Land ahoy matey! 6,906 nautical miles sailed and we finally arrived at large to Uruguay’s capital Montevideo. Despite both of our bikes being subjected to a little petty theft whilst in Paranagua and Zarate from external dock staff, primarily coming onto the boat to discharge cargo, we were still brimming with that just-rolled-off-the-ferry feeling.
Aside from the money saved in taking a container ship compared to air freighting the bikes and us, embarking on a four week sail was a chance to really relax after a busy period at home. Flying fish accompanied us alongside pods of dolphin, flocks of black kites soared above and the boat had an infestation of butterflies and delicate little moths near the lush tropics of Brazil. We took in some interesting sights at five different docks off the coast of Senegal, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Disembarking in Montevideo was straightforward with immigration, they efficiently processed our paperwork and we were on our way. We’d recommend the ‘ride on, roll off’ experience. It was a real first and colourful way to kick start our motorcycle adventure.
I now needed to compose myself for the journey ahead having done the preparation I deemed possible. With a hopeful outlook, I was all set to earn my spurs on the open road but in the meantime, felt content in the knowledge of having jacked it all in for a taste of adventure. About to see a bit more of the world and with that prospect alone, what we were doing remained forever appealing.
In the space of a week from exiting the cargo docks, we’ve endured and enjoyed an intensive period. I’ve fast-tracked my way on two wheels – embracing a steep learning curve with all my might and adjusting to back-to-back days in the saddle – a lifestyle on the open road to which I’m now accustomed. It’s something to behold. Roads have varied from those where the tarmac has been scraped leaving only tyre-wobbling thick ridges in which to manoeuvre the front wheel in a forward-ish fashion to good old gaping potholes, or roads where the tarmac springs up forming stiff peaks, having melted in the heat where the tyres from the heavies have pushed it into lumpy bumps. Long ruts on the highways are not uncommon either, which coerces you into choosing your line quite carefully.
The traffic in the city of Buenos Aires seemed to take on a malevolent lifeform, itching to find the kink in our armour. Had I’ve dropped my guard for a second, I think it would have consumed me whole. Aghast, I instinctively put my bike into her most aggressive gear and adopted the same riding style as everyone else; survival of the fittest. Weaving in and out of lanes, having to share the width of mine with car drivers deciding to join me who simply didn’t care or mind that I was already assuming a road presence. It’s amazing what you get used to in no time at all. A series of hostile highways later and we rolled up to Dakar Motos for a couple of days. A safe-haven from the frenetic big city fun and games. Rested, relaxed and raring to go again, we received a fabulous farewell from Sandra and Javier, whom alongside a no nonsense Polish chap and AJ, a forthcoming guy from Montana whose trip of South America had ended, we felt well-briefed and better prepared.
Whilst the wind has willfully flexed her gusting strength reminding us who calls the shots, we’ve been rewarded with days comprising only warm autumnal breezes peaking at around 27 degrees and aesthetically arranged clouds under vast blue skies. Some much needed ‘time out’ on the bikes to enjoy our surroundings; rheas by the roadside, timid flightless birds resembling an ostrich with creamy brown plumage; vultures circling above, which I hope isn’t a bad omen and guanacos grazing in the open, Andean llama-type creatures carrying a valuable sandy coloured pelt. We’ve even seen the odd armadillo waddling along the roadside and stumbled across some pretty spots in which to wild camp.
I won’t play down that two-wheeled travel on the road has necessitated a transitional period. In addition to keeping my wits about me in wild weather, on any road – with or without the crazy big city traffic – there’s a certain ‘catching on’ that’s required. Shedding excess weight from the panniers, having total disregard for the highway code when appropriate and devising a failsafe system of organisation when overland motorcycling as a couple are just the basics.
Other scenarios dictate a little more flair. Some semi-looking officials tasked with confiscating our fresh fruit pulled us up to a patrol area on the road down to Ushuaia. Be calm, smile and imitate an English Rose, or on second thoughts, better make that a Scottish Heather as it’s a notable anniversary of the Falklands War this year. A man in high-vis pointed to my pannier, “What in there, any fruit? Apple, orange?” Mmn, yes to the apples I thought and bananas too. I replied, “No oranges, just pasta and rice”. In need of further convincing, the man asked to look inside each pannier. It was a long shot but I explained that alongside my clothes, I had my knickers and bra in one pannier and tampons in the other. It worked like a charm. The guy’s face gave me a startled look of instant recognition to these choice words and I was sent rapidly on my way. My banished banana and outlawed apple left a sweetly smug taste in my mouth. I have since packed the top layers of my panniers with said items. I’d say anything to prevent some jobsworth rummaging through my stuff like he’s on some mission at a jumble-sale.
The road from Uruguay has so far taken us down to: Colonia, Buenos Aires, Bahia Blanca, Tornquist, San Antonio and Puerto Madryn. Aside from our insightful stay in Buenos Aires, all have been pretty uneventful, dusty towns but have at least provided some much needed overnight rest. Puerto Madryn, however, was not what we expected. It boasted a monied seafront of modern properties overlooking sparkling blue ocean punctuated by the odd five star hotel. It was a picturesque jewel in the crown, which after boundless voids of scrub land, we thought we’d hit the jack pot. After waving madly to a group of local bikers sat enjoying the view, we made a mental note to return to say a proper hello after our seafront recce. Are we glad we did..!
The following forty-eight hours were a heightened welcome given to us from a biking couple Maria and Diego. They were members of the ‘Viejos Coyotes’, translating as old wild dogs. We were served the finest Argentinian beef at their house and invited to a motorcycle meet of numerous biking clubs, all good friends coming together. This turned into an asado, a massive meat fest to you and me. An entire lamb was roasted for hours on an open fire. In our combined seventy-seven years, neither of us have tasted meat so good. Hardly a moment to digest the portions of food consumed, the afternoon saw us salsa dancing with everyone, drinking and being treated as honorary guests at the event. Upon receiving a special commemorative biking plaque, I reached for best of my limited vocabulary and managed to deliver a small but heartfelt thank you speech in Spanish. I hope I was understood when hearing the audience cheering and clapping. Many were curiously excited about our bikes, we were given motorcycle tokens of appreciation and biking gifts from our newfound friends. People made such a fantastic fuss of us, they had well and truly taken us into the fold.
Argentinian hospitality is overwhelming. I loved Diego’s concerted effort to talk English to us during our stay; after Jason had showered before taking us to the local bar one evening, Diego enquired if Jason would like to borrow any ‘perfume’, not knowing the word for aftershave. This man was sweet to the core. Tears welled up in my eyes when I saw Maria and Diego’s eyes speak first, saddening and moistening in an instant. I was just as glassy-eyed when they conveyed their warm farewell to us, and swallowed the knot in my throat. What a kindhearted and selfless couple. Diego remarked that it is not common for people on big bikes to wave as they ride past, let alone pull up to introduce themselves in their local town. His parting words to me were “You are a lovely human” and to us both, “We are friends for eternity”. Good first encounters are everything when you’re travelling, sometimes especially as English with the Argentinians, and I hope we made the same long-lasting impression as they did on us.