Motorcycle Trip To Patagonia, April 2023 – Day 8
The Hotel Reggiani has been in the same family since the fifties, and it shows. Although I slept like a log being dog tired anyway, I couldn’t help thinking that it was showing its age, with door handles and shower curtains falling off.
But at least towels, soap and shampoo were provided, even if the shower provided little more than a trickle of tepid water after ten minutes of waiting and eating was hilariously banned in the rooms. The staff however were kindness itself and couldn’t do enough for us, which is so typical of Argentines far and wide.
Over breakfast of toast and coffee we discussed the 600km ride to Azul, which would be our longest yet. We optimistically calculated that, barring any major problems, we should arrive between six and seven pm. Fortunately the thunderstorm had cleared, moving very slowly north east, albeit still directly in our path, so rain gear was the order of the day.
Having collected our soaking wet bikes from Don Fernando’s lemon grove (Eduardo’s bike had fallen over in the soft sand) we loaded them up and left Patagones later than we had planned, at around eight thirty. The weather was overcast, a light drizzle was falling and the further north we travelled, the dark clouds of our thunderstorm were ever present ahead of us. At Villalonga, about half way to Bahia Blanca, we stopped for coffee and fuel, where a family had pitched a tent overnight next to the car park, so we chatted as they decamped, soon realising that our coffee stops were becoming more prolonged. On this particular day we couldn’t afford to waste any time as it was already past eleven and we still had 500kms to go which would normally take us seven to eight hours. So we were way behind schedule already and the golden rule in Argentina is not to ride at night, especially if it’s raining – wild animals, poor visibility and numerous other factors come into play.
Perhaps it’s the change of motorcycle, but after so many hours riding, I was feeling pain from my rear end (numb-bum syndrome) right down through my hips and knees which required me to stop at least every hour, simply to ease the discomfort. On my other bike, the seating position was more laid back with my legs forward and stretched out, and combined with a sheepskin, I could ride for days in total comfort. But on the Himalayan, my legs and knees are slightly pulled back and more upright on the pegs, so I assume that my body simply didn’t like the position, now being at pensionable age. However, I must take my hat off to Eduardo for tolerating my required leg-stretching stoppages because this only added to the unfortunate delays we would suffer on the way to Azul.
Having navigated through numerous sets of traffic lights, roundabouts and muddy road work diversions around Bahia Blanca, we finally hit RP51 and the delightful open countryside of the Pampas towards Coronel Pringles (pronounced Preenglays). This part of the journey reminded me of England or maybe even Middle Earth, with its gentle rolling hills, dazzling greenery and perfect fields of crops ready to be harvested. Even the long, straight and perfectly maintained roads undulated gently, making me realise that this is what motorcycling is all about.
At Cabildo, during one of my many frozen bum stops, we came across a fellow on a bicycle taking a rest and learned that he was cycling from Las Grutas to Buenos Aires – a distance of over 1000kms, come rain or shine. He wasn’t the only cyclist we passed along the way, some even towing small trailers. That kind of travel requires a special kind of determination, which one can only admire.
As we headed north, the weather appeared to improve somewhat, with the sun poking through and we were now in the most fertile land in Argentina, surrounded by endless tracts of maize and cornfields, the distant Sierras de la Ventana and long, dusty tracks leading to huge estancias (ranches), many of which are the size of small countries and will take an hour to reach the front door from the roadside gate.
On reaching Coronel Pringles at around four pm and with over 200km to go, we knew that we would not arrive before nightfall and our thunderstorm was finally showing itself with lightning streaking across the dark clouds ahead of us.
As a side note, you may be interested to learn a little about Coronel Pringles:
Born in San Luis, Argentina he fought in the civil war and died in battle at Chañaral de las Ánimas against Facundo Quiroga’s forces on March 10, 1831. Rather than surrender his sword to Quiroga’s subordinate and not to the general in person, he broke it in half before being shot and killed. Quiroga later reprimanded the soldier who took Pringles’ life without consulting him.
We were hoping to stay at the Santa Rosa Hotel in Olavarría because it displays vintage motorcycles in the lounge and the Dutch motorcyclist, Noraly/Itchy Boots of YouTube fame had stayed there, so we were curious to see it. However, with my wife helping us from mission control, she booked us into the Gran Hotel in Azul instead at a fraction of the price (US$15 as opposed to US$100), so at least we now had somewhere to crash out.
By dusk our thunderstorm was directly ahead of us and appeared to be sitting above Olavarría, with lightning streaking across the horizon, so we were hoping that it was moving north faster than we were. After the sun set we found ourselves on a busy dual carriageway headed for Azul and by seven pm we were surrounded by huge trucks kicking up spray which reduced visibility considerably. Fortunately it wasn’t raining, but the road was wet and greasy and I had a job to keep my visor clear. It was to be a very long sixty minutes because the headlight on my bike was not as effective as I was hoping, but the LED spots at least illuminated some of the white lines in the inky darkness. But I felt outside my comfort zone, so I stuck myself a couple of car lengths behind a truck using its rear lights as a guide. Eduardo had disappeared into the gloom and when he finally appeared, parked up a few miles further on and looking relaxed, we had a brief discussion on the need to stick together due to the poor visibility. But at least part of our plan had worked, in that, should the leading rider lose the other for a prolonged period, they should pull over and wait.
It was now eight thirty and not only did I want to get off the bike due to my seized up legs, I was worried that we would get caught by the active thunderstorm ahead of us. Fortunately it wasn’t long before the lights of Azul appeared and we glided into the plaza feeling relieved that we had dodged the storm.
After checking into the Gran Hotel and parking our bikes in the luxurious (covered) private car park, we retired to the bar and enjoyed a couple of ice-cold beers, glad that we had made it without any mishaps along the way. As the name suggests, the Gran Hotel was indeed very grand with marble floors, lots of oak and mahogany, and my room was very posh indeed with a bed the size of a football pitch with views over the magnificent plaza which was lit up in all shades of blue (azul). Following a delicious pizza, we took a stroll around the town, admiring its colonial buildings, ruminating on our final leg of only 300kms to Buenos Aires which, in theory would be a walk in the park and should take us no more than three or four hours, bandits and highwaymen permitting.