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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

The Final Leg to Buenos Aires

Updated: Feb 7


From Ushuaia, I had planned to make Buenos Aires 2000 miles to the north in 4 days or so, knowing that the route was flat and desolate. Making 500 miles per day seemed reasonable enough...

After the previous long day from Ushuaia to Rio Gallegos on the Atlantic coast, the road north the next morning was barren and windswept, the famous pampas of Argentina introducing itself immediately. The landscape was flat and treeless, the winds from the west being unbroken and able to flow freely with no restraint. In short order, I was in strong, gusting sidewinds that kept the bike leaned over hard to my left, and a constant attempt to push the bike off the roadside into the gravel to my right.

The gusts changed direction, sometimes from behind and sometimes directly from the front, but the beating and head twisting never let up. The force was unbroken except by oncoming semi trucks, the blast hitting like a hammer, rattling your helmet and head as if being beaten with boards for a half second, simultaneously being yanked in towards the truck and trailer by the vacuum, then thrown out again in a half second as the trailer passed and the winds hit.

The ever present guanaco herds along the roadside added to the stress, as the brief stun and disorientation of the truck sometimes left you in the middle of a herd split on either side of the road. As well as the guanacos, the small herds of emu-like rheas were present frequently and randomly.

Nearing noon and the big Beemer burning more gas than normal due to the high speeds and winds, I decided to gas up whenever I saw fuel available. The towns were very few and very far between. At my first gas stop and snack break, another rider pulled in on a new Honda Africa Twin and studied my bike a while before coming in. We exchanged handshakes and a bit of conversation. Humberto was from Spain, enjoying a few months of travel between work assignments as a television cameraman. He was heading north for Buenos Aires and then on to Uruguay. His goal for the day was Puerto Julian, a few hours south of my goal, Caleta Olivia or possibly Comodoro Rivadavia. We wished each other well and I headed on.

After a few more hours on the road, Puerto Julian came up and I pulled over to take a break. Shortly thereafter, Humberto pulled in and said he was looking for a hotel there. I’d sat long enough to realize I didn’t have the extra 3 or 4 hours of energy left to make Rivadavia. The previous day’s length and the wind and hammering for several hours had left me more drained than I realized. I headed off for the town to look for lodging as well.

After a loop through and a look at a replica sailing ship, I found myself at a small inn where Humberto’s bike was parked. We talked a bit then I hit the hotel room, eating an energy bar from the little mini-frig and fell asleep early. For the last month I’d found myself more fatigued than usual.

I woke up before daylight to the sounds of roaring winds and watched the trees on the street flailing away as if in a hurricane. I hoped the winds would die down a bit or this would be the worst day of riding yet. It was not to be, as I got the bike loaded after the ubiquitous continental breakfast. A couple of other BMW riders came out and begin loading their bikes for the day. They were from Brazil, and were heading back after exploring Southern Patagonia. I had seen a large contingent of Brazilian riders and it is a very popular destination for them.

Humberto was no where in sight as I pulled out in the gusting winds to continue north. I found gasoline and headed on, the winds noticeably worse and as the bike followed the high coast, I battled the wind and had concern for the first time. It was serious and I had trouble staying in my lane for a good hour before the worst of it faded away to the "normal" high winds. I gassed up at a lone station in a very small community, slapping a decal on the window to mark my presence.

Aside from worse winds, the day was a repeat of the previous, endless grass plains and pummeling trucks, the ever present guanacos observing me pass. They paid no attention to the cars and trucks, only the motorcycle and it’s roar. If I varied the throttle, they would begin to scatter with their loping run. I began to play games with them in my boredom, dropping or revving the throttle at different distances to see its effect on the herds. I figured since I was bored, as were they, it might add some interest later that evening as they chewed the cud and discussed the day’s events.

As the day waned I made Comodoro Rivadavia, a big seaside town lying on the blue Atlantic. It was a nice place and I found gas in my downtown explorations, stopping for a coffee to search for a hotel nearby, but most were booked and very expensive. Argentina had been far costlier than expected, despite knowing it was not a cheap country, and accommodations were hard to find due to the few towns along the route. I finally located a reasonable place a few miles out of town and booked it online. Finding it was very difficult despite being on the main road and the gate was locked. After a while of buzzing the buzzer, it opened to a suspicious man. So many times in Chile and Argentina, hotels and hostels seemed surprised and upset at the arrival of a guest, or at least me. He finally warmed up a bit but indicated I’d have to wait to pay with my credit card when his son arrived. I got settled in and gear off, the fatigue of the day catching up to me.

