Dual Wed 04 October 2017

Sudamerica…The Dream

The Dream, yes, my own dream tucked away in my mind. Who doesn’t have a personal dream to realize that we pursue all our life?  And finally I have made it come true.
It won’t be easy to share with you and condense in the next few lines 64 days spent in South America, with my own motorbike (R 1100 GS  year 1997 with more than 280,000 km) and convey to you what I have felt and seen travelling across four nations (Perù, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina), going 11 times through customs, covering 16,000 km, with more than 1,100 litres of petrol consumed. But I’ll try.
Everything begins in March 2016 when I pick up a tam tam on the internet for the composition of a team to go to South America in January/March 2017. At first I show interest almost out of curiosity, but within a month I decide and become part of a group of 4 bikes. I won’t list the whole series of bureaucratic and organizational aspects to deal with, but I can tell you they are long and complex (one in particular, the transport of the bike there and back in a container). But with patience we manage to get everything done. The preparation of the bike would deserve a separate chapter: work out what baggage to take (tent and its equipment, spare parts, appropriate clothing, spare tyres etc.) on a long and insidious journey. But I will come to that.
In addition, I organize a rendez-vous with my companion Cristina, because for 18 days, she will participate in the venture with me.
Time passes, the preparations pass, thoughts pass and the 7th of January arrives and with it the departure.

Flight Milano – Madrid – Lima

The first 5 days in Lima are hectic, as the delivery of the bike and its passage through customs put a strain on our nerves. Slow and incredible bureaucracy, but in the end, on a dark night, we open the container and my Rossa is with me.
It’s the 13th of January and the adventure begins. We ride along the road that brings us to the firstleg: The Nazca Lines. On my bike, closed inside my helmet, I look around and think. I’m here; I observe a world around me that from the beginning is different in the people, the language, the landscapes. Yes Alberto you are here, and I can’t describe the emotion of that moment to you. I look at my Rossa and I think: dear friend I have brought you here too. Yes it’s really a loveable two wheeler and I hope it behaves well.
We arrive at the famous Nazca Lines and, fascinated, I admire them knowing they date back to    500 a.C. and represent drawings of stylized animals.
We continue and in 2 days we arrive at Cusco, and here during the journey we begin to feel the consequences of the altitude (well over 4,000 m); fatigue, difficulty in breathing, the bike starts having trouble with the carburetion, but goes on.
Cusco is the base camp for visits to a world famous site: Machu Pichu
The next day, with transport by mini bus, a train and a last coach, I manage to admire this scene that really moves me. It’s the first great impact with something seen in photos, in documentaries and now I am here. A magic atmosphere, the remains of this glorious city surrounded by a tropical forest make you understand how the Incas once lived and organized themselves. The site, thanks to its isolated position, was not the prey at the time of the Spanish invaders.
On the following days, the first off-roads begin and with them my conscience, starting from zero, begins to gain experience. My Rosso has never been fitted with knobbies and has never done off- road except some dirt road. It’s hard at the beginning, because along the way we find everything: mud, the famous ripio (gravel), sand, gaudi. And without avoiding, alas, some falls, I can say that today I would not be unprepared. As we say, I developed a certain amount of “guts”.
We are situated stably at an altitude oscillating between 4,500 and 4,900 metres and thanks also to the right tablets, we gradually become accustomed until we no longer feel anything and stop taking the medicine.
At Chivay we go to the Mirador, to admire the condor, in its graceful flight. An enormous bird, just think, it can have a wing span of more than 3 metres. 
The next km take me, on scenically beautiful roads, towards our first border (Bolivia), and on the way we admire the lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. At the border, we realize that every crossing will be a bit complex. First the immigration desk for persons, then the desk for the entrance of vehicles, then the inspection of the motorcycle with the person responsible, sometimes with the opening of bags. Stamps, stamps, and make sure they put them, otherwise there could be problems in continuing.  It seems strange because in Europe we are accustomed to free movement. Conversing, trying to understand and making yourself understood enriches as an experience but instils a bit of tension; fundamentally I am a foreigner.
In two days, I arrive at the second capital; La Paz. Different to Lima, certainly a bit more city, with its asphalt, its traffic sufficiently correct. La Paz different, I defined it as the circle of the damned; Dante Alighieri must have stayed here to write the Inferno. Here everything is in movement (people, vehicles, animals) without a very precise order, %100 pure chaos. At the crossroads, at the roundabouts reigns the law of the strongest. The impact from above with the city is incredible, with its houses built in an urban confusion that gives goose bumps. Just imagine, their subway is like an egg-shaped cable way, similar to those we find when we go skiing. This will be our base for the excursion to the Carretera de la Muerte (death road). The next day I go to live this experience, on a narrow road that winds like a snake in the mountains. All dirt surface, with cascades on the road that give you a bath, but very spellbinding, not only for the precipices that follow you on its course but for the reflections that it arouses since, until two years ago, it was used in both directions by trucks, busses, and cars. I ask you how did they do it!
In a couple of days we reach Uyuni. We ride along a very nice main road with excellent bends and, to our great surprise, asphalted, since the news we got mentioned off-road. Content and quicker the arrival.

