Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 76/77 - Repair day/Quitilipi to Iguazu, Argentina

RobC:  Day 76. The morning after the fall I woke up surprisingly fit and with a lot less pain than the evening before. Must be the injectable medication. This was good news and if we can get the bike going, we may not have to load the whole business on a truck after all.

Despite the disappointing set-back and the partial destruction of my bike, I realize I have been very fortunate to have survived this ordeal. When I look at my Aerostich riding pants, there are several tears and burns through the cloth and into the protective padding. The seat area of the pants is completely scraped and the back pocket was completely shaved off.

RobT:  We spent almost the entire day working on RobC's bike and figuring out options for getting to the Iguazu waterfalls in the north of Argentina, on the Brazilian and Paraguayan borders.  We needed to get there by Sunday,  December 26, and the bike had to at least get to Resistencia, where we found out we could get some repairs done and possibly take a bus or flight to Iguazu, in order for Rob to catch his flight to see Gaby in Porto Alegre, Brazil for a couple of days of family R&R.

We had an excellent spot to carry out our work.  Hotel Refugio [Place of Refuge in Spanish - appropriately] was a great place to stay!

Hotel Refugio

In front of the hotel and where the accident occurred.

Some of the work we accomplished today:
  • repair the perforated hydraulic clutch cable with some duct tape, tie wraps and a hose clamp.  Didn't totally stop the leak but did get the clutch to function after bleeding the line
  • bend the left side pannier mount back 
  • replace pannier cam lock, as it was sheared off
  • replace left rear indicator light bulb
  • shave plastic off on left side turn signal switch housing, as it was interfering with the spring mechanism of the turn signal button .. causing it to stay on
  • offset support for left pannier, had to be remounted with new fastener
  • rear tail section support had to be removed, bent back into shape and remounted
  • top box had to be remounted with new fasteners (old ones sheared off)
  • left pannier lid hinge needed to be reshaped, so the lid could close
  • bent crash bars forward so they wouldn't further pinch any cabling
  • twist left intake duct, as it was pulling the throttle cable out (engine ran very rough because of this, desynchronizing the pistons)
  • duct tape broken wind screen together
  • tried to bend the handle bars back to normal, which was unsuccessful
  • tie wrap bottom protection plate on the left cylinder head
  • tighten mirrors, as they became loose
  • check other items for damage such as tires, steering column, shift lever, etc

We had the whole bike apart, fixing what we could to get it in riding shape

Our "garage" as well as hotel room entrance.

We accomplished all the work and found that the bike was in fact safely functional, but still needed some TLC along the road.

Day 77.  Into the red clay territory of Misiones, heading north to Iguazu, Argentina.

 RobC crashing, but of a different kind.  We were both tired, so we decided to take a nap along the roadside in the tall grass. (RobC edit: this is part of our new safety strategy.  :-)  )

Another 800 km day (500 miles) by the time we arrived in Iguazu.  Aside from refilling the hydraulic clutch reservoir several times, RobC's bike behaved fairly well.  He also got used to the handle bars being bent, causing him to drive with the right shoulder up high and the left shoulder down low.  The day ended well and we made our destination. RobC will make his flight tomorrow to see his wife in Brazil. Despite everything, we are on schedule, incredible!  I will spend the next couple of days inspecting the Iguazu waterfalls, the most massive falls in the world.

Day 74/75 - Salta to Quitilipi, Argentina

RobT:  Day 74:  We decided to take a rest day in beautiful Salta, Argentina, to wash the bikes, do laundry and get my riding pants repaired.  My "excellent" riding pants let go at the seams ( I guess letting in so much water compromises the seams).  RobC complained about how they were an eye sore, buffeting in the wind as he followed behind.  My steed and I have become quite the "gypsy" wagon with all sorts of items in need of repair and attention.

