South America

Mary backs into the containerThis has to be our most adventurous trip to date. Motorcycling through Chile and Argentina is well outside our normal comfort zone so we have chosen to do this on a guided tour with Rosco's Rocky Road.

The trip has been some time in the planning and preparation stages and the latest step is to load the bikes into a container in Mangere to hopefully meet us in Valparaiso.

Both bikes are serviced, paperwork is, we hope, in order, tickets booked, tools and other essentials loaded.  But there is lots of scope for this to go wrong!

 

 

 

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IMG 0055In the scheme of things Auckland to Santiago is not a long journey but the 4 hour connection at Santiago seems very tiresome. Why airlines think arriving early is good is incomprehensible. Early is just as useless as late for long trips, it just means you end up waiting for whatever arrangements you have made. On time is what we want, if there's a tail wind then slow down and save the fuel.

The only minor thing that went wrong was no one to meet us in Lima. Fortunately this presented no problem as the Ramada hotel is only over the road from the airport terminal. A one minute walk perhaps? The greeter did find us, apparently we had come out of the wrong entrance. Beats me how we would have known this.

Anyway, a couple of beers and dinner at the hotel and bed, glorious bed! What's most amazing is that it's still the 18th, the day we left.

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IMG 0056The Novotel do a very good breakfast after a somewhat fitful nights sleep due to the time change. Being only across the road makes it easy to be in good time for our 9:40 flight to Cusco.

Of course our bags did not arrive on our plane. Despite being checked through to Cusco from Auckland we are told that we should have collected them in Lima (we had waited there but when the bags did not arrive and we looked at the coupon it unequivocally showed that they had been checked through). Local knowledge apparently.

Several forms in Spanish later we escape the airport and our patient greeter, Robertson, takes us to the next Novotel. He's promised to check on our bags but even optimistically we are not expecting them today. Some hand washing of smalls is in order and a new T shirt for me. Luckily we have two nights here.

First impressions of Cusco are chaotic traffic, warmer than we expected, mid 20's and the altitude 10,500m makes it hard to breath. The buildings are all low rise with several churches, lots of touts and many tourist shops. The tourist density is not too bad thankfully and it looks like they have been put of by the "rainy" season.

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Read more: Wednesday

IMG 0058Another broken nights sleep ends with the alarm call. Today is much cooler than yesterday and it looks like rain in the air.

Our guide for the day, George, arrives at 9am to take us around the nearby Inca ruins. This is a fascinating morning and George is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject. Most of the ruins are down to a few metres high but you just cannot fail to be impressed by the precision and size of the stone blocks.

The tour includes the cathedral which in itself is an impressive monument. There is also clearly quite some understandable resentment of the Spanish by the native Peruvians. 500 years is clearly not a long time in their history.

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Read more: Thursday

IMG 0062We could not take any sleeping tablets due to the very early start (downstairs at 7am) which led to a very fitful night.

In any event the organisation worked like clockwork with a bus trip (part of the railway to Machu Picchu has washed away), then join the train and finally a rickety bus up the mountain. The views from the bus and train are spectacular and the fates smiled on us with a clear day, apparently unusual for the rainy season.

This part of the world is reminiscent of Nepal with very rumpy roads, housing and much grinding poverty apparent all around us. The guide tells us that the river which the road and train follow is not actually in flood but that's pretty hard to believe. It must be truly dramatic when it is.

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Read more: Friday

IMG 0070One problem with rain forests is that they are wet. It rained in the night (apparently) and the condensation in our room was remarkable. Now we understand why the heater was on when we arrived, not a mistake but intentional - otherwise the room would be suitable for Fungus the Bogeyman.

This is the first good nights sleep, partly because we are tired, partly the lower altitude and partly I suspect the corn liquor.

The return on the train was uneventful with more dramatic views of the mountains and, since I scored the window seat this time, spectacular views of the workings of the railway and the sight of a looney hitching a ride over the gorge with repair materials. How much effort must it be to repair the line after falling into the river which it does regularly? Add a comment

Read more: Saturday

IMG 0076Rubbish nights sleep with much to'ing and fro'ing on the phone with Condor Travel who want to reorganise the next few days because of "disruption in La Paz".  We finally read until it's time to get up.

Our man meets us at 6:45 and confirms that all is well and that arrangements are in hand and puts us on the tourist bus with a stewardess and guide as well as a driver. All in all very comfortable and less than half full.

