As the song says ......
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
Way up north, (North To Alaska.)
North to Alaska,
They're goin' North, the rush is on.
North to Alaska,
They're goin' North, the rush is on. (--- Johnny Horton)
Yes, I'm heading north, north to Alaska, to reach the second extreme of the trip - Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse, with my arrival tentatively planned for the summer solstice on 21 June 2008, weather permitting.
But it's a long way to go, about 25,000km, from Buenos Aires..
After a sluggish start, I eventually left Rio Grande about 11am, after spending 2 nights at Hostel Argentino. It was coolish weather, good for riding. Reaching Rio Gallegos for the overnight stop was pretty good going, although only about 380km. But considering there were the Argentine and Chilean border posts 14 km apart at San Sebastian, then the 140km or so of ripio (gravel) to Cerro Sombrero, then the ferry crossing at Punta Delgardo from Tierra Del Fuego island back to the mainland, then more Chilean and Argentine border posts to conclude the Chilean dogleg and into Argentina, it wasn't a bad effort, I thought.
Perhaps it was a buildup of confidence, perhaps it was the previous days' rain dampening the dust, but I managed to cover the ripio half an hour faster than when I went south. It was relatively easy, and I felt fairly comfortable riding it, alone. It's quite remote, as it's not the main highway, more a "locals only road", with few estancias (estates) within sight of the road. Careful riding, just in case! Saw a number of guanchos, a few rhea, and a solitary fox loping across the road. Heightened concentration was needed most when encountering the road graders, which had made a bit of a mess of the road in places, entailing riding along quite narrow strips of ungraded road bordered by high mounds of rubble. Luckily there was no oncoming traffic during these manoeuverings .
There was quite a wait for the ferry, as one had just left when I arrived at the landing. As the ferry I was on pulled away, a flash in the water caught my eye. "Orca!" was my first thought on seeing the black and white body. But after watching it playing, diving through the ferry's wake for a number of minutes, I amended this to "baby orca", as it didn't seem big enough to be an adult, although I wondered why an orca calf would be there alone. The riddle was solved as the ferry was nudging into the opposite landing. There was a babble of voices near me, and everyone made a rush to climb the framing up the side of the ferry. I looked quizzically at the nearest guy, who made dipping motions with his hand. Up the framing I went, looked over, and there were two black and white bodies - dolphins, I heard someone say. Ahhh, the power of the internet! They are Commerson's dolphins, [also known as Skunk or Piebald dolphins] usually only found in the Magellan Straits (where I saw them) and one other place in the Indian Ocean. Very striking, very pretty creatures. I'm so glad I had the opportunity to see them in the wild.
Rio Gallegos is an average sized city with the usual services. In the light drizzling rain, I found a hotel, checked in, then went for dinner - most unappetizing! But the morning dawned bright and clear, although cool, and the riding was good all the way to Comodoro Rivadavia. I'd been dreading this section just south of C. Rivadavia, especially as it looked like raining this day. On the way south there had been about 50-60km of construction, some of which had been pretty wet and muddy. Lord knows what it would be like if it rained reasonably heavily - a slippery, muddy mess all the way, most likely! I wasn't looking forward to it at all. But the road Gods were working in my favour for once, and there were only about 3-4km of construction detour, and it was dry, dusty and covered in golfball sized pebbles, so I just took it slowly and reached the end of the works unscathed and still upright.
Hotel hunting, I rode round and round in C. Rivadavia, as my way was constantly blocked by a street parade of children and teenagers, twirling and twisting themselves in frantic dancing scenarios, but eventually managed to wend my way through all the one way streets and find a hotel in this predominantly oil funded city. Not cheap, but I wasn't bothered - it had been a long day, after all.
Off into the unknown the next morning, on Ruta 3 north, which I had not travelled on the way south. But the time passed quickly, although towns and villages were few and far between, most of the time. I'd seen lots of guanchos since getting back ito Argentina, and there were many more on this day. On one occasion, I had to slow, almost to a halt, to allow them time to get off the road. On another, I saw the largest herd yet, about 40-50 of them, not far off the highway, but a little too far for photos. It was difficult to get photos, as there wasn't much to take photos of!
The further north I travelled, the warmer it became, and the cold weather gear was removed and packed away. I met a Brazilian chap on a Tenere at the fuel stop at Garayalde and chatted with him for a while. Met him again the next morning at another stop, then bumped into him in a restaurant in Coronel Pringles the next night. It was good to have someone to chat with, altho it was mangled, in a mixture of English, Spanish and his native Portugese. But we managed.