In the evening we strolled down an interesting area known in Salta as La Estación, (the old train station district), a street lined with restaurants and show houses set in the old buildings.  The old train station was at the end of the street.  (RobC said the place reminded him of Church Street Station in Orlando.) The place we ended up at was called La Vieja Estación.  The show, called a Peña Folklórica, traditional Argentine dance and music.  At one point, the professional dancers (2 couples), picked members from the audience to go up and join them in the Samba, the Argentine version of the Marinera in Peru and the Cueca in Chile (which according to RobC are traditional "courting and male/female conquest" dances).  Guess who was chosen to dance with one of the professionals?  The same happened to me 4 years ago at a Peruvian Peña in Lima, where I had summarily embarassed myself and my country with some moves on stage that can only be described as sporadic convulsions.  True to form, I did it once again, much to RobC's amusement and no doubt all others present in the establishment (RobC edit: Robbie did just fine and was really delighted by the kiss on the cheek from his pretty partner).  Anyway, aside from that, the show was very enjoyable, the wine was great and the food was....well, peña food!

RobC:  Salta, in the northern Andes of Argentina, is a delightful place. The weather is superb, with bright mountain sun during the day and crisp, cool nights. The city itself has some beautiful architecture, large plazas with many sprawling outdoor terraces, beautiful jacaranda trees, sharply dressed women and smiling children. In short, the kind of place one could easily live for  a few years.

We had our laundry done, including our muddy/dusty riding gear, and Rob's pants were sewn to perfection. Everything was ready at 6 pm, as promised, and the cost was something like USD 10/each. The bikes looked brand-new again and we were ready to head East, across the hot, flat Chaco toward Resistencia/Corrientes tomorrow.

RobT:  Day 75:  We had a long, hot day ahead of us, some 800 km (500+ miles) through the Chaco, a Northern Argentine flat land.  The only curve on the road was a U-turn we had to do after we found out we had been heading in the wrong direction for some 40 km (25 miles). The rest was straight as an arrow, flat and blazing hot.  The temperature reached 40 Celcius (110 F) and with all the gear on it felt like 140 F!!  This was the Chaco.

We had trouble finding a gas station that had fuel and when we finally did there were long line ups.This remote northern part of Argentina has trouble getting a steady supply of fuel.

Our adventure sticker made it onto yet another door in a foreign country (bottom middle), along with all the stickers of Brazilian long-distance bikers.

Ruta 16 in the Chaco

The name of the town summarizes this area. Pampa del Infierno (The Pampa from Hell)

Other than the hot road - not much there!

At about 160 km (100miles) from our destination (700 km (450 miles) into the ride that day), things took a turn for the worse.  Everyone has a limit as to the amount of adventure they can handle or are willing to endure.  We are no different and today we found our limit.

RobC was in the lead, traveling at about 100 kph (65 mph), I was about 50 ft behind and to the right when I heard him emit a panic sound over the intercom.  I looked to the left and noticed he was on the center line, dust was being kicked up as if he was on gravel.  Weird.  It all happened so fast, yet in slow motion ... if that makes any sense.  I wasn't sure what was going on until his bike fell over to the left at highway speed.  I saw Rob sliding away from the bike across the opposite lane toward the wide gravel shoulder.  Luckily there was no oncoming traffic, which was odd as the highway had become quite busy during that last hour of riding.  This could have been much worse if he had slid into a truck or a car.  Rob disappeared from my peripheral vision as I braked and headed for the right shoulder as I saw his bike slide across the road in front and to the left of me. After a long slide the bike hit the shoulder and then disappeared in a huge cloud of dust and flying debris.  I had visions of the motorcycle being totaled.  By the time I parked my bike and ran across the road toward Rob (I could still hear him over the intercom), he was asking me to turn his bike off, as the motor was roaring.  There were already 3 or 4 people around him offering any help they could.  Rob was standing, looked okay and sounded normal, so I turned around to go back down the road and turn the bike off.  It had come to rest just just short of a guard rail, facing the opposite direction.  I couldn't believe what just happened!!  I picked up the bike and started inspecting the damage, while Rob made his way over to have a look as well.  There was a lot of damage, headlight lens broken, faring bent, handle bars bent, crash bar pushed back, puncturing the hydraulic clutch cable, top box and right side pannier ripped right off the bike, passenger peg bent 90 degrees, gas tank scratched and dented, the auxiliary gas container gouged (no fuel leak though), GPS mount damaged, etc, etc.  Wasn't sure if the bike was rideable, but we needed to get Rob some medical help, as his back was starting to spasm and he had some road rash on his arms.  The gear did its job. His pants showed a lot of damage, his mesh jacket had some holes in the sleeves, but the gloves and helmet received minor damage, although you never know about a helmet once its hits the ground.

