08/01/2020 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad
One of the things I hate most in life is being lied to so when I arrived back at the border very battered and bruised by my experience of the previous night I was not a happy bunny to be told that my fine for overstaying, and then coming back, was not going to be 10,000 pesos, but 15,000! I told the customs guys that their colleagues in Buenos Aires and Cordoba had kept my letter containing my new passport for so long that it was hardly surprising I had overstayed but they didn’t care. At one point I offered them my wrists in the gesture of ‘put the bloody handcuffs on and cart me off to jail’ because by this point I had given up, and cared not a jot.
Obviously, I had no option but to pay and I was bloody livid so I flicked my credit card at the bastards and told them to get on with it. (No, I didn’t read ‘How to win friends and influence people’) I waited for a few minutes expecting to sign and then piss off to do, well I actually had no idea what to do, but I was going to get the hell out of there even if it meant riding the bike in my wellies in 35 degrees of heat which it would be very soon. Soon half an hour had passed and they told me they couldn’t get a connection, probably on account of it being New Year’s Day and everybody had been out having fun the night before, unlike me. I then decided that I could use the delay by rinsing the mud and sand off all my gear that I recovered from the torrent and put it out to dry in the sun. At least I would be doing something constructive and it might help me think about what to do next.
There was a standpipe close to where I was, and a load of tables where the customs guys would unload cars looking for contraband. So, bit by bit, I rinsed my things and placed them on these tables hoping I could get some of my stuff clean(ish) and dry before the phone connection was made and my fine paid. 5 hours later and everything that had been taken by the flood, and that I had recovered, had been rinsed off as well as was possible, dried, rolled up and re-packed. This included the panniers which were full of mud and sand, so now I would possibly not look like a tramp when I did get to leave with the exception of having to wear my wellies, which in the heat was neither comfortable or a good look. During this long wait I had at least done something constructive and although my mood was nowhere near good, I was not feeling as down as I had earlier.
That feeling changed when I was told the connection was impossible to make and the only way I would be allowed to leave would be by being sent to………………………wait for it…………………effing San Juan and present myself at the Oficina de Migraciones where they would really tell me what a naughty boy I was. The chuffing city that had taken me 3 attempts to leave and now I had to go back there, and it’s not just around the corner either. Now I am about to explode and my state of mind has gone back to how it was when I was trawling up and down looking for any of my belongings that I could find. First thing is to get some new shoes and I remembered that Sean had told me that Rodeo was a real town and had things like a bank and a hotel! Maybe they had a shoe shop as well? Maybe I could find someone to poke me in the eyes with sharp things and make me feel better than I did at that time? Maybe after arriving there an earthquake would hit and I would be put out of my misery? Whatever!
I got on the bike, in my wellies, and set off to Rodeo to see what could go wrong there. It was only 16 kms but by the time I’d got there the skin was coming off both ankles and riding into town the few people about were all giving me the big stare. I was used to being stared at in Laos but this was different. I could almost hear them thinking, ‘what a tosser, riding a bike in this heat and in bloody gumboots’ as if I was doing it on purpose or for a bet! I think they were so amused at my appearance that when I asked about where was a hotel they couldn’t concentrate and tell me accurately. I even went into the police station, explained what had happened to me and why I was wearing wellies, and they still sent me the wrong way! Eventually, after about an hour, and it’s a small town, I found the hotel and thankfully it was very nice, clean and very cheap. My first piece of luck for a while!
The owners were very helpful. There was a shoe shop but it wouldn’t be open until the morning. There was only one restaurant that would be open that evening and it was a ‘parrilla’ which is a grill so anything veggie wasn’t going to happen. Anyway, after what’s happened to me I’m going to eat whatever’s going, and have a beer or several as well. I then had time to work out how to get back to San Juan in the 72 hours allowed by customs, before my status would go from ‘very naughty boy’ to ‘enemy of the state’. Going back the way I’d come meant some extreme climbing even though there would be some good, long descents. On balance though, it turned out that going to San Jose de Jachal would be a longer ride but far easier on the legs with only one steep climb that luckily was for only 6 kms and I could do that section in just under an hour. Decision made.
