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08/04/2011

Nick Sanders Pan Am Blog 4

Still in Argentina
Briefly we are in Chos Malal, a small dusty town in a semi-arid desert somewhere in mid-south Argentina. It could be Mexico but it is still only two days north of Patagonia. This journey to Alaska is still at the bottom rung of a very long ladder - the perfume section of a department store, a long lift shaft away from anything more substantial. Suddenly, the wind began to drop and the heat descended on top of us.

Having queued for fuel we settled in a parilla for food and drink. Train driver Richard Niven had 74 gigabytes of memory on his various photographic appliances and was taking pictures of everything – a door, where he sat, the hot chocolate he was drinking. His helmet camera had already recorded tens of hours of the road in front of him and when he stopped he mentally diarised his total environment around him. As a similarly minded on the road diarist myself I understood this pattern of behaviour. Like the 1998 satirical American comedy, The Truman Show, here was a man, like most of us on this journey, initially unaware that he was part of a constructed reality. He took pictures of his chips and other meals before he’d eaten them and no doubt bushes and trees and desert artefacts would not have escaped his attention. This man was determined to exploit his adventure in the way you squeeze a lemon into a stiff drink and who could blame him? As a train driver who regularly runs from Edinburgh to Leeds, he has a lot of straight track to look at. Perhaps he would have worked out that if each photograph had a low resolution of 72 dots per inch and had a width of 20 centimetres and a height of 10, he could take 4 200 000 images, which if laid out end to end would stretch from Buenos Aires across the South Atlantic to London. He’d drunk his hot chocolate and left, presumably to take more photographs.

For me, the particularly disconcerting part of my egg and chips was the sultry waitress in Don Pasto’s restaurant where we were in Chos Malal. She wore a faded flower print dress that slipped seductively off her right shoulder. Her service was sexy but slow and when she leaned over the boys to take their order her breasts became exposed to half-moon level. To spare the blushes of the eager chaps I looked outside where the sun shone brightly and noticed how the leaves on the trees were turning to the colour of autumn.

Through the window I also saw David, concern on his face that his spare petrol containers were about to explode with the heat. He had such a sense of urgency in his expression it suggested to us that he thought they were about to burst at any moment. Calmly he asked for a bucket of water and immediately dipped his containers into the cool water. Perhaps there is some mathematical co-efficient or algorithm that explains quite when and why petrol explodes and that David was correct in his actions?

Inside the coolness of the restaurant, it was now lunchtime and everything had stopped in this now quiet town. Another waitress came to collect our pots and gave us the distinct impression she wanted a husband. Gawd, not from this extraordinary lot, surely, but yes, she placed down everyone’s chips and salad as if we were days from Armageddon and that maybe Brian the Australian or even Richard the train driver would save her. We are in a bubble and such minutiae is beginning to absorb us.

It was indeed true that whilst Argentinean women can be such heart throbs, we knew we had to move on, bracing ourselves for Bolivia where the ladies wore bowler hats and wrapped in many layers of skirt and knitted wear to become the antithesis of the western stereotype of what we thought a women should look like. As an aside, even though we were not there yet, it is true that Bolivian women can carry loads on their back that would make a mule feint. They are hardy beasts the mules but the women are stronger.

Back on the Ruta 40 leading up to Malargue, the piste carves its way across a basin surrounded by a Cordillera. Side vents and burnt out pimple peaks presented as the blown out top of a long ago active volcano that was maybe 20 000 ft high. The piste wound though burnt colours of pimento and brown and all around lay the jigsaw pieces of blasted out black basalt that had solidified in mid air before falling back to the ground. In the midst of such geological splendour, the ride had been magnificent. With its twists and bends, it’s dropping and rising and the colours that claimed to be green and then brown, this was a mighty presentation of the topographical magnificence of Argentina. Nowhere through which I had ridden has consistently such tight pockets of natural perfection as the fabled Ruta 40 in this beautiful place.

I got dropped on the piste and by the time I reached the small bridge over the pocket sized canyon at Rio Grande, Andy Cunningham was arms up-to-his-elbows in grease and wire trying to sort out his battery problem. His Harley Davidson Sportster was the bike we all watched with trepidation and if a fair wind were an indicator of us willing him along, his sail would catch the next breeze.

For myself, riding on the Super Tenere, I can now feel the engine loosening and the animal within awakening. After so many years riding an R1, the feel of the bike, it’s mood, the way it swings with my load, the panniers, how it runs around corners are slowly and carefully becoming to my likening. We are cautious, the bike and I, slowly getting to know each other. Unlike the R1 where it was love at first sight, this is an affair come to bear out of mutual respect and the relationship is slowly beginning to form.

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