Cusco

 

Cusco

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Songs of Argentina, a summary

Ever since I reached Buenos Aires, I have been posting songs on Facebook, songs that where related to the place I was or the ride I did, songs that I grew up with and are part of my cultural baggage. Here’s the retrospective, with the comments.

March 27th, arrived to Buenos Aires, I posted two songs

Record day: 1066km today. At 9:15am I was leaving Las Grutas, in the province of Río Negro. At 11:30pm, I was entering my parents apartment in Buenos Aires.
Can’t sleep now. Must be all that Coke and Pepsi and coffee flowing through my veins.
Here’s a song for you 🙂

That day I had started in Patagonia, crossed the Pampa Húmeda and finally arrived to Buenos Aires, going through 3 provinces and many different climates.

April 21st, I hit the road again and arrived to Rosario

I’m finally back on the road and I’m in Rosario. The birthplace of the Argentinean flag. It is also the birthplace of one of my favorite pop stars, Fito Páez, and of our most beloved comedians, Alberto Olmedo.
I also discovered today that the concert I thought I had missed one month ago was today. I did miss it after all… Here’s a song I could have heard tonight, a song Fito Páez dedicated to Alberto Olmedo. Enjoy!

April 23rd, I was already in Córdoba

There are places in Argentina where I’ve never been before but have always been in my mind through songs. I’m in Córdoba now and this one comes to mind. The rhythm is called Cuarteto and it’s typical from Córdoba. Enjoy!

April 27th, I left Tafí del Valle for Cafayate

I have left the rock region and I am now officially in the North, home of some of our most beautiful folkloric songs. Yesterday I spent the night in Tafí del Valle, a beautiful city in the province of Tucumán. Atahualpa Yupanqui, one of our greatest authors has written a very special song to the Tucumán moon. It is very difficult to choose a version to post but here’s one. Start at 2:49 if you want to skip the speech.

April 30th, I was in Salta after Cafayate

Yesterday I tried to leave Cafayate through National Road 40 (the famous Ruta Cuarenta) but after 5 km of sand, I turned back and took National Road 68. It reminded me of why this song was written 🙂

There it is, I hope you have enjoyed the songs of my country. As I leave Bolivia, there may be more posts if the internet connection gets any better. I leave you with one last song, a rock version of our national anthem by the greatest rock artist Argentina has ever seen and will, Charly García. In a way it’s related to any post that may come about Bolivia too but I will have to explain that in another post.

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A trip through China’s backyard

People oftern ask me which way I came and when I tell the full story, they ask why I couldn’t ride through China the second time. To explain that, I usually have to go back to the first ride through China. I have told this story countless times and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no good way of telling it. This is more or less how I remember it happening.

In this post, I won’t tell about the great roadside food we had in Xinjiang, I won’t tell about the amazing Jiaohe ruins we visited, I won’t tell about the beauties we missed because of the dust storm that enveloped us for three days, I won’t tell about the motocross race departure we watched where the pilots wanted pictures with us, I won’t tell about our guide Benny making us take boring highways and not letting us camp. No, those stories I may tell later or I may even leave their fate to oral tradition. I won’t tell all those stories now because there’s another story I need to tell. Because I let someone ruin my Chinese riding experience. Doubly so. Yes, I am talking about you Robin L. I don’t hold a grudge against you, I’ve learnt from the experience and hopefully I won’t let it happen to me again (not holding a grudged doesn’t mean I don’t blame you for what happened later). I learned I have to screen more thoroughly the people I travel with, I learned to distrust overly enthusiast people, I learned to not feel responsible for other people’s stupidity.

Some people go to China as they go to their city’s Chinatown, feeling that they can impose their rules on the behemoth that is the Chinese bureaucracy and that they can go against the more than 5000 years of uninterrupted unique cultural evolution that China has on its back. So, aside from the great memories I’ll keep of us drinking from the beer penguins in the night market or eating freshly made noodles by the roadside, or the sad ones like Lyn having to abandon us halfway to go back to Australia to take care of her dying father, my most patent memory from China is from this dude wandering off with his wife on a road that we had been told not to take, camping out instead of coming to town, and, the crown jewel of his shameful ignorance and closed-mindedness, insulting our guide and calling him a f*cking liar and a d*ckhead in front of the whole group thus causing him to lose face in front of us and with it the last trace of sympathy he could have had for this group of foreigners. That happened in Turpan, on the 6th or 7th day of our Chinese voyage together. It wasn’t the first incident and it wasn’t the last. Well done, now the guy that has to write a report on us that will probably influence the approval of our second crossing of China is mad at “us”.

