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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

Into Argentina

Updated: Dec 10, 2020


After the night in the hostel in Osorno, I returned to MotoAventura to look at some gear and buy some oil for the bike, specifically for the final drive.

When I got there, there was a heavily loaded KLR 650 already parked, with the rider inside. I briefly spoke with him, Gary, as he was looking for oil and a place to change it. The local Kawasaki dealer was the place he left for, briefly discussing our routes south for Ushuaia. The shop said they could fit my bike in for an oil change so I went ahead and let them do the oil and final drive fluid.

The owner of MotoAventura has been in business leading tours to Ushuaia for almost 20 years so I asked his opinion on the ferries and options. He said the ferries were overwhelmed and likely to have no room despite what their online schedules said. I'd checked previously and the earliest one showing space was 5 days out, but he said that likely it wouldn't leave on the scheduled date. He said my best option would be to cross into Argentina to Bariloche, then ride south to Esquel and cross back into Chile on the road going to the destroyed town of Santa Lucia from the east. From the Argentinian side they'd been able to create a bypass road at Santa Lucia to connect to Ruta 7 going south, but the road north wouldn't be open for months. The suggested loop would be a 3 day ride versus a week or more waiting on the ferry. The added benefit would be that I would still get to see about 80% of the Chilean Austral terrain as opposed to landing much further south on the ferry.

I decided that Bariloche was the answer I'd been looking for and canceled my hostel reservation in the town of Puerto Montt, my destination for the day and where I'd planned to spend a few days waiting for the ferry. About that time, the mechanic called me into the shop to show me the final drive fluid, which was milky and chocolate brown indicating water had gotten in. It was very disturbing but there were no obvious signs of leaking of the final drive where water could enter. They flushed the drive and added new fluid while I called my friend Hank to ask his opinion. When the repairs had been done in Cuenca, the owner had used a pressure washer to clean the bike and had managed to fill up the sealed TPS unit with water causing a lot of problems. I suspected he had somehow forced water into the sealed drive which seemed impossible, however Hank said the rubber vent on the top of the drive could've been where it had gotten through.

By the time it was all said and done, it was about 1 PM and I figured I had enough time to make the Argentinian border and on to Bariloche. As Osorno disappeared behind me, so did the gray cold and overcast. The skies cleared and showed blue with puffy clouds over the beautiful mountain road for the border. The road ran through a national park or two and was exquisite.

As I rolled up to the Chilean border control, cars were parked everywhere much to my surprise. There was a very long line which I stood in for an hour and a half. I could not figure out why the border was so busy but I had seen hundreds of vehicles stuffed with suitcases on my ride to Osorno and this morning as well. As I sat in my frustration, suddenly I heard a German voice behind me say "Are you on the Boxer? Do you know Hank in "Deely" Texas?" It was such a shock I turned, almost expecting to see the Grim Reaper. Instead I saw the smiling face of a middle-aged German man. "My name is Burkhart" he said, "I met Hank in Mexico where I lived, and then went to Dilley to have him work on my BMW R1150 GS Adventure!"

What a small world it truly is and what are the chances of meeting someone in a line at a border crossing in South America, who spotted my Texas plates, found me in the line and happened to have met my friend from small town Texas. That was truly crazy and I sent a message to Hank as well as a photo. Just too weird!

My turn came to go through the exit process for myself and the bike, but was disappointed to find that the two hours spent there was just to exit Chile. I said goodbye to Burkhart and his wife and rode through more spectacular scenery another 20 km or so until the Argentinian border control came up.

For some very odd reason, the huge crowds of people who had preceded me, were not at the Argentinian side. I was checked into Argentina within 15 minutes, lacking only my insurance which I planned to get in Bariloche. I got a sudden rush and shouted out loud at the realization I was now in Argentina!

The road was beautiful, reminding me of Glacier National Park in Montana. It wasn't too long before views of the lake upon which Bariloche sits appeared, as well as a nice little tourist trap town. It was nearing 5 PM, and I stopped to check messages. Christine and Jules had texted me that a festival was going on, as well as a bank strike and all the ATMs in Bariloche were out of money. I decided to find a bank in the smaller town where I was and when I stopped, Gary and his KLR were there. He told me his hotel name in Bariloche and we exchanged information to get together later. It had been 10 hours since I had eaten so I grabbed a so-called hamburger.

I had absolutely no idea what language the waiter was speaking as it sounded absolutely nothing like Spanish. I don't know if it was Castilian or Portuguese but I recognized not a single word of it. He spoke a very small amount of English and was amazed I was traveling for so long on the bike. He then chastised me that I needed to learn Spanish before going any further south to Ushuaia. Easy for you to say I thought!

As the road continued around the giant lake, I could see Bariloche across the water and got a rush. Not sure why, just a place I never thought I would see and I was about to spend the night there. The amount of traffic and cars were crazy when I arrived and I was glad I had a pre-booked hotel.

Having heard of Bariloche for many years, the prospect of being there triggered excitement as it was yet another new country and the launching point for Patagonia. Years ago when I still had a brain, it had figured prominently in reading about the post WWII era, having its share of intrigue as a haven for some of the elite Nazi escapees at war’s end. The town was very nice, positioned on the gorgeous lake with beautiful homes and buildings, much of it showcasing German heritage in style and restaurants. It was easy to see why it was a popular city for tourism and culture. Luckily no signs of post war Nazi sympathy and I suspect the allegations were a bit farfetched and fodder for conspiracy theorists.

