Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I ask Mrs Hotel Colon if there is a restaurant open nearby. She asks whether a steak and fries would satisfy. A steak and fries would be just dandy.
I drink a second beer and nod intelligently to asides from my barstool neighbour. The asides refer to the general conversation. A mystic would find them obtuse.
Mrs Hotel Colon summons me to a small dinning room. She says, “I put a couple of eggs on your steak.”
I thank her and ask for a third beer.
Three beers and dinner cost $7.
Room rate for a single with bath is $15. Should you ever pass through Sarmiento, you know where to stay. Take a right at the park, ride three blocks and turn left. The Colon is on your right.
Don’t bother with the conversation. It won’t be comprehensible. You are a year or two late…


The Hotel Colon in Sarmiento is the type of dump any respectable biker hankers after. The bar is the right length. Six people and it doesn’t feel empty; twelve and it doesn’t feel overcrowded. Sarmiento is a small town. I doubt there are more than twelve serious bar stool occupiers. The six in possession have been on the same conversation for a while. Maybe it began yesterday or last week. It is one of those conversations that expand over time and develop threads that go nowhere and are put to death. Mostly what is said now is in allusion to what has been said earlier and you would need to have been in on the conversation early to understand its direction – if it has a direction. I sit at the far end of the bar, order a small beer and watch the last few minutes of a football match on TV. The conversationalists seem content with my presence. The pool table to the left of the bar hasn’t been used in months. It is there because this type of bar requires a pool table. The girlie advertisements for beer exist for the same reason. They are expected, as are the three tables, each with four folding chairs, arranged along the wall. The barstool residents would be uncomfortable were they absent. A young couple occupies the table closest to the door. I guess that they are students. She wears spectacles and is perhaps the more confident – or the more pressing of their relationship. The obligatory guitar case protrudes from amongst the bags and backpacks heaped on the floor. I wonder if they are waiting for a bus – or for a parent.
I imagine Josh or Jed calling home. “Dad, can you pick us up.”
I wonder if my sons are aware of the happiness I find in being asked. To be of use is a joy, no matter the time of day or night. I will bitch, of course. Bitching is expected.
I don’t ask how many Us is.
I don’t ask if the girl is a friend or a girlfriend.
Asking would be an infringement.
Of course I want to know – though not to judge, but because this is part of who they are.
However I do wish that they would sit a while in the kitchen once we get home, let me cook them something, talk to me, let me share a little of their lives. They tend to hurry straight upstairs to their room.
I guess it’s my age.
I’m sort of odd, an embarrassment.
You know? Having a dad in his seventies…And, yes, I am odd. I do odd things.


The nearest pollution must be hundreds of Ks to the north. I am struck by the clarity of light and the extraordinary depth of blue in the sky. The blue is reflected in the lake on the approach to Sarmiento. The lake at Villa del Chocon was the same amazing blue. So was Lake Titicaca. I have seen parrots today. I have seen flamingos graze in ponds alongside sheep and Hereford cattle. Awareness that flamingo breed in the Andes fails to make their presence any less surprising. Those long thin legs should freeze and snap.
Now, in evening, I pass cars parked by a bridge on the outskirts of Sarmiento and Sunday fisherman walking with their fly rods along the riverbank.
I turn off the road at a sign offering B&B. Dogs greet me kindly. A woman shows me a bunkroom. She rents the room with its six beds and use of a kitchen for $20. I don’t have use for six bunks. Nor can I use the kitchen. My logic confronts her prices. My logic fails. I take a room in town at the Hotel Ismir for $15. The room is miserable. So am I. I am tired. I have ridden 600 Ks. I have hay fever or a streaming head cold. I shower and walk a couple of blocks in search of a restaurant. Joy is foreign to Sermiento in a gale. People huddle and watch TV. Bungalows shrink within themselves. The Hotel Colon is a rarity. I spy six men at the bar. I guess that they missed out on church serviced and have been at the bar much of the day. How will they view an intruder? A Brit? I pass half a dozen times before getting my courage up. A set of aluminium doors leads into a porch from which more doors open to the bar. The doors are ill fitting. They grate and squeak and clatter. An army tank would make less noise. Conversation ends. The six men at the bar turn on their stools and inspect me. So does the owner. So does he wife.
I hold my hands above my head in surrender. “I am a Brit,” I say. “Am I allowed?”
“They allow horses,” says a man in a flat gaucho hat.