Right beside the crash site was a hotel (Hotel Refugio) and a Shell gas station .... it was an unassuming, but very functional hotel.  The next few hours were spent trying to get the bikes and related parts over to the hotel, some medical attention for Rob and some food and drink.  As it turns out, that evening the hotel owner was having a staff party in the traditional Argentine holiday spirit (this was December 23), an Asado (barbeque).  We were invited to join and were treated like long lost family members.  It was incredible!!!!!  Anything we needed they provided, with enthusiasm!!  Everyone, from Marcelo, (the hotel owner and his lovely wife), Marcelo's mother and step-father, Francisco, Pedro, Susana and others told RobC that if he had to crash, he could not have picked a better spot.  We were in great hands here!

RobC:  Let me a add a little bit to Rob's excellent accounting of my mishap.  I don't know exactly why or how, but I suddenly felt the wheels of the bike stuck to a center ridge in the road and as the bike had a left-leaning bias, I could not get loose from the ridge and the bike just tipped over to the left and unloaded me, sliding in an angle across the oncoming lane. The bike took on a different, more angular path across the same oncoming lane. I remember thinking that this could be serious, but the slide itself was quite smooth until I got to the gravel, at which time the slide turned into a flipping and rolling event. When I finally came to a stop (after some 50 meters (150 feet)) I gather my wits together and got up to assess the damage. No serious structural problems, so I got up to have a look at the bike, which had slid quite a bit further than I did, presumably because it is heavier.

Things did not look very good. My pretty yellow (mandarin) GS was severely scraped, bent and busted on its left side. I had visions of throwing the business into a crate and heading home.

About that time a pick-up truck showed up with three policemen, who were intent on knowing what happened and write a short handwritten report. They were not too concerned about my physical condition, but when hen they saw my scraped elbows they insisted on taking me to the local "hospital" to get checked out. My back had started to spasm and I had a hard time getting into the pick-up truck.

At the hospital emergency room (which had a lot of ominously-looking mechanical and medical tools lying around) there was a crying, beat-up woman and I wondered what in the world I was doing there. After a short wait, a couple of large matronly nurses proceeded to douse me with hydrogen peroxide and iodine, making me wince in pain, while I was looking for a way to escape this unpleasant place. Shortly thereafter a kind, handsome doctor came to inquire about my condition, but he was obviously distracted by more serious issues (and my mentioning the back spasms were ignored by "Sorry, we do not have an X-ray machine" ). So, I guessed I was free to go, and I walked back to the scene of the accident (with lots of back pain at that point), where I noticed that everything had been nicely and neatly removed to the roadside hotel. RobT had everything in well in hand and all I had to do was try to lie down and get some liquids into me and try to get some rest. The problem was that I could not lie down or sit from the pain, about all I could do was stand and walk around a bit.

I asked Rob to see whether he might find some sort of a local "bone cruncher or manipulator" to work on my back. After an hour he came back, saying that there was a kinesiologist (physical therapist) willing to see me at this late hour (about 8 pm). So, our friend Victor, a lumber trucker, who had helped us throughout the ordeal, took me to the kineseologist and waited for an hour while I received some sort of magnetic treatment to the left sacroiliac joint where I had the worst pain, as well as some manual stretching. She also made arrangements at a local clinic to have an X-ray taken and for a doctor to see me. So, after lowering my aching body once more into Victor's little car, we headed for the clinic.

The X-ray showed no structural damage according to the radiologist - his fee: 40 pesos (10 USD). The doctor gave me a prescription for injectable Diclofenac - his fee: 50 pesos (12.50 USD). Victor took me a pharmacy, we got the injectables and syringes (fee: 29 pesos (7.40 USD). Back to the clinic to have a nurse apply the first of 3 injections - injection fee: 6 pesos (1.50 USD). Somewhere along the line, Vicor had picked up his wife and little daughter, Jaqueline, and we headed back to the hotel, where RobT was fully engaged in the hotel staff's end-of-year party (asado). They immediately invited me to join and showered me with food, barbequed meat and beer. By about 3 am the party dwindled down and my back had started to feel quite good, but I wondered if that was due to the medication, the beer or both.  :-)

Here are some pictures of the scene by RobT, who, by the way, acted like a real trooper throughout the whole ordeal!!  I also think we learned some valuable lessons: i.e. always be vigilant and ready for the unexpected (this was the first time in 20,00 km that we found an obstacle of this type in the center of the road), rest more frequently on hot days, be careful about bright sunlight at the end of the day, etc.

