Sometime during the trip, my nickname and I mysteriously parted company, ‘Captain Slow’ merely evaporated like a ghost out of my being. I hoped to high heaven that was indicative that Pearl and I had begun to finally get a ‘wriggle on’ as and when required. It wasn’t rocket science picking my preferred of the remaining ones, courtesy of Jason: ‘Snot dispenser’ – doesn’t everyone have a runny hooter in cold weather? ‘Afternoon shadow’ from all the dirt and dust clinging to my face after a day in the saddle like iron filings on a magnet. ‘Princess’ when I’m being told to “Suck it up” on the sand or ‘Mozza’, an adaptation of my surname Morris. I might have some choice alternatives for my ‘marvellous other’ too.
Terms of endearment aside, the ride from Susques like the last time we tackled it, started in -7 degrees. We had more or less acclimatised so didn’t feel as beaten by altitude’s clenched fist. As gluttons for offbeat travel, we decided to take the old ruta 40 that joined the 51. What we were prepared for was 176 miles of tarmac giving way to unpaved roads drawing a conclusion in Salta’s sunnier clime. A lovely little ride you could say – ignorance is the opposite of truth, is it not?
What we were in store for was an earthy, rollicking, lip-licking feast of fun. We bobbled over loose gravel, streams crusted over in ice, slushy mud and lashings of slippery sand. My sand skills must have been on the up that afternoon when Jase casually observed, ‘Some of what I’m telling you must be going in”. That was good, one straw at least I could clutch. The ride was worth it just to see what we labelled ‘Boulder world’, bestowed on us in its breathtaking enormity. There sat an incredible legion of stand-alone rocks bigger than our old house. Some the size of ships. It was a movie set from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The unpaved road became a dirt road, which became a track and the track a mere suggestion of one. Narrowly escaping big gaping holes and negotiating mounds of compacted dirt, I dropped my bike and somehow twisted my leg beneath one of my panniers. Jason jumped to my rescue and relieved a smiling damsel wedged in the dirt. My leg was surprisingly bendy but I was more reassured by the fact it hadn’t knocked my confidence. Jason uncharacteristically lost control over an icy stream, the front wheel caught and he head-slammed into the ground. His noggin remained unharmed by his helmet, albeit his ego was a little dented. Both bikes went down now and again but survived the animated fun. Day-dreaming in a sleepy state 25 miles to Salta, I almost micro-slept while riding on the road. I saved myself in time and pulled over for a 10 minute ‘Nana nap’. Sleep came to me like an unseen assailant.
Weeks ago, we took the initiative to purchase two tyres in Santiago having seen the hammering to my back tyre and the wear on Jason’s front wheel. A fabulous friend Juan-Pi in Mendoza had offered to send them to Salta, which fit with our direction of travel and carrying them on the bikes to Bolivia. We received delivery confirmation from Juan-Pi; the tyres were awaiting our pick up. It would be like Christmas knowing how difficult it was to source the brand of tyres we wanted in Argentina. Wonderfully, Argentinians have a service whereby you can just about wrap anything up and the local bus service will deliver it anywhere inside the country. You simply need a tracking number and a few pesos upon delivery for the privilege. Another aspect I adored about Argentina.
Just 23 miles from reaching Salta, we each got a flat tyre. At the same time. On the aforementioned tyres that needed replacing. That left me tickled pink for the entire day. My Heidenau K60 Scout dual sports tyre had done over 10,500 miles; I was thrilled we’d decided to replace one with the same brand. My new back tyre boasted a 140mm width, a mere 10mm more than my previous but Pearl would benefit from a noticeably greater ground clearance, stronger grip and wider footprint. She would also be faster and handle corners much happier putting us both in our Zen place.
After a thrill ride from Susques, it took the rest of my reserves to wobble the 23 miles over loose gravel and blunder our way into town without totally destroying the rims. Riding with a flat made sand-riding look positively simple. Jason and I stopped nine times in 23 miles beneath Salta’s baking heat in order to buoy up and cajole our abraded tyres back to base. Jason indulged in a quietly smug second in having brought an air compressor. A priceless item saving him a patch repair job on the inner tubes, by a remote roadside. We were battered. It had been an ace day though, same again on the morrow Jase?
Another Argentinian friend of ours Toto confirmed my long overdue parcel had finally been released from customs. Hurrah – there is a mitigating god! It had only taken 75 days to reach me. After preposterous levels of persuasion and copious amounts of paperwork, Toto told me how it took time to convince the customs official that it was in fact a ‘gift’ eventually saving the daylight robbery expense of forking out 50 per cent of the contents’ value. Moreover, coaxing customs to finally release the package would fulfill Toto’s yearly quota for overseas deliveries by default. Namely because of me, Toto wouldn’t be allowed to receive anything further as an Argentinian citizen until the following year. He exclaimed, “Lisa, I feel like I live in Cuba!!” Toto and Juan-Pi were salt of the earth guys whose friendship we’d made with them, I hoped would be life-long.