We woke up to a strong orange light shining through the tent’s rain-fly and we were baking already. The anticipated cold weather was definitely not the case, and our mound of winter gear was just dead weight. We packed up and left the ranch heading west again. I kept a steady speed of 55mph to calculate our gas mileage, and I was pleased with how little the consumption was; we were getting 43mpg out of an 1100 pound motorcycle with aerodynamic of a brick. One full tank of gas carried us an average of 250 miles, and that was a critical advantage in these parts of the country.
In Chaco, gas stations are scarce, even more so than the vast Patagonia, and the water is a nonexistence commodity, so we rationed that too. Temperatures soared to high nineties and in a landscape with no shade; we had no choice but to keep moving and marvel at the vastness of this unpopulated place.
After the second fill-up, we had no luck finding another station and the fuel gauge needle started to go down. I slowed down even more to conserve fuel, but there was no gas station to be found anywhere. Sun was going down quickly and running out of gas with no shelter was definitely not in my (vague) plan. We passed two guys on a small motorcycle stranded on the side of the road, and I just had to turn around. We hadn’t seen a car in hours and we surely were their only hope. They had a flat tire with three holes in it and they needed tube patches to get them going. Lucky for them, I carry a whole motorcycle shop with me so I hooked them up with patches and glue, and they returned the favor with two liters of gas. But two liters wasn’t enough to get us to the next station which was 130km away. They told us of a town about 40km away which we might find gas in, and we started back on the road.
The sun was already down when we got to the town. It was called Dragones, (dragons in English) and the name was very fitting. There was no gas station – actually it wasn’t even a town. It seemed like a scene from the Mad Max movies, and the people looked like the village people. We asked around for gas and they sent us to someone’s house who sold gas out of Pepsi bottles, but as our luck would have it the guy wasn’t there. We had no choice but to stay in that town and wait till the next day. The problem was that this town had no hotel, and from the look of the place, I was apprehensive of camping anywhere in the open.
Then it hit me. There was an Evangelist Church across the street and that became our salvation. We talked to the pastor and he agreed to let us sleep there after the mass. He seemed like a nice guy and the church’s yard had a gate which would keep the bike safe. We unloaded our gear and headed out to eat something as we hadn’t eaten anything that day. We walked around and found a joint that sold empanadas. The woman who took our order was retarded – literally. We ordered the same thing four times and she kept coming back and asking us what we wanted to order. Then she disappeared for 40 minutes as we sat there looking at each other in disbelief. From where we sat, we could see the whole town. It had eight streets (all dirt covered) with buildings right out of the Soviet Block, a few hundred inhabitants, a jail-style mini supermarket complete with bars, and three cars. Everyone walked in circles around the block, from children to elders. Every 10 minutes or so, we saw the same people walking passed us, and the same cars going in the very same loop. On the corner, there was a girl talking to herself out-load and worst still, there was a dripping carcass of a freshly slaughtered and skinned baby-pig hanging from the post next to us to add to the horror. When I tried to take a picture of it, we were yelled at, and they took it away! We started drinking beers to bring down the thirst and taking the edge off the post-apocalyptic joint we were in. The empanadas finally arrived and to my surprise they were delicious.
When the feast was over, we went for a walk around the town and we had no problem blending in; on the first day, the heel on Lourdes’s left boot broke off so she limped with one heel alongside me in the dirt streets of Dragones. We stopped at the supermarket to pick up some things, but the woman at the counter scared the hell out of me. She looked like the Wolfman as I can swear to any god, she had more hair on her arms than I do, and I’m a hairy guy. The town was just too much to take in so we went back to the church to get some sleep, but the night wasn’t over yet. As we walked in, the church was in full assembly and before we could sneak passed the gate, the pastor called our names and we had to sit down. The problem was that we were both a little drunk, Lourdes was already hopping on one heel and none of us was religious, let alone evangelist. We became the center of the attention and all the prayers ended with the North American visitors’ names.
I was hauling a guitar on the bike and taking a musical instrument in a naturally music loving church is not a good idea, especially if you have a few beers in you. As we later found out, all the people in the church were either the pastor’s children (he had 12) or their cousins – it was more of a cult if you will. The pastor informed the audience that I was going to sing and that wasn’t a suggestion either. I never having played a Christian song in my life was dumbfounded. My only advantage was that they didn’t speak a word of English so I resorted to slow rock songs like “Dust In The Wind” and “Wish You Were Here” while they ate it up as English church tunes with their Amens. I’m sure if I sang the Wizard of OZ, they still would have said Amen.
All in all, they were wired, but very nice and generous people. We didn’t have to get our sleeping bags out as they gave us a room with a bed in it for the night and we retired. We slept in a room with no windows and I was sure by the end of the night that this town was a government concentration camp for FDA drug testing. The next morning I tried fixing Lourdes’s boots, but I had no luck finding any nails. She limped to the gas-house and after getting some very questionable gas for double the normal price we rode west towards Jujuy to see what else is awaiting us in the Chaco. The official sign of Dragones read “La Perla de La Ruta” (The pearl of the road.) Whether it a was a joke or not remains a mystery. Stay tuned.