Friday, December 20, 2019

Argentina Part 1


Goodbye Chile. Hello Argentina. We drove over the Andes
We had an early breakfast in Santiago, Chile. We ate lunch with a bottle of Malbec in Mendoza, Argentina. We amused ourselves with our options for how we wanted to design the next 6 months. We had 4 countries within striking distance: “Do you want to go to Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil or Uruguay?” Not to mention the wonderful country we had just left and the new one we had just entered. It’s not: “what do you want to do this weekend?” or where do you want to take your 2 week summer vacation”, or “Honey, how long do you think you can live out of a backpack in South East Asia?” This is sustained, self-contained, adventure roaming in South America. I’ve made some bad decisions but this was not one of them.

Minor Struggles

The border crossing from Chile to Argentina probably could have been easier without an old white guy and a young Colombiana.  They were very suspicious and they should have been – No one should be having this much fun. But we do it all without the aid of drugs and they just couldn’t believe that. They walked a dog over everything, let the air out of my tires for the pooch to sniff, ran a video camera throughout my chassis with a selfie stick and then watched the video for anything suspicious. Then they did the whole thing all over again with a different dog just in case the first one was having an off day. And then they waved us through.


Argentina is essentially Spain: Its white people mispronouncing Spanish while smoking endlessly. I want all Spanish to be uniform and sound just like the Mexicans in Tijuana. I cannot abide the Motherland Spanish lisp, or the Medellin double “L” as a “J”, or that horrendous Honduran mush mouth or the Chilean auctioneer speed, and now I have to contend with the double “L”, the “Y” and ”J” as an “SH”? What the hell Argentinians? Why is the default setting an “SH”? I will refer to you as Shargentinians until you reform your wicked ways! (This was later shortened to “Shargies” and I call them Shargies to their face and explain it is a term of endearment and they don’t stub their cigarettes out in my eyes so I guess we’re good)

Mendoza – A Soft Landing

We had to let the air out of my tires (no drug dog this time) and remove a lightbulb from the ceiling of the parking garage in order for me to fit my war machine inside. I offered to thank my new host and helpful parking lot attendant by buying him beer. He doesn’t drink beer. Of course, this is Mendoza, how about wine? No again. It was Fernet or nothing. What the hell is Fernet? Look it up. It’s the national drink of Shargieville. They drink it with Coke and they can’t live without it.

I prefer Malbec, and boy did I get it. We rented bikes and road from bodega to bodega and sampled it all. When we needed a pause we would stop at an olive producing ranch and eat their briny goodness slathered on hearty bread with olive oil drizzle before imbibing the next bottle. Decadence dipped in fresh air.

Alicia – A Softer Landing

I met Rulo and Serena in Bocas Del Toro, Panama on this same trip a couple years ago. They were quietly drinking their Fernet when I approached them; “I have rum, and cards, and we shall be friends.” Their English skills were not strong enough to rebuke me and as prophesized, we became friends.

They invited me to visit them, should I live long enough to make it to Argentina. I envisioned them living in the hip part of Buenos Aires (she had dreadlocks) and I often thought about seeing them again. They did not live in the hip part of Buenos Aires. It was so much better than that. They lived in the smallest of rural farming towns in the middle of the Pampas between Cordoba and Rosario.

Aleja and I were treated like visiting royalty. No capital city could have ever rolled out the carpet like Alicia. We met everyone in town and were greeted with smiles and kisses and asados and Fernet every night. “It is you who has the big camper at Rulo’s house, si? Come, eat with us, drink with us, we shall be friends”.

