I grouped these days together, because other than some spectacularly expansive countryside and glorious sunsets I was burning rubber to cross the plains. The first day leaving Mendoza started late after some coffee and biscuits with friends and took me due east away from the beloved Andes. I past endless fields of grapes and olives, as it became less arid and more humid. I finished the day in Villa Maria, a small farm town with a lively central square perfect for people watching with a glass of Campari and soda. I was clearly the only gringo around as the locals spent hours strolling around the center or sipping coffee with friends and family on that warm summer sunday night. I found a cheap room (40 pesos = $10 USD) with secure parking and rested well for a big day ahead.
Somehow I was able to avoid this storm the second day as I made my way to Federal in the state of Entre Rios. A few hours later, after riding around the storm, the sky was lit with this saturated glow.
These days spent crossing the plains where less about the road and more about the little pleasures of travelling in the country. For example, I was riding on two lane roads through rural Argentina and would come to a different agricultural community every 20 to 50 miles. There would be some kids playing by the side of the road, fishing off a small bridge or riding bikes, doing what kids do in the summer time. At least one of them would start waving his hands, showing off a big smile as the alien invader (yours truly) came cruising through town. The overall excitement and love for motos down here puts a huge grin on my face every time I get this reaction.
Another great thing about travelling this way is that, other than being completely free to go wherever I please, my route takes me through parts of the country that my backpacking counterparts may never see. I do not have the option of sleeping or reading while moving, I am completely immersed in my environment. I smell the bakery as I come around the corner, or the rain on hot pavement, I feel the temperature change when I descend into a river basin. I have no metal and glass shell around me, I am IN it. I am also unable to travel through the night, as I need to sleep and it is much more dangerous for many reasons. I spend nights in towns that are not in the guide books speaking only spanish to locals at the neighborhood cafe. Talking about their country, my country and all the cultural differences and similarities we share. I have learned more from these interactions than could ever be taught through a book.
After Federal I continued north, approaching the Uraguay and Brasilan border. The climate was humid, the forest thick and the soil the color of a red velvet cake. I stopped here at a bus/shack for two beer empanadas and a 7up.
Later in the day after passing the medium size city of Posadas, I noticed a strong clicking noise coming from the rear of the bike as I pulled out of first and second gears. I rode north to find a smaller more relaxing village to stay the night. As I was riding the streets of San Ignacio a mechanic came out of his shop to listen and as I was trying to isolate the noise he waved me down. We added more tension to the chain but the noise continued. He thought it was my bearing, which meant I needed to return the 90km back to Posadas for a new set. If it was indeed the bearing, a break could cause a seizure and subsequently the locking of the rear wheel sending me into a uncontrollable skid. Not a happy thought. However, he was an auto mechanic, and according to one of the local girls, who was hanging around for entertainment, there was a moto shop on the other side of town.
I followed the nice girl down some clay dirt roads to see Willy. Above is the shop that I spent hours with the mechanic trying to figure out exactly what the problem was. He took the wheel off, we inspected the bearings. As you can see below, they are spot on. No problems. The sprockets were fine, the transmission ok, which left the chain.
At first glance the chain seemed fine, but after removing it and carefully feeling each link we discovered this kink. He did not have the chain I needed, but I felt confident that we found the problem. He instructed me to travel 80km up the road to a town called Puerto Rico where I would find a Honda shop with the parts I needed. I felt better that I could get one up the road, but was not completely relaxed riding with a loud popping noise coming from my chain. I rode gently up the highway and was lucky enough to get exactly what I needed. Phew.
Just after getting the new chain on, and some rear brake pads, I noticed a group of riders pulling into the station across the street. I rode up to say hello and was greeted warmly by some Brasilians on their way home from a 20 day ride south to Ushuaia. We exchanged some words and I joined them for the final leg of their trip back to Foz do Iguazu, just on the other side of the border. I stopped on the Argy side but told them I would be crossing soon, and looked forward to meeting again.
I ended up meet with the fellow on the far right, who has the bigger version of my bike, and had dinner with his family and stayed in his home! Amazing hospitality, but more on that later.
The above photo is taken from the Argy side, with the sun setting over Paraguay and Brasil to the right.