ but he did not have any spare parts. At Pablo´s shop I met Will, a guy from Oregon riding a Honda XR 250 that he bought in Chile. Will and I hung out as we waited for Pablo to work on our problems. We went to the grocery store and bought 40´s of Quedate and drank them on the sidewalk outside the grocery store.
                                     (Large blankets of plants used to secure the steep hillsides.)

 Will was a 26 year old artist who had just broken up with his girlfriend and had been wanting to do this trip for a while. He told me that his last job was doing maitenance on the Pacific Northwest Trail. He has a blog section about his trip on his website We talked about motorcycles for a long time and he wanted to know all of the things that I would do differently if I did the trip again.
(Near Coyhaique they use these giant sheets of fertilizer/seed bags to secure the steep banks around the highway.)

53. From Motorcyclist to Hitchhiker (03/29/08)

Unfortunately the chain to my motorcycle broke again at the connecting link. It left me stranded 130 kilometers South of Perito Moreno on Ruta 40. This is the third time in a month that I have had a connecting link break. The last two times it made sense because my chain had close to 20,000 miles but this chain and sprockets only has 3,000 miles.

When I figured out that there was nothing I could do to fix the bike I started to push the bike along Ruta 40 to the next town which was 30 kms away. Wow was it depressing as I pushed my 400 lbs bike down the road at about 1 mph. About 5 vehicles drove by in 3 hours. Luckily the 5th one was a truck and it stopped to give me a lift to Perito Moreno.
                                                        (L-R Juan, Alfraedo, their friend)
 The two guys in the truck were cooks who were on there way back from working for a few months at one of the mines in Patagonia. There names were Alfraedo and Juan. Luckily Juan knew about motorcycles so loading the bike on to the truck and fastening it went rather smoothly. When we made it to Perito Moreno Alfraedo and Juan dropped me off at a Gomeria behind the YPF gas station. I gave them some gas money and thanked them for helping me out.

The mechanic at the Gomeria (They call mechanic shops Gomerias here! It gave me a pretty big laugh the first time I saw it in Argentina. gomer!) told me that the only way he could fix the chain without a connecting link was to remove the connecting link and weld in one of the spare links that came with my chain. After checking on it seems that this idea will work but only for 2-3 days of riding.

Looking for an excuse to see the Caterra Austral I decided to hitchhike to Coyhaique and look for a conncecting link there. It was very strange to hitchhike for my first time. On my second vehicle I got lucky and the truck driver pulled over. After opening the door to the 18 wheeler my first impression was ¨Oh no, this guy looks like a serial killer,¨ but luckily his looks were deceiving and he turned out to be a nice guy. He told me that he had a family of 8 kids (grown up) in Commodoro Rivadavia. The suspension on his truck was completely shot. It was easy to tell as the cab jumped all over the place that this guy was mainly driving the truck on gravel roads.

 Getting to Coyhaique took a few more rides. The people I talked to were very interesting and now I understand why the hitchhiker´s have much better Spanish that the motorcyclists. Most of the time hitchhiking was like a huge Spanish lesson. The last guy I hitchhiked with was a biologist at a Pumalin National Park and it was hilarious because he was 100% hippy. He had hippy necklaces, hippy food, and hippy music. He was surprised that I did not recognize his Pink Floyd music. I can not say that I am a huge fan of PF now but it was kind of a cool experience to listen to their music as we drove through spectacular mountain and lake landscapes.

52. Going to El Calafate and changing my mind about the Caterra Austral (03/25-04/02/08)

Driving back from Ushuaia I knew that I better at least see the Moreno Glacier near El Calafate because so many people told me it was amazing. The glacier there was truly amazing. You have to pay a $15 entrance fee to get into the park but the fee worth it because the road was great, the walkways to see the glacier was great, and the park was very beautiful also. It was nice to see that they are working to make the road better and also doing new construction on the walkways. All national parks should be run like this one.
Dscf2836I did not think that I would enjoy the glacier at first because I had seen a gigantic ocean glacier in Alaska before. Seeing this gigantic land glacier was very unique though. The glacier formed between a small row of mountains and has been slowly stretching down into the lake below for thousands of years. If you watch the glacier long enough you will witness some pretty big chunks of ice falling into the water below.
Dscf2837Being this far West in Argentina and knowing how bad the scenery is on Highway 3 up to Commodoro Rivadavia I have decided to drive North to Tres Lagos on Ruta 40 (the road is almost completely paved) and head North for Perito Moreno where I will cross the border for Chile Chico  and drive North on the Caterra Austral. (North of Tres Lagos on Ruta 40 there was no pavement until 100 km´s South of Perito Moreno.
Dscf2842The frame to one of my panniers broke again in El Calafate but luckily I found a good welding shop and had the break fixed. The name of the shop is ¨El Garage¨ and the owners are Sergio and Raul who are very nice guys. They had a friend named Santiago who knew English and I talked with him for a long time. This gomeria has a the best view out of the ones I have visited so far.
(The garage is located on Valentin Feilberg 364. It is on the other side of the grocery store and a drive up the hill for a little ways. Phone 02902-491982)

