RAISED WITH WOLVES


Los Caminos De Patagonia: Chapter 2
March 2, 2015, 4:33 pm
Filed under: Adventures, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I walked four blocks down and two over. I kept repeating the street names in my head over and over until i’d reached the ferreteria, which as a Swiss biker later explained to me was like “wal-mart but tiny and shitty”. I asked for bandas de elastico, and mimed a bungee cord in the air. The woman behind the counter squinted, and then her face lit up, she ducked through a curtain to a back room. I could hear her rummaging through packages on the ground, until she came back with a set of ratchet straps.

I handed the Chilean pesos to the dark-haired woman like an open ended question. She counted out the change as she laid it in my palm and I headed back to the German Resturant, where Ulf waited with the bikes. I used my new ratchet straps to latch down the last of my luggage to the bike, and away we went, without breakfast. I had already held up our departure by having to get more money from the tarjeta automatico in the supermarket, so I didn’t want to complain about my rumbling stomach, or the lack of caffeine. The adrenaline of novelty and adventure would have to get me there.

We rode up to the Argentinian border with few problems, the villarica volcano rising above us us like a diplomat puffing on a pipe. I was still trying to get used to the dual-sport, which was a new experience for me entirely. Thirty minutes into the ride the smooth civilised pavement gave way to switchback segments of loose gravel that rose up through the Chilean woods.I routinely had to squeeze my tank with my thighs to keep the bike from getting too squirrely in the white gravel.

I had been very anxious about the first border crossing. I was sweating in the cramped customs office, surrounded by Chilean and Argentinian families and their diapered kids and chatty teenagers and I was just hoping all of my papers were in order. The man behind the desk had a beret on. I practiced my spanish over and over in my head until it was my turn. The man stamped my papers, looked at my passport, looked at me, stamped it loudly, and away I went.

There are two border crossings, two customs lines, two immigration lines, two stamps, per border. The entire process takes about an hour or more, depending on whether or not you get stuck behind a tour bus full of elderly Germans. Between the two offices, can be anywhere from two to three miles of what seems like no man’s land– a place between the two countries. I envisioned it as the big black line on the map.

We passed over rolling Andean foothills beneath a imposing mountain– smooth riding into San Martin. San Martin was a beautiful, but perhaps slightly disingenuous, ski resort town. The little resort town sat on a lake, and during the summer it was teeming with life.  I had exactly zero Argentinian pesos, so I began searching the main strip for a cambio exchange, finding nothing. I went into a few banks, only to be denied. When I met back up with Ulf, he had found a “private exchanger” in an alleyway and offered me half of his pesos. As he sat on the sidewalk eating ice cream, I bought two yogurt bars and a energy drink from a mini-mercado that was smaller than some people’s walk-in closets.I was eager to get back on the road.

As we rode out of San Martin, the lake jumped out from behind a corner. It was suddenly breathtaking, and as blue as the garment of the virgin. We rode up our first real mountain road. I looked over my shoulder at the shimmering lake, framed perfectly by green Andes and thought “Here we are. Patagonia is probably paradise.”

We stopped to take a picture at a little mountain side pull off. Not to capture the beauty, which I believed to be impossible, but just to prove that we were there.

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The road cut through verdant rocky forest and wrapped around the lake like a hand around a pint glass. Moss grew infinitely like the Buddha over large stones. Shrines to the saints littered the road side looking like little red dog houses, visited by pilgrims in flip flops and swim suits.

At every other curve, an immaculate snow capped mountain burst into view. It stood tall among the others, Christlike, outside of time and forever out of reach.

the road plunged down into a valley, and we hugged the mountain like missionaries. The wind howled around the mountains in some places, threatening to push me off the road. Sometimes it rushed through the mountain roads, sounding like an approaching truck as it cascaded down. It reminded me a little of Wyoming, but in color.

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The lake in San Martin was the first of many oases along the road to Bariloche, where we would stop for the night. Students and families swam in the sapphire waters, soaking up their summer vacation. Hitch hikers were staggered along the road. I jokingly offered a seat to all the girls as I passed, making faces at them from behind my helmet and face-shield. Goats adn cows grazed along the roadside contentedly, jaywalking as they pleased. I wondered where the hitch hikers were going. Why would they want to leave such a paradise. Maybe the cows and goats had it right, I thought, as I passed at sixty miles an hour.


Ulf and I went to a pizza place in Bariloche around eleven pm. It was my first meal of the day, but I was feeling fine, settling into my oversized wooden chair. The temperature had fallen with the sun as we entered town. we managed to find a lakeside hotel before sunset, complete with gated parking. I’d rather sleep in my own room. but it definitely beats my Pucon hostel that I shared with twenty people the night before. I feel like maybe I’m getting too old and grouchy for youth hostels.

Ulf ate a cheese pizza, each individual piece with its own large green olive basking in the cheese. I went for an Empanada and a home made “cerveza rojo”, which was all they had on tap. Ulf told me of his trip five years earlier from Germany to China on a dual sport bike. He had to ditch his bike in Kurdistan after gangsters sold him bad gas that destroyed in engine.He walked the bike to a farm house, the only one within miles, and just gave the bike to the family without words, then continued on into China.

