I’ve ridden a lot of miles and visited a long list of places, and it makes it hard to answer the age old questions of, “What’s your favorite country? – Where was the most beautiful place? – What country has the prettiest girls?” They are almost impossible to answer as every place has its own unique ways of life. Town to town and time zone to time zone, everything changes. The language, the food, the people, and of course the weather, but I can competently say that my recent trip was one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve ever taken.
Saving you the headache on the charity work, I needed to renew the permit for the motorcycle and not wanting to pay the customs and immigration a 300 dollars fee; I decided to leave Paraguay for a few weeks. My options were Bolivia to the north, Brazil to the east and Argentina to South and West. From the day I left Argentina, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to visit the northern regions of it. In fact, most Argentineans I know have never been to these parts, let alone the tourists. Northern Argentina holds a big portion of the Gran Chaco, a sparsely populated, hot and semi-arid lowland region of the Río de la Plata basin, divided among Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and a small portion of Brazil. Those who have visited the Chaco region are divided into two groups, they either consider it hell on earth or they love it so much that can’t shut up talking about it.
My destination was the foot hills of the great Andes range on the border of Chile to west, then I had no idea where from there. I had no map, my GPS was of no use in this alien land and I could care less about any of that. I decided to take my friend Lourdes with me on the trip as she had never been to that part of the world either, but we had one problem. Ever since I added a giant box for my camera gear to the back of the bike, I only went for short rides and I had no idea how it would act in strong winds. Also, the box covered the back rack and now I had no place for my dry bag. Going solo was not a problem with all the gear but adding another person to the mess was just too much. On the morning of our trip, we hauled everything from Lourdes’ apartment on the 7th floor to the underground parking and I started to fill the boxes. In addition to my normal provisions, we were packing arctic clothing since I figured it would be bitterly cold in the mountains (It’s still winter down here), my guitar and 40 lbs of camera equipment. The mound of gear was unnerving and every minute passed I got more frustrated. There simply was no room for another person and sensing that, Lourdes suggested that I should go alone with a sad look on her face. I couldn’t do that to her. She was so excited to go on her first motorcycle trip and I didn’t have the nerve to turn her around at that point. I emptied the boxes again and got rid of anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary with the exception of the guitar. Once I was done with packing, the bike was so heavy that I could barely get it off the center stand.
We rolled out of Asuncion and reached the Argentine border around noon. The border crossing (my official 10th entrance to this country) went without a glitch and soon we were on the open roads heading northwest with no maps to where I thought the Chaco region was located. The traffic dwindled down and apart from the occasional kamikaze bugs, there was just the hum of the engine and the wind. The bike handled marvelously and I soon got used to the additional weight. The scenery started to change dramatically from the lush green tropics to brownish dusty landscape, with patches of boreal forests, funny looking Palo Borracho trees and occasional palm trees. The Palo Borrachos have a giant trunk not unlike a drum and they hold an enormous amount of water in their trunk, a rare commodity in these hot and sunny regions. The road was as flat as glass, and straight as an arrow. We stopped in a middle of nowhere where I saw a sign for meat and bought 3 pounds of ribs for dinner. There was no refrigeration or USDA stamps, the meat was simply hanged in a dark room from the ceiling, with maggots visible here and there – just the way I like it. At sun down I spotted a working ranch in the distance and headed straight for it. As I tried to slow down I flipped my helmet up and as my luck had it, a wasp flew in and as I tried to get him out, it stung me on my cheek. I cursed all the gods and continued for the ranch. A tiny Indian lady with her kids and a herd of dogs greeted us and we asked for permission to camp out at her place. She was the caretaker and the ranch was a beautiful place, with cows, goats, pigs, horses and as it is common in this region, a coal making oven. We pitched our tent and cooked the meat on the lady’s grill (they cook on open fire all year long, the grill is their only stove) and shared it with the family. She brought out homemade empanadas and after a countless rounds of Mate, and a few tunes on the guitar, we retired for the night. We would start the next day for the heart of Chaco. Stay tuned.
While I edit the pictures and write the rest of the story, don’t forget to checkout Greg Powell and Coburn and Erin Black’s adventures here and here. They are our ambassadors on the road and living a dream of their own with lots of great stories and pictures.