I’m writing on Saturday, July 17th of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I am in a bed and breakfast near the airport. I spent hours and hour trying to find a place to stay. I would say that the process from start to finish took five hours. Unless you go to one of the ultra-expensive high rise international hotels, there is no parking for motorcycles, period. Even places that would have accepted me in other cities and other countries (i.e. with a wide entrance) say no. OK. I am overstating this because this experience was very limited. That said, I went to quite a number of hostels and past smaller hotels to no avail. Surprisingly, the hostels seem booked to the hilt. I have never been turned away by multiple hostels in the same city before like this.
I don’t exactly know what I thought Buenos Aires would be like. Perhaps I thought it would be a more modern, European version of Quito or Bogota. Whatever my vision was, Buenos Aires has not met the expectation. In all fairness, my opinions are based on a specific experience and I have not seen very much of the city at all. That said, I am rather disappointed. I am disappointed that it is so hard to find a place to stay. I am also disappointed with my general experience of the people of BA. Surely I have already met some nice, friendly and helpful people — but it seems that the downtown crowd makes Toronto seem the friendly-ville — this isn’t saying much. I hope that I am wrong, but its seems to a city with an attitude (problem).
Further to this, the drivers are nuts in the city. Buenos Aires very much stands out as as location of aggressive, socially unaware drivers. The caricature is quite different than other Latin American cities. Most other cities share similar traits to each other. I would say that generally Latin American drivers lack sophistication. It is as if they are first generation drivers and the notion of rules of the road, and formal instruction are non-existent. Buenos Aires stands out as a sophisticated urban center with a high percentage of European cars. The drivers drive very quickly, are impatient, and pull a lot of “close call” maneuvers. Its more about cutting you off and fighting the hard fight to get one car length ahead, or squeezing and lane splitting. There is sloppiness in drifting over well marked lanes and simply driving dead center on the line. It is not a friendly place to ride a motorcycle. It reminds me of riding in places like Yorkville in Toronto, and similar areas. These are places (in Toronto) that are inhabited by wealthy people who drive with what I would call an entitlement complex. They have the “right” to cut you off and to drive recklessly because they are more important than you. Well, my experience riding in BA is that, so far of what I have seen, people drive in this manner, period. Why a bus thinks it is OK to careen sideways and force a motorcycle into a the car next to it is beyond me. And it is not just about motorcycles. I am watching them do it to each other. Impatient. Rude. And actually not productive as usually the race involves a red light.
I was hoping to do a little shopping. So far, I have no idea where this will start. (I stopped writing last night and now it is Sunday). I first have to put the bike somewhere. And the rain has to stop. It is utterly miserable out there. I haven’t seen rain since I left Central America. This is the rain of April or November in Toronto. Yuck. I didn’t finish explaining how I got to this B&B. I basically said “screw BA” and headed towards the airport. Airports usually have accommodations and, while they can be expensive, it seems there is usually something reasonable because travelors require habitations for stop overs. I got out to the airport — don’t get me started about the less-than-efficient toll systems in BA — and simply found the airport.
On the way back I found a hotel but it was full. They refered me to a B&B nearby which one would *never* find without strict directions as it is in a little, apparently, military dominated neighbourhood.
I have a bit of a cold coming on. I seem to be coughing in the night but the cold is not full blown. This place, while not cheap, would be a reasonable place to wait out a cold if I could access the damn internet. For some reason their WIFI access point just doesn’t show up for my computer. I have been able to get on the internet via unplugging a PC but this is pretty invasive and doesn’t help with my cold much since my room is a little villa — and the best place for me right now is under the heavy blankets — not in the cold dining room.
Tomorrow AM I meet with Linda from Dakar Motors. Dakar is basically a motorcycle business which has been around for 20 years. Javier services and stores bikes, and offers a helping hand to travelers. I have been in discussion with Linda for some time about assistance with shipping my bike back by air to Toronto. The process should take about 4-5 business days. And hopefully I can stay at Dakar. Dakar also offers a barebones hostel. Like really barebones. The dorm/kitchen is within a partition of Javier’s workshop. When I arrived yesterday to Dakar for a introductory visit I thought, while barebones, it would be a great place to stay if you were working on your bike late, or needed to come late and leave early. But, at the time, it was not for me. I want a bit more cush and a bit more privacy. I find myself wanting to flee back to Dakar. This B&B is nice but the expense is not something I want to incur for more than a couple nights. And the ammentities are no different than Dakar — still out of the way. To my knowledge, I am not near anything except a residential neighbourhood. I doubt that I can walk to a food store as I am in a littlle upscale barrio off the highway. I was, however, pretty happy to find the place last night. And the half pizza they ordered for me was tasty.
