Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Back in the Game

Day 167 (April 1, 2013)
La Paloma, Uruguay
Day's Ride: 141 Miles

I spent the past two days doing absolutely nothing productive. I sat in a hammock and read books, went to the beach and sat in the sand, watched some tv shows on my laptop, and generally just bummed around.

I woke up this morning totally refreshed and ready to ride! I got on the road again and was blessed with an amazing tailwind. I sailed west towards Montevideo with the music pumping and the engine humming at 70.

The little that I've seen of Uruguay seems to be all farmland. The roads are nice though, and the people are super chill. They seem a little more relaxed in general than the Argentinos. Also, toll roads are free for motos! Uruguay is winning in my book!

I made it back into Montevideo around 2:00 PM and spent the next 30 minutes on the phone with my bank trying to get money out of my checking account. I think the lesson that I've learned from all of this is that before embarking on a trip like this, you should open up a second checking account and bring an extra debit card with you that you keep locked up in a box in case something happens to your primary account. Or get a pin for your credit card so you can get a cash advance.

After taking care of some financial business, I walked around in search of a Mercado. Montevideo seems like a very cool place. I'm a little disappointed that I won't have time to really explore it.

Tomorrow I head over to Sacramento de Colonia to camp out for one final night in Uruguay. On the 3rd I take the ferry back to BA and head over to Dakar Motos to link up with Corey and get ready to head to the airport. I can't believe that the end is so close.


Days 165 & 166 (March 30-31, 2013)
La Paloma, Uruguay
Riding? Nah....

Ooooo seashells!!!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Frustration in Montevideo, Heading For the Beach

Day 164 (March 29, 2013)
Montevideo, Uruguay to La Paloma, Uruguay
Day's Ride: 143 Miles

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Sorry for slacking on these reports lately, I think I'm just starting to get tired after being on the road for a while.

Before leaving Montevideo for the coast, I wanted to lock down a bunch of American Dollars in order to ensure that I would be able to have the cash on hand when I headed back to Argentina so that I could utilized the Black Market exchange and get a big discount on my shipping and living costs during my final week in South America.

Unfortunately, I failed to take into account Semana Santa, the holy week leading up to Easter. I left the hostel and walked straight into a ghost town. Not a single bank was open and many of the ATM's were locked up and unable to disperse cash. I then had to make a very expensive international phone call ($100) on my cell phone to Bank of America and explain to them why I needed them to not issue me a new card for a few more days. I kept getting transfered between departments and supervisors who kept explaining to me that they couldn't do what I wanted and that I would have to talk to someone else. By the end of the call, I was about ready to explode. I kept explaining to them that every minute on the line was costing me several dollars. This whole identity theft thing has turned into a huge hassle. I had tried using Skype to call, but the internet connection was so bad that they couldn't understand me.

These events left me a little frustrated, and I was seriously considering punching a few holes in the wall. Fortunately, I decided to take a cue from the Uruguayans: tranquilo, amigo, tranquilo.

I decided that I would just have to ditch Montevideo for the time being and come back at the beginning of the week and try and get my money. Before I left I booked a ferry ride back to Buenos Aires for the 3rd of April so I wouldn't have to ride another 300 miles around the Rio Plata in order to get back. It was a bit pricey; nearly $150 for me and the bike. Since it will be the end of a big holiday for the Argentinos, most of the ferries were already totally booked and the only open spot I could get was on the very expensive fast boat between Colonia and Buenos Aires.

After getting everything straightened out as best as possible, I got on my bike and started riding east towards Punta del Diablo. However, after about a half an hour of riding, I realized just how tired I was of riding. I love the bike that I'm on, it's done extremely well and it's a blast to ride in the dirt. But after nearly 20,000 miles of riding a thumper day in and day out, I think I'm about ready for a break. After an hour of riding, I decided that I didn't really want to ride anymore and I began looking for a beach town that was a little closer. I ended up turning off the main road and going to a small town called La Paloma.

