Part 13. Argentina down
Sunday, 21 December, 2008 (continued)
Into Argentina, then.
The most significant aspect of the border was that the pavement ended there. It was also the continental divide down the spine of the Andes, but we mostly cared that the pavement ended there. We had been told that it was paved all the way, but that was certainly not the case. There were some very short paved sections, but even those were not good. The tires that we had gotten in Santiago had been fine on pavement, but here they skidded around far more than I was comfortable with. Don's rear tire (a half-worn TKC80) was better than my new Pirelli MT60, but both our new MT90's left us unimpressed.
The gravel road was not very good, and it was unpredictable. The road condition changed and at times was deep, sharp gravel. It was slow going.
The ride down to the border control area was tense due to the road conditions and the on-coming traffic. My rear brake seemed a bit weak a few times, but I thought that it was just my imagination. The views were okay, but were mostly just like the photo above.
As we neared the border post, a young uniformed guard stopped us at the drop-bar and tried to chat with us. His duty was minimal. He tore off small ragged pieces of paper from a scratch pad, wrote our license plate numbers on them and gave them to us. Then he raised the bar and waved us through. Work, work, work. He must be exhausted.
We parked next to the Immigration/Customs office, in the shade of the overhead shelter and got in line behind the bus passengers. Again.
The Immigration Officer quickly stamped our passports then kept asking for something else. It took us a while to realize by his gestures what he wanted. He used his fingers to describe the shape of a small ragged piece of paper that might have been torn off a pad. Well, duh.
We gave him the paper shards that the crossing guard had given us, and he was satisfied that we had come here in the proper manner. How else would we have come here? There was no other road. Hell, there wasn't even another goat path. Scottie might have beamed us down from the Enterprise, but otherwise, we would had to have come from Chile on this lone road. Whatever... it was their system and it worked for them. I just thought that their wily paper-shard security system was quaint. It got quainter before they were done. Those paper bits were our ticket out of here.
The Immigration Dude sent us to the next station. We slid down the countertop to the next station and the Customs Officer had us fill out a small declaration form. When we handed in out Customs Declarations, we had left some things blank and he asked us about that. We weren't sure how to answer some of the questions about our personal affects. We understood that he was asking if everything we had was just for us, nothing was for gifts, nothing for sale, etc. We got that cleared up, and he waved off the rest of the form. He then used his fingers to describe the shape of a small scrap of paper, and we were ready for him. We were hip to this gig.
The Customs Officer stamped our scrap of paper and we were done in there. When we went out to the bikes, we waited for someone to check them or inspect them or something. Nope. Nobody seemed to care when we mounted up and started the motors.
In the photo above, you can see a white van on the other side of the shaded area. It was a pretty cool portable luggage scanner. It had doors that opened on both sides and the conveyor belt sent your luggage in one side, through the scanner, and out the other side. I suppose the bus passengers had to do that, but no one seemed to expect us to. We slowly rode past the scanner-van and to the next drop-bar crossing guard beyond. He, like the first guard, was not overworked. All he wanted was our twice-stamped paper scraps with our license plates scribbled on them, and up the bar came as he went back inside his hut. I was disappointed, because I kinda wanted to keep that vital sliver of paper as a memento. Bummer.
Welcome to Argentina.
Now, a moment to talk about insurance. We were fully intending to get insurance for Argentina, and we knew that we would be in this country for a while. We had asked the people in the Immigration/Customs building about insurance, but they told us that it wasn't mandatory. They had no other information about it.
I had read other riders' reports of police asking them for insurance, and someone had sent me some information about where to buy insurance (which, of course, I could not find when I needed it). We decided to ask again about insurance at the next city. We did that and learned nothing about whether or not it was needed or where we could get it. Same at the next city after that.
We were never stopped by the police (aside from routine checkpoints), so we were never required to show insurance. We saw some police officers in some cities, but asking them was frustrating. They either didn't know, or said that we needed insurance but were then told that as tourists, we were unable to get insurance. What was that supposed to mean?
I tried looking online, because I remember someone sending me an Internet link to a company that sells insurance online, but I found nothing.
Our solemn intention to not ride uninsured again was not looking good.
The road from the Immigration/Customs control area was just as bad as it was leading up to it. It was mostly downhill, and sometimes was quite steep. Suddenly my rear brake faded, and I almost had a low-side fall on some bad gravel when I tried to trail-brake lightly and found nothing there. The brake pedal went fully down and nothing happened.
It was one of those "Oh, shit!" moments.
I slid through the curve and added some throttle to motor through it. That kept me on a course of my choosing, so that was good. It was faster than I wanted to go, but I made it. You have to be careful using the front brake too much on roads like this, because the front tire can slide out and you lose your steering as well.
