Touring South America: In for Repairs in Bariloche
Chapter 18: April 20th, Bariloche, Argentina.
The nocturnal winds eventually died down at our campsite in Las Lajas and we were able to get some well-needed rest. Nothing had been knocked over during the night so that was a relief.
We spoke to the campsite’s owner and he kindly offered us some coffee to get our morning going. He told us that we were the last people to arrive and with our departure the camping season was officially over. Had we arrived one day later, we wouldn’t have had anywhere to spend the night.
Fernando and I finished packing up and I gave the bike an overall check: tire pressure, working lights (other than the busted tail light), and lubed up the chain. That’s when I found out what had been rattling for so long. The chain guard had come loose and every time I went over a bump, the guard would bounce on the moving chain. Florentino, the campsite’s owner, escorted us to a local mechanic that did some magic and soldered the broken piece. Solid work.
The winds on the road that day were worse. They were so strong that they weren’t just pushing me onto the opposite lane, but almost off the road entirely. The worst of them were the short gusts. It felt like someone was trying to rip the helmet right off my head. We were forced to ride leaning into the wind almost the whole way to Bariloche. When I pulled over in an attempt to eat a snack (delicious alfajores), I had to sit on the ground and use the motorcycle as wind protection to keep them from blowing away. As I ate my treats, I gazed at the clouds rolling by. I had never seen clouds move so quickly across the sky.
It wasn’t particularly helpful that as we approached the lake region, the geography also started turning against us. The turns around the hills became much tighter and steeper. I ended up veering off the road on two occasions because I was taking the turns too fast. Luckily I didn’t fall but I felt my heart jump up to my throat from the panic of an imminent motorcycle accident. From that point on we started riding a bit slower.
The cold was also getting more intense. I had to make a few stops to get some blood flowing back into my hands. As soon as we’d pull over to the side of the road, I’d place my hands on the engine to heat up the gloves. The wind was already doing a pretty good job cooling the block so it wasn’t burning my hands through the gloves.
Our endurance against the elements rewarded us with spectacular sights. From within the lake region, every time we went round a bend we were presented with a view each more wondrous than the last. Our eagerness to stop and observe each landscape with pause came with a price.
A few kilometers outside Confluencia, where I would desperately need to fuel up, we saw how the wind stirred up the water with such force that it was instantly creating a mist the rose from the surface. I stopped at the side of the road but the terrain there was loose gravel and the bike started to slide out from under me, almost falling over. I caught it at the last second but Fernando was not as fortunate with his. He had managed to stand his bike up but the wind ended up knocking it over. It took us a few minutes to get his bike back on its stand. The gravel and wind made the whole process much more difficult. We took pictures of the lake while his bike teetered precariously on its side stand. All this for a few snapshots.
I bit further up ahead we found a better spot to take pictures of the same misty phenomenon. I came to a stop and sat on my bike with both feet planted firmly on the ground but the strong gusts kept pushing me back, bike and all. Fernando had to stand behind me and hold it while I took pictures.
We crossed the bridge and topped off our tanks at the gas station on the other side. We asked some women there if these sorts of winds kicking up mist were normal. They said it didn’t happen very often and that it was particularly strong but it could be much worse. I shuddered trying to envision stronger winds in these areas when the ones we were currently facing were already doing a fine job of putting us in danger.
As we left Valle Encantado (Enchanted Valley), we saw more deep blue bodies of water artistically complemented with green pines and dark boulders. In the middle of all these trees, nearly imperceptible, was a perfectly vertical column of stone. It was a natural pillar (or at least seemed to be) and it struck me as incredible how something like that could have formed over the ages without toppling over.
All this natural beauty was opaqued when we entered the final stretch towards Lake Nahuel Huapi and the city of San Carlos de Bariloche. The sky over the lake was gray and brooding, and even though were many kilometers away we could tell it was raining.
When we reached the city, we were relieved to find that what we thought was a heavy rainstorm was just an intermittent shower. It proved to be nothing but a minor inconvenience. With teeth chattering, we began the search for a place to spend the night and finally came across Hostel Punto Sur. They not only offered us a room at an unbeatable price but also gave us some garage space for our bikes. Thanks, Martin!
The next day was well spent. I had torn a hole in the lining of the leather gloves I bought in Santiago. Every time I slid my hands in, the hole got a little bigger. I sewed up the lining and wrapped the external stitches with duct tape. Now they were truly weather-proof. Fixing the gloves: check.
The other plan for the morning was to take the bikes to a local mechanic for general maintenance and to tighten any nuts and bolts that had loosened during the trip. But first, I fixed the tail light myself. Roldan, my mechanic from back home, had suggested that I take a couple of those bulbs as spares. I was happy to have followed his advice. I realize that changing a light bulb doesn’t require much skill but at the time I felt like an expert in motorcycle maintenance.
The rest of the maintenance we left to Chiwy, the most recommended motorcycle technician in Bariloche. At the end of the day the bikes were all set and looking impeccable to continue the adventure. Chiwy told me that he noticed the chain was a little loose and if it stretched out after another tightening, I’d have to replace it immediately. After the incident near Mejillones in Chile I didn’t want to have to deal with any more transmission troubles. I was only interested in keeping it well lubed so that it didn’t snap again.
While our motorcycles were being worked on, Fernando and I took a stroll through town in search of anything that might be interesting. Fernando found some good wool socks and I bought some nylon wind guards for the handlebar grips. As soon as I attached them I felt the difference. The wind protection was immediately noticeable. I naively thought that with these guards my frozen hand woes would end, but I underestimated how the weather actually works. My hands weren’t getting cold because the wind was getting into the gloves. They were getting cold because the ambient temperature was really low. It’s like saying your hands won’t get cold if you wrap them in wool and stick them in the freezer because there’s no wind in there. You’ll get cold sooner or later. Live and learn.
Bariloche, despite the less-than-stellar weather conditions proved to be a lovely city. Many of its downtown buildings look like they came out of a Swiss Alps postcard, and everywhere you go you can see that they’re trying to preserve that style.
I would’ve loved to stay there a few more days but the road south was getting colder and Ushuaia was still a long way to go.