The Barefoot Man

Heading into town today, I forgot about putting some shoes on. Normally I am always walking around in shoes, but today my flip-flops failed me and fell apart. It was on the bus that I realised my dilemma, and by then it was too late.

As I started walking about the city, I felt very conspicuous, and it seemed that many people were staring at me, although I could not prove it.

Then, while I was in one of the stores waiting to be served, a little girl walked up to me and stood there staring. She was not staring at me, but rather at my bare feet. Then she suddenly turned around and ran over to the security guard and asked him, “Have you seen that barefoot man?”

I felt very conspicuous at that moment, and was glad when I could leave that place. As I continued around the city, the pressure got to me. Whether it came from inside of me and my expectations of myself, or whether it was an unseen pressure from this society in which I live, I do not know. But I went into the very next shop and bought myself some footware.

Now I feel a lot more comfortable as I walk around in my $5 peso kung-fu shoes.

Heading Out the Door

ready and eager to goIt is time. 8am in the morning and I am heading off now. As you can see, the bike is pretty loaded with all of my stuff. This is how I am travelling to Salta. Today I leave. Where I end up is anybody’s guess. It will be closer to Salta than to Corrientes.

I leave with my backpack behind me, the highway before me, and a desire for adventure within. It has been a longstanding dream of mine to buy a scooter and travel around Italy, and when I arrived in Argentina that dream became to buy a scooter and travel around South America. Today I start that dream.

It is always hard to leave behind the friendships that have been forged over the years. To move on to another place is starting again from scratch. It is both exciting and sad. It is not something that should ever be done lightly, but sometimes it is time to go. To move on.

Today, it is my time.

So I go, and in going, I thank all of my dear friends for their friendship, and their investment in my life. Thank you for the “footprints” you have left in my life. For the changes that just by being there, you have caused in me. Thank you. Thank you so much. I will miss you. Every one of you.

It is never easy saying goodbye. Even when you are heading out the door.

packed and ready to go
A loaded bike.

on the bike and packed
Ready to go.

My mascott
My mascot – Wile Coyote.

celebration time
Celebration Time.

Blackout in the City

I had just arrived and used my last pennies in buying my favorite food, "Chipacitos." These little bread-cheese balls left me without a cent, but they were lovely. The next stop was the bank to correct this situation.

one lonely shop with lights
Along the main city pedestrian mall is one lonely shop with lights.

In the bank was a line of people but the air-conditioning was lovely. Outside it was in the mid 30’s but the charts were saying that it felt like 44 degrees Celsius. I could not disagree with them. It was already 8pm at night but the temperature had not yet budged. So standing in line for an automatic bank machine was not a big issue at all in this lovely and cool room.

When finally it was my turn, everybody had left the large multi-machine room that I was in. Inserting my card in the machine and going through the familiar processes to which I had become accustomed, I was surprised to have the machine spit my card back out again and tell me it was rejected. This was unusual behavior as I had previously used my card successfully in this very machine.

Unperturbed, I considered another previous experience when the same thing had happened. When I tried another machine in the same room during that experience, everything worked out fine. Thinking that this would be the same sort of thing here, I removed my card and walked over to the machine next to mine, preparing it to enter the slot.

supermarket flooding the street with light
Only darkness except for a supermarket that provides some light later on.

At that moment in time, just as my hand was reaching forward to insert my card, the lights flickered and went out for a moment, returned again, and then dropped out for good. As I was taking in all of these events, the monitor of the teller machine in front of me suddenly disappeared, caving into a center dot of light which slowly faded to nothingness.

There I was, standing in a bank where all power had been lost. No backup power, no cameras, no machines. But I had my card in my hand. By the grace of God I had my card in my hand. Getting a card out of a machine over here is a significant task, and if you arrive late then the card is destroyed. So I was very thankful that I had my card with me, even though I was still completely broke.

In leaving the bank, I discover that this power outage had affected the entire city center. There was no lights at all down the pedestrian mall that marked the heart of the city. It was complete blackness. Shops were moving customers out and closing their doors. People still moved around, but the only light provided was that by the cars at each intersection.

people standing at an intersection
The only light available was from passing cars at the intersections.

After hanging around for half an hour, some of the stores started to turn on generators to give lights that cast a glow over the darkness hanging around the place. People still wandered casually up and down the street as though nothing had happened, watched cautiously by bewildered shop owners and attendants staring out of their locked glass doors. Others rested on the benches in the darkness, watching the shapes of those that kept on wandering.

