Stranded and Going Nowhere

The Bombshell
Today was another very adventurous day. After arriving at the workshop where I left the bike, I am confronted with some serious news. The bike has a serious problem. The engine is broken somewhere on the inside. There is no quick fix.

victor's workshop
Victor’s workshop.

Worse still, is that the workshop refused to work on my bike because it was too old. Instead I am pointed down the road to another workshop that may accept the job. I thank the guy for finding the problem and push the bike down the road to the other workshop. Victor, namesake and owner of the workshop, comes out to look over the bike. To my relief he agrees to take on the job, but I must leave the bike with him.

After explaining my situation, Victor points me to the bus terminal and shortly afterwards closes up shop for the afternoon siesta. The bus terminal however, only brings sad news. That there are no buses leaving for Salta before 10pm at night. I return to my hotel, collect my bags, and head out to the main route. Perhaps I would at least be able to hitch a ride there so I could make it to the wedding.

heading out to the highway
Loaded up with my bags and heading out to the highway. Note the kung-fu shoes.

Facing Reality
The time was now 3pm, and I had been standing on the side of the road for the last two and a half hours, trying to solicit a ride from the passing motorists. I was willing to do anything to try and arrive in time for Isaac and Natalia’s wedding. I never made it.

While standing on the side of the road, I considered every possibility to cover the remaining 650kms. Walking would take me between 10-15 days, riding a bicycle would be about 5 days, by horse it would take about the same time, 5 days. If I had a motorbike at 50km/h it would still take me 13 hours. By now, even at 100km/h I would not get there in time.

waiting by the side of the road
Waiting on the side of the road for a ride.

It was not what I had planned. Nor even something that I had considered a possibility. But here I was, having to face the reality that I would not make it to Isaac’s wedding tonight. The engine on my bike was totally blown, there were no buses leaving in time, a taxi was ridiculously expensive, and after trying to hitch for so long I had received not even a hint of a ride. I was stranded and going nowhere.

Returning to Victor’s Workshop
Walking back the 2km stretch to the hotel was hard with the weight of my bags bearing down upon me. Once again I checked in and then, after dropping off my bags, decided to head over to see how my motorbike was going at the workshop where I had left it. Perhaps they would know something more about it by now.

The news was that the bike was still untouched. It would be Monday before they could look at it. I suggested to Victor that since I was now hanging around and had nothing to do, perhaps I could pull the thing apart for him. He seemed happy for me to do that, perhaps because I had mentioned to him earlier that I had been a mechanic many years ago.

my bike inside Victor's workshop
My bike inside and in pieces in Victor’s workshop.

So with the little tools I had, and some borrowed ones, in my good clothes because my suggestion had come as a whim in the moment, and with little time before the workshop would shut, I started pulling the bike apart. Covers, cables, sides, and other parts started coming off the bike at a fast rate.

In the middle of working, a rag fell down before me, and suddenly a pair of extra hands reached down to help me. It was Victor’s other mechanic who had finished his work and was now helping me to pull my bike apart. Before I had finished, Victor had also joined me, making a group of three. The whole job went very quickly and we removed everything including the crankshaft and bearings.

The Problem
It was here that we found the problem. The bottom end of the connecting rod had started to disintegrate, throwing chunks of metal into the fast moving precision areas of the engine. This caused some minor damage to the piston and cylinder, but pinned a ring to the piston, rendering it useless. Or put more simply, the engine chewed up and spat out a lot of metal chunks causing enough damage to stop it working.

the engine in pieces
The engine pulled completely apart to fix the broken bits.

Most of the parts that we need to fix the bike will be easy to find. There is one part however that needs to be perfectly correct. This may or may not cause problems. I collected all of the parts that needed to be replaced, and put them to one side. Then after a time of chatting with Victor and his mechanic, I agreed to return on Monday at 8am to search out the parts.

My bike was a mess. The damage serious. But at least now I know what the problem is, and we are on the way toward repairing it. So for now I remain here in Saenz Peña. Stranded, and going nowhere.

main street
An overcast day in Saenz Peña kept the heat down today.

Moto Roto

Ya estoy en Saenz Peña, Chaco. Un tercer de la viaje completado. Empujé por 3 horas a llegar como 12 kilometres. Un amigo me encontró y me tiró hasta aquí. Por eso estoy aquí. Ha sido un viaje muy lento. Pero estoy llegando.