With this incident in mind, on our last day, in the quaint little town of Qinghe (or Qinggil), the one thing we hadn’t dared to put into our Big Brother analogy back when we were about to enter China happened: we held a Tribal Council, Survivor-style. During that meeting, Richard stated that he wouldn’t be joining the second part of the trip if the rogue couple (him and wife) was joining, I stated that I needed them to be there in order to reduce the cost of the trip but wouldn’t be enjoying their company, I was also accused of being a mellow person while all the British bunch mellowly told him that he could maybe think about possibly reviewing his attitude before the second part of the trip, if he pleased to join us again. Sorry guys if you don’t remember it this way, I do and this blog’s written from MY memory. There was some more insults from the accused (or is it accursed) and they finally told us that they wouldn’t be joining the second part. Pity, it could have been fun to see him go to prison for whatever other outrage he might still have had in stock for the second part.

Some of you may be thinking that it’s sad that this is my strongest memory from this part of trip. It is. I needed to tell this story because it’s also part of the experience. I felt betrayed in my confidence because when you enter China as a self-driving group, you are bound by the same destiny and you implicitly trust your travel companions to be as respectful, obedient and open-minded as yourself. They weren’t and we all paid the price.

On a happier note, here’s a little video of the noodles we had just before crossing the border at Takeshikenzhen and a photo of some bum we ran into at the border.

Border bum sleeping

Border bum sleeping

Another view of the tramp who stole my riding jacket

Another view of the tramp who stole my riding jacket

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El Gauchito Gil

One of the first things that got my attention on the roads of Argentina was the profusion of little shrines surrounded by offerings and decorated with red flags that can be spotted in most provinces I’ve visited. They are usually under trees but not restricted to that (especially where there’s no such thing as trees).

 

A roadside shrine to the Gauchito Gil

A roadside shrine to the Gauchito Gil

There isn’t nearly as many as there are roadside wats in Thailand but there is enough to be noticed.

I knew somehow that this was not a Christian thing, there’s always been little shrines dedicated to Virgin Mary of Luján along the roads of Argentina but this felt different. Only after a while my subconscious finally made the link and I realised they were shrines dedicated to the Gauchito Gil. But who is this and why is it everywhere? The devotion to Gauchito Gil is a heathen devotion that originates in Northeastern Argentina, in the province of Corrientes, and is apparently propagated by truck drivers. He is said to work miracles.

The legend has it that the gaucho Antonio Gil, an adorer of San La Muerte (another pagan devotion), had a romance with a rich widow and that earned him the hatred of her brothers and of a police sheriff that had courted her. Seeing the danger to his life, he enlisted himself to fight in the Paraguayan war. After coming back, he was enlisted by the Autonomist Party of the province of Corrientes to fight in the provincial civil war against the Liberal Party but he defected. Defection being punishable by death, he was hanged from a tree by his foot and his throat slit. Before dying, he told his executioner that he should pray in his name for his son’s health. The executioner’s son healed miraculously and so he decided to give Gil proper burial. The red flags are the symbol of the Autonomist Party.

There is other versions of the story and more on San La Muerte in wikipedia in Spanish and in English. Some of the versions even omit the bit about San La Muerte and make him a Christian, thus trying to make him into a Catholic saint. The Catholic Church obviously wants nothing to do with it.

It’s one of those things you only notice if you are riding the roads instead of sitting inside a bus.

Roadside shrine

Roadside shrine

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Cafayate

Cusco

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On the road again

On the road again

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Photos photos photos

Have you checked the picture gallery recently? I’ve been trying to catch up with the pictures lately and I’ve uploaded 3 new albums: Thailand 1, Cambodia and Laos. Thailand 2 is nearly ready but not quite. Now there are pictures up to December 1st, 2012, back when I was entering Thailand for the second time. Check them out! There’s a lot of beautiful sunsets, strange people, crazy travellers and of course, the temples of Angkor!