The ride to BA from Rosario was absolutely uneventful. It was a straight piece of highway. The highlight was stopping for strawberry jams cookies (akin to Peakfreens) and drink at the 100km mark. The night before I stayed in Rosario. I also took a hotel there as I needed a good long sleep and a warm bath (or a couple) to ward off this cold. I have been coughing (mildly) for days. At first — this may still be correct — I thought it was air contaminents from riding through Bolivia. It has been *really* dusty. I have been coughing up dirt. It has also been very cold for days now. It is cool by Toronto standards — but 0-10 degrees, when riding a bike at 110-130km/hr becomes quite cold after many hours. The other day I was wearing the following: wicking sock liners, wool hiking socks, alpaca socks and Goretex riding boots; underwear, thin long underwear, polarfleece pants, waterproof/breathable pants and riding pants; wicking t-shirt, thing long underwear shirt, heated vest (on full), polarfleece jacket, thermal jacket liner, waterproof/breathable jacket liner and riding jacket; neck warm and helmet; and winter riding gloves with grip warmers on full — and I was still cool. It seems to be the cold head winds, and the hours and of riding that gets me.
The trip from Cordoba to Rosario was not a great one for me. I left Cordoba pretty late. I stayed at Luis’s parents’ place (they were away). I have spoken of Luis before. Upon arriving to Cordoba, I set my GPS to the only hostel that showed up. They were full and without room for a bike but the owner was very helpful in calling Luis for me. Luis rushed over on a bicycle. He was about 10 minutes away. It was already late. True to Argentine form, the assado (BBQ) dinner started at about 11pm and last until about 2am. Luis and his two friends cooked up quite a feast. Actually it was his friend Pedro who was quite a mad man. Fernet (a bitter Italian digestif) and Coke was the beverage of choice and was served from a large stainless steel vessel. We stayed up pretty late discussing bikes, bike trips, cultural norms of Argentina, and what makes Argentina different from the rest of South America. These guys really know how to put on a party. And, from what they explain, this was just a regular get-together with some friends. I left pretty late in the morning with the intent of making it to BA late in the evening.
On the way to down I was making good time and was in food spirits. Then I killed a dog. Or the dog killed itself on my bike. Its a matter of interpretation. That said, I felt terrible. I have been chased by as many as 200 dogs so far on this trip. I am not sure how I came up with this number, but it seems right. I was in the outside lane on the four lane divided highway. I was probably doing 120-130km. The posted speed limit is 130km for passenger vehicles. Trucks and buses have a lower speed limit. In practice people travel much faster than 130km. I had someone wizz by me at, I estimate, 60-70 km/hr *faster* than was traveling. *Very Luckily* I am very well versed at shoulder checks. This guy did not show up in my mirror and would have nailed me had a switched lanes like I intended. So, from this point on I was pretty cautious about riding in the left hand lane, period. Horns and passing lights are not in fashion here — and with all of the gratutious use of horns and headlights, this is one place that people should be more careful about passing slower moving vehicles (with warning) — and by slow I mean +120km/hr.
So I am traveling down my lane and I must have been heading over a rise when all of the sudden a dog showed up. I believe there was about three seconds between awareness and impact. That is not enough time to even consider changing lanes in this circumstance — or probably not even enough space to do so safely — omiting all checks. The dog was scampering about not sure which direction to head in. It shifted its course several times while slinking slow to the ground. It was a fairly large dog — something of a hound cross-breed. That said, while I am sure I must have applied brakes, I had made split second decision about which side to cut around. My reasoning process is not clear to me but I cut to the right of the dog, as because as I recall, it had decided to head towards the inside lane. At the last moment it cut back and hit its head off of the tool tube location behind my front wheel. I’m sure it was killed instantly. And I was pretty lucky to have be unscathed by my reckoning. I felt absolutely awful about it.
I traveled for only a short while until I could find a place to double back. I found the dog laying on the center line. I parked my bike and waited for a gap. It wasn’t *too* busy but there was no point in taking chances. During the process, some car careened across the line with seemingly no purpose but to run the dog over. I’m am not sure what was going through the drivers mind but my fists were waving, middle fingers flying and mouth shooting off every profanity I could think of. I grabbed the poor thing’s leg and dragged it to the grass feeling quite awful for my part in it. The grass was surely a more respectful place of rest than the middle of the road. I don’t blame myself in that I could only do what I could do and — it turns out — there were cars behind me so the decision not to careless change lanes was an exceptionally good idea.
