Bracing for What's Coming
With getting my paperwork sorted comes the itch to get going and to get north. Large days in the saddle push me through a string of towns on the northbound-gringo-Argentina-Bolivia-trail; Catamarca, Cafayate, and Salta. And with increasing northness comes increasing altitude and barrenness, rock desert landscapes with tenuous micro-climates and their tenuously irrigated vineyards. The going is made challenging by my too-top-heavy loading of Aroha, it’s an issue, and I’m really not happy to push into the unknown dirt-roads of Bolivia with this current set-up. I need to sort some panniers and get a rack welded-up for it all to sit lower on the bike and have a lower centre-of-gravity. I need to get myself prepared for what I know is coming.
But finding things for the bike proves challenging, taxing and frustrating. Time and again through a succession of towns looking for something appropriate to turn into a pannier rack I’m disappointed despite grid-walking and searching. And I have two choices here, I can keep this up, or I can begin to accept that finding things and doing things and getting things done here is just that much harder than what I’m used to. Accept it. Which, though it takes me over a thousand kilometres, slowly seeps into my head one day sitting in the central square in Cafayate. Eventually I’m aware that last-stop-before-the-Bolivian-frontier-Salta has been promising a lot through reputation. So I relax, and wait and see.
If you read people’s Facebook posts you'll see that few don’t fall in love with Salta. It’s a charmer. Perfectly positioned on the northbound circuit through small towns leaving you with a hankering for something just a wee bit more sophisticated, Salta delivers. For me it delivers a groovy crew complete with an Irish-poet at the hostel, and after a faith-filled-Salta-search it delivers me with two heavy-duty plastic panniers for all of my shit and a custom-made welded-up lockable pannier-rack from a back-alley-bike-garage. I ride away from my amigos who looked after me so well at the mechanics with Aroha stoking-out-wholesale on her new set-up, ready, eager and braced for whatever Bolivian roads have in mind.
Getting Through the Border
There’s only one more thing to do then, and that’s put this all where my mouth is. I ride a big day north to within 20km of the border ready for come-what-may-tomorrow.
Day of border crossing with the bike numero uno. First item of business: Tyre-change. From my current asphalt-road-slick rear to a dirt-track-knobbly. A twenty-minute job takes me about two-hours on the side of the border-town-road the whole time Aroha looking over her shoulder at me wondering what-in-God’s-name-I-am-up-to-back-there as she’s propped-up, tyre-off with tools, panniers, and general motorcycle paraphernalia spread everywhere as far as the eye can see. Err, it’s okay honey I’ve seen a YouTube clip on this. Eventually sorted, loaded, and wondering how my dodgey-gringo-motorbike-paperwork will go, I ride-up to the customs office just-in-time for them to close-up for their two-hour afternoon siesta.
So I go ahead and prop-myself on the ground next to the customs office window and settle-in, patient, accepting whatever outcome might come. While I wait I'm also secretly planning a ride to an alternative border crossing site in a tiny-tumble-weed border-town to try my luck there if this doesn’t work. Siesta over, doors open and I’m passed from Argentinian-customs-to-immigration to Bolivian-customs-to-immigration, I’m generously given more days entry-visa than I asked for, waved through and wished a very happy stay in Bolivia. It's. Just. Miraculous. Papa G & Aroha 1. Customs 0.
Only a few clicks out of the Bolivian side of the border it starts. Dirt. Dusty, slippery, bus-and-truck-churned-dirt-roads. And good call on changing that tyre back there by the way. Oh and incidentally there are no more road-signs anymore. And your ‘highway’ map you inherited off the Americans back in Mendoza is about as accurate as that sketch you made getting directions in the gas station in Cordoba. I can hear my underground-punk-rocker Uncle Johnny-Concrete in my head saying "this is the real rock’n’roll!" so fuck it, lean into it, twist on some throttle and get covered in dust and it’s not long before I’m standing-up-on-the-pegs-motorcycle-overlander-style and screaming into my helmet “This is soooooo worth it wooooohooooo!!!”