The shops that now had light were once again open for business. For lack of competition for attention, each of these scattered places was very popular and filled with people. It took over an hour for the lights to come back on again, by which time I had climbed onto my motorbike and headed back home.

Of course the drive home was also very interesting. No traffic lights nor street lights made it very dangerous along the main avenue that I was traveling down. The lights on my old motorbike did not reach too far ahead, so I was left to search out bicycles and mopeds crossing my path by their shadows in the lights of approaching cars.

icecream shop with basic lights
The popularity of shops with lights increased.

Many of the intersections that I was able to identify, and there were quite a number that I passed through before realizing, involved an unintentional game of chicken with other drives vying to cross over in front of me. There was only one harrowing moment when I had to duck and weave through some bicycles but the rest of the journey was bearable.

Returning to my neighborhood revealed lights and everything functioning normally. There had been a moment when the lights dimmed but it did not cut off. In my travel back here, this would be one of the few areas in the city that were not dotted with darkness. The blackout was the worst I have experienced yet.

Siambretta Ready to Go – Oh Hang On!

An afternoon storm thundered down upon us, the lightning striking close by and cutting electricity to our area. Water filled up any available hole or depression and quickly turned our dirt roads into strips of mud and holes of muddy water. It did not look like I would be able to go and pick up my motorbike today.

deep mud holes of water
When heading out to town this was the state of the roads after the storm.

It was much later that the rain stopped and the heavy storm clouds started to lighten up. Eager to go and get my motorbike, I quickly jumped on a bus and headed out to old Mr Verdun’s place to see how it was. It took too buses to get there, but when I arrived my bike was fully assembled, sitting there waiting for me to pick it up.

Chatting with Mr Verdun I learn that everything has been sorted out and the bike runs very well. We fire it up and it sounds like a drag-racing bike. The idling is a little rough but it started easily. I am told that the idling gets better once the bike is warm and that this has something to do with the cylinder being re-sleeved. The noise of the bike is due to a bad muffler – another item that will need to be replaced at some point.

right side of bike showing muffler
The bad muffler that causes the bike to sound super loud and crackly.

I climb on the bike and take it around the block for a test ride. Everything is working well and the thing has a lot more power than it did before, wanting to jump forward in every gear. The gears no longer jump out or cause any problems either, and when I try the brakes, the bike stops rapidly even to the point of locking up the back wheel.

Everything looks great and I am ready to leave. Before I do however, we wait a little while to prove that the bike also does not flood anymore as it used to do. This takes us into the twilight of evening as we talk about the right mix ratios for the two-stroke oil and petrol and how my carburetor now has a main jet of 80 in place of the 90 that was there. For two old mechanics it all made sense.

Mr Verdun's garage
One part of Mr Verdun’s garage with all of his Siambretta parts.

We try the bike again and it works fine, so I pay the man, grab my helmet and jump on the bike. Ready to go and with the bike idling, I switch over to turn on my headlight and see no light at all. Checking again and moving the levers, switches and key to be sure that all are in the right place, it becomes obvious that there are no lights.

Mr Verdun, who is standing right next to me, is very surprised and tells me that he checked the horn earlier today and it was working fine. Both the lights and the horn work on the same system. No matter what we both do, there are no lights, and by now it is getting dark, so we wheel the bike back to his yard and under the glow of an incandescent light Mr Verdun checks for the problem with a test lamp.

Mr Verdun working on the bike
Mr Verdun trying to identify the problem of the missing lights.

It is something on the inside of the bike. It will need to be disassembled again to fix. Poor old Mr Verdun is now starting to mutter various Spanish words to himself relating to his embarrassment for what has just occurred. When we discover that the problem is something on the inside he looks up to me from his work position with a resigned look on his face and informs me that I will have to come back for the bike tomorrow.

Having been in his place in a very similar situation before, I simply smile and tell him that there is no problems with that at all. He tells me that I can come early in the morning to pick it up if I like as we shake hands. I head back to the city center for my bus stop, some 15 blocks away, leaving poor old Mr Verdun illuminated by the dull orange glow of his work light. He is crouched down by my bike, probably thinking through all of the possible causes that may have caused the problem.

the problem area for the lights
Something under that wheel is causing the problem.

