Thursday, February 18, 2010

Best Laid Plans - Bahia Blanca to San Antonio Oeste - February 12

Our objective today was Puerto Madryn.  We got an early start to help to achieve the distance, and were on the road shortly after sunrise.

There are several different types of "traffic stops" in Argentina - many of the roads are toll roads (but in the rural areas motorcycles are allowed to Passe Libre through narrow side lanes); there are also numerous Policia checkpoints (although thus far we have been waved through unhindered); and, in the Patagonia Region there are checkpoints to prevent the importation of fruits and meats as a measure to protect indigenous species.  We encountered our first of these "zoological stops" this morning, but a quick "no fruitas, no carnes!" got us on our way.
Immediately after the checkpoint we saw a spectacular black wolf loping along beside the road, and the landscape changed dramatically to "pampas" - a relatively flat, semi-arid, mostly treeless terrain with low sage and scrub vegetation.
The terrain offers no respite from the famous Patagonian winds that howl across the pampas and out into the Atlantic Ocean, so we had our hands full keeping the bikes on track and keeping our heads conencted to our necks!  For the most part, the wind limited our speed to 70 to 80 kmh.
Following a lunch of Beef Jerky on the roadside outside of Viedma, a gray day got darker.  As we rode we could see a series of thunderstorms moving quickly across the plains, and were doing a good job avoiding them until the road turned directly into the path of one. We had the gear protected but had elected not to put on wet weather clothes due to the heat.  We rode through the intitial rain, but ended up standing on the bikes on the side of the road, holding them up against the driving wind and rain for 20 minutes until it was safe to ride again.
The pampas is barren and towns are remote, as a result, line-ups for fuel are common as the distances between stations can be far.  Pulling into San Antonio Oeste, we joined the line for gas only to see my front tire was flat.  It was 2:30pm, it was going to take at least an hour to change the tire tube in the rain and wet, and we were still 268km's from Puerto Madryn - so we decided to pump up the tire temporarily and ride to find shelter in San Antonio Oeste.

Unfortunately, San Antonio Oeste had been hit by each of the storms we had seen in rapid succession.  There are no storm sewers in the town so most of the roads were water covered and some intersections were holding as much as 18 inches of water.  I had to stop to refill my tire once more, but we navigated the new rivers and ponds well, the KLR's taking it in stride, and found a hotel with sheltered parking for me to work in.

I had the bike on the centre-stand and the wheel off to begin the repair when the hotel desk clerk suggested a local shop that could do the hard part for me.  30 minutes later the job was done with a smile for a cost of 5 pesos (about $1.50CDN) and a 5 peso tip!  The tube had two separate but nearby punctures which makes us think I had run over a thorn bush at our roadside lunch, or perhaps during the storm.

Despite the setbacks of the day, our spirits were boosted by the helpfulness and support of our Argetinian hosts.  This country seems to share a collective passion for motorcycles combined with a special pride of place.  As we ride south we are shown constant expressions of support, whether it be flashing of headlights or whole cars full of waving hands, but the best yet - in the midst of riding in today's storm, a car slowly passed with windows down so the passenger could hold his arm out high to give us a "thumbs up" getting drenched as he went by!

Since we couldn't make it to Puerto Madryn today, we'll push past to Trelew and the Punta Tombo penguin colony tomorrow.

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