When we had a chance to stop, I looked at the rear brake. There was brake fluid on the rear wheel and tire. I traced it to a leak on the rear brake line, right where the banjo connector is crimped onto the flexible line. The specter of Whitehorse reared up again. This was the extra-long snowmobile brake line that I had gotten in Whitehorse to replace the line that I had snapped there. I had gotten fond of it. Oh, well.
I rode carefully on down the eastern side of the Andes, and the views just got better and better. The trees were an odd conifer that shed their lower branches and sometimes looked like umbrellas. I also saw some volcanic rock that reminded me of Devil's Tower in Wyoming.
Eventually, the landscape opened up into lesser foothills and grasslands.
We stopped for gas in Las Lajas, then went into a tourist info office. We got a map of that region of Argentina and asked about insurance again. We got another uncertain answer.
When we got to Zapala, we stopped and wanted to ask about insurance, but everything was closed. I added some brake fluid (I still carried some) to the reservoir, and that gave me a rear brake again. As long as I kept the pressure light, it didn't seem to leak. Must be a very minor leak.
We turned south toward Ruta 40 to get out of Zapala. We didn't get far.
Don's bike suddenly died without warning. He barely got it to the side of the street and out of traffic. The first things we checked were all good, but it just wouldn't start. Didn't seem to be getting spark. We just about ran his battery down trying to start the bike, so we decided to push-start it going downhill in the wrong direction on a one-way street.
Folks, you don't always have to go looking for adventure.
As soon as Don got rolling and popped it into gear, I heard the chain slapping over the sprockets. After he got the bike back off the road, we looked at the chain and saw that it was way too slack. It hadn't been obvious a few moments before. I tightened his chain adjusters quite a ways before the chain was back where it should be.
Also, when Don next tried to start the bike, it fired right up. Huh? He brought the bike back in the correct direction on the street and we poked and prodded it some more, but never found what was wrong.
It was a mystery (at the time), but we accepted the good fortune and hoped that the engine gremlin would take a rest.
We set out on Ruta 40 again. We got a bit further this time. Far enough to be an even bigger pain in the ass when he broke down again.
About twenty miles out of Zapala, on a warm, breezy afternoon, with the sun shining brightly, all seemed well I was enjoying the fast cruising and the easy scenery. I was well ahead of Don--which was typical--and it took me a while to realize I hadn't seen him for a while. I stopped on a long stretch of road and waited for him. And waited.
I turned and went back, finding him stopped on the gravel shoulder of the road, bike parked and much of the luggage already removed. He said that the motor had suddenly died as before, without sputtering or any other warning. We hadn't gotten as far as checking the spark plug in Zapala, so Don had already gotten started on that.
Every now and then, a car would zoom past at about 100 mph, so that kept us on our toes. At least it wasn't raining.
Okay, what makes a motor go purr?
Fuel, check. Air, check. Compression, we'll assume that's okay. Spark? That was our initial suspicion. What makes spark?
We pulled all the luggage off and removed the gas tank. (That's the only way to get the spark plug out of a KLR650.) We got no spark from the plug, so we replaced it with a new one. No spark from that one, either. Okay, what sends spark to the plug?
I had brought a replacement coil and a new CDI unit. This might seem obsessive to most riders, but my thought was this: These parts have failed before, although rarely, and if they do fail the bike is a big paperweight and you will never find these parts in the wild.
So, since I had the chance to bring a couple of expensive parts that will probably never be needed, that's what I did.
Not that it helped. After spending more than an hour swapping out the CDI, and then the ignition coil, nothing was better. The sun was getting lower. We seriously considered flagging down a truck to haul the bike back to Zapala and working on it tomorrow.
It was frustrating and confusing. What causes a motor to run? Fuel, air, compression... spark.
Spark, spark, spark. Where does that spark... come... from?
Aha. It was a true "Aha!" moment.
Don's chain had been very, very loose earlier today. All of you KLR gurus with me?
We pulled off his front sprocket cover, and there it was. Two of the wires coming out of the stator had been chewed by the slack chain. Of course, in order to get to the wires, the chain had already broken through the front of the sprocket cover. The cover used to have a projection that covered the wires, but it was completely gone now. We had checked tires and chains this morning, so all that slack had happened today. Not a good sign for the continuing life of the chain.
The green neutral-state indicator wire was a partial casualty, but it wasn't critical and was quickly taped up. Another wire was severed. I pulled off some of the insulation from each of the wire ends, pulled some slack out of the wire loom and twisted the ends together. A bit of solder from my repair kit (complete with mini butane torch), some electrical tape, and that was that.
Roadside electrical repairs while you wait. Took about four hours for all that.
Check out the long shadows.