So now it is Friday that I will pick up my bike. I have already tried it and it rides well. There is a very noticeable difference in the way the bike behaves, and it will be great to get it out and about on the roads to see just how much difference there really is. But for now, I am on buses until tomorrow.

Time to Celebrate – Almost

Well, after so many weeks of fighting, running around, paying fees, and seeking solutions, I finally have the receipt to say that it is now all over. Of course, it is not completely over yet, but the worst of it certainly is. Now comes the wait. At the office they told us that it is normally 60 days, others have told us that it will take up to 3 months, while there is some hope that it will take less than 30 days as some other bikes have been returned within such a short time frame.

A receipt for all of my work
The end product of all of my hard work. A receipt in triplicate.

This receipt that provides me with the proof that I have finished all of the hard work is all I need to travel around on my bike. Of course I also need the authorization from Sergio to drive, but ironically his name does not appear on any of the documents at all.

One of the most amazing things that happened to us today was in the final processing of all the documents. We took everything to the registry office of Motor-vehicles but were told that we had filled out one of the forms wrongly. My heart sank as I thought about lining up for yet another half an hour wait once we had fixed the document again… something that would take yet another day or two. That was when both Sergio and I were surprised. The guy attending us told us that he had one of those forms and we could fill it out then and there.

stamp rack filled up
One of a number of stamp racks that sat on the desks for completing the paperwork.

This was absolutely incredible for this place. Most people would move us on for even a simple or small error, so to be given such an immediate and complete solution to our problem was fantastic. Well, fantastic for us. The half an hour that it took us to fill out and finish all of the forms then and there also added to the waiting time of everyone else present in the office, but most seemed not to be too upset about it all.

So with the help of this friendly attendant we completed our paperwork and received the all important receipt. When it is ready we then swap the receipt and the old paperwork for new number plates and new documentation. At that point the entire process is completed and the bike is officially Sergio’s. We are very close now.

To celebrate the completion of so much paperwork, I took off down to the riverside to enjoy the sunset. Just because I could. In the process I took a couple of photos, and one with my bike in it to prove that I was there.

bike by the bridge
My bike by the Corrientes-Resistencia intra-provincial bridge.

lone fishing boat
A lone fishing boat fights against the strong river current.

fishermen on the rocks
Fishermen try their luck from the rocks next to a beach.

sunset behind the bridge
Sunset behind the bridge.

fishermen preparing their nets
Fishermen preparing their nets for the night.

the bridge to resistencia
Looking down the bridge as it travels over toward Resistencia.

The Paperwork Saga Continues

Starting early in the morning, Sergio and I raced into town intent on finishing all of the outstanding paperwork on my Siambretta motorscooter. We had prepared our paperwork the evening before and could see that we were now very close. So at around 8.30am in the morning we walked into the main government building armed with our paperwork.

Sergio armed with mate
Sergio getting into the car armed with yerba mate and thermos.

The Bad News
The first thing that was needed was to line up and pay two different taxes. The line only had about 8 people in it so it did not take long before we were at the counter. Here, the lady punched in numerous items on her keyboard and eventually presented us with two papers, one a bill for $3.50 and the other was for $7.00 pesos. We could not pay these here however, but had to go instead to the cashiers and line up to pay there.

It was a new employee working at the cashiers who served us. A superior officer with his thermos and yerba mate in hand, was standing behind guiding him. To pay the fee we passed over a $20 peso note after our bills were scanned, and the new man was instructed to key this amount into the computer system and then press enter.

At that point, the experienced officer leaned over and pointed out how the system had worked out the change owing and was now displaying this on the screen. "Look at that!" He exclaimed. "Isn’t that marvelous! It tells you exactly what you need to give them." And he shook his head with wonder at the incredible power of this technologically driven system.

a shop with a photocopier
Waiting in line in a shop to photocopy documents. Virtually every shop has a photocopier, probably a result of paperwork sagas.

Having obtained our last outstanding paper we went to the required desk where we needed to present them all. The lady received us and looked through our paperwork. She stopped on the way through, pointing out one of our photocopies. "This must be certified as a true copy." She said. We were told that there is no other way around it.

Solving the Problem
Deflated, we headed out of the building and straight to the office of our Escribana who can do these sorts of things. Unfortunately she was not there yet, and a call to her mobile phone revealed that she would be another half an hour. So we pulled out our mate and sat down on the side of the road to wait. While we waited, I taught Sergio some of the essentials about taking photos, knowing that he was soon going to receive his very first camera.

sergio waiting
Showing Sergio how to take surreptitious photos of people.