This is the "center curb" that caused all the problems ... about 2-3" high and 6" wide and chamfered on the sides.

 Same color as the asphalt and extremely difficult to see when on the road.  Further down the road this curb was even painted yellow to match the double yellow center line.  Unbelievable.

Pictures of RobC's damaged bike

Our amazing friends in Quitilipi at the end of the staff party!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 73 - Villazón, Bolivia, to Salta, Argentina

We expected to encounter a relatively speedy border crossing into La Quiaca, Argentina.  Getting our passports stamped out of Bolivia was very easy and to get the bikes out of Bolivia all we had to do was drop off the customs paper at the front desk. However, getting into Argentina was time consuming and somewhat complex, as we had to get liability insurance for the bikes before being able to take them into the country.  To make matters worse, the immigration line into Argentina was very long and progressing ever so slowly.

To get into Argentina we had to multi-task.  First we needed to get the liability insurance, then have our passports stamped at immigration and lastly customs for the bikes and our belongings.  RobC walked into La Quica for the bike insurance, even though he wasn't legally in the country and I stood in the long immigration line.  RobC returned with documents in hand (30 USD each) and I was only half way to the immigration window after an hour and a half.  RobC took my place in line and I took some pictures of the border area.

Looking at the Bolivian side of the border.

Argentine side and all the pedestrian traffic.

We noticed another strange  phenomenon.  An old train bridge that was solely used by an endless stream of people carrying huge loads on their backs from the Argentine side to the Bolivian side of the border.  Oddly enough the same picture popped into both our heads, "leaf cutter ants," was the best description of what we were witnessing.  Loads varied from huge 50 kg bags of flour, to several crates of eggs to bags of textiles, to 4 crates of beer, you name it these people were carrying it.  Some were plodding along, others in a light jog.  There were men and women, both young and old.  Goods going one way, empty carrying cloths coming back.  Very intriguing to watch.  These people were definitely in very good shape, physically and mentally in order to endure this hour after hour, day after day. Later, RobC learned that this activity is openly tolerated by border officials on both sides and they call it, interestingly enough, "contrabanda hormiga" (ant contraband).

"Holding area" for various goods on the Argentine side.

A closer look.

Some of the loads these people carried.

We also found out that we had entered another time zone, so we just lost another hour.  That was okay, as it was not going to be a "heavy" riding day anyway, plus we would be on pavement. Yeah!!  The first part of the ride was on the Argentine Altiplano at about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) alongside an abandon railroad.  The first "town" we passed had a picturesque abandoned railway station, like something you would see in a Butch Cassidy movie.  It almost felt like we were riding the prairies as the Altiplano stretched as far as the eye could see.

Passing the tropic of Capricorn.

Interesting geological formations.

Local vendor in one of the small Argentine towns.

Our friend, Lars, from Perumotors, had told RobC about the old road from Jujuy to Salta, and that it was a must for scenery and an incredible ride.  It was an amazing, very narrow (about 4 meters wide) "two-way" twisty road through some spectacular scenery.  We felt like we were traveling through some miniature world because of the narrow road, yet it had all the markings on it for both directions of traffic.

 All the trees were covered in vines, which created a mystical ambiance to the ride.

We arrived in Salta at a decent hour, found a nice down-town hotel and planned on taking a rest day tomorrow, as we needed to catch up on our blog, do laundry and service the bikes after the past grueling week in Bolivia.

