The grass in San Rafael (you know, about 250 km south of Mendoza) was such a relief that we stayed there for three days. We visited 2 bodegas, so we now have glasses again. We would have liked to stay longer, but at this rate we won't make it to Alaska before July.
On our way to Mendoza we visit some more bodegas. More info on this is in Adriaan's report; after all he is the wine expert. Fortunately it is not that far to Mendoza; I couldn't spit out all the wine like I should have.
We decide to stay an extra day in Mendoza, so Adriaan can buy some parts and a soldering iron to fix our box. This box allows us to charge batteries and listen to the radio, and provides some light in the tent using the batteries of the bikes or the electricity of a camp site. The box has died. Thanks to friend Marc we know it isn't necessarily the most difficult and expensive part that is broken, and he is right. A new opamp and a fuse is all it takes to let us charge again.
And away we go again, to Foz do Iguacu. They say these waterfalls are even more impressive than the Niagara Falls. But first we stop in Villa Urquiza for a few days, so I can recover from the heightened doses of Ritalin. We use these resting days to tend to our bikes. And to make camp fires to grill lomos (steaks; much for less). Adriaan sure gets the hang of it; just like a real Argentinean, especially when he drinks mate with that.
On our way to Iguacu I have another first: a day with 800 km travel. The 'vibes' we got from the city that was planned as our stop were so bad we decided to continue. This made for another 300 km, but then the last stretch to Iguacu was a breeze. Suddenly the landscape and climate change. We have entered the sub-tropics. Palm trees, giant, beautiful butterflies, ananas sold by the road side (delicious; nothing like the stuff we get in Europe), and moist heat. Temperatures easily reach 35 degrees Celsius, and the locals think that's rather cool because of the few clouds! To escape the climate we settle down in an airconditioned hotel, and from there we visit the falls.
Foz do Iguacu is on the point where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet. Both Argentina and Brazil have named a national park after these falls. First we visit the Argentinean park, and we are impressed. I haven't seen the Niagara Falls yet, but Adriaan has. And he too admits these falls are more beautiful than the ones in North America. I think he has taken about 100 pictures. Not just of the water itself; he is also fascinated by various animals. When we see the largest of the falls, we wonder how the Brazilean side can ever top this. But the Frenchman we meet ensures us the other side is also worth seeing, so we decide to have a look the next day. Sure enough, it is even better! You might experience the water less intensely (we definitely stay much drier), but the spectacle is awesome. This sure was worth the 4 days ride.
Our next goal is Salta. We travel through Paraguay for one day. Chile and Argentina have an European feel to them, Paraguay definitely not. There is visibly much more poverty, and the government clearly spends more money on police and defense (many security checks) than on education (many wandering children). People seem less happy too, they don't wave anymore. After the umphteenth check Adriaan has had it. They don't check anything, but each time we have to park our bikes in the burning sun. The so-called inspector gets a large piece of his mind, and I hold my breath. But all is OK, and from then on we can pass all checks without being stopped. We will never know, but it looks like they have called ahead. Anyway, finally we reach Asuncion.
In Asuncion we are picked up in a suburb which is rumoured to be the worst and most dangerous part of town. We haven't noticed anything. Our 'rescuers' know a decent place to sleep, and in single file we ride on. The place seems OK, and the bikes can be parked in a safe area. We decide to stay for dinner with a group of Paraguayans in a kind of McDonald's. We speak in a mesh of English (they want to practice that) and Castillean (we want to practice that). These are not average Paraguayans. A pity it seems, but stimulating as well. We discuss various subjects. For instance the supposedly dangers of the country. But when we ask who has in fact been the victim of a crime, they are silent. Corruption is discussed as well. The young people, two of them are lawyers-to-be, know what is wrong. But they don't know how to change or improve the situation, and they say they can't solve it by themselves. This country has a long way to go. Minimizing the powers of the church over the social life of people would be a big step ahead, but even that is too much to ask.
What we noticed in Paraguay:
- As said, it isn't anything like Europe, in contrast to Chile and Argentina. With some exaggeration the young men called it a fourth-world country.
- Here Monday is laundry day as well. One person even hung the soccer shirts in ascending shirt number order.
- The cubic inches of the bikes don't matter, but they want to know how many kilometers per liter the bikes manage (the Kawa does 1:21, the BMW about 1:19).
- The poor state of the roads in the capitol.
- The police has no example function at all; they drive around with no lights at all in the middle of the night.
- Beer is cheaper than Fanta, which I drink by the gallon this trip.
By now we have left Salta (or rather San Lorenzo, about 10 km from Salta). My bike has a new front tire, and a new oil filter and new rear brake blocks. They don't have tires and filters and new glass for the head light of the BMW, so we have to come up with a different plan for that.
We have a short trip planned to Oran, about 50 km before we pass the border with Bolivia. Bad plan. Some 150 km before the border we get warned about water problems. And indeed, 30 km further we can't continue. The water is almost half a meter high. Doable for the BMW, but too much for my Kawa. They say we can continue later that day, but more than an hour later we see no improvement. We have to return, almost 100 km.
We try again the next day. Conditions have improved; there is 'just' 25 cm water on small stretches. Without any further trouble we reach the border. Leaving Argentina is easy, but entering Bolivia is not. There is a time difference, so after the 3pm siesta the office doesn't open until 4pm. And when it is time, rumours are the customs officers are on strike. For the first time this journey it seems that we get stranded; some first ... :-( If we have to, we can leave the bikes at the border and enter Bolivia on foot; there should be a hotel. We don't like re-entering Argentina, because the bikes have already been checked out, and this would mean lots of hassle and stamps in our passports.
At 6pm we hear the customs officer won't return, but we can continue into Bolivia. We get the stamps for ourselves, and they tell us we can continue to Bermejo with our bikes if we report back to customs the next day to import the bikes. Good news, our day has been saved. More on this in the next report.
Things we noticed in Argentina:
- Every, really every building we have entered has a moist problem.
- Of all the toilets I have visited, not one was undamaged, except the one in the last hotel we stayed (but that was brand new).
- When they have hot water, it is really hot!
- The more you go north, the poorer the people.
- With the devaluation of the peso, this country is very cheap to travel around in. Sometimes we bought meat at prices which made you wonder how they even manage to pay for the slaughter of the beast.
- Patagonia and the pampas were much more boring to travel through than we imagined.
- Patagonia is larger than we expected. Or we encountered more wind than expected.
- The Argentineans are friendly, and I still get a kick when they wave at us.
- Adriaan had a fantastic time with all the gigantic steaks. I have developed a love for the Milanese, a kind of schnitzel.
- The Italian influence is strong in the Argentinean kitchen. Pastas and pizzas everywhere.
- People are not used to girls on bikes. The best reaction came when we arrived in a hotel in Resistenca. A room maid saw me without my helmet, and screamed to the lady that guided us to our room: "Yieeeeeh, es un CHICA!"
- Traffic rules are still a mystery. Sometimes I just invent stuff as I go along; much like the Argentineans, or so it seems.
On to Bolivia!