The bus makes several stops at Inca remains (you can get too much of this, one Inca ruin is much like another), a church, a museum and various other bits. They have a DVD on board of Peruvian music (more bloody pan pipes) and a bunch of musos poncing about in "inca" costumes. Fate smiles on me as I have my noise reduction headset in the bag, Problem solved. Mary is not so lucky.

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Read more: Sunday

IMG 0078A much better nights sleep, probably because we were exhausted!

The hotel breakfast was pretty much gone by the time we got down for breakfast. The Hacienda hotel leaves a little to be desired. 

Our trip this morning is to the floating islands made and inhabited by the Lake Titicaca natives. Apparently the population of these islands is in decline due to the attractions of the big city. Certainly having seen these places I can understand that, there is a lot of upkeep and unless reeds are your thing not a great amount of variety in life.

The biggest upside is that they pay no tax. As the guide pointed out, anytime they like they can just up anchor and move off. You'd never find them again. Sounds pretty good to me but reeds...... there are a lot of them.

Anyway they were very friendly and although they obviously wanted us to buy stuff seemed quite genuine. As you can see Mary has gone native and has decided that this could be the life for her. Not.

Maybe it is because it's the off season and they are not being overrun by tourists that we were welcomed or perhaps they realise this is the future of thier income anyway In time this will turn into a theme park which will be a great loss. Add a comment

Read more: Monday

IMG 0084Due to the early start we discover the opening hours of the breakfast room at the Hacienda Plaza. Allegedly 6am that's when they start scratching around to find things. Bonus, Mariza, our guide for the day arrives at 6:10, agitating to go. Anyway a scurry around and we are off, only to have to wait at the next hotel as they too were on target, sort of, for 6:30.

The bus trip (an assortment of 6 Israelis, 4 Japanese, a Spaniard and an indeterminate couple) set off to Copacabana, no not the one with the beach but one on Lake Titicaca. Mariza keeps a an interesting monologue of information about the people, customs, place and the like.

The big event is the border crossing which is straight forward to get out of Peru - visit police for stamp on immigration card, visit Immigration Control to check police have stamped immigration card. No more than half an hour of queuing.

Bolivia on the other hand have streamlined the process with one desk, actually two, with a new computer system here in the back of beyond. Needless to say the queue is horrific. And pointless as nothing actually prevents you from walking across which one couple had done the previous day and had returned this morning before the tour buses arrive to get their card. In all I think over 2 hours, Heaven knows what happens if it rains as the queue is entirely outdoors, I bet I can guess and it's not pretty.

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Read more: Tuesday 2

IMG 0088Nasty touch of the trots for us both in the night, I reckon there was a little lake water involved in the lunch on the boat. Apart from the trots, the room being very hot and the street noise (sirens, thunder, trucks, etc.) we got a pretty good nights sleep for a change but we are very much looking forward to spending the night at sea level, or indeed anything below 12,000 feet.

Our Guide for the day, Raynaldo, meets us at 9 and we head off for a city tour. The traffic is as bad as last night and the entire city is a incomprehensible shambles. The tour includes, the cathedral, the gold museum, a couple of other museums, the black magic market, the "valley of the moon" and a lot of sitting in traffic.

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Read more: Wednesday 2

IMG 0097Easter Island. Somewhere we had never thought that we would have the opportunity to go to. but we learnt about the statues at school and they are certainly part of the "bucket list".

LAN Air is surprisingly comfortable, much more so than the Air New Zealand flight we took to Rarotonga last year. Specifically more leg room, more comfortable seats, a hot breakfast (omelette) and better in flight entertainment (included). All round a better service for the 5 hours it took from Santiago.

Surprisingly our bags were first off and we were met by Hugo who gave us a quick squiz around the town (this does not take long) and to the hotel.

The change of hotel mentioned by Condor fortunately didn't happen as the one he took us to first was a 20 minute walk out of town. OK for before dinner but walking back with no street lights and seriously dodgy Singapore size drains, not so good. A broken leg for sure. Anyway no record but the originally booked Otai was expecting us.

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Read more: Easter Island

IMG 0094Breakfast is pretty much down to the room standard at the Otai hotel, basic just about describes it. Also at 8:15 it had pretty much gone (after an 8:00 start). Message - be early!

Hugo picked us up for part of the tour which I shall not try to repeat here but we were pretty much blown away by the shear scale of 2000 megaliths and what these people achieved. Magnificent.