We watched the cars, bikes, motorbikes and horses and carts wander by as we enjoyed our yerba mate and chatted about all sorts of things. Before long a whole hour had passed by and there was still no sign of our Escribana. After calling her cell phone once again we discover that she was already in her office. Somehow she had arrived without us seeing her.

Our escribana could not sign the papers directly, as she was not at the level that allowed her to do that, and yet we needed these papers signed as soon as possible. So we asked her if it was possible to get them done immediately, and she kindly agreed.

yerba mate
Enjoying yerba mate while we wait for our Escribana.

We traveled in Sergio’s car to her normal place of work and then waited by the car while she went up to the office. She returned empty handed. There was nobody present that could sign the papers until midday. This was a great disappointment, and we explained our dilemma to her, asking if there was any other way of getting the papers signed. She agreed to visit some of her original employers who also may be able to help.

On visiting this new location, our Escribana returned with our papers signed and ready to hand over. We thanked her profusely (even though I will have to pay for that privilege anyway), dropped her back at her office, and returned to the main governmental office to finish our paperwork.

the main government office
The main government office that we have visited countless times.

Returning Prepared
What we were about to do was finalize almost two weeks of waiting and paperwork. All of this paperwork and waiting was actually just to get one more paper for our primary objective of transferring the motorbike over to Sergio’s name. It has been a lot of work for one piece of paper.

Walking back into the building, the lines of waiting people stretched for almost half of the building length. We were now very familiar with all of the sections, desks, offices, lines, cashiers, and other places that had occupied our time during this whole process, and walked directly to the place we needed to be. There was no line here. Our paperwork was complete now, and we knew it. We handed it over to the lady at the desk and she carefully looked through it all once again. Yes, it was complete.

Are We Done Yet?
We were then handed another form to fill out. My heart sank, but then I realised that this form was something that we were to fill out here and now. Sergio filled in the form, signed it just as he had signed dozens of other forms before it, and handed it back to the lady. It was done. She accepted it.

kids on horse and cart
One of the horses and carts that passed us while we were waiting.

With this piece of paper we will then be able to continue the main process and hopefully finish today. We watched as she put all of our papers together on a pile of mounting paperwork, presumably containing dozens of similar papers. She then reached into her folder and pulled out a small strip of paper, tore it in half and handed us one part. "Come back on Friday," she tells us.

Once again the paperwork saga drags on. Perhaps on Friday I will be able to get that paper, or perhaps there are more steps yet. Each list that we are given only gives us a little bit of information. Sometimes those steps listed can take a long time to achieve and hide within themselves dozens upon dozens of other steps. So far what I have learned about doing things here in Argentina is that you must have patience. Lots of patience.

And time. Lots of time.

She Broke Down Again

It was a perfect day yesterday with beautiful blue skies. I was cruising along the main highway towards home with Jorge, the leader of the YWAM base in Puerto Madryn, on the back of my bike when suddenly there was no more power left. By the time we pulled to a slow stop along the edge of the route, we had almost reached the turnoff to my suburb. But the motor had stopped and there was no way I was going to be able to start it again.

The bike in which I am putting so much confidence.

So putting Jorge on the bike as my guest, I pushed the now dead bike with him steering it, all the way back home. Running. Barefoot because my flip-flops would not stay on my feet. Through the patches of mud that had not yet dried up. Through the broken glass scattered across the street. Past the rougher part of our area. Over the slight rise and back down the other side. Block by block, pushing, pushing, pushing.

We arrived in silence with no motor to announce our presence. The engine was dead, without any compression to give it life. One of the gaskets that seal the joints had broken and left me stranded. So on Monday it is back to old Mr Verdun for repair. How do I get it there? Oscar, one of my friends with a newer motorbike will be pulling me along with a rope.

Until then, with blue skies and two days off, I am stranded without transport. There are only two weeks left now before I leave for Salta on this bike. That is a 10 hour journey. But as Oscar said to me, it is better that all of the problems occur now than in the middle of the desert near to nothing while I am traveling along on my large journeys. I have to agree.