There was no way were getting anywhere else today, so we packed the bike back up, tightened the chain some more, and headed back to Zapala.
Once back in town, I rode up next to this couple on the small moto and asked them for directions to a hotel and they had us follow them. They were just cruising downtown like a lot of other people. I thought there was maybe a festival or something, but they said no, it was just Friday evening.
The hotel was okay, P/135 per night. They even had a garage for me to dump my bike over in. Crash. It was the most stupid, inane, unexplainable tip-over ever. I rode the bike in, stopped, turned back to ask the guy if parking right there was alright, and I leaned a little too much. I had my feet too close together and couldn't stop the bike from coming over. It came down and I went sideways into the car that was parked there. Don said it looked like my helmet went through the car's side window--which it did--but I was lucky that the car's window was already rolled down.
The hotel guy watched silently as I worked the bike upright. He walked away before I picked up my broken left mirror and the parts of my broken windshield. That was the windshield that Laurie had brought to me in Panama and that I had modified while in Tocumen by walking around with a piece of plastic in my hands. Breaking that windshield really honked me off. Man, that really honked me off. I took the pieces up to the room so I could look at them and stay honked off.
Don was happy to have a bathroom with a toilet and a seat, with paper, with a shower that worked, and with a bidet just for those special moments.
The restaurant next door was named for Don Quioxte, and had that theme to the decoration. It was a little expensive, but it was okay. The beef was good, the Quilmes Red Lager was good (especially in liter size), and the over-constructed dessert was a bit too foo-foo but was also okay.
I managed to get the mirror back together, since it was a ball-and-socket joint that had come apart. I went to bed, happy about getting Don's bike running again out in the middle of nowhere, but I was mostly still pissed about the windshield.
Monday, 22 December, 2008
I was still angry about the broken windshield at breakfast.
I was still angry about the broken windshield while I taped the damned thing back together in the garage. Another guy saw my need and he brought me some clear cellophane tape. The main part of the windshield had broken diagonally right through the center, so the left side of the laminar extension was bolted to nothing, essentially. I removed the hardware and used the extension piece as a splint and taped it all around. It worked okay, but was shorter than I wanted and had no laminar benefit, so there was more turbulence over the top.
We had met a couple of Swiss guys in the hotel and talked them for a bit in the garage. One was riding a big KTM and the other was driving a huge Land Rover as a support vehicle. They were headed for Ushuaia, but said they were not going to be rushing. We might see them again, but who knows?
We needed to be very wary about Don's chain since the wires were still vulnerable. I checked my own chain, and it was very loose. Both chains had probably been stretched over the last 11,000 miles, and were at risk. We tightened them both, but after checking them again and seeing how the tension changed after just rolling the bike around was clear enough. We needed to change Don's chain. If only we had a spare chain.
HAH! Of course we had started the trip with spare chains and sprockets. I had learned that lesson in the Yukon and in Alaska. I also recognized the pattern of the chain being too-tight and then too-loose. Don's sprockets still looked good, though.
We put a new chain on Don's bike and feared less for his stator wires. We might try to fashion a guard of some kind for the stator wires, since the sprocket guard was munched. My chain was also not so good, but we wanted to get rolling.
Don checked with an insurance company and found that we could get insurance for P/245 for four months. Cash only. He went to an ATM and got the money, only to come back and find from the same ditzy sales gal that they don't sell insurance to tourists. Only for locally-registered vehicles. She said we needed to go to the regional capital city of Neuquen, which was the only place that tourists could get insurance. That sounded like bunk to me, but that's what we decided to do.
We needed to get out of Zapala, in any case. We had a late lunch (we had worked on the bikes for a few hours) and that also took a while. The service at that restaurant wasn't quite Jamaica-slow, but it was close.
My chain then scraped a bit--too tight--so I loosened it one turn. Much better. Let's get it rolling.
We headed to Neuquen, which was a couple hours east. The road was mostly flat and featureless.
I saw several billboards describing the region as being known for wine, apples, and dinosaur fossils. Just before getting to the city, we were detoured for a couple miles on a really bad dirt, sand, and loose gravel road. We were behind a bus, so the dust was terrible. We went to the center of the city and stopped to ask people where we could get insurance, but the people we spoke to gave us conflicting information. One guy gave us directions (and drew a map) to a big company that sold insurance, so we went there. I parked on the sidewalk and another moto rider pulled up next to me. He told me that this place didn't sell motorcycle insurance, but he knew where we needed to go. He wrote down the name and address of Organizacion Padro, on Avenida Juan B. Justo. It was only a couple blocks away, so we rode there and saw that they were still open in the late afternoon.