We got back to the hotel about 5:30 in time to walk into town drop off some laundry and get ready for dinner.

The weather has been perfect getting quite warm in the afternoon, probably about 30C. Shorts and T-shirt.

We ended up at La Kaleta for dinner again as the location has it all and the food (fish again) is excellent. Add a comment

Read more: Easter Island 2

IMG 0100We won't bother with what passes for breakfast at the Otai again, it's really p... poor.

The rest of the day is spend looking about the Island with Hugo who really is most interesting. Sites include: the ceremonial lodgings, the quarry where the topknots were mined, caves when the locals lived, several restored statue sites. Just amazing.

A splendid fish lunch in town with Hugo. 

By the end of the day we are just worn out!

Dinner at Haka Honu recommended in Trip advisor failed to hit the spot. The food is unimaginitive, probably involving a good deal of microwave reheating and the smokers stand just outside the deck. Not an experience we want to repeat despite quick service.

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Read more: Easter Island 3

IMG 0104Hugo suggested we rent a car so we are now temporary possessors of a little red Suzuki 4wd.

Google says that dawn is conveniently set for 8:10am so it's not too much hardship to go to see the sunrise over the moki (stone statues). Needless to say it's dark and we take the wrong turn arriving only minutes before sunrise. Good enough. Although the colours were dramatic the camera rather beefs them up. Looks pretty go though. 

I'd been thinking a slap up breakfast to follow however Easter Island thinks differently, everything is shut tight on Sunday mornings except for a bakery which sells a sort of pasty, tuna and cheese can you believe. Actually not bad with a watermelon juice. Add a comment

Read more: Easter Island 4

IMG 0109Post postcards and scrambled eggs in town(?) before heading out to the airport. We have hours to wait until the 2:10pm flight but the 5 minute transfer is at 11:15 to suit them not us. No matter we have had a great time here and would happily stay longer.

Hugo met us at the airport to say farewell and give us a book on the Island which was very kind an much appreciated. Apparently we nearly got to his house yesterday but the little red rental was not up to the job of negotiating his driveway and we only got halfway there before turning back.

A late(ish) arrival at Santiago and we are picked up directly and taken to Vina del Mar where we arrive just after 11pm. Sadly no chance for dinner but I have an emergency chocolate bar especially for such circumstances. Add a comment

Read more: Vina Del Mar

IMG 0115The internet is fitful as is our nights sleep and an earthquake sets the building swaying as we get up. Interesting.

Moreover the power is on and off like a dunny door in a gale leading to our electronic door key not working so it's up and down two flights of stairs half a dozen times. Muck sweat!

The bus arrives to take us to the container terminal at 10:30 and you have probably never seen such a shambles but it's pretty quick to get in and get the bikes assembled. By 1pm we are ready to roll however that was too easy.  The buggers keep us waiting for 2 hours or more to let us out into the madness that is Vina del Mar. Dirt track, dust, etc etc then back to the hotel where they have promised a power outage between 5 and 6. Unsurprisingly this does not happen.

Back at the hotel there is only time for a bit of blogging, a very serious repack (or two) before heading off on the motorcycles tomorrow, a shower, a haircut for me and finally a team dinner in the hotel.

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IMG 0112The early(ish) start planned from the hotel (after another rubbish nights sleep) comes to naught as the hotel staff have to check the mini bar before they can issue any bill and you have to be out of the room before they do that presumably in case you use the opportunity to flog the lot. There is argument over a missing packet of chips. Luckily not involving me and I stay calm. Very calm.

By 11 it's clear that our tour of Valpariso is off (thank goodness, how long might that have taken?) and we head off to a village Tongoy, 390km up the coast. Add a comment

Read more: Tongoy

IMG 0118A very good nights sleep with the sea lapping outside our window. Joy.

An outing today to the nearby town of Coquimbo which boasts an enormous concrete cross dominating the town to comemorate the millenium. The crossbar viewing platform is 90m above the ground and contains several busts of church worthies (archbishops and popes). The metal parts are rusting badly. It may not last despite the amount of concrete and steel in it.

On to Andacollo, over 1000m high in the hills to the SE. The road is the big attraction and the huge wooden cathedral. 

The countryside is hot and dry with vast irrigated areas growing grapes, olives and other undetermined orchards.