I had planned on camping, but ended up finding a nice, cheap hostel that was pretty much empty.

I stashed my gear inside, and then signed in on the register. I have a little tradition for signing into Hostels. First, I always use a different passport number because I can't be bothered to dig mine out and actually look at it. Second, I always try to think of a creative and totally bogus occupation to put down on the form. Because the typical hostel worker doesn't read english, it's kind of a little inside joke with myself. Today I was a "fighter pilot".

I've been a "janitor", a "storm trooper", a "hobo", an "adventurista", and a "professional motorcycle racer". Once I was even a "mathematician". It's always fun to try and think of something random and new.

In any event, I'm going to take a little vacation from my vacation for a few days, so I probably won't put up much of a post today or tomorrow. I'm going to the beach to drink beer and work on my tan. Chao.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Amigos Nuevos and Montevideo

Day 163 (March 28, 2013)
Rosario, Uruguay to Montevideo, Uruguay
Day's Ride: 83 Miles

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After sleeping in at Damian's house, we took our time starting the day. Germain arrived a little later carrying a big box of donuts and we all sat around talking, sharing a gourd of matte, and eating sugary pastries. Passing the matte gourd around is a big part of the culture down here, especially in Uruguay.

Germain eventually took off and headed back to Montevideo and his family while Damian and I jumped on the little Yamaha and headed over to his garage to pick up our bikes.

We got the bikes and went back to Damian's house where we spent some time cleaning them and doing a little routing maintenance. Damian's mom came by a little later and brought us some lunch; breaded chicken and rice with hardboiled eggs. It was delicious! We all sat around and in Damian's backyard and talked for a while and shared some more matte.

Damian and his mother gave me a very thorough explanation of Uruguayan culture and the prevailing customs. They talk with the same accent as the Argentinos so I was concentrating extremely hard to catch everything they said. Even then, I think I only understood about 70% of what was said; I had to pick up the rest by context.

In Spanish, the double "L" is pronounced with a "y" sound as in "yell". So, a word like "amarillo" (yellow) is pronounced "am-a-ree-yo". However, for some reason the Argentinians and Uruguayans pronounce the "y" sound as "sha" (as in "sham" or "shackle"). So, "amarillo" becomes "am-a-ree-show". For example, when I first arrived in Argentina and asked for a towel (in Spanish "toalla", pronounced "twa-ya") they didn't know what I was saying. Eventually, it dawned on them that I wanted a towel and they told me that it was pronounced "twa-sha". You would be amazed at how that simple change between "ya" and "sha" makes it so difficult to understand people. Add to that the fact that they have tons of slang and expressions, and it can be almost impossible to figure out what people are saying. I find myself having to ask everyone I talk to to repeat themselves.

A couple of Damian's friends stopped by after lunch and I was amazed to see one of them wearing a USMC shirt.

Turns out that he is a Sergeant in the Uruguayan Marines. He has done some peacekeeping missions in Haiti and was very interested to hear about my experiences in Afghanistan.

Throughout my time with Damian, he kept refusing to allow me to repay him for his hospitality. So, while he was busy talking to his friends, I snuck around the corner to a little tienda and bought him a bottle of wine that he could share with his girlfriend. I made some incomprehensible scribbles on the back:

When I gave him the wine he was super excited; this set off a whole new wave of generosity and he ended up giving me a matte gourd on which he wrote in english "for my friend Bryce". The generosity of complete strangers continues to amaze me.

Eventually, Damian and I got our stuff together and set off for Montevideo. He was heading to the city to see his girlfriend and so we rode together.

We got to the city and I had Damian sign my tank:

What a cool guy! I told him that when he comes to the States, he needs to look me up so I can let him stay at my house (assuming I have one).