We went in and asked, but they insisted that they could only sell insurance to residents of Argentina. The large, no-nonsense woman said that yes, insurance was required, but she offered no suggestion for getting any. A police officer we asked later told us the same thing. Yes, you need it but you can't get it. Nice.
We hadn't seen many hotels, so we went back to one we saw on the main business street. It was the Ingles Hotel, and it had a tiny gated courtyard for the bikes.
The old lady who greeted us was a darling who sat us down in the parlor office and had us register. She spoke a little English, but it was clear that she hadn't practiced in a while. I wish that I had taken a few photos of that room. The walls were covered with old photos of her and her husband, who was now deceased. She was quite the cutie as a young woman. I wish that we had been able to ask her about many of the photos, or to ask her more about herself, but it was too awkward. Some of the photos were from the U.S., some were maybe Europe, but most were from Argentina. She made a point of pointing out one photo of her (a recent photo) with two identical small white dogs. They were obviously dear to her now. Another photo of the dogs looked like it was taken a dog show. Maybe they were champions.
We were given a key ring that had three large, ancient keys. She explained that the red-painted key was for our room, the white-painted key was for the outer gate, and the third, unpainted key was for some mysterious thing that she told us we were not to use. That almost made me want to go around trying the key in every lock, but I resisted the urge.
The room was small, and the bathroom had been modified to include a shower. Actually, the whole bathroom was the shower, and the purpose of the shower curtain was to keep the shower off the toilet and bidet. We saw several modified bathrooms like this, and some of them were very awkward. Still, we were happy to have rooms, so we can't complain. We had slept in a hurricane in La Bufa, remember?
The room did have a cranky ceiling fan, but we were unable to get it to run quietly. We picked the least-noisy speed and that was the best we could do. Also, the window had a screen that allowed mosquitoes in, and I later got bitten all through the night. More perils of travel.
We walked down to a street that was busy with pedestrians walking around the stores. Across the street was what looked like an area that had been recently renovated into a park. We sat at a sidewalk restaurant for pizza and beer. It was the best we could do at the time.
And what the heck is it with Argentina's use of wax paper napkins? That red dispenser you see above was commonplace in this country, but the napkins were all but useless. If the pizza hadn't come with one actual napkin apiece, we'd still be all greasy.
Don wanted to charge up his cell phone's Claro SIM chip, so we went to a shop that told him that his phone wouldn't work in Argentina. Another shop sent Don to the "main" Claro store in the city, so we walked over there. That store was closed, and we ended up back on the same business street where Don went into another shop and the clerk there had no trouble getting a SIM card to work in his phone. Some sales people are idiots. In every country, it's true.
I wanted something sweet, so we went to an ice cream shop where I asked for the fruit salad with ice cream. The server didn't understand the ingredients for this complex menu choice and had to get the manager. The manager was very patient when I asked for vanilla ice cream, and he kept looking at me expectantly. I didn't know what he wanted of me. Eventually he pointed at the various flavors and asked me which I wanted. I again asked for vanilla, and he again said, "Si," and then again just stared at me. A quick conference of the employees was then needed, and they were all confused. To make a long story short, the problem was that I got three scoops of ice cream with the fruit salad, and they couldn't get me to order the other two flavors. It took a while to convince them that I didn't want anything but vanilla. That seemed loco to them, but I finally got what I wanted. Okay, I admit that I was partly afraid to try the Sambayon or Kinotos Al Whisky flavors. And it's too late now to tell me what they are, so don't bother.
Before returning to our hotel, we went across the highway to McDonalds to see if we could get some ice. The manager gave us two big cups of ice, and that was one of the biggest treats of all. Back in our room, I tried some of the blush wine that I had gotten in Chile, and it was pretty good. I couldn't re-seal the 2-liter box, so I left the rest of the wine there. I hope the maid enjoyed it.
Tuesday, 23 December, 2008
We were up early and back over to McD's for breakfast. Hey, there wasn't much on the highway, okay?
McDonalds didn't open for a while, so we had to wait. We walked around and sat on the curb watching a handyman sweep the parking lot. After having McBreakfast, we packed up the bikes and squeezed our bikes back out to the street. I had seen a Kawasaki shop nearby, so we went there and found that they had no parts at all, only small motorcycles for sale. The salesman sent us to another shop nearby. That was a pretty good referral.
That scraggly shop not only had a suitable hydraulic brake line, but it was also far too long, so it seemed like fate that my rear brake line would have a loop in it. They also had several tires that would fit our bikes. I rooted around through the stacks of tires and found one that looked best and bought it as a spare (just in case). I strapped it on top of my tailbox. We also found that they had 520V o-ring chains that we could get as replacements for Don's spare that we had already used and mine that I would use soon. We were again well stocked with parts when we left Neuquen and headed south toward Bariloche.
