Touring South America: Getting cold, getting sick
Chapter 19: April 21st, Esquel, Argentina.
The day we left Bariloche, we went for a ride around town and headed to Cerro Catedral before actually leaving the city. Cerro Catedral is one of Argentina’s largest ski resorts. Once we made it to the top we walked around the village that is no doubt teeming with people wanting to hit the slopes in the winter. To us, the whole resort was a ghost town but that didn’t take away from its charm.
Most of the shops were obviously closed due to it being the off season but we managed to find a bar where we savored a local artisanal beer. We also had the hopes of riding up one of the lifts to the top of the mountain but considering there was nothing to do, we instead headed off. It’s worth a wintertime visit without a doubt.
My head was flooded with memories of the times I worked at a ski resort in Tahoe. The cold air, the log cabins, that special feeling you get when you walk into a heated room when it’s freezing outside. All of these and more were fantastic memories that I’d love to experience again.
The road we wanted to take out of Bariloche was not the main route and to get to it we had to traverse a dirt road in very rough shape. Along the way we had another mishap when we pulled over on the gravel but we managed to get Fernando’s bike upright in no time. Later, when we reached a fork in the road, we nearly took the wrong path but were lucky enough to come across a truck that pointed us in the right direction. Once we corrected our course we picked up the pace towards El Bolson. The entire road there was lined with dense forests, the bluest lakes, and a snowy mountain range that never disappeared. The Ruta 40 never looked so good.
When we reached El Bolson we filled up our stomachs and fuel tanks. We decided to skip on the gas station sandwiches and went into an actual restaurant to get some proper food. The food was hearty and delicious but in hindsight it might not have been the best idea since shortly after our meal we started getting that post-lunch drowsiness. The desire to take a nap didn’t last long due to the cold rushing through our bodies. The sky had become overcast and the wind started to pick up again.
Every minute we were that much closer to Esquel and it was that increasing proximity that kept me going. Just a little bit more. Just a little less now. I’m almost there.
For the first time on the trip I was starting to feel the cold creep into my feet, and what was going on in my gloves was now beyond discomfort and venturing into the territory of pain. It was like resting your fingers on the edges of cold knives that slowly dig into your flesh. I tried opening and closing my hands repeatedly to get more blood flowing but by then it seemed like a pointless exercise. It also didn’t matter how much clothes I wore, I was still going to get cold. It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough protection on. I could’ve been wearing three additional layers and been sitting inside a car and I still would’ve been freezing. I was doing everything I could to get some heat going inside of me. I rotated my shoulders, balled up my hands, and flexed my legs as I stood on the footrests. It didn’t help much but it was something. Maybe just the thought that I was warming up by doing this helped me to keep going. Physically, there was very little more I could do. It was all mind over matter at this point. How I wished I had heated grips.
I made it to Esquel shivering and sneezing. Looking very attractive with reddened facial features and a runny nose, I went into the tourism office where they pointed us in the direction of the nearest hostel.
To make matters worse, Fernando’s bike had given up entirely. It had been having some electrical issues: his headlights would flicker randomly and his dashboard indicators would turn off and on periodically. It all started with the minor inconvenience of his clock resetting itself every so often but now he couldn’t even get his bike started. We had to push it down the street, in gear, for the engine to start sputtering back to life. We dropped off our bags at the hostel while we left his engine running and then set out to look for a mechanic.
We passed by three places, one that didn’t service motorcycles, one that didn’t service anything at all, and another that was closed, before we found a tiny little garage that had three minibikes waiting to be taken care of. Seeing the urgency of our situation, we were allowed to cut in line and the man in charge quickly found out what the problem was. Fernando had already psychologically prepared himself to have to pay for a whole new battery but luckily for him, all he needed to do was replace a loose screw from one of his battery terminals.
You really dodged a bullet there, kid.
We returned to the hostel with fully functional motorcycles and I made myself a meal large enough for three people that included rice, noodles, eggs, and meat. I downed the banquet by myself and after a cup of hot tea, I crawled into bed with the hope that a long well-rested night would end the cold that had been tormenting me all day.