Chances are it would have been hit by another vehicle in moments. As I stood there looking at the dog, I realized that what had happened happened in the best way possible. If I had attempted to dodge the dog on the other way side of it, I may well have clipped its back end breaking its back causing it unquantifiable pain. And then what? Leave it suffering on the side of the road? I don’t even want to imagine that scenario. I have a hard enough time whacking a fish on the head to kill it. Never mind the consquences of hitting any object at that speed on a motorcycle. And as I stood there, another dog about 75 metres away was barking at me, as if furiously, from a parallel service road. Its motives, of course, are a projection on my part. Likely both dogs were from the farm the dog was standing in front of. I have no idea whether this dog was, a nice dog, or a biter, or a stray. It seemed to be clean enough. It will be a long time before I forget its look of panic trying to find its way off of the roadway — a place where it must have realized (too late) that it shouldn’t be going for a stroll. In the end, I blame the people for are responsible for the dog.
I can’t even recount the number of dead dogs and cats (mostly dogs) I have seen on roadways. It has surely been many hundreds by now. I’m sure many of them have been strays. Strays in some ways are kind of like wolves. Dogs, when left to their own devices, through instinct, regress to their wild (geneologically speaking) origins. But the circumnstance and environment is only partially wild, or not wild at all. And they are not wild (or didn’t start out this way). They are there because of neglect and irresponsibility of people who take on pets (or perhaps service animals — hunting, guarding). And they end up on roadways, or as a nuisance in garbage dumps. Certainly North America is not perfect in this regrard but the level of stray dog, and just dogs on the loose, is a big problem through all of Latin America. For those dog owners back home who’s dogs live super cushy lives, you would not think lightly of the situation anywhere south of, I don’t even want to say, the US. My viewpoint down here is that, nevermind whether that dog has a rawhide toy or bedding, just keeping them in a fenced up yard and access to food and water would go a long way to correcting a problem. Alas, seemingly the value placed on dogs as pets is very different than back home. I guess people have other problems to worry about — to a large extent, their own backs — perhaps it all stems from poverty.
After this sad incident, I continued on but got kind of lost when I pulled off for gas. Having found my way back to the superslab, I found that my earlier argument with my GPS was in vain as the superslab highway actually did end and turn into a slow moving secondary highway heading into Rosario. There was no chance to make it to BA that night. Nor did I want to.
The previous day’s journey from the border to Cordoba had been a long cold day. The northern mountains are quite picturesque. There are also vast plains of desert. It is in one of these deserts that I realized the my fuel economy was going to the birds. Filling up with spare gas from the tank I acquired in Bolivia, I decided that I better throw in my used, but (much) cleaner air filter. The old air filter was absolutely filthy with dust from Bolivian. You would not even recognize it as the same filter as its replacement. Miracles did not take place though. I believe it is also a combination of a strong headwind plus superknobby tires that are killed my fuel economy.
Wow. That’s where I am ending? Naw. There will still be some addendums with respects to shipping my bike (and myself) but the trip is at its end point. I am in the midst of writing up some other stuff up. Highlights, bike notes, some statistics, etc. But I have some more to add…
Water. I ran into a road blockade in northern Argentina. Through broken Spanish I discovered that the protest was over the lack of availability of water. I don’t have further details but water, and its packaging is an important subject. People who know me know that I am not a big fan of bottled water — especially where good supplies of water exist. At home, sometimes I buy it when I have forgotten to bring water (say on the road) but I cringe when I see people buying cases of 500ml bottled water for their homes. Bottled water is a tricky subject. Some people don’t trust municipal water supplies and feel that bottled water is safer. I agree that spring water is better tasting. I certainly prefer it. That said, feeding urban centers from rural aquifers drains much needed resources. And the plastic that is used is both wasteful in terms of petroleum inputs, and in terms of disposal.
It was explained to me that the availability water would not be a problem on this trip. This was a correct assertion. There is not point in bringing the sort of water filter that you would bring camping. I did bring emergency water purification tablets but did not use them. So despite my convictions back home I found myself buy bottled water regularly. Most often I would buy 3, 4, or 5 litre jugs — but it is still bottled water. In this sense I was part of the problem that I am complaining about. I am not really sure what the answer is here. That said, down here — and by that I mean, south of the US, plastic water bottles are a *big* problem. They are everywhere. In Canada, we trying to recycle them. Whether this actually takes place consistently is a matter of debate. I am not aware of how many recycling plants exists in Central and South America, but I can say that countries such as Mexico and Peru have a massive garbage problem. I suppose social norms play into this. Different countries had different standards as to how many empty plastic bottles could be thrown from a vehicle at any given time. Mexico was pretty bad. Northern Peru as well. How does this stuff get cleaned up? When it does, it seems that it is raked into a pile and simply burnt. How do I know? I rode through countless garbage burns where fumes from burning plastic burnt my lungs. In many of these countries glass beer bottles are at a premium. Shop owners covet them and makes sure you know damn well that they want them back (and the deposits are not cheap). That said, Coke and water bottles have no value, (in these parts) and as such made areas in Mexico and northern Peru look like utter shit holes. Imagine the shoulder of roadways all littered with garbage all of the time. Now that is culture shock.