Into the great unknown! We make our way through Argentina, find a church for a bed and also cross the Dakar rally route!
It was nearly 8pm when we reached the Bolivia-Argentina border on our ride. After months of riding through predominantly Spanish-speaking countries, it was good to interact with border officials who spoke some English. At least we would not have to pantomime our way into Argentina! The exit and entry procedures were similar to the ones we had encountered across Central and South America. We cancelled the Bolivia bike permissions, got our passports stamped and got our bike permits at the next window. We had to get all our bags scanned as part of the entry procedures. Just the thought of unloading and loading all our bags was formidable enough – let alone actually doing it. We were grateful that the officer was considerate enough to only scan the tank bags and top bags.
The first city we encountered was just around the corner. We checked the tariff at the first hotel we spotted – $59 a night, which was way too expensive considering that we paid only $20-30 in Bolivia. We were determined to find cheaper accommodation. When we were at the border, the customs officer had mentioned that we could set up our tent beside the church. So we went in search of the church and found it near a beautiful park. We parked our bikes in the open area behind the church and tried to find someone who would give us permission to set up camp there. We spotted a young man passing by, so I attempted to strike up a conversation in my ‘fluent’ Spanish. He replied in Spanish, which I totally understood… not! Looking at my blank face, he led me to his bicycle. That’s when I figured that he too was looking for a place to sleep for the night. He mentioned that he was with a fellow traveller and we got talking… well kinda.
We could not speak each other’s language, nor could we remember each other’s names. Pretty soon, we were addressing each other by our representative countries – India (Pankaj), Iran (Maral), Colombia and Argentina. It worked out quite well! Around 11:30pm, we finally ‘checked into’ our rooms and set up our sleeping bags.
The next morning, we packed our gear and got on to our bikes. In about 45km, we reached the start of Ruta 40 – and it was everything that we had heard and more.
We knew the ride would be a little tough but we weren’t sure what to expect. It started with loose gravel and a magnificent view. It was a picturesque location in every sense and we could not help but stop every five minutes to admire the marvels of nature. We hardly saw any vehicles for the rest of the day. We passed by some tiny villages that had 4-5 houses and didn’t see any restaurants or anything that resembled a hotel or a hostel. But what caught our attention on the ride was signage for the ‘Dakar Rally’, which stood out prominently along the route. We were thrilled!
After riding for an entire day, almost 250km, we needed to refuel. We stopped at a village and asked the locals where we could get petrol for our motorcycles. Finally a schoolteacher, the only lady in the village who spoke English, helped us out. It was late in the evening and cold wind blew on our faces while we hunted for a place to stay. A nearby school compound seemed to fit the bill and we met with the school Principal who agreed to let me stay inside the female teacher’s quarters.
The next day, after the exciting ride on Ruta 40, with its off-roading on loose gravel and sand, I needed to get access to the Internet. We stopped at a small touristy city called Orosmayo and found a hostel with decent internet connectivity. We extended our stay for one more day and then got back on Ruta 40 as we wanted to experience even more of this beautiful route. We decided to head towards Mendoza to get my bike serviced.
It was during this part of our journey that we had to take a call on Pankaj’s decision to quit the ride, due to a bad pain in his neck and back – an ailment that he has had since Peru. It was sad that he had to quit this journey of a lifetime, but health is more important than anything else and I respect his decision. It took two days to service my bike. While Pankaj got ready to head to Buenos Aires to catch his flight back to India, I geared up to head towards Santiago – to encounter new experiences in the 23rd country of my journey – Chile!