A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Mick G

Return to Buenos Aires

The final miles and thoughts

sunny 20 °C

From Alta Gracia we headed for an overnight stay in Che Guevaras birthplace Rosario before travelling the last few hundred miles to our starting point in Buenos Aires, having completed over 5,200 miles in South America.

Many of the group have spent these couple of days reflecting on what they have seen and experienced and we have been no exception.

April and I both started the journey not quite knowing what to expect. Our thought was to experience it as we went rather than read up on lots of travel books and guides. In many ways its been overwhelming.

The riding itself has been far more physically demanding than I thought it would be. The rest days were barely enough to pull yourself together especially when combined with some of the must see sights we went to that ate into any of the rest we needed. Its only now that we are safely back in Buenos Aires that this is catching up on us. As I write this April is having an afternoon nap and I have barely been awake for the last two days!

The altitude has also been a big factor. Day after day at over 3,000 metres takes it out of you. It's difficult to breathe or even walk around at times. Sleep is interupted by your body begging for more oxygen and then it becomes hard to get back to sleep again.

However, and its a big however, the things we have done and seen have been a truly once in a lifetime experience.

Bolivia was an eyeopener. I think often in the west it can be easy to equate poverty with dishonesty and laziness. There is much poverty in Bolivia, It hits you in the face and sometimes in the nose ! But not once did anyone have anything stolen or did we feel threatened or in danger, in fact the complete opposite. Everyone was extremely friendly; although many were curious about the motorbikes no one touched them without permission, and the interest in where we had come from and where we were going was overwhelming.

As for the driving, on reflection there were rules we just didn't understand at first. Drivers never lost their tempers and waited for the crazy foreigners to sort themselves out before telling them they were travelling the wrong way down a dual carriageway again or that they should have stopped at that junction because thats what everyone who lives here always does !

Peru was full of fantastic scenery,cities and sights. Its trying hard to promote its tourist industry and jusifiably so. They are also trying hard to improve their infrastructure. The amount of effort that has been put into repairing the railway to Machu Picchu after the recent floods is enormous.

We did however fall foul of some of the roadworks. In particular one small stretch of road shortly after leaving Cuzco on our way to Nazca. This consisted of about 1,000 metres of bends on an uphill section of road that the road builders had decided to cover in gravel to the depth of about a metre. When we came across it they were in the process of trying to flatten it with a couple of rollers. Unfortunately for us and all of the other traffic using this main road they had covered both sides of the carriageway. This made it impossible for any of the trucks to get up or down. It also posed a very tricky problem for us. Bikes do not do gravel very well especially those that are fully loaded and have a passenger. But we decided to do what most Peruvians seem to be good at and thats just getting on with it. With April pushing and getting covered in dirt and gravel, then walking to the top, with Hedley burning our his clutch and much sliding and slipping we made it to the top for a celebration picnic. Then we carried on as normal, just like everone else.

Chile and the Atacama were a complete contrast to Bolivia and Peru. Prosperous well organised there is a sense of purpose in Chile. The desert must be one of the harshest places on earth but the Chilians are making the most of their natural resources. The mines are on a gigantic scale suited to the vastness of the Atacama. Its a shame in many ways that we didn't have time to see other parts of Chile. Four days was hardly enough to scratch the surface. Maybe thats for another time.

Argentina. What can I say about Argentina other than I think its a great place. Today is the Bi Centenary of Argentinas independence. Here we are in the capital and there is a lot of flag waving and celebrations but none of the hard nosed jingoism that you might expect in other countries. They are rightly proud of what they have achieved. There are displays from Gouchos, drummers, native music, football celebrations and music. All in good spirit with families taking part. The celebration reflects the people we have met here. For instance, coming into BA yesterday we parked our bike at the entrance to a service station so that all the group could meet up to go into the city together. As we parked a man approached us having walked a hundred metres back from the petrol pumps. In perfect English he said he had noticed we were English and wondered if we had a problem, was there anything he could do, and then the questions about our journey and what we thought of Argentina. It all begs a few questions about Government posturings and wars.

All in all I think we have lost count of the number of photos that have been taken of our bikes and the number of people who have their photos taken either on them or next to them. What a way to travel. You wouldn't get that in a car.