51. Yes Ushuaia at last!(03/23-27/08)

A quick 3 days of riding only paved roads got me to Ushuaia. I wanted to get there fast because the weather was getting very cold and riding in the snow was my greatest fear. The 3 days of riding were very painful because it rained the whole time and to my disappointment the majority of Patagonia looks like Nebraska.
Once you get to Tierra del Fuego you have to make 2 mandatory crossings into Chile in order to get to Ushuaia. If I had known this ahead of time I might have just skipped Chile! (Just joking) Chile was beautiful but everything was so damn expensive there. ($6 U.S. for gas, $1 for 12 ounce pop, $15-20 hostels).
(Tip: Make sure and stock up on groceries at the Carrefour in Rio Grande because the prices are much better there than the grocery stores in Ushuaia).

 It was not until Rio Grande that I got to the beautiful part of Patagonia which is full of forests and wildlife. This 100 mile stretch of road to get to Ushuaia is probably one of the most beautiful that I have seen. The land is truly unmolested besides the trails from ATV´s and dirtbikes every few miles. Until now I have not had any negative experiences with ATV riders.
The ATV riders I experienced in Patagonia were truly stupid. I think that maybe they were having some kind of event that day because they were everywhere a long the road. Instead of parking their trucks and cars away from the road they park them right next to the highway in long lines and than expected every passing vehicle to slow down to 20 kph.

I was surprised to see an oncoming ambulance with its lights on and a convoy of 10 trucks following it (driving on both sides of the road). I understand comraderie but this was just plain dumb. They were making the highway dangerous.

Ushuaia was a very beautiful city but unfortunately I did not get to see the city in all of its beauty for 2 days because it rained so much. My tent, sleeping bag, and boots all got soaked in the rain. The drive down to Ushuaia was a true test on my imune system but fortunately I never got sick.
                              (About 8 layers of clothing and you really look like you gained 50lbs)
 While in Ushuaia I visited a nice glacier with friends from Buenos Aires that I met the day before. We took a taxi to get to glacier that was on a mountain right next to the city. I was surprised to see another ¨Salcar¨ sticker on the window of the chairlift building. These stickers were from Salvador, the nice guy I stayed with in Nicaragua who made the same trip 2 years earlier. At first the weather was poor at the glacier and we thought about turning back but it is a good thing we did not because on the way down the snow stopped and the clouds went away leaving an amazing view of the city below.

 The day after my arrival to Ushuaia I made sure to try and call/email everyone who helped me out on my trip. It was really great to talk to the mechanic in Honduras who helped me fix my air filter. It was also nice to thank all the great couchsurfers I have stayed with. Unfortunately, I lost many phone numbers and emails and I just wanted to say thank you on here to anyone I did not personally thank. 

 I met a nice guy from Buenos Aires named Jota at the internet cafe and we hung out at his hostel for a couple of days. At the hostel I met a lot of people that Jota had made friends with and they were all really nice too. This hostel was amazing. It overlooks the water with a nice view of the mountains, has a great log cabin type construction on the inside, and his located right in the heart of downtown Ushuaia. The cost was $15 U.S. a night and it comes with a free breakfast. The staff was friendly and helpful even despite me not being a customer. The name of the hostel is Free Style Backpacker´s Hostel and here is a link to reviews of it.

 It was pretty hard to leave Ushuaia because I had made good friends and there was so much to do. Not wanting to be driving on ice and snow was what made me leave. To do the trip over again I would try to arrive in January or Febuary and spend a couple of weeks hiking there.

50. The Chilean Darien Gap (03/12-19/08)

After leaving Valdivia, I headed South for Puerto Montt where my plan was to head Southeast along the mainland where I heard that there was a dirt road connecting North and South Chile together. Two days of driving and a ferry fee later it turned out that there was no road as the dirt road I was on abruptly ended and hour past Hornopiren.
 (Here a man flyfishes in a beautiful river. I took this on to make my flyfishing guru friend Philip jealous.)

Frustrated, I returned to Puerto Montt and tried to make up my mind about whether to head an hour North to Osorno or to head South to Paragua and cross over to the Island of Chiloe. I knew the ferry fee was $70 from Chiloe to the mainland and that it would probably be a couple days wait to catch it.

