January 2009


Killing time in the hostel while the the strikers strike. Over Mikes shoulder you can see the docks. At about 2 pm I gave up and cracked a beer. As the foam settled, I looked over the top of the glass and saw a crane moving on the dock! The strike had ended. And to his credit, about a half hour later, Dishonest Pedro called and told us to be at the dock at 3.

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And we were at the dock on time. And we stood around waiting for about three hours for permission to load the bikes. Once we had the OK, we started pulling them into the container and sorting things out. I could piss and moan about how Perdos team only had one strap per bike and couldn’t tie a knot to save their lives, or about how he kept looking at his watch like we were taking too much if his after he’s kept us here for something like ten days. But I’m going to rise about that urge and just say that I’m glad the container is packed and that I was there to tie everything in.

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The bikes all packed in the container-

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 Strike
Striking dock workers milling around the dock gates

Day before yesterday, at about 6 p.m. we took a taxi over to the lawyers for a little party. Attending were the delicate and bespectacled Ms. Attorney and her assistant, Tattoo’d  Translator, Dishonest Pedro, Simon (surely and smelling of beer), Mike and I. We weren’t at all happy about having to be here and being forced to spread all these schmoleans around, and the tension was thick and cold as yesterdays grits. But this was the way forward and we are ready to get these motorcycles on the boat.

Niceties are exchanged, papers are handed around. I look at my stack and am appalled at the sheer number of words on the pages we’re here to sign. We were asked to pay 500 pesos to the translator and 660 to the attorney, 1160 pesos total ($350 usd). If you divide that by the number of words, including copies, we’re paying about 10 pesos a word. I look over at Tattoo and Ms. Attorney and think that they should be kissing me, because right now they sure were screwing me. But we sign everything and pass out the pesos.

Dishonest Pedro tells us that the next day, Thursday, he’ll go down to customs and get all the documents set. I have no faith in this guy and I want to make sure that the bikes are packed in the container and in customs before I leave this town, so I say “Great, and we’ll pack everything on Friday, right?” Excuses and run-around pour from his mouth like grease off a hot parilla, but after reminding him that he has two working days to write our names on a few papers, he says “Ok, Friday.”(Since I’m a little late in writing this, thats today!) We left the office, glad to have this behind us, but with no confidence that we’ve really made any headway.

Yesterday we got the call. Pedro wanted to let us know that that evening the dock workers were going on strike and he didn’t know how long it would last. He would vigorously endeavor to get things set so we could load the motos before the strike, but there was a lot of work to be done. He would call us when he had more information he said. Then he hung up the phone and went to the bar.

Today we may be no closer to getting the bikes packed than we were ten days ago when we started this insane process – or maybe we can close the door on the container. Its yet to be seen, but I do feel bit like Bolivar who said of his lifes work “I have plowed the sea”

Ushuaia
Ushuaia at night

Ushuaia by day
Ushuaia by day

Now that I’ve hit bottom the idea of riding back to Asheville through the Argentine desert, choosing between crooked cops or weeks of dirt roads in Peru and crossing Central American borders again just isn’t that appealing. Hard to believe, I know. So, I’ve a new plan, subject to change without notice.

The new plan goes something like this: Ship the bikes to Mexico just south of Brownsville, take Spanish classes while I wait for them to arrive, then ride home to beg for a job. Easy, right? Not so fast there Caballero…

Here’s how its been going…

While shipping the bikes around the Darien gap, the impasse between Panama and Colombia, I met Jorge and Salvador, two Mexican riders also heading to Ushuaia. They helped us deal with a little Napoleon in the customs office and we rode together for few days. They reached Tierra Del Fuego about a month ago and secured a container in a ship bound for the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Mike, Simon and I want to put our bikes in the same box and share the costs, but we had no idea how much trouble this would be.

Really, we’re making it harder that it has to be because we don’t want to work with a customs broker. When flying the bikes from Panama all we did was pull up to the airport and ride them into the warehouse. Things are different here.

When we got to Ushuaia we tried to talk with the customs broker Jorge was using. He was on vacation until February so we talked with Pedro, his assistant. Pedro wanted to charge us $100 more than he was charging Jorge – and for doing less. I held my temper and my tongue and politely left.

