North to San Jose

Argentina0069Very cold morning, up and out of Mordor through the greasy slimy mountain roads, half asleep and freezing, riding directly into the morning sun, easy! Out of Argentina and into Chile towards the piste again. Customs say there is a crash, the road is blocked and we need to take a 100 mile diversion round some worse piste, I just can’t think of anything better. Just as we hit the piste someone gets another puncture. Between us we have about 100 different puncture kits and we try them all – no luck. We take the wheel off, then the tyre and patch it from the inside, put it back together but still no luck. bw0050The puncture is bad and it has pushed some of the metal banding through which seems to be thwarting all the attempts to fix it. Wait for the backup truck and change the tyre. Now it’s getting dark and we’ve not started the 100 mile piste yet. I’m sort of getting used to this now but I’m still not as confident or fast as the others and it’s still a very very scary experience. My old bike is taking a battering and a fork seal has blown now to add to it’s woes. 100 fraught and tense miles later and the front wheel kisses the tarmac again as the sun says goodnight, perfect. Over the Magellan straights again on the ferry then a quick squirt through customs, onto Rio Gallegos and horizontal bliss.

bw0051Head west today to Calafate and the biggest fuck off glacier I’ve bw0057ever seen. Into the national park and its lakes lakes and more beautiful lakes. They look like someone has washed big blue paintbrushes in them. They’re absolutely stunning and the most piercing I think I’ve ever seen. Out to the glacier, OK, it’s big… very VERY BIG. Scales are difficult to describe but when lumps fall off it they make a sound like thunder claps. Like a HUGE big feck off penny shove machine, the millions of tonnes of ice are slowly pushed down to the lake, then fracture and finally drop. It’s an incredible site at the face. A lot of the glaciers I’ve seen are moving so slowly that they are grubby and brown at the face but this is absolutely amazing, a truly incredible sight. Back into Calafate aka Disneyland. These places seem to be ordered in kit form, all identikit wooden buildings like every ski resort you’ve ever been to and it’s all a bit fake to me. Within a few miles there are people living in poverty in ramshackle buildings eating mud and worms. Out to rough camp tonight. Ride a few miles out of town, find a bend in the river out of the wind and throw up the tents.

Argentina0103What’s the date today? April 1st. French try to stick fish to peoples backs, English try to make people look foolish, Argentina tries (and in some cases succeeds) to blow bikers clean off their steely steads. I’m beginning to think that South America is mother nature’s weather testing station. When it comes to wind, today seems to be the main event, it’s absolutely mental. First 80 miles, new tarmac, leaning at unnatural angles even in a straight line, cornering on a knife edge as the bike is rudely shoved. You know those films you see where there is a huge explosion and people are swept off their feet, well it feels like that, but constant. I seriously consider just stopping as it’s too dangerous and its difficult to keep the bike on the road. Faster makes it slightly easier as the momentum is more difficult to dislodge but the even stronger gusts and eddies caused by the surrounding mountains make the whole thing completely unpredictable and shit scary.

bw0058Round a corner at about 80 over a brow and FUUUUUUUCCK. The piste arrives immediately without warning. My arse attaches to the saddle like a sucker fish and I weave and slew to a more reasonable speed before regaining the ability to breathe. This is the start of the infamous Ruta 40. If 4 is an unlucky number in some cultures then this is 10 times as unlucky. Piste, deep deep gravel, heavily cambered and what we estimate to be an 70-80mph constant crosswind… with gusts you just cannot stand up in. Today is a day I’d like to wipe from my memory, it might take some time to wipe if from my bottom though. I had the full brass band playing all day long. We managed only 100 miles before it became unridable. I saw someone in front just simply blown straight off their bike and into the ditch, nothing he could do about it at all, like being TBoned by a wind lorry.

Argentina0108We parked the bikes on stands directly into the wind, it was impossible any other way. You could not get off your bike if you stopped at any way tangental to the wind, it just pushed the bike straight over. One of the BMWs got blown over..not just onto it’s side… but fully somersaulted 360 degrees and rolled down a bank like a toy Absolutely mentalist. I came off once and dropped it twice, just at a standstill. You couldn’t even raise one leg to put it in gear else you’d be on your arse in a second. I’ve never experienced anything like it. There were bikes down everywhere all day long, lots of damage and tired riders trying to pick up their bike for the umpteenth time. We try to ride down the more compacted tracks left by the cars but it’s like riding on a two foot wide plank at 40mph while american football players practice their ‘interference’ moves on you, like a motorised version of some suicidal japanese TV show. I don’t mind admitting I was absolutely shit scared. I’ve done a few miles in very bad conditions but none as bad as this. In the end we just have to camp, we’re going nowhere in this.

