We visit Salta and continue south in Argentina. In this episode, Leebong breaks a record, we meet a mechanical Nebraskan, we fix some stuff, take a spin on the legendary “Ruta 40” and I brush my teeth.
Wednesday, May 23rd (cont.)
I rode away from the spectacular Salinas Grandes, cold, but thankful to have experienced such a spectacle.
It was time to go downhill, which sounded like a very pleasant prospect to me. On this day I’d be shedding around 7,500 feet of elevation (2,286 m) as I visited Jujuy and Salta.
Down we go:
The scenery presented quite a bit of variety. As one passes through the different levels of elevation, it’s obvious to see the kind of flora that flourishes at each stage. For awhile there were big trees, then they were replaced with cacti, then there was just brushland.
In about an hour I passed by the spectacular Seven Colors Hill in the town of Purmamarca. I didn’t really find a good overlook point, so this is the best picture that I got.
One of my biggest worries about camping in the wilderness the previous night was that I was unable to check in with my parents. Sending an evening message is part of my evening routine, both for my safety and for their peace of mind. At my first incidence of cell signal, I gave them a call to let them know that I was still alive. They seemed relatively pleased that the reports of my demise had been greatly exaggerated.
I reached the town of Jujuy (“who-who-ee”) around noon, tired, cold, hungry, miserable, but still enjoying myself. 🙂 My next task was something that would diminish my mood a bit: Buying insurance.
Is insurance mandatory in Argentina? Honestly, I still don’t know. There’s nowhere to buy it at the border, I couldn’t find a vendor online, and the staff at the border said, “Yes” while lifting his hands in an I-don’t-know gesture. But given the uncertainty, I felt it best to go on the hunt in my first city.
The couple of hours I spent running around town proved to be a pretty big waste, except that I received some nice compliments on my Spanish. Some places only sold it a year at a time, some didn’t sell to foreigners and others were just too expensive.
I decided to leave Jujuy and make my way south to the next city: Salta.
The ride there was rough. Though the road was straight and in good condition, I was really struggling to stay awake. This is a very rare occurrence for me, so I may have got even less sleep than I thought during my freezing night previously.
About 10 miles outside of Salta, there was a toll booth. I rolled through the “no pay” motorcycle lane on the right side side, but a police officer waved me down. She just wanted to check my documents.
I was hoping against hope that she would not ask for insurance, and thankfully she just wanted to see my license and import papers. Phew!
I set my sights on a hostel called Hostel Gauchos Backpackers, which was a few miles from the city center. On Booking.com, I’d seen a picture of a couple of motorcycles parked inside, a good indicator that I would be able to do the same. It was $8/night.
Initially my host, Dany, didn’t seem the most excited to see me. He came off as being very matter of fact and serious…but I knew that could not last. 🙂 Initially, I thought the door frame was going to keep Annie outside, but I was able to lean one handlebar through, then the other. I managed to leave the hallway unscathed too:
I had a quiet evening in, getting some work done.
Thursday, May 24th
After some breakfast, I began walking to the center of town. On the way, I saw a little traveler who had taken the same path as I had:
This guy is a Kawasaki KZ440 (early 80s?), which was assembled in Lincoln, Nebraska (thanks, Brother Grant, for this fact). Though we are mostly a Honda family, we do have a “community KZ440” which has found a home in various garages over the years. Though rarely meticulously maintained, it always seems to fire right up with a new battery and fresh gas. Smile, Grant!
I had a very important engagement this day…you could even say a record breaking one. Today I was going to have lunch with my good friend, Leebong. We almost had to laugh that we had ended up in the same city, once again with very little planning. My parents have been with me in four countries during this journey (USA, Canada, Mexico, Peru). After today, Leebong would hold the record alone with 5.
As always, we had a great time catching up. Like me, he is in a process of decision making. His journey will be continuing through Europe and Asia, so he is investigating all of his options for shipping his vehicle there. Despite many conversations by this point, we still had plenty to talk about.
Our friendship has been a huge bonus of this chapter of the journey. There are very few people who can understand the effort it takes to live a story and tell a story at the same time. Commiserating is one of those carnal human needs. Congratulations on the record, my friend. I hope someday you will achieve an accomplishment that eclipses this one. 🙂 See you in Brazil?
