Rolling into BA
As Omar was preparing to head home from Santiago, I was on the opposite side of the continent riding towards Buenos Aires. My next stop along the route was the beach town of Las Grutas. To get there I had to exit the main road for a couple miles to this little spot of town along the coast. Once I settled into my room, I headed towards the coast to see what was there. What I found was a nice little village overlooking the beach below. Unlike others I visited the previous couple of days, this one had quite a few bathers enjoying the balmy weather and expansive beach.
Later that evening I hooked up with the Brits I had dinner with a few towns back. This time they had the rest of their group with them. After a beer in the hotel bar, we headed to a local restaurant for seafood, more beer and the opportunity to share stories of our travels.
I had the very good fortune to set across the table from Garry, who shared his special story with me. As a legacy for his grandkids he left 25 unique coins along his route from the States to Ushuaia. For each coin, he created specific instructions how to find them. As he was digging the hole for the last coin in Ushuaia, he found another coin was already there. Most likely it had just dropped out of someone’s pocket years ago, but for Garry it was a sign that that was the perfect place for the last coin for his grandkids.
You see, Garry has an inoperable tumor in his brain, which over time will slowly result in dementia. While he still had all of his faculties, he wanted to do something special for his grandkids. Something that would be more impactful on their lives than simply leaving them money. He wanted to give them the gift of adventure, the love of travel, and the joy of meeting people from all over the world. Garry is quite a guy and I feel very fortunate to have met him.
While staying in Bahia Blanca, the next town on the route to Buenos Aires, I went to a coffee shop and immediately noticed that the sound was almost deafening. The reason for the noise was readily apparent. Everyone at the coffee shop was there visiting with friends and family. They weren't there to be by themselves pecking away at a computer as I am often known to do. The place was packed with every table filled, and I was the only one with a laptop. When the internet abruptly stopped working, no one objected or even seemed to notice. At a Starbucks in the States, a Wi-Fi outage would have caused a minor rebellion amongst the customers claiming that there was some sort of conspiracy behind the outage.
This was just another of those observations about Latin American culture that point to one obvious conclusion. Their society is more people oriented than the United States. That was one of the things that has truly impressed me during my travels in Latin America, and I will miss it.
As I got closer to Buenos Aires, the cities and towns also began to take on a decidedly European feel. There was a lot of street life late into night with people coming and going past midnight. By contrast the towns didn’t seem to wake up until 9:00 or 10:00 AM when the sidewalks would fill again.
Also, there were no big department stores. Instead there were numerous small shops lining the streets selling about everything you could imagine. If you wanted shoes there was a shop for that, cameras were sold a few stores down, and at the corner was a small grocery. Most buying and selling was done through these small stores that focused on a narrow range of products.
Plazas and parks were the places where the residents gathered to pass the time or meet friends.
The final ride of this motorcycle adventure was from Bahia Blanca to Buenos Aires, about 425 miles. I expected it to be uneventful. Although the first couple hundred miles to Buenos Aires were just that, the final miles were anything but. It all started near the city of Azul. A policeman at a roadblock motioned for me to pull over along the side of the road. In his Spanish and broken English, the policeman tried to tell me about the difficult traffic conditions that existed ahead on the route to Buenos Aires. Ahead were lots of people, cars, accidents, and traffic jams. I nodded my head like I fully understood the significance of what he was saying, and then headed on my way. When I got to Buenos Aires, I learned that the area was holding their seasonal festivals and crowds of over 400,000 people were expected.
A couple of miles down the road I encountered the first signs of what the policeman was trying to tell me. The traffic slowed to a crawl and I could see queues at the gas stations longer than any I had ever witnessed. As I slowly progressed down the road, the realization that I would have problems getting gas and possibly run out suddenly dawned on me. I needed at least a couple additional gallons to make it to Buenos Aires. I committed to stop at the very next station no matter how long the wait.
At the next town, I stopped at two stations, both of which were out of gas. Still one station had a line of cars in a queue. I assumed they were waiting for a phantom tanker truck to come and replenish the supplies.
After that there was a stretch of about 50 miles with no towns or gas stations. Then another town came along and the only station was out of gas too. At that point I resigned myself to running out of gas and spending the night alongside the road, but pushed on anyway.
During this time the traffic ranged from slow to barely crawling along. Like any good Latin American motorcyclist, I have mastered the art of passing cars on the right side. Can’t tell you how many hundreds of cars I passed on the right that day.
As I traveled down the road, I noticed another bad sign. Many cars and motorcycles had pulled off and were parked alongside of the road. I assumed the worst, that they had all run out of gas.
After more miles, I came to a place where the traffic was completely stopped and there wasn’t room to pass on the right anymore. I pulled up to a policeman who was trying to manage the congestion of cars and trucks, and told him about my situation. He pointed me to a dirt road off to the right that he said was the back way into the next town. He said the stations there had plenty of gas. After a mile or two on dirt, I entered the town to find the reason for the traffic jam. Traffic on the main highway was totally blocked with vehicles lined up to fill their tanks. It was an incredible site like something out of a Mad Max movie.
As I was deciding what to do, a guy tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for me to follow him on his motorcycle. We went down a side street, past a police barricade to a Shell station that didn’t have even one vehicle in the queue waiting for gas. It was nothing short of a miracle. After filling up, the guy escorted me out of town, again by a back route. If it wasn’t for that awesome Argentinean motorcyclist and a friendly policeman, I might still be in the queue waiting to fill my tank.
Once on the road again, the traffic would speed up and then slow down for unknown reasons. Then I came upon another slowdown, where the reason was obvious. There had been an accident involving a motorcycle, and the rider appeared to have died. He was lying motionless, uncovered, and unattended on the pavement. It was the kind of grim sight that always leaves a lasting impression no matter what the circumstances. It was especially true for me, since I was within a few miles of my final destination after having ridden all of the way from the USA. I couldn't help but think how very fortunate I was.
A few more slowdowns and then I was in the heart of Buenos Aires, where Google Maps correctly routed me to the apartment building where my Airbnb was located. Soon I met Verito, my Airbnb hostess, who showed me around the apartment that would be my home for the next three weeks. Verito also invited me to a dinner the following weekend with friends of hers who wanted to hear about my motorcycle adventures. Just another example of Latin American hospitality I have grown to appreciate and love.