San Carlos de Bariloche to Rio Mayo

Argentina was a country we had low expectations of before this trip. We initially viewed it as just a transit place to get through to visit the southern jewels of the Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paine & Ushuaia. And as to the people, the only Argentineans we’d ever set eyes on were on TV back home and consisted of some dejected looking POW’s in the Falklands war and Maradonna cheating in the World Cup! So what a surprise it has been to discover that Argentina is an incredibly marvellous place. We’ve been in Patagonia for 6 days now and it is simply spectacular in every aspect. And the people – well, the Chileans were friendly but in Argentina we’ve met one of the kindest, most easygoing people in the world. They are lovely! In Bariloche, we had another culinary marvel – a visit to a Parilla. A Parilla is a restaurant containing a huge metal grilled barbeque, reminiscent of a medieval torture rack complete with a chain ratchet mechanism for raising & lowering it, on which huge quantities of beef are roasted over an open fire. The one we visited was called ‘Refugio des Montanes’ a small family run business. On entry you are confronted with a huge wooden butchers bench on which select cuts of meat are prepared. We opted for 400g Bife de Chorizo (Sirloins) cut around 40mm thick and cooked ‘a punto’ (medium/rare). They were served with papas fritas (chips) & chimichurri – a delicious green paste made from oregano, coriander, loads of garlic & chillies infused in a mix of olive oil & vinaigre. I don’t think we’ve ever eaten in a place where the staff were so happy to recommend & serve you your food – in fact they were truly delighted to serve you and needless to say – Best Steak in the World (so far!!!).

From Bariloche we rode south and into the wind-swept vastness of Patagonia. We did a 300-mile day across a spectacular barren landscape the colour of Spitfire camouflage, tearing along the road, scattering little tan backed birds from the hard shoulder as we sped along. We ended up in a little place called Trevelin, a Welsh settlement where Welsh is still spoken today. Here we visited Nain Maggie’s Tea Room. Maggie of the tea house was born in 1878, migrated to Argentina in 1891 & then lived here, running the tea room, until she died in 1981 at the ripe old age of 103. We ordered ‘Te de Galles’ or a Welsh Afternoon Tea consisting of home made bread & butter with cheese, homemade strawberry & cherry jams and an assortment of scones and scrummy pastries. Carbohydrate Heaven!!! We were so stuffed we decided to skip dinner that evening.

Our bikes by now are now looking slightly the worse for wear and look like real travel veterans. Patagonia is very dusty and everything gets coated in a film of thin brown dirt. You get absolutely filthy just loading the bike and it is pointless trying to keep them clean. On the road south we met 3 Mexican guys, Joaquin, Jose & Muceo riding respectively a BMW 1150GS, Honda Varadero & a Honda Africa Twin, travelling under the guise of Los Tres Amigos! They are doing Mexico to Ushuaia and rode down through Venezuela & Brazil, the latter of which they absolutely raved about. We decided to travel together for the next few days as we were all headed in the same direction, stopping at Rio Mayo at the start of a bad bit of of-road section of the infamous Ruta 40. Rio Mayo was a bit of a one-horse town but its saving grace is the hotel residencia ‘El Viejo Covadonga’ run by Teresa Basiloff, where for around ₤7 a night you can have bed, breakfast & evening meal. There is no menu, you just have whatever is cooking that day and it is excellent wholesome food served by very friendly staff. Oh and the bikes get lodging as well in the old function room at the back of the hotel (it was good fun riding through the lobby to get there). We set off on Saturday 24th January onto the Ruta 40 for our first taste of riding the Ripio (gravel roads) but it almost ended in catastrophe, when Mags had a fairly spectacular spill after some 20 odd miles on the road. I have to say that neither of us has taken easily to riding off road. It’s not something we’d ever done before and regarded it as more of a necessity on this trip rather than something to look forward to. We’ve done a few miles to get down here but this was the first serious stretch and it turned out to be one of the worst roads imaginable. We were getting on just fine, taking it easy & gradually building up our speed as our confidence grew. Then we hit a nasty patch of thicker gravel & both bikes began to fishtail. I was fully occupied, concentrating on trying to hold a straight line, when I saw Maggie lose it when the fishtail evolved to a high-side & she was off – down like a shot buffalo! It was horrible as the bike went across in front of me, upside down & I couldn’t see Mags. Both ended up in a big ditch at the side of the road. Fortunately both were OK. Mags was a little shaken & shocked and had hurt her left arm. The bike was a bit twisted up at the front top end of the fairing, but it looked to be mostly cosmetic damage. The 3 Amigos arrived on the scene shortly afterwards and helped us get sorted. We headed back to town with Mags on the back of Joaquin & Muceo riding her bike. They left us at the hotel & shortly afterwards we went to the local hospital, where a quick X-Ray revealed a small fracture in her elbow. It is a minor fracture only (about 1cm long) and they set her arm in a cast, which will be on for 20 days. She is absolutely fine & now 2 days after the accident there is no pain. The staff in this tiny little outpost of a hospital were excellent and thoroughly professional throughout, refusing to accept any payment for the treatment – in the end we had to insist on them taking a charity donation for the hospital.

Back at El Viejo Covadonga, we spent the next day sorting out the bike. It all straightened out and in the end the only permanent damage was a broken off-side wing mirror & that can be replaced at the next bike shop. One of the tank/fairing panels had a crack in it but we melted holes in it with a nail & sewed it up with nylon thread & filleted it with some epoxy adhesive, so the little bike has a permanent scar from the bash! We cannot now continue on the bikes for the next 20 days until this arm is sorted but we need to get to the southernmost part of the trip before the weather turns too bad. Also Rio Mayo is not a place to dwell in so we are now contemplating routes by bus or rental car to see those aforementioned jewels of the southern parts of the continent – the Moreno Glacier, Torres del Paine & Ushuaia. This will give Mag’s arm time to heal and allow us to continue with the trip. The bikes are staying here in the hotel, where the lovely Teresa has kindly promised to keep an eye on them.

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