Out of Africa and into the Americas

On the way into Johannesburg, I stopped at a service station to call some friends from the UK who now live there and had offered me a place to stay. Martin and Debra used to live near Bristol and I met them 6 or 7 years when they were preparing to move to live in South Africa. I bought Martin’s Honda VFR750 that he wasn’t taking with him and I famously had a serious accident while en route to look at the bike, when a absent minded driver caused me to have a head-on collision at over 40 mph, completely writing-off my motorbike but luckily leaving me and my passenger with only minor-ish injuries. I bought the Yamaha with the compensation money!

I hadn’t chatted to Martin and Deb much since they had left the UK, but we had been in touch a few times on Facebook as they knew that I was riding down towards them. In fact, I had been debating which direction to ride into South Africa so that I could catch up with them and see my folks in Cape Town. Timing was the major factor, but I had also reckoned that finishing in Joburg would possibly give me more opportunities for air freighting my bike out of Africa. I made a complete balls-up of following Martin’s directions and he had to come and find me before directing me back to his house in the suburb of Roodepoort.

Martin is a very British biker, a self-confessed ‘Greaser’ who loves everything from BSAs to Suzuki Katanas. He helped me do some repairs to the bike and he even fixed things that I was going to bother fixing myself (rev counter, dash lights). He made me some new luggage bars too. The guy just loves to mess with bikes!

To arrange the shipping, I had given a call to the father of a young rider that I had met in Swakopmund. Robin had been in Namibia on his 125 cc Yamaha to ride the Desert run and his dad, Stephan kindly put me in contact with a shipping company (Robeck). I met up with Stephan and his family a couple of times. They had traveled overland through Africa about 6 times and had loads of stories to share. Robin intends to cross Africa too in the next couple of years, although he is thinking about riding the Eastern route. He may be young, but from watching his videos of him riding through the Namibian sand and dealing with Police in Botswana I’m sure he’ll have no problems!

Martin had very kindly offered to help me get the bike ready for shipping. Through Stephan, I was able to get a crate from the local Yamaha dealer that had had an R1 sports bike in it. Martin cut the crate down to minimise the volume and we loaded the bike into it with the front wheel and mudguard off. The whole process would have been so much harder without Martin’s help. As a biker, mechanic, handyman, carpenter, ex-truck driver used to abnormal loads and loading bikes into boxes, he was the perfect man for the job! We hired a small trailer and assembled the crate around the bike once it had been ridden on top.

The bike had to be taken for a dangerous goods inspection and then dropped off at the depot before finalising the paperwork. I have to say many thanks to Marion at Robeck for all her help. I had bought myself a flight for the Friday. For some reason the price for a return ticket was almost half the price of a single, any suggestions why? The bike was due to leave on the same flight as me but I had it delayed for another 2 days so that I could enjoy the weekend in Buenos Aires without having to deal with Argentine customs.

After dropping the bike off I just had to wait for my flight and I killed the time by accompanying Martin around Joburg as he went around pricing up work and preparing cabinets to be made. I got to see elements of normal inner-city South African life that I hadn’t noticed in Cape Town, like people waiting by traffic lights with tools in their hands hoping to be picked up to work the day.

Martin took me to the airport before sunrise on the Friday morning. I was really quite sad to leave Africa. My trip through the continent has been such an adventure. I know that I’ll have further adventures in the Americas but one thing is for certain, I will travel in Africa again.

I arrived in Buenos Aires in the afternoon to chilly temperatures and overcast skies. I had been offered a place to stay with a friend of a friend who lives in Buenos Aires. I took a taxi into the city and met Marcelo who enthusiastically invited me in to his home and then we went to out for some beers. I stayed at Marcelo’s place for a few days before moving into a hostel in town where I could be closer to the sights.

The bike had not shipped as planned and would now arrive on the Wednesday, only 2 days before my friend was due to arrive so I decided to get some help with clearing the complicated Argentinian customs procedures I’d read about on the net. I’d also read lots of good things about Dakar Motos’ customs clearing service and after meeting Ben at the airport and sending him of to the hostel (in the dodgiest cab I could find – sorry mate!), I went to meet Sandra so that we could start the procedures. We went from one building to another, from one room to another and back again until a fork lift truck with my boxed bike appeared around the front of customs building. I joined the warehouse workers in dismantling the box while Sandra continued bouncing from office to office with the formalities. I was excited to see the bike again, and I think that Sandra was very concerned for my safety as she kept telling me to calm down. She probably thought that in my excited state I would either assemble it wrong or have an accident on my way into town. After I had reassembled the bike and refuelled it AND got it to start (apparently 4 litres of fuel wasn’t enough until I got it all to go to one side of the tank) I headed out onto the Highway. Sandra had warned me about Argentine driving, but I had shrugged it off with an ‘it cant be any worse than Lagos’ still I was surprised by how aggressive and carefree it was. I would have been taken out by a maniac who must have been doing over 100 mph while crossing 4 lanes to get to an exit had I not have already seen him coming. My gloves had gotten soaked in oil during the flight and through paying tolls I was covered in oil by the time I got to the hostel to catch up with Ben and go out for afternoon beers and steaks and more beer.