We paralleled a large reservoir for a while, but at too low an altitude to see it well. It was again the Wine, Apples, and Dinosaur region.
We stopped for gas and then for a meal at a nice restaurant along the road. Lots of sandwiches get served around here.
We met a Brazilian rider who pulled up and joined us at our table in the open yard area. Erivan was from Fortaleza, and we asked him a lot of questions about riding in Brazil and what the roads were like. He was headed south now, maybe to Ushuaia, but he was just going around South America in less than three weeks so he had no specific destinations. Erivan was on a Honda Varadero that I hadn't seen before. He told us that it was never marketed in the U.S. We said our good-byes and wished each other nice rides.
The ride south from there was good enough for a photo interlude:
Lovely and much like Colorado. The mountains seemed a bit younger and more ragged as we neared Bariloche.
We met another group of riders who were loaded up for long riding. We all stopped together at the edge of Bariloche and checked out each others' bikes. They were three Italian riders on bikes, and two others in a rental car. They said that they had some problems in Brazil with importing their bikes, so two of them were in the car. I've heard some stories about the VIN having a typo or other error that caused bikes to be seized. Don't know what their particular problem had been.
The lucky three were on a Transalp, a BMW, and a KTM.
Erivan (in the black suit) met up us with us all there again, so I got a partial photo of his Varadero.
San Carlos de Bariloche was a very nice city, touristy like Aspen or Tahoe, but a bit more like Tahoe because of the lake.
We stopped along the shore road in Bariloche and ate ice cream. Three middle-aged Auzzies were there having at the beer, and we chatted with them a bit. We asked them about roads in the area, but they didn't know anything about the area. They were driving a rental car, and had come from somewhere to here and were going somewhere else, but the details were just too much for them. They were nice enough and fun for a bit, but not for long.
I would have liked to find Bariloche's central park area, but for some reason we got on the bikes and fought through the traffic without stopping. The place looked very nice, but we saw very little of it.
Instead, we got back into the real scenery.
There were fast winds overhead, and I took a lot of photos of interesting lenticular clouds.
I, myself, am not as photogenic as the area around Bariloche. Sorry.
The mountains faded away further south, and the road also faded.
After a dreary period, it got better as the day wore on. It got colder and windier. We decided to divert into Esquel for the night.
Esquel looked like a summer and winter resort area with watersports and skiing for vacationers. We did see several hotels, but many were closed and we had to ask around to find one that was open. We ended up at the Hotel Argentino, a very old building that was full of interesting old items. It looked like it had seen better days, but it was also undergoing some remodeling and renovation. The bar only had a couple drunks in it at the time. Later in the evening, there were more customers and the billiard rooms were popular.
The room was cheap, and the place had character up the wazoo.
After getting settled into our ski-bum room, we went down to the center of town. There was a celebration in the street, and we learned from a drunk Welsh guy that it was in celebration of a soccer championship. They were throwing very large exploding firecrackers on the street, and I am amazed that some windows weren't broken out.
The drunk Welshman invited us into the restaurant where he was drinking, and we joined him. That's how we made the odd acquaintance of Hugh Jones. Hugh was very hard to talk with, mainly because he was very hard to talk to or to listen to. He had the attention span of a lemming, and repeated himself constantly. He told us that he had already alienated an American tourist at the hostel they were sharing, and the American was now down to one-word greetings to him. We could understand why.
I wasn't very hungry, so I only had an appetizer that was cold meat and veggies rolled up. The potato salad was good.
Hugh was on a bus trip in South America, vacationing alone for a while. He said something about maybe doing some work down here, but we didn't get what he was saying. He told us some things to do in Buenas Aires, and he insisted that we take Tango lessons because, as he put it, it's hilarious. I think that Buenas Aires takes its Tango very seriously, so Hugh probably wasn't liked there, either.
He described himself as a big, fat, pissed Welsh bastard. By pissed, he meant that he was drunk. He had only had one wine, so I think the alcohol could only be blamed for so much.
We spent over an hour with Hugh, but I mostly remember that he was difficult company. We talked the very patient waiter, Cristian, into taking our photo so that if I ever see Hugh again, I'll remember him and can quietly go the other way. I need more sunblock on my face, I see.
In the above photo, you can see some money on the table. I put it there to pay our full share of the bill (even though Hugh initially insisted on buying our drinks), but soon after this photo was taken, Hugh very deftly pocketed the money without even looking at it. The move of a pro. Don and I left soon after, so Hugh didn't get the chance to duck out on us first. I don't know why, but I think that was his plan. Just my gut feeling.
Back at the hotel, we had a heck of a time getting the toilet to work. The water reservoir was built into the wall, which now had a big hole in it. We found out that the hole was so that you could reach into the wall and into the water to manually pull up the plug to let the toilet flush. Fun.