Lehman Ready for Church

Every day is a different day here, and sometimes it rains so much that there is large puddles of water and mud everywhere. So getting to church in good shoes can be a daunting task. Lehman has solved all of these problems by an ingenious system. It is a combination of farmer and city-boy.

Here he is in all of his glory, ready to walk out the door for church…

Lehman ready for church
Pay special attention to those classic style church shoes.

Off to the Mechanic

Earlier this morning Oscar and I connected our bikes together with rope and he towed me along to my mechanic. It took only 15 seconds for my mechanic to work out the problem and he did not look very excited that it had happened.

being towed along
Being towed along just near the point that my engine died yesterday.

Apparently it will be ready for me tonight. So in faith I will be climbing onto a bus for the 50 minute journey to town, with another 20 minute walk down to the workshop in the expectation that the bike will be ready for me when I get there.

riding back with Oscar
Riding back home on Oscar’s bike.

UPDATE: Well, I returned at 7.30pm and when I got there the bike was ready to go. Not only had old Mr Verdun replaced the head gasket that was broken, but he also fixed up the oil leak for me too. So I am back on the road again with my head-turning super-medium-fast almost-antique motorscooter once again. And it is good.

the blown head gasket
The blown head gasket that caused all of my woes.

Siambretta Under The Knife

That was it. I had had enough. While changing gears on my bike it kept jumping out, the clutch kept slipping, the thing was really hard to start, the brakes were dangerous because they simply did not stop the bike, and it really lacked in power. Phew. Lots of problems.

long road
A long stretch of road in Argentina.

I loved the bike but these things were starting to get to me and I knew that if I was going to start riding it some long distances then they would cause even more problems. Argentina has some very long stretches of road with nothing in between. If I broke down on one of those stretches then it would be a long long way to walk to get help.

Mr. Verdun’s Report
That was the point that I decided it would be better to get the help of an expert. So I took my bike down to Mr. Verdun who is an expert in Siambretta motorbikes. At something around seventy years of age, he has been working on these bikes since they started selling them in Argentina back in the 50’s. In one of his comments, he shared that he was even one of the official Inocenti mechanics for their Siambretta range of bikes. Since then he has never stopped working on them, and his yard shows the years of collected bikes, frames and other bits and pieces.

bike graveyard
Part of the graveyard at the house of Mr. Verdun.

A man the likes of Mr. Verdun would soon be able to sort out all of the things wrong with my bike and get it up and running again in good condition. So it did not surprise me when I took the bike down to him that he started to identify areas that would need to be looked at. We dug around in various parts of the bike, and chatted about different areas that needed help. At the end of our chat he climbed aboard and rode around the block to check it out. His report was actually quite promising.

There were certain things that we knew had to be repaired on the bike. These were the obvious things, such as the clutch and the brakes. The gears also seemed to need to be replaced too, but after his ride I was told that only 3rd gear had a problem. The lack of power was due to worn rings in the cylinder, and the bike sounded like an chainsaw because of an old exhaust pipe with lots of holes in it.

Mr. Verdun
Mr. Verdun, the Siambretta man.

My newly hired mechanic was now going to pull apart the bike and assess the rest of the problems that may exist inside the gearbox. Things like the chain, gears, bearings, and other areas all needed to be inspected. My task was to return at the end of the day. I did, and by the end of the assessment there was a list of things that needed to be replaced, repaired, or re-manufactured. One of the things that I love about Argentina is that if they do not have it then they can easily make it.

This was my list of things needing fixing:

  • Front and rear brakes
  • The clutch and clutch basket
  • Piston rings
  • Exhaust pipe
  • Bush for the gear change shaft
  • Replace points for electronic ignition

bits of my bike in a crate
Bits of my bike.

Amazingly the gears were all in good condition and the problems with them was due to the worn bush and somebody putting a gear in the gearbox the wrong way. The chain was also in very good condition and did not need to be changed, however the clutch inner basket was just about to self-explode and destroy everything in the gearbox. The points were no longer available so changing to electronic ignition removed the need to use points, and I have organised to put some side mirrors on the bike too because of the troubles that this causes on the highways without them.

Having Mr. Verdun look over the bike gave me a lot of confidence in knowing that the work would be done well. His experience and understanding of these bikes will ensure that my bike will last the distance when I start on some of my journeys. It will be great to have the bike working well too. The only things left after this work is the shock absorber and a speedometer. Then I will be ready for the road.

the remains of my bike
My bike disassembled for inspection.