It was great to see one of my good friends again, and like my parents, Ben had brought out various bits and pieces that I needed. The support team grows!, thanks to Rab and Ghylleside cycles for helping with my equipment. Ben was staying in Argentina for 3 weeks and the plan was for us to bus around like regular backpackers but I had really wanted to share some of the riding experience with Ben so we had looked into getting a rental bike for us to do a 2-3 day ride and Ben was supposed to have learned how to ride a bike before coming out. He hadn’t, but the real problem was timing. I hadn’t given much thought to my arrival in South America, and being late June the southern hemisphere is at the height of Winter, something I should have guessed from my cold nights in South Africa/Lesotho and we couldn’t find a place to rent us any bikes cos they were all shut for the low season. Saying that though, even though it was low season, most of the hostels were full of backpackers of all nationalities. It must be rammed during summer!

I’m not going to go into great details about my three weeks traveling without the bike as Argentina is such a well trodden route, (and there are some things I’m sure Ben wouldn’t want me to write about) but we made loads of new friends and I parked my bike up in Cordoba with the lovely family of a friend I know from Bristol and we headed off to Mendoza, La Rioja, Tucuman, Tafi del Valle, Rosario and of course Buenos Aires. Although I hate to admit it, it was a relief to park the bike up, as backpacking with a motorbike was kind of a hinderance. None of the hostels I could find had any parking and I had to pay loads to leave it in private car parks that were generally a good walk away, but the biggest impracticality was that backpackers would travel by night buses to save paying for accommodation, whereas I prefer to ride by the day. With the bike parked at Martha and Carlos’ house I was free to travel with Ben and we drank loads of fine wine, ate loads of meat and generally went about having a laugh and hemos estado buscando las chicas!

Although I didn’t get to share the ride with Ben, I did teach him to ride my bike and most importantly, got the opportunity to give him a masterclass in avoiding paying money to corrupt police when we got stopped in our rented car en route to the mountains for not having our lights on at 11am! (tis the law over here). They took Ben’s licence, I was actually driving but had forgotten to bring my licence with me and they took his after we had a comedy switching of seats while waiting in line at the checkpoint. The police were friendly, but wanted money for their lunchtime BBQ! Friendly faces and a refusal/inability to speak/understand Spanish got us a pass. By the way, my spanish is getting better, but the local dialect takes some getting used to. Other than pronouncing double-Ls as an ‘sh’ and calling everyone ‘che’ there is loads of slang used in daily conversation. I’m getting there, slowly but it’s gonna take a while, but least I’ve stopped saying French words mid sentence!

Ben’s trip came to an end with a very heavy weekend in Rosario were we celebrated my birthday with our new friends we had met in Buenos Aires. I was sad to be on my own again, but I quickly cheered up when I saw my bike agin. I had lots of preparations to do before hitting the road again, I still hadn’t found any tyres and Ben had brought me out a new stator that needed fitting. The biggest thing that was bothering me though was that I had now idea where I would go. My plan had been to ride to Ushuaia at the very southern tip of Tierra Del Fuego and then ride north along the Andes all the way to Colombia and central America. I had been told by everyone that this was out of the question during winter. Its just too cold and all the mountain passes would be closed with snow. This was a real pain as it was one of things that I had really looked forward to doing on the trip. Because of this bad timing/complete lack of planning I’ve now started to try to come up with some kind of plan. If I am to go around the world passing through Alaska and Siberia, I need to make sure that I will arrive in the United States for July at the latest (probably earlier), or have a back-up plan if I don’t and I still had no concept of how long the journey will take. I guess if was to be sensible then I should head straight to Colombia from North Argentina now, but I would feel really bad missing out the rest of Argentina and Chile. More information is needed! One possibility that keeps coming up is to head to Brazil. Now I wasn’t really planning on going to Brazil, cos I’d heard that it is expensive (and I’m way over-budget in Argentina as it is!), it isn’t the Andes, and they don’t speak Spanish, but from everything I’m hearing, its the place to be with great people and culture.