I ride out of Teka into a full gale. A moment’s inattention and I would be slammed off the road. I consider turning back. A great restaurant – maybe there is a great bed. However Patagonia is famous for its winds. What I consider a gale is probably the standard Patagonian breeze.
Gobernador Costa is a further 60 Ks south on route 40. The streets are empty. Those out for a Sunday stroll have been blown away. I stop for gas and a coffee.
A pretty young woman operates both the gas pump and the coffee machine. She asks where I am going.
“Sarmiento,” I say.
“That’s two hundred and sixty kilometres,” she says.
I agree.
“There’s a gale blowing,” she says.
I’ve noticed.
“You should stay the night here,” she says.
“Patagonia is famous for wind,” I say. “Will there be less wind tomorrow?”
“Of course there will be less,” she says. “This is a storm. We don’t always have storms.”
She fails to convince me. There could be a storm tomorrow. It could bring a more intense wind. Weaken, and I could be stuck for weeks. I don’t have weeks. I have a flight booked to Madrid out of BA on the 30th.
Better the devil…


A true restaurateur is a miracle you luck on in the strangest places. Evidence starts with the greeting. Tecka, the owner has been waiting all his life for my arrival. Will the plat de jour suffice? A simple gnocchi?
The gnocchi are al dente. The sauce is a combination of tomato, garlic, herbs, ham and Italian sausage. The quantity is as vast as Argentina. It is served in a dish cradled in a basket. It is divine. So are the fresh-baked bread rolls.
Bikers, forget your schedules. Stop here and eat.


to esquel

Esquel was a hippie haven in the seventies. Now it is a fashionable resort - bright hippies tracked the change and shop with Platinum-grade credit cards. The road from Bolson crosses a stretch of altiplano. I pass two cops wrapped in balaclavas and frost-retardant. I ask what happened to the central heating. The one cop says, “The Government forgot to pay the gas bill.”
I top up with gas at Esquel and head for Tecka. The road follows a wide flat river valley of huge sheep paddocks. Trees grow along the river. I startle a flight of green parrots. What are parrots doing up here on the altiplano? And why haven’t the farmers planted shelter strips? Teka doesn’t look much on the Auto Club map. So much for maps: Teka holds a treasure. I turn off the highway onto a dirt street. Tin-roof bungalows each side are closed tight against the wind. The road becomes tar and I spot pickups parked outside a gas station. The gas station is out of use. The drivers are here for Sunday lunch.



Bolson is cute tourist town. Prices are high. So are the mountains. The tourist office found me a room ($15). Face the square and turn left up main street. Pass the oculist and t real estate office and the Hospedaje is on the left. I have a large comfortable room. The double bed has a good mattress. The radiator is hot, the water in the shower is hot. I have a window onto a garden and a table that I can write at. Honda is safe under cover in the garage. Bringing the Blogs up to date takes a full day.


biker test

Bariloche. I wonder at the name. Was it born as Barry’s loch? Pines edge the lakeshore. Above shine the ski slopes. Lift cables bisect the pistes. The road swings south towards Bolson. I follow a second lake. Rain closes in. The road climbs. Rain turns to sleet. My feet are soaked, toes and fingers numb. Sun finds a cleft in the clouds. The peaks glisten. I am in semi-dark. My cheeks suffer a bombardment of ice crystals. I raise the speed by 10 KPH to intensify the pain. I must be crazy. I even stop to photographs the peaks. I kneel beside the road and steady the camera. There, on my knees, illumination strikes. Size is of no account. Nor is speed. Years are immaterial. This is the test. The pass mark is having fun. Enjoy yourself under these conditions and you may ware the label proudly: BIKER.


Argentina excels in road signs. SINUADO is my favourite. SENSUADO would be extra. Any biker knows the meaning: sweeping curves, smooth dips, curving climbs, perfect camber, views to die for. The road to Bariloche passes through a valley maybe half a mile in width. Black mountains rise each side, sharp crests of bare rock. Black scythe blades of rain cut across the valley. Beyond rose the white peaks of the Andes. What more should I want?