Drive out from the campsite and bugger me if there isn’t tarmac 1/2 a mile up the road, lovely lovely tarmac. I love tarmac, I love it completely and utterly. Its smooth black grippyness, it’s gentle curves and its secure grip. The tarmac only lasts for 30 miles though, then back to piste we go. I’ve had enough of this now. My sense of humour got off the bike, unpacked it’s stuff from the panniers and walked off into the wilderness. Dunno when I’ll see that again. 70 miles of rough stuff later to a fuel station.. or rather a station… no fuel.. well not for sale to anyone not local anyway. Next delivery 4 weeks. Ummmmm, things just get better and better. There is lovely cafe at the station and we sit in the warm and refuel the bodies. We’re waiting a while before the backup vehicle arrives, busted. One of the track rods has a problem.bw0063Argentina0115 One of the riders behind us has had a BIG off too. 75 and down. One busted KTM, one very battered rider. I’ve seen sheets less white than he is. He was doing 75 on the tarmac and didn’t see the change to piste. 75, out of control and off, instantly a dustball hitting a signpost with his head and flying down the road, luckily the post was wood else the outcome could have been very different. He looks like Casper as he hobbles out the truck and in to get some sugar in his body. I thought there was tarmac here but apparently not. Not for another 200k. I’m sitting here in a lovely safe warm cafe, desperately looking for a teleporter. I’ve put my waiting head on…

We wait until the wind is back up to full strength and the sun is beginning it’s descent before we head off, seems a good idea don’t you think. Piste is really really bad, deep and with really big stones amongst it, often with the wash from flash rivers left in piles across it. Only thing that could make this worse would be rain… anyway, as we ascend into the rain the ground gets muddy, rutty and very very slippery. Argentina0125The only thing that could make it worse would be snow… anyway, as it soon turns from rain to snow as we go on further. Snow, gravel, mud, road tyres, per fucking fecto. It’s getting towards late afternoon. The sun is setting fast. There is a road under construction so we climb on to that. Thing is, the road comes to a bridge, under construction. Lets play guess the next move. Do we A) turn around and use the remaining daylight to get to the next town & a hotel on the piste or do we B) Let some loon try and jump the bridge, drop a meter and snap their chain, just as the sun is going down in the middle of absolutely flecking nowhere. Now don’t be hasty, it’s not really that obvious is it? I mean why would we take option B? Who would do such a thing?… OK, so we’ve no backup vehicle, we’ve not much daylight and we’ve only got a few tools, and we’ve only got one option, to fix the chain… This trip is the king dong of all cock ups, what a fecking nightmare. We’ve camped out the least two nights and the smell of my feet could be detected by a spaniel on Mars. Camping..I’m totally and utterly pissed off at this point. I consider suicide by sitting in a confined area with my socks. I’m serious, why the feck do I get myself in these situations?

Minus 4 last night. We get a blow torch to the campers (By a piece of incredible luck there was a random campsite by the side of the piste with showers and all, and I payed for a very expensive, very very basic but at least under cover ‘room’) and we’re back on the piste again. In the night, disaster number 5002. We got separated from the support vehicle when we tried to go on the road last night. It was coming back to find us in the dark very late after dropping the injured rider in the nearest town miles away. A rider and his pillion riding in front of the truck hit a cow.Argentina0131 Another written off bike, two Argentina0130injured riders. We reach Puerto Moreno then we wait, and wait. I must have ticked the ‘wait indefinitely’ clause. What a total and complete and utter waste of time. The injured rider has to be taken to hospital, assessed, x-rayed, then the insurance contacted and sorted, and apparently we all have to wait. Even though there is a big team of people in charge, more than enough to leave one behind to sort this out and let us get on our way, we have to wait. It’s ridiculous, chaos, absolutely shit. You can get a more complete idea of a trip like this by following a new website I’ve started… … I’m putting more coffee in my body than petrol in the bike. Wait….wait… more wait…. I’ve sympathy for the injured rider but organisation (if you can call it that) like this is just comical. I’m not laughing though, I guarantee that. I’m angry, very very angry. We’re 8 days behind schedule after less than 3 weeks on the road. Cake and arse party. Ball up, tits up, fuck up. Complete fucking joke.

We’re late again and chasing the sun. Another BM just cuts out on the road, dead. Its a new 800GS and after a bit of tinkering we have to leave it to wait for the backup and we head off into the dark and the mountains. We get to Bariloche at 10pm, the backup and the GS get in at 4am.