 

Thailand first pass

Cambodia

Laos

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Rest

Oh boy! Have I been silent for so long?

Well, I have a good excuse. Since March 26th, I’m on a break. After a gruelling 14-hour day, I arrived to my parents’ apartment in Buenos Aires and I’ve been resting ever since, gathering energies for the next part of my voyage: riding all the way to North America (voluntary vagueness here, don’t know if I’ll end in Southern Mexico or in Eastern Canada).

Meanwhile, a quick flashback. While I was in Thailand, I stopped for a few days at that awesome biker’s place called the Rider’s Corner in Chiang Mai, managed by Phil Gibbins (KTMphil, moderator at rideasia.net) and his wife Som, they offer cozy rooms, great Thai and Western food and a great place to meet other riders. One afternoon, I came back and Phil introduced me to motorcycle legend Dr. Greg W. Frazier, a man who has circled the globe on a motorcycle four times by himself and a fifth one carrying a blind woman on his bike.

He told me he was profiling motorcycle travellers for an article and he interviewed me and took some pictures the next day. Here’s the article: Dr. Frazier: Profiles of Adventure Travelers. Most of what he says about me is slightly inaccurate but having seen his handwriting while he was taking notes, I can’t blame him. Plus, it’s an interesting read. Enjoy! I’ll resume normal posting when I’m on the road again.

In Chiang Mai

In Chiang Mai

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A day in Patagonia

La pluie et le beau temps

La pluie et le beau temps

Sometimes I ride through ugly places.

No, not really.

I have been to the Southernmost city of the continent and to the very end of National Road 3 (a.k.a. Ruta Tres) and now I’m riding it to the North in a mad rush to reach Buenos Aires in the shortest possible time. Why? Because I like doing stupid things just for fun.

The landscape is quite bleak. It’s mostly steppe, very windy steppe with no trees and the occasional bush. Not much to see. Fortunately, the sky compensates and the clouds are a thing of beauty. Today’s sunset as I was arriving in Caleta Olivia can only be described as the orange version of the Northern lights. I didn’t take any photos for fear of not doing it justice and spoiling the moment.

Earlier during the day though, I got drenched. During 200km I could see a big patch of rain in the horizon and I kept wondering if the road would take me through it or around. Sure enough, the road went straight into it and it poured. I realised that my Spidi jacket is not waterproof anymore but I survived to see the amazing image that the photo on top of this post not even begins to portray. It just doesn’t do it justice. Once the rain moved East towards the sea, beautiful clouds were left in the West where the sun was starting to set and a mighty rainbow formed in the West over the (still) pouring rain. Simply beautiful.

A long day awaits tomorrow. Over and out.

Hello there!

Hello there!

Oh, and a song I could have listened to today but didn’t.

 

 

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At the end of the world

End of the world

End of the world

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I’ve got something up my sleeve

Shit got weird today:At about 80 km/h and leaning heavily into a corner on a winding mountain road, a spider made an appearance inside my helmet.How did I know it was a spider? Because it ran across my face.As I said, shit got weird.