Friday, May 25th
It was definitely not “tourist season” in Salta. The weather isn’t the most pleasant this time of year. This meant that the hostel was almost empty. Still, I met some great people here. Julia, from Austria, and I spent a whole morning talking about travels and other things. It’s always great to get a little more German on Annie:
Simón, from Mendoza, Argentina, was really cool.
He assumed that I didn’t speak Spanish, so he typed, “I was wondering if I could take a picture with your motorcycle.” into the translation app on his phone. It felt nice to answer him in Spanish. He works in the walnut industry and left me a whole bag full for my journey.
My host, Dany, had really warmed up to me too.
By this point, he was introducing me to strangers as “un hombre muy correcto y educado.” (A very proper and educated man). I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’ve never actually taken a Spanish class. 🙂 I was planning to leave the next day, but he talked me into sticking around so that he could buy me some empanadas the next evening.
Saturday, May 26th
Since I was sticking around another day, I decided to get some work done. My side cases were starting to lean in pretty substantially. I’d never really fixed the right one that had had a BMW laying on it for God knows how long in that dreaded shipping container. Additionally, the left side took a couple hits in Chile. Time to “Take a load off Annie.”
She really looks different unladen:
I only have one spare corner brace (the 90 degree piece of metal) remaining. I want to keep that around in case I have a full break, so I just bent the current ones with my hatchet.
We’ll see how long that lasts.
I found that a mounting bolt from my luggage system had shaken loose. I decided not to install the one from the other side, so I could match it at a hardware store.
I got lots of writing done this day and also got to watch the Champion’s League Final (like the Super Bowl of soccer).
In the evening, Dany made good on his promise of empanadas, accompanied by some good wine.
During our meal, he got serious for a moment. He told me that his brother had been killed in the Falklands War in 1982. Because of this, he had harbored some negative feelings towards Americans. (The US wasn’t involved militarily in this conflict, but they did provide material support for the UK.) He said that meeting me had changed his feeling about Americans. I don’t know if I’ve received a deeper compliment during my travels.
Sometimes I sort of feel like an ambassador. For whatever reason, there are not that many travelers from the US in Latin America. The amount of Europeans I’ve met probably outnumbers Americans by a ratio of 10 to 1. Additionally, most people I meet will probably never encounter another Nebraskan. I try my best to represent my homeland well. 🙂
Sunday, May 27th
Once again, I was planning to leave. Once again, Dany talked me out of it. He said he would buy me supper again and also offered to accompany me to find motorcycle insurance the next day. No one was going to take advantage of me on his watch!
I pretty much wasted the whole day. I guess a regular person would just call this a “day off” but it is a rare occurrence that I accomplish so few trip-related things in a day. I did complete, one project: Rewiring my voltage monitor. I made sure to label everything this time. 🙂
It feels great to have this back. Since I’m going to be camping and using my heated gear more often, knowing my battery health is paramount.
Dany and I had another nice meal together and I got everything packed up for the next day.
Monday, May 28th
Dany actually had something come up, so he couldn’t accompany me on my insurance hunt. He gave my a rosary, which I’m still trying to figure out how to attach to Annie. When it was time for me to leave, there was a car parked right in front of the door.
I eventually found the owner at the window shop around the corner. Even with the truck moved, I had a bit of a squeeze.
Do you believe in miracles?
My first goal was to replace the missing bolt from my luggage. This ended up being a four-stop job, being continuously referred to the next place.
I had a nice chat with the guys at this hardware store. Apparently, they don’t get many Americans who come in looking to purchase one bolt and washer.
Next up was Triunfo Seguros, to find insurance. Originally, they told me that six months was the minimum time frame. My sad-American-puppy-dog-eyes got them talked down to three. Additionally, this insurance is good for Uruguay and Brazil. It was only about $18 for three months. What a deal!
Getting cash to pay for it was the hardest part. I ended up going on about a two mile hike as I tried to find an ATM that would accept my card. This hasn’t been an issue in any other country. When I was finally heard a machine counting my bills, I threw my arms up and exclaimed, “Hallelujah!” Some of the other patrons appeared at least mildly amused.
Getting out of town was a bit difficult, as I continued having nice conversations with residents there. I didn’t really explore Salta as much as I should have, but my stay here was very pleasant. Here we go:
Today I would actually be heading west. No, I wasn’t lost…at least not more so than usual. This little road, number 33, was recommended strongly to me by a number of people. Additionally, taking this road would give me a chance to spend some time on the legendary Argentina Ruta 40. This road was even featured in the art of my Salta hostel.
