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Archive for May, 2010

Lets Get The Party Started

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Lets Get The Party Started

Paysandu, 25-May-2010

Arriving on a Saturday night was the perfect timing to start my stay in BA.  I took a power nap and at midnight headed out with a couple from the hotel to eat before hitting the clubbing scene.  In most of South America, the party starts at 1:00 and goes on until 6:00 where the dancing (and drinking) continues in “morning hours” bars…  ’til now, no one could really explain this nightlife timing: I mean it kills your next day.  Doesn’t matter if you work or on vacation, it’s just a hit on your system.  But as the saying goes: when in Argentina do like the Argentinean and for the next month my sleep pattern was a chaos.

My roommates were also great and practically all on the same easy going pattern as me: Lisa and Sarah, 2 Kiwi girls at the end of their trip and in BA on a crazy shopping spree and Tamara a wonderful girl from Belgium who’s staying for 1 month in BA.  Plus we were joined by Rich, another great hilarious Kiwi guy.  Got to tell you, I never met New Zealanders until Torres Del Paine and now in BA, but they are the most fun traveler around.  As a gang, and especially with Tamara and Rich, we took it slow during the day: a little shopping or some sightseeing, then we went to a park/waterfront/cafe before heading back to the hotel at dusk, rest, dine, have a few drinks and get ready for the night.  I even managed to watch a couple of football game… although the Boca game was trouble (long story, suffice to say we were lucky to get out of there alive).  I was lucky too: having visited BA before and done quite a lot of sightseeing, plus not really having a fixed date to leave, I could just go with the flow… and be lazy :).  BA was my vacation inside my vacation.

BA is a city that never sleeps.  It’s very busy: roads, buses, subways… all are packed during the day.  At night, try finding a table to dine in the trendy plazas before waiting in the many line-ups to enter the clubs and party the night away.  As for BA daily life, the contrasts are extreme: The Porsche and Mercedes vs the old (year 197x) Renault 12 or Peugeot 305.  The rich neighborhood of Recoleta to the favella of “bario Once” (never expected to see such poor, garbage infested shanty town in Argentina, let alone inside BA).  You can walk and party all night in the streets of Palermo yet you will be attacked and robbed (Carmen at gun point) in broad daylight in La Boca.  But BA is a beautiful city and I will choose to live there in a second.  The extremes that divide the society in some ways enrich its diversity; it’s visible in art, food, architecture, bars and nighclubs, even football teams (and their fans).  This city has it all, not to mention the most beautiful girls you ever saw.

And what a small world it is.  A few days after arriving to BA, I went to check the Latin American book fair happening here and who do I bump into? Augustine!! the friend I met back in Chile.  I also hooked up again with Ale and Flora which was absolutely great as these guys are so much fun.  Venesa was back in BA and she was un-employed 🙂  I met up again with Mark and Ben, the 2 funny and cool riders I bumped into down in Ushuaia at my hostel.  They actually moved to my area and crashed for a week in the hostel nearby.   Not to forget Marty, a crazy Canadian rider (his adventures are worth to be published)….  Well, my stay in BA was anything but a rest time :).  And that’s not it: I then received an e-mail from Diego, my friend and mechanic from Quito.  If you recall he helped get my bike ready for the trip and he was here in BA for a week!  Even better he wanted to talk to the mechanic who was doing a check-up on my bike (it was about time, I rode ~19,000 Km through every kinda of road).  So we met at Dakar Motos and Diego also checked my bike.  In Quito, his work allowed me to ride all the way here with absolutely no mechanical issues, now he will help me make sure the remaining ~13,000Km are headache free.  I knew I needed to change my chain but he noted that my sprockets are worn too.  They “might” last until Quito but I just couldn’t take a chance: imagine me having a mechanical breakdown in Bolivia, on some gravel mountain road, in the cold and in the dark… and even if I make it to a city, finding parts for my bike in Bolivia will be close to impossible (it took 3 days to get parts in BA!).  I also needed new rear brake pad, new oil+filter, clean the air filter + the injection,…. Decision was simple:  shed the U$D450, change everything and I would not have to think or worry about anything for the remainder of my trip, just ride.

