Motorcycle Trip To Patagonia, April 2023 – Day 1
When my sister gave me a slice of slate from her house near Llandeilo in West Wales some years ago, I made vague plans to take the stone to Patagonia and donate it to the Welsh community.
However, the reality is that I stuck it in a drawer, completely forgot about it and only contemplated it occasionally when tidying up. I would rub my chin and mumble, ‘I must get myself down south sometime’ because Wales is inextricably linked to Patagonia following the voyage of the schooner Mimosa in 1865 when 160 Welsh emigrants sailed to start a new life in Argentina and to preserve their Welsh heritage. In essence, it became a mission that I knew one day I would undertake.
Fast forward to October 2022, when I bought a new motorcycle and the idea resurfaced. I would steer myself to Puerto Madryn upon my new steed, presenting the grey slate to whichever Welsh association I could get hold of, safe in the knowledge that they would acquire a tiny piece of real Wales. That was the easy part and no sooner had I made contact with the secretary of the Welsh Association in Puerto Madryn, the planning began in earnest – I would ride down solo over three days, stay a couple of nights and then head back to Buenos Aires. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, mission complete.
Whilst being perfectly content with my own company for seven days, 3000 kilometres of often deserted wilderness can be a daunting prospect, so purely by chance I was able to recruit Eduardo, an engineer by trade who also rides a Royal Enfield Himalayan. Planning was short and to the point since I had already booked the hotels well in advance and had decided on the route to travel, but we did pay particular attention to spare parts and the tools that we would need for the journey. So, after a couple of coffee chats we were set to hit the road on Tuesday 4th of April, weather permitting.
Day 1- 486km
With a flask of hot coffee, sandwiches, and the burning anticipation of embarking upon a new adventure to far-flung horizons, we met up at first light in a very posh Axion service station a few meters from the General Paz motorway for a final decision on how we were going to extract ourselves from the massive conurbation of Buenos Aires. With a route decided, we hit the road in high spirits, agreeing to stop for coffee at either Mercedes or Lujan. Fortunately, Buenos Aires is served by an extensive network of motorways, so our route took us via Avenida General Paz, Panamericana, Camino del Buen Ayre and thence to Accesso Oeste, which takes you to all parts west and south.
Having hit fog patches along the way, we were keen to keep going non-stop because many of those roads are known as bandit country, where armed criminals on stolen, powerful motorcycles enjoy shooting at motorcyclists like us, either for pleasure or to steal the bikes or usually both. Fortunately we didn’t come across any highwaymen and after an unintended detour to Lujan Cathedral (don’t ask), we re-joined Ruta 5 heading for Trenque Lauquen, our destination for the night some 450 kilometres distant. By mid-morning, the massive sprawl of Buenos Aires was long behind us, the sun had burned off the fog and we were riding in the endlessly flat farming country of the Pampa Humeda.
Averaging about 100km/hr we passed through Mercedes, Suipacha, Chivilcoy and Nueve de Julio in brilliant sunshine, empty roads and pounced upon our sandwiches de miga in the shade of some majestic Eucalyptus trees somewhere near the village of French.
At this point, Eduardo took a power nap for a battery recharge while I devoured the remaining sandwich and an Alfajor (a large chocolate biscuit filled with dulce de leche) for dessert while taking in the idyllic surroundings.
Stopping for fuel in Pehuajó, we couldn’t resist chatting with a couple of motorcyclists who pulled in, one of whom was a Peruvian girl who casually remarked that she was on her way back from Ushuaia, some 2790 kms distant and heading for Lima, with no particular timeline or route in mind. She was as free as a bird and her frugally packed motorcycle added to her casual, carefree outlook. In the end, Puerto Madryn didn’t seem so far at all.
By late afternoon and with the sun beginning to dip onto the horizon, we arrived at Trenque Lauquen – a quiet, roadside agricultural community which straddles Ruta 5 – and were greeted by our jovial host, Francisco, ‘Paco’ of La Quinta Cabañas Hosteria, who showed us to our surprisingly luxurious cabin style rooms. I say surprisingly because it’s often a lottery booking rooms in faraway places and these rooms were immaculate, brand new and kitted with showers that I would quite gladly have taken home with me.
I had chosen La Quinta Hosteria because our host was also the chef at the grill-restaurant (parrilla) next to our rooms, so following a short trip to the local supermarket, La Anonima, where we acquired essential items such as cold beer, plastic cups and numerous bananas, we settled down for a couple of ales to unwind whilst waiting for Paco to open the restaurant.
In fact our host was quite the joker, telling Eduardo that there was only room for me at the hotel and because he hadn’t booked a room personally, he would have to look elsewhere, until my companion saw Paco winking at me. Then, a few minutes later, curious as ever, our host asked us our trades, so I replied that I was an author (autor in Spanish), but either I mispronounced it or he was extracting the Michael, because he replied, ‘Oh, an actor!’
I was tempted to regale him with tales of my Hollywood lifestyle but, sensing that he was one jump ahead of me, I mumbled, ‘You might have seen me on TV.’ at which he laughed raucously.
(The above picture of Mr Pitt really was on the door of a loo somewhere on the road to Trenque Lauquen, but I don’t remember who was on the ladies’ door. Suggestions on a postcard, please.)
Following a delicious meal of home-made empanadas, which Paco assured us were the best we would ever taste, followed by huevos a caballo (two fried eggs over a massive plate of chips), it wasn’t long before we hit our bunks and crashed out. It had been a long, yet exhilarating and entertaining day and I have vague memories of a dream in which I challenged Mr Pitt to a sword duel over our favourite empanadas, at which I probably lost…