On the return one of our party got lost in the complicated and busy town of Ovalle so we left our guides to retrive him and relied on Doreen, who surprisingly knows of matters South American, to return us to our lodgings in Tongoy for a well earned shower and drink.

The others went back to El Ray for dinner but our fish the previous night was only ok and we felt we might do better elsewhere. Add a comment

Read more: Tongoy 2

IMG 0120Today is a bonus day off as we got our bikes earlier than anticipated. A good lie in after a solid nights sleep was welcome. 

Breakfast is simple and standard here and the instant coffee is hard to prise from the grip of our host. The people here at the Hotel Panoramico are friendly but there is much maintenance needed and the room is well overdue for a proper clean. Add a comment

Read more: Tongoy 3

IMG 0124A long run through what becomes an increasingly barren landscape. Fundimentally there is nothing from when we leave La Serena and truth to be told not that much of interest when you are there either.

Lunch is a sandwich (not as we know them) at a cafe near the only gas station on the route in a small place with a longer name (Vallenar) .

The temperature varies between 14C and 29C and is unpredictable. Add a comment

Read more: Copiapo

IMG 0126The San Francisco hotel leaves a bit to be desired. Our room is just above the bar which seems to be only just getting going as we head for bed! A late night room change.

Breakfast at 7:30 was problematic too as Seniora who makes the breakfast had clearly been out on the razzle the night before (probably in the bar) and did not show until 8. Add a comment

Read more: Antofagasta

IMG 0131Nice hotel and a good nights sleep. The rooms on the road side are very noisy and having the window open is only an option for the congenitally deaf.

Rosco has arranged a brief ride out this morning to the monument marking the "Tropico de Capricorno" erected by Rotary and now in great need of some TLC and also La Portada, a hole in the rock natural bridge. It's both hot and sunny and I left my hat in the hotel.

One of our party takes the opportunity to embaress themselves by running out of gas. Since Mary or I will doubtless do something equally stupid they shall remain nameless unless our error appears in their blog! Add a comment

Read more: Antofagosta 2

IMG 0135Our laundry has been well done and so it should be at the price. We could have replaced the whole lot new for what it cost however I did not have to fool around with doing it in the hand basin so it's a worthwhile investment, of a sort.

Today is yet even more desert but this time it's been worked over in huge mines for what looks like many years to extract nitrates. These were apparently used for fertiliser and the already grim desert is now a complete mess.

The picture is of a very ramshackle cemetery of what I presume to be the miners who did not escape what must have been a hell hole.

As we plough on there is eventually small evidence of water with the odd tree appearing mostly dead until, finally a river with vegetation in the bottom of the valley. Add a comment

Read more: Iquique

IMG 0139

A free day in Iquique. The Lonely Planet suggests the Giant of Atacama and the Humberstone world heritage area. The former is a good 2 hours motorcycling each way and there was no way either of us was up for that and the latter only an hour each way so that was a simple choice. Mary declined.

The Humberstone was a saltpeter (nitrate) mining town complete with shops, theatre, factories, the works in fact and looks for all the world as if the residents just packed up what they could and walked out fifty years ago, which in fact they did. I spent a facinating hour just walking around until it got too hot in the sun and in any event I just had to go and pick up Mary.

The picture if of the inside of one of the industrial sheds where the iron has rotted letting the sun in. The picture does not do the reality justice. Add a comment

Read more: Iquique 2

IMG 0144A huge run down the stunningly dramatic coast road to the town of Tocopila which seems fairly rough! Lunch comprised a rather nasty bun with cheese and ham in a gas station. There were not many other choices.

The coast road passes innumerable little shacks where the locals live? have holidays? go fishing? mine stuff (possibly rock salt) but certainly collect seaweed and in some cases play golf (apparently)! 

Heading inland we climb back into the desert - there was no vegetation on the coast either so I'm picking that is desert too - it's just lower.

The roads are long straight and mostly uninteresting until you get to Calama, another mining town.  Here there are some incredible vistas on a scale that it is hard to comprehend. Add a comment

Read more: San Pedro de Atacama

IMG 0152Another moderately early start 8:30 on the bikes and we climb out towards the pass over the Andes. As we climb the temperature drops and drops, the lowest shown on my bike was 3C, down from 20C at San Pedro. Two stops are required to don more clothes to stay warm enough.