I got settled into my hostel then went down the street to find a market that was still open. It's "Semana Santa" or Holy Week right now and everything is closed. Downtown Montevideo was like a ghost town. I finally found a tiny tienda that was still open and bought some food. As I was leaving, I saw a sight that totally exemplifies Uruguayan culture:

This guy was sipping matte out of his gourd with one hand and holding onto his "termo" (thermos) with the other, all while kicking a soccer ball against the wall. I had a good laugh and snuck this picture. In case I haven't explained it, Matte is a drink. You take a bunch of matte leaves, pack them down into a hollowed out gourd, insert a steel straw, add hot water from a thermos, and then sip it until it's time to refill the water. It's very caffeinated and has a bitter taste. I actually like it quite a bit; however, the fact that you have to carry a thermos everywhere kind of keeps me from getting too crazy about it. However, the Uruguayans, and to a lesser extent the Argentinians, are crazy about it and it's rare to see someone not sipping matte as they walk down the street with a thermos tucked under their arm.

Before cooking dinner, I decided to get a little exercise and went for a run down on the rambla. The Montevideoans were out in force drinking matte, fishing, and generally having a good time.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Day 162 (March 27, 2013)
Buenos Aires, Argentina to Rosario, Uruguay
Day's Ride: 273 Miles

Once again, google maps isn't quite tracking on the most current border crossings, so, you'll have to imagine a connection across the border. I've included two maps to show the majority of the route:

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I was actually quite happy to leave Buenos Aires. It seems like a very cool city and I'm sure that I'm going to enjoy it immensely when I return; however, I'm not much of a city guy, and the crowds and people and general chaos tend to stress me out. What's more, it's generally impossible to find a good place to put your bike and you either end up paying a lot for a parking garage or stress out about it being stolen from whatever hidey-hole that you stashed it in.

The most common way to reach Uruguay from BA is to take a ferry straight to Montevideo or Colonia. However, I decided that I would try one of the land borders a little further north. The ride to the closest crossing over the Rio Plata was all flat, fast autopista.

I found yet another name for a speed bump:

Lomo de burro. Awesome.

A little before the border, I ran into the back of a huge line of cars. I had heard stories of this border being closed by protesters in past, and I was a little worried that I was about to encounter a similar situation.

Being on a motorcycle (normal traffic rules don't apply ), I decided to ride up to the front of the line and see what was going on. I found a few cops on bikes about half way up and asked them what was going on. I couldn't really understand them, so I just kept going forward. They didn't try and stop me, so I figured everything was okay.

As I neared the front, I ran into two bikers with Uruguayan plates. I pulled over and started talking to them. Their names were Damian and Germain and they were just returning from a 10 day trip to Chile. We hit it off right away and were soon talking like old friends.

I was asking Damian about campsites near the coast when he invited me to stay at his house in a small town called Rosario that was on the route I was planning on taking! So cool! I love it when stuff like this happens.

The aduana and immigration offices for both countries were both on the Uruguayan side and eventually we were allowed to cross the river and get our paperwork taken care of.

As soon as I had "officially" entered the country, I added Urugay to the list on my wind screen.

That makes 15 countries on this trip if you count the States.

We left the aduana and I fell in behind the Uruguayos on their sport bikes.

Luckily, they rode quite slow and I was able to keep up with them just fine.

We made it into Rosario just after night fall and pulled up in front of Damian's house. Germain said his goodbyes and went in search of a hotel. Damian and I unloaded our bikes then rode them about five blocks away to his garage. After we had locked everything up in the garage, I assumed that we were just going to walk back; however, Damian pulled out a little 1986 50cc Yamaha scooter and we rode double back to his house. It was quite a sight; two big dudes in full riding gear riding this tiny little bike that's bottoming out and barely able to make it up hills. Luckily, there isn't a stigma against guys riding pillion in South America.

We made it back to Damian's place, changed out of our gear and walked to a nearby roadside food cart and got some milanesa and some beer. I tried to pay, but Damian refused and told me that he was going to get it. What a guy!