My Cholesterol Went Higher Than The Dow

Argentinian dinners are lush but they don’t start until 11pm. And they do meat really well, but salads, not so much. They just don't have a lot of practice. Eating a salad is like changing your bedsheets, they know they are supposed to do it once a week but sometimes it doesn't happen.
This place is every kid’s fantasy. No one is ever going to make you eat your veggies. They won’t put them on your plate, and they usually don’t even put them on the table. We once went to a parilla with about 12 people and they put one bowl smaller than what you’d eat ice cream out of, and its sole contents were iceberg lettuce. No one touched it. It was ornamental, like parsley, no one is expected to eat it. After every meal we would shrug and repeat the mantra: “We’ll eat veggies in the next country”. We further rationalized the high fat diet by telling ourselves that we needed to put on an extra layer of padding for the coming low temps of Patagonia.
Pretty sure that's a broccoli tattoo.
The closest he will ever come to vegetables

I invested heavily in wine and lomo (Filet Mignon. Taken directly from my diary: “Now we are eating chili con carne that I made last night. And by carne I mean filet mignon cut into tiny tiny cubes. Why so much filet mignon? Cuz it's $5 per pound!! Why would anyone eat anything else? These philistines eat ribs. Ha! Ribs! It's all bone and gristle. Peasant food. Filet mignon man. Filet mignon for every recipe!). My liver looks like a sucking war wound from the wine and Fernet but god was it worth it. I bought a custom knife and fork which I brought to every parilla I was invited to, and I was invited to many. My cholesterol went higher than the Dow. I decided to lean into it and doubled my dosage of Lipitor.

Diego and Ana

We got their number from a friend. “Hi, could we show up, park the camper in your front yard, leave it for a month, ask for a ride to the airport, then when we return to Argentina, leave it for another month while we rent an apartment in the city and all the while ask you to look after it while we are gone? Really? That’s great. See you tomorrow for dinner!”

By now you might be getting a feel for how wonderful Shargies are. It’s even better than you can imagine. We ended up making a habit of dropping in on Diego and Ana. Each time we returned the reception was one of hugs and kisses and overwhelming friendship. Shargies are the epitome of old world European friendship values (that may or may not exist in Europe anymore) transported to the new world, soaked in Fernet and Malbec and slow cooked over an asado of quebracho. It was the same as our Alicia story – open arms and the run of the place. Shargies are just that naturally inclusive. You should actively seek them out. You won’t regret it.

Buenos Aires

We rented an Airbnb for a month since we were entranced by the city. Understanding the mass transit, getting the feel for the different neighborhoods, learning the hours of operation – Argentina is a counter intuitive challenge for when stores are open, It was all a labor of love. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and will return. It’s a world class city and it’s worthy of your time. Book your tickets now, but keep your eyes on your feet, no one cleans up after their dogs.

Latin Dance Sociopath

They say that a sociopath can’t empathize with their fellow humans and merely looks around the room, judges the mood and mimics. It’s all fake. So is my Tango, Salsa, Bachata, etc. I don’t feel it and I’m bad at faking it, but I will occasionally go through the motions. We took Tango lessons (more accurately- we took Milonga lessons. If interested you can look up the differences: Tango vs Milonga vs Vals)
Tango: One part dancing, One part manhandling, Two parts counting

The Economy

100 years ago Argentina was the tenth richest country per capita. Today they are the only country (maybe Greece as well) that has achieved developed nation status only to devolve back to 3rd world. Books have been written about Argentina’s distinctive economy.

I made a bad investment. I bought Argentinian Pesos in advance of our trip to Patagonia. The exchange rate was 20 Pesos to $1 US. Upon my return to Buenos Aires 4 months later, I was getting 27 to $1 US.  At the time of this writing (Dec 2019) the peso is now 60 to $1 US. With inflation like that - How do you save? How do you invest? How do you retire? It changes the spirit of a nation. It makes you myopic and you live for the week, and the plans for next month get abandoned. Buy the good wine, get the best cut of steak, tomorrow the peso is worth less. It breeds a nihilistic rudderless attitude, but it sure is fun if you’re invested elsewhere and want to party.

