08/01/2020 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad

San Juan. My fourth visit. This time to pay my fine and be told off. I also need to find out from Migraciones what happens after paying the fine. Will I be deported as a worst-case scenario? Will I be given another 90 day visa and start again with a clean slate? Something in between? I won’t find that out until Monday and, after a very long sleep following the previous days 161kms in the saddle, it’s Saturday and I need to get some replacement gear sorted and a couple of things for the bike before all the shops close on Sunday.

The folks at the bike shop were great. I wanted to get some stuff called ‘slime’ into the rear tyre as extra protection against punctures. This was the tyre I’d had problems with when trying to leave San Juan the previous week, and now I had the chance to make it even more likely to get me to Chile. The staff were all interested in the bike and they happily did this for me along with a free service, chain lube, brake check etc. I also needed a new rear-view mirror as my old one had broken and the duct tape repair I’d fashioned had eventually given up the ghost. Sadly, the only mirror they had in stock was extremely heavy, enormous, made in India, better suited to being fitted to a truck and would probably start to rust by the time I left the shop. No thanks, despite it only costing five US Dollars.

An outdoor shop was next where I wanted some better shoes than the ones I’d bought in Rodeo. They were ok but not comfortable for doing long stints on the bike. I did find some decent ones, albeit a bit on the pricey side, and I was able to replace my survival knife but not with one of the quality of the one I lost. Saturday then had proved to be quite constructive and all I had to do was kick my heels until Monday.

That afternoon I had a look on google maps to see if there were any restaurants that took my fancy and was gobsmacked to find, quite close to the hotel, a vegetarian restaurant, my first in over a year in South America. Being very suspicious I checked all the reviews and there were some recent ones suggesting that the place was still open and I decided to give it a try. When I got there, I had the most amazing surprise. Not only was it vegetarian and the food superb, it was an ‘all you can eat’ buffet style place and the price was only 200 pesos, about £2.56 or $3,30! My first thought was, ‘fill your boots my son’! They can’t have had any cycle tourists in before but I’m now wondering after eating there for the last 5 nights whether folks like me will soon be banned or not. I was in my element and ate massive amounts, and after a dreadful few days I had something, each day, to look forward to.

After eating I went back to the hotel still very tired from my ride the previous day. I slept for a very long time but must have been in a strange position because when I awoke my left knee, which is normally the good one, was causing me a massive amount of pain. It was excruciating and showed no signs of easing off as I moved painfully around, and I started to wonder when I would be able to ride the bike again. I couldn’t get any sleep on the Sunday night as it hurt so much and on Monday morning had to hobble to Migraciones to pay my fine and find out what was going to be done with me. After 2 hours of waiting I was told that I would have to go and pay my fine at the Banco de la Nacion de Argentina, which involved another painful hobble, which was no fun at all.

I was given a form to take with me and left, still not happy about the 15,000 pesos I was going to have to pay. After waiting for what seemed ages I eventually got to see a cashier and showed her my form and my credit card. She must have had a bad start to the day as she almost screamed at me that I had to pay in cash which was not what I had been told at Migraciones, and I really had to bite my tongue so as not to give her a mouthful back. She then took me to an ATM, pushed in front of a long line of people who were queueing, and told me to withdraw the cash. I wondered how long it was going to take as 15,000 pesos does not happen in one withdrawal. The machines here normally only allow a maximum of 4,000 pesos at a time and charge 378 pesos for the privilege. This lady was a nasty piece of work and waved the paper in front of my nose where, in small print I could see the words ‘cuatro mille quinientos’ which means 4,500. Now I was confused but she, very cheekily, pressed the buttons for that amount and asked if I wanted more. I was so surprised that instead of saying ‘yes’ and trousering the balance, the banks fee would be the same, I just said no, relieved that my fine had suddenly, and unexpectedly, been reduced by two thirds. The money was dispensed, she marched me back to the counter, stamped the form and told me to go. As sarcastically as possible I thanked her for helping me and told her I was so pleased to meet her and then I left. I was still hobbling, but if it’s possible to hobble with a slight spring in one’s step, then I did it. Next, all I had to do was find out what was in store for me back at Migraciones, and how long could I stay?

At Migraciones they told me all was good now, and that I wasn’t a naughty boy any more. I then asked if I had a new 90 day visa, even though I didn’t want or need it, but they told me no, I had just 10 days to exit the country, so this time I had to get over the mountains one way or another. I had also, during my time hanging around in the hotel, applied for a Workaway placement and had been accepted by a Chilean/Dutch couple who were based about 10kms from La Serena on the coast. Hopefully I will make it there and have a few weeks of enjoyable work, good food, company and I can put the issues of the last week to the back of my mind. Fingers crossed!

After doing nothing on the blog for a couple of months or more I think that I have actually caught up! Tomorrow is the 9th January and I plan to ride back to San Jose de Jachal, all 160 kms of it again. The next day, Friday the plan is to ride to Las Flores, about 60kms and use the campsite there before arriving at the border post to exit Argentina, again, early on the Saturday morning. If I can get through the exit process more easily than last time then I hope to climb just over 1,000m and be past the place where I got caught in the flood, and in 2 further days in a position to finally cross into Chile and enjoy some downhill cruising to the Pacific? I really do hope so!

As always, thanks for reading this far and may the Flying Spaghetti Monster go with you.

Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.

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