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… 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 hanging out on the road.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 GalpÃ³n (The Shed) at around 7.00pm to refuel, I debate with myself about whether I should continue onward to Salta, or stop overnight in MetÃ¡n. The sun was about to set so my travel to Salta would be at night. By my calculations MetÃ¡n was about 1hr away, and Salta was 3hrs.
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.
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.
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 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 arriving in Salta.
Time to sleep.