My lodging for the night, Adolf’s Hideaway Hosteria, was incredibly difficult to find and the extremely old man who ran it had zero sense of humor, a surprise since he had a white Charlie Chaplin style mustache which I assumed was an homage to the comedian. The place was austere but clean and built of thick walled concrete, maybe for earthquakes in the area, but I think it could have survived a direct bombing attack. I was hungry and he made a couple of recommendations, saying the owners were old friends of his. He suggested Klaus Barbiecue for the best parilla in town, followed by dessert at Hermann G’s Bakery. He said he could point them out on a map for me, but all he had was giant one of the world laid out on a massive table. He went silent and just stared at Russia for some reason. I slipped out while he stared and found some food at a nearby tienda.

I was lucky to have gotten a room as the town was absolutely full to the gills, it being yet another “Carnaval” three day weekend. I mean seriously, Carnaval messed up our week in Cartagena in November, then again in January in Arica, Peru and once again in February in Bariloche! Each time we were almost unable to find any place to stay. What’s the deal with a year round traveling Carnaval???

The next morning I was delayed in leaving due to the incredibly slow internet, having let a video upload the entire night only to find it 90% uploaded and foolishly thought I could wait a while for the last 10%... I got out of the hostel about 10:30, planning for Esquel to the south. I rode downtown to Gary's hotel to discuss the information on routes south I had, however he had gone out somewhere. It was already 11 and I needed to get moving, but a string of tourists in town kept coming by the moto and looking at it, wanting to take pictures with their families and such. Of course I couldn't resist as I enjoy watching kids and adults sitting on the bike and the enjoyment they get from it.

When there was a break I hopped on then headed for gas, which turned out to be a project since there were block long lines of cars waiting to get in every station. I finally found a short line at a station somewhere in a neighborhood and by the time I got everything sorted it was already noon. I'd checked the map the night before and Ushuaia lay only 1200 miles south if I took the fastest route. It was damn tempting, but I soldiered on with my original plan for Ruta 7 in Chile and the Austral region.

The area around the beautiful town of Bariloche is a bit more arid than the lush green valleys and mountains to the west, however it was no less enjoyable as I caught the famous "Ruta 40" south for Esquel. The route was beautiful, running alongside massive, jagged tipped mountains covered with snow to my right. The road curved and twisted under the sun and blue skies, and as has happened since I hit Argentina, I started laughing out loud at the simple joy of knowing I had finally made it into the land containing my final destination. So many years of reading, hoping, fantasizing, planning, and a huge life change later, the reality just really hit home. Passing the rare Ruta 40 road signs covered with stickers made me giggle inside.

After a while on the road, I spotted a small shop that sold local cheese, salami and other cured meats. Sitting outside by my bike slicing off chunks for lunch, two motorcyclists of the many streaming past on the road pulled off to look at my bike. They were well worn and weathered, running small 250 cc bikes with adventure cases and all sorts of gear strapped on. They looked at my BMW and we attempted to communicate for a while. They were returning from Ushuaia after a two week trip. I was fascinated by their bikes as I have been with so many I've seen on the road. Adventure bikes are a big deal in Argentina, as well as Chile. I saw a great number of 1200 GS's and similar, all sparkly clean with side cases and duffel bags, too clean and new to be true adventure bikes. They seem to be very popular for weekend travels. However, there is another group of bikes that are small and inexpensive, heavily modified with side cases and all sorts of things home built. They tend to be a mix of small displacement cruisers and inexpensive bikes, set up as adventure bikes, with the riders dressed like bikers, but they ride the hell out of them everywhere. I've been impressed with the gusto they have for travel on the bikes. Real adventurers in my mind.

As the conversation wore down, one of the two came to my bike, kneeling down with a cigarette clenched in his teeth, attaching a sticker of an upside down hand with the peace sign to my side case then flashing the sign to me, saying "hermano" and pointing to me. While he had been attaching the sticker, I'd gotten a sudden twinge of feelings, then when he flashed the sign and they rode away a moment of sadness came upon me. As he'd been applying the sticker, the sadness I felt came in the knowledge that these days of special moments would change. Amidst the joy of riding Ruta 40 and the incredulity of the reality of it coming to pass in my life, I also knew that 1150 miles further down that road, a goal of so many years would be achieved, and with it, an ending of that dream.

The ride south was a good one, the cold temperatures of Bariloche slowly dissipated and after a couple or three hours I was opening my jacket for more ventilation. As the day waned, I rolled into Esquel and found the hostel I had booked for the night. It was a nice place, well-designed and one of the nicer hostels I've stayed in.

I headed down to the town for the late afternoon to grab a coffee and enjoy the amazing weather. Esquel was larger than I expected and reminded me of a Colorado ski town in a way, with tourist shops and candy stores and outdoor gear shops with lots of rafting, kayaking and other sports. It had a peaceful sense about it after the frantic Bariloche experience.

That night as I dutifully waited while the internet cycled on and off, a guy my size rode in on a small motorcycle, one of the many Moto Viajeros I've been seeing all along the roads in Argentina. He was as big and bad-ass as any a Harley biker I've ever seen, but friendly and gave me a thumbs up.

The next morning we looked at each other's bikes and communicated as best we could. He disappeared and returned with two well traveled decals of him and his moto club. We waved and headed different directions in the morning sun.

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