RobC:  During the afternoon ride we were elated and feeling great. Being on beautiful blacktop (I didn't think I would ever say that), seeing full-service gas stations with premium gas and that also sell snacks and great coffee, being able to ride at a nice speed so that the kilometers tick by fast, finding restaurants with predictable foods, seeing frequent road signs indicating upcoming cities and the number of kilometers, seeing school children in uniform, etc. It is not just because my dear wife is from Argentina, but it really feels great to be here. Of course, Bolivia was a great adventure, but a person can only take so much dust, bumping around, dropping the bike in the sand and gravel, sleeping in hot rooms and questionable beds, etc. After all, we are gentlemen riders, and it feels good to be clean now and then.  :-)

Day 72 - Oruro to Villazón, Bolivia

Oruro was an interesting town, celebrating its 200th year, as well as being in the Christmas season.  Last night, a large crowd filled the plaza, sidewalks and spilled into the side streets that led toward the market area. We joined them for awhile, looking for food and other items we needed. A festive place and we had a decent hotel at usual cheap Bolivian rates.

Our goal for the day was to try to get to the border town (Bolivia/Argentina) of Villazón, but, again, we were given contradicting information as to what the roads were like.  We did know there were 2 routes to the border, one used by tourists, which was longer but had more pavement, and the other, a more commercial route, shorter and less pavement.  We were also given information on how much pavement there was.  We soon found out that what we did receive by way of information was quite a bit less than accurate.

Little side note:  my brakes on the 800GS failed once again, but this time they started failing as we entered La Paz and its steeply inclined roads and streets.  Good thing it wasn't a few hours earlier on the Death Road.  They were not completely gone as I could get one squeeze of braking before the lever pressed down to the handle bar and there was nothing left.  We tried bleeding the brakes in La Paz, as that worked last time in Nicaragua.  Not this time; I have now been running with 25% front brakes for one squeeze, 100% rear brakes and engine braking.  And yes, I have had to plan my city driving and approaches to mountain corners more carefully.  We were going to look for a moto shop at our next stop, in Potosí, as we were told there was one in that town.

Some adobe farm houses along the road.  Not sure how these people survive out here, but they do.

View of the valley en route to Potosí.

We notice a strange phenomenon today.  Along this seemingly endless, deserted stretch of road, there were children from 5 to 12 years old, all begging for hand-outs.  As we approached, they would get up, run to the side of the road, stretch out their hands and form a cup or held a hat.  Sometimes they were in groups, other times a solitary child on his/her own.  The remarkable thing was we didn't notice any homes or dwellings nearby, anywhere!  We searched the landscape and nothing.  Where did these kids come from?  Were they dropped off by their parents?  Don't know and we didn't find out.  At one point we came to a toll booth, stopped to pay and were instantly surrounded by these children, begging and pleading, some selling jello in plastic bags.  I moved to get passed the booth and one of the kids actually grabbed my arm as I drove by, because I never gave him anything.  These poor kids, dirty, torn clothing, red blotchy skin due to sun burn (we were at 3500 meters (10,000 feet) so the sun is strong), in dire need of a dentist.  As a father I felt really bad for them as I could only imagine what it would be like if that were my daughter.  It's hard to comprehend for someone like me coming from a place like Canada.

Roadside restaurant.  These places are actually pretty good and you get soup, main course (rice and some meat) and a bottle of drink for 2 USD.

Local dwellings.

Once again, we asked locals and bus drivers about the rest of the road.  We have found that you can't ask too many questions and you can't ask the same question enough because sometimes you do get similar responses and that's what you go with, specially in Bolivia.  As we left Potosí, without any luck getting my brakes fixed, we were ready for some more blacktop before getting to gravel.  20 km south of town we hit gravel again.  It wasn't too bad at first, but as we went further south it did get worse, so we stopped to let air out of the tires again.  The road detoured through every little village along the way.  Not sure how this was supposed to be a commercial route (meaning buses and trucks), as we only saw dump trucks with gravel to fill big holes in the road.  Also, we couldn't figure out how anything bigger like a bus could navigate through some of these small villages.  In places, the road would cross a dry river bed, even follow it for a few kilometers or it would cross a fast moving river where we would first watch a car or truck go through before we actually attempted the crossing. 

A detour.  You can see the "new" road off to the left.

Long road down to Argentina

Getting closer to our destination proved to be more challenging as the detours ("desvios") became more frequent.  Mostly, they were down the embankment of a dried river and up the other side due to bridge construction.  Buses and trucks used these detours as well.  The sections in between were paved in spots.  We did get a nice stretch of road that was concrete.  What a relief that was!!!!! The detours didn't stop, but we could handle that.