Travel gives you lots of things to talk and write about.
Wednesday, 24 December, 2008
There was an early knock at the door and we got to meet the hotel owner. Juan was from Buenas Aires, and he definitely had the European ancestry that was common there. His English was pretty good. He had plans to improve and expand the place. He told us that the other employees were gone and he was going back to sleep upstairs, so when we wanted to get our bikes out of the locked driveway, we needed to shout up at the front of the hotel to wake him up.
Don and I went to the same restaurant for breakfast sandwiches. There was a decent general store in town, so I got a replacement 12V air pump for my bike. Back at the hotel, we wanted to work on the bikes for a while before leaving, so we wandered around and found an unsecured door into the bar area. That got us out into the patio and the driveway. We considered working on the bikes there, but we didn't want Juan to find out that we had trespassed through his bar.
I yelled and finally got Juan to come down and open the gates, and we moved the bikes to the street in front of the hotel.
Juan saw us start to work on the bikes, and he decided to help. That turned out to be okay, and we learned that he had worked with off-road trucks. I removed my bike's chain and took out the new one that I had gotten in Neuquen. That was a 118-link chain, so it needed to be broken down to the needed length of 106 links. I got out my chain breaker and we laid both chains out on the sidewalk to compare lengths. The old chain was so stretched that we had difficulty keeping them aligned as we measured them.
I pushed out the pin of the new chain, but I had made the mistake of leaving the old master link in the original chain, so the newly-cut chain was one link too long. That, of course, was not a problem. After popping out one more link, Juan and I started to install the chain, but I saw that one of the teeth on my rear sprocket was broken off at the tip. Off came the rear wheel and so did the sprocket. The spare sprocket went on and Juan helped me get the wheel back on the bike.
The front sprocket looked fine, by the way. The common wisdom is to replace sprockets and chains at the same time. Don's sprockets had looked fine when we replaced his chain, and we left them as they were. The mistakes I had made in the Yukon and Alaska were on my mind, but I knew that my biggest error then had been leaving a mis-aligned rear wheel in place until the chain and sprockets were too far gone to save. I had been paying a lot of attention to the chain and alignment this time, so I was comfortable with the state of the remaining sprockets. Aside from the stretch, both of our old chains had looked fine. All was better than it had been up North.
The new chain had come with a rivet-style master link, but I had a couple spare clip-style master links and I used one of those. It was the same make and model of chain, so that was fine.
I removed my leaky rear brake line and installed the new one, looping it as the other had been. Juan helped me fill the hydraulic reservoir and bleed the line. Ready to go.
Don had been doing some work on his bike, and he cleaned our air filters. They weren't as dirty as they had been the last couple times we cleaned them, but they could only benefit from the attention. We were now out of filter cleaner and oil, so we would look for more.
I took the bike around the block a couple times to test out the brake and get the chain set. Going over a dip in the road, I felt something wrong with the rear suspension. I rode it back to the hotel and checked everything, but nothing looked wrong. I checked the chain and re-adjusted it. All set.
We said good-bye to Juan, and I regret that I forgot to take his photo. He had worked on the bikes for a few hours with us. Nice guy.
As we started out of Esquel, I again felt the rear suspension bump wrong when I went over a speed bump. We pulled over in a parking lot and I looked at everything again. Nothing appeared wrong. It was as if the suspension was bottoming out.
When I started to get back on the bike, I realized that it was sinking low on the rear shock. I played with it a bit, even tried to increase the shock's pre-load, but that proved hard to do. The adjustment mechanism was seized and the shock probably needed to be rebuilt (at the very least). There was no evidence of fluid leak, and it wasn't bouncing around on only the spring. It just sat down too low.
I had bought that shock several years ago on e-Bay from a guy in Iowa. He had mounted a heavy 550# spring on a stock KLR650 shock, and it had served me well on my first KLR--the one that I crashed and bashed all over the Rockies. I liked that beefy spring enough that I had re-mounted the shock on this bike for this trip. I should have had it serviced before doing so, but that was now hindsight.
For now, it would sag, but would continue to serve.
The weather was cool, cloudy, and windy, and it was later than we had intended when we finally got underway. We turned south into the plains and endured a road that had seen better days. A light rain came and made things worse.
Some sections of road were badly broken up, some looked as if they had recently been repaved. Lots of significant pot holes. The scenery was limited.
The clouds came and went, and the weather kept changing. We had been in our rain gear for a while, and then suddenly it was sunny. We got diverted for several miles onto a temporary road that was too soft for our comfort or our tires. They were rebuilding the main road, but were taking a pre-holiday break.