— Nicholas Moses
World traveller and international playboy
I wanted to start this post with this quote from my friend Nick because it reminded me of when shit got weird for me recently.
I was happily riding from Pichilemu to Chillán, my third stop in Chile, merrily, merrily on the Chilean N-S highway when a excruciating pain in my right arm made me release the throttle and drop down to zero speed on the hard shoulder. It felt like I had pulled a muscle and been sprinkled with acid and been injected something very thick, all at the same time. I pulled up my sleeve and couldn’t see any trace of any living creature that could have produced it but a swelling was starting to breakout so when I arrived to Chillán, the nice lady managing the rundown guesthouse where I was staying immediately sentenced: Mosquito! And proceded to rub some vinegar on my arm and even gave me the bottle to keep in my room.
The jacket slept on the floor while I slept on the bed and the next day I set off normally, with my pain considerably lessened. That was the day I met Benoit and Steph, thanks to the timely warning of Benoit’s sister, Hélène, and they advised me to take a detour through some dirt tracks to the East. They also treated me to their awesome coffee and crêpes. If you are ever in Los Angeles, Chile, drop by the Café Francés for a taste of France! I took that secondary road and camped for the night near Curacautín. The jacket slept inside the tent with me.
After that nice camp where I made a fire and grilled the awesome sandwich that Benoit and Steph had given me, I started on my way to Villarrica and while I was driving around town looking for the hostel that the Pichilemu hostel manager had recommended, BANG! Excruciating pain, pulled muscle, cut throttle, pull sleeve up. I can’t believe it! A second bite! There must be something up my sleeve, I decided, and rode the rest of the way with my jacket half on-half off. When I got to the hostel I pulled my sleeve inside out, removed the elbow pad and found absolutely nothing. I bet you can see the shit getting weirder. Anyway, the jacket slept two days hanging from the bunk bed.
And off to Antillanca after a rest day in beautiful Villarrica, I stopped at the side of the road when I met two Argentinean riders on their way to Chiloé. We had a nice chat and I told them about the weird things happening to my arm and pulled up my sleeve to show them. As soon as I did, a half-alive yellow jacket bee fell to the ground.
Yellow jacket bee
It’s actually a wasp but I don’t care, looks like a bee to me and I started cursing bees, insects in general, probably Chile and whatever came to my mind, pulled up my sleeve again to look at my arm when a second wasp fell to the ground. A SECOND WASP! Can you believe it? I lived for 5 days with one wasp up my sleeve and 3 days with two of them. It’s lucky I’m not allergic. And also lucky they didn’t bite me more than once each!
Sometimes, shit gets really weird.
— Wayfinder Hasturi  a.k.a. The Mad Perseid
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Miorița

Today is a sad day. Today, on my way from El Calafate to the Chilean border, I ran over a sheep. Today I want to tell the story of Miorița. I didn’t kill the sheep, but I must have hurt it pretty badly because it was shaking and tried frantically to limp away from me when I approached her on foot.

The tale of Miorița was related to me in Samarqand, Uzbekistan by a group of shady-looking Romanians who were running the Mongol Rally, their team was called Free Miorița. The views about Romania in this article reflect what they tried to convey with this tale. As far as I remember anyway.

Miorița was a sheep. She was very fond of her shepherd and when she heard that two other shepherds, envious, were plotting to kill him in order to steal his herd, she went straight to him and told him about the danger to his life. Despaired, the shepherd asked Miorița that, should the worst befall him, she should make sure that he gets proper burial and never tell that he was murdered.

The actual poem is much longer and has other nuances but the point is that this tale symbolises the conformism and tragic mood of the Romanian people. Their aim as a team, and in their lives was to fight against this and debunk the myth of Miorița as a foundational story for the Romanians. I wish them good luck.

On my bike I have two stickers that they gave me and the other day I was about to cover one with another sticker. Maybe now I won’t. I have been meaning to write about this story for a very long time but somehow I couldn’t fit it anywhere. Now seems to be as good a moment as any.

Miorița

Miorița

Of course the sheep I ran over has nothing to do with Miorița but I felt sorry for it as I felt sorry for the shepherd when I heard the tale for the first time.

The bike didn’t suffer any damage as far as I can tell but I did get a hell of a scare. After hitting it, I lost control of the bike for about 20 meters. I didn’t think at any moment that I would come off, though.

By the way, sheep are not usually that stupid. Most sheep run away from the road when they see you coming. This particular flock was having a cow day and decided to cross the road when they saw me coming at 100kph.

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Awesome day is awesome

So, the new Pope is Argentinean. Well, the Perito Moreno glacier too and it’s awesome. IT. IS. AWESOME. I went for a trek on top of it today and it is unbelievable. I can’t say more because I really don’t have words for it but after the trek I rode to the catwalks and stalked the glacier for more than one hour with my camera in video mode. I managed to capture a big rupture on video and here it is 🙂

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Puñihuil

In Puñihuil

In Puñihuil

My back hurts today. Only 25km from the hostel is Puñihuil where there’s supposed to be penguins. Let’s go hunting.

See it here: http://flic.kr/p/dZ34r4

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Big Brother is watching

I’ve been holding back on the posts from China and they’ve been holding me back. While riding, I often think about how to put in writing all the strong emotions that China provokes on the traveller. On bike or on foot, open-minded or not, China doesn’t leave you indifferent. China travel companions also bring up strong emotions. Here’s the first post.