The border post at Paso Jama takes an age. There are people of busses humping their luggage through x-ray machines and all sorts. We have to exit Chile emigration, then Chile Customs and reverse the process through Argentina. The Spyder presents a challenge as does the NZ paperwork! Finally we all get through and we are home free in Argentina.

The scenery is astounding beyond description and we are clearly gettinhg out of the desert as there are vicuna, alpacas, lamas and quite a bit of vegetation. Add a comment

Read more: Purmamarca

IMG 0154Much more leisurely today. Time for a lie in (much needed the altitude headache is back) and a brief look around the town this morning. There are lots of opportnities to buy more of the same sort of stuff as is on sale everywhere else, bags, alpaca things, odd hats and the like. The town is very adobe and charmingly located but dusty and very very tourist oriented.

Like San Pedro it's clearly very popular but unless this is what you are looking for then a night stop would be more than enough.

The ride is much more downhill with the country becoming greener and greener until it becomes rainforest.

We lost our lead riders at Palpala in a confusion of traffic and attempted to head off on the motorway to Salta but luckily Gerardo following us was able to get us back on track. Add a comment

Read more: Salta

IMG 0158Another day off which is much needed so a bit of sightseeing. There was some kind of wedding party downstairs lastnight and hey finally knoeked it off after 5:30! I mostly slept through after the previous disrupted night., others were less fortunate. 

At breakfast a boot cleaner came by and we used the opportunity to get our very dusty motorcycle boots properly cleaned. This is a new experience as usually I am the boot cleaner de jour.

First stop at the “Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (MAAM)” http://www.maam.org.ar as suggested in the Lonely Planet. To quote a reviewer on Tripadvisor: "This museum tells the story of the children found buried high in the Andes mountains. How they were excavated and preserved." Very moving and a very good insight into the Inca world. Add a comment

Read more: Salta 2

IMG 0165Another late(ish) start allowing for a lie in, recovery from the OJ and a decent coffee in the plaza for me.

The 'town' is very slow to get out of as there is considerable ribbon development along the way. Mile after mile of increasingly scruffy homes and light industrial. Not much by way of planning here as far as anyone can see.

Finally we broke out into agricultural land, maize or sweet corn, tobacco (bastards) and such like. I missed several photo opportunities but mostly it was very hard to get a good picture due to the flatness of the land and the hedge rows. The major discriminator was the mountains all around, no snow on them but pretty big by anyones standard.

After a while this degenerated into a dryer scrub country and finally afer lunch we entered a 50 or 60km rocky gorge with the most amazing rock formations. The forces that built the Andes are indeed awesome in the true sence of the word. 

The first picture is of the "Devils' Throat" and the picture of me on the bike was taken by a random biker passer-by.

Another sunny day with 30C temperatures and of course feeling much hotter in the sun. The pool at the Hotel Asturias, despite being a bit in need of chemical was very welcome.

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Read more: Cafayate

IMG 0169Todays trip is again a reasonably late start (10am) which is just as well as it's my turn for a rotten knight for some reason. No matter the breakfast is ok and the coffee is strong. 

South out of Cafayate we passed through a very large wine area with what must have been thousands of acres of grapes.

At Amaicha del Valle we visited the Pachamama Museum which in part describes the geology and history of the Santa Maria valley (that we have been passing through for the past day or so)  and in part is an art gallery.

We had a guided tour, translated by Gerardo, and were told that the entire museum is the work of one man, Cruz. He still lives there and has created the entire place and the art within. We thought it excellent and bought a couple of small objects and a T shirt for me.

Climbing from here over the Paso Abra del Infinillo where the road is sealed but just unbelievably bumpy, the patches have patches have patches. The temperature dropped to 6C at one point until we entered the cloud near the summit (over 3000m). This is of course where things got interesting with wandering stock, both supervised and unsupervised and of course traffic invisible until the last moment. I got photos of goats, cows, horses and pigs. The hazard lights were on and my new dayglow rain jacket was put to good use. Add a comment

Read more: San Miguel de Tucuman

IMG 0174The Hotel Premier architecture was clearly inspired by Stalinist East Germany and there is not much to commend it.

After some walking we found the main shopping area and Mary managed to buy some shoes, a new handbag and we had some fresh baked empenadas (little pasties) for lunch. Leather goods and food are both very good value here.

In the afternoon I went with Gerardo for a ride in the nearby hills having lost the others somewhere in the city. Mary demurred on getting back onto the bike.