We went back to his place and ate. After we were done he showed me his lawn mowers (he called them "yard machines") in the back yard:

I'll admit, the little conejos (rabbits) do a good job of keeping the grass down. If I ever get a yard someday, I'll have to buy a couple of rabbits. Then, when winter comes along and the grass stops growing, I can just eat the rabbits....

Buenos Aires

Day 161 (March 26, 2013)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Day's Ride: 0 Miles

Last night after posting, I went out with a couple of people that I knew from Santiago and saw a concert.

It was good to get out in the city and do something different for a change. Something like going to a massive percussion concert in the middle of BA and dancing like a fool. I had a good time!

Today I took sometime to buy a plane ticket home and do some other administrative stuff. A one way flight from BA to Portland, Oregon cost nearly $1,600! It's not even until the 10th of April; I figured that would be enough of a buffer to get the costs down a little. Turns out I was wrong. I was able to use some credit card points to get the cost down to around a $1,000 but that's still not cheap.

I sent out some job applications () today as well; I'm seeing if I can get a job with a Hot Shot crew this summer. I don't meet the initial qualifications, but I think my military expierence would be just as good. How challenging can it be to hike around and make fire lines in a national forest? Actually, now that I think about it, it's probably pretty challenging.

I went to lunch today at a famous cafe in downtown BA.

I'm not totally up to speed on this place, but it's been open for over 150 years and Borges (a famous Argentinian author) ate here, so it sounded cool to me.

I've been pretty impressed by BA so far. It's very modern and fairly clean and the people seem pretty nice. You can always tell how modern a city is by the number of Starbucks and McDonalds that they have. BA has about one of each on every other block which means that it's about on par with an American city.

Since I've got about a week to kill before I have to have the bike at the airport, I'm going to ride over to Uruguay and spend some time hanging out on the beach, working on my tan, and trying to get back in shape. However, when I get back to BA, I'm going to dedicate some serious time to honing my Tango skills...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dolar Blue and Dakar Motos

Day 160 (March 25, 2013)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Day's Ride: 27 Miles

I had a couple of things to take care of this morning. First things first: dolar blue. "Dolar blue" is what the Argentinians call the black market for American Dollars. Currently, the official exchange rate is around 5.10 Pesos per dollar. The Dolar Blue rate is somewhere around 8 to 8.5 Pesos for the dollar. So, if you have some hundred dollar bills, you stand to make a little money. Of course, because the Argentinian Peso is so inflationary, no one wants to buy pesos. So, once you've made the change, you better hope you calculated correctly cause' you aren't going to be changing those Pesos back to greenbacks.

I talked to some people at the hostel and and asked them where I could find someone to change my money. They told me to go down to Florida street and just walk around. There would be tons of people just standing on the street calling out, "Cambio, cambio, cambio!".

So I went to Florida street....

Sure enough, as soon as I turned on to the street, I ran into about 10 different people offering to buy dollars from me. I hunted around for a bit, trying to get the best rate. People where trying to offer me 8. I just laughed and moved to the next one. I had seen on the news a few days ago that the Dolar Blue was at 8.45. I mentioned this too a few cambiodores and they told me that I could get that rate if I wanted to change over a $1,000. So I lowered my expectations a little and found a few who said that they would give 8.20. I played them off of each other for a minute and finally one of them buckled and said he would do 8.25. Sold!

He told me to follow him and we walked into a nearby hotel and took the elevator to the first floor. This seemed a little shady, so I slipped my knife out of my pocket and palmed it up into my sleeve. We stepped out, walked down the hall a little ways and stopped in front of this hotel room door. There's this big goomba looking bouncer type standing there in a rumbled suit with a little radio earpiece tucked into his ear. Whoa, now I'm feeling like I'm about to walk into this hotel room and get shaken down.

My cambio guy opens the door and we walk into a hotel room that has been converted into a pretty legit looking money exchange place, complete with bullet-proof glass, wall safes, ticker screens, and shady looking tellers. Actually, the shady tellers didn't look too legit....I still had the distinct feeling that I was about to be robbed.