The retired German is sixty six years old. Although much separates us, he is good natured, we have similar riding styles, and his English isn’t bad. Thank God for Ulf. After my first day riding, I can tell you that God exists in Patagonia, and I intend to praise him for his creation: turquoise lakes, beautiful south american women, ancient mountains reaching to the sky, safe travels, microbrewed Argentinian lager, and for Ulf. Its heavy handed but Patagonia is heavy handed.


I only had 100 pesos left from the money Ulf had loaned me the day before. I went out that morning as he loaded up the bikes and tried and failed to find an exchange house. I ate breakfast in the hotel, overlooking the lake and lloaded up on coffee to ready me for the 270 mile day ahead. Before leaving town we rode the Lao Lao loop, which loops around the lake. The zigzagging lakeside road rose and fell with the 360 degree postcard zen panorama.

Just before the panorama opens up outside town, there is a humble little church, looking like a playhouse compared to the towering peaks around it and the infinite waters down below.  I dismounted at a wooden catholic church on a grassy hill and trudged up the 20 or so steps in my clanky motocross boots, which were stiff Italian leather. A  student group on a field trip  stood outside, taking selfies in front of the church. Not one, but two, giant St. Benards sat on benches, posing with tourists for a few dollars. I thought about when Jesus chased the merchants out of the church with a whip as I ducked inside the humble sanctuary.

The cabin-cathedral must have been from the thirties. It was simple, but it was gorgeous inside. I took a splash of holy water from a dispinser on the wooden wall that reminded me of a hand sanitizing station in a gas station restroom. I made the sign of the cross after observing a catholic to make sure I had it right, and kneeled at the alter.

I walked back out into the sun, almost startled at the patagonian mountains, and the almost oceanic lake. Ulf, who waited by the bikes, made a comment about the Chinese worshiping every god when they travel, just in case.

“I’m always a Christian when I travel,” I said as I put my helmet back on.

3


South America is full of stray dogs. Happy, frolicking, chasing motorbikes, napping on stairsteps in the sun, trotting out of the woods dogs. Even if people down here don’t put ice in their water and men kiss each other on the cheeks and there’s a bidet in my hotel room, Patagonia is the land of stray dogs and I feel at home.


Rocky mountain picturesque Patagonian S curves after S curves for hours until El Bolson, a typical South American lazy town seated beneath a gargantuan peak.We detoured down ruta setenta y uno into the Las Alerces national park, which houses five beautiful iridescent blue lakes.

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The road into the park quickly turned to gravel, which at first wasn’t so bad. Caballeros moved to the side of the road as we approached,, probably looking like horsemen of the apocalypse,  a cloud of dust rising behind us. I was starting to get used to the bike, and the constant give of the gravel. We were riding side by side at about 45 mph over the gravel road, which rose high above the lakes and in and out of deep dark forests.

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My confidence level was rising, and my whiteknuckles loosened up a bit. We rode under a thick canopy that blocked the sky completely. Sunlight bled through the , illuminating the dust that we were kicking up. I began to overtake an economy car that wasn’t much bigger than my bike, going about 35 mph. The sun burned white through a break in the trees and the lake suddenly appeared down below, the road dropped down over a hill and before I knew what was going on, I was down, sliding across the gravel, still holding onto the throttle, the bike whining as it slid away from me. Ulf is also down, his bike sliding past me.

I immediately jumped up, like a skateboarder recovering from a spill, and examined the damage. Side bag was broken off completely, but otherwise the bike was fine. Ulf strapped it to his bike, just barely leaving room for himself on the seat. I had a bit of road rash, but neither of us had any real injuries to speak of. Kids got out of the car we’d passed and helped us get the bikes back up on the road.

The rest of the ride was gut wrenchingly stressful. The gravel, which had been manageable, gave way  to loose rocks that could barely be described as a road. We had to ride inside of tracks cars had left behind. These are VW Golf sized tracks, not big ford Texas sized tracks. So about two feet of grace, with white rocks piled up on either size begging for your tire to drift into it.

The scenery was beautiful, but I honestly couldn’t enjoy it.

Once we exited the park, and hit pavement, I wanted to get off my bike and kiss the road, but it was already eight thirty. We had about two hours of day light left.

Out of the woods, away from the lakes, off the mountain side, down down down smooth forgiving S curves into a valley. Sundrenched like honey, the great southwest before me with Alaskan snowcaps behind in my side-views. I breathed easily and heavily, hugging the turns like old friends.

We made it to Esquel in gray twilight, and I had a platter of what seemed to be lunch meats and cheeses that the hotel’s resturant was trying to pass off as Picadillo. Kids screeched and played as their parents ate at 11:30 at night, and I tried to enjoy a Cerveza Austral.

The key to my room was large and victorian and I couldn’t get the damn door open with it. So I went out the window, onto the roof, and into my room to bed. I was exhausted, hands aching from gripping the handlebars so tightly.

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Songs stuck in my head for two days:

Burn- Alkaline Trio
Open Road Song- Eve 6
West Coast- Coconut Records
Best Deceptions- Dashboard Confessional
I Will Play my Game Beneath the Spin Lights- Brand New

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