Long Boring Miles

The drive south to Patagonia gave me wrinkles. Route 3 (we drove it from Buenos Aires all the way to Ushuaia = 2000 miles) is a skinny death shoulder road with gale force winds that kept my brow furrowed constantly. The only thing to look at is road kill. We didn’t count ribs, hairballs or grease spots, only fresh kills and we were above 17 every day. I can’t recommend Route 3.
Rheas - A lot like small ostriches

Diary: “9 hours in the captain’s chair. Whole lot of nothing. Fighting headwinds and killing bugs and burning way too much diesel. My neck and back are killing me. My butt is numb. My eyes are about to bleed. 5 hours is the max anyone should ever have to do on these roads, in this size rig, in this kind of weather.”
Guanacos - in the familia Camelid

A Physics Question

When I’m driving at 50 mph and the rain droplets on my windshield are flowing horizontally to the passenger side (They aren’t moving up like they normally do) that means the wind is blowing more than 50 miles an hour right? That’s a lot of wind for old Elsie to take on the side as big as she is

Rio Grande Hellhole

The worst Tierra Del Fuego has to offer. It’s row after row of project housing. It looks like Akalla in Stockholm if Sweden was broke, and depressing, and devoid of hope. Forget that – Rio Grande dreams it could be spoken of in the same sentence as Akalla. Rio Grande aspires to be the ghetto of Akalla.

Diary: ”It's closing in on 08:00. We parked last night on the seafront of some horrible little frozen oil town. You wanna know why Tierra del Fuego is pristine and wild? No one wants to live here. We are fighting 35 knot winds. . I’m glad I'm not in a boat. It blows so hard and this rig has so much windage we rock like 8 Samoan rugby players are trying to tip her. At least no one can tell when we’re fooling around. Welcome to Patagonia.”
Lifestyle pic # 682


Technically it is everywhere south of the Colorado River (not that Colorado River). If you’ve never been, then you probably have this vision of a land of extremes. And it is. It’s some of the most strikingly beautiful and dramatic landscapes I have ever seen and some of the most mundane and vacuous vistas as well. And the weather… oh the weather.

See the fox?


I drove From San Diego to Ushuaia. I’m proud of that. I drove through Mexico, every country in Central America, and through the entire length of South America. I pulled into Ushuaia on the exact 3 year anniversary of this trip. 3 years on the Pan-American Highway. What a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. We bragged and celebrated for a week and then we began the northbound leg. For 3 years I only drove south with the name of Ushuaia on my lips. Then, we turned north. What a strange feeling.
3 years on the road (with a little time at sea)

Taking Ownership Of A Country

Something happens when you adopt a nation. I feel this way about Sweden, Mexico, Colombia and now Argentina. If anyone says anything negative about it, I find myself standing up for it. I’m an Anglophile, have been for a long time, but I’ll never refer to those islands with any name other than the Malvinas ever again. I cheer for Argentina. It was her people and her majestic countryside that won my heart. It’s a little bit of magic when a country finds real estate in your soul. Argentina!

Your man on point,
Blacktop Bobby

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Chile Part 1

We fell in love with Chile but it didn’t happen overnight. Actually, the spark didn’t ignite until our second pass through the country. Here’s Part 1

Chile is a fickle woman wearing high heels while proudly sporting anorexia. She doesn't really use her coastline but she sure as hell isn't going to let Argentina have it. She's dangerously skinny and freakishly tall and she can't make up her mind if she wants to be a gardener in the south or a desert witch in the north.
We entered through the northern city of Arica. It was the first of many times I would drive into Chile. Their customs control is notorious for throwing away food, spices, and other treasures. We got really lucky when the official made it obvious he would rather practice English then toss delectables. We sacrificed lemons and onions and hid the good stuff. This would become an ongoing theme for every border crossing.

Obsolete Over Night 
Humberstone was the world’s largest saltpeter mine from 1872 to 1960. The profitable mining for nitrates used for fertilizers and gunpowder ruled the industry of northern Chile for about 100 years.

Now you see empty ghost towns bleaching out in the world’s driest desert. The Atacama holds the record for the least precipitation on the planet. From 1570 to 1971 it went 400 years without rain. But the natural saltpeter industry didn’t last that long.
It collapsed almost immediately when petrochemicals replicated the nitrates in the lab. Voila! – Instant ghost towns. They call them “Ex-Oficinas” and they dot the landscape.

We parked in this out of business village which is literally an oasis in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing but sand dunes for 300 miles in every direction.
A bleak polluted river runs through it. Before the mining industries moved in this was an urban center of antiquity amongst these harsh deserts. While we mooched open wifi from the municipal building I asked the school teacher if there were any archeological ruins nearby. “En realidad, la señora en esta casa tiene una museo para mommias.” A mummy museum!?! Vamos!