In any event, I stepped up to the glass and told my teller what I had and what I wanted. He stepped back, talked to his cohorts, came back to the glass and told me that he could only give me 8.20. I told him that that was BS, the guy who had just walked me in here had told 8.25. He said sorry, 8.20 was all he could give. I just smiled, said adios, and started to leave. He then told me okay, he would give me the extra .05.

So, I walked out of there with a fistful of pesos, said chao to the goombah, and hit the street. I would have taken a picture, but I get the distinct feeling that that would have been frowned upon.

I was walking back along Florida street when who should I see but the overlander couple whom I had met with Mike in La Paz and then seen again a few weeks ago in El Calafate.

It's so odd how you can just run into people randomly across an entire continent. We talked for a bit, I told them about my "Dolar Blue" experience, we exchanged emails, and then parted ways.

I walked back to the hostel, ate a little lunch then started getting ready to over to Dakar Motos to talk to them about shipping back to the States and possibly find a used tire and a welder.

After a little bit of confusion navigating through Buenos Aires, I finally found the shop. Sandra and Javier, the owners, were extremely helpful and explained the whole air shipping process to me and detailed the costs. I decided to pull the trigger and use them for shipping as they seemed to have the cheapest rates and most clear cut outline of what I needed to do. I still can't get over the fact that airfreight from Buenos Aires to Portland, OR is cheaper than ocean freight from Vallaparaiso to Portland, OR.

I then asked Javier if he had any used tires that he wanted to sell. He dug through his stock and pulled out a half used Metzler for me. It was a little smaller than the one that I currently had on but I figured it would work just fine. Plus, he sold it to me for 200 Pesos so I couldn't really argue about the price. Plus, he let me use his shop to do the tire change.

While I was working on the tire, I asked him if he knew of any welders. I showed him where my luggage rack was cracking and he said that he could take care of that himself. Before I could even get the tire back on he had re-welded my rack. What an awesome guy!

After I finished putting the tire back on, we sat around and talked for a while. Sandra even gave me some coffee. Javier and Sandra are awesome! I finally said my goodbyes and headed back to the Hostel.

So now I've got a shipping date (April 4) and a loose idea of what I'm going to do. I plan on staying one more day in BA, then heading up to Uruguay for a week or so to hang out on the beach, work on my tan, and take a vacation from my vacation. Then, I'm going to head back to BA on the 3rd, take the bike to the airport on the 4th, and hopefully fly back to the states by 8th or the 9th. It's so crazy actually having a fairly solid timeline now! I don't know if I like this.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Nebraska, Argentina

Day 159 (March 24, 2013)
Coronel Pringles, Argentina to Buenos Aires, Argentina
Day's Ride: 320 Miles

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After some debate on what I should do concerning the crack in my luggage rack, I decided to reinforce in order to make sure it didn't crack off while I was riding and become more difficult to fix:

Which leads me to one of my deep thoughts concerning adventure motorcycle travel:

Q: What are the most important spare parts to bring on a 20,000 mile motorcycle trip through Central and South America?

A: Bailing wire, zip ties, and duct tape.

I actually found the bailing wire pictured above laying on the ground in front of the shop in Bolivia where I had my rack re-welded the last time. I'm glad I saved it.

The road north continued through acres and acres of agricultural land. It felt like I was back in Eastern Oregon where I grew up.

Actually, after a while, it felt like I was in Nebraska or some other Midwestern agricultural state. Maybe Iowa. It was crazy. Just tons and tons of farms and ranches. Now I see why Argentina is known for it's beef.

The ride was fairly boring again. Just long straight roads with tons of farming and not much to see. With only about 20 pesos ($5) left in my pocket, I was forced to continue using gas station internet to call my bank and authorize my card to make transactions for gas and food. Thank god this didn't happen somewhere like Bolivia. I would have been dead in the water.