Outside of the city is really very nice with a very large polo club and a lot of very handsome properties.

We are going to have to work harder on finding a cafe for this evening although we would both be happy to go back to last nights. Add a comment

Read more: San Miguel de Tucuman 2

IMG 0180We were pleased to leave San Miguel as it is a very functional city with few obvious redeeming features except the people.

There were some very pleasing encounters: the girl at breakfast who made me real coffee, the receptionist that pointed me at the laundry over the road (it's much cheaper), the laundry lady who could not have been more helpful, the waiter who brought us a fresh bottle of wine unasked as the first was corked, etc.

The Spyder continues to attract attention, one pair of chaps even jumped out of their car at trafic light and one took a picture of the other embracing Mary on the trike! Add a comment

Read more: La Rioja

IMG 0186Little to report. A day off in La Rioja is enough to see the sights, have lunch, look for a better resturant for tonight (unsuccessfully) and generally agree that moving on tomorrow will be just fine thank you.

The highlight however was the Folklore Museum recommended in the Lonely Planet. We had a personal guided tour from a charming lady who has been to both London and Edinburgh and had very passable English. The museum is devoted to local arts and legends from the pre european times and a colonial house and it's contents. 

Should you be in La Rioja for any reason then the Museo Folklórico is a great way to spend a couple of hours. Add a comment

Read more: La Rioja 2

IMG 0195The early start did not work out quite as intended. Ross's Ducati had picked up a splinter of steel and the rear tyre as flat as can be. More impressive was Rosco having the tools and knowhow to fix it. I need one of those plug kits, I imagine that will be another internet purchase back home.

The late start was exacerbated by three of the team now having the bot (an advance on two last night). The result being the first stop after 90km of flat straight road at Patquia had to be extended while good use was made of the very clean loos. the Plaza hotel we have just left could learn much from them for use in their facilities in the bar.

The scenery is pretty much what we would call scrub (small bushes and the odd tree with lots of sand) but the monster cacti here is starting to bloom. Quite gorgeous. Flocks of goats, donkeys along the roadside present an ever present hazard as do the pot holes in an otherwise quality surface.  Add a comment

Read more: Villa Union

IMG 0196Mary spent a very unhappy night with music blaring from the empty gas station, dogs barking, a donkey braying and single sheets on the double bed which I'm accused of stealing. I plead mitigating circumstances. Anyway not the happiest this morning. I love my earplugs even if they are not very fetching.

Over breakfast (a very sparse affair) it was agreed that we should spend a second night here rather than going to San Jose de Jachal as the hotel there is much worse than this one. The mind boggles.

So a run to the fairly nearby Cuesta de Miranda for a couple of hours. This was eventually baulked by huge road works with many gravelons as they are building a road through the pass. About 120km round trip. Add a comment

Read more: Villa Union 2

IMG 0205Today should have been a simple run from Villa Union to San Juan with a very scenic route for part of the journey however it's a holiday here in Argentina. The population of the mid point of our journey San Jose de Jachal choose to spend it filling with gas at the towns sole gas station.

The queue takes the most part of an hour to get to the front of and for whatever reason this wretched fuel stop turns into our lunch stop as well. There are more chilled/frozen cheese and ham sandwiches on offer created on some far distant planet and shipped to this s*** hole in some bygone era. No. Thank you. I do not want one. Not now. Not ever.

The alternative is an ice cream, some crisps and a packet of walnuts. Great.

Is it possible that Argentina has nothing better than this? Hotels with cardboard to make toast from, coffee that you could use to seal roads, lunches that would make the Little Chef blanch? I shall not go on but you will already be clear that I am not best pleased.

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Read more: San Juan

IMG 0211A day off the bikes for a bit of a change, welcome as now Mary has a dose of the bot too. I have a bad feeling that my turn may be coming, I hope not.

Anyway the hotel has a very nice breakfast, the beds comfortable and the rooms are conducive to a good nights sleep. The laundry servce is however very expensive (I can buy new T shirts and socks for less than the express service) and despite a call to have my essentials picked up no one appeared. I was stuck with it.

I don't like hand washing clothes and suddenly had a brilliant idea. Why not use the spa bath?

One reason could be that it's very important to have enough water in the bath to cover the water jets. Well cover, otherwise the water squirts in all directions around the bathroom and indeed over the occupants. 