Along the Bolivian Altiplano

We arrived in Tupiza thinking we'd spend the night there.  The rock formations were incredible, almost like something you would see around the Badlands of the US and Canada.  The town itself was interesting because it was split in half by a river and there were no bridges across.  We looked around and noticed cars and trucks following a path down to the river and up the other side, so that's what we did.  On the other side we asked about the road to the border and whether the border was open all night.  As suspected, we got differing opinions.  We were told by several people that the road was in fact paved all the way to the border.  It was getting late, but we decided since the road was good and it was only 90 km,  we could do it.  We drove back across the river at a different spot, which was much deeper and wider.  I almost ended up on my side right there in that smelly river.  We both agreed there must have been some sewage runoff into the river because it smelled bad.

Well, as for the paved road to the border .... lets say it was partially paved.  Surprise, surprise.  It was very difficult negotiating the new, unmarked blacktop at night and looking out for little 6" x 12" signs labeled "Desvio 50 mtrs".  Yeah, not much time to slow down and find where it actually was, specially at night.  Most of the time they pointed in the correct direction.  The detours down through the river beds were either on the right or left side of the road just prior to the bridge construction.  Occasionally they pointed straight across and we both reluctantly and very slowly followed that and to our amazement, there was actually a bridge.  We made it into Villazón at 7:30pm, at the Bolivia/Argentina border. it was a hard day, but we did 610 km (400 miles) from Oruro to Villazón, a 12-hour day in the saddle.

Day 71 - Caranavi to Oruro, Bolivia

Ah, today we will be rid of this horrendous road!!  Thank God.  2 more hours of gravel.  We were also told that asphalt awaits 70 km down the road (2 hours).  We forgot about that while we were battling all manner of obstacles on a less than stellar road.  We rounded a corner and noticed asphalt.  Mirage?  We couldn’t believe our eyes!  But ... Coroico was off to the left and the final 35 km of Death Road (packed gravel of sorts) awaited.  It was very tempting to stay on the beautiful asphalt and head for La Paz (100  km), but we turned around for some more punishment and entered Coroico via a long cobblestone back road from the north.  With the new asphalt road in existence, this back road was no longer maintained.  Ruts and vegetation growing over the road.

RobC on the first part of El Camino de la Muerte (the Death Road)

Yup, that's the road up there in the cut-out.

Someone's home along the roadside.

 You get some perspective with that white truck on the road.

The plaza in Coroico

Bienvenidos a Coroico ... we were here three years ago as well, but this time we are here with our own bikes.

We had some food and changed money in the plaza ... we were ready for the last part - the famous Death Road.  We were here three years ago and at that time it was raining and cloudy so we didn’t see much aside from the road itself.  This is also known as the North Yungas Road, not too long ago the only connection from La Paz to the northern Bolivian jungle.  In 1995, the Inter-American Development Bank christened it the "world's most dangerous road" due to the road conditions, such as: single lane, rock, gravel, no guard rails, water falls onto the road, streams running across it, sheer drops and the number of deaths per year, which some estimate at 200 before the new road was built about 5 years ago. 

The start of the road as seen from Coroico.  

RobC giving a tour operator a piece of his mind (RobT edit:  "shit", not "a piece of his mind".  RobC is just being courteous so as not to offend anyone) as we had almost hit 3 mountain bikers coming down the road on the wrong side.  You could see the fear in their eyes as they passed, concentrating on not going over the edge.

One of several spots along the road where crosses designate where someone had gone over the edge and perished.

RobT's bike.  The view was staggering!

 RobC traveling past a water fall on the road.

 Closer view.

We had previously made fun of the Death Road, saying that we have been on far worse roads in Peru, etc.  We now stand corrected.  After having ridden it again in sunshine we both can safely and unequivocally say it is worthy of its name.  What a road!!

Waiting for a bus.  That's the major means of travel for most Bolivians.

After completing the Death Road (alive) we made it t the new paved road and through La Paz (highest capital city in the world at) with relative ease and headed south for the town of Oruro.  We passed some familiar Altiplano territory (from three years ago) as the remainder of the day wore on.