One of my BA stay highlight?: hooking up with long lost family.  See, my grandpa’s brother (from my Mom side) immigrated to Argentina back in 1929.   Facebook and Skype were not around at that time so there was little contact between the brothers and when my grandpa’s brother passed away in 1972, contact with his family all but disappeared.  We knew he had 4 kids but they never visited Lebanon and we had no contact with them.  My mission was to try to locate his kids, my mom’s cousins.  My grandpa family name – with its European origin – was very popular in Argentina too.  When I looked up through the white pages this “apelido” in just its 2 common spelling format, the search resulted in 88 results! All 4 spelling, and I got 173 results… and these people are spread all over Argentina.  Now that I am in BA I needed to call the ones living here.  At my third number I hit the bull’s eye: It was Ismail, my mom’s cousin.  I made sure he indirectly answered a couple of “family questions” just so to be sure he is really family… hey, you never know!  A few days later I went to visit him.  What was supposed to be a ½ hour encounter turned to be a 4 hours chat and it was just great.  I brought him family pictures of my grandfather and my uncles/antes (his cousins) which he loved.  His son, Dario, was also excited knowing our family is actually big and our door is open to him to visit anytime.  It was such a memorable encounter; I know my grandfather will be smiling on me.

Next: Party continues in Uruguay (after pics below).

Let's go to Uruguay

or click on “page 2” below to visit Uruguay.


Head North Young Man

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Head North Young Man

Buenos Aires, 5-May-2010

It snowed that night in the mountains around Ushuaia.  We woke up to a chilly -2ºC and again we waited until 10:30 for it to relatively warm up (3ºC) and Oliver and I headed off.  Kilometer 15,067, Ushuaia, 19-Apr-10 @ 10:30. Just to give you an idea, Ushuaia @ ~ 55º00 latitude is as south as Fort McMurray is north.  Or in other words, if leaving from Montreal heading north, Chibougamau will only be the half way point on route to 55º north!  Thunder Bay for you Ontarian is just ~1/3 of the way if leaving from TO.  And April in the southern hemisphere is equivalent to our northern hemisphere October!  As soon as we exited the coastal city of Ushuaia, trucks and buses coming the opposite way were honking when crossing us and their drivers pointing behind them (i.e. pointing to the direction we were heading) and signaling us to slow down.  We could see that the lakes and water puddles at the sides of the road were all frozen and we knew we had to just take it easy.  As we climbed Paso Garibaldi it started snowing on us.  We stopped to snapped a few pics; it was all fun, “How awesome” 😉   But the more we climbed the colder it got, the snow intensified and my fingers were freezing.  We stopped again to analyze the situation.  “You want to go back?” asked Oliver, trying to see my state of mind.  “Nop.  I want to head north to warmer ground.  Let’s take it easy, I’ll go first”.  A couple of turns later, still heading up, the road started being covered by patches of snow and soon thereafter, fully carpeted by a couple of cm of snow.  I was already committed to cross the pass, no turning back!  I put my bike in higher gear to try and stop the rear wheel from slipping and just let the bike crawl slowly upwards.  Very unnerving driving conditions and I was stressed, yet I still needed to try hard to relax my muscles & my grip on the steering; any abrupt movement, brake or acceleration and I would be bobsledding with my baby.  As usual, downhill were the worst: little traction and I was pumping the brakes calmly to slow down the bike.  Add to that tackling the mountain curves and crossing black ice patches left by passing trucks; I was grinding my teeth while driving.  It seemed it took forever until we finally crossed Garibaldi pass and cleared the snow.

The temperature again dropped below 0ºC and everything around us was frozen.  300Km to the border but I was already cold.  We had to stop many time to warm up, to no prevail.  At one point, I needed to pee but my fingers were completely numb; I was unable to grip and open my pants zipper.  I needed to go…. bad!  After a few minutes trying, I just ripped the fly open breaking the zipper :(.  Ah well, that’s going to be embarrassing at every stop I make…

We had lunch just before the border with Chile, warmed up then headed back to see the kings.  See, everyone heard my story and saw my pics of the king Penguins and all wanted to see them.  Oliver was the only one who actually could and there’s no way he was going to miss it.  So we fooled ourselves by thinking we will reach Rio Gallegos by 20:30 and did the detour to my second encounter with the kings (Kilometer 15,451, somewhere in TDF, 19-Apr-10 @ 18:00).  There were more of them today and we happily went snapping pics, enough to put any Japanese tourist to shame.  We said our goodbye to our highnesses by sunset and rushed to catch the northern ferry to South America’s mainland.  I would never ride through gravel road at dark but today we had too.  We waited 45 minute for the ferry to dock before getting on-board for the 25min crossing of Magellan straight.  Once back on firm land we speed toward the northern border: it closes at 22:00 and we had to cross to Argentina again.  We made it with 5min to spare and after all the formalities we drove another 75Km to finally reach Rio Gallegos just before midnight (Kilometer 15,709, Rio Gallegos, 19-Apr-10 @ 23:30).