Then Mike, Simon and I went to the customs office to get the necessary paperwork and do it ourselves. At the office a guy with fire in his eyes angerly told us that we couldn’t have the papers. He said we needed a broker. After a little more conversation, he directed us to another aduana, or customs office. Maybe they’d give us the papers? So off we paraded. We talked with the lady that handles vehicle paperwork, and she directed us to a different desk where the new guy told us… we needed a customs broker to get the papers and fill them out for us. I didn’t understand why and I was getting really mad about it. I can write, I even have my own pen, why can’t I fill out my own paperwork?

In frustration we decided to go visit the shipper and see if they could help. On arriving we asked for the person Jorge talked with… who was on vacation until February. Maria Belen works in the same office and has been the only brite spot in this whole process. After forwarding her a few emails from the head office in Buenos Aires, she’s taken up our cause and told us what we need to do to get the ball rolling.

Which includes… getting a shipping agent. She helped us find one who would do the work for a reasonable price, but when I told her that there would be two agents for the one container, she said that was impossible. Only one per container. So we’re stuck with Dishonest Pedro.

With Jorges help we got Pedros price down to something reasonable and retained him to do the paperwork that we could do ourselves if someone would give it to us. But the bureaucratic wall is too high and my Spanish is too poor…  so we need him. In Pedros office we find out that we need a Notary Public to give him official permission to fill out the paperwork for us. More pesos change hands. Then we find out we need an official translator to translate the contract that the Notary will notarize to give permission to Pedro to fill out the paperwork that we could fill out ourselves if someone would only let us. So more pesos change hands.

Thats about where we are now, but don’t think for a minute thats the end of the story.

Stay tuned….

We’re killing time trying to figure out what we need to do to ship our motorcycles to Mexico. From there I’ll ride back to Asheville and hopefully arrive in late March or early April. The bureaucracy here is just stupid though, and its seems nearly impossible to get the paperwork we need. We’ve spent days going from office to office and it feels like we’ve made no headway at all. Hopefully we’ll know more later today.

Killing time this weekend I rode around. One day alone and the next with Simon, Mike, Melane and Stephan. Here’s some photos from the ride:

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A view of the Beagle Canal from the national park

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This muralist has a few paintings around town. Above are two of my favorite.

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Which way’s the wind blow?

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A downed tree on Ruta 40

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I don’t know what to say about this one.

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On the beach

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More trees growing on the windward side of the hill

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Our picnic dinner on Ruta J

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We stayed a bit late but dinner was good, the company better and the spot very peaceful .

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and a view of the port entrance

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Click for the full gallery of photos

Well, I’m here. Ushuaia. The dot on the map I’ve been zig-zaging towards for the last five months, and oddly, its a bit anticlimactic.

After the struggles and hardships navigating the mountains of Peru with Shannon, to arrive in Cuzco felt like reaching a summit. That first night I walked through the Plaza de Armas grinning like an idiot and marveling at the lights and sophistication. I smoked a cuban cigar on the cold balcony of Norton Rats Tavern and sipped a taste of home, burbon. Life was sweet. To get there Shannon and I had spent more than a week riding unmarked dirt roads with conditions so bad we often averaged 15 miles an hour. Totaly spent at the end of the day, we would reach some unknown town needing to find shelter and food. I loved it and hated it and I would run the full gamut of emotions in a day.

On these dirt tracks that pass for highways, not three hours outside of Cuzco, I had problems with my clutch and had to open the engine to fix it, spending two and half hours of precious daylight, causing us to arrive in Abancay, the next town of consequence, just before dark. We decided to spend the night there and “summit” Cuzco the next morning. Leaving Abancay in a light rain Shannon was hit by a taxi and he didn’t pass go, collect his $200 or make the summit. Instead he went to Lima and got some screws and a plate in his femur. That ride we did together was a highlight not despite its diffaculty, but because it was so hard, and when it was over I felt like I had done something – and Shannon was robbed of that feeling of completion.