Que pasó? Se rompio la moto cuando llegué al pueblito de Pres. de la Plaza. La arreglé pero todavía no anduvo entonces la empujé hasta Machagai. Allá me encontró Sergio Astarloa y su equipo y me tiró hasta Saenz Peña donde la pusé en un taller para arreglarla. Lo haran mañana.

Otro cosa que pasó estuvo que el tanque de nafta, que remplazó el tanque que estaba que perdió nafta, tiene corosión adentro y esta bloqueando el pase de nafta. Entonces cada 15 minutos estaba limpiando el pase de nafta y el carburedor. Aún entonces, no anduvo más que 40 hasta 50 ks por hora.

Así anduve lentamente. Por eso estoy en Saenz Peña. Y mañana se arreglaran mi moto y espero que llegaré por la boda de Isaac y Natalia en Salta por la noche.

Moto roto me pusó aquí. Moto arreglado me llevará a Salta mañana.

It Goes – The Beast Lives!

The Problems At Victor’s
Arriving at Victor’s workshop at 8:15am in the morning with all of my bags, I find a place for them at the back of the workshop and then move into place alongside Victor in helping him work on my bike.

victor and his helper
Victor and his mechanic in their workshop.

A problem last night was solved with the use of my Siambretta manual which I dug out of my pack, and we soon had the bike together. There was a problem however. The moment we tightened the parts together, the engine refused to turn over. The crank was too wide.

Borrowing Victor’s easyrider chopper styled bicycle, I ride off down to Pipa’s with the crank in a bag. One hour later I return with everything as narrow as it can be. When we fit it, the same problem occurs and the engine locks up. To solve it, we use some gasket paper which I buy to act as a spacer. It works perfectly.

ready at last
Finally going again.

With the core of the engine together, Victor and I work on opposite sides of the bike. However, when I put the gearbox cover on, the same thing occurs with the engine refusing to spin. We track it back to a part that I put in wrongly and when that is fixed everything works perfectly.

All of our working and the stops in the middle to fix the wide crank takes us through to midday. Victor wants to stop for siesta, but I can see that this means yet another day in Saenz Peña so I barter with him until he cedes me one more hour.

Looking through the window of Victor’s workshop.

The Beast Lives
We only needed half an hour and the bike was ready. It started on the second kick and ran perfectly. I was very happy with how everything was, listening to the motor purring, when suddenly, Gggggggrrrrnnnnk! The motor stops. The inside bits are too tight and when they heat up and expand, they squeeze on the other parts causing the engine to lock up.

My first reaction is to be aghast, but Victor nonchalantly says, "oh, that is normal. You may need to ride around a bit first to ‘seat’ the parts." He goes on to tell me that this sort of thing will happen a few times as everything is getting used to each other, but it should be further and further apart. I am counselled to ride around the town a bit to help the process.

Victor test riding my bike
Victor taking my bike for a test ride.

So as Victor closes up his shop, I jump on my bike and ride it tentatively down the road. Gggggrrrrnnnnnk! It did it again, only a block and a bit away. I wait a few moments then start up and keep going on my way. Ggggggrrrrnnnnk! This time it was almost three blocks. He was right, they are getting further and further apart.

Travelling Around the City
And so I travelled around the city. Riding until the ggggggrrrrrnnnnk! noise stopped me dead in my tracks. First to Pipa’s to show them what they were working on (they commended the engine, saying it had not a single noise out of place), and then from one part to another.

a thermal bath
Enjoying a thermal bath.

One of my last stops in the city was at the Thermal Complex, a series of baths in private rooms which they fill up with special thermal water. The bath was nice and refreshing, but there did not seem to be anything more to recommend it.

After that was lunch, and then I see a huge storm coming our way so head out towards it to take some pictures of the fierce green clouds. The storm is moving so fast, that I worry it will catch me as I race back to Victor’s workshop to continue on my bike.

the approaching storm
The approaching storm over the outskirts of the city.

Leaving Town
With the covers on, bags tied down, and everything back where it belongs I farewell Victor and his helper and head off down the road. The rain has left everything filled with water, but rather then going straight onward, I stop by some new acquaintances on the way out. The Hotel Presidente where I stayed the first so many nights, Pipa’s again to say farewell, and the service station to fill up the fuel.

finally leaving the city
Finally leaving the city that had held me for so long.