Oliver took off the next day to El-Calafate while I spent an extra day in Rio Gallegos to switch my tires (put my road tires on and send the off-road ones to Salta).  The plan was to meet up again in Peninsula Valdez in 3 days.  As for me, I wanted to reach Comodoro Rivadavia in 1 day.  But it was just too cold, it even hailed on me on route, which then melted and froze creating black ice patches.  I had to stop by the side of the road every 50Km or so, jumping and running around to warm up & let my blood flow or warming my hands on the engine.  Truckers kept on honking laughing at this crazy tourist doing gymnastic on the side of the road.  Oh yeah?  Wait until I pass you flying in a few minutes 😉  But I couldn’t withstand the cold, especially my fingers; it felt as if I had burned my finger’s palm!  So I just stopped in Puerto San Julian, ~300Km north of Rio Gallegos (Kilometer 16,106, Puerto San Julian, 21-Apr-10 @ 17:30).  The remaining 450Km to Comodoro Rivadavia will be completed next day.

You’ve got to hear this:  The following day, at one of my gas stations stop, while I was warming up with a hot cup of tea, a couple of riders heading south stopped by.  We started chatting and I gave them a few pointers on the road conditions in Ushuaia.  As the conversation progressed, it seemed we could meet up again in BA so they wanted my e-mail.  When I gave it to them, one of the guys asked with a surprised look:  “Sami?! Are you “Vroum” from the HUBB?? It’s me, Fernando!”. Damn!  Fernando was the guy I was supposed to meet to ride the 40 together (he decided not to and did the detour) and here we are in the middle of eastern Patagonia, at a gas station, finally meeting :).

Kilometer 16,544, Comodoro Rivadavia, 22-Apr-10 @ 17:30 Comodoro Rivadavia is an oil city, probably like Fort McMurray, with nothing interesting to see.  And it’s expensive!  Everything is double the price than anywhere else in Patagonia.  From the kilo of meat, to hairdresser, to hotel, all costs 2x more.  Incredible!  All this because in this neck of the woods everyone had $$$.  The oil industry is booming, companies’ pay big bucks for workers and local business take it back by charging more.  The only reason I stayed here was because I wanted to visit the petrified forest of Sarmiento which is 160Km east of here.  Kilometer 16,734, Bosque Petrificado, 23-Apr-10 @ 13:30; Millions of years ago, this desert was a lush tropical jungle and huge rivers used to carry fallen trees all the way to today’s Sarmiento were they accumulated due to the weakened river flow.  Covered with mud, they petrified through time only to be un-earthed in the recent millennium.  They lay in the cold Patagonian desert, mostly shattered and in danger from todays homo-sapiens: they break them or even steal them.  What is left are still amazing petrified relics of giant trees: they are like stone version of the trees, they take the local mineral/earth colors and are very heavy yet fragile.  Check the vid:  Bosque Petrificado

As I headed toward Peninsula Valdez, the joy came at mid-day: I finally rode enough northbound (I was equivalent to Montreal latitude) for the weather to warm up and make “amazing” riding conditions (under the circumstances).  I was so happy it felt like my love for this trip just reached another level, sort of a nirvana.  I was dancing and singing on the road and this feeling is still erupting today.  Pure and simple joy, what else do you need?  Kilometer 17,479, Punta Piramides, 24-Apr-10 @ 18:00; I reached the fishing village of Punta Piramides, a village usually flooded with tourists but now almost dead.  Only 3 hotels open and 1 restaurant (the one from my hostel… hey, I am lazy, I wanted to eat & sleep in the same place :)).   No sign of Oliver though… he might still be on the road.  I took a shower and as I stepped into the resto to have my dinner, here was Oliver drinking a beer.  He made it as agreed (German engineering!) and he even hooked up with another German rider, Matheas, riding a BMW GS800.  Matheas was a funny brew master… needless to say more ;).  We had dinner and planned our next day.  Southern Right Whales won’t come this way until sometime in July but this month it’s Orca month. They will be on Punta Norte teaching their young how to hunt seals, an extremely rare spectacle to actually see them (Lonely Planet says 3% chance, whatever that means!).  Next morning, we left early dawn as we needed to ride 80Km on dirt road to reach Punta Norte where the Orca’s will use the early morning high tide to beach themselves and catch seals.  We rode in the foggy and cold morning (-3ºC) but we were so excited to see the Orcas, none of us actually cared.  As soon as we parked the bikes we could see the killer whales and we rushed to the view point.  The spectacle was in full swing.  5 Orcas were taking turn, longing the shoreline, spewing water through their blowhole then shooting fast & straight up the shore, beaching themselves trying to catch seals.  Gladly, none succeeded :).  We then headed to Punta Cero to see Magellan Penguins followed by Punta Cantor where elephant seals live before heading back late afternoon to Punta Piramides passing by a sea lion colony (Kilometer 17,698, Punta Piramides, 25-Apr-10 @ 17:20).