Don's front wheel developed a very loud squeak on that gravel. I suspected the brake pads, which were scored up, but after looking at them, there were no rocks there anymore.
The clouds in this open country again caught my eye.
Along one stretch of road, I thought the tar patches looked like a Tolkienian script. Roadwork by elves?
We passed south of a large, green lake, and after that, the landscape was lush for a while. There were long lines of tall trees. Windbreaks or property lines, maybe. We saw cattle for the first time in quite a while, too.
The greenery didn't last long, and dry hills took over again. Then there were oil wells.
At a gas station, we replaced Don's front brake pads when I saw some scoring on his brake rotor. After a very short test ride with the new pads, it was clear that the squeal remained. We stopped again on the road later to look at them again. Maybe the problem was something else. The noise seemed to come from the left side of the hub, but sometimes metallic noise can travel. His left fork tube had been bent slightly in Peru, and maybe the left wheel bearing was now complaining. Nothing to do about that now, and I didn't want to risk removing the wheel at this point. If the bearing had gone bad, the tight axle was all that might be holding the hub centered. Best not to remove the wheel until we had a replacement bearing on hand. No, we didn't bring extra wheel bearings.
I had thought about it, trust me.
Don's bike kept singing its road song as we continued. It was very loud.
We had been east-bound all day, and we finally got to the Atlantic Ocean just south of Comodoro Rivadavia. This was now Ruta 3, and it would take us south to Ushuaia. We first went into the upscale city just south of there (I forget the name and don't care to look it up). There was nothing there of use to us. No hotel, no service station, nothing but unusually extravagant homes and a few small shops. We asked several residents for a hotel, and they always sent us "just the next block over," but there was never a hotel there. What the hell is it with some people?
We stayed long enough for a few photos. There was an odd shelter facility, but what it was for I have no idea. Looked like a Hollywood set for a bad Medieval movie.
We went a few miles back north to Comodoro Rivadavia, a much larger city, but found most places were closed for Christmas Eve. We finally gave up looking for the center of the city or a hotel, and stopped to eat in a gas station's cafeteria. Cold sandwiches and juice on Christmas Eve.
I got a surprise text message from a friend back home, and then he sent me a "no room at the inn" joke when I texted him back that we were having trouble finding a place to stay on Christmas Eve. Life is full of small coincidences.
We finally resorted to asking people on every street corner, and one guy who was with his family at a small park said that he would lead us to a nice hotel. He packed the family into his tiny car and zoomed off. We followed him to a decent hotel, but they had no safe parking for the bikes. Neither did the next hotel we found, or the next. We almost resorted to staying at a big, expensive hotel, but we settled for one where we could park on the sidewalk in front of the hotel's windows. After I paid in cash, a guy who worked there warned us quite strongly that anything that could be removed from the bikes should be removed or it would be stolen. We were reluctant to take off all the soft luggage, but he repeated that someone would cut the straps and take it all if we left it outside. That was such a strong warning that we begged our money back from the hotel and went looking elsewhere.
We were starting to see and hear fireworks all over the city as the day was almost over. People were outside waiting for midnight. We finally got more directions to the Hotel Atlantico, and that made everything better. They had room at their inn, and they had a big attached garage.
As we were unpacking the bikes, midnight struck and the manager brought us glasses of champagne in the garage for a toast. Inside, we saw all the employees having a toast together, too. Very nice.
The fireworks got louder, and continued as we later tried to sleep.
Thursday, 25 December, 2008
Breakfast was included. Only then did we notice that they had Wi-Fi in the dining area. We lingered after eating, just so we could spend some time online. Breakfast was just bread and juice, so it didn't occupy much of our time anyway.
I got another ride report update uploaded, spent some time in a few user forums, and handled some email. After Don did the same, we loaded up and rode south on Ruta 3. We would have liked to gotten some wheel bearings for Don, but the holiday had everything closed. His front hub squeaked briefly early, then went quiet the rest of the day.
It was very warm, which was nice. Before long, we crossed a state or provincial border, and had a brief stop by police. They asked where we were going, and when we told them that we were headed all the way to Ushuaia, they asked us to go register inside the office there on the right in the next photo.
It was like the police stop in Panama. They wanted to put us in their Book Of Tourists Who Might Not Make It Through Patagonia Alive. After the pretty policewoman wrote all our info into her tome, we were allowed to proceed. We were along the coast for a while before heading inland.
Another police checkpoint was even quicker. My interrogator asked to see my passport, the bike's import paper, and my carnet.
My what? Yes, he repeated that he wanted to see my carnet. What 'carnet' meant to me was not what it meant to him. He finally showed me his own driver's license, and I showed him mine. That was what he needed, and we waved me on.
Don's policeman wanted to see more from him, but they finally let him pass, too.