Everything sorted, I then head back onto the main highway and start my journey. Rejoicing in the ability to move so effortlessly I do not hear the early warning signs. Suddenly, gggrrrrrrnnk. The motor stops dead. A bus is behind me so I drop off the edge of the road and straight into mud. The wheels slip and slide and I almost lose it completely but somehow the bike remains upright.

sliding in the mud on the roadside
Leaving tracks in the mud when trying to stop.

looking back at the storm behind me
Looking back at the storms behind me.

Watching the last rays of the sun disappear.

the dark road ahead
The dark road that lay ahead.

It was at 6.30pm that I left Saenz Peña, and arrived in Pampa del Infierno at 8.30pm, amidst uncountable engine stops, a missed turn off, and light problems where when the engine cut, so did the lights.

Hotel del Infierno
The first available hotel seems fine to me, and their prices are reasonable. After a nice hot shower I head off down town looking for Internet. The place I was told about was supposed to have broadband connections, but it was horrendously slow to the point that I gave up after just one email.

arriving at Pampa del Infierno
An old truck and muddy road at the entrance to Pampa del Infierno.

Returning past the hotel I stop at the Parilla (BBQ) for a lovely steak meal and then return to my room. I am exhausted. The physical exertion from such a trip like that left me without any more strength. I try to write my stories but realise that sleep is far more import.

While at the eatery, I learned that Pampa del Infierno is probably named for the lack of water that they have. Most of it has to be imported and it is expensive.

enjoying dinner
Enjoying a lemonade at the Parilla restaurant.

For me, the best part was that my bike, after six days of work was finally going again. And my journey too.

Siambretta Mobile Again

It looked like rain today, all around us. Even so, I needed to work through some more paperwork for my motorbike. So climbing onto one bus and then another, I arrive an hour later than suggested by Mr Verdun at his house to pick up my motorbike. There he was, seated on the side of the road by my bike, still working on it.

Mr Verdun working on my bike
Mr Verdun putting my bike back together after fixing the lights problem.

The problem had turned out to be a very old and stiff wire that broke on the inside of its casing. To prevent any further problems, Mr Verdun had taken special precautions to replace it and every other old wire that was inside at the same time. We were both glad this problem occurred now and not while I was in the middle of one of my long journeys.

While I was waiting for my bike, the rain started to fall. Only very lightly at first and most people ignored it while they walked along, but the longer I waited the bigger the drops grew. Lightning also started to flash around us and the thunder roared in only seconds later. I started wondering why I had not bought myself a car at this point.

the problem wires
The problem wire going into here was replaced with a new blue one.

When all was done and together, I once again thanked Mr Verdun for his work and then climbed aboard my throaty sounding bike and roared off down the road at a blinding 20km/h. The rings were new so the bike needed some gentle treatment until they were "settled in."

In my bag I had some important documents for Sergio’s house that needed to be delivered to the Escribana. They were tucked into the bag as best I could but their long length had them poking out the top still. So with my back tucked behind my back I raced along the roads, hoping that the rain would not sneak around my back and wet them.

Arriving at the Escribana, I dropped off Sergio’s documents, thankfully still completely dry, and picked up my second Authorisation to drive. This one gave me the authority to ride my bike in all of the countries that circled Argentina. I would need this if I wanted to make it down to Ushuaia as this trip required multiple crossings of the border into Chile.

the authorisation papers
The two different Authorisations, with the international one on the right.

Next stop was at the spare parts shop to pick up a new muffler. The throaty sound of my bike was great for a race track but to ride around with that sound too long would drive me crazy.

Finally I stopped back in at the governmental building to get our paperwork that we were told would be ready on Friday. It was there, ready to pick up, and after signing some documents I walked away with a very important piece of paper that had taken weeks to obtain. Another step in the paperwork saga of my bike completed.

The rain had not stopped yet, but neither had it become very heavy, and was basically a medium drizzle – enough to wet you if you stayed in it too long. It was now time to return home, as all tasks for the day had been done. So wiping dry the seat of my bike, I climb aboard and head off down the road.

Apart from the drops of rain stinging my eyes as I cruised down the main roads toward home, the ride over the sealed roads was just wet and a little cool. My bag sat behind me, its contents and my important papers and documentation now safely wrapped in plastic bags, and while it remained mostly dry the rest of me got very wet.

the alternative way home
This was the other way that I could have returned home, taken by the buses.