As the date of our entrance to China approached, there was one thing that turned in my mind. How would it be to travel with 9 other people? I had shared the road with some of the others a couple of times already and it went ok. Uzbekistan with Neil and then also with Chris, Charyn canyon with Iain, that crazy Kyrgyz mountain trail with Richard, Iain, Chris and Neil, all turned out to be cool experiences but 40 or more days with the same 9 people, that had to be different.

I wasn’t the only one thinking about that. One evening, as we were about to go to sleep in one of those ghastly rooms I shared with Chris (sorry, can’t remember if it was the one in Almaty or the one in Naryn, they were both equally disgusting). It wasn’t Osh, I remember, although the room was almost as dirty), the subject came up and we sort of concluded that it would be an experience close to those Big Brother reality shows. Ten people locked up together in a small apartment. Only our small apartment was actually China, slightly bigger but just as crowded and no one was to be nominated or ejected. Or so we thought.

Once the analogy was established, we didn’t want to dig much deeper into who would be the troublesome character and other disagreeable details. We did conclude though that, easy-going as we both were, it would be a pain for the group if we just kept saying: “I’m alright with whatever the group decides”. We left it at that.

We didn’t have to wait long to know who the troublesome character would be but I’m getting ahead of myself. On a brighter note, let’s take it where I last left this chronicle. I was crossing the Chinese border or more precisely, the Kyrgyz border with China. Once you cross that border, you are almost in China, the no man’s land starts. And what a no man’s land!

Now, you will have to take my word on this because I didn’t take any picture. Ever since that border in Georgia with the “delayte picture” guy, I’ve been keeping the camera safely tucked in its bag.

It is simply breathtaking. After getting the passport stamped out by the Kyrgyz customs, you have to go up to the actual border line where a lone Chinese soldier waves you through. No he doesn’t, says the Lonely Planet but in our case he did. At this moment, I don’t know if it was the cold, the fatigue, the breathtaking scenery, or the simple fact that I was finally entering China with my bike but I cried. Of joy. Most people don’t know but this trip started not as a Round the World trip but as a trip to China so you can imagine how important a milestone this border crossing was.

Up we went, waved we were and down we went, only to find ourselves face to face with a small barking Yorkshire Terrier. Wait, no, it was a Chinese soldier but by the way fidgety way in which he was barking at us, I couldn’t see a difference. The fact that he was quite short didn’t help. “What are you doing here?”, “Where is your guide?”, “Go back up to the pass!”.

See, the Torugart border is only open to locals and groups with a guide and even when you have a guide, you are supposed to wait for confirmation that he’s down there at the top of the pass. We didn’t know this and obviously the guy that waved us through didn’t know it either. And to top it all, our guide wasn’t there. Finally, Neil started exercising his Chinese skills and convinced him that there was no need for us to go back up and that we could wait for our guide down here. But where was he anyway?

More than one hour we waited for Big Brother’s agent until he finally deigned to arrive. Benny, our guide for the ten days to follow. The fact that he is our guide doesn’t mean that he will explain anything to us about our surroundings. He’s just there to make sure we take the roads the government wants us to take and that we stay in the cities and hotels that the government wants us to stay in. Big Brother is not only watching us but he’s sent one of his minions to make sure we do his bidding. And we are paying of course!

Once Benny is with us, the border crossing goes smoothly. We get through the military checkpoint with minimal searching and start on the 110km to the civilian border crossing, where all travellers entering via either Torugart or Irkeshtam are checked. On the way we see some more of the good old breathtaking valleys and mountains (it is really very beautiful), pass through some Uighur (they look Kyrgyz to me) towns with Uighur people (still looking Kyrgyz). At the civilian border crossing we are fumigated, searched and stamped. The duty free only takes Chinese RMB and doesn’t take credit cards, pretty smart move considering that we’ve just entered the country. I wonder if they know why their sales are so low… Worth noting are also the electronic passport reading kiosks. I inserted my French passport, it started speaking French to me and finally printed an immigration slip with all the data read from my passport, no need to fill any forms. So this electronic passport thingies are actually useful sometimes, huh? 😉

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