Motorcycle Trip To Patagonia, April 2023 – Day 7
Day 7 – Monday 10th April
Being a weather watcher, which is a habit I inherited from my sailing days, I had been keeping an eye on the skies for several days and it became apparent that a big change was on its way. Up until Sunday, the weather in Puerto Madryn had been glorious with temperatures up to 25c. However, the sandstorm and ferocious winds of Sunday afternoon would portend what was to come. Rain and high winds were forecast and the sunrise had a watery tint to say the least.
We rose early, took breakfast of yesterday’s medialunas and bid farewell to another biking couple who were on their way to Bahia Blanca. They had experienced a few mechanical problems which Alberto had typically sorted out and watching them load the bike made me realise what an artform it can be. We then set about loading up our bikes for the 450km ride to Carmen de Patagones, although thankfully, we didn’t carry camping equipment as they did.
Fernanda and Alberto had shown us the true kindness of so many Argentine people and welcomed us into their home with open arms. Never has the phrase mi casa es tu casa been so apt and I have no doubt that one day our paths will cross again.
Because rain was forecast and the morning was very cold, we put on all the clothing we had, as well as our rain gear, so we were wearing everything we had packed in the paniers which ended up nearly empty. No sooner had we left Puerto Madryn, the wind picked up and dark, threatening clouds appeared from the west, with the first drops of rain appearing on my visor after about an hour. No one likes riding in the rain and I was willing it to go away. Fortunately, we seemed to be outrunning the dark clouds and by the time we reached Sierra Grande, the skies cleared, so we filled up with fuel and enjoyed yet more coffee and medialunas. Checking Rain Alarm on my phone again, we could see more thunderstorms approaching, but this time from the north west and heading for Carmen de Patagones, our destination for the night. So the race was on to reach a hotel before the storm arrived. Light rain is almost tolerable, but an Argentine thunderstorm is another matter – refuge would have to be found if we were caught. As we headed north along the same route we had travelled a few days before, the weather was perfect, the arrow-straight roads disappeared over the horizon, yet the same-old, same-old never got boring.
By midday we had reached the halfway point, San Antonio al Oeste, so we reprovisioned, searched for bananas to no avail (service stations should sell fruit!) and then headed for Ruta 3 and thence Patagones. The huge ham and cheese rolls would fuel us until late afternoon, at least.
Although the distance to Patagones was only 200kms which in theory should take us no more than two and a half to three hours, taking into account fuel and vittels stops, the reality is always quite different. Besides, we hadn’t booked a hotel in advance, reckoning that, with Easter now over, there would be plenty of room at the inn, any inn. With the storm now within about 50kms of Patagones, we rode through Viedma – once proposed to be the capital of Argentina – and simply followed the signposts.
It’s an accepted fact that most towns and cities in Argentina have shanty towns in the outskirts, with many not blessed with running water, adequate sewage or even electricity in many cases. The populations of these villas miserias are often tied down with generous government handouts in the form of social security plans, provided they vote for whichever feudal lord happens to be in power, normally a populist, Peronist governor or mayor who has held that position often for decades. It’s a monstruous situation from whichever angle it’s viewed, but unfortunately the system is so ingrained down the generations that I can’t see it changing, even in the short term. The above photo is taken from Google Maps because it’s not wise to hang around and snap photos of such places. I’m not suggesting that the people who live in these shanty towns are all criminals. Far from it – they are simply trying to survive in a country that knocks you down time and time again. However, I know from experience that caution is the order of the day in such places. One bad apple, as the saying goes…
Carmen de Patagones
Viedma lies in the province of Rio Negro, with Patagones being in the province of Buenos Aires, with the river marking the boundary. Not far from the bridge, we stopped to get our bearings in a none too salubrious area of Viedma and were immediately reminded that one needs to be cautious. A young man of apparently dubious means and wearing a hoodie, stopped in front of us with his ancient bicycle, firing off questions as to where we had come from, where we were going and where did we buy our bikes, which immediately rang alarm bells. I told him where we had come from, nodded to Eduardo and wasted no time in arriving at the town centre. For all we knew, he could have been carrying a firearm.
Following a Google search, we opted for the reasonably priced Hotel y Parrilla Famiglia Reggiani at around 6 pm (so much for the two and a half hours travel time!) with lightning flashing overhead and booked in with a cheerful young fellow who showed us to our respective rooms which looked like they hadn’t been renovated since 1972. Still, it was a bed for the night, we would be dry and we would forage for pizza.
Our priority then was to find shelter for the bikes which was solved by the young receptionist fellow telling us that his uncle, one Don Fernando would look after our bikes in his back garden for the modest fee of $1000 each (about US$2.50). We don’t like being very far from our bikes for numerous reasons, but this did seem reasonable and upon arriving at the Don’s pad a block away, I was immediately reminded of Luca Brasi, such was the man’s countenance. Still, he gratefully accepted our protection money and we parked our bikes under a couple of lemon trees. Eduardo’s priority was to take a shower, but for me, since it was already way past beer o’clock, I acquired a litre bottle of Heineken and ruminated over our journey while the heavens opened up outside with lightning illuminating the nearby plaza. We had made it just in time and I raised a glass to whoever or whatever was keeping an eye on us.
As a side note, the Eating Prohibited note stuck on the bathroom door not only had me in stiches, but I swiftly dug out a well-travelled Alfajor and devoured it while reading the small print on the sign. We would be fined for eating in our rooms, but the question remains, who would ever know? Does the hotel employ a crumb inspector?
And dogs. Lets talk about the wild dogs that are so rampant in every town in Argentina. As can be seen in the photo below, two dishevelled looking mutts have taken up residence in the hotel entrance and everyone simply walks over them and gives them a pat on the way in or out. They also sneak into many restaurants and wander between the tables with their doggy eyes reducing us to hopeless wrecks, so we accidentally drop a few morsels on the floor. Stray dogs, mainly at petrol stations are an accepted way of life and in many cases, prove to very companionable to employees and owners alike. This, for me anyway, is a testament to the enduring patience of all Argentines who find a real synergy with a our four-legged friends.
As it turned out, the best pizza house in town was closed, being a Monday, but we did eventually find a very smart Café Martinez after dodging the torrential rain under overhanging buildings and chatted about the followings day’s ride to Azul, which would be just over 600kms. Meanwhile, the thunderstorm was moving very slowly north east towards our next large town, Bahia Blanca and I wasn’t to know that our journey to Azul would be the ride from hell.