On reaching the last part of my journey over the muddy dirt roads, I tried to pick a safe track through the slippery goop. All had gone well for the first part of this section, and I passed a careful bicycle rider as I turned the corner for the last stretch. Suddenly before me was a stretch of tyre tracks sunk deep into some slippery mud.

Working the front wheel to remain in the tyre tracks, I fought with the writhing bike as its back end started to slip and slide around on the mud. The further I went the more it slithered around back and forth until I had no choice but to dab a foot down on the ground to try and keep upright.

That foot sunk into the mud and when I pulled it back again my flip-flop was almost sucked off my foot. The second time I was not so lucky and my foot returned bare. Not wanting to leave it behind, I tried to stop the bike, but it slid around even more and as I was fighting to keep it upright, the engine stalled.

the muddy road I chose
The muddy road I came down, bogging down near the kids.

Standing there on the bike, both feet deep in the mud, pointing sideways down the road with the engine stalled, I looked up and there rode the bicycle man safely on the other side of the road where it was still firm. Something that I had not seen. His hood covered the better part of his huge grin which was still clearly reflected in his smiling eyes as he rode quietly by without so much as a sideways glance. I could not help but smile with him in thinking about how the scene must have looked.

After retrieving my flip-flops and un-bogging my scooter, I moved over to the firmer side of the road and then proceeded to follow the bicycle man for the rest of the short stretch until we reached the paved road again. At that point I roared off down the road, once again on sure ground.

safely home with my bike
After fighting with the mud and rain, back home safely again.

I pulled into my home shortly after, wet, muddy, and cool, but very happy to have my bike back with me again. The next time I think I will use a raincoat.

To-Go Or Not-To-Go

That is the question that I am asking myself right now. Should I or should I not go to Salta on my newly acquired motorbike. Ideally the answer would be yes, but right now it is a big unknown.

You see, over the last few days, I have had a number of minor (or major, depending on your perspective) problems with the bike. I did however pray that all of the problems would occur now and not on the trip, so that may have a bearing on the fact too.

The other day the back wheel almost fell off. Fortunately the bike did not want to go forward anymore so I found the problem and fixed it – a loose wheel nut. Then I ran out of fuel again, a problem that made it look like the bike was using a lot of petrol. So I investigated a little and discovered that the fuel tank is cracked.

After changing over the ignition switch, I have lost my lights. Something that I hope to rectify very shortly. The clutch does not release completely still, which is only a problem in the city. And after putting on a switch to give me a brake light, it is still not yet wired.

So tomorrow, my theoretical last day, I need to wire the stop light, repair or replace the fuel tank, fix the lights, pack my gear and mount it on the bike. Ok, not too much work really.

So then my question becomes, should I go on the bike or not? I guess, looking at it logically, and at the rain storms predicted for the north-west of Argentina, perhaps I should not go. But then looking at the adventure side of things… a thunderstorm would be a lot of fun, and to ride this sort of bike so far would be a real challenge.

I have one day to decide. One day to get everything together. One day to come to a final conclusion about what I will do. Maybe I should play it safe and take the bus. But what fun would that be? If I take the bike, will it make it? Another consideration to keep in mind.

So “to-go” or “not-to-go.” That is the question that remains with me.

A 15 Hour Vibration Treatment To Salta

Pampa del Infierno
At 6.00am I wake up, unsure as to why because I am still feeling tired. A hot shower wakes me up and after breakfast and refilling the bike I am on the road just before 8.00am. There is fog everywhere as I ride through the township of Pampa del Infierno before hitting the highway.

my hotel for the night
My hotel for the night… Hotel Bioceanico.

Not a very large town, I am told that it was probable that it gained its name because of the complete lack of water in these areas. All of the water has to be trucked in for this town, although today there are also wells reaching down to the artesian basin for the needs of various farms.

main street of town
The main street of Pampa del Infierno township.

On The Road Again
The fog everywhere makes the wind of the bike refreshingly cold, to the point of needing a pullover. Everywhere around me the trees are clouded in various shades of gray, and a bright disc over my right shoulder represents the sun trying to reach through the thickness of the fog.

fog on the road
Looking back down the road over my right shoulder.