It was the same riding the Altiplano in Boliva with Mike, Simon, Didi and Martina. I had reservations about crossing this remote desert with just the three of us, and out of nowhere, Didi and Martina Materialize. Almost immediately we became a little family, and together we complected a five day ride through sand and wind and nothingness – and it nearly broke me. When we pulled into San Pedro de Atacama tired and dirty, I felt like I had really done something, like I had had pushed my limits past boundaries I didn’t know existed – and it felt good.

I expected the same type of challenges from the infamous Ruta 40, a dirt track that runs the length of Argentina near the border with Chile and the route we chose to take to Ushuaia. Its known for being a hard ride with blasting side winds. When we rode it there wasn’t much wind and I’m sure that made a big difference, because we all found it not much more difficult than a gravel road, often averaging 50 or 60 miles an hour. The route runs past Mt. Fitzroy, El Calafate, and with a short detour, Torres Del Paine, the Yellowstone Park of South America. It was a great ride, but it didn’t kick my but the way I like to have it kicked.

That’s not to say Ruta 40 is a ride through the park. About 10 km outside of a small town called Tres Lagos, I was riding in front and as I crested a hill I saw a bike on the stand, sideways across the road, and an ambulance parked to the side. I pulled in with my engine off and asked the rider if he was OK. He gave me a broken look and waved his hand in a “so-so” motion. He walked around and swung his arm in a gesture that said “look at this mess”. When he settled down and started talking he kept asking the same questions over and over the way a person in shock does: “am I in Argentina? Got a cigarette mate? I’ll have to make a naked bike.”

Leo was riding north alone and he didn’t remember what happened, but the most obvious thing is that with his bald front tire he lost control in the gravel and fell. Who knows how long he was there before someone passed and contacted an ambulance – which didn’t do much good. Once we got there, the ambulance said there wasn’t anything they could do and that there was tow truck on the way. The ambulance driver said we should wait for the truck. And they left. With the help of the tow truck driver we got Leo and his bike to El Calafate where there is a hospital and where once he was feeling better he could get his bike sorted out. So even without wind Ruta 40 can bite you if lower your guard.

In Tores De Paine I wanted to spend more time than did Simon and Mike, so we split up, planning to meet back up in Ushuaia. I arrived in Tierra Del Fuego solo via the ferry from Punta Arenas and got my taste of gravel and wind – and that made it interesting.  But it only lasted for about 100 km. The last 200 km to Ushuaia was a beautiful ride through forested mountains on smooth pavement. I pulled into town easy as pulling into any American city – and the streets were lined with gore-tex clad adventurers enjoying high end restaurants while they waited on their cruise ships to Anartica. It was no Cuzco or San Pedro. I had in mind a scene like the one in The Mission where Robert Dinero is climbing the waterfall dragging all his armor behind, not pulling into the parking lot at the mall. We did a lot, but arriving in Ushuaia isn’t a summit. Its more of a U-turn.

We went out to the Pierto Moreno glacier near El Calafate, Agrentina. We were lucky enough to see it break a few times, and I caught this series of photos.

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We’ve hit Patagonia, land of flightless birds

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and long, straight dirt roads.

I’ve cheated a bit and created a gallery of photos with captions.  Have a look.

The Dakar Rally passed through the town of Puerto Madryn a few days ago. I was excited to see the parade of vehicles, from motorcycles to the huge support trucks, come  blasting into town so I rode my moto out to the edge where a thin crowd stretched out along both sides of the road and I made a little camp in the shade of a tree. My thinking was that out here the cars and motorcycle would still be moving fast, but when the first rider came in waving to us from behind a police escort I found out I was mistaken. It was still cool to watch and I stayed for a few hours seeing everything from clean team SUV’s to dusty four-wheelers pass by before deciding to back head through town to the site where the teams were set up.

After packing the bike, I swung my leg over and pulled into the street – behind one of the big MAN support trucks. People started waving at me and stepping into the street to get my picture. At first I felt guilty, like I was being dishonest with these people… but I got over that. If they wanted a show, I’d give ‘em one. I stood up on the pegs and waved like I was running for office. And I made it about a ½ mile before being waved off the track by an observant cop. But somewhere out there are photos of me finishing the second day of the Dakar in P. Madryn Agrentina, and if you find one, yes, I’d pay money for it.

grillin

Grilling at the hostel

sea lions

Elegant Sea Lions

crowded beach

A very crowded beach

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