Feliza was deep into her 70’s and had a bad hip. She showed us the contents of her garage that had been converted into a venue for mummified corpses and any other archeological findings the neighbors found over the preceding 3 decades. Some actual archeologists past through in the 90s and dated everything from 500BC to 500AD. That's makes it all between 1500 - 2500 years old.

“Where did this come from?”
“Up there in the hills”
“Yes, but where exactly?”
I hired her son the next day to drive us up there and show us. From 1832 until 1932 this entire part of Chile was gobbled up by the mining concerns. Caliche is found on the surface layer of the ground and they stripped as much as they could. In so doing the miners uncovered graveyards that they tossed and looted. We combed through the remains of their tomb raiding and found the following:
What it looks like laying on the surface

What it looks like after you turn it over and clean it up

Arrow Shaft
At least 1,500 years old. Maybe 2,500 years old. Perfectly preserved in the driest place on earth
Yea....That happened
Thousand year old mummy hand. Still delicious after all these years

The drive south didn’t disappoint. Sure there were near endless miles of desolation but it was punctuated by charming seaside towns with vistas to die for.
We parked on the waterfront and spent 3 nights eating seafood and walking the cute part of town.
Bahia Inglesa
Those Scallops: What a way to die. Eaten alive or death by fondue

Llanos De Challe (Joshua Tree at the beach)

Birdy Mae Breaks A Pelvis
My poor sweet mother fell and broke her pelvis and clavicle. I found a safe place to leave the rig with Aleja and flew home to help. At first sight I thought she would never make it out of the hospital. She looked so frail and bruised. But once we got her discharged and the therapist sessions hit the double digits, her recovery was incredible to watch (It’s 19 months later and she barely remembers it. Full recovery. You can’t stop these Irish farm girls).

Meanwhile; I memorized the 3 salad options at Costco (Asian Cashew, Sweet Kale, Crunchy Med), watched Sunday grid-iron and ate real buffalo wings and Rueben sandwiches.

I also realized that the hipsters are skewing the global average that third world countries have more mustaches. Come on guys . . .

I flew back to Chile and we started driving again.

This is the town I left Aleja in to wait for me while I went home to help The Momma for 38 days. It’s a great little spot in the middle of grape country. The grapes aren’t used for wine, they’re used for pisco. You already know about pisco sours but here the quality is so good it’s worthy of sipping neat.

How much did Santiago spend on these tunnels? Criminy! You can drive halfway across the city and be underground the whole time.  It looks like a world class city to me and Chile is now a first world country, but the air quality is certainly third world. My 4 questions to determine if your country is ready for me:
1. Is it illegal to drink and drive?
2. Is it illegal to smoke indoors in a public area?
3. Do you have vehicle emission controls?
4. Do you respect quiet hours?

If the answer is yes to all 4, I’m coming for a visit. Even one “no” and I’ll still go, but you’re gonna hear about it after my 3rd beer. (This is the moment scholars will point to as evidence that the author became officially old and unpleasant)

Random Thoughts On Chile
Pedestrians actually have rights in Chile. People will step into the zebra without looking. Don’t try that anywhere else in Latin America. You’ll be killed instantly and the cop will wedge the ticket into the mouth of your corpse.

One of my first impressions of Chile was the food expense. It’s expensive to eat out, however ounce for ounce, a bottle of Gatorade costs as much as a good bottle of wine. Chile is 20% more expensive then Peru, but it’s still cheaper than the USA, however the gap is closing.

In conclusion:
1. The north is ghost towns and mummies and looks like the coming Apocalypse
2. Chileans are the only Latins with a first world country.
3. Chileans are the only Latins that actually respect pedestrians. (I would later add Brazilians to that but I didn’t know it then)

Drinking pisco sours in our puffies. Delightful turned up to eleven

We returned to Chile, and that will be covered in Part 2, but first we entered Argentina.

Your man on point,

BlackTop Bobby

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