When his son did arrive, his phone-based credit card reader didn’t work with my credit card or my debit card, a fault of his system, but he didn’t care and demanded cash payment. This had happened often on the trip, where a hotel or hostel had bad card readers and had no problem telling you their reader hadn’t worked in years, then demanding cash despite advertising the use of a card. I was a bit pissed off and had to gear back up completely to ride back to the main town 20 miles away.

Just before riding out, the son told there was an ATM in the nearby airport terminal, so I headed over to find the place. I had no cash at all, having used it earlier and not finding a “cajera electronico” on the way north. I had to take a ticket to park in the airport lot and upon entry to the terminal, spotted the ATM and immediately knew it wouldn’t work. I’d found that there are two basic ATM systems in Argentina, “Link” which never worked with my cards, and “Red”, which always did. This one was the former and I tried it to no avail, then realized I had no cash to even exit the airport lot. I tried to explain the situation and the attendant looked at the receipt and since it had been only a few minutes, waved me through. It was a relief, and Google showed another ATM in the neighborhood. It turned out to be in a grocery store, which of course was closed until 8 pm due to “siesta” time in Argentina. I was tired and crabby now, my tolerance for such BS having finally worn out on this long trip of similar daily routines.

I headed out for the downtown of the city 20 miles away, and found an ATM that worked, as well as a brand new debit card someone had left in the machine. I took the card next door to the bank and of course it was closed for siesta, so I pocketed the card to keep it from being used.

As I rode back, I thought of how it would be the only time I’d get stopped and be found with someone else’s debit card. Back at the hostel two hours later, I paid cash and got resettled. The frustration of 7 months of daily stress and challenges like this were wearing on me. I realized it was a sign the trip needed to end which helped settle my mind on the matter, despite not wanting to return to the U.S. That evening I sent an email to Dakar Motos in Buenos Aires, a motorcycle shipper with a good reputation, to ask them to begin the process of shipping for me. The owner, Javier, responded that they could get me shipped within a week of my arrival and asked for photos of my paperwork and travel documents.

On my way to Ushuaia, I'd met a mototraveler who'd been on the road about 9 months. He was well known for his travel blog and reputation for adventure, but the evening we'd had a meal together, he told me that frankly he was completely worn out and burned out from the exercise. He'd actually parked his bike for a while and flown to another continent where he took a 2 month vacation break to regenerate. He had only been back a couple of weeks when we'd met and I appreciated his honesty, keeping his name confident of course, but it helped me realize that my fatigue and frustration was normal. My fellow travelers Michnus and Elsebie had been on the road for years, however they had no time limit as do most travelers, and had found a way to combat the travel fatigue by getting the longest visa possible in each country, then staying long term in just a few places. That allowed them to function almost as if they lived there and was a good solution. Myself and others did not have that luxury so the pressures of having to keep moving had their effects.

The next day was a repeat of the previous in every way except the noticeable lack of guanacos and the addition of 95º temperatures. It was an unwelcome change from the weeks of mountains and accompanying cool air. At a stop for gas, I’d received an email from Dakar Motos informing me that my Temporary Vehicle Import Permit was full of problems which had to be corrected, or the bike couldn’t ship without an expensive “tip” to the airport authorities, which wasn’t a guaranteed fix. In the email, Javier said several bikes had been denied leaving Argentina recently due to the exact problem my paperwork had. It was yet another punch in the stomach, as my final crossing into Argentina had been late in the day, and in a rush I had failed to check the document over, the only time I hadn’t checked. It was a serious issue. My VIN number was incorrect, as was most of the information and when I looked at the paperwork I couldn't believe it had been done so badly.

Worry was my companion throughout the day and I finally made the city of Puerto Madryn, frantically searching for an Aduana supposedly located in the seaport town. Luckily there was one and I said a prayer that there would be an understanding, English speaking worker there who could help. I swallowed hard and went inside. It was dead quiet and only a single worker was at her desk. I knew trying to explain the situation in Spanish and Google translate would be difficult, and I was greatly relieved when the attractive and friendly lady spoke a little English. It took an hour, but I was finally presented with a stamped and signed correction letter. I walked outside to get a better cell signal, shot a picture of the document and emailed it from the sidewalk to Javier at Dakar Motos.