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Read more: San Juan 2

IMG 0213Mary is still not feeling the best so I get two cooked breakfasts! I may have to consider my dietary options at the end of this trip.

The road out of town is long, straight, dual carriageway across the seemingly endless plain with the mountains way over to the west. The houses give way to shanties eventually and finally to agriculture then more scrub.

Grapes are obviously big business as there are truck after truck laden with them (as well as melons).

On the outskirts of Mendoza we turn off to Termas de Villavicencio, a park in the foothills of the Andes. The road is concrete and as bumpy as a washboard making Mary sick by the time we have traveled the 40+km to the lunch restaurant! It doesn't make any difference as apparently the restaurant has been closed for a year. Add a comment

Read more: Mendoza

IMG 0217Another day off but this time in Argentina's premier wine city. Determined not to waste a moment we booked a wine tour for the afternoon and took a taxi to a nearby shopping mall for the morning. 

The Grand Hotel Balbi  deserves a special mention as one of the worst hotels with the most helpful behind the desk staff. Breakfast is disgraceful and reluctantly served by one of the most sour women it has been my misfortune to be involved with. She makes the BA stewardesses of yore look positively friendly. Other than that the hotel was smelly, with mosquitoes and carpets that were last cleaned after the second world war when they were expecting guests from Germany.

Grand is used in a most unfarmiliar context.

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Read more: Mendoza 2

IMG 0221Another crap night being dive bombed by mozzies and the residents of the room next door getting home at 4:30 confirmed our decision to "get out of Dodge". Mendoza is another city where a day is quite enough for us. More really. The winery area on the outskirts is much much nicer.

The first stop is at the Museo del Vino which we unfortunatly arrive partway though the last tour before they close for "lunch". Luckily they let us in for the last part of the tour where they looked at the antique machinery. Interesting but enough to confirm that we had seen wineries in action yesterday.

Nearby however is the Casa de Campo resturant where the set lunch is truely magnificent! An absolute delight and we had to squeeze in the dessert. This is a five star plus place as far as the food is concerned. Just wow. Add a comment

Read more: Uspallata

IMG 0226A good nights sleep, at least until the bus pulled up next door at 5:30, then the truck loading and belching black fumes.

The ride to the pass is another incredible one. Words and photos fail to capture the sheer scale of the place. 

The stop at a natural "Inca" bridge where there used to be an English hotel where people would come to take the waters. Facinating.

The queue at the border crossing into Chile ws deceptively short but took us an hour or mores wait to get into the processing part. Again four counters with a new form at counter 4 which had to be stamped at counter 3 then reuurned to counter 4 as a bonus. 

The whole border crossing rigamarole is just such a total waste of time and money. All so a few people have jobs every journey is delayed by hours. Madness. Add a comment

Read more: Vina del Mar 3

IMG 0233The bikes have to be thoughly cleaned before they can be freighted otherwise there will be trouble when the container is onened at the far end. To this end we take them to an automotive washig plce at a nearby supermarket. Lots of water, suds, water blasing later neither bike has been so clean since we bought them.

Rather unfortunately it rained last night and the road out of the wash place was a tad awash with a muddy flow and I don't know how we'll sort that. The shipping place has no formed road ether so the bikes are bound to arrive dusty.

Gerardo has found a tour of Valpariso for the afternoon  which seeemed like a good idea, we may very well not pass this way again and according to the Lonely Planet this is a UNESCO world heritage site. Add a comment

Read more: Vina del Mar 4

IMG 0237Less perfect was the journey to the shipping company on our pristine bikes. 

The container port is in an industrial wasteland where the roads are unsealed and to lay the dust they have used water resulting in a sea of mud. It was impossible to get through this without covering the tyres and mudguards with dirt which will not be acceptable on our return.

Water is only available by getting one of the workers to go to the shower to fill a bucket so you can only start to imagine the difficulty of getting them to an acceptable standard. I doubt we managed but in any event they are now on their way.  Add a comment

Read more: Santiago

IMG 0239The tour with Sergio was very good. The city view shows the high level of pollution here.

Apart from an argument with the Neruda hotel about the late checkout they agreed to yesterday but now want over $US100 for the day went well and pretty staightforwardly. 

It's still a very long wait until departure at 11:20pm.

Mary comments on how the planes seem to shake the building as they go past. I rather pooh -pooh this until the TV shows alerts about the major earthquake that has just taken place off the coast of Chile. Lucky little damage to people or property.

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