Having spent one week here now, Argentina is everything I’ve imagined since I wrote my culminating report on it in UW-Spanish for Senor Garcia way back in high school. I love this place.
From the La Quiaca border crossing Charlie and I moved south to catch up with our friends Eddie and Lizzie. We met the couple in La Paz, Mexico and haven’t seen them since Mazatlan. We’ve come close to catching them several times on the way down, but somehow always missed each other. Not this time. Charlie and I hooked it down the well-signed, fully paved Argentine roads heading south. We stopped at a small town north of Jujuy for lunch and enjoyed the best steak sandwich I’ve ever had. Great meat on fresh bread with a salad bar for toppings. It’s been since Mexico that I’ve eaten this well.
Best of all were our servers. They were unshaven guys our age listening to funky music wearing hats backwards and sunglasses. Guys I felt like I could have a good time with. They were cool, just screwing around, being in their twenties. The people here seem really upbeat. You get the feeling that they can grow up and to a degree choose their futures whereas unfortunately in Peru and Bolivia, they’re fates seemed sealed the second they started working for the family at age eight. I know it’s a different culture up there under different circumstances, but I much prefer this one for the long-term.
From Jujuy we moved west towards Salta on a very unique road. It was one lane paved, with the yellow line running down the middle. Why build two lanes when you only need one? It was a winding road through foothills and across rivers leading towards Salta and the entire time I felt like I was on a giant bike staying in my half-lane. We arrived in Salta at 5:30pm. It’s a big city, and very clean. There were street lights and green trees running the sidewalk. Some of them were budding with pink and purple flowers. Springtime in Argentina. I saw a supermarket with a big Wal-Mart sized parking lot for the first time since Colombia. Salta looked nice, but Eddie and Lizzie were still 200 kilometers south.
Charlie and I got gas, got lost, and an hour later were finally on the road to Cafayate. After an hour of night driving under the stars we pulled into El Balcon Hostel in Cafayate and found Eddie and Lizzie. It was crazy seeing familiar faces from so long ago. Last time I saw these guys I was barely a month into this trip. It was spring then too.
Sunday night we all went to bed pretty early. I learned a lesson about Argentina as I tossed around in bed that night: they start partying at 2:00am and go all night. The disco next door blasted electronic music all night long. My earplugs managed to suffice and I actually slept pretty well. The next day Eddie and Lizzie went on a bicycle ride to go look at some rock formations. Charlie and I were pretty satisfied sitting around catching up on emails and facebook instead. For dinner we all had a big barbeque of steak, sausage, and grilled vegetables over the hostel’s grill. For $5 I filled myself with more protein than I ate in a week up north.
Charlie and I did one more night in Cafayate while Eddie and Lizzie went ahead. They only went about a hundred miles. When we gear up, we like to make a day of it. Getting on the bike is like preparing for war, and I just can’t bring myself to that mentality for a hundred miles. We took our extra day relaxing and eating even more flame-broiled steak. In the afternoon we both installed our extra rear tires and I’m happy to say that neither of us pinched tubes. It was a first for me and I was beaming. Wednesday we mounted up again and moved south.
The end of the day put us in Catamarca, a big city with plenty of money. Charlie and I spent two hours doing laps around downtown trying to find a cheap enough hostel. We were just about to break down and pay $40/night each when we found San Pedro Hostel. It’s an fun, relaxed place run by a guy named Julio, who recently sold his BMW F-650. He likes us and we like him. Tonight will be our second night. There’s not a lot happening in town, but it’s absolutely pleasant. I can’t get over how good it smells and how clean it is. The green trees everywhere have boosted my mood too. Best of all, we’re back below 1,000 meters elevation and I can breathe again. I can even stand up without getting a head spin. It’s a lot like home, and it’s just what I needed.
Right now it's siesta time. The whole city shuts down from 2:00pm until 6:00. Then everything stays open until past 10:00pm. It's awesome, and the attitude around town reflects it. No hurries, no worries.
Tomorrow we’ll move south again to Mendoza. It’s 750 kilometers and likely a two-day trip. We’ve really flown through northern Argentina, but that doesn’t mean I won’t come back. Julio just spent the last hour explaining to me a slew of bike routes we could take around here in the foothills of the Andes. With my mom and Charlie’s brother flying into Santiago in two weeks, though, there’s no time to waste. These bikes are reliable, but a simple failure could mean a week’s wait or more. I plan to arrive in Santiago five days early just in case.
With my shock blown out again I’m not so keen on being adventurous with the bike right now; it’s more about survival. Just like before, the back end humps up and down over the tiniest bumps and through the hard curves. It’s manageable, but not much fun. Luckily an adventure rider named Pat from California sold me his lightly used shock for a very low price and it will show up with mom in Santiago. There I’ll leave the bike at a mechanic for a full service and the shock installation. Otherwise the bike has been running pretty well. Back at sea level I have seemingly infinite power. When it was real cold up in Bolivia I had an oil link every morning at several points out of my radiator hoses. It was never a big deal because as soon as the engine warmed up, the leak stopped; nevertheless something I’ve been keeping an eye on. I remember Ty had that problem on his V-Strom as well. I’ll have to ask about it in Santiago. I also picked up a couple new fuel filters yesterday. My current filter is disgusting after going through Bolivia.
The plan is simple from here. Find Eddie and Lizzie in Mendoza, band together for up to a week and then head to Santiago. From there we’ll park up, rest up, and start the family tours. I think my mom and I will use public transportation to hit Valparaiso, Mendoza, and then Buenos Aires over her two-week visit. After that I’ll figure out how to get back to the bike and see what happens. I’m sure I’ll want to ride more, but not necessarily all the way to Ushuaia. I also applied for a travel consulting job in Buenos Aires, so if that materializes into an interview I’ll be focusing on something other than motorcycling for once. If that doesn't happen, they still have world-class skiing and windsurfing here.