Every now and then a car appears coming toward me, its lights announcing its presence, but hardly a thing passes me from behind for hours on end. The journey is a little faster now, with the motor mostly run-in and the dreadful ggggrrrrrrnnnk! sound occurs only a few times during the morning. By estimation I am travelling at around 50km/h now.

trees in shades of gray
Trees in various shades of gray.

A Flying Menace
Using a helmet without a visor allows the breeze in to cool my head. This is a good thing. It also allows the bugs in to hit my face. This is not a good thing. Having a bug smash into your cheek and leave its entrails everywhere on your face is not a nice experience.

watching my shadow rider
Watching my shadow rider as I cruise down the road.

Worse is when a little wasp gets sucked through the window on the helmet. Virtually all of them keep going so it had not been a problem until now. Suddenly, as a little wasp entered my helmet, I knew that it had not left again. It had somehow become lodged inside my ear and I could hear it buzzing around there trying to get out.

spider webs and light poles
The spiders collaborate to create giant webs all along the way.

There is very little worse things than having a bug inside your ear, but having a wasp that can bite is pretty terrifying. Without stopping, I whipped my helmet off and poked the end of my glasses into my ear, liberating the flying menace, and reducing a whole lot of tension in me. I am sure that neither he nor I want to experience that again.

rail crossing
There are many rail crossings but few trains.

Passing Into Santiago del Estero
As I finally reach the end of Chaco and move into Santiago del Estero, the road immediately changes for the worse. The quality of material, width, lack of line markings, and deteriorated condition show that this is a very unloved section of road.

reaching Santiago del Estero
At the edge of the state of Santiago del Estero.

Stretches of road filled with more potholes than road surface prove to be a hazard for my bike and its little wheels. Many of the holes I can dodge, but every now and then no other option is open to me but to ride straight through the hole.

holes that swallow my little wheels
Some of the holes are much bigger than my little wheels.

Most times the only way to survive something like that is to accelerate and lift the front wheel off the ground so it "jumps" over the hole, leaving the back wheel to take the brunt of the knock.

potholes everywhere
These potholes are easy to dodge on the bike.

One section of road is so badly damaged that the road surface is completely missing. Trucks and cars drive along the muddy sides in preference to navigating the potholes and damage of the road. This section of road is notorious with all of the driving public in Argentina. Horror stories abound about trucks taking three hours to travel only 30kms and potholes big enough to swallow cars (well, maybe not THAT big).

section of road missing
One of many sections where the road surface disappeared.

My bike makes it easier to navigate through these missing sections, although my faith of finding a safe route sometimes leaves me bouncing wildly through an unavoidable row of potholes covering the entire road surface. None of the bags fall off however, and the bike remained intact.

Minor Annoyances
A refill at Pampa de los Guanacos shows that the bike is using fuel lightly and my calculations are that I should be able to travel up to 200kms on one tank. The motor has been going very well, and other than the occasional grabbing, it had not given problems. Until now.

Pampa de los Guanacos
The highway entrance to Pampa de los Guanacos.

From this point onward, every now and then the spark plug would get some iron bits stuck in it and the engine would stop. To go again, I would have to pull out the super-hot spark plug from the even hotter engine, and clean out the bits stuck in the gap that should be generating sparks. This done, the bike would work perfectly again, stopping only occasionally.

Breakdown by spark plug in the middle of nowhere.

The only other occasional problem is dodging the roaming animals along the side of the road. Pigs, donkeys, dogs, and goats are all loose and wandering. The animals are virtually the only sign of life for miles on end at times. Carrion birds, eagles, and vultures (or some variation) also hang around on the road but fly away before I get too close.

goats on the road
Goats hanging out on the road.

Lunch Time
It is almost 1.00pm that I pull into Monte Quemado (Burnt Mountain) for lunch. My bike draws a bit of attention from the locals but nobody comes over to ask any questions. As I eat, virtually all of the vehicles that come in for fuel are old and beat-up. Only the travellers have nice cars.

a local car
A local car refilling plastic oil-cans which sit at the driver’s feet with a hose stuck into them. I guess the fuel tank has holes in it.

A couple of truckies are the only other people present in the dining area, laughing often about various things. I do not listen in, but every time they laugh, one of the guys looks over my way and wants to include me in on the humour. One time he even explained it all to me. But it wasn’t funny.