The next morning and I was up bright and early but unlike the owner of the shoe shop. I’d been told it would be open at 9.30am but when I enquired of the hotel owner she made a phone call and then told me the shop would open after the proprietor had finished her breakfast. It was already 9.45am and more memories of Laos, in particular, ‘Lao time’ were entering my brain and I wondered when I might get out of my horribly uncomfortable wellies and into something that didn’t make me look like a retard.
Eventually, breakfast finished, the shoe shop proprietor decides she might want some of my money and opens up. I see a pair of trainers that are ok and my size, try them on and they will have to do as they are the only thing in the shop that will fit so the decision is made for me. I ask if I can pay by plastic card and am told that it’s possible but the surcharge will be 21%, far outstripping the bank’s 9.5% fee for accessing my own money, which adds more frustration as I now have to go back up the hill for another withdrawal from the Bank of San Juan. Just as I’m parking the bike I turn around and there’s Sean my new friend, who is very surprised to see me and sad to hear of the events of the previous day and a half. He is also heading towards San Jose de Jachal and we agree to ride together and I’m very grateful for some company and particularly the company of a positive person like Sean and I hope some of his positive attitude will quickly rub off as I’m still at a very low ebb.
Photos. Sean, whose company was great for getting me in a slightly better frame of mind after my disasters. Thanks buddy. A view of the lake on the way out of Rodeo. A couple of views of the Rio Agua Negra where I wondered how long before my shoe had floated past along with so much more of my gear. Finally an explosives factory. I was still in a foul mood and wasn’t totally joking when I said to Sean, ‘do you think they would make me a belt and detonator?’
San Jose de Jachal is only 45 kms away and we make good progress eventually finding a small supermarket that stays open through siesta and with tables and chairs outside. We sit out the heat of the day, it’s high 30s again, and Sean helps to get me thinking more positively for which I’m very grateful. I decide that I need to go somewhere to put up the tent and check if it’s ok and also dry out my sleeping gear as I can see that inside the dry bag it’s anything but dry. Sean decides he’s heading off to a national park and we say our goodbyes again hoping that if we run into each other it will be in Chile and neither of us will have had any awful dramas along the way. I find another very cheap and decent hotel and the lady who checks me in understands about me wanting to open up the tent and check it’s ok and tells me to use the car park where the sun is beating down and stuff will dry quickly. I do this first and am very relieved to find that the tent is not damaged just covered in mud that is now dry and will come off easily. My sleeping bag, mat and pillow are all damp but will dry quickly in the sun and are also not damaged. I get that lot sorted and have a wonderful long shower and look forward to finding a restaurant where I can maybe get to eat something that wasn’t running around the day before and maybe had a name.
That evening I ordered an ‘ensalada completa’ which, when they are good are very good and as I was starving. (as usual) I also decided to add an omelette to it. A word of warning for anyone visiting Argentina. If, on a menu it doesn’t specifically say, ‘does NOT contain ham and cheese’, then it certainly will. I just saw omelette, and assumed it would be a plain omelette to go with the salad. Of course, when it arrived it was packed with ham and cheese but thoughts like, ‘sod it’ went through my mind and I got stuck in. At least the beer was vegetarian.
Next morning, I set off for Talacasto where I had called in before when heading in the opposite direction. It was 102kms and would be a good test. All along the route I could see evidence of storm damage showing that the storm that got me in all this bother was absolutely massive. I made excellent progress but was still thankful that my 72 hours to show myself in San Juan overlapped a weekend and so I had 2 extra days meaning I didn’t have to kill myself to get there in time. I made it to Talacasto in very good order and after downing a large bottle of juice and sitting for twenty minutes started thinking about what to do next. San Juan was still 50 plus kilometres away and getting there would involve a very steep 6km climb. But it was only 3.00pm so I decided to get another large bottle of water and set off at 3.30pm having worked out that I should make it to San Juan before dark. I did make it, total distance 161kms which is just over a hundred miles and I was spent. Another cheap, but ok hotel (I don’t camp in or near cities for safety reasons) and I had the weekend to sort out some replacement kit and get some stuff for the bike.
Ok, enough for now and thanks as always for reading this far and may the Flying Spaghetti Monster go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.