I'm still somewhat of a celebrity whenever I stop. People see the big bike with the strange license plate, the list of countries on the wind screen, and the gypsy wagon load of things hanging off of it and immediately want to know what you are doing and where you are from. As soon as you tell them that you are from the states and that you rode all the way down, their eyes go big and they say things like: "Increible!" or "No!" or "En serio?!".

I snapped a picture of some Argentinas posing in front of my bike. A picture of a picture. I don't think that they knew that the owner of the bike was sitting just inside the gas station

As I neared the outskirts of Buenos Aires, I began to see tons of cars pulled off on the side of the freeway. After a while, I began to realize that there were tons of Argentinos just hanging out on the grass next to the road, having picnics and BBQs. The closer that I got to the city, the more people that I began to see. A lot of them had brought small quads and dirtbikes and the kids were riding around like hooligans right next to the freeway. I guess it's quite common here on Sunday night to go hang out on the grass next to the autopista and have a party.

After literally spending my last few pesos at toll booths, I finally made it to downtown BA and rode straight into absolute chaos.

For some reason, tons of kids and young adults where blocking the streets, banging drums, waving flags, starting fires, throwing trash, and protesting. There were also tons of busses parked all over the place, blocking traffic and generally adding to the mayhem. WTF?

I had no idea what the protest was about, but the cops didn't seem too perturbed, almost like it was something that happened every day. I'm all about the right to free assembly, but damn, it's hard enough navigating a large Latin American city at night on a motorcycle. Add a bunch of angry protesters to the mix and it becomes nearly impossible. It took my about 45 minutes to move a mile. I had to stop a few times and shut my bike off to keep it from overheating.

I eventually found a hostel that bubbletron had told me about, unloaded all of my gear, and took my bike to a parking garage down the street. After making sure it was parked in the light, locking the handlebars, putting on the disc alarm, and chaining it to a steel railing, I figured that it was secure enough for the night and went back to the hostel to crash.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Las Grutas to Coronel Pringles

Day 158 (March 23, 2013)
Las Grutas, Argentina to Coronel Pringles, Argentina
Day's Ride: 352 Miles

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After packing up and getting everything loaded, I tried to find the caretaker for the campground that I had crashed at in order to pay him. I spent about 15 minutes wandering around the grounds looking for him, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Eventually, I ended up just having to leave without paying. Looks like another night of free camping!

The road was more of nothing:

There was really nothing to see. The roads were incredibly long, straight, and flat. I ended up breaking the day up into 100 mile chunks and stopping at gas stations to rest and refuel.

With my debit card number having been stolen the day before, I was now forced to call the bank everytime that I wanted to use the card. Luckily, nearly every gas station has wifi and I was able to use some skype credit to make cheap international calls.

I passed throughout the town of Bahia Blanca. After having been in Patagonia for so long, It was a little strange passing through a city with multi story buildings.

It was also a little strange to see a Wal-Mart alongside the road:

Leaving Bahia Blanca I soon began to enter into a more agrarian setting. Lots of cattle pastures and crops. There was even a John Deere dealer. I felt like I was back home!

I made it to the small farming town of Coronel Pringles and pulled over to see if I could find a place to camp. Luckily, it seems that nearly every town in Argentina has a municipal campground where you can camp for free or at least a very modest price. A local cop soon directed me to the town park where they had a small spot for tents.

As I pulled up, a few Argentinos walked up to me and began asking me questions about me trip. They were really amazed that I had decided to visit their small town and wanted to know why I had stopped there. I just told them the truth: it was about a day's ride from where I had started in Las Grutas.

I eventually set up camp, went for a little run, and then started cooking. While I was cooking, I investigated one of the cracks that I had seen forming on my luggage rack. It appeared that the crack had widened and had also broken through one of the gussets that I had had welded onto the outside.

Luckily, there was a second gusset on the inside of the rack that was keeping it from breaking off completely. I debated with myself on whether I should try and ride it all the way into BA in the morning as it was, or try and reinforce it. After a few glasses of wine, I decided I would figure it out in the morning.