On a sweltering Sunday afternoon we arrived in Cordoba in good time to rudely wake up Jorge and Norma in the middle of their siesta, ringing the bell more than a few times in as many minutes. Their bleary eyes only betrayed a mild confusion at our ridiculous time of arrival, which is better than complete distain following their rude awakening. Jorge, 81 years of age, mild, patient and attentive, showed us the way about the house and to our room while Norma instructed him from below in her vivacious bellowing accents. Jorge just rolls his eyes.
We spent the next two weeks living with Jorge and Norma, breakfasting early in the morning on Jorge’s special scrambled eggs, then walking the 40 minutes into town to our Spanish school. Although four hours a day for two weeks sounds intensive, and trust me it was, we could have definitely done with a bit longer to achieve the conversational skills required to discuss politics and the Malvinas in depth and at great length. Unfortunately, the course served to give us lots of information which we dutifully wrote down in our little jotters and now have to take the time to learn… hmmm. At least we now know how to order a couple of beers properly now!
Out of school time we saw the sights, did our bit for the International Architecture Record log, and spend some time with our new school mates, but trying not to act like teenagers again. Rather than going to the pub for a pint after school(!), we went to a swanky bar and ordered a rich and flavoursome red!
After two weeks of school and homework, the latter of which we diligently carried out well into the evening until our eyes stung and heads hurt, we were ready to make a run for it. Last day of school, Friday 23rd March – we finished at 1pm, collected our certificates (the text on which we cannot understand because it is in Spanish), and dashed out of the door shouting our goodbyes. We had an appointment in Santa Fe, 400km east of Cordoba, and we didn’t want to be late. Or rather, we wanted to get there asap so we could go out and eat and be merry with our best Argentinean friend, Miguel. [Miguel – lives in Santa Fe but we had previously met him in Ushuaia in November – click here for the reminder
So after dashing out of school and making our way back to the house at top speed (in a crazy taxi), we loaded the bikes, changed outfits and were suddenly motorcycle adventurers again! We said our goodbyes to Jorge and Norma, and were on our way by 2.30pm. We were parked back outside the house 10 minutes later to pick up Chris’s water pack that he had left on the garage floor, then back on the road again by 2.45pm! With 400km in front of us, we put the proverbial ‘foot down’.
Miguel had big plans. Argentinean plans! Which means (a) late night(s)! We arrived in the dark, at about 9pm after a grueling ride through lots of small towns and passing even more lorries. Stopping for 45 minutes while we sipped coffee and Chris tanned his face probably didn’t aid our speed, nor did getting lost in the city centre despite following the GPS. But never mind. We made it to Casa de Miguel, hungry and thirsty and ready for some Argentinean action.
Miguel did not disappoint. Despite the builders being in and skips, rubbish, cement mixers and stuff all over the place, we had the bikes stowed in the new garage, our clothes spread all over the bare new kitchen floor and bags piled everywhere within minutes. Then we were off! A good ol’ parrilla was the first stop for a meat feast because Chris hadn’t had a lump of meat for at least 24 hours. The evening developed into a night-time tour of the historic quarter of Santa Fe, Miguel leading us between stunning colonial architecture, to bars. Then another history lesson, then another bar. We made it to bed at 4.30am, craving sleep but knowing we had to be up at 7am to leave for a moto encuentro (bike meeting/ festival) in nearby Segui.
A bit starry eyed and fuzzy, we woke at 7am but it was slow going. The efficient timescales that Miguel seems to permanently run on unfortunately did not wash with us… we ended up leaving the house nearly an hour late, then faffing about at the pharmacy and supermarket added to lost time. The friend we were due to meet en-route at 10am was mildly abusive when we turned up an hour and a half late. Ooops. But we all had a jolly ride after that, over bridges and through tunnels galore.
Out in rural, unsuspecting Segui, a small village in Entre Rios Provincia, 2,000 bikers gathered and 2,000 more spectators more who had come for the show. And to see the rock band, Almafuerte, who are apparently quite well known in Argentina. If loud noises, shouting, long curly hair and tight leather trousers do it for you, this would have been perfect!
But before the rock band emerged at midnight, we had a full afternoon to soak up the atmosphere, eat more meat, drink lots of Fernet and Coke, (the regions speciality!), and look round the bikes and stalls.
A good time was had by all, until it came to bedtime and we realized we had pitched our tent in the noisiest possible place, so consequently didn’t get any sleep. And so another day dawned where our eyes were still stuck together with sleep and Miguel was hastening our departure. We packed away the tent in a daze and prepared for the next leg of the journey. This time to Miguel’s Uncle’s house in a nearby town. Once the obligatory tour of the old town had been given by our personal tour guide, we collapsed in said guide’s uncle’s house and awaited the next asado which was being prepared as we arrived. More meat! But this time we had to fight the dogs for it… not hard, given that they were the size of small stuffed toys, but infinitely louder and more sexually charged. The smallest one was just not giving into the fact that the biggest one didn’t like being mounted every few seconds. And at the dinner table at that!
Dinner over, we couldn’t resist taking a siesta before we had to get back on the bikes and make our way back to Santa Fe.
The next day was Monday, which historically held the ominous ‘back-to-work’ feeling, but actually at this time meant relaxation because Miguel had to go to work!! With Miguel at work, we had a lie in and then leisurely wandered around Santa Fe’s historic centre, taking stock of what we had previously only seen in the dark.
Mid afternoon Miguel joined us for a quick drink and then escorted us to the bus station where we had booked ourselves onto a coach to take us the 1,100 km and 16 hours later, to Iguazu Falls – situated in the very north east of Argentina, on the border with Brazil, and way too far to travel by bike!