I sorted out all the bike problems, with new tyres (v.v.v expensive in Argentina, but needed) , a fixed sidestand and a new stator that has solved all the cold starting issues. Mucho Gracias to Norton Yamaha for all their help.

There was still loads of other stuff I needed to do but couldn’t really do it while staying in a hostel. I was on my way to stay with some friends that me and Ben had met in La Rioja. I rode about 40 km out of Cordoba when I arrived in the beautiful town of Villa Carlos Paz, where I met a friendly rider while I was eating some empanadas. Diego, took me to meet his friends who were all bikers and they invited me to join them on a big ride into the mountains the next day to do an asado (BBQ). Paulo invited me to stay at his place, and they did another asado to welcome me into their group.

The guys had ridden all over South and Central America and all my doubts about where I would go cleared up as I quizzed them on timescales and the best routes. It is now very clear in my mind that BRAZIL is the place for me to be right now. Everyone says it is fantastic and that the scenery, although not the Andes, is amazing. They might have mentioned something about beautiful women but I wasn’t listening. So I’m heading north, Northern Argentina, Paraguay then Brazil, up to Belo Horizonte then ride the coast down past Rio and Sao Paulo coming back into Argentina at the magnificent Iguazu water falls. Not a bad way of killing time till Patagonia thaws out eh?

There was a group of about ten of us riding into the mountains. A few of us were on dual sport bikes but most of the guys were on lightweight enduro bikes, that they rode with amazing skill and balls. On the way up the mountain, they would frequently just leave the road and cut a corner through rocks and steep grasslands while I chickened out and stayed on the dirt road. At one point we all headed ‘off-piste’ which was an amazing feeling. I’ve been on roads that didn’t really look like roads before, but to just take off into the wide open grasslands was special for me.

I’m revving now to get on with riding again, but I’ve been lazy to leave Carlos Paz. The beautiful scenery aside and friends aside, I’ve been fighting off a chest infection for the last few days and I don’t really want to ride on till its under control. Come to think of it I’ve had some form or other of cold since I arrived in Argentina. I guess its the good living taking its toll! Still, Paulo is more than happy to have me stay at his place. It is the fantastic Argentinian hospitality I’ve come to know and love.

I eventually left Carlos Paz for what would be my first ‘proper’ day of adventure motorbiking in Argentina. I went back over the mountains on the same dirt roads that I had ridden on Sunday. The drive chain snapped when I was half way up the mountain and I stuck it back together with a spare link I was carrying. It wasn’t the best repair but it would get me off the mountains which were pretty windy and not the most hospitable place to be stuck. The road took me from Taringa down an amazing mountain pass that passes through a national park. At the bottom of the mountains, the gravel road turns into deep sand without warning. Well there wasn’t any road signs saying that it would go shit, I had been warned about the sand from my friends in Carlos Paz and Cordoba (‘you’ll be glad when you get off this one’ said John).

I’m much more confident at riding on sand than I was before but the sand was much deeper than I had ridden on in a long time and it wasn’t long before I fell off. I picked it back up and ploughed on for another 10 km or so, getting more and more confident as I went. I was holding the bars super-lightly and giving it plenty of revs and as I had passed the worst of it I must have lost concentration cos I fell off again, on a bit that wasn’t even that bad. I let air some out of my tyres. One of these days I’ll learn to do this before the going gets too tough.

The day was getting on and I wanted to clear the road before finding somewhere to camp. I had to slow down cos the low sun made it hard for me to see the deep patches of sand but eventually I was back on the tarmac. I’d seen some houses but there didn’t seem to be anyone home so I decided to ride on the next town, Chepes to look for someones garden to sleep in. This turned out to be a bad idea as Chepes was a lot bigger than I had expected it to be. It was dark and after asking the police I ended up camping in a petrol station opposite the police station. It was noisy with trucks passing through all night but at least it was secure.

In the morning, I rode to Chilecito, a town surrounded by beautiful mountains that had a cable car that brought gold down from mines 4000 m up in the mountains. I spent the night there at a campsite were I had a solitary asadito (little BBQ) and the next day I went to La Rioja to stay with friends that me and Ben had met through Couchsurfing. It’s Yanina’s 30th birthday and she is planning a huge party. I’ve given myself a few days off from riding to recover before I continue exploring!

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