Reaching Salta – Police Check
It has taken me almost five and a half hours to traverse the top end of Santiago del Estero and pass through a tiny section of Chaco. It was just as I was about to enter Chaco that the police stopped and questioned me. This was the first time that I had ever been stopped in all of my journey.

reaching the salta border
Finally at the border to the Province of Salta.

The policeman asked me where I was headed (Salta) and where I had come from (Pampa del Infierno) and then asked me something else. I thought it was where I had come from, so I told him that I came from Corrientes Capital. He seemed happy with that and let me continue. No documents, nothing else.

It was only as I accelerated away that I realised the last question was "where are you from" as in where were you born? I guess that my quick and certain answer with those frequently recited words, "Corrientes Capital" was enough to convince him. Perhaps it was for this that I was able to pass through without any further problems.

The Sights of Salta
large irrigation equipment
Huge irrigation equipment on massive crop farms.

Once over the border, there was a noticeable increase in farming activities and green properties. There had been nothing but "Pampa" for much of the last part of my time through Santiago del Estero so this change was very welcome.

large beef farms
A large beef farm where cattle eat grain all day.

Large crop farms with massive irrigation equipment, huge beef cattle farms where the cattle are all in large pens and feed grain all day, and lots of road works all show that this is a province with a lot of money.

road works
Navigating the loose gravel and dust inherent in road works.

My First Hill
After riding for three days on basically flat and straight roads (it was flat with an almost imperceptible incline upward), I became very excited when I saw my very first hill. It was not that my bike handled the hills very well, but the change from flat to hilly was really amazing.

the other side of my first hill
Looking over the top of my first hill.

Going down the hills, I had forgotten about the new motor, and ended going so fast that it grabbed once again. Ggggrrrrrnnnnk! And I was stuck by the side of the road for ten minutes, fighting off tiger mosquitoes so fast that you can hardly ever swat them. How relieving it was to hear that engine roar back into life again and leave those wretched mosquitoes behind me.

long road ahead
Still a long way from my destination.

A Confused Truck Driver
Cruising along the road, I was pleasantly surprise to catch up to a truck travelling slowly. At the next opportunity I pulled out and overtook him, the old driver looking down from his cab with a quizzical smile. I felt very proud to have actually passed something on the road that was not stationary.

Somewhere in the passing, I thought it was a bug that got lodged in my helmet. I was soon to find out that it was in reality a wasp. It was stuck between my helmet and my head. I wobbled the helmet a bit to try and dislodge the thing, but it didn’t fall out. Hitting the side of the helmet was probably not the best decision in hindsight, and still did not dislodge the beast.

So I grabbed my helmet and rubbed it vigorously from side to side. This normally freed the worst of the bugs that occasionally ended up like that. Suddenly a burning sensation entered the side of my head, right next to my left temple. That was no bug! It was a wasp.

Knowing that the thing would bite again given half the chance, I fell into a mild state of random panic. I had only just passed the truck by now, and it was close behind me. The bike wobbled all over the road as I struggled with my helmet. It would not come off because of the glasses on my face.

I launched the bike into a panic stop, bringing it wildly to the side of the road and changing down the gears like a racing driver, the back end skidding out on the evening damped grass. Even as I was stopping, I wrestled with the helmet and with some brute force I managed to get the "shell of hell" off my head, throwing it to the ground so I could control my wild stop.

The truck rattled past just after I had come to a complete stop. I never did look up to see the expression on the driver’s face. Undoubtedly he would have been confused. I was left with a stinging head and no sunglasses. They had been lost somewhere in the process. The helmet I found in the long grasses to the side of the road by virtue of its big red colour.

After that, I rode without the helmet. In part because my head hurt enough to not want to put it back on. In part because I did not want the same thing to happen again. Only when it got darker and there were less flying things did I put it back on.

The (Wrong) Decision
Stopping at El Galpón (The Shed) at around 7.00pm to refuel, I debate with myself about whether I should continue onward to Salta, or stop overnight in Metán. The sun was about to set so my travel to Salta would be at night. By my calculations Metán was about 1hr away, and Salta was 3hrs.

setting sun
The last rays of the sun setting over the mountain ranges of the Andes.

Not realising the consequences of my decision, I chose to continue onward to Salta. As I turned onto the freeway that led to Salta, everything seemed fine. The sun had set and night was falling fast, so I switched on my headlight and continued onward. I could not see its light just yet, but as it got darker it would shine out like always.

It never did.