We spent two days visiting the national park at Iguazu Falls, both on the Argentinean side and on the Brazilian side. The first day included lots of walking through forest, catching glimpses of the falls as we edged closer and closer. The noise grew horrendously loud, and the air grew wet and cold despite the heat. The amount of water cannot be described, other than by saying there is a lot more than any amount of water we had ever seen in our lives, apart from the ocean, obviously. Four times as wide a Niagara Falls (oh ‘poor Niagra’ Eleanor Roosavelt cried!) with the ‘Devils Throat’ at one end creating a semi-circular pouring of water, this is one big waterfall! We took a boat trip too, which we had thought would be nice and relaxing. We were wrong – wet and noisy and scary would be more appropriate! We got utterly drenched! Words are useless here I’m afraid, so here come the photos.
We have loads of amazing photos, so we recommend you look at them on skydrive: click here.
This includes a couple of big panoramic images so you can see the full scale of the monster!
Back on the bus back to Santa Fe we tried to practice Spanish but the films were far more interesting. We were happily greeted at the other end by our always smiling Miguel, who was even smiling at the bus station at 3.30am when we were half asleep. Again, back to base for a few hours kip then up again at 7am because Miguel, (I hasten to add, not us), was setting off on a 1,600 km ride across to Brazil to visit a friend. 1,600 km – how convenient we thought. He only expected it to take him 11 hours….. what?! 11 hours…!!??!! So Miguel sped off and we were left waving him off with his Mum, who then graciously let us take our time in packing up before leaving at a much more controlled rate of knots.
So after our hectic week, we needed to take things slowly… Riding leisurely up north, we spent three days travelling only 800km. Nice. Through the dry planes of Santa Fe Provincia, then into the desert of Tucaman, then surprisingly, lifting up into sudden tropical rainforest. The air was damp and cold, the trees and greenery dripped from the hillsides and the side of the road dropped away to a winding river far below.
The dense forest grew closer in, encroaching on the road winding sharply and steeply upwards, bringing with it darkness and a feeling of claustrophobia. Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the forest abruptly ended and opened out into a vast expanse of rolling pastures and, higher up, moorland. Where had that come from, we were in the rainforest a minute ago?!
Into the pastures we rode, to a little town called Tafi del Valle, nestled at the end of the valley, before the hills rose and the clouds took over. We spent two nights in Tafi, in the old estancia which was the original settlement before the town grew up around it. Old and classic, we had a pretty little room with old furniture and a homely farmhouse feel. Just perfect for rejuvenation!
After some rest, we set off up into the clouds that hung over the valley in a heavy wet mass, passed through them and away we went. Heading northwards again through ever changing landscapes – from green pastures and clouds, to ancient deserted villages of long lost indigenous tribes.
Stopping briefly for lunch in the charismatic Cafayate, we had a taste of civilization before carrying on along deserted tracks and across rivers, winding our way through ferocious looking rocky outcrops and canyons…. We had it all that day!
And what better way to end the day than with a nice glass of red, Malbec of course!!
A spot of bother the next morning with Chris’s fuel leakage meant the road got well watered and our early start was delayed slightly. But we were properly on our way, skimming across the (shallow) sand by 8.30am, ready for the long haul up to our next stopping point for lunch. The road was tough, but some pretty sights took our fancy on the way, and a number of historic adobe buildings were inspected, for their own good, by our knowing eyes!
By 11.45am we had arrived, albeit a little bit disheveled, at our lunchtime destination, had ordered a pizza and were supping a beer – the first ‘morning beer’ of the trip!
At a more reasonable hour, we left our little lunchtime town of Cachi, ready to cross the high pass that would lead us down into Salta – our destination for another few days. The road up to the pass passed through the Parque Nacional Los Cardones which, for a National Park, was remarkably barren. Considering what we had ridden through the day before that is. The view behind us, which kept catching our eye and nearly sending us careering of the road, was stunning, but all that surrounded us other than that were cacti. Millions of them, fading off into the distance. And goats, but I very much doubt the goats are what make the National Park so special.
Winding down the valley into Salta was like breezing down from the clouds on a gravel floating carpet. Feeling light headed at the top of the pass meant the decent was like drifting down in a dream, except the gravel and the steep curves were a constant reminder that this is in fact reality and weightlessness does not exist on a motorbike.
Back down to ground, we settled ourselves in a lovely B&B in a village just outside of Salta city ready for another couple of relaxing days. Only to find out that there was another moto encuentro in the village we were staying – amazing – which meant we had to go, how could we not? So along we went. This one was much more civilized than the last – set up on an organised campsite so everyone had a BBQ to cook their own asado on, low key, quiet… we met some really nice people who then invited us for an asado on ‘their plot’, so we obliged. And what started as a late morning visit, turned into a day of asado and wine, and then an evening of much the same! The Argentines certainly know a lot about eating and drinking!
But of course we cannot go on as gluttonous fools forever, so some sightseeing the next day made up for it… and that’s where we are now. So you enjoy the sights of Salta below, and we’ll start preparing for leaving tomorrow for Jujuy…. Onwards and upwards.
Forgot bike documents when nipping out to the shop Chloe 0 v 1 Chris
Fined ARG$200 pesos by police for not having doc Chloe 0 v 1 Chris
(bartered down from ARG$500)
Hours in bed with fever Chloe 18 v 0 Chris
Hours in bed with man-flu Chloe 0 v 4 Chris
Items of ‘artisan’ woolen clothing bought Chloe 3 v 1 Chris (everyone needs socks!)
Amount of meat eaten in 2 weeks (kg) Chloe 1 v 5 Chris