Finally, April and I hope you enjoyed reading our first ever blog. We have only written what we have seen rather than fill it with facts and figures that can be found in proper travel books, but we hope you have found it interesting.
Thanks for all your comments thay have kept us in touch with home and motivated us to keep the entries coming.

Posted by Mick G 14:50 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Alta Gracia

Home of Che Guevara

sunny 18 °C

Che Guevaras old family home is now a museum in Alta Gracia and from the visitors book its obvious that people come from all over the world to visit. The house is modest and although it is samll it contains many family photographs and relics of his life. We were given an English guide book containing translations of some of the letters he had sent to his family and to others such as his felow revolutionary Fidel Castro.
Che Guevara Museum

Che Guevara Museum

Che Guevara for me is one of those iconic figures from my youth. I remember many people wore Che badges with the famousphotograph of him in his beret. ( or was that just me?). Now I'm not sure about the Marxist ideology but the ideas that maybe still hold true is his fight against injustice wherever that might be. Healso held true to his beliefs. After the succesful revolution in Cuba Guevara was given various Ministerial Posts and I'm sure he could have lived his days in Cuba in relative prosperity but instead he chose to continue his own personal fight. In a letter to his children he made it obvious that he knew the probable consequences of that decision as he foretold of his death in the cause of the revolutiion against injustice.

Whatever your thoughts about his ideas there is no doubting his commitment.

Posted by Mick G 14:06 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Back to Argentina

Over the Passo De Jama

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We were finally given permission to cross the Passo De Jama. At its highest it reaches 4,800 metres which in old money is over 15,700 feet. Well over three times the height of Ben Nevis. The last time I was anywhere near this high I was wearing crampons and carrying an ice axe, not riding a motorbike. The one thing that was similar though was the cold. In parts it was below freezing.

We saw no evidence however of snow blocking the road and so the reason for us not being allowed through on the previous day remains a mystery.

The Argentinian Border post is 100 miles from the Chilian post. Most of that road is at over 4,000 metres so we were very glad to get there get the formalities over and done with and get down to a more respectable and warmer height. On the way there were salt flats that asked to be ridden on and so we obliged.
April and Bike on Salt Flats

April and Bike on Salt Flats

Lake on the Passo de Jama

Lake on the Passo de Jama

Our destination for the night was Purmamarca. First though we had to negotiate a brilliant twisty descent through mountains that were coloured green, red gold and brown. There were stunning rock formations that made it hard to concentrate on the road.

From Purmamarca we travelled to Cafayate a small town based aaround a lovely Plaza. The hotel was probably the best we have stayed in. With an inner court yard where we stored our bikes the rooms had old wooden floors and the air of a place that had been around since Spanish rule.

The next days riding was a day of contrasts. We entered cloud forest on single track twisting roads that ascended high into the mountains. However there was a stark contrast to our previous weeks of travelling as the mountain sides were covered in thick lush green forest with lakes in the valleys similar to the Lake District in England. The difference was all the more imapctive by the fact we had seen very little greenery since leaving Peru.
Cloud Forest

Cloud Forest

Later in the day we returned to the semi desert before arriving at Catamarca.


Posted by Mick G 13:52 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Waiting to Cross the Border

San Pedro waiting to cross into Argentina

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As half expected we have waited most of the day at the Border Post just outside San Pedro waiting for news of the condition of the high pass into Argentina, our team leader thought it best that we sit at the border and this may hurry things along, however Chilean officials are not to be hurried and when the pass did eventually open it seems we were last on their list of priorities with buses and trucks taking precedence, whilst we killed time kicking dust and some of us playing frizbee courtesy of an Australian biker who had tagged along with us for the day. When it got to 3pm and we still weren't at the head of the queue we decided enough was enough and headed back to the hotel we stayed at for the previous 2 nights with a promise that should we arrive at 8am tomorrow we will be first through - of course we are not holding our breath!



It was not a total waste of a day however as it did give us the chance to see the 'valley of the moon' this morning. At a cost of 2000 chilean pesos each they have capitalised on this natural phenomenon with its weird rock formations which are millions of years old. There is a dirt road runs for about five miles through the valley with viewing areas and walks up into the dunes.