Before entering the town of Uyuni, I go to get acquainted with the Salar, an expanse of salt of 1,600 sq, km. A pity that I find it partly flooded after the recent rainfall and I can’t enter with the Rossa.But I stay there anyway for hours to take in the spectacle that is presented before my eyes.
In the following three days, with an organized tour on board a jeep, I come into close contact with the nature that surrounds it: the salt lake itself, a series of salty lagoons and scenes of pure Dakar. The last morning we leave, and during the night it had snowed (here it is close to 5,000 metres) creating an incredibly fantastic scene with extinct volcanoes and surreal colours.
I take my Rosso again and going through Potosì and Tupiz, I get to Villazon in the evening. A look at the border that is waiting for me the next day to get into Argentina makes me understand that it won’t be simple. And that’s how it was, in spite of being there already at 6 in the morning, I find a line of people and vehicles that had bivouacked all night. After about six hours I manage to touch white/blue soil, but boy it was hard and exhausting. It will remain the most complex customs I have ever gone through.
During the ride of the next two days, that will take me to Chile, I admire the famous Montagna of the 7 (or 14) colours at Humaucaca. Nature always surprises you for what it creates and it makes you reflect on how Man, on his progressive and slow path, tends to destroy the planet where he lives; if he doesn’t change the tendency, our descendents will have to deal with a sad reality.
I go through customs to enter into Chile, I ride through the Jama pass and the view of another Salar: the Grand Salar. What pleasure with all those hairpin bends at high altitude. The road takes us to San Pedro of Atacama; this stretch makes us definitely leave the great heights behind us; we go from 4,000 to 1,500 metres, even if, I repeat, I was by then after 20 days, adjusted to the situation.
In the two days of stopover in San Pedro, I visit the Valle de la Luna, really evocative, a lunar landscape in fact, with its salt deposits that look more like a snowfall that whitens  the high ground.
In the following three days, I travel through the Atacama desert, the roads become boring, long, straight for hundreds of km, with a lot of dust. Pit stop at the most famous sculpture in this area: La Mano del Desierto. Unusual and strange, a common image for whoever travels through this area.
To return to Argentina, you have to go over the Aguanegra pass at 4,753 metres. The border of Chile is situated before the beginning of the ramp, and at its end there is that of Argentina. Magnificent, in my opinion one of the most beautiful stretches of dirt road, in the middle of these peaks the road climbs and descends through the valleys, and the breath-taking view prevents you from worrying about the route. Absolutely worth it.
I am on the last straight before arriving in Santiago del Chile and I make a stop at San Josè de Jachal and Mendoza. All this while coming back from Argentina to Chile through the pass of Cristo Redentor with a series of breath-taking hairpin bends, in comparison though the uniqueness of our Stelvio resists. Santiago del Chile, important appointment full of emotions. Here, as well as the stop  for a few days to visit the capital, an overhaul of the bike at the local BMW, I wait for the arrival of my love and life companion, Cristina. Having ventured into the skies of half the world, she does not disappoint the expectations, she arrives at the arranged appointment and will stay with me until Ushuaia. I have a small problem at the BMW in Santiago because,  as well as the change of the rear wheel, I do a general check, but the excessive diligence of the workers , with the washing of the Rossa, create a problem with the Hall sensor and the bike no longer works. 24 hours of panic with the spectre of the interruption of the journey, but then the spare part is found and finally, on the 11th of February, we start off again. 35 days have already passed and 7,000 km, but the best is yet to come.
The Route 40 is there, with its complexities, asphalt, dirt road, and the infamous ripio!
In the three days it took to reach San Carlos de Bariloche, we cross the Border from Chile to Argentina again and we immerse ourselves in the zone of the 7 lakes; suddenly we are catapulted into a world that reminds me of Norway: lakes, greenery and reflections that replace dust and desert.
Starting off again, Cristina and I separate from the group, to avoid a stretch of off-road in Patagonia, which is very tricky, and realizing that I am overloaded and with a bike that is heavier compared to the others, we head off by ourselves , partly changing the itinerary. The next 4,500 km will see us tackling the rest of the journey in solitude.
From San Carlos de Bariloche we cross Argentina diagonally, and it is truly boundless pampas. Interminable roads you don’t see the end of. Few populated areas, which allow us anyway to supply ourselves with petrol and food. We make a stop at Sarmiento. At this point the Atlantic coast is near.
In two days we get to El Calafate, stopping off at San Julian, not before admiring a large colony of sea lions at Caleta Olivia. What a thrill going on to the beach and admiring these enormous animals, just think, the males can grow to a length of 3 metres. Their “barking” makes your skin crawl.During the transfer, as well as getting to know the lamas (Perù), we begin to meet the first ostriches. Seeing these animals in their natural habitat gives us strong emotions.
Our 40th day sees us arriving in El Calafate, our starting base for the visit to the famous Perito Moreno, after having travelled the last 800 km in a downpour.