I'd stayed in Sierra Grande the previous night, and made it to Coronel Pringles, a delightful town, for my last night on the road prior to arriving in BsAs. All of the streets were cobbled, which made slow speed pottering a little difficult, I must admit. After getting into the hotel, I went out wandering in the cool of the evening. Of course, the ice cream parlour was a must-visit place. I ordered, and looked away a other things in the shop. When I looked back, the lass was handing me an enormous icecream, standing a good 6 inches above the top of the cone! But it was lovely, all the same, as I sat outside at a table, watching the life and characters of a small town passing by. I still haven't quite worked out which vehicle actually had right of way at the intersection of two one-way streets close to where I sat. There seemed no rhyme or reason to who gave way to whom, as far as I could see. But they must have known what they were doing, as there were no accidents.
It was a deceptive town, which I'd originally thought quite small when looking for the hotel. But the further I walked, the larger the town's shopping centre seemed to become, until I realised it was a quite large commercial area, surrounded by spreading residential areas. All the streets were lined with London plane trees, spreading their welcome shade across the narrow streets, towering over the buildings, all built close together and flat fronted along the streets. It's often difficult to ascertain if a building is a residence or a shop, as most frontages look the same. Reading back over this, I've not done a very good job of describing how lovely the town really is.
The Wednesday morning was quite pleasant, with a cooling breeze which would freshen during the day into a strong sidewind. But it was not the worst wind I'd encountered down here in southern Argentina, by any means. It was only 500km or so into BsAs, so a fairly short day. On the advice of the Brazilian chap I'd met, I'd taken minor roads towards BsAs, rather than the main Ruta 3 highway, and had a pretty good run all the way, with little traffic. Luckily, I had downloaded the route to get to Dakar Motos, into my GPS, so I didn't have many problems finding my way towards and then around the main city area, onto the freeway heading off to the north. But once in the immediate area of Florida, Vincente Lopez, after several wrong directions and wrong turns, I gave up on the GPS and just relied on my memory and directional instinct to successfully arrive at Dakar Motos. Of course, I ended up going the wrong way up a one-way street to reach the address, but that's nothing new for me, since being south of the US border!
Since arriving here, there has been a procession of travellers passing through, some staying here, some staying elsewhere and coming during the day to check on their bikes. Javier and Sandra provide a real home away from home, with bunk beds, a kitchen, bathroom, wireless internet, a backyard for those who wish to camp or if the beds are all full, and all within close proximity of all necessary services, and the train station.
I caught the train into the city with Derek, from UK, for the princely sum of 75 centavos (А$0.26) - 24 minutes travelling and 5 stops - and attended the Australian Embassy, in the hope of getting a new passport, as mine has water damage from the tropical storms in Central America, when it got a bit wet. Nope, couldn't get one, not without providing my original Birth Certificate and a letter from someone here attesting that they have known me for 12 months!! Yeah, right, not easy when one is a traveller, I must say. Derek did offer that he'd known me 2 days, but that didn't get taken very well!
So I'll make my way back to Mexico City on my current passport (hopefully without problems!!) and once there get an "Emergency Passport" to get me into the States, as the Embassy lady official told me the USA definitely wouldn't accept mine, then back to Oz, where I'll obtain yet another new one. I'd purposefully avoided Mexico city on the way south, as they have funny rules about when motos can be ridden in the city, and I've also heard tales of "less than honest" police demanding huge sums from travellers for trumped up reasons. But I'll now have to take steps to get in to the Embassy and back out without the bike, perhaps on public transport. We'll see what transpires, down the track.
While in the city, we went to Fedex, and collected the package of waterpump seals which had been sent by San Diego BMW to Ushuaia, but which had been stuck here in BsAs for 2 weeks or so, never getting to Ushuaia at all. Let's just say that I'm less than impressed with Fedex's delivery procedures and the amount it costs, which, combined with the Argentinian Customs taxes and charges that were tacked on before I could collect it, made it a VERY expensive little package. Methinks I'll stick with ordinary snail-mail, in future, even if it takes a little longer.
My bike has been fitted with a new front tyre, the old one having done over 33,000km, and still looking pretty good, too. Not too bad, for a Metzler Tourance. I'm now waiting patiently for it to be serviced and a couple other little things to be checked, then I'll be off. I'm going to head west over to the Chilean mountain lakes area, then head north again.