Something was broken on my lights and there seemed to be no easy way to fix it. The bulb glowed orange at times and flickered brightly occasionally at random moments. The light was barely enough to see my hand, and certainly not enough for the road.

On The Freeway (Look Mum, No Lights)
Travelling along the freeway, there was nowhere that I could turn around, and even if there was, I had no light to even see it. Cars and trucks rushed past me, the occasional one leaning on their horn to remind me of what I already knew… the danger that I was in.

Never have I prayed so much on my journey. Cars from behind would light up the road but only for a moment and would then disappear into the distance in front of me. Sometimes, when the road was straight, their tail lights were my only guide that I was still on the road.

Cars approaching would see the dim orange glow of my headlight and shine their lights on full beam to see what it was. This sometimes helped me, for in their blinding glow, I could see the faint edges of years of line markings on the road. Other times it left me completely blind, unable to see the road, the edge, or ahead, at a speed that could drop me off the road in a second.

There was no verge on the roadside, only a drop of several centimeters onto loose gravel. Most of the time when I was blinded I managed to stay inside my lane. Only once did I venture into the second lane on our side of the road. Of couse, if there had been a car behind me I would have been able to see, so I was safe enough even in my wild movements.

The first part of the journey was almost 80kms long, and I kept thinking that there would be a service station somewhere along the way where I could stop and fix the lights. There never was.

darkness approaching
Last rays of light just before I reach the freeway.

Cold from the mountain air to the point of shivering, straining in the darkness of a moonless, cloudy night, hoping that the distant thunderstorm would not reach me before I found shelter, and tired from over 12 hours of riding already, I just wanted to get there. My bike raced along flat out, my eyes straining in the darkness for clues to the edges of my lane. Body tense with awareness of the danger I was in.

Down the hills and up the hills I started to go faster and faster, passing trucks and even some cars. The bike seemed to suddenly take on a power and speed that it had never had before. I was travelling at speeds of at least 80km/h and there seemed to be no stopping it.

The Decision to Continue
Wanting only for the lunacy to end, I was relieved to finally encounter a toll booth where huge floodlights turned the night into day. I pulled the bike over to the side and worked my way through all of the electrical sections. Nothing worked. It seems the problem is in the generator, something I cannot fix on the road.

Unable to camp out on the side of the road, I had no choice but to continue. Just past the toll booths I spot a service station and gladly pull in. The bike has used more fuel than normal but had been racing flat out for the last hour and a half, so it was more than excusable.

I grabbed a drink and some chocolate to help with the nerves, and then climb on for another horror stretch of road. I had already travelled the 80kms and now there was only 45kms left to reach Salta. I determined this time however, to stick on the tail of a truck all the way.

arriving in Salta
The five Gauchos, at the entrance to the city of Salta.

Amazingly, the power of the bike that I had experienced before had all but gone, and the bike had reverted once again to its powerless state of before. This was not terrible by any means, although it did keep me somewhat slower.

The first truck that I tailed was too slow, so I passed it and raced on ahead. Looking past my pathetic lights I could still make out the road and its markings. That was when I realised that the lights of Salta were reflecting off the clouds above, giving me enough light to ride by. I was safe now.

Lights Again – Drama Over
Finally I pull into the last toll booth. From here onward the roadways were lit and I did not need my light to see. Relief flooded my body and I relaxed. The pain in various muscles revealed to me just how tensed my body had been through the entire experience.

the lights of Salta
The lights of the city of Salta.

I arrived in Salta at 11.00pm, much wiser for the experience. Never again will I try to press on just to reach somewhere. At least not without checking the lights first. 🙂

The Vibration Experience
The engine on my bike has a slight vibration. At times various panels rattle so much that I have to put my foot on them to stop the noise. Keeping my foot in the one position so long produces other undesirable effects so sometimes the rattles have to continue.

Getting off the bike at the end of my 15 hour journey, my hands, arms, feet, legs, and backside are all numb. The vibrations of the bike have left them all with a continuing sensation of the movement. Even as I lay in bed, like a man that has been at sea for a time, the vibrations continued to rattle my body.

I had made it. I had finally arrived in Salta. It had taken me seven complete days to get here. Three were on the bike, and the rest were repairing it. But I finally made it. What joy. What an experience. What exhaustion.

finally in Salta
Finally arriving in Salta.

Time to sleep.

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.

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.