We stayed another day relaxing in this village.  I wanted to go dive with the sea lions but the only dive shop wanted top dollars and a minimum of 3 persons to go dive.  With no-one around for 2 days, I guess I will postpone diving for another time.

We said goodbye to Oliver as he was heading toward Santiago de Chile to ship his bike home (he did Alaska to Tierra del Fuego and his trip is almost over) and Matheas & I headed toward Viedma and Carmen Del Patagon, its sister town across the river (Kilometer 18,268, Viedma, 27-Apr-10 @ 16:30).  They are beautiful little towns, each having a nice walk on its shoreline, good plazas and all together a “buena onda”, perfect stop to gather energy for our next morning long ride.

Ridding north form Ushuaia the steppe vegetation extended all the way up to Puerto Madrin.  From there on, small trees and shrub started to appear.  By Viedma, we could see farms and livestock in the fields.  Heading toward Mar Del Plata, we rode in the heart of Argentina’s agriculture fortune: Soya.  Endless fields of this brownish bean bringing richness to Argentina and it was harvest season.  We passed hundreds upon hundreds of trucks carrying the beans to ports or processing plants, while giant machines where combing the fields & harvesting the soya beans leaving behind big clouds of dust.  As we arrived late to Mar del Plata, I went to look for a hotel as Matheas was crashing at a friend’s house (Kilometer 19,037, Mar Del Plata, 28-Apr-10 @ 19:30).  The beauty about low season is it’s easy to travel.  Hotels are empty with practically no tourists and you share the city with the locals.  The action and parties tend to concentrate around a handful of bars & boliches making it easy to find the happening spot.  I hooked up with Venesa and Tamara (from BA): we went to the beaches in the day, took power naps in the evening and hit Alem Street to party at night.

Hernann, my Argentinean friend I met back in Chile, was from Mar del Plata but he was studying in nearby Balcarce.  That was my next stop but before, I went to visit his parent at their house in Mar Del Plata for an afternoon tea and dinner, chatting about my trip with his father who was so curious to know about all my adventures, especially Aconcagua.  We chatted until 19:30, way too late for my liking but I still headed out and met Hernann in Balcarce, 100Km away (Kilometer 19,137, Balcarce, 30-Apr-10 @ 23:30).  I crashed at his place, went out for a traditional asado then for drinks around town.

Balcarce was also the home of Juan Miguel Fangio and I was dying to go see his museum.  I wasn’t disappointed and it was amazing to see again how these guys used to race in the good old days.   I said my goodbye to Hernann by early afternoon and headed toward BA.   An hour before reaching the outskirt of the city, a huge brown cloud was hanging in the horizon: smog and pollution were my welcoming committees.   As I got closer, the horizon turned to grey then faded away, smell of fire, garbage, gas, diesel and who knows what filled the air.  What an ugly and rude awakening to city life after spending the past 3 month with nature…. I used to be wary of crazy Guanacos running across the road, now its another type of animals I had to watch out for ;).  As I entered the city, I was stuck in its traffic jams, dodging buses and taxi drivers who seemed to be on a hunt for me.  I felt like the rabbits I encountered down in Patagonia but this time oit was me running in front and in between crazy and aggressive drivers, trying not to become the next road kill (Kilometer 19,587, Buenos Aires, 1-May-10 @ 19:30).

Ride up!


Photo Album

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.