The bikes at the Chilian Border Post

The bikes at the Chilian Border Post

At night we went for an impromptu group meal at Aprils suggestion. It turned out to be a great night especially as Globebusters provided the wine ! Thats more like it who cares if the pass is blocked.

Random Thoughts

Maybe I should take this opportunity to tell you a bit about our travelling companions. We are a diverse bunch. Our leader is Peter who is German,speaks fluent Spanish and English and lives with a Chillian in Italy but works in Germany. How diverse is that. He also likes making a wide range of noises to illustrate his points . In fact he is the Percy Edwards of motorcycle impressions. ( for those who are too young google Percy)

Alan the van man is our support and a good Geordie he is too. Single and on the look out for a partner try facebook or one of the dating agencies ( I think he's on them all) if you fancy a date with a humerous and much travelled middle aged man.

The rest of us are made up of three Daves. To differentiate they all have nick names. Dave the Hip is the owner of an engineering company. In his sixties and recently had a hip replacement operation. Smokey Dave is the only smoker, he travelled down to Madrid with us and is also well known for getting his bike to do somersaults and walking away from it unharmed. He now rides street fighter GS Adventure that travels sideways and has no backside in his trousers. Gadget Dave owns every gadget it is possible to have for a bike and every other gadget its possible to buy. His partner is Christine who is a fanatical football fan. Despite this she supports Manchester United.

Mark is a 6' 5" builder who has adopted every stray dog in souoth America. He even took two of them into his bedroom one night to stop them barking much to the consternation of smokey Dave who shares a room with him !

Steve is a bakerand owns an Artisan Bakery near Andove. He lists as his pastimes, herding Lamas, helping locals Bolivians sweep the streets and is known to go missing on occassions to be found eating fish head soup and any other local delicacy he can find. Some people think he is a little eccentric.

The photograhic group is made up of Denis and Neil who were mates before they came here and actually remain mates despite sharing a room for five weeks. We know them as the odd couple but they are in their spare time a management consultant and architect.

Hedley and his wife Selina make up the group. His enthusiasm knows no bounds and i have had to threaten him with a baseball bat ona number of occassions for being far too lively before 9.00am. ( Anyone who knows me will understand what a grave offence this is.)

As for April and I you can make up your own entry about us.

Posted by Mick G 13:07 Archived in Chile Tagged motorcycle Comments (0)


The Pacific Coast and the Atacama

sunny 10 °C

Entering Chile was like entering a different world. Arica and Iquique are very European. In fact Iquique was like a mini Costa Del Sol. Order waas restored to chaos. Drivers had rules to obey, vehicles stopped to let people across the road and the tap water could be drank in a certain amount of safety.
Chilean Border

Chilean Border

Having said all that in the four days we have been in Chile many of the group have commented that we have lost something. The chaos of Bolivia and Peru was different. Chile seems all too familar in the attitudes and behaviour of the people.

What is very different is the landscape. We have travelled through endless desert. The Atacama is truly vast. Lifeless and empty it stretches forever. The roads can be dead straight. We measured one stretch that went on for 54 miles without a bend !
Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert

54 miles of straight road

54 miles of straight road

The coastal roads are every bit as spectacular as those we found in Peru. With the Pacific on our right and the Atacama on our left its hard to get lost. We always knew we were heading south with that combination.
Pacfic Coastline

Pacfic Coastline

Eventually we turned inland and headed for San Pedro de Atacama. On the way we encountered high winds for hour after hour which did their best to drive us off the road or into the opposite carriageway. We also encountered rain. Well we didn't exactly see the rain but we saw the water left on the road and the rain clouds. That was near enough for us. Rain in the Atacama is very rare indeed.

San Pedro is a strange place consisting of mud houses, with many hippy types some of whom seem to have come in the 60's and forgot to leave. Its made for adventure holidays. If you want to mountain bike, sand board down dunes, climb mountains or smoke dope this is the place for you. As for us we cleaned the bike and are waiting to hear if the high pass into Argentina is passable or blocked with snow. Some people left our hotel this morning to cross over the Paso de Jama at 4,800 metres but were turned back at the border. So we may have to wait here until it clears.

Posted by Mick G 17:16 Archived in Chile Tagged motorcycle Comments (0)

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