Ruta 40 is one of the longest roads in the world. It runs the whole length of Argentina, alongside the Andes most of the time. It is known for being a route which is both very beautiful and very challenging in some sections. It is very common for vehicles that have completed the trek down to Ushuaia to bear a “Ruta 40” sticker. Some even get a “Ruta 40” tattoo. I suppose it may be similar to the way Americans view Route 66.
Early on, I saw something that made me stop for a picture.
Pioneer was actually my very first employer. As a 14-year old, I spent a summer wandering through fields, de-tasseling corn, in order to buy my first electric guitar.
Another fun factoid: This company was founded by Iowan Henry Wallace, one of the most fascinating people that most people have never heard of. He served as the vice-president under FDR for the majority of WWII, before being replaced under dubious circumstances at the 1944 Democratic Convention.
He was a very smart man, with a huge range of interests and influences. Without a doubt, he was more fit to be president than Harry Truman. Could he have ended WWII without nuclear weapons? Could he have eluded the Cold War altogether? We’ll never know, but I at least find it interesting to ponder these questions. Sorry…let’s get back to motorcycles…
This road was tremendous. A path alongside a river with perfect asphalt, tunnels of trees and plenty of curves.
When it came time to climb, the pavement disappeared and the road was a little less fun.
From up above, the road just looked like random scribbles.
At the peak of the pass, a nice couple from Buenos Aires offered to take my picture.
After the climb, it was mostly a plateau with just a few curvy sections.
At one of the overlook points, I stopped at the same time as a tour bus. When this happens, a phenomenon called an “Annie Cloud” usually develops.
I met nice people from various places and gave sort of a bi-lingual summary of my trip. I can give that speech pretty well by now. 🙂
People don’t need trucks in Latin America:
I passed right through Cachi and had my first miles on Ruta 40. It was surprisingly rough.
I knew that it was unpaved further south, but this stretch was a surprise to me. Being such a major road, I thought it would be paved. I had thought that I might reach Cafayate by nightfall, but the condition of the road was going to prevent that. Instead, I began scouting for a good tent spot.
I found a nice hole in the ground in a sort of gravel pit right off of the road. It was completely shielded from sight and offered good wind protection. Staking was a bit of an adventure:
I was set up in plenty of time to enjoy my surroundings. Other than the constant blowing dust, it was quite pleasant.
I’ve thought about possibly making a documentary once this fool’s errand is complete. I don’t think that’s the route I will go, as it would be a ton of work, but I still try to stay up to date with taking an occasional “video diary.” While I was doing one this night, I got to see a perfect moon-rise. Time for another creative selfie:
The low was around 40 F (4 C) on the night. Cold, but I I’m equipped for those temperatures. I actually slept pretty well.
Tuesday, May 29th
One good thing about the short days is that I can always get pictures at sunrise and sunset.
I’d encountered a couple closed grocery stores the previous day, so I was essentially out of food. I had some walnuts and coffee, the true adventurer’s breakfast. 🙂
I used them to power me through the project of replacing the missing bolts that I referenced earlier. If my luggage system was perfectly engineered, they would have slipped right in. Unfortunately, mine was built in my garage. Though I tried to find a shortcut, I eventually had to take everything apart to reinstall them.
This delay was quite unpleasant. It ended up being around 90 minutes rolling around on the dusty, rocky terrain. By the time I finished, I had to brush my teeth just to remove the dirt from between my molars.
The job was complete, but I was not in the best of spirits. I was dirty, tired, hungry and knew that I had to venture back out on to a road that was going to beat me up. Still, there was a sense of accomplishment. If I ever lack the resolve to spend so much time on a single bolt, that would be a telltale sign that my mental fortitude is starting to crack. For now, we still appear to be at least reasonably steadfast. 🙂
Keep pioneering, everybody.
Realtime update: This was kind of an odd post…I couldn’t find a great place to split it. We’ll have more of Ruta 40 in our next episode. I currently sit in Córdoba, the second largest city in Argentina. I will be travelling just a bit more south, to Buenos Aires, then we will point Sonic north and start rolling back towards home. I think I’ve sort of made a decision about the way home, which I will share soon. Again, thanks for all of the support as I’ve been at this crossroads