I say “hard”.. it’s all relative isn’t it? Swanning about South America with total freedom and no real cares in the world can’t really be called “hard” can it? No doubt many faithful readers will happily point out how hard it is to get up in the pitch black at 6:00am and grind out a day at work.. point taken!
Since my last posting I’ve covered some real distance across the rest of Uruguay, back into Argentina, up to the falls at Iguazu (covered here) and back down to the Paraguay border. In amongst all of that I’ve probably had my two most difficult days yet of riding.
It all started off fine enough. Climbing gently up to the plateau of farmland as far as the eye can see in central Uruguay was familiar enough territory. I’ve become used to endless horizons and flat, featureless, landscapes, beautiful as they are. This is pure gaucho farm land, I saw plenty of traditionally dressed horsemen, complete with a crazy oversized Peaky Blinder cum Breton beret hat. I want one!
Of course I’ve had my now customary chance encounters with lovely, enthusiastic people who are just keen to hear about the trip I’m undertaking including the lovely Sebastian who stopped me at a routine checkpoint in the middle of nowhere in his role in the Argentine Gendarmerie National. Speaking perfect English, the officialdom was quickly dispensed with and he just wanted to hear more and insisted on a selfie with me. As he tried to get his phone in selfie mode it was constantly pinging with incoming messages, “must be your mum…”. Not entirely sure it was the wisest crack of mine… he did have a gun after all. “Tell your friends there’s nothing to worry about coming here, we like people from England!” Quite.
And Fransisco the cool dude from Corrientes returning with his girlfriend from the falls on a pristine CBR300, possibly the least practical bike of all for touring on these roads but looking way cool, which is the point for him. He was eager to tell me about his mate who went to “Man Island” last year. “Man Island?…hmmm never heard of it….”, “you know, where they race the bikes!!!”..???? “Oh!!!! The Isle of Man!!!, yes!”.
I like to think I’m a good judge of character, and I’ve had nothing but love from everyone I’ve met so far but there was this one incident… So I’m right in the middle of the plains, in Uruguay, hauling the 200+ miles. The road is deserted, I mean one vehicle every 15 or 20 minutes deserted. I decide it’s time to pull over to the side of the road to have a slash and take on some water. I’d been there a good 10 minutes, no car had passed. Then I hear a bike approaching from the distance. As it passes me a wave, as is customary to let the rider know all is good. He rides another half a mile down the straight road and like a scene from Mad Max he slows, stops, turns around and heads back towards me. His dilapidated, overloaded chinese banger struggling to cope with his mass and his backpack perched on his tank/bars/speedo. Right from the off, something didn’t seem quite right to me. He was friendly enough but something about him just didn’t appeal. Not a bloke I’d have a pint with really (and I’d drink with just about anyone). He had good English and was actually Uruguayan although he’s from German stock, his parents having left Germany after the war (I’m guessing not to flee persecution). Anyway, it’s all fine really, a little awkward, but a big scruffy chap standing a little too close to me. Then it dawned on me… I’ve been here about 20 minutes now and I’ve not seen one other car. Erm… if he decided to get nasty or simply say “I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle” in his ingrained German accent there would be not a single thing I could do about it. And when he went to shake my hand I saw the dried blood on it… hmmm… no kind of an explanation was forthcoming, maybe it’s just part of his “look”.
So for the next 5 minutes I trod the very thin line of being perfectly nice and friendly whilst gently edging towards my departure to safety. Glad to report that I made it. I now have a new roadside routine. Where I used to disrobe and sling my jacket, helmet and gloves anywhere I now carefully attach each item to the bike and leave the key in the ignition just in case I have to made a fast exit in future!
Anyway, the tough biking days involved many hours heading north towards the jungle, in the blazing heat and humidity at times topping 35+ degrees. So much so that I had to ditch the jacket for the first time figuring that the risk of me fainting from heatstroke was greater than the risk of smashing up my body with no protection. It did seem to be going well though when I stopped at a lovely little roadside restaurant for a civilised lunch and a litre of ice cold coke (with its own cooler). Alas the lunch ended when someone told me the main road is now closed for hours due to a crash and the only way around it is an hour on the off-road gravel and rocks. Bumble was as competent as ever and even I did OK. However, some numpty forgot the suncream for those jacket-less arms with predictable results.