The Perito Moreno: An incredible Glacier for its extension and for its colours. The contrast between the white and the cobalt blue is fantastic. It was given the name of the explorer Moreno and Perito (expert) appropriately indicates the type of person.  In a boat we get close to its massive bulk (with a height of about 60 metres) and the silence is broken more and more by the falling of the ice in the water.
We head off again from El Calafate after two days, and once again we go through customs at the  Argentinean/Chilean border at the Passo Rio Don Gulliermo, in the direction of Puerto Natales, the next leg, close to the Parco Torres del Paine.
The vegetation changes. Here you can see that the wind dominates, which sometimes becomes dangerous. The trees are born and grow in a diagonal direction. From Puerto Natales, travelling along the coast, we go to Punta Arenas, our Dream is getting closer.
In the morning early we leave (44th day, 11793 km travelled so far) and Cristina, I and the Rossa know it’s going to be a special day. After leaving Punta Arenas, we reach the entrance to the Tierra del Fuego by the ferry in the Strait of Magellan. How funny calling such a place the Land of Fire when in reality it’s a cold place with not very mild temperatures. But Magellan called it that (it was in 1520) because while he sailed through the canal, which bears his name, the natives during the night, on the two shores, did nothing but light fires. 
We disembark from the ferry, and we travel along a road that offers very scarce vegetation, with every tree bent and moss instead of grass. We get to the Chilean border and from here the asphalt disappears again, to make room for the dirt roads, until we reach the Argentinean border.
But we savour the moment without fear or uncertainty, knowing where it will lead us. From the entrance of the Argentinean border on the Isla Grande de la Tierra del Fuego, the asphalt starts again, and the road very pleasant, it takes us slowly through mountains and the Passo Garibaldi (our hero of the two worlds) until we arrive at our Dream.
Ushuaia, the end of the world, greets us with two columns, where the name of the city is written.
It’s the 20th of February 2017  19:18 local time (in Italy 23:18) and 12,457 km have been travelled in 44 days. Well, after my date of birth this date won’t be forgotten.
We stay 6 days in Ushuaia until Cristina’s day of departure. We use the time to rest, to go to the park of the End of the World and to go on a tour as far as the penguin habitats. 1000 km away there is the Antarctic , but honestly, the 8 day excursion costs a disproportionate amount.
On the 27th of February my companion leaves, while I and the Rossa set off to reunite with the travelling companions in Buenos Aires (3,000 km away). During the journey, I pass through Rio Gallegos, San Julian, going up the Atlantic coast, I get to know the famous wind that really blows very strongly ( sometimes it even reaches 140km/h, overturning small cars) and there are 200 km of suffering, anguish and fear. But we manage to avoid falling and hold out.
In the meantime I meet a family that puts me up for one night, and it’s a very enjoyable experience, which makes me understand that these people have a life philosophy to be admired. My theory is that we are out of our minds, with our frenzied and chaotic rhythms, they on the other hand tranquil and meditative. Bravo.
I arrive in Buenos Aires passing through Bahia Blanca and Mar de la Plata, and naturally in the 5 days of stop in the capital, I take advantage of the occasion for a visit. It seems a European capital.
On the 10th of March I hand over the Rossa to the Argentinean customs (it will arrive in Italy on the 26th of April) and I say farewell wishing it a safe return home, with a thank you for its untiring verve.
The following day, I embark and arrive in Italy on the 12th, at home in the afternoon at 15:00.
What can I say about this experience: Unique? Incredible? Unimaginable?

No boys, this has been my DREAM.

So many days, so much fatigue, but repaid. The images and sensations experienced  were so many and incredible. It’s not certain, like the way travelling in Europe is, and for that very reason the word Adventure has a sense.
To go on a voyage of that kind, you need time (I’m a pensioner), the financial possibility, and a great spirit of adaption, to eat, sleep, and solve problems that arise during the journey. But I wish everybody to be able to do it one day. Because it’s worth it and you will be able to say: I have been there.

A salute with lights?

Text and photos by  Alberto Marconcini

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