Argentina0138Bariloche is a beautiful town right on the edge of a big scenic lake.. so I’m told. We only saw it at night and on the way out in the morning. We’re doing a short day today, even though we’re still miles behind schedule, to let the latecomers sleep in. Any group that travels at the speed of the slowest members is going to get nowhere fast. This is supposed to be ‘the toughest motorcycle tour on earth’ but it’s turning out to be more like a Saga special at the moment. First couple of hours it’s scenic to the max, absolutely stunning scenery at every turn in the road. I take a couple of photos thinking it’ll be like this all day but it soon fades into scrubby brown wilderness as we climb and level off at high altitude. Wind is up, Eagles are up, spirits are up.

Argentina0141Get off the bike to try and snap a wild horse and it’s foal. Something Argentina0143starts knocking on the back door, loudly and insistently. EVACUATE, EVACUATE. Down into a big drainage ditch I jump after quickly sticking my hand blindly in a pannier to grab some item of random clothing. The knocking is getting louder and I think the door is about to be kicked in. Clothes are coming off faster than a Sweedish sex scene, they’re abandoned all over the ground as the poo pressure approaches bursting point. The meters are all on red, the tubes are all shaking and burping. There is absolutely no way that launch can be abandoned.

Just like a James Bond film, at the absolute last minute the exit is cleared and launch takes place in a long cacophony of noise, steam and chocolate mousse. OHHHHH MYYYYYY GOOOODDDDDD how good does that feel? It’s worth the loss of a TShirt just to have avoided a muddy meltdown in my leathers. Over to Zapala and the hotel is another Agatha Christie special. All the characters are here. The deaf old bloke doddering around pretending to be frail but who can kung fu chop an elephant to the ground at the drop of a hat.. I tried it. I dropped my hat. One dead elephant. Told you so. This bloke moves with the use of only 3 muscles in his body, I think the rest have already died. He’s christened ‘Linford Crusty’. There is the mad hostess who feigns not to speak English but whose eyes tell you she was privately educated at Cheltenham ladies college. They’re all here. The place is a dark damp warren with shapes that move in the shadows. Still, we all survive the night.. unless some of us later discover that we’ve become the living dead.


Argentina0147We plan to do some more of the Ruta 40 today towards Mendoza. The map looks mountainous, mad and curvy, lovely. Oh, here we go.. plans are changing again. One belligerent scary cat bully rider who wants to be wrapped in cotton wool and bubble wrap has heard there might be more piste on this route and he’s busy bullying and playing to get the route changed to avoid it. Selfish bugger gets his way too. I think I’ve signed up to wing and a prayer tours here, you can’t rely on anything, written or verbal. Argentina0167We bend to the bully and Argentina0179spend the most boring day imaginable doing 500 miles across flat featureless, super wind plains while the mountains watch and stick their tongues out at me and blow raspberries. I’m going to have word with him later, he’s wasting my life. In the evening we find an all you can eat, serve yourself dinery and I stuff myself with anything green. Later my intestines thank me by reading me a bedtime story. Tonight it’s ‘wind in the pillows’.


My front tyre has screamed enough and I have to go to get another one fitted before I go anywhere this morning. It’s nothing like the Ushuaia operation though, it’s a hole in the wall where a few blokes clothed in grease heave and sweat the tyres onto the rims. One of the poor buggers has 50% of the normal contents of a face missing but he can do a lop sided smile and shake a hand so that’s what we do. I leave and ride on ready to take advantage of whatever chances come my way, he stays and lives the rest of his life in poverty with no chance of a chance coming his way. You have to feel guilty about things like that. No one can tell me there is any sense in it. I got born with a bag of lucky stars that obviously included his. Sorry mate.


Argentina0197Out we go through Mendoza then onto the plains north. It’s been getting a lot greener the last couple of days with huge fields of wine on the vine and the smell of fermenting grapes fills the air for long periods. There is a lot of poverty here though. I guess it’s the farm workers who live in the thrown together mud houses that line the curbs. The roads are strewn with animals turned inside out by collisions with the traffic too, dogs mostly. Despite it all the people still make an effort to make the best of a bad job. It’s all quite colourful with little tended gardens often full of flowers and totally devoid of the derelict feel that many shanty towns have. No abandoned wrecks and burnt out vehicles here.

Onto the plains again in the evening. We’re definitely getting into the Andes foothills I think. It appears Mr Andes has very big feet. As we approach our destination the sun is throwing huge shadows across the ground in the golden evening light and I watch as two boys race their horses through the sand in a big noisy cloud of dust. The sound of soft galloping hoofs and laughing gets louder then fades as they all disappear towards their home. A truly special and enduring memory


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