We are now enjoying a short break from our travels. We left the car back last Wednesday and have been resting up in Comodoro Rivadavia in the rather pleasant Victoria Hotel. Mag’s arm is gaining strength every day and we have arranged for Lito, our van man, to pick us up on Monday to return to Rio Mayo and rejoin the bikes.
This has been a good time to reflect on the first part of our trip and to answer the question ‘what is it really like here?’ Well, it is not like being on holiday! No – the past 6 weeks really has seen us living life to the full and we continue to marvel at it all. Everyday there is something different – new sights, new sounds, new food, new people. We start each day with only a rough idea of where we are headed but don’t really know where we will end up in the evening. Jack London, the author of ‘Call of the Wild’, ‘White Fang’ & other stories about Alaska, once said that he would rather die having lead his life as a blazing comet, leaving a fiery trail across the sky than to have lived as a dull and lifeless planet, spending an entire existence orbiting the same sun every day. Not that we’re looking to die in a blaze of glory, but I know what he means and our trip has highlighted the sentiment of his statement. We all experience our lives through the 5 senses, spending each day looking, touching, smelling, hearing & tasting the things that surround us. Life’s encounters and experiences are a mix of these 5 elements and in South America we are simply maximising the possibilities, the combinations and the sensations. The result is fantastic! Even Mag’s tumble on the gravel road was an experience we will remember – not as a bad time, but for the helping hands and friendships we made that helped us get our trip back on the road. Sure it spoiled our plans to ride south to Ushuaia on our bikes, but the key thing in long-duration travel like this is not to rely too much on plans and we did get there by other means. As Ted Simon (author of ‘Jupiter’s Travels’) once said, the trip only really gets interesting when the plan goes wrong. So our motto now is…”The Plan is…there is no Plan!” – well nearly!
As to the countries we are travelling in, both Chile & Argentina have what we would describe as an ‘old’ European flavour to them – like it was at home in the 1960’s or 70’s. This doesn’t for one minute mean that they are old or out-dated. Facilities such as hotels and restaurants are very good and it is also very cheap at the moment. Argentina in particular was until recently the most expensive country in South America (Argentineans used to travel to Europe a lot because it was so affordable) but a few years ago they tried to stem economic recession by pegging their peso to the US Dollar and their currency value has tumbled. As an indication, our Lonely Planet guidebook (2002 print) gave a rough exchange of $1.44 pesos to ₤1 Sterling. A reasonable hotel costs typically $80 to $120 pesos per room per night, so for long distance travelling this would work out to be very expensive on the 2002 exchange rate and was one of the reasons why we originally didn’t plan to stay too long here. The current rate is over $5 pesos to the ₤, which makes everything not only affordable, but very cheap as well. Another difference we have noticed, comparing things with Europe, is that there are a lot of people employed to do everything. At home a lot of businesses try to get by, by employing the minimum number of staff possible in order to maximise profits. This often leads to poor service, as staff are run off their feet trying to do everything. Here there are lots of staff and it results in better service as they have more time to devote to your needs.
South America is a beautiful place. No, it is a staggering place. Where Europe has history, architecture & tradition, South America has geography in trumps! Mountains, volcanoes, lakes, rivers – everywhere you look there is a view. It is a photographer’s dream (or maybe even nightmare!) as everywhere you look there is a stunning view begging to have its picture taken. Thank heavens for digital cameras, as the film bill would require a small mortgage for conventional photography (we have taken nearly 600 digital photographs in our first 6 weeks – this is even after deleting all the ‘not so good’ shots!). Add to this the fact that the people are lovely (even with our dodgy Spanish) and the food and drink are excellent. The initial reception in Chile was but a foretaste of things to come in Argentina, surely one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. Our initial plan was only to spend a short while in Argentina, really to get to the south & then back into Chile for the ride north. But we have now modified this idea and we are off next to see more of the Argentine Lake District further north of Bariloche. From here we will head towards Mendoza and Aconcagua the highest mountain in all the Americas. Well this is the new Plan! All we have to do now is wait for it all to go wrong and then the fun begins again!