 In Puerto Montt I decided to look for some coolant for my leaky radiator. As I was walking into a small hardware store a German Shepard jumped out of the back of a truck and bit me in the back of the leg. I yelled out in pain not knowing what had happened. Once I figured out it was the dog that bit me the first thing I thought was ¨Rabies!¨ Luckily I had 3 layers of pants on because it was so cold and the bite only left a few bad scratches. For the rest of the day I had a bad limp because the dog bit bit me right on the thigh.

 Unfortunately, I chose to head South to the Island of Chiloe. I camped outside the city of Castro in the back of a large Morton building that was next to a gas station. Inspecting the bike with a flashlight I looked at my badly cracked frame from tough dirt riding the previous day. My pannier was being held on to the bike with fishing rope that a truck driver gave me on the ferry. Luckily the morton building turned out to be a welding repair shop for hydraulic cranes on fishing boats. The owner was a nice guy and welded my frame nicely in no time.

I drove South to Quellon where I learned that I had just missed the ferry and would have to wait 4 days for the next one. Four days! I could not understand why the ferry only left 2 times a week when there was no road over the mainland. (BTW: The ferry from Quellon to Chaiten leaves Wednesday and Sundays at 2 p.m. but is frequently late) Now I understand that all of the big trucks and the locals take the ferry directly from Puerto Montt to Chaiten (I think it is about the same price and it leaves frequently)

 I camped for 4 days in Quellon and luckily there was a nice family who took me in because it rains all the time in Quellon. Camping in the rain is never fun. The family was actually 2 families that were living in the same house because 1 family was waiting on the windows to be installed on there newly constructed house next door. They let me sleep in the house without windows and I have never been more happy to have a roof over my head.

They fed me meals and I gave me mate to drink. The meals were very good but I had to refuse on one of them because I think it was intestines of a cow in a bowl! I told the family I was vegetarian but than I remembered that I had eated chicken with them for lunch the previous day. Luckily they were not offended. Finally it was time for my ferry to leave and I thanked the family and headed down to the docks with my motorcycle.

 The ferry was late and would not be leaving until the next night. Being fed up with Chile I decided that it would be better to drive back up to Osorno and cross into Argentina. The scenery is very pretty a long this route and I would recommend not crossing at the Island of Chiloe because the scenery is better near Bariloche and you will not be waiting for ever in an expensive country where 1 liter of coolant costs $7.50 U.S. From Bariloche you can drive South to Tecka on paved roads and than head West from Tecka to Parque Nacional Los Alerces and drive South on the Caterra Austral (The Caterra Austral is mostly unpaved and not too easy in some parts with big lose gravel.

Friday, October 8, 2010

49. Staying in Valdivia, Chile with Cristian (03/09-11/08)

It took me 2 days to get from Rancagua to Valdivia because my motorcycle started to leak oil and I had to take half of the motorcycle apart so I could re-torque the head bolts. Valdivia is a beautiful port town located just above the Patagonia region. I had arranged to stay with a couchsurfer named Cristian there.
Cristian turned out to be a very nice guy and his family were also great people. They took me in from the freezing cold and made me feel like I was at home. Cristian`s dad was a firefighter and his mom was a business administrator.  They had some very interesting family stories.

Cristian`s dad had been a fire fighter for more than 30 years and he was the 3rd generation in his family to serve in the Chilean fire fighting service (which is solely made up of volunteers). Twenty years ago Cristian`s dad was driving late on a winter night to pick up his wife from work when he noticed a group of people around a bridge trying to convince a young girl not to jump off the bridge into the freezing water. His dad got out of the truck just as the girl jumped in, but he jumped in after her and saved her life. He never told anyone about the story, but after a few weeks people realized that it was him and the fire apartment awarded him the highest medal you can recieve in Chile.

Cristian also told me that 2 years ago his parents were driving home in the night when a drunk came speeding around a corner on the wrong side of the road and ran into his parents car. The car hit them on the driver´s side and Christian´s dad was knocked unconscious. His mom was fine with no injuries but she had a brain anyeurism the next day. The doctors gave her a 2% success chance for having brain surgery. Cristian´s dad told them to do the surgery and amazingly his mom recovered fully a couple days later just before Christmas.

Cristian and I drove on my motorcycle to see the old Spanish forts that surround the coast in a circle at the navigable inlet on the ocean. It was really interesting to see a 300 year old fort that was in very good condition with many of the original cannons still resting in the same spot after hundreds of years. The way the ports were positioned the cannons could hit any location between the inlet which was pretty big at about 1500 yards across. On the way back from the fort we made a video of the motorcycle ride.