As I sat on my bike in the shade of a palm tree in front of the Aduana to begin the search for a hotel, I saw a faded hotel sign directly across the street with a secured parking area and I grabbed a room.

Puerto Madryn was a nice seaside town, peaceful and serene. I walked a couple of blocks down looking for a late lunch and spotted Humberto’s Honda at a street-side cafe. He was sitting at a sidewalk table, shocked to see me and invited me to sit. He’d spotted my decal at the last gas station and laughed. The stress relief of getting the vehicle papers sorted was tangible for me and a seafood meal was a good way to wind the day down. That evening, Javier emailed me that he’d received the correction letter and all should be fine now. As it turned out, another rider a few days before, had gotten a correction letter from the same aduana office, so maybe that had been one reason the woman had been so nice to deal with, realizing it was a problem with the southern crossing. I spent the evening walking the beachside in the cool breeze.

The next morning I was heading for Bahia Blanca, the last town before Buenos Aires. The day was long, hot, and boring with temperatures of 105º much of the way. I was distressed to find that after my gas stop, both my credit and debit cards would not work at the few places I tried to buy a meal, stressing the hell out of me. Amidst my credit and ATM cards, I still had the ATM card I'd found at the bank a few days before. I'd forgotten about it, and pulled off the road in the midst of nowhere, digging a hole in the dirt with my boot heel and buried it.

Bahia Blanca was conquered late and I grabbed the first hotel I could find. I went out late after cooling down in the room and found an ATM that proved both my debit and credit cards were still working. I sat on a bench in the park that evening until late, watching the people wander past, a world of life away from me.

The next day Buenos Aires lay a very long ways away, but the city I had to reach. It turned out to be the hardest day of all, the last 200 miles being a brutal combination of heat and terrible truck traffic. On my side of the rutted two lane blacktop road there was a stream of flatbed trucks, heavily loaded with bags of concrete traveling north at about 30 mph, creating long lines of stacked up traffic. In the opposing lane there were hundreds and hundreds of semi’s returning south at highway speeds. It created very difficult passing, keeping up the brutal pounding of the passing trucks and was incessant the entire way to Buenos Aires.

The last 100 miles or so, I ran my gas tank down as low as possible, stopping to get a couple of liters here and there to ensure I didn’t overfill the tank. It added a lot of stress but the bike couldn’t ship out of the airport if the tank wasn’t almost empty. I'd been warned that the shipping facility had no way to remove gasoline or dispose if it and if they deemed there was too much in the tank, they'd refuse approval of the motorcycle for shipping. It would require leaving the terminal, rescheduling and dumping the tanks elsewhere.

The International Airport was on the south side of the city and I decided to stay nearby. Every reasonable hotel was booked and only the ones available were over $250 a night. I finally found a cheaper place with bad reviews about 10 miles away. I made the place late, in part due to a protest group blocking the highway. The hostel truly could have been called a "hostile", as it was run by a Russian family that I assume had run a Russian Gulag camp and after the wall fell, moved to Buenos Aires to open a hostel. That night, Saturday, Javier sent an email that the bike could ship out in 2 days, either the upcoming Monday, or the following day on Tuesday. I was too exhausted to make the decision and went to sleep.

The next morning I decided that my trip had come to an end, proved by my lack of desire to explore and my agitation with insignificant little daily problems. I decided to get home as soon as possible and told him to plan for the Monday shipping. I spent the day, Sunday, reducing and repacking gear that couldn’t be shipped, such as my camping fuel, lighters and such. Motorcycle gear, helmet and clothing were allowed to ship with the motorcycle but personal clothing and items, including camping gear, could not.

I gave away a few things to others in the hostel, filling one of my side case bags to use as carry-on luggage along with my camera satchel. The rear seat duffle was stuffed to use as a checked bag. I triple checked that no items I needed - paperwork, passport, etc, - were accidentally left with the bike. For 7 months I had kept certain items in certain places, and now had to tear apart my Pavlovian routine, which brought moments of panic trying to remember where my spare cash, cards, passport, dummy wallets and other pertinent things were now located.

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