By the time I reached Patagonia, the blistering summer heat of northern Argentina had dissipated into chilly nights and blustery days. Each degree of latitude south seemed to drop the temperature and increase the wind intensity but the dryness of the utterly parched landscape changed little with the towering Andes Mountains acting as a permanent blockade of precipitation.
From Bariloche, my next major goal was to reach the town of El Chalten, home of the famous Mt. Fitz Roy. In front of me lay 900 miles of horrendous wind gusts, bone rattling roads, and gas shortages. All to be tackled on a bike that was at this point, sub-optimal at best. Since Bolivia, the same awful noise wailed anytime the bike met high speed, the suspension was riding low and rough, and I was beginning to wonder how much longer the clutch had left in it.
With the journey into further isolated lands, my maintenance checks became far more frequent and thorough. Less than 200 miles down Ruta 40, I noticed leaking oil during a brief stop in the town of Esquel. Unsure of what the issue was and keenly aware of the desolation ahead of me, I decided to stay the night and find a mechanic.
The leak was quickly resolved by the mechanics who just tightened a nut and told me I was good to go. I felt a little silly but also knew that it was good to be cautious. As a result of the minor delay, I ended up staying in a delightful hostel, Sol Azul. The owner was a young hippy from Buenos Aires that also loved motorcycles. During the check-in process, he asked if I could give him a ride to the mechanic to get his own bike, to which I happily agreed. In return he took me for a few beers at a local brewery. Despite my assumptions of that he had been exposed to a plethora of travelers, it became apparent that he possessed particularly strong prejudices, especially toward Americans. As a South African who naturalized to become an American citizen, I understood him but also helped him navigate his own close-mindedness. His assumptions about Americans were not wholly inaccurate but rather a massive over-generalization that mimicked its own form of nuance lacking propaganda. Once the misplaced calcification was weakened, we got along famously and chatted for hours before realizing that anymore beer would make the short ride home untenable, So, we called it and went home with rosy cheeks and the glow of a deeply positive human connection.
Lines for Gas
Waking up the next morning, I eeked out enough energy to pry my tired body from my comfy bed and get my act together with packing and loading the bike. My goal today was Perito Moreno; a tiny town 300 miles to the south along Ruta 40.
Other than the struggle to find a new rear tire, I hadn’t experienced the shortages everyone was clamoring on about. I knew my encounter would be inevitable though. Argentina was struggling economically and as a result, import limits and tariffs had created shortages on various commodities. As the reach of my travel became more remote, the shortages began to show their cards. Gasoline/Petrol in particular became the main constriction with a single station every hundred or so miles. Lines, 3 blocks long, became unavoidable and the hope for quick refueling stops were crushed with hour long waits that required a deep-seated patience bore out of necessity rather than an admirable personality trait.
Besides the odd car or truck, my only companions were my music, flocks of rhea (small ostriches), herds of guanaco (closely related to the llama), the relentless wind, and a myriad of thoughts swirling through my head.
The animals were great to see but they were also a poignant reminder to keep my wits about me. Sporadic evidence of smeared roadkill was repeatedly presented and I knew that a collision with one of these exotic creatures could spell certain disaster. Needless to say, the level of focus required was high and it was utterly draining.
I reached Perito Moreno that night and slept at a simple and tidy municipal camping spot. Reaching my daily goal kept my spirits up and my confidence brimming. Two key aspects that needed constant attention as I soloed further toward the edge of the world.
I knew the next day would be even longer and more challenging – I was told the final push to El Chaltén included around 3 hours of gravelly dirt riding on top of another 6-7 hours of paved roads. Despite the fact that I had more than 10,000 miles of riding experience behind me, I still felt a simmering anxiousness as I lay in my tent. Is my bike going to make it? I wonder if it’s still leaking oil? Do I have enough fuel to make it? I hope the roads aren’t as bad as everyone says they are…
Start this journey from the beginning: Introduction