It was a little gusty, but still warmer than it had been yesterday.
We saw herds of alpaca or llamas, but not much else in the way of animals. Whichever they were, they knew to get out of the way. After stopping at Tres Cerros for gas and food, we continued into a cooler and cloudier evening.
We pulled in Puerto San Julian and went to the coast. There, we saw a pirate ship.
It was a real ship that had been converted into a small museum with mannequins in various positions inside and on the deck.
The playground next to the ship was popular on Christmas. There was a rock displayed with a plaque, so it must have been something historical. Didn't bother to go read it.
We skipped the pirate museum and the playground, rode up the coast a while and found these new, green, Perfectville Townhomes right along the waterline. Weird.
We settled into a hotel that had us park the bikes in a gated driveway alongside. We had seen a motorcycle shop in town, but it was closed along with everything else. Don's front hub wasn't making noise today--not since first thing in the morning, anyway--and we thought that maybe it had worked out its own problems.
We decided to sleep on it.
Friday, 26 December, 2008
Another basic continental breakfast greeted us, so Don swiped several crescent rolls from other tables that had nobody at them. At least that made for a more filling meal.
Wind was a guarantee and we got plenty. The north and east of Tierra del Fuego is mostly flat. The mountains are west and south. We headed west and south. We did cross some rivers and greenery.
When the wind was really bad, there was not way to take photos. One hand on the handlebars was impossible. This was typical wind and a typical lean by Don. I think his hub squeaked some during the day.
We were lucky right now, because the wind came from our right most of the time. (It did swirl around some, and that was always hazardous.) On the return trip, every passing vehicle will briefly block the wind (which will then be coming from our left) and those sudden wind shifts can always be very harsh.
Fortunately, it was only cool and didn't get very cold.
Another police checkpoint. We were logged into another book. Yawn.
More road work put us on a bad gravel road. It took us quite a while to pass this truck because the dust was so bad that we couldn't see the on-coming lane. This was an east-bound stretch, so the wind was a tail wind that was moving at about our speed. We rode in our own dust clouds.
We turned south again. Windy, windy. Wave clouds formed over us.
We got into Rio Gallegos and rode around to see what the place looked like. I thought the waterfront would be a likely place for restaurants, but it was all lined with expensive homes. We went back into the center of town and stopped at a pizza place, but when we parked the bikes, the wind blasting down the street was like a wind tunnel. Don's bike was bucking, but mine was worse so I moved it to the other side of the street to face into the wind.
The pizza restaurant was very loud, TVs all over the place and all were turned all the way up. Quiet just isn't allowed in Latin America. My German pizza (supposedly sausage, sauerkraut, tomato paste) turned out to be hot dogs, sauerkraut, ketchup, olives. Olives with pits, of course. The beer was more dependable.
Don's Special pizza was ham and cheese, tomatoes, mushy palm hearts, hard-boiled eggs, olives.
Our hotel for the night was basic, but it had a parking lot, and they had us park the bikes behind a green wood-slat gate just so they would be more out of sight.
We rode to a motorcycle shop to ask if they had wheel bearings, but they did not. I accidentally left my nylon sidestand block at the bike shop and went back the next morning to to look for it, but someone had taken it. I picked up a chunk of laminated particle board and carried that afterwards.
After a nap in the room, we walked around looking for an Internet cafe, but the ones we found would not let me plug my laptop into their systems. Eventually, we found a restaurant that had Wi-Fi and better pizza, but we were still full from earlier. They had a lot of other grilled foods, too. I wish we had found that place first. Too bad. We had dessert while we spent some time online. There were a lot of German-speaking customers there, we noticed. Residents, not tourists.
The restaurant got completely packed with diners after 22:00. They do like to eat late down here.
Saturday, 27 December, 2008
When we were ready to get rolling, I saw that I was a bit low on oil. I added some and then saw that the aluminum aftermarket oil filler cap was getting rounded off. I took it off and replaced it with a stock cap that I carried. The aluminum cap required a wrench to remove, and it was intended to prevent anyone from tampering with the oil or dropping something in the motor. Not worth it, in my opinion.
Don's left fork tube had stopped leaking fluid, so I assumed that it was dry. He said it still handled fine. The hub was squealing again.
It was again cool, windy, flat.
We got the to border with Chile again. We would need to spend some time in Chile before crossing the Strait of Magellan, then later cross back in to Argentina. Tierra del Fuego is split down the middle between the two countries.
Getting out of Argentina was easy. We parked with all the other cars in line and went inside to stand in line.
Once we were stamped out by Immigration, we went to another counter to export the bikes. Didn't take long.
We'